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  December 15, 2013                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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"Making Waffles" by Jacob de Beuckalaer




by Edward Brivio

by John Mariani

Carmignano Gets Its Due from Capezzana
by John Mariani



by Edward Brivio
Photos by Robert Pirillo

Nestled near the southwest corner of Lake Placid, only minutes from the town of Lake Placid, the Whiteface Lodge  brings a new level of luxury to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Constructed in the style of  the Great Camps built by the late 19th and early 20th century "robber barons" for which the region is famous, it combines rustic charm and strikingly beautiful log cabin design with all the amenities of a world-class resort. No need to be fabulously wealthy or own your own Pullman car to have access to the last word in rural comfort on the threshold of this great wilderness of mountains, lakes, and pristine forests covering some 6 million acres. Traditional Adirondack Rustic building methods and materials -- log framing, local wood and fieldstone -- coupled with Adirondack-style, handcrafted furniture, furnishings, and decorative details capture the rugged natural beauty of the lodge's surroundings.
    Everywhere the eye looks, some perfectly wrought detail brings the world outside the timbered windows, both flora and fauna, inside: handcrafted ironwork, used for wall sconces and hammered into vines around the chandeliers; cast iron statuettes of bears, stags, and ducks here and there; the occasional full size Old Town canoe, and antlers everywhere, even a large many-antlered chandelier, along with a handful of taxidermy animals, all bear this regional stamp. Hunting and fishing memorabilia abound. Subdued lighting gives the warm, firelit glow of a snug cabin in the deep backwoods to the dark, exposed timbers of the interior.
    Our guest room would have done very nicely as a freestanding, full-sized house. Occupying two top floors and 1,800 square feet were a large living room, a dining room, a full kitchen with stainless appliances and granite countertops, three bedrooms, including an over-sized master bedroom on the second floor, next to a very spacious bathroom with jetted bathtub, separate shower, a vanity with two sinks, and heated floors. And how convenient were the 2 gas fireplaces, one in the living room and the other in the bedroom, turned on with a simple press of a button, providing not only real flickering flames to gaze at, but a gentle, cozy warmth as well. Beautiful, handcrafted Adirondack-style furniture and accessories filled the space. A private cedar and mahogany balcony off the living room let us relax in the fall air to enjoy the view of Whiteface Mountain in the near distance and the polychrome leaves ablaze on the surrounding slopes.
    The most impressive, truly breathtaking space here is the dining room of the lodge's signature restaurant, Kanu. Massive timber uprights and large log trusses frame a three-story Great Room, with log walls, a timbered loggia, and two granite, wood-burning fireplaces, each big enough for a manor house. Two large wrought iron chandeliers and an even more interesting glass one in an Arts and Craft style finished off with antlers hung by iron chains from the soaring 30-foot-high ceiling, with a skylight at its apex. It’s the perfect backdrop for the large moose and elk heads mounted above the fireplaces, a canoe suspended from the back wall with a toy stuffed bear as a passenger, and beautifully made hewn-log tables and chairs. This is "roughing it" in grand style.
    Kanu was the venue for a Fall Festival Dinner for 40 or so lucky diners the weekend I visited. The evening started quietly with a hay-smoked Nova Scotia oyster as amuse bouche, very lightly smoked and very fresh. I'm not sure if using greens as a first course was a good idea. For me, the Fledgling Crow Farms Autumn greens, grown just down the road in Keeseville, with Old Chatham Ewe's Bleu Cheese, excellent as they were, would have been more welcome as a sort of intermezzo after one or two more substantial dishes.
    Local sourcing was the night's theme, as was the use of seasonal ingredients. Things got much more interesting with the next dish, Juniper Hill Farm (in Wadhams) butternut squash puree (left), a pretty, tasty orange smear on the plate, made even better with delicious chanterelles, toasted squash seeds, and crunchy, flavorful brioche croutons.
