HAVE A GREAT FOURTH OF JULY WEEKEND!
IN THIS ISSUE
DINING OUT IN NEW ORLEANS, Part One
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
The Sea Grill
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES I'M DRINKING THIS SUMMER
By John Mariani
DINING OUT IN NEW ORLEANS, Part One
By John Mariani
NEW ORLEANS, Part One
By John Mariani
The smallest of excuses to throw a party can send New Orleanians into the streets, but a big excuse, like the 2014 New Orleans Wine & Food Experience held this May, filled the streets and seminar halls, bars and restaurants for four full days of revelry.
There were wine tastings, with names like “I Get a Kick from Crémant ,” “Fresh and Dried” (for which I was a panelist), and “Talk Dirty to Me,” which was about soil and terroir. But the biggest event was the Royal Street Stroll, which began at the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar, then wound its way for about eight blocks through the French Quarter, the street lined with winery personnel pouring their products and restaurateurs dishing out their food. If you actually made it all the way down the line and tasted everything, you probably wouldn’t be up for dinner. Unless you are a true New Orleanian, who is always up for dinner.
As a guest of NOWFE, I was checked into an amazing penthouse suite at the Monteleone, formerly the hotel owner’s own apartment, with a grand view of the Mississippi and all that sails along its broad banks. The hotel itself has undergone a worthwhile renovation that shows from the lobby to the perpetually packed Carousel Bar to rooms that balance old motifs and furnishings with every modern amenity.
Of course, I was also on a hunt for new restaurants while going back to those I love and doing the obligatory visit to the Café du Monde to join a thousand others munching hot sugared beignets with chicory cafe au lait (right). Finding a table at any hour is not easy (try the side room), but you can take out a bag of beignets and go sit by the river and munch away. I’ve never been able to figure out why the majority of the Café’s staff seems to be Vietnamese, but they are speedy and apparently able to work through even the hottest, most humid days visited upon New Orleans in summer.
I also went for my obligatory lunch at Galatoire’s, which, as I wrote last year, had a true renaissance as of 2009, when a new investor group took over the 109-year-old restaurant and revamped everything inside, from the kitchen and once fusty upstairs to the reclaiming of the fleur de lys-dotted wall coverings.
New chef Michael Sichel has maintained all the old Creole traditions while refining every dish on the long menu, more dependent than ever on the freshest ingredients in the market. Some of the old--and I mean very old--waiters are still serving generations of families who come here, but there are young ones too to ensure Galatoire’s changes while remaining very much the same.
Until Galatoire’s started taking reservations a few years ago for the now handsome upstairs dining room, a well-behaved line of people would stretch down the block to the corner of Iberville Street for lunch to wait for a table downstairs, which is to Galatoire’s what the Sistine Chapel is to the Vatican. Even in the sauna-like heat of summer, the women dress to the nines in pastels and men wear seersucker suits, bow ties, and the white Panama hats they bought at Meyer the Hatter on Saint Charles Avenue.
The waiter reels off the day’s specials, the busboy brings ice water and a glass pitcher, and a table for two still gets eight pats of butter and a loaf of hot bread, refreshed after a while even if not used. You peruse the menu, which, by and large, has not changed in decades and has never strayed from its Creole traditions of classics like gumbo, shrimp remoulade, oysters Rockefeller, and chicken Bonne-Femme.
By one o’clock things are in full swing, and voices rise with laughter as everyone digs into lunch--thick, ruddy red turtle soup, a gumbo rich with duck and andouille, trout mounted high with lump crabmeat and almonds, and pompano--the fish Mark Twain said was as “delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” The fish here begin their day in the Gulf and end up swimming in lakes of good butter. The lyonnaise potatoes come hidden under a thatch of sweet onions.
A bottle of Chassagne-Montrachet from an excellent wine list turns in its ice bucket and dishes arrive at a civilized pace. On my recent visit I began with soft-shell crabs--not yet very large back in May—crisp and mahogany colored, sautéed gently with butter. Sweetbreads were plump and silky, black drum rich with butter and crabmeat galore. The fried onions rings, the au gratin potatoes, and the creamed spinach are all signature items here for good reason. A best bet is to go for the “Galatoire’s Gouté,” a taste of various seafood as appetizers.
