Myrna Loy and Cary
Grant in "The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer" (1947)
THE BEST AND WORST
Good taste, bad taste, no taste. Trends and trivia. Greatness and gimmickry. All part of American gastronomy, and in 2013 there was plenty of everything. Here are my thoughts on the best and worst of food and drink over the past year.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT: Betony (left), a sophisticated new two-tiered spot on West 57th Street, not far from Carnegie Hall. Chef Bryce Shuman, manager Eamon Rockey and sommelier Luke Wohlers are showing what it means to set a culinary standard in New York’s tradition of fine dining.
WORST NEW GOUGES: The return of the antiquated B&B charge at restaurants where you have to pay to get bread and butter. Next year maybe a G&S charge for glasses and silverware?. . . And dishes served “for Two Persons,” which used to be reserved for a few dishes like a whole chicken or bananas Foster. Where once you could order a thick slab of Prime rib, now you have to order—at up to $150—a côte de boeuf, proving the old assumption that any dish with a French name will be more expensive.
NEW BED AND BREAKFAST: The casually upscale Bespoke Inn
Scottsdale, AZ, with just four idiosyncratic rooms, a
spa, a lap pool, bicycles, and a lavish breakfast of
freshly baked scones with crème fraiche, fruit
crumbles, pancakes, eggs, and housemade granola. The
Honest Café is downstairs. And if you’re
running late, owners Kate and Bob will drive you to
MOST RIDICULOUS OBSESSION: Cronuts—a combo of croissant and doughnut, originating in New York—are gaining traction everywhere, so current three-hour waits outside the Dominique Ansel Bakery should subside.
BEST NEW BREAKFAST ITEMS: The corned beef hash, made right, made fresh, and served in wonderful new American restaurants like Honey Salt in Las Vegas, where it comes with farmer's toast, breakfast potatoes, whole grain mustard and sunny-side up eggs for just fifteen bucks. . . . and the Hotel Wilshire Los Angeles’ Pancake Lasagna (left), a triumph of American decadence to start the day off with a groan of many pure pleasures. Created by chef Eric Greenspan at the Roof restaurant, it is an amalgam of three layers of pancakes sandwiching eggs, bacon, ground sausage, with melted cheese on top and just enough maple syrup to remind you this is still breakfast.
BEST EGG DISH: At NYC’s Louro,
Chef David Santos combines a turkey egg with heirloom
squash, arugula pistou,
and tempura blossom.
WORST NEVER-ENDING LISTICLES: Best hamburgers in America, Best pizzas in New York, pho in Los Angeles.
WORST GAFFE BY A NEWS MAGAZINE: Time
Magazine’s cover story on the “Gods of Food,” all of
whom were men.
BEST NEW INDIAN RESTAURANT: Pippali, NYC, features the widest array of regional Indian dishes to be found on this continent, with nary a cliché among them.
BEST NEW ITALIAN RESTAURANT: MC Kitchen,
Miami, brings the city its first modern Italian
restaurant via Chef Dena Marino and partner Brandy
Coletta, in a clean, stripped down décor
befitting its Design District location. What
distinguishes MC’s cooking is its elemental
simplicity—the first rubric of Italian cuisine,
adapted by Marino with all
the gusto she can muster in a dish like her pappardelle
of spring ramps and “forever braised” pork ragù,
and her crisp, charred pizzas topped with broccoli di
rabe, sausage, fontina
and caramelized onions.
Her food and Coletta’s savvy coalesce in a
sophisticated balance rare in a sunny city where glitz
too often trumps good
BEST NEW SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: Spoon in Dallas, a beautifully designed, very comfortable restaurant where Chef/owner John Tesar proves himself a chef’s chef in the choosing, handling, cooking and service of the finest seafood.
BEST NEW HIPSTER RESTAURANT: Trois Mec in Los Angeles, despite a total lack of décor worth mentioning, no telephone number, and keeping the last tenant’s sign--Raffallo’s Pizza—is a small astonishment thanks to chef/owner Ludo Lefebvre, whose turned from doing very haute French cuisine to an evolved form of his own, based entirely on ingenuity married to experience.
WORST NEW DISH: Three thin fingers of stuffed pasta onto which the waiter pours strong black coffee, brewed in a Chemex filter at your table, served at The Pass & Provisions in Houston, TX.