    Harmony Hill Farmstead Scotch egg, from a farm in Malone, was a great idea. I always thought that a Scotch Egg, which is standard pub fare in England, prepared with care and topnotch ingredients would be delicious. With Vermont Maple sausage surrounding the hard-boiled egg, it was pretty much a novelty for everyone at the table, but was definitely enjoyed by all.
    The main course was again something of a surprise. The chefs requested Kilcoyne Farm, located far north near the Canadian border in Brasher Fall, to butcher their beef so the tenderloin was still on the bone, something one rarely sees. The bone gave the melt-in-your-mouth cut exceptional flavor, while the Swiss chard, baby carrots, and celeriac were the perfect seasonal touch.
    New York State Lady Apple sorbet with local maple syrup and a yogurt pound cake brought things to a delicious, gentle close. The evening was a well thought out, successfully executed, multi-course Fall Festival Dinner, with perfectly sized portions, and, for the most part, showcasing the bounty of the season. Well-trained wait staff ensured there were no long waits between courses, so everything moved along smartly. The perfectly light, yet satisfying, dessert also managed to cleanse the palate.
    On another evening we ordered from Kanu's regular menu, starting smartly with a wild mushroom risotto, perfectly executed, creamy, with a slight crunch to the rice kernels, and all but bursting with flavor from the assorted mushrooms. Serving it in a wrought iron pan made sure it was hot right up to the last, sad bite. Another good starter was Smoked Mountain trout (not local) with arugula, radish and dollops of trout roe. The only misstep was the crème fraîche foam--a nod to molecular cuisine--that was just too unsubstantial to play any real role in the dish. Here was a refinement that out-smarted itself. A side order of regular crème fraîche, requested from the waiter, performed much better.
    A Niman Ranch heritage pork chop with roasted Brussels sprouts and applewood smoked bacon was expertly prepared so the grilled chop was medium throughout but not dried out, something I've never been able to accomplish at home. Pastrami-style brined organic salmon, with wild rice, toasted almonds and acorn squash not only tasted good but looked good as well, the brick-colored fillet laying atop a green-skinned round of squash, whose center was filled with wild rice, pearl onion confit, and toasted almonds.
    The only real culinary disappointment of the trip was the Whiteface Cheddar burger served at the Kanu Lounge, right across the floor from the main dining room. I'd been eyeing them for days, as the diners seemed to be thoroughly enjoying theirs. It looked well-grilled, juicy and delicious. Unfortunately, mine was bland, over-cooked, and, worst of all, rather dry. The brioche bun, honey-cured bacon, and french fries did help somewhat. Also, do order the yummy truffle fries available as a side dish, a partnership surely made in heaven.
    Sautéed brook trout, on the other hand, was an unqualified success, with Thousand Island wild rice and roasted root vegetables. Our first courses were sesame-seared ahi tuna with wonderful wasabi crème fraîche, and a curried carrot soup that stole the show, definitely "worth a detour" all on its own. Executive Chef Davis S. Haick and the chef de cuisine, Greg Barth, take full advantage of their neck of the woods. Their contemporary take on a distinctly American haute cuisine showcases the best seasonal ingredients, locally sourced as much as possible. Somebody took time and really did their homework in ferreting out all these local purveyors. The chefs do their best never to betray the season. They don't over think their dishes, or cram plates with as many different things as possible. The sides highlight the main ingredient, they don't intimidate it.
    The Adirondack Rustic décor, done with impeccable taste, does have its touches of whimsy. I especially liked the stuffed raccoon, upright and scratching his claws on a stump, that sits right up against the bottom post of the flight of stairs leading to the main floor. I failed to notice it at first. With my hand trailing on the stair railing as I came down, it suddenly and unexpectedly encountered some furry critter when I reached the bottom. I didn't realize at first that this was taxidermy, and not some live forest fauna foraging in the lobby.

