Melendez, "Still Life with Melon" (circa 1772)
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE WINES OF RIVESALTES
by Brian A. Freedman
by Marcy MacDonald
Atlantic Beach, St Lucia
Although Columbus may have discovered St. Lucia on his conquest of the Americas in the late 15th century, it was the French who named her and the English who fought for her.
By 1814 the island had switched political sides so often (seven wins and losses, each) that she was known as the "Helen of the West Indies" -- curiously located in the Eastern Caribbean. Pirates loved Castries, an easy port for docking, as most of the big cruise ships still do.
Early adventurers, however, sailed past the capital city and went to the west side of the island to find sulfur springs (where the future Empress Josephine bathed when she was still a girl from Trois Islettes in nearby Martinique), located near the seagoing city of Soufriére, and the remains of a volcano that is now a "drive-through" attraction, still the only one of its kind, anywhere. And, yes, it's "active."
Unlike most of the other Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is fabulously mountainous. The highest point may be Mount Gimie, at 3,120 feet above sea level, but two other mountains, the Pitons -- Gros and Petit -- form the island's most famous landmark and a recurring dream for many aesthetic explorers, including architect Nick Troubetzkoy and his wife, Karolina.
After St. Lucia's independence in 1979, the Troubetzkoys began to visit the island -- and tried to take the view home with them. "Nick had been collecting antique jade mountain objets d'art for 35 years before he saw the Pitons," the Mrs. affirmed. "But what was meant to be a brief stint in paradise turned into a lifelong passion for the island and its people." Troubetzkoy felt that the best view of the Pitons could be had from a few of the rooms at the nearby Anse Chastanet resort, and began negotiations to buy it. That accomplished, he designed and crowned the hill above it with his expression of his "organic" design.
"Nick was finally carving his own Jade Mountain, perhaps a little bigger than those in his collection," Karolina says of the resort. He used local workmen to create an über-luxe resort where open-air "sanctuary" guest rooms feature 15-foot ceilings, an ever-changing picture of his favorite view of the Pitons and in many a 300-square-foot horizon pool nearest the transparent wall, in contrast to the deep Jacuzzis in the restful restrooms. He used recycled glass pool tiles (designed in collaboration with David Knox of Lightstreams) to reflect the resident Koi fish and glass lighting squares (that would be high and mighty lighting structures if local birds hadn't designated them their preferred habitat) that create an atmosphere of an idealized hyper-home-away-from-home, starring the Pitons.
Designers lined up to supplement the locally made furnishings: Environment Furniture, Janus et Cie, Padmas Plantation as well as Hans Grohe and Duravit (for bathroom fixtures and fittings) because Troubetzkoy wanted each guest sanctuary to be a little different than the sanctuary next door. More than 20 species of tropical hardwood are subtly displayed in every room, all environmentally harvested, and include snakewood, etikburabali, futubali, purpleheart, locust and others with even stranger names. He designed hardwood stairs and ramps (to accommodate a very few motor vehicles) to connect the various levels of Jade Mountain, each artistically obscured by massive bursts of green; a secret spa; a little bar or two or three; a shop around an unexpected corner; another glass of island cheer; an outcropping of flowers; a selection of mad hats; an art gallery; a fitness studio; more and better details, details, details and giant, economy-size bottles of sunblock.
As the Troubetzkoys realized their artistic 24-room dream, they began to shop for a chef. Their favorite was Allen Susser, proprietor of Chef Allen's in Miami and an early winner of the James Beard Award for outstanding chef. Susser took one look at the architectural designs (and a wander through Farmer John's house and tree-growing grounds -- yes, really -- a third-generation plantation farmer, down mountain from and now part of the resort), and began to plan his ideal "Jade cuisine" menus.
"The Jade Mountain plantation provides the resort with most of the fruits, vegetables and the cacao we use in a variety of dishes there," the chef says. Guests are invited to tour the farm, along with the farmer, chef and sous chef, to see the raw materials used to concoct the new and exotic as well as the tried-and-true. Often, entire dishes, sauces, spices and rubs are devised during the course of these outings down on the farm. Chefs are forever experimenting at reinventing the wheel -- in full view of the guests.
"There was a time when we just sent all of our cacao pods up to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for refining. But there were so many cacao trees on the plantation that we began to produce our own chocolate a couple of years ago," the chef explained. "What's amazing is the process, the time it takes to harvest the cacao bean from the pod to produce a tiny sliver, the nib -- about the size of a fingernail tip -- essential to chocolate-making."