(I usually don't order meat at Galatoire’s, not because it is not equal to the seafood but only because the seafood is so irresistible. For meat I go right next door to the year-old Galatoire’s 33 Bar & Steak, which I think serves the best beef in the city.)
For dessert I always go for the bread pudding, a luxuriant and very rich thing to consider after a big lunch here, but then I don't make plans
very far ahead when I eat at Galatoire’s.
Galatoire’s is open for lunch and dinner. Appetizers run $7-$14, entrees
I also returned to a place I have not much frequented in the past several years--K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, which, when it opened back in 1979 caused such a gastronomic stir that its famous blackened redfish--heretofore not a species many cared for--was nearly wiped out commercially, and there was a federal ban on the catch for years.
K-Paul’s was something New Orleans had little to compare to, for it was decidedly Cajun, as interpreted by chef Paul Prudhomme, not Creole, and he went on to become one of the first celebrity chefs, long before Emeril Lagasse (who’d taken his chef’s position when Prudhomme left Commander’s Palace). The cooking was astonishingly rich in butter and peppery seasonings, and the rave reviews nationally had the effect of showing that Americans do not all like to eat bland food. One taste of Prudhomme’s Cajun jambalaya or his duck and shrimp Dulac would make a convert of everyone else.
In the ensuing years Prudhomme decreased his presence in his restaurant, writing cookbooks, doing TV cooking shows, bottling his spice mix Cajun Magic through the McCormick company, and losing a tremendous amount of weight. His star didn't so much lose its luster as it did its visibility, and when I asked last month about Paul’s whereabouts, several locals, including chefs, said they hadn’t really heard much about him or seen him in two or three years.
Sadly, on the basis of a visit to K-Paul’s at lunchtime, open Thursday through Saturday, which now serves a diner menu, I’d urge Prudhomme to spend a lot more time in his restaurant. Where once the place looked like a funky hole-in-the-wall, it now looks like a thousand other casual eateries, like Applebee’s or TGI Friday's. You are greeted briskly and told to line up and place your order and get a number. And then you wait, which can be 20 minutes just to get a bowl of soup or some rolls, which, by the way, have little of the rich, buttery, yeasty flavor they used to.
A chicken and andouille gumbo lacked anything to make it distinctive in a city full of good gumbos, the fried pork cutlet with a bourbon glaze was just a mess of gumminess, and the sweet potato fries were limp. I saw know reason to continue on with dessert.
The whole experience lacked the “How y’all doin’?” ambiance K-Paul’s once had, especially when K, Paul’s late wife, was around. In the kitchen a lifeless staff now goes through the motions.
I’d like to think that at dinnertime, K-Paul’s retains what once made it a very significant bellwether restaurant; the menu shows that a lot of the
old dishes are still there. So I withhold my judgment of K-Paul’s, except to say that the great man’s presence is definitely needed for what has always been one of the most highly personalized restaurants in the French Quarter.
K-Paul’s is open for dinner Mon.-Sat.; appetizers start at $6.95, main
courses at $29.95.
Crossing the Tracks for Brunch in New Orleans
By Andrew Chalk
New Orleans is a capsule of a different culture implanted right in the heart of America, one that exalts its fine food and good times.
When I visited on a St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I found the town full to the rafters and as ready as ever to party, so I took the opportunity to search out some joints far off the radar.
Some local friends proclaimed Elizabeth's the "best breakfast/lunch in the city," so we headed into Bywater, a healthy 30-minute walk or ten-minute pedicab ride from Jackson Square. As locals have it, you enter Bywater from the west when you cross the tracks at Press Street. Perched on the corner of Gallier Street and Chartres Street, Elizabeth's in an old two-story building built in what might be described as New Orleans ramshackle-style of architecture. Inside are closely spaced tables surrounded by eclectic New Orleans memorabilia-clad walls with a chalkboard of specials to one side. Stairs on one end of the back wall head up to additional seating. You won't see this establishment on the cover of Architectural Digest, but you will like its immediate, unpretentious appeal.