WORST EXCESS: NYC’s Bice restaurant serving a $2,000 dish of tagliolini with lobster and black truffles, served on a gold-leaf platter designed by late Gianni Versace.
BEST NEW STEAKHOUSES: Polo Steakhouse in Garden City, NY, brings posh together with beef as near to its competitor Peter Luger as you can find. . . and Robert’s (left) in Atlantic City, which is now the best restaurant in Atlantic City.
MOST EXPENSIVE DISH THAT SHOULDN’T BE:
Veal Parm--$50 at Carbone in
NYC, served by waiters in burgundy tuxedos. It's good
and it's big but it's no better than you'd find at
dozens of other Italian restaurants in NYC, like Patsy's
in the Theater District and Mario's
in the Bronx and much cheaper.
Stella 34 (left), a $15 million restaurant on the sixth floor of Macy’s Herald Square store (itself undergoing a $400 million renovation). With its grand view of the Empire State Building and Chef Jarett Appell’s terrific traditional and modern Italian food, this is a destination for out-of-towners and New Yorkers alike.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON
Joseph JJ Johnson (below), The Cecil, NYC
NEW YORK CORNER
barley & grain
barley & grain
Food hipsters who insist that Brooklyn is the new mecca for hot new restaurants ignorantly neglect what’s happening on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Fact is, the “UWS” has never been at a loss for terrific places to eat, and in the last five years the exciting dining options have soared, from Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center to Daniel Boulez’s Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, from Picholine to The Leopard, from Porter House to Ed’s Chowder House.
One of the newest to impress me are is run by young, energetic professionals whose menus are crafted to please, not challenge guests and whose service has a charming UWS tilt you won’t find across town or down in Soho.
Barley & Grain could not be a better-named restaurant on the UWS, for its intense focus on barley- and grain-based spirits—100 of them-- (there’s no rum or tequila on the bar list). The bar is certainly center stage in this tiny storefront location. Indeed, you could sit at the convivial bar and order some grub, but my guests and I preferred to sit at a cozy table on a packed Saturday night and to take our time enjoying the hearty food Chef Eric Acklowitz is turning out with considerable panache.
We began with some “Quick and Easy” small plates that included addictive beef short rib poppers lavished with white cheddar, bacon and garlic mayo. We battled over the hot shrimp hush puppies (below), made with buttermilk, and spiky flavors like jalapeño, cayenne and aïoli dipping sauce.
How do you enrich an already decadent cured pork belly? Slap it on French toast, with spicy maple butter emulsion and quail egg, which would probably cure a hangover in about ten seconds. Make jicama salad into a confetti-colored salad (right).
Smooth and velvety was roasted eggplant with tangy feta cheese, Kalamata olives, sesame tahini, red onions and pistachios, and the mac ‘n’ triple cheese with bacon can easily banish winter’s chill. These items are smaller plates (sort of) and none runs more than $15. The larger main course plates run only $17 to $35—this last for a 16-ounce Delmonico steak with Cajun fries, onion rings and a bourbon demi-glaze.
I really enjoyed the unusual house-cured lamb pastrami sliders with pickled red onion, Cajun fries and rye bun, fighting off calls to share them. Our waitress forcefully suggested we had to try the roast chicken; we shrugged and did. She was right: this was a boneless half chicken, impeccably roasted to golden, crispy crust, with a cilantro dip and black and white barley. In a city of great roast chickens, this one –at $11!--comes in near the top.
Let me not fail to mention the wonderful turkey potpie, with a buttery crust and plenty of big chunks of turkey in a well-seasoned gravy.
If you’ve room for dessert, do try the Guinness Stout ice cream for fun. But for sheer animal comfort food, the chocolate pudding should make you weep a little.
REMEMBERING JOE SANTO
His name may not be recalled by people who only became impassioned about food and restaurants in the past decade, but the name of his most illustrious restaurant—Sign of the Dove on the Upper East Side—still is. Except for a copyrighted photo of Santo in the NY Times, there is none I could find to put into this remembrance; almost no photos exist. Yet at one time he was one of a handful of restaurateurs who, in the 1960s radically changed the way we dine out and helped set in motion the so-called “foodie revolution” of the lat 1970s.