Amazing that the first purveyors of chocolate, the Maya, ever took the time to turn the cacao pod into a potion fit for their kings a few hundred years before they had even invented a language.
Although St. Lucia officially speaks English, an Antillean French Creole is used in literature, music and menus, and is gaining official acknowledgement, particularly by the Chastanet family, whose newest generation has provided the young nation with its current Prime Minister, who has been known to make himself at home for the East Indian cuisine in the Apsara Beachfront 14-seat dining room at Anse Chastanet (dinner runs about $100 for two), he makes himself at home in Jade Mountain’s 14-table restaurant by reservation only for about $170 for two -- worth every penny of your EC currency. Chef Allen's famous Spices of the Caribbean Culinary menus keep the gourmands coming up the mountain for more. And more -- as these special gastronomic adventures are packaged as "all-inclusive" weekend and week-long events. Generally, the only items not included in the price are the special daily cocktails, champagne (but at $130 per, the bottles of Moët are considered a bargain), cognacs, rums and malt whiskeys, not to mention spa dates, unscheduled adventures off property and gifts and, needless to say, the $350 charge for an underwater wedding.
Guests who book these special foodie events are welcome to dine almost anywhere on the property (including their private sanctuaries). Each Major Domo provides superb and subtle service: Teddy-the-Perfect-Butler will worry himself sick if he doesn't see you enjoying your meal, wherever in the resort you experience it.
Breakfast is often as experimental in the dining room at Jade Mountain as it is traditional in the restaurants down mountain at Anse Chastanet. And yes, guests who are already fans of Theresa Henry's bakery shack in nearby Soufriére still wait for breakfast until they can smell the fragrant bread being delivered to the resort each morning. After 60 years, 14 children and making thousands of Creole baguettes, the baker retired in 2006 to watch her daughters run the place. Ask for Jade Mountain's pulled-pork sandwich on her baguettes for one of the best taste treats on the island.
Nor is Chef Allen (below) a stranger to Chocolate Weekends (even entire chocolate months) on the island, where some of the best and tastiest end-results in the Caribbean are produced. Chocoholics may agree that in St. Lucia there is nothing quite like drinking a chocolate milkshake, enhanced with local Crystal white rum, while gazing at the Pitons through the bottom of a very large glass -- steps from the Yoga class they may miss entirely.
Do be certain you're expected (a reservation for dinner, a tour around the plantation or a beautiful week of grazing and viewing the Pitons is required), as they've already chilled one of the chef's favorite rum drinks for you at check-in, a kind of green Cabin in the Sky (equipped with a couple of computers for twitchy guest use). From then on, your butler is in charge of your life: you needn't worry about drowning in the spacious Jacuzzi or the horizon pool because, if they don't hear from you on the tiny pocket phone often enough, they send out a search party. Yes, really. Even if they take you on the launch into town, they want to hear from you from time to time.
Other than that, you'll never see them when they replace the contents of the fridge and they'll replace whenever you're not looking. Brunch and afternoon snacks are a must.
Time to mentally undress, wrap a pareo (aka sarong) around you and grab a hat. You may be in time for early morning or late afternoon yoga, massage, shopping, loafing until Chef Allen's last supper.
All of the entries are
based on "ingredients locally farmed, harvested and
fished," and include everything from daily fruit
juices to freshly laid eggs. But each day of the
Spices of the Caribbean Week may feature another
tour of Farmer John's acreage for Chef Allen's top
ten spices: cumin, black pepper (they even use it in
a variety of massages to relax tired muscles in the
treatment of arthritis, chilblains, constipation,
cramps, digestion and circulation), cinnamon,
cloves, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, star
anise and turmeric (it's also used in tea as a rheumatism remedy).
The chef begins with the wine pairings that chief steward Eric Toles will pour every evening. On Fridays guests are toasted by Chef Allen's hand-shaken Jade spiced rum cocktail, which combines sustainable local exotics from the Emerald Gardens, downhill, to the local rum; a good start to the gourmet days ahead. If guests select from Chef Allen's Spice Menu (a seven-course nightly offering), the bill will be about $85 per person per meal (plus a 10% service charge and 8% government tax) on their all-inclusive plan, plus liquids and solids not included, like Brandy or any drink with a flame fanning out of it. Of course, if the Kobe beef is too wonderful to ignore;, indulge instead.