The front door is manned by several of those outgoing “girl-next-door with a liberal arts degree who joined the counterculture” types who ingratiate you with consummate ease. Once seated, I regarded the eclectic clientele, which seemed overwhelmingly to be locals--artists, musicians, hipsters with a fair amount of tattoo work and non-TSA-approved face metal. More recently, young professionals have moved to the area, owing to its proximity to the center of the city, so property prices have doubled since Hurricane Katrina.
A menu scan revealed the most Creole-centric lineup that we had come across thus far. I breathed a sigh of relief, after enduring a string of faux Creole tourist traps in the French Quarter. Here, stuffed mirliton ($8) is stuffed with finely diced shrimp and topped with breadcrumbs, all adorned with a béchamel sauce with flecks of finely diced scallions. The mouth feel is a homey combination of the softly fibrous mirliton, the crisp breadcrumbs, earthy seafood and the creamy sweetness of onions in the béchamel. Bywater, incidentally, has an annual Mirliton Street Festival each November, which, like all New Orleans festivals, features music and drinking.
Service has been highly praised at Elizabeth’s, but on the occasion of our visit it was inordinately sluggish. The reason is that our waitress seemed to be the slowest moving thing since the subsiding of the Hurricane Katrina flood waters. Other servers seem to get twice as much done in the same time.
We ordered an appetizer of fried chicken livers with Elizabeth’s pepper jelly ($8). Lots of lasting earthy liver taste in the mouth and the pepper jelly is a good idea here. It provides the moisture the dish needs to offset the fairly thick dry batter. The helping is massive. Add to that the fact that livers in crisp, hard batter are filling and you have enough food in this appetizer for two adults. For most diners, this dish will find most of itself bagged for breakfast tomorrow.
On to entreés. We tried Cajun Bubble and Squeak ($16.50, above). It has been said that anything left over can go into bubble and squeak (named after the noise it makes while shallow-frying), so Elizabeth’s has no qualms about using chopped country bacon and shrimp to accompany the cabbage staple. The ham is deliciously tender, in contrast to the shoe leather-tough slice I had at The Court of Two Sisters the day before.
Shrimp and all is topped with poached eggs and hollandaise. Hollandaise sauce is a useful culinary tripwire. It is so easy to get wrong, or just to render in a mediocre fashion. Is it bright, smooth and homemade? Or is it eked, mass produced, from a gloop jar? Do the egg yolks glow with beta-carotene rich yellow? Elizabeth’s passed muster on these points.
We hit the blackboard for our final dish: pan seared red drum topped with eggs and hollandaise. Egg with fish may be an acquired taste, but Elizabeth’s makes it easy to acquire.
There are traditional breakfasts on the menu as well. For example, Basic Breakfast ($7.50) is two eggs any style, with hash browns or grits and toast or biscuit. And, since this is New Orleans, there are cocktails as well, such as Bloody Mary ($6, $4 for virgins), Cava ($5/glass), a selection of spiked coffees and even Elizabeth’s tribute to the Singapore Sling, the Bywater Crutch.
In fact, if you are walking back to the French Quarter in the summer heat and humidity, one of those cocktails may ease the journey.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
The Sea Grill
19 W 49th Street (in Rockefeller Center)
In fall and winter there is no lovelier place to have dinner in New York than behind the glass wall of The Sea Grill at the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink, which after Thanksgiving takes on its Christmas finery and a huge lighted evergreen; come spring and summer there is no lovelier place to be than at that same spot, when the rink becomes a sea of umbrellas shading the tables of people eating there, all under the gaze of a gilded Prometheus.
Not unlike the newly restored Tavern on the Green, The Sea Grill has been enchanting New Yorkers and visitors for decades; in the latter’s case since 1974. At the time of its opening the restaurant served a style of modern American seafood that challenged all the outworn fish restaurants around town to re-think their way of buying, cooking and preparing fish.
As the years wore on, and now under the Patina Group, The Sea Grill only got better, headed for a long tenure by Chef Ed Brown, who gave the menu several signature dishes that other chefs copied, like his Thai red chili mussels, his nonpareil crabcake, and the fabulous chowder.