Santo never set out to be a restaurateur; he was a young dentist in 1962 when he took over a lease on an old rooming house at Third Avenue and 65th Street for $6,000, which he turned into a restaurant called Sign of the Dove, named after the story that patriot Nathan Hale was said to have been executed nearby at a place called the Dove Tavern. Within 18 months the restaurant had paid off his entire $240,000 debt, and Sign of the Dove was among the first restaurants in that area of Manhattan—opposite Bloomingdale’s—to attract the enormous crowd of baby boomers with money in their pockets to spend on fine food while avoiding the entrenched snobbism of the city’s elitist French dining salons.
Sign of the Dove, painted bright yellow, was
effusively glamorous, festooned with
flowers, greenery, wrought iron filigree and
within arched brick walls under a
Early reports from
the conservative food media, not least the Times,
were impressed with the décor but trashed the
food and service, but by the
1980s the restaurant was no longer considered just a
place for a celebration
but as a culinary destination, eventually earning
three stars from the Times and
16 out of 20 points from the
then influential Gault-Millau
which praised its innovative New American cooking
under young chef Andy
Joseph Batholomew Santo was born in Winchester, MA, son of an Italian immigrant. He graduated from Boston U., served in the Army and got his degree in dentistry at Saint Louis U. before opening his practice in NYC. After his success with Sign of the Dove, Santo was equally successful opening more modest restaurants like Yellowfingers (with a disco upstairs) that were part of the singles’ bar phenomenon of the era, then the first Southwestern restaurant in NYC, Arizona 206, as well as one of the city’s finest bakeries, Ecce Panis.
``In each restaurant, I`ve done what I wanted to please myself,`` he told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. “I like sensual, simple food, complex but not complicated. No bull. I feel the same way about people. But in the long run, it`s not the food or the décor or the service that makes a restaurant. It`s the total experience.”
Few restaurateurs realized the importance of that total experience for his guests, especially 50 years ago when a restaurant was primarily known for either its food or its ambiance, its clubbishness or its tourist crowd. Santo made all those things count and did so with a flamboyance that won everyone over, even if at a very high price. Sign of the Dove was for so many people just cutting their teeth on upscale cuisine an educational experience in both food and service, even when at times the latter was a formulaic recitation. Young people who would have been intimidated dining at Le Pavillon or La Côte Basque felt entirely welcome at Sign of the Dove. In 1991 New York Magazine critic Gael Greene wrote “for cuisinary snobs and postgraduate sensualists, the Sign of the Dove is suddenly home.”
restaurant lasted eight more years, an
astoundingly long run—four decades—in
a town where hot spots come and go within a year and
even classic restaurants
peter out after twenty. That Sign
of the Dove endured, even as culinary styles
changed, was entirely due to Joe
Santos and his family’s alertness to those changes
without sacrificing the
grand design that so awed so many people for so
WINES AND SPIRITS 2013
by John Mariani
Distillers Vodka ($40)--“It takes 13 pounds of fresh potatoes to
make a bottle of our vodka,” says Mark Kleckner, a
former DC-based mergers and acquisitions expert in the
defense business, now CFO and COO of Woody Creek
Distillers in Basalt, Colorado. “Most of the other
American distillers making potato-based vodka use the
kind you find in the bin with wrinkles and sprouts.
The ones you throw away.” Woody Creek
Distillers, which only began production last October,
gets all its spuds from the nearby 30-acre
Scanlon Farm, owned by Kleckner’s partners, Mary
Scanlon, CEO, and her husband Pat, President. She is a
small business owner, overseeing design and marketing
the distillery; Pat was a missile and space network
engineer for Lockheed Martin and IBM; the distillery’s
manager, David Matthews, WCD’s manager, had been a
Wall Street trader before sailing around the world
studying distilling and spirits production. They must
know something: this is a helluva flavorful
vodka in a world of flavorless examples.
Michter’s 10-Year-Old ($70)—Michter’s US 1 Straight Rye is
impressive enough for its depth and layers of true rye
flavors, but the 10-Year-Old shows just how strikingly
American whiskey can compete with the finest Scotches
and Cognacs out there. You want complexity, a nip of
oak and smoke, this is well worth seeking out and
worth every penny it costs.
