Island" by Edward Laning (1938)
IN THIS ISSUE
ONE DAY IN QUÉBEC
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
TWO TRATTORIAS IN
THE OUTER BOROUGHS
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
ONE DAY IN QUÉBEC
By John Mariani
Old Quebec. Photo by Jean-François Bérgeron
I assume that there is a good deal of competition between the Canadian cities of Montréal and Québec as to which offers the most pleasures for the traveler intent on finding history, architecture, shopping and dining on a short trip. For the latter two interests, Montréal surpasses Québec, but for the first two, I find Québec the clear winner. And the delightful part of a visit to Québec is that its touristic charms can pretty much be covered in two days, perhaps appended by visits outside the city to Jacques Cartier National Park and Le Massif de Charlevoix, which offer some of the most spectacular mountain views in North America.
It is almost impossible to stand anywhere in Québec and not gaze upon the towering Château Frontenac (above), which has dominated the city’s skyline for more than a century, opened in 1892 by William Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific railway, as a stopover for travelers that have included King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco, Ronald Reagan, François Mitterrand, Charles Lindberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway. Its vast layout is best seen in aerial photos, for it sprawls atop Dufferin Terrace (left) in full view of the St. Lawrence River. Just to stroll through its magnificent wood-carved hallways and to peak into its splendid Champlain restaurant is requisite activity.
From the hotel you can wind though Québec’s Old Town to Place Royal (below), where in 1606 Samuel de Champlain founded the first French settlement in North America; the square retains all its 17th and 18th century cobblestone charm, including the beautiful Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688. The streets and staircases that lead in and out of the Place are just as historic, some with painted walls depicting Québec history—especially the Rue du Petit Champlain. The streets are dotted with boutiques and bistros. The Lower Town, which can be reached by a funicular, brings you to the foot of Cap Diamant, from where it’s a short walk to the Old Port.
Not very far away is the business
and government sector of the city, which includes
the superb Parliament Building (dedicated 1886)
and its 22-foot tall Fontaine de Tourny, with its
43 water jets and sculpted figures—all shipped in
from Bordeaux only in 2003 by department store
magnate Peter Simons. Beyond that are the great
Plains of Abraham, Québec’s beautifully landscaped
240-acre park with the enchanting Joan of Arc
Garden with over 150 plant and flower varieties on
Plains of Abraham (below) was the site of the
Battle of Québec in 1759, during the Seven Years
War, whose victory by British troops over the
French sealed the city’s future, defenses, and
architecture. In 1763 with the Treaty of Paris the
French lost all claims to Canada, whose effect was
to engage the French to help the Americans against
the British when the Revolutionary War began.
Down in the Old Port is a three centuries old Auberge Saint-Antoine, now a wholly modern hotel within the shell of a very historic property, once used as a wharf, a cannon battery, and mercantile warehouse, remnants of which have been preserved in the auberge by four generations of the Price family from Wales, which made its fortune in logging. The auberge is now run by Martha Bate Price (wife of Tony Price), Evan, Llewellyn and Lucy Price (their children and the family’s 6th generation).
On a recent visit, my wife and I had the pleasure of dining at the Auberge’s lovely Panache restaurant (below), dating back to 1822 as a warehouse, set within rustic stone walls with a wood-beamed ceiling and with a marvelous view of the great river. Young French Chef Louis Pacquélin’s cuisine is derived from Canada’s seasons. “I work a lot with fruits and vegetables in spring and summer from our organic farm,” he said at lunch, “then focus on the proteins in winter. I had to work hard to find the best farmers to supply what I wanted. I am also impressed with the Canadian artisanal cheeses.”
The result is a menu of French and Quebeçois classics like roast suckling pig with a ragôut of white beans and sage, spiced with Dijon mustard.
We began with tangy, warm goat’s cheese on toast with honey and frisée greens that proved Pacquélin’s point about the quality of Canadian cheeses. Also, there was an excellent terrine of chicken livers with housemade cornichons and croutons, and an impeccably made chicken soup with truffles in the style of the Lyonnais restaurant La Mère Brazier.
Dessert was deeply satisfying—a classic chocolate éclair with pear and sugar-butter crumble. It was all as fine a meal as I’ve ever had in Canada. Panache’s wine list holds 700 selections and 12,000 bottles, including several Canadian bottlings. We enjoyed a Cuvée Spéciale Vignoble do Marathonien 2012 at a reasonable $45.
Lunch appetizer & main course or main course & dessert: $19; Appetizer, main course, dessert & filter coffee or tea: $24; Dinner $19 prix fixe or $14-$29 for appetizers, $39-$54 for main courses.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
ITALIAN TRATTORIAS IN
THE OUTER BOROUGHS
Gnocchi with pork and beef ragù at San Gennaro
Now that the New York food media have started to run low on Brooklyn eateries to rave about, there has been slightly more interest in the once neglected boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, both rife with restaurants of every ethnic stripe, not least good Italian trattorias without the hour-long waiting time and the five-dollar slices of pizza at an over-hyped place like Brooklyn’s Di Fara Pizza. Here are two places the mainline media may someday get around to noticing.
