January 21, 2018 NEWSLETTER
Bang's Drive-In, Chariton, Iowa (Library of Congress)
IN THIS ISSUE
MÁLAGA, PART FOUR
By Gerry Dawes
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
MASTER CHEF PAUL BOCUSE
DIES AT 91
By John Mariani
SOME COLD FACTS ABOUT OLIVE OIL
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
SO YOU WANT TO HOLD
A WINE TASTING
By John Mariani
MÁLAGA, PART FOUR
By Gerry Dawes
Sardines roast at Espeto Pedregalejo Beach, Málaga
Frequently during my peregrinations in Málaga’s Old Quarter, I saw signs pointing to the Picasso Museum and to his natal home, announcements with photographs of Picasso on them, drawings and photographs in restaurants (like the ones at Casa de Guardia and El Chinitas), Picasso reproductions in souvenir shops and even refrigerator magnets of Picasso as a mature artist. There is also a bronze statue in the Plaza de la Merced of Picasso seated on a bench with a pencil and a drawing pad.
But, though Pablo Ruíz Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881, he lived there for just the first ten years of his life. Because of his father’s fragile economic circumstances, the Picasso family moved to A Coruna in Galicia for a few years, then to Barcelona. Picasso returned to Málaga for the last time after Christmas in 1900, moving permanently to France in 1905. After the war, Picasso kept the vow he made to never return as long as the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco was alive.
So, while the city has every right to promote itself as Picasso’s birthplace and to promote the excellent Picasso Museum, there is very little substance to Picasso’s early life there, and the statue in the Plaza de la Merced of a middle-aged Picasso on a bench in Málaga poised to make a drawing could never have occurred as depicted.
During our stay, we spent one day outside of Málaga, visiting the good La Torre olive oil producing facility and orchards, then to Cortijo de la Fuente, a Sierras de Málaga winery making unremarkable wines, and on to the Stone Age dolmens in Antequera, one of Málaga province’s oldest and most interesting towns. The high point of the excursion was a marvelous restaurant in Antequera, Arte de Cozina, ensconced in the charming patio of a 17th century building. Here chef-owner Charo Carmona and her son, Francisco (left), are cooking exceptional modernized versions of area classics, some with recipes dating from the 16th century, though it’s highly doubtful that they ever tasted as good then as they do now from Charo’s kitchen.
Her food exemplifies the best of this style of retro-Spanish cooking. She gives out cards with descriptions from the old cookbooks that inspired various dishes. Carmona offers classic porra antequerana (similar to the thick gazpacho-like Cordoban salmorejo), served in three different versions (right) accompanied by thin strips of toasted bread: porra de tomate, a thick gazpacho-esque locally sourced ecological tomato-based soup-sauce-dip; porra blanca, a white garlicky version; and local orange-based porra de naranja.
She offers five kinds of gazpacho, including the
traditional tomato-based classic, one made with
organic green asparagus, ajo blanco
(white garlic gazpacho), one with almonds, and a
Sephardic-inspired one with yogurt, cucumber,
parsley, walnut and onion.
That evening, dinner was in stark contrast to the lunch we had at Arte de Cozina. We were bussed to Benalmadena (16 miles west of Málaga) to the Michelin one-star cocina de vanguardia restaurant, Sollo, in, of all places, the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa, the domain of budding rock-star Brazilian chef Diego Gallegos (left). Gallegos learned a lot about river fish, particularly trout and sturgeon, when he worked in Río Frío, a mountain river fish farming town where he sources his trout, sturgeon and sturgeon caviar.
Gallegos also raises many
of the fish he uses in his dishes. His
restaurant overlooks the Mediterranean, and we
visited his pisi-factoria,
where fish were being raised in large tanks to
become part of
the 18-course menu, with dishes like
“Yogurt Protein with Piranha Slice Sumac and Black
Olive Powder” and grilled fish mixed with
“Sturgeon Blood Sauce and Ramen Soup of Catfish
Whiskers and Skin.”
If these dishes don’t sound particularly
appetizing, perhaps a snack served on a dried,
chopped off sturgeon head won’t either.
Fortunately, for the traditional Spanish cuisine lover in me, most of my experiences were centered on the traditional aspects of Málagan cuisine. On a prowl around the Old Quarter, we stopped for breakfast at La Málagueña, where we were served piles of crisp churros (right), a fried-dough pastry called tejeringos in Málaga (the name has its base in a double entendre having to do with an “injector,” a syringe or jeringo in Spanish; you can fill in the rest). Loops of hot tejeringos, stacked several inches high on a plate, come with cups of thick, rich Spanish-style hot chocolate or coffee.
We moved on
for what would be a peripatetic, unique
meandering across the Old Quarter.
We toured the Ataranzas market, then stopped at nearby Antigua Casa de Guardia, where we sampled copitas of Málaga wine with clams on the half shell, steamed langostinos, mejillones (mussels) and skewers with anchovies, pearl onions, pickles and olives. Many of the group went on another museum tour, but I opted for meeting up later at Uve Doble, the eponymous “W” for chef-owner Willie Orellana (right), whose very good food features tasteful modern twists on classics such as a Spanish tortilla de patatas trufada al momento (left), the classic potato omelette with truffles, and fideos negros tostados (left) with calamarcitos de Málaga, a smallish macaroni-like pasta, toasted, “blackened” with squid ink and cooked with baby Bay of Málaga squid (below).
Orellana also intersperses his menu with internationally inspired dishes, such as swordfish ceviche with avocado grown in the nearby Axarquia region and deboned suckling pig with cous cous. Wine offerings on the blackboard at Uve Doble are some of the most inspired in the city.
We settled on the outdoor terrace of Las Acacias and ordered two dozen sardines, communal plates of salad and bottles of cold Spanish Rosado, and we ate and drank just a few feet from the Mediterranean with the smell of the sardines and the sea, the embers of the cooking coals glowing in the night, and beyond, the lights of Málaga, just three miles down the coast to the west.
beach, I had gained a new appreciation of Málaga,
one that I regret not taking more advantage of in
my youth. But
better late than never, or as Spaniards say, “Mejor tarde
que nunca,” As late as my
re-discovery of Málaga may have been, I plan to
make up for lost time and put this magical city
high on my agenda for future travels.
by Gerry Dawes©2017
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
Photos by Spherical Communications
311 West 43rd Street (near Eighth Avenue)
While the NYC food media never admit to it, they harbor a long-time prejudice against Asian restaurants when it comes to what they should look like and cost. Whereas in Beijing, Bangkok and Tokyo—and you can throw in Las Vegas and London—some of the finest Asian restaurants are very grand and very expensive; in NYC, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese restaurants are not supposed to rise above being a storefront eatery and should never cost what an upscale European or American does. Exceptions in NYC include sushi restaurants like Masa and Nobu, where the sky’s the limit with prices, or celebrity chef places like buzz-worthy Mission Chinese, where Drunken Style Whole Fish costs $50 and Whole Beggar’s Duck $100.
Which brings me to Hakkasan, the NYC offshoot of the London original that has spawned locations in eight other cities around the world. By any standard the Theater District Hakkasan, opened in 2012, has one of the most remarkable décors in the city: Designed by French architects Gilles & Bossier and evoking similar motifs in the other branches, Hakkasan is an 11