For instance, the Emerald Vegetable Wrap in Rice Paper features all locally spiced pumpkins and green bell peppers in a cumin raita, which Eric pairs with a nice dry, smoky non-vintage Moet. You can taste every ingredient. Try one of these for the second course: The coriander grown on the property morphs into coriander seared foie gras with compressed pineapple and raspberry sea salt from the Caribbean. The combination of the salt and the sweet was made even more interesting by the addition of a glass of Arthur Metz Gerazinger Certzaler -- dry in the mouth, but sweetish in the finish. The passion fruit and sesame glazed shrimp looks like the more recognizable of the two early courses, but add melon mojito salsa with a Campari foam).
The third course may feature two entrees, both of which you covet. A beautiful, freezing, dry rosé from the Côtes de Provence is soft on the palate and slightly fruity with both the almond-crusted goat's cheese served with local greens, tomatoes, lightly grilled onions and sun-dried tomatoes, or the organic mustard greens, grilled and lightly dressed with a cucumber mustard seed vinaigrette).
For the intermezzo: a passion fruit and raspberry sorbet, then the main course, line-caught Kingfisher steak paired (unsuccessfully, I thought) with a Hob Nob Pinot 2010, happily because of the lentil and green banana Lyonnaise, over which a nice, crunchy celery salsa complements the purple long beans. A dry Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc goes perfectly with the garam masala grilled pork tenderloins with spiced sweet potato, ginger, bok choy and barbequed papaya from the farm for a more delicious 'white' meat than you've ever eaten.
If you have an inch left for dessert, there are several to share: cardamom spiced crème brûlée, spiced chocolate truffles and-- in case you've gone 'calorie light' -- the black rice spring roll, unlike any other spring roll, ever: even the rice is light, slightly crunchy.
To the rest of the world, American restaurants have become as copied as blue jeans and hip hop, so that steakhouses and hamburger stands, lobster rolls and Cobb salads have become the hot items from Dublin to Dubai.
Which doesn’t surprise me: our restaurants, from A to Z, are more innovative than ever before, not least when shining Asian, Spanish, Peruvian or Nordic food through an American prism while constantly refining our own regional foods, from shrimp and grits to banana cream pie with proud panache.
So here are my picks in this month's Esquire
Magazine for the best new restaurants to have
opened in the past twelve months in America, listed
(left to right, Mario, Mauro, Sirio,
Restaurant of the Year
Restaurant of the Year
Bronwyn, Somerville, MA
Coqueta, San Fransisco, CA
Michael Chiarello is Esquire’s Chef of the Year.
Hinoki & The Bird, Los Angeles, CA
King + Duke, Atlanta, GA
MC Kitchen, Miami, FL
Best New Restaurant Design
Best New Restaurant Design
Trois Mec, Los
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
13-15 West 54th Street (near Fifth Avenue)
Nothing makes me wag my head more than those food hipsters who contend that restaurants with 15 seats, no décor, no reservations, ear-shattering noise and expensive food are the most popular of the moment. In one sense, they’re right—for the moment, they may well be. And the media fall right in line, hyping restaurants with three-hour waiting lines down the block. Of course, the media, with private phone numbers to call, do not wait on such lines.
But they are dead wrong if continued, unstinting popularity and regularity of visits by a faithful clientele are the criteria. Add to those elements well-appointed tables, refined décor, reservations graciously accepted and a reasonable noise level, and you have an enormous range of restaurants in NYC whose proprietors couldn’t care less about what is trending in Flatbush or cresting in Losaida. Among such restaurants is Il Gattopardo, sister to The Leopard across from Lincoln Center, where owners Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino (left, with Chef Gnazzo) have for more than a decade been serving superb Italian cuisine to a clientele they know by name and who may very well dine here two or three times a week.
Named after the great 1958 novel of Sicilian life, Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, the restaurant recently shifted eastward a few doors away from its original location on West 54th Street, taking over the former Beaux Art Rockefeller townhouse that had once been home to the Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit.
Gianfranco is a proud Neapolitan, and he and chef Vito Gnazzo feature the food of Southern Italy. Gnazzo had worked at the renowned Antica Osteria del Ponte in Milan, then at the equally esteemed Rex in Los Angeles before becoming Executive Chef at Sette MOMA the Museum of Modern Art across the street.
The renovation of the new premises, overseen by Paula, has been extensive, with the grand downstairs room (below) now reserved for parties. There is a fine-looking bar upstairs (which is actually down one flight from the street) and the long dining room looks more spacious than it used to, done all in off-white tones with wicker chairs. The ceiling lighting is soft but could be turned up a few watts, and a bit more color wouldn’t hurt the spirit of the room.
Gnazzo’s menu contains much that is unique to Il Gattopardo, along with classic Italian dishes done here as well as anywhere in NYC. The wine list is first class, with an admirable selection by the glass, including Martinetti Bris del Banditi Barbera d’Asti 2010 and Gaglioppo “Odoardi” 2004.
