HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY, MR BOND!
There will be no edition of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week, Nov. 18, because Mariani will be in France eating and drinking himself silly.
OFF TO FLORIDA
by John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
Margarita Madness Demands
Frank Prial, Wine Writer, Dies at 82
by John Mariani
OFF TO FLORIDA
by John Mariani
Miami, as noted last week, is where much of the buzz is, but within a short drive are some of Florida's best new restaurants.
St. Regis Bal Harbour
9703 Collins Avenue
Bal Harbour, FL
The new St Regis at Bal Harbour is a snazzy piece of work--all silver and mirrors, glitter and glitz--and its restaurant J&G Grill capitalizes on its high profile association with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who now has his name or initials on 36 restaurants around the world via his management group, including a slew of steakhouses and grills.
Not unexpectedly, many of those I've visited have been first-class operations, even if JG himself is never really a presence much outside of his NYC flagship, Jean-Georges. A few have flopped, most thrive, and many are offshoots of originals, including six under the Market brand. I was not much impressed by the J&G Steakhouse in Scottsdale, AZ, but this new branch in Bal Harbour is excellent and distinctive, very much under the control of exec chef Richard Gras, who incorporates many of his own ideas into the corporate style; he offers his own tasting menu at $75, in addition to the à la carte offerings. He's a chef to keep your eye on.
The dining room is all in gray, but overhead lamps cast a warm glow, and there's nothing like a Florida sunset to bring color into the proceedings in early evening; from a banquette facing the broad, high windows, you are in sight of the pool and the ocean beyond. Moonlight can work its charms, too.
There are eight items and as many sauces on the grill side of the menu, from red snapper and wild salmon to veal chop and filet mignon (below). I started off a variety of appetizers that included Hawaiian ahi tuna (now that came from far away) with a spicy radish and ginger marmalade that gave it some kick, and hamachi sashimi with shiitake mushrooms and a soy-ginger dressing. I was lucky enough to be there during stone crab seasons, for Gras gets the big fattened critters full of sweet meat; surprising then that the Peekytoe crab cake with a snap pea rémoulade wasn't chock full of lump crabmeat.
Both delicious and quite beautiful is the pea soup with creamy parmesan and sourdough croutons (right), and the hearts of palm salad with heirloom tomatoes and coconut is just the thing to make you grateful you are in Florida. One of Jean-Georges' requisite menu items everywhere is the black truffle pizza with fontina, and it's as good here in Bal Harbour as everywhere else. Oddly enough, I thought the very best appetizer was freshly made fettuccine with tangy Meyer lemon, parmesan, and crunchy black pepper whose simple ingredients just leapt from the plate and onto the palate.
Of excellent quality and expert cooking was a roasted mahi mahi with a Caribbean black bean vinaigrette and tender bok choy, showing Gras' command of techniques across a wide spectrum. That night there was an American wagyu tomahawk steak featured, for two at $99--not a bad price but, like all American wagyu, it had little of the flavor of the Japanese original (now again allowed to be imported to the U.S. after a two-year ban), and the meat was cut too thin. First quality USDA Prime beef has excellent flavor, for half the price.
For dessert the J&G Cheesecake is a balm to those who mourn the passing of Miami's great Jewish delis, and the vanilla crème brûlée with cinnamon ice cream was textbook perfect.
The winelist at J&G is impressive for its depth and breadth, although I counted only four white and red wines each just under $50 a bottle. That needs some re-thinking.
J&G is a swank dining room, the service in the appealing St Regis style, and the scenic beauty ideal for a true lotus eater from anywhere else.
J&G Grill is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch Sun., dinner nightly ; Dinner appetizers run $10-$36, main courses $$24-$46 (wagyu beef $99 for two).
1290 Third Street South
Old Naples, FL
Fabrizio Aielli has long
been one of my favorite Italian chefs (via
Venice), and his beautiful wife Ingrid has always
been at his side to make perfect in the dining
room what he does in the kitchen. They began in
Washington, DC, then in Old Naples, where a few
years back they opened Sea Salt, one of
America's great seafood restaurants.
is open for lunch and dinner daily; Dinner
appetizers $8-$12, pizzas $14-$16, pastas
$18-$19, entrees $24-$29.
169 NE 2nd Avenue
Delray Beach, FL
More than two decades ago,
Dennis Max set out to bring Florida a thoroughly
modern restaurant style, not much in the
so-called Floribbean fusion trend of the
mid-1980s but with more of an emphasis on the
wood-fired grill and Italian dishes.
Max's Harvest is open for dinner Mon.-Sat. for brunch Sat. & Sun. Dinner snacks run $5-$14, small plates $10-$18, large plates $24-$42.
