Only" photo by Gordon Parks for Life
IN THIS ISSUE
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE WINES OF BURGENLAND
By John Mariani
By John Mariani
As I write this, there are still
six inches of snow on the ground in New York, but
when you read this, the wildflowers may well be
bursting from the rich soil of Burgenland in
southeastern, Austria, and the grape vines getting
ready to bud.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
Photos: Evan Sung
94 Chambers Street (off Broadway)
Translations of French into English can be awkward when it comes to restaurants, like those failed attempts opened by celebrated absentee chefs Alain Ducasse, Louis Outhier, Jacues Maximin, and Claude Baills. One enchanting exception is Racines, the year-old offshoot of two Paris wine-centered restaurants of the same name (on Rue de l’Arbre Sec and Passage des Panoramas).
The décor of the NYC branch evokes those of its predecessors, and the style of cooking is fresh, modern and wholly personalized, in this case by Chef Frédéric Duca (below), a native of Marseilles, who’s worked at top restaurants like Le Martinez in Cannes and Hélène Darroze in Paris, receiving his own Michelin star at his restaurant L'Instant d'Or in Paris in 2013.
Racines NY does not call itself a wine bar, but partner David Lillie, owner of Chambers Street Wines, and owner/sommelier Arnaud Tronche’s cache of ever-changing natural, organic and biodynamic wines underpins the thrust of the little Tribeca restaurant, with two cellars stocked with more than 800 labels, 9,000 bottles, and 40 reds and whites available by the glass (starting at $9). Indeed, the restaurant’s name does not refer to the French neo-classical dramatist Jean Racine but to winemaker Claude Courtois’s signature “Racines” blend.
The slip of a dining room is not unlike many in the neighborhood--a mix of white subway tiles, wooden floors and tables, exposed brick and duct work, and hanging lamps, with a small open kitchen, with marble counter for four people, where Mr. Duca and his staff work their magic. Photos of French vintners dot the walls. It’s a pretty place, unpretentious and convivial, and somehow the noise level is not too high, given the soft surfaces here. My wife and I talked our heads off amiably all night.
You may dine at the bar on charcuterie and small bites, but the menu in the main part of the room is where you’ll discover just how inventive Mr. Duca can afford to be, largely because his techniques are so indelibly grounded in the principles of traditional French cuisine. Thus, a dish of sautéed snails are as French as you’d ever wish, with watercress and roasted garlic accompanied by saffron potato croquette ($12). Sea scallops are flash sautéed and served with sunchokes, hazelnut, juniper and orange ($35), and in his rendering of a perfectly steamed egg with polenta, Comté cheese, and a lush foie gras sauce ($12, with black truffles $20 supplement) you taste just how precise his cooking is, with every element in elegant balance.
Squid is velvety, sided with chickpeas, tangy preserved lemon and an olive vinaigrette ($12), evoking Mr. Duca’s Mediterranean roots, and he does an impeccable fregola sarda risotto ($19), rich and buttery, tender and aromatic.
It is often argued that a chef shows his true talent in simply roasting a chicken, which, frankly, is not all that difficult these days, if you begin with a full-flavored chicken. Where Mr. Duca shows his spark is in cooking the chicken to bring out those essential and to serve it with complementary black trumpet mushrooms, salsify and an “oxy” sauce, based on a chicken stock enriched with a slightly oxidized white Roussillon Grenache ($29).
There is, of course, a fine cheese plate ($18), and, as throughout the meal, Mr. Tronche is here to match the perfect wine to his and your liking, such as the 2012 Camin Larreyda Costat Darrèr from Jurançon he proposed the night I dined there.
Desserts ($11) all provide the same kind of simple, straightforward delectations, from a coffee parfait with candied orange, mint and chocolate sauce to a chocolate and caramel tart and a pommes Tatin with cinnamon crème anglaise and madeliene cookie. Nothing fancy, just delicious.
Mr. Duca is not trying to dazzle his guests, and that is his most admirable virtue. Instead of over-thinking dishes and listing too many of them for such a small kitchen, he instead focuses with a laser’s intensity on every element of each dish--its texture, the correct temperature, when to add other ingredients, how to season. “Lovingly prepared” and “cooking from the heart” are clichés in culinary writing, but to say that the cuisine of Mr. Duca is so definably his is to pay him the highest praise.