There are ample novelties among the antipasti, like delicious eggplant and buffalo ricotta cakes with a spicy tomato sauce; parmigiana of zucchini with smoked scamorza mozzarella, tomato and herbs; and meatballs wrapped in cabbage leaves with a thyme sauce.
Every pasta I tried--all blissfully al dente--was superlative, from rigatoni with a hot and spicy ‘nduja sausage sauce with onions and rosemary (left), to scialatiello pasta swimming in a fabulous shellfish ragout. Most interesting of all—with a good story behind it—is the lusty paccheri tubes with a “Genovese” sauce, which you might expect to be a pesto; instead it is a sauce of onions, carrots, celery and pork ribs cooked for hours in white wine till soft and sweet, then added to the macaroni. The name comes from the practice of visiting Genovese sailors in Naples who kept cooking while drinking wine; the Neapolitans picked up the idea and so called in “Genovese.”
The same Neapolitan meatloaf that has become a favorite at The Leopard has become just as popular at ll Gattopardo, thick, juicy, well textured not to fall apart, with chive-dotted mashed potato and garlic-riddled spinach. Well-fatted Colorado rack of lamb is crusted with herbs and served with a potato croquette, sautéed spinach and an assertive mustard sauce. But my favorite dish—since it is so rare in these parts—was a true baccalà (below) cooked in a casserole with black olives, capers, cherry tomatoes and potatoes. This is the kind of hearty dish the hero of the novel, Don Fabrizio, preferred eating to the French-ified dishes so often served at aristocratic tables.
Don’t leave the table without trying at least one dessert, perhaps the pistachio tart with vanilla gelato, which is fairly light, or the traditional Neapolitan cheesecake or the rum baba with limoncello-dunked strawberries.
Il Gattopardo gets a well-heeled, well-dressed clientele, which includes all the museum and gallery people who are not dining across the street at The Modern, and celebrities like Paul McCartney (who eats vegetarian here) and Stanley Tucci rub elbows with fashion designers like Miuccia Prada.
Sorrentinos and their staff are as gracious to a
newcomer as they are to a faithful regular.
Which means that Il Gattopardo is packed every
day and evening--not just for the next few weeks
until the new-ness wears off, but for years, even
decades to come. It’s a dining room for grown-ups
and it is as fine a Southern Italian restaurant in
NYC as you’ll ever find.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE ROUSSILLON WINES OF RIVESALTES
by Brian A. Freedman
"Old wine is good wine." Really?
This is one of the major fallacies of the beverage world, and among the uninitiated it remains cause for deep misunderstanding. At least once a month, I’m asked by a consumer or client if their bottle of ancient such-and-such is still drinkable. And more often than not, the answer is a hearty “no.”
Wine, like all of us, has a lifespan, and each individual bottle will go through some version of the classic evolution: From youth to awkward adolescence to maturity to the inevitable downslope. The truth is that most wines’ lifespans run out over a relatively short stretch of years. The majority of bottles are meant to be consumed as soon as you bring them home from the store, and certainly within a year or three.
My advice, then, is simple: Buy it, drink it, and move on.
But there’s another category of wine, of juice that somehow possesses the ability not just to age, but to do so with a grace and longevity that would make retired supermodels jealous. These bottles just keep on getting better and more interesting with time; in the popular imagination--and in countless high-end cellars all over the world--they are embodied in the great vintages of Bordeaux, of Burgundy, of Barolo and Barbaresco and beyond.
And then, even further along that end of the wine continuum, there are fortified wines that age for so long that they literally stand as testaments to times long since past. Madeira is perhaps the most famous among these: in just the past year I’ve had no fewer than three bottles from the 19th century, and they all were miraculous.
To the elite category of wines that effortlessly approach the ancient should be added Rivesaltes, the majestic yet little-known appellation in France’s Roussillon. This year I had the remarkably good fortune to be invited to a tasting and lunch at The Modern restaurant in NYC, featuring the utterly brilliant wines of Maison Cazes. It was a unique experience (or nearly so: a similar tasting had been held in London), an event that will not be repeated again. It was hosted by Cazes President Lionel Lavail, who represents his family’s seventh generation in the business, and Robert Kacher, the highly respected importer.
Rivesaltes, Lavail pointed out, is the sunniest, windiest and driest appellation in France, which makes the Cazes commitment to organic and biodynamic farming far easier than if it didn’t receive over 300 days of sunshine each year. It is a part of France that is “particularly adapted to organic and biodynamic farming,” he said.