Kanu: starters: $12-15, main courses: $28-40, desserts: $10; Kanu Lounge: starters: $9-13, soups and salads: $8-12, sandwiches: $15-18, and entrees  $20-25.


by John Mariani

The Peninsula Hotel
700 Fifth Avenue (at 55th Street)

    Clement is easily the most handsome restaurant to open in NYC this year, which, at a time when the food media seem to prefer to dine in places that haven't even the appeal of a diner, may be an difficult draw. Clement is an adult restaurant, not given to rumpus room décor, eardrum-shattering music or t-shirted, tattooed servers whose one-word answer to everything is "awesome."
    Set up a flight of stairs at the Peninsula Hotel off Fifth Avenue, Clement is a series of very comfortable, beautifully lighted dining rooms and sophisticated bar where the tables are set a commodious distance from one another and draped in good linens, with fine silverware and wine glasses. There are pottery installations at reception by the artist Pascale Giradin; the Book Room (above) is treated with textured paper stacked along the corner walls by the artist Moss+Lam; the Mirror Room’s artwork works intriguing magic, while the Color Room, with its sixty-foot-long, hand-etched urban “jungle,” is uniquely New York.
    Practice and experience also imbue the service staff, which is ultra-attentive, though sometimes intrusive, ardently reciting everything from the smallest ingredient in a special cocktail to every item that goes onto a plate, however incidental it might be or already explained on the menu.    Bar manager Rich Lilley is, however, as knowledgeable as they come and should be consulted on cocktails and wine.
    That said, if you have all the time in the world, you can bask in the louche pace of a meal at Clement and concentrate on chef Brandon Kita’s eclectic menu and beautifully composed cuisine, which can also be complicated, when a few less ingredients on the plate would add up to more distinct flavors.    Our party of four tasted widely, guided by the chef and sommelier. We began with Long Island oysters with plum, olive oil, sea salt, and a dish of fluke with a citrus dashi, avocado and sorrel juice. A “taste of fall” (right) was composed of Woodlands ham, seasonal offerings and dressed with a hazelnut vinaigrette.
         A very fine foie gras terrine took on just the right sweet-sour balance from blueberries and texture from pistachios and toasted brioche, while scallops from Barnegat Light, NJ (Pop Culture Trivia Question: What Four Seasons song mentions Barnegat Bay?), were caressed with truffle, cauliflower and sheer lardo.  These starters were accompanied by a lightly acidic Austrian Weingut Knoll 2009 Riesling Smaragd “Ried Loibenberg.”

    Ravioli had a hit of black pepper and parmesan, which didn’t work with the added caviar, which might have been better with a main course of salmon in a fennel brandade with  cucumber coulis and dill. Lobster was enriched by kabocha squash and chanterelle mushroom, while black sea bass came in an appealing, if unexpected, Peking duck broth with fall mushrooms and spinach.  With these we enjoyed a delicious Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin “Vieilles Vignes.”
        The meat dishes chosen by the chef were accompanied by a lustrous Clos Mogador 2010 Priorat. Long Island duck took on the traditional flavors of orange peel with the novelty of it being smoked, along with flowering chive and a sweet roasted pear.  Excellent lamb was well served by simple additions of potato, kale and roasted eggplant, while a juicy beef tenderloin had potato purée, roasted carrot and a touch of star anise. Most enjoyable was the baby pig with crisp apples, parsnip and cabbage, which in NYC’s cold weather is a very enticing option.
    Desserts were imaginative but restrained in the best sense--chocolate banana cake with rum butter ice cream; apple crisp with cranberry pecan crumble and orange buttermilk ice cream; and sea salt caramel chocolate with passion fruit crémeux and thyme ice cream.
    Clement adds measurably to a breed of sophisticated restaurants New Yorkers still admire and pay attention to, even if The New Yorker food writers rarely seem to eat this side of the Brooklyn Bridge any more.  Clement’s beauty, civilized level of conversation, and attentive staff make it all the more attractive right now around the holidays. The fact that it’s open for breakfast means you can also stay over and wake up in anticipation of still more refinement.