A new executive chef has come aboard, Japanese-born and Hawaii-raised Yuhi Fujinaga, who has introduced a new Sushi and Sashimi Lounge Menu showcasing a variety of rolls, sashimi, and raw bar options like spicy ahi tuna pressed sushi, Long Island fluke ceviche with passion fruit and mango, and marinated and flash-seared Imperial Wagyu nigiri beef rolls with crispy sushi rice and a Korean barbeque glaze. Fujinaga has also had a hand in choosing the appropriate sakes to go with his food.
The Sea Grill’s admirable wine list has always tilted towards global whites, with bottlings in every price category.
Seafood is brought in daily from Montauk, Long Island, for which Fujinaga has created a special Montauk Seashore Menu, and currently through July 13, the restaurant is featuring an outdoor World Cup Dinner with the games shown on a huge TV screen.
For years I took my family to The Sea Grill and ice skating at Christmas time. Now, on a recent summer’s evening, with the great art déco buildings changing color as twilight came on and the international flags ringing the rink fluttering in a light breeze, there was nowhere I would rather have been than at The Sea Grill, with its own cool marine colors of sand and aqua blues.
I wanted to taste again some of my favorite dishes, so I chose the chowder, rich and creamy with lobster, shrimp and clams, with small bits of potato and assertive nubbins of smoky bacon. The soft shells crabs, now in peak season, were big and fat, crusted with herbs and served with grilled hearts of palm, sweet avocado puree, and guinilla pepper relish, the whole a quartet of wonderful textures, sweet and salty flavors.
The Sea Grill roll of spicy tuna with avocado and aïoli was nothing to get over excited about, and while I loved the idea of abundant lobster, poached in butter with peas, carrots and onions, the flakiness of its lidded crust wilted quickly.
A lavish array of sushi (right)--seven pieces and a sushi roll of Fujinaga’s selection--revealed yet again why pristine raw fish can make me want to cancel everything else and just keep eating sushi and sushi and more sushi. But then I would have missed the excellent Casco Bay cod cooked à la plancha, with an onion puree, tiny carrots, sugar snap peas and a wasabi herb oil that made everything just that more tantalizing.
I could hardly miss The Sea Grill’s famous crabcakes (below), served with a tangy stone ground mustard sauce and pea sprouts, and they lived up to every memory and expectation of them--very meaty, all lump crab, and, outside of sashimi, as pure a dish as might be wished for. Also very good was a beautifully cooked skate simply grilled, with wilted spinach and a cilantro-tomatillo pesto. And don’t miss the hefty side of lobster macaroni and cheese, a dish fit for a princely child or nostalgic adult.
Pastry chef Michael Gabriel crafts his desserts along traditional lines, but packs them full of more flavors and complexities than might be expected in an item like his frozen strawberry parfait, cream gelato, and a delightfully tangy rhubarb consommé. His milk chocolate caramel mousse absorbed the scent of cardamom-poached apricots, with a delicate puff of orange blossom meringue; sumptuous and refined were the caramelized figs, hazelnut cream, and raspberry-red wine sorbet. But my overall favorite--which is often the case with steamed puddings--is Gabriel’s chocolate rendition with the unexpected bitter edge of an Angostura bitters glaze and fresh cream; a brilliant idea.
And so, as blue sky evening turned into a New York night and the lights came on in the tall buildings around us and the loud sounds of the city began to fade, I sat looking out those huge windows at Prometheus and the elegant shafts of limestone, and realized that wherever I’ve dined in the world there have been restaurants that imbue and partake of a city’s spirit--OXO Tower in London, Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Hassler Hotel overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. In New York, The Sea Grill imbues the city with as much vitality as the city itself returns.
Photo by Daniel Krieger
The Sea Grill is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner appetizers run
$15-$21, main courses $34-$42. Three-course menu at $55.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
WHAT I’M DRINKING THIS SUMMER
"Luncheon on the Grass" by Manet
With the possible exception
of Port after dinner, I shun no wines in summer
just because it’s a tad hot outside. True,
there are wines like cold rosés and whites
that may hold up better (for the first few
minutes) under the assault of 90-degree weather,
but if I’m grilling steaks or barbecuing, I’m not
going to deny myself the pleasure of the meat +
red wine alliance. I will, however, make sure the
reds are cool—not cold—at about the same
temperature I’d serve them in winter or in an
air-conditioned room, about 55 to 60 degrees.