2329 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY
Gennaro Martinelli (left), born in Capua, south of Naples, has long experience cooking around the world, from Paris to Bruges, from Austria to Kenya, from Thailand to Brazil, so when he took over San Gennaro in the Bronx’s Little Italy section known as Belmont, you could tell right away that he was going to cook with somewhat more refinement than at most of the established Italian-American places in the neighborhood.
His expertise, along with that of Chef Giuseppe Cammarota (left), shows clearly in the standard dishes of the genre, from excellent, greaseless, lightly battered calamaretti fritti to linguine with vongole clams in the shell. Pastas are always al dente, ingredients gleaned from the Arthur Avenue markets, which means half a dozen specials every day, among which you’ll find the best dishes on a long menu.
Gennaro is going through some decorous
changes—new floor, new chairs—that will soon
include an inserted wine wall, which I’m told will increase a
wine list in need of more and better selections.
Antipasti should not be neglected, since Martinelli may have just obtained some buffalo ricotta, semi-soft in a lattice pattern (right), drizzled with truffle honey and ringed with sun-dried tomatoes ($13). Grilled, marinated vegetables come glossed with good olive oil ($11 or $22), and they do a splendid carpaccio of slightly smoked swordfish ($12); the same treatment was given pressata di polpo ($15) as a special last week, and it was exceptionally delicate octopus, colorful and tangy with big capers from Pantelleria.
Just about every pasta I’ve had at San Gennaro has been very, very good, many housemade, and the fettuccine with abundant shrimp in a verdant pesto ($18) is excellent. Two specials often featured are the nudi (left) dumplings ($24), made with ricotta and fontina, spinach, prosciutto and white truffle paste in a lavish, cheese-rich cream sauce, and perfect potato gnocchi ($20), airy but substantial, in a pork and beef ragù cooked slowly for three hours to incorporate all the flavors and spices.
My favorite meat dish here is the pollo scarpariello ($18), big chunks of chicken cooked in white wine-lemon sauce with hot vinegar peppers and sweet sausage (ask for it on the bone). Fillet of sole is quickly sautéed and served with vegetables in a white wine-lemon sauce ($22), and the scaloppini of veal with a dreamy Gorgonzola sauce takes on nuance from chopped walnuts ($24). Last time I had the osso buco it was disappointingly dry ($30).
By the way, you might save that ricotta appetizer as a fine dessert, without the peppers, but the cheesecake made here is one of the best in the neighborhood ($9).
Gennaro Martinelli is always at his little trattoria and you’ll get to know him quickly. Take his recommendations. It makes him and Giuseppe very happy if you do.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.
34-12 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY
Fraternity is among the strongest of human bonds but, brothers being brothers, there is also sibling rivalry. Both may be the case with Jersey boys Peter and Danny Aggelato, but both are so committed to their darling pizzeria-trattoria in Astoria—they are on premises seven days a week—that you will sense immediately that Milkflower is a labor of love.
Both men have worked for years in others’ restaurants—Danny in pizzerias, Peter as manager—but they dreamed of having their own place in this gentrifying Queens neighborhood of good ethnic restaurants of every stripe, but none quite like Milkflower, which refers to the whole milk called fior di latte used in Italy to make mozzarella. While principally a pizzeria in the Neapolitan style, the long slip of a space with a garden patio out back makes far more use of the wood-burning oven than usual, resulting in wonderful small dishes like roasted octopus with potatoes and green olives graced with dill ($15) and roasted meatballs with tomato, garlic confit, grana padano cheese and basil ($11). They also do a pea toast with a touch of mint and creamy-rich burrata and grated lemon ($10). Plates of Serrano ham ($14), a string bean salad, with persimmon, feta, almonds and citrus ($11), and eggplant caponata ($12) made smoky by that oven is enriched with burrata, pinenuts and a dash of balsamico.
There are also some delectable pasta offerings, from Roman cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) on fat bigoli noodles ($13) and rolled cavatelli in a beef ragù with goat’s milk feta ($16).
The Aggelatos can be proud of
all those dishes, but clearly their hearts and
energies are focused on their ever-improving
pizzas, from a classic margherita ($12) to one
called “s.t. the ghost,” named after an
employee, made with Grafton cheddar, mozzarella,
Parmigiano cheese and burnt honey ($15).
Sometimes there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel, if your goal is just to make a better wheel, and that’s what the charmingly named Milkflower is doing to the very best of the brothers’ abilities.