871 Seventh Avenue (near 55th Street)
To paraphrase the old joke about "how do you get to Carnegie Hall?" (practice, practice, practice), how do you get great Greek food in NYC? Turn left at Carnegie Hall. Since 1997, the Livanos family, together with Managing Partner Paul McLaughlin and Chef Partner James Botsacos, Molyvos, named for a village on the island of Lesvos, has been a beacon for traditional Greek food done with a wholly modern sensibility. Now, after an extensive renovation this year, the rustic, wooded décor is now done in the palette colors of the Greek isles--white and sky blue--still retaining, however, the family photos of the Livanoses dating back to pre-immigrant days.
The kitchen has never wavered, so it is good to report that the food is better than ever, starting with a sparkling taramasalata that was as fresh as could be wished for, the roe not too strong, the mousse rich and creamy. Wood-grilling gave an eggplant salad greater depth, and the small keftedes meatballs came braised in red wine, tomato and a touch of cumin, all of these scooped up with excellent housemade pita bread. Then there are pites, stuffed pies in crispy phyllo that I could so easily make an entire meal of.
All these were just considered mezedes, to be followed by lavish appetizers like the wonderfully grilled octopus, with arugula, smoked potatoes, white beans, red onions, tomato, capers and red wine vinaigrette--a tantalizing dish of many savory, tangy flavors and soft textures. A more-or-less traditional Greek salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, feta and more was nothing out of the ordinary, and left more room for the remarkable spiced lamb spareribs with thyme honey and an ouzo glaze--a dish I would order and order and order again.
There are whole fish available and displayed as you enter, covered, not just laid on crushed ice, and, while expensive by the pound, fish like the succulent wild lavriki (sea bass) was some of the best I've ever had this side of the Aegean. The same fish is cooked expertly in a clay pot, infused with onions, tomatoes and kalamata olives.
Of course, many a Greek cook would claim that lamb is the true test of a master, and Botsacos scores highly with arni yuvetsi, braised marinated lamb shank of supreme tenderness from the clay pot, with orzo and kefaotyri cheese. Simpler but showing thew quality of ingredients at Molyvos are the grilled baby lamb chops with potato kefte, watercress, frisée, and roasted eggplant salad.
For dessert I recommend the impossible-to-say galaktoboureko, a semolina custard in phyllo enriched with citrus syrup, and a warm chocolate baklava with almonds, dates and spiced almond syrup.
Obviously Molyvos gets a pre- and post-theater crowd, and for those who love ouzo, there are 15 offered to sample at the bar; the all-Greek winelist is testament to modern winemaking in a country that has been making it, not always well, for millennia.
I'm glad I got back to Molyvos after a long absence, reminding me not just of its continuing excellence but that this is without doubt the most complete and versatile Greek restaurant in America, with a warmhearted degree of filoxenia--hospitality--that others need practice and more practice for to reach its level.
Molyvos is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, brunch Sat. & Sun., dinner nightly. Dinner mezedes and appetizers run $8-$19, main dishes $21-$36, with fish priced by the pound.
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
Margarita Madness Demands
When was the last time someone
offered you a crème de menthe, you know, the
one that turns your teeth bright green? Never? I’m not
surprised, since liqueurs, or cordials, are not as
high on most people’s list of after dinner drinks as
they were when ladies retired to one room and men to
Mathilde Grande XO
($22)—This is another, somewhat cheaper Ferrand Cognac
product from their Dry Curacao, and you can smell and
taste the brandy, with 40 percent alcohol. It has a
fine, bitterness upfront that gives way to a cream
sweetness, then ends with a light sting of heat.
Patron Citronge ($24)—I was surprised this came across with so much sweetness, perhaps in the belief that Americans prefer candy-like spirits. It’s rather like an orange Creamsicle, which would not be my first choice in a mixed drink.
03 Premium ($25)—Made from Brazilian pera
oranges by one of the leading cordial producers, begun
in Holland in 1695, John DeKuyper & Sons, this is
a crystal clear liqueur with a pleasant,
light citrus nose, and, beneath a thick mantle of
sweetness, a good dose of orange flavor that goes well
with a basic blanco tequila or most mixed drinks.
Stock Orange Gran Gala ($21)—Made with VSOP brandy, this has a lovely caramel orange color, but its bouquet smells and tastes medicinal, with a chemical aftertaste.
Solerno Blood Orange ($30)—This Sicilian bottling has plenty of Italian style, starting with the gorgeous, punted, slim-necked scarlet bottle and the fact that it’s made from blood oranges. But the liquid is clear and colorless, the aroma quite refined, and the taste unique, with a berry-like flavor, medium sweetness, and a faint, pleasing burn. Its bitter component keeps it clean and makes this an excellent alternative to Cointreau and is a little cheaper.
has never been a more important or seminal wine writer
than Frank Prial, who died this week at the age of
82. One might argue that Robert Parker has had a
more enduring influence on the wine trade, but Frank
was a man who gave the profession of wine writing not
just an American slant but a refreshingly new,
unaffected way of appreciating wine. His wine
column ran in the NY
Times for more than three decades, a venue
that gave him enormous clout and readership.
WHAT TIME'S THE
NEXT SLED TO FAVIKEN?
WHAT TIME'S THE NEXT SLED TO FAVIKEN?
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