and Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious" (1946)
IN THIS ISSUE
DINING OUT IN CHARLESTON
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
TWO CASUAL ITALIAN TRATTORIAS
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Wines I'm Drinking for Spring
By John Mariani
DINING OUT IN CHARLESTON
By John Mariani
The Ninth Annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival was celebrated last month, and, as always, I was delighted to be asked to be a part of it, hosting, for the second year in a row, a Wine Tasting river cruise. As ever, the admirable focus at the Festival is on the cuisine of the South, and the wide majority of the chefs invited come from the region; unlike the food and wine festivals in Aspen and Miami, which depend almost entirely on the same tired TV food and travel show celebrities, Charleston celebrates new people each year, and they have a lot of great talent to choose from. The "Heart of the Festival" is the tented Culinary Village (left), where back-to-back demos, book signings, and music jams are held throughout each day. Testament to the success and popularity of the Festival is not just that it's grown, but that its various events sell out weeks in advance.
Next year I expect it to be bigger and better than ever. Of course, I got to eat around town, including some new places opened since the last Festival, all showing the traditional depth and the continuing innovation of the city's cuisine. Charleston, in just a few years, has emerged as one of America's most enticing dining cities, and there's much more to come.
its opening in 2001, I pronounced Cypress to be one
of America’s Best New Restaurants in Esquire;
now, 13 years later, I can safely say it is one of
America’s Very Best. Period. A decade ago
Cypress represented a significant leap forward in
design that shied away from the then typical Low
Country genteel dining room look. The place
was vast, with a great wall of wine behind glass, an
open kitchen, and dramatic lighting. (The
company that owns Cypress also runs the estimable
Magnolias and Blossom.)
for dinner nightly.
most prominent restaurateur, Steve Palmer, is at it
again. As the developer of first-rate restaurants
around town, his Indigo Road Hospitality Group has
opened Oak Steakhouse, O-Ku, The Cocktail Club, The
Macintosh, The Oak Table, and, this year, Indaco.
Palmer has an uncanny sense of what the Charleston
market is absolutely ripe for, and, since the
Italian offerings around the city have been
dismal--with the notable exception of Ken
Vedrinksi’s tiny Trattoria Lucca--Indaco is a
significant addition to the genre.
is open nightly for dinner.
over the sweeping Ravenel Bridge and pretty soon
you’ll come to the quickly developing town of Mt.
Pleasant, where, in the nondescript Belle Hall
shopping center is a restaurant that might well be
worth the drive, if only to see what chef-owner
Brannon Florie is doing here.
The Granary is open for dinner; lunch and brunch.
consider it as much a sorry omission to miss eating
at least one meal at Hominy Grill as to go to Venice
and not drop into Harry’s Bar. For both are
icons, for very different reasons: one is an
international watering hole famous for its bellinis
and carpaccio; the other is a down-home eatery
equally famous for its catfish Creole and shrimp
bog. Guess which is which?
Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun., and for dinner Mon.-Sat.
1081 Morrison Drive
to their website, “Edmund Egan was an English-born
brewer who came to Charleston in the 1760s and
started producing beer soon after. He had great
success and donated large amounts of money to the
American Revolution, earning him the name `The Rebel
Brewer.’. Oast is an old European term for a kiln
used in the drying of hops. Together the two make
Open nightly for dinner; brunch on Sat. & Sun.
A NOTE ON SOUTH CAROLINA GUN LAWS: In last week's Virtual Gourmet I reported on the appalling probability that Georgia will pass legislation allowing concealed weapons with permits in bars and restaurants. It should be noted that in February, South Carolina passed the same kind of law, with the proviso that the gun owner does not drink alcohol in the establishment. Good luck with that! Restaurateurs and bar owners may post their own ban on guns, which puts them in a very difficult position. As the NY Times reported this week, when one bar owner in Clemson did so, "he was slammed with so many online attacks and harassing phone calls that he changed his number and started asking the police to open his mail."