Bella Maple Vineyards Dry Creek
Valley Zinfandel 2010 ($38)—This limited edition (only
530 cases) flagship
zin, made by husband-wife team Scott and
Lynn Adams and winemaker Mike Dashe is based on
vines that date back to 1915, and breeding shows.
This is a very soft zin with a better balance than
most out of California, with appropriately dark
fruit and loosened tannins, along with a
reasonable 14.8 percent alcohol.
Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley
Pinot Noir 2010 ($39)—California’s Dutton Ranch
gets its grapes from 66 different vineyards, so,
as in Burgundy, their pinot noirs are blends that
aim at a balance of soft tannins, fruit and acids. At 14.2
percent alcohol, it’s not one of those Russian
River Valley blockbusters and instead has far more
finesse than most.
Groth Hillview Vineyard Napa
Valley Chardonnay 2012 ($29)—Better known for their
cabernet sauvignons since 1981, Dennis and Judy
Groth (he was a key architect that built Atari)
also produce this fine chardonnay, via winemaker
Michael Weis, from one of the best vintages of the
decade. The wine spent eight months in French oak
barrels, was racked from the lees and finished for
the aroma takes some time to develop in the glass,
this is a clean Chablis-like chardonnay, brisk and
easy to drink with any seafood. It has
none of that cloying caramel of so many California
Pui 2010 ($15-$19)—Carménère
is not a widely recognized varietal outside of
Chile, but this example from Italy’s Veneto region
is impressive, with a gorgeous aroma that blows
from the glass and a velvety texture that is ideal
for summer meats, not least hamburgers.
Counterpoint Laurel Glen
Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($35)—A Sonoma Valley cabernet
sauvignon at a good price and admirable alcohol
level of just 14.4 percent. The
nose reveals little but it has lush,
ripe fruit, almost more like a merlot than a cab. The
winery’s website says this is
“meant to be enjoyed upon release,” so drink it up
this summer with lamb chops or chicken on the
Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco
Riserva Rosso 2009 ($23)—A terrific price for a
very full-bodied wine from the Italian region of
Montefalco, Umbria, intended for everyday
from 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent sagrantino
and 15 percent merlot, it has a lovely nose,
forward fruits and tannins still taut enough to
give it a backbone.
With pork or barbecued meats this is a real
winner. The winery also makes a fine Reserva and a
white white from the unusual grachetto grape; it’s
very full bodied without any wood aging and at $19
is a good buy.
Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
AN AMORE FOR ABRUZZO
by Cristina Mariani-May
is one of Italy’s unsung regions in terms of its raw
beauty, history, and winemaking. The Cerulli
family has been part of the regional fabric of
Abruzzo for centuries. Like others in the area they
prospered not as much from olives and grapes as from
prized wool sheared from local sheep and delivered
to Florence where it was woven into world-renowned
textiles. The family was always forward-thinking,
and in the 1960s were one of the founding families
behind Casal Thaulero which, under Cerulli
presidency, swiftly went on to become Abruzzo’s most
successful wine cooperative.
Mariani is not related by family or through business
with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter
BUT THEN, NEITHER WAS ANTHONY QUINN
A man in Scarsdale NY and another from Queens, NY, have sued Chobani Greek Yogurt because it has Turkish roots and isn't Greek, contending that "None of the products sold in the US are made in Greece or made by Greek nationals" and that consumers are "reasonably confused because they have a reasonable expectation that a Greek yogurt is from Greece--as French wine is from France or Russian caviar is from Russia."
NO SEX, PLEASE! WE'RE BRITISH!!
"The waiter comes up to your table and does a spiel of real fast-talking Soprano chat, with the hands, the stance, the everything. He talks up the menu as if every dish is his sister's tits."--AA Gill, "Carbone," (London) Times Sunday Magazine.
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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, ForbesTraveler.com 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."
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Tennis Resorts Online: A 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).
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