($36) is produced in Essex County, MA, which in
colonial times had a thriving rum trade. Privateer
is an amber rum, not so dark as a Pusser's and
without that kind of power; instead, it has a
delicious sweet component that dwells beneath the
complexities and layers of other flavors of oak and
acid. It ages in ages in 53 gallon barrels, slowly,
then cask-finish in used whiskey and brandy barrels.
San Guido Sassicaia 2010 ($105)—Marchesi Mario Incisa della
Rocchetta had been making this cabernet sauvignon for
his family since 1948 but brought the 1968 vintage to
market in 1971. Today it is considered as fine a
cabernet as the best in Bordeaux. It can be a
tannic wine in its youth, so I’d give the current 2010
vintage, which shows good, silky fruit, another five
years for it to blossom.
Vega Sicilia. Spain's greatest wine label and an enduring standard. These wines can take a long, long time to mature, but the exception to this is their lighter, leaner Valbuena 5°, produced from somewhat younger vineyards and composed of tempranillo, merlot, and cabernet. The 2008 vintage I tasted was amazing for its depth and brightness, benefiting from a year of aging in new oak barrels, 3 months in older barrels, and 6 months in large oak vats. It is just being released and should retail for $160 a bottle.
Viñedos Valderiz Ribera del Duero ($34)—Bodegas y Valderiz’s Esteban family prides itself on its commitment to ecological and biodynamics processes. Their Juegabolos vineyard, said to have a complex soil structure with a limestone bottom, gives their Barricas Seleccionad 2006 estate wine a rich minerality, made from 100 percent tempranillo (also called tinto fino). Today you can easily find it for $34, where just a couple of years ago it hit $75 a bottle. For something bolder, though with a little less finesse, the 2004 Valderiz Ribera del Duero is a real delight, so good with pork and beef, and a good buy for so well-balanced a red wine of this age.
Jean-Marie Haag 2011 ($20)--A London sommelier at Social Eating House served me this luscious, pear-like, highly aromatic Alsatian pinot blanc from , with a modest 12.5 percent alcohol, to go with a salt cod fishcake with lemon butter and chive cream, and a dish of Colchester crab with a roasted tomato vinaigrette, ending with a very sweet honey-almond sponge cake with goat’s curd ice cream and orange, which the wine still had the body to complement.
Ornellaia 2010 ($220)—Piero Antinori’s brother Ludovico made the first vintage of Ornellaia in 1985, and today the estate is owned by another aristocrat, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi. Since 2005 Axel Heinz (below) has given Ornellaia a softer edge, with a riper fruit component. The tannic power of 53 percent cabernet sauvignon is softened by a generous 39 percent merlot, as well as 4 percent cabernet franc and 4 percent petit verdot.
Foris Rogue Valley 2011 ($13.50) If you love a good, crisp,
tangy apple, you might be forgiven for thinking this
bottling was full of apple juice. It is absolutely
delicious, a very deft balance of pale sweetness with
edgy acids. Foris, which started producing under its
own label in 1986, is the southernmost winery in
Oregon, and its bottlings are clear expressions of the
high elevation, cool Pacific terroir, allowing the
wine’s components to knit together without
complications from too much sun. They also sell a 2008
sweet late-harvest dessert riesling at $12 for a
Canas Rioja Crianza ($15) is a steal. Red
crianzas are wines that may not be sold till their
third year and have spent a minimum of six months in
oak barrels (in Rioja twelve), and Luis Canas is one
of the pioneers of modern Spanish viniculture.
This wine is 95 percent tempranillo, with ideal acid
and fruit and the flavors of a true
2007 Cerequio Barolo ($79), from a First Category Cru vineyard, was magnificent, reaching every taste bud on the palate and revealing velvety tannins and the scent of truffles in the nose. Here you find the explosive power of barolo, along with a finish of great elegance, all at 13.5 percent alcohol.
Livio Felluga Terre Alte 2006 ($85)—Proof positive that Italian white wines cannot only age gracefully but retain their freshness while gaining complexity. Very round, voluptuous showing remarkable longevity, suggesting all Felluga whites should be saved for a year or two for true maturity.
HE CITED BARRY
MANILOW AS EVIDENCE
HE CITED BARRY MANILOW AS EVIDENCE
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