Virtual Gourmet

  October 23,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Travel poster for Spain (circa 1960)


By Geoff Kalish


By John Mariani

By Geoff Kalish


By Geoff Kalish

    Many consumers lament that the best food above the Hudson Valley in New York is high quality “pub grub” and that the wines not from the Finger Lakes are either very sweet whites or funky, unrefined reds made from hybrid varietals. However, on a recent sojourn through this area we found a few spots serving top quality upscale fare and three notable wineries.

    While a number of highly touted eateries line the streets of Skaneateles (a small town a bit southwest of Syracuse), the only recommendable meal of the three restaurants tried was dinner in the main dining room at The Mirabeau Inn & Spa (851 W. Genessee St., 877-647-2328).  First, the setting was exquisite, with wooden tables set with white linens in a large room with a long bar on one side and the other side overlooking a recreation of Monet’s garden at Giverny, France—complete with the oft-painted bridge and water lilies. Also, our room at the Inn was reminiscent of those at a château in the French countryside—quaint and comfortable, with a view of the magnificent gardens.
    The service was pleasant and professional, and the wine list contained a number of well chosen Finger Lakes and California wines, including a 2008 Sky Syrah from Napa Valley (sensibly priced at $63) that showed a bouquet and taste of ripe plums and anise with a touch of tannin in its finish. Dinner started with an amuse bouche of halibut ceviche, chopped cucumber and radish atop a tangy sauce. Generously sized appetizers of dewy, seared scallops accompanied by a dice of edamame, green beans and tomato, and a special of perfectly grilled shrimp were both tasty as well as artistically presented. A Caesar salad featured crisp romaine lettuce, good Parmesan and just the right amount of dressing. An entrée of pan-roasted halibut was enlivened with a caper butter, and the rack of lamb was prepared as ordered (medium rare) and served with a mix of farro, cucumber, tomato and mint that enhanced the flavor of the meat. 
    Instead of dessert, I ordered a glass of what was listed on the wine selection as “Finger Lakes Brandy,” which for $12 brought a few ounces of fragrant, golden liquid with a taste of roasted almonds and dried apricots and a lingering, memorable finish.  I subsequently learned that the stock of “Finger Lakes Brandy” was depleted and what they served was 1738 Remy Martin Cognac—not a bad switch!
    Expect dinner for two, not including wine, tax or tip, to cost about $110-$120.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.



    Downtown Alexandria Bay—a gateway to The Thousand Islands, a spread of over 1,800 patches of land in the St. Lawrence River, along the Canadian border—features numerous restaurants primarily offering wings, steaks, pizza, fried seafood and salads with the region’s namesake dressing.  However, the Jacques Cartier Room atop the Riveredge Resort (17 Holland St. 315-482-9917) is a world apart.
     Trimmed in shades of blue, the spacious room features floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides that overlook the St. Lawrence and the never-lived-in Boldt Castle in the distance.  Well spaced tables, dressed in starched linens, topped by fine china, polished silverware and sparkling glasses, ring the room. A harpist playing modern tunes adds to the luxurious ambience. As expected, the service was first rate, with maître d’ Joe Taritero seemingly attending to each table personally with answers to questions about the menu and wine list, from which we ordered a 2013 Saldo Zinfandel from the Prisoner Wine Company of California that showed a fragrant, plummy bouquet and taste, with hints of cherry and chocolate with a long, smooth finish.
    Chef Christian Ives, son-in-law of Coyote Moon winery owner Phil Randazzo,  shows that his time working for Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse was well spent, as his fare provides a degree of sophistication found in top establishments in New York City and other dining meccas.  He uses multiple ingredients in each dish, the flavors coming together to make the whole far greater than the sum of its parts. For example, a “Study of Seafood” appetizer brought an exquisite palette with small portions of Asian-inspired  grilled yellowfin tuna; an upscale New Orleans-type preparation of moist lobster wrapped in crispy guanciale; and, with a nod to the influences of France and Italy on American regional cuisine, a truffle-dusted pan-seared Maine Diver’s scallop topped by a black truffle-scented bittersweet chocolate sauce. In addition, a salad of contrasting ingredients, including sweet grilled scallops and slightly bitter arugula with a sherry gastrique, was excellent.
    And for a main course the Asian Mix Grill was a winner, with small portions of zesty ponzu-marinated beef short rib; a fragrant Chinese five spice-braised pork belly; and a crisp-on-the-outside with medium-rare center, orange-scented Peking- style sliced duck breast, each portion  accompanied by vegetables that complemented the protein. Dessert choices range from tableside flambé preparations of bananas Foster and strawberries imperial to a decadent peach cobbler.
    Expect dinner for two to cost $130-$140, not including wine, tax or tip.

The restaurant is open daily for dinner from spring to late fall.