I suspect that if I lived in Tribeca, I would be at Racines once a week, especially on those nights when I just wanted a very good meal with very nice people serving very good wines. Racines is a restaurant to cherish.
Open Mon.-Sat. for dinner. The $75 five-course menu is a terrific bargain.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By John Mariani
WINES OF BURGENLAND, AUSTRIA
the regions of Austria that grow wine
grapes—Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal, Donauland, and
others—the most exciting innovations are coming
out of Burgenland for wines at the Qualitätswein level as set
by the Austrian Wine Marketing
Board, created in 1986. On a recent visit I was
amazed at the breadth of varietals from the
vineyards of this southeastern region, In fact,
the Weinkulturhaus in Gols carries more than 400
labels, all from Burgenland, which now has its own
Wein Burgenland marketing association.
NOT TO MENTION MESSING UP THE WALLPAPER
A family in London reported that a glass Nutella jar magnified the sun's rays in its kitchen and started a fire that wrecked their house and killed their dog.
"AFTER I BIT MY WAY THROUGH
THE LEATHER CONSTRAINTS. . ."
"It was the bacon that did it. Two thick slices, sticky, crisp and chewy all at once, were a revelation of all that bacon can be. Dubbed `millionaire’s bacon' ($7), it tasted like a million bucks and was one of those dishes that you can’t get in your mouth fast enough. And that’s how I burned my tongue, by the complete inability to exert control over the fork in my hand."--Brooke Jackson, "Kitchen Sunnyside," MJournal.com.
A WINE COLUMN Brought to you by Banfi Vintners.
A PRIMER ON
ITALIAN WINE LAWS
ancient times, Italy was dubbed the "Land of Wine"
because the vine thrives in every region -- for three
millennia, no product has been more closely
identified with that country. Yet,
despite paeans of poets, philosophers and essayists,
it wasn't until the late 20th century that Italian
wines gained a reputation for products of the highest
international quality. Passage of the Wine Law of 1963 spurred
the industry's modernization. Highly comprehensive,
the Denomination of Origin laws are, in part,
patterned after France's respected Appellations
Contrôlées, defining Italy's winemaking
traditions and regulating every phase of viticulture
and viniculture, including vine types, grapes, their
processing, aging, and bottling.
Wines Without Origin Vini (Wine) – previously Vino da Tavola, these simple generic wines’ labels will state only red, white or rose.
Varietali (Varietal Wine) – Must contain at
least 85% of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon
Wines With Origin: Indicazione
Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographic Indication, or
“IGT”) - This appellation, instituted in 1992,
was intended to upgrade a
major portion (about 40%) of Italy's table wine
production on par with French Vin du Pays or
German Landwein. The wine's label must declare
its specific region and may cite varietal type and
vintage. Growers or regional governments are required
to apply for IGT status just as they do for a DOC or
DOCG appellation. Currently, there are more than 100
IGTs. EXAMPLE: Sartori di Verona Pinot Grigio
delle Venezie IGT.
di Origine Controllata
(Denomination of Controlled Origin, or “DOC”) - Wines
bearing this appellation are registered by the
government. Their labels must state zone of origin and
the wines are required to meet certain production
standards. E.g., only approved methods of planting,
cultivating, and fertilizing can be employed. Maximum
yields are controlled, as are bottling specifications,
alcohol content, and aging. The products and their
claims are subject to government review at any time.
There are currently about 300 DOCs. EXAMPLE: Fontana
Candida Frascati DOC
Denominazione di Origine
Controllata e Garantita
(Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, or
“DOCG”) - The most stringent of the categories, this
appellation embraces all DOC assurances and further
requires a producer to control and guarantee
everything claimed on the wine's label: zone of
origin, net contents, name of grower
and bottler, place of bottling, and alcohol strength.
Affixed to the bottle is a government seal of
approval, and the wine is subject to analysis at any
time by government inspectors. EXAMPLE: Castello Banfi
Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Although DOC and DOCG were established in 1963, the first DOC was not awarded until 1966 (Vernaccia di San Gimignano), and the first DOCG not until 1980 (Brunello di Montalcino). One thing to keep in mind is that these classifications guarantee ONLY that a wine comes from the place stated on its label – it’s not necessarily a guarantee of quality. The most reliable indicator of quality is the producer. Your best bet is to check the label for a winery with a strong reputation and history of consistently making great wine, such as Castello Banfi.
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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, 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." THIS WEEK:
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 KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
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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NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
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