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
TWO CASUAL MIDTOWN ITALIAN TRATTORIAS
By John Mariani
All the talk about how dining out has become more casual obviously ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of restaurants are casual, not least--and especially in New York--the venerable Italian trattorias, distinct from high-end Italian ristoranti with Frette linens and Ginori china. At the former, they perfected long ago the art of “dolce far niente,” that is, the sweetness of doing nothing, achieved through a lot of hard work. The irony is that not too long ago, pizzerias were quite distinct from trattorias and ristoranti, until pizza went from being snack food to a gourmet item. Today even high-end Italian restaurants serve the now exalted pies.
One of the best of the trattoria + pizzeria genre has been around for a long time--Naples 45, in the MetLife Building atop Grand Central Terminal. Back in 1963 this space was called Trattoria--then a very unfamiliar term to Americans, and the restaurant was a vast, colorful, very stylish space serving highly authentic Italian fare (I still recall its lasagne alla bolognese as the best in the U.S.). But it didn’t serve pizza.
Decades later Trattoria was recast as Naples 45 (left), the name referring to the city where pizza was invented back in the 19th century and to the number of the street outside the restaurant’s glass wall. A great deal of research was done to obtain the perfect flour, tomatoes, mozzarella, even water with the same mineral content as the water in Naples, and the result was a glorious pizza (above), which it remains to this day. Shaped like the Circus Maximus, the pizzas are impeccably crisp, the right thickness and steamy with fine ingredients. They start, in size, at $16.95 and go up to very large ones at $35.50.
Indeed, I would contend that it was putting such great pizza on the menu at Naples 45 that gave the O.K. to other Italian restaurateurs fearful of adding such a humble item to their menus. These days there’s hardly an Italian restaurant in New York, or anywhere else for that matter, that doesn’t serve pizza.
Chef Stephen Rosenbluth also turns out fine Italian food that begins with crisp calamari with a spicy tomato sauce ($12) and crumbly arancini rice balls stuffed with mozzarella and served with a tomato ragù ($10). The pastas, which come in enormous portions, include a lasagna bolognese ($19) that comes pretty close to the one I so loved when this was Trattoria, and there’s heft and heartiness in the spaghetti chitarra with pecorino and coarse black pepper mixed with runny egg for a creamy finish ($18). The fat tubes called paccheri ($19.50) take on an admirable Neapolitan-style meat sauce.
If you’ve still room, the striped bass is poached with clams, tomatoes, capers, garlic, and oregano ($26), and the crisply breaded chicken cutlet milanese is piled high with tomatoes, arugula and a sharp red onion salad ($26).
Prices on everything at Naples 45 are extremely reasonable and you’re likely to take something home. They also offer a four-course dinner at $32.
Now that spring is struggling to arrive, they’ll soon be opening up the patio tables with their bright blue umbrellas. Come early: those tables go fast at lunchtime.
Naples 45 is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri.
A brand new trattoria, with the forthright name Mozzarella & Vino, has opened on the former site of Il Gattopardo (now moved slightly east), across from the Museum of Modern Art. Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino, who also run the superb ristorante The Leopard across from Lincoln Center, have here fashioned a long bar and two dining areas, with a skylight in the back, for truly casual eating based on the glories of imported buffalo mozzarella and Italian charcuterie (above)--salami, salumi, fine hams--and a few antipasto.
The mozzarella comes in several lovely shapes and varieties, all creamy white and moist, and for $16 you can have a tasting of provola and burrata. There is smoked mozzarella, eggplant-stuffed mozzarella, basil-scented mozzarella, and much more. The meats range from various prosciuttos to bresaola, Speck, mortadella, and rare culatello--all from the finest producers. For lunch, the panini sandwiches are a first rate idea with a glass of wine at the bar.
You should also consider the items from the friggitoria list--fried dishes, including rice ball arancini, fat panzarotti pasta filled with potato, mozzarella and salami, and golden fried zucchini.
There are only a couple of pastas here--a vegetable lasagna and baked pasta of the day--as well as a platter of meatballs ($13/$19) and hearty beef stew ($18) with corn polenta.