By John Mariani


65 Main Street
Nyack, NY


    Nyack is a 17th century town that has long been one of the loveliest on the banks of the majestic Hudson River, about 25 miles north of Manhattan on the western end of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  Once a shipbuilding center, the town has gone through its boom and bust years, but it has always held an artistic cachet, not least as the home of painter Edward Hopper.

    The streets are lined with clapboard houses, galleries and restaurants, and one that has set itself apart is the new Sixty 5 on Main, whose mundane name tells you nothing about the sublime cooking done there by Chef Moshe Grundman (right), who, after three years in the Israeli army, worked in many stellar NYC kitchens, including as sous-chef at Oceana.  Sixty 5 on Main--its address--is stressing small plates with large flavors and beautiful presentation within a smart-looking dining room and bar area whose designer, Dawn Hersjko, sought to “combine the charm of a farmhouse with the intrigue of a cigar bar, while keeping a small hint of Moroccan smoothness in the background.”  It all works well—at least once inside, for the wholly nondescript façade seems out of whack with Nyack’s historic cast.

    Everyone these days is serving octopus and tuna crudo, but Grundman brings a fresh look and appeal to both. The very tender, thinly sliced and  flattened octopus carpaccio (left) is served cold with a confetti of Syrian and Kalamata olives, capers, pinenuts, infused olive oil and a touch of chili infused olive oil ($13), while the tuna is treated to lemon and orange for tartness and sweetness, snow peas and a yogurt cheese called labene ($14).  The panko-crusted short rib fritters with a barbecue mayonnaise and flavorful Moroccan spice ($11) make for an interesting turn on short ribs, and meatballs atop spaghetti cakes (below) with a three-cheese sauce and tomato sauce and topped with a tangle of crispy angel hair ($12) makes for wonderful textural contrasts.   So, too, there was a nice crunch to the flakey buraka pastry filled with potato or cheese, chopped boiled egg, pickle and tahini sauce ($10).  Sautéed fish morsels  come in little taco shells, with avocado and much-needed pico de gallo to perk up the bland flavors ($13).

    Some dishes are offered in small and large plate formats, most of them successful, especially a very juicy skirt steak with a tabouli quinoa, Marcona almonds, pomegranate seeds and ranch dressing ($12 or $24), and the plump ravioli with puréed peas, pecorino cheese, a touch of mint, tender artichoke hearts and fresh peas ($12 or $24) is a triumph of perfectly complementary flavors.          The fish of the evening was a beautiful grouper ($14 or $28), simply prepared. The only dull dish was a plate of chicken-layered steamed buns with ginger, soy chili sauce, scallions, peanuts, roasted bell peppers and sliced pickles ($12), which should’ve added up to more than it was.

    No restaurant these days can get away with shipped-in desserts, and pastry chef Choya Hodge shows why in his marvelously composed and carefully layered creations like his green apple on delicate millefeuille pastry with vanilla gelato ($10); vanilla yogurt panna cotta with marinated fruit, cookie, and a puree of passionfruit, banana and mango (10); a chocolate flourless cake with rich milk chocolate ganache, white chocolate mousse, macaroons and chocolate gelato ($12); and a marvelous tropical Caribbean mango parfait, with a puree of coconut gelato and a banana, pineapple and passionfruit sorbet ($10).

    The wine list at Sixty 5 on Main is a disappointment, being composed almost entirely of overly familiar brand names, though prices are fair enough. Cocktails run $10 to $12.

    Otherwise, Sixty 5 on Main has remarkable balance on every aspect of its menu, so that you come away knowing you’ve never had so many things that were so well matched and so much that you won’t find anywhere else pulsing with this kind of creativity and color.  Grundman is already a major talent, and his restaurant is well worth the drive from anywhere in the tri-state region.


Open for dinner Tues.-Sun.; Brunch Sun.



By Geoff Kalish



18876 Country Rd
Watertown, NY

    For the past 10 years the Surdo family of Staten Island, NY, have been making wine here at a facility dating from the early 1800s that was originally a horse farm and subsequently a dairy farm.  And while they produce less than 1,000 cases annually, a testament to their resolve is the fact that they make any wine at all in an area where it can snow as early as September and as late as June—and where winter temperatures below 30 degrees are not unknown.
    Two wines of note produced here (from regionally sourced grapes) are made from the Frontenac and Elvira varietals (red and white), which are hybrids created by the University of Minnesota to withstand northern climates. Unlike other grape varietals developed to withstand very cold climates, these are noted for fragrant bouquets and fruity tastes and excellent acidity, a feature lacking in many other hybrids created for the same purpose. Wines of note include: 

Frontenac nv ($16)—This brick-red wine has a cherry bouquet and flavor of strawberries and raspberries with hints of black currants and chocolate in its dry finish. Try it with turkey and duck. 