Carmignano Gets Its Due from Capezzana

  by John Mariani

The Contini Bonacossi of Tenuta di Capezzana

    Forgive the pun, but in Tuscany there is more ferment going on than anywhere else in Italy right now. Driven by critical praise for its highest quality wines like Brunello di Montalcino and the so-called “Super Tuscans” like Solaia, Sassicaia and others, Tuscany’s wines also float on the region’s aristocratic reputations of estate owners like Incisa della Rocchetta, Piero Antinori, and Frescobaldi—all marquis—and Baron Ricasoli.
    Their money (the Antinoris are a banking family) and innovative spirit radically changed Tuscany’s image as being awash in cheap Chianti to that of Italy’s premier wine region, all built on the native sangiovese grape.
    One of Tuscany’s great sangiovese-based wines that has not yet gotten its due is carmignano, a blend of at least 50 percent sangiovese, up to 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, plus 20 percent caniolo nero and five percent mammolo and/or colorino. Though not as powerful as its Tuscan cousins whose grapes come from lower altitudes, carmignano has firm tannins, slightly lower acidity and a great deal of herbaceous aromas.
    The family intent on changing carmignano’s reputation is indeed blue blooded: in the 1920s Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi purchased the Capezzana estate and soon started putting its wines in Bordeaux-style bottles, rather than the straw-covered flasks of the past.
    His nephew Ugo led the fight in the 1960s to have carmignano classified as a denominazione d’origine controllata wine under Italian law, then in 1990 as the highest appellation, denominazione d’origine controllata e guarantita. Today, Tenuta di Capezzana accounts for 70 percent of the DOCG wines produced in the area.
    Capezzana  (above)has also been testing out biodynamic viticulture and by 2015 expects their vineyards to be certified 100 percent organic.
    The driving force and ambassador behind Capezzana now is Countess Beatrice Contini Bonacossi, who, in person, prefers to be called simply Bea. (In the family photo above, she is just to the left of the open door.) I met her for lunch in New York and we spoke about the advances being made in Tuscany and at her family’s estate. “As we four siblings are now in charge of all key areas, we take a holistic view and hands-on approach to management,” she said. “We agree to disagree, but we all see the future as evolutionary versus revolutionary.” Her sister Benedetta is the winemaker, her brother Vittorio in charge of the vineyards, and Filippo handles the finances and the company’s olive oil business.
    They also run tours of the property, with its 16th century wine cellars, and you may even rent one of their historic villas there. And, if you’re in Florence, nearly half their vast art collection is on view at the Uffizi Gallery.
    Still, says Bea, “We are always conscious of the cost of our wines, and our sales rise because we do not price ourselves out of the market for Italian wines.”  Evidence of this intent is their $12 Monna Nera 2012, a wine “for young people,” light, fruity, with a little peppery bite.  So, too, the $15 Barco Reale 2010, which is 70 percent sangiovese, is called a “baby carmignano,” and is delectable as an every day red wine.
    As the wines move up in price, style, finesse and complexity come into play, as in the superb single vineyard blend Ghiale della Furbia 2007 ($55), made from 60 percent cabernet, 30 percent merlot for softness, and a sprightly 10 percent syrah. The vineyard was planted with cuttings taken by Bea’s father from the Lafite-Rothschild estate.
    We went through a vertical sampling of Villa de Capezzana carmignanos, beginning with a 2008 vintage ($30) with an exceptionally high 14.5 percent alcohol, due, said Bea, “to changes in the climate we have noticed since 2000. We left the grapes on the vines longer to perfect them.”
    The 1998 ($150) reflected an earlier, cooler climate, with 13.3 percent alcohol, albeit after a very hot summer. The 1988 had honey notes and well-tamed tannins, but I would not expect this vintage to last much longer, and at $280, if you can find it, a bit of a risk.
    Oddly enough, a rare 1968 Riserva ($600), made from 65 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet, 15 percent canaiolo and 10 percent “complementary grapes” tasted fresher than the 1988, though it was curiously thin, perhaps reflecting carmignano’s lighter body in those days.
    By the way, Capezzana also makes a superb vin santo, produced by allowing the grapes to "bake" in the upper room of the winery (left) till they become raisin-like and to produce a rich, viscous sweet wine they call Vinsantia.     But times have changed and carmignano seems poised to take its rightful place among the best DOCG wines in Italy.  With the U.S. Capezzana’s largest importer and China now second, the family’s challenge will be to produce enough wine to satisfy the market but only enough carmignano to sustain its eminence.



Sen. Rand Paul warned the citizenry that the federal government is now targeting doughnuts take-over. "They're coming after your doughnuts!" he said of the FDA's  decision to ban trans fats. Paul also insisted that  the employees of the agency should be forced to get healthy themselves. "I say we should line every one of them up. I want to see how skinny or how fat the FDA agents are that are making the rules on this," Paul said.



 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their coffee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.

My new book--Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  THIS WEEK: SUGAR LOAF

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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