Mozzarella & Vino puts great emphasis on the vino part, acting as an enoteca where you can order a well-selected range of small estate wines in two-, four-, or six-ounce glasses.
offer you a choice on 54th Street--either the posh
Il Gattopardo or this casual new eatery. At both you
can count on the same quality of ingredients and
service, striking a fine casual balance of refined
Mozzarella & Vino is open
Mon.-Sat from 11:30 AM to 10 PM, Sundays from 11:30
AM to 5 PM.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Perhaps the title of this article is too
optimistic, for spring has yet to settle into
But I did see crocuses rearing their
purple heads this morning, so I will drink wines
early spring you can certainly still drink
big-bodied red wines, and there are so many good
ones from so many global vineyards right now in
the marketplace, at just about every price
point. Here is a slew I’m enjoying right now.
Reserva Malbec 2010 ($14)—The
characteristic flavor of Malbec, with its strong
tannins, makes this wine a primer for the fine red
wines of this varietal now coming out of Mendoza
vineyards in Argentina. It’s very well priced for
the quality, especially since Argento only started
making Malbec as recently as 1998. The
wine spends nine months in oak barrels, softening
it to its present equilibrium.
Winery C Blend 2009 ($48)—Here’s a fine
blend of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, with
the latter providing dark fruit and a
tobacco-and-chocolate finish. At 14.5 percent
alcohol it’s just at that sweet spot where big
means bold. The winery was founded in 1994 and
opened to the public in 2005 in Napa Valley and is
well worth visiting for its round barn
architecture and state-of-the-art facilities (left).
St. Henri Shiraz 2009 ($65)—Penfolds is
one of Australia’s pioneering wineries in the
Barossa Valley and they make a wide range of
products at various prices. This is
getting to the top of the line and is very
expressive of how Australian shirazes manage to
retain fruit without being inky . . .. To really
hit the heights, sell an antique at get the
Penfolds Bin 707 ($265), but be prepared to wait
for it to come to full
now there is magnificence lurking beneath the
fruit, acid and, curiously subdued, tannins.
Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012
($19)—Here's a good entry level premium chardonnay
from the estate that created the California style
for the varietal.
There’s oak and caramel here but enough
acid for balance, and I found it tasted even
better the next night when some oxygen got
absorbed into the wine.
Kent Folkendt Vineyard 2010 ($65)—a
Livermore Valley, CA, 100 percent Cabernet
Sauvignon whose alcohol of 14.2 percent is
admirable in a state that loves huge, out-of-whack
fruited, it is lively on the palate and has a
fine, long finish that will be even better in two to three years. (The winery is shown
Veli Pezzo Morgana Negroamaro Salice Salentino
2008 ($20)—Salice Salentino made from the
Negroamaro grape is Puglia’s claim to red wine
quality, and this distinctive varietal is ripe and
ready to drink right now with red meats. I found
some sediment in the bottle, which suggests it
won’t be this delicious forever.
Riserva Chianti Classico 2010 ($30)—A
remarkable price for such a beautifully crafted
Chianti Classico in a blend of 80 percent
Sangiovese, a soft 15 percent Merlot, and a
backbone of 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, spending
16 months in oak and three in bottle. It is
ideal with the kinds of foods
enjoyed in Tuscany and right now the baby lamb is
being readied for Easter, when this wine would be
perfect as a celebratory accompaniment.
Veramonte Primus Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($14)—The Colchagua Valley of Chile has emerged as one of the country’s finest, and this Cabernet (with 5 percent Syrah) made by Huneeus Vintners shows how you put steel into a velvet glove and have both power and finesse in an intensely flavorful, admirably priced red wine. More age will bring it into even better focus.
BIDDING ON THE ITEM WILL BEGIN AT 50,000£ AT SOTHEBY'S
Victoria Beckham (aka Posh Spice) recently tweeted a photo of a box of vintage Spice Girls pizza, for which each girl had her own slice shaped like a letter in the word SPICE. According to E! Online, Mel C’s “S” slice had tuna and cheese, Emma’s “P” slice had ham and cheese, Geri’s “I” had chilies and cheese, Mel B’s “C” had spicy beef and cheese, and Victoria’s “E” had red onions because “she knows what she wants, what she really, really wants when it comes to vegetables” (according to the box).
HMMM, WE ALSO SEEM TO
DETECT. . . MOSCOW
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