Serenity nv ($15)—Produced from the Frontenac Gris varietal, this semi-sweet wine is reminiscent of a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, with a bouquet and taste of peaches, apricots and ripe citrus with a lively acidity in its finish. Its perfect to pair with shellfish, especially shrimp and lobster. 

Elvira Blush nv ($16)—Produced from another “cold-weather” hybrid varietal (Elvira) with 1% red wine added to provide color, it shows a bouquet of ripe pineapple and melons with a somewhat sweet taste of peaches and strawberries with a crisp finish. Like many other rosés it’s a good match for hors d’oeuvres and mild cheeses.



Coyote Moon Vineyards

17371 East Line Road, Clayton, NY
315- 686-5600


    This scenic winery (used for weddings and other celebrations) is owned by retired realtor and self-taught winemaker Phil Randazzo and his family, who have  planted over 20 acres of “cold-hardy” varietals during the past 10 years. And not only is Coyote Moon now producing over 12,000 cases of wine a year (all with labels hand-painted by Phil’s wife, Mary), but the winery has garnered more than 50 awards in major competitions during the past five years, including a number of “best in class” at the New York State Fair.

Wines of note include:

Naked Chardonnay nv ($16)—
This unoaked Chardonnay, produced entirely from New York State grapes, shows a bouquet and taste reminiscent of a good French Chablis, with notes of tangerines and apricots and a hint of vanilla in its crisp finish, ideal to mate with sea fare or baked chicken.

Marquette nv ($25)—
This wine, made entirely from the “cold weather hardy” varietal Marquette, developed in 2006 by the U. of Minnesota, has a bouquet and taste of cassis and cherries, with hints of chocolate in the finish, perfect to pair with  beef or lamb.

Casa Papa Red nv ($16)—
This blend of New York State red varietals is a throwback to the everyday quaffs of the Italian countryside (often sold by the “fill-your-own” jug from a tank outside the winery).  It exhibits a bouquet and flavors of ripe plums, strawberries and earthy spice with a touch of oak in the finish—an ideal mate for red sauce classics like pasta marinara and veal Parmesan. And perfect for a picnic or day at the beach, the winery offers 500ml cans ($19 for a four-pack) of a refreshing, slightly bubbly Moscato, a Fireboat White  (a moderately sweet wine made from the Niagra grape) and a Fireboat Red (a semi-sweet red made from the Concord varietal).  

Thousand Islands Winery
43298 Seaway Avenue
Alexandria Bay, NY

315- 482-9306

      Originally a farmhouse, built in 1881, this property has been owned by retired US Army Major Steve Conway and his wife, Erika, since 2002. Steve’s impetus for buying the property was the similarity he saw between the St. Lawrence and the castles located on the Thousand Islands and Germany’s Rhine and Mosel regions, when he was stationed there. Whereas the Riesling varietal grows rather easily along the German tributaries, growing grapes along the St. Lawrence in the Thousand Islands region is a different matter. In fact, Steve was told by the “experts” at Cornell University that it wasn’t possible to successfully grow grapes for decent wine production in the region. However, undaunted, he prevailed on the experts at the U.  of Minnesota to assist him with the selection of grape varietals appropriate for the region with the result that the winery’s now producing more than  20,000 cases of wine annually, much of it using what’s available from the region.

Wines of note include: 

2013 Marquette ($17)—
Made from a Pinot Noir offspring clone able to withstand the cold weather, this wine has a bouquet and taste of cherries and pepper and a smooth dry finish that marries well with beef, veal and lamb. 

2015 Frontenac ($14)—
This wine shows a deep garnet color, with a bouquet and taste of cherries and blackberry jam. Try it with pizza and pasta with red sauce. 

2014 Pinot Grigio ($14)—
Showing a bouquet and taste of melons and peaches, this wine has a slightly sweet finish that marries well with spicy chicken wings and sushi. 

2013 Fontenac XXX ($24)—
Produced from estate-grown Frontenac grapes, this fortified wine exhibits a bouquet of caramel and coffee, with a full-bodied taste of cherries and ripe plums—ideal to mate with blue veined cheeses.





A 64-year-old  Florida man named Daniel Rushingwas pulled over and arrested because a police officer saw doughnut glaze on his car and thought it was meth. Rushing said he’d just been eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut and the substance was bits of glaze that had flaked off, but the officer did not believe him and arrested Rushing on the grounds that she was looking at “some sort of narcotic" and made him stay in a police cell for 10 hours. Rushing was allowed out on bail at that point, but it took about a week for police to eventually drop all the charges against him, because it turned out he was telling the truth all along.




“Pastry Is the New Black”—Food & Wine (Sept. 2016)



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Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

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FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to four excellent travel sites:

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,  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 JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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