Open for lunch Sat. & Sun., for dinner nightly.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WHAT I'M DRINKING NOW
By John Mariani
I am in no way doctrinaire about what to drink “in season,” so while I do look forward to sampling more rosés and lighter reds with seafood and chicken, I’m just as happy with a brawny Cabernet or Zinfandel with my grilled red meats. Here are several wines I’ve been delighted with recently.
Clos de Capelune Cru Classe Côtes de Provence 2015 ($16)—Produced by Château Saint-Maur, this is a fuller bodied rose with 13% alcohol that distinguishes a Cru Classe, with wonderful aromatics and flowers in the bouquet and enough heft to go very well with anything but grilled red meats. It is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Rolle.
Mercer Horse Heaven Hills Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2013 ($20-$26)—The blend of 47% Merlot, 41% Syrah, and 16% other grapes, with 20 months aging, gives this the fruit and the mellowness, and its moderate heft made it a wonderful accompaniment to black bean soup and suckling pig cooked on the grill.
Cobb Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard 2013 ($75)—With just 12.8% alcohol, this is a lightweight Pinot Noir with plenty of bright fruit flavors. Winemaker Ross Cobb picks his grapes at a lower Brix level than many others do in Sonoma, and he tones down the use of oak. The grapes come from cool climate vineyards around Sebastopol with lots of volcanic ash and it reminds me of lighter style red Burgundies that go so well with wild salmon in summer. The price is up there, though.
Beronia Rioja Crianza 2012 ($13-$14)—A superb example of the Crianza style of Rioja, which ranks just above basic Rioja, spending one year in oak and one in bottle, emerging with a very reasonable 13.5% alcohol from 88% Tempranillo, 10% Guarnacha, and 2% Mazuelo (the Spanish name for Carignan), which provides a nice acidity. Most Crianzas are in this price range, making them excellent with just about anything on the summer table.
Il Tascante Nerello Mascalese IGT 2011 ($50)—At this price this might be a tough sell for a Sicilian wine, but it shows the direction the best wineries are taking to modify the too-often too-huge body of others in its category. It is a lighter, more supple version of Nerello Mascalese, grown on the northern slopes in Mt. Etna’s volcanic soil, with 13.5% alcohol. It puts me in mind of some Tuscan IGT reds (the grape may be an offshoot of Sangiovese), and would be a fine accompaniment to grilled chicken or lamb.
Spottiswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($32-$34)—I’m no fan of flowery, sweet Sauvignon Blancs, but Spottiswoode avoids tipping into that popular style. It’s a bit drier and lacks that overly grassy component you often find in Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs, achieving a better balance of fruit and acid that makes it a good choice for any kind of summer’s seafood, especially blue fish.
Miguel Torres Las Mulas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($10-$14)—A terrific price for an impeccably made Cab from Central Valley, Chile. The grapes are from organic vineyards (begun in 1979 by the Torres family), the alcohol is a fine 13.5%, and yet, despite being 100% Cab, there are layers of flavor and the texture is just right, with the tannins already toned down. Very good wine with any red meats.
Château Tourril Cuvée Helios Minervois 2015 ($10)—What a little enchanter! This Provençal 100% Roussane is made by two friends who have aimed at and achieved a wine at 13% alcohol with a substantial taste profile that profits from the sunny South of France, emphasizing aromatics, along with fruit and subdued sweetness. With sushi and sashimi it works very well, as with just about all seafood, not least scallops and lobster. You can’t beat the price.
Usquebach Old Rare
Superior Blend ($115)—This would make a
capital Father’s Day gift for its flagon bottle,
but at $115 there’d better be a fine Scotch
there is, blended by the Laing family from 41
whiskies with a good dose of malt in the making.
It has just enough bite balanced with
smoothness, and the sherry-like finish is a
is also a Reserve Premium Blend at $40 and
15-year-old Pure Blended Malt at $80.
Canadian Club 100% Rye ($19.99)--The resurgence of interest in rye, once a staple of every bar and home spirits cabinet, has resulted in the usual overpriced novelties in the market, most drawn from the same stocks as the next bottle over. So you figure that Canadian Club, which has been around since 1858, knows a bit more about the nuances of 100% rye (by law a bottle labeled rye need only be 51% rye), this good-looking bottling at 80 proof, made from Calgary grain, without barley or corn. And while it makes a classic mixer for cocktails, this new offering has a lot of spice, richness, and true rye flavor with just enough burn to sip on the rock or with a dash of water.
"YOU GUYS SERVE AMERICAN COFFEE
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John Fodera, Tuscan
Finally...finalmente! Some sun and warmer weather
finally arrived this week and we at Tuscan Vines were
more than happy to get outside, stroll the garden and
sip a lovely, refreshing rosé.
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