Rivesaltes represents the ne plus ultra of vin doux naturel, that is, wine whose fermentation has been halted by the addition of alcohol, which results in the wine retaining a fair amount of unfermented natural sugar, in this case between 100 and 110 grams per liter. What makes the Rivesaltes of Cazes so special is the fact that they’ve been made with grapes from vines that are in many cases more than 100 years old and have aged in barrels that are more than 250 years old.
The wines I tasted at The Modern--paired with a phenomenal menu by chef Gabriel Kreuther and pastry chef Marc Aumont--were all resting in their upright vats until January 2012, when they were bottled. The range of wines stretched from 1999 all the way back to 1931--meaning that some of them had benefited from six or seven or even eight decades of evolution in the barrel. No wonder, then, that Lavail described this and the London event as tasting “a piece of art from my place, the work of generations.” He added that he wanted “to show how, after 80 years, they are still fresh, still elegant.”
Indeed they were. The 1999, the youngest of the afternoon at 14 years old, smelled of dulce de leche, spice, graham crackers, dried apricots and nuts and tasted of sweet baked apple, grilled apricot and butterscotch. Its silkiness and elegance was offset by a smoky note on the mid-palate, creating a lovely tension between the two. The 1995, on the other hand, was a more high-toned wine, with fennel, star anise, and apple skin aromas, and flavors of white licorice, fennel, and a distinct minerality.
Then we jumped way back to 1962--from the Clinton years to the Kennedy ones--and the additional three decades made themselves known with earthy aromas of porcini powder, spice, dried apples and a whiff of flower, and a powerful palate speaking of black licorice, fig, sandalwood and charred orange peel. The finish here went on for what I’m pretty sure was a week. The 1960, by contrast, was far more feminine, with a remarkably fresh bouquet of ginger snaps, honey-glazed walnuts and persimmon that turned to flavors of honey, orange blossom and honeysuckle, especially on the finish.
The 1954 boasted an almost oxidized note in the best possible sense, lending each sniff a subtly briny, savory character, kissed with tobacco. The palate here, however, was unexpectedly rich and sweet on the attack, then more savory in the middle, with spice, dried persimmon, and tobacco. The 1949 vintage produced a wine with a far more explosive nose, an apricot- and spice-singing beauty that reminded me, in some regards, of a Palo Cortado Sherry. Flavors of flowers, garrigue and dried fig followed through to a spicy, savory, lingering finish. The 1945 was less giving, more subtle, with walnuts, Brazil nuts, and salted caramel, as well as an unexpected hit of lemon oil and orange. Completing the trio of wines from the WWII decade was the 1943, all dark and brooding and smelling of orange peel, orange blossom, and cooked honey and a fresh, dry, almost Sherry-like palate. Owing to the war, the wine was kept in barrels and not bottled until 2012, yet retained amazing vigor.
Finally, we came to the two
bottlings that seemed to have defied time, the 1933
and the 1931 (when the Empire State Building was
completed). The ’33 was mind-bogglingly great, with
dried apricots, persimmons and apples, coffee grinds,
spice, tobacco, orange oil, and kumquat on the nose
and a honeyed palate singing an aria of maple, orange
oil, licorice, salted caramel, sandalwood, charred
vanilla pod and what I’m pretty sure was manna from
heaven. The ’31, on the other hand, was more of a
thinker, a Sherry-referencing glassful of orange,
lime, nuts, and spices that walked the razor’s edge
between sweet and savory. It was an exotic, confident
wine that stood as a perfect counterpoint to the also
excellent 1933, and a ravishingly beautiful embodiment
of the range and longevity of these truly great wines.
Many of these wines are or will be available at NYC's Acker-Merrall Wines: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
THAT FOR A
ALL THAT FOR
“The Saturday of Labor Day weekend, it took me an hour to travel from Mill Valley to San Anselmo. All of Marin was on the back roads while the rest of the Bay Area's drivers were jammed, lemming-style, onto Highway 101, a result of the Bay Bridge closure. But go, I must, for there was food to be eaten, a job to be done.”-- Christina Mueller, "Taco Jane's a neighborhood spot with heart," Marin Independent Journal.
AND ALWAYS COUNT THE SILVERWARE
BEFORE YOUR GUESTS LEAVE
The Countess of Carnarvon,
mistress of Highclere Castle where the series
"Downton Abbey" is filmed, has criticized the
etiquette of the dinner table in the show, noting
that incorrect setting of the table for dinner,
the correct setting is shown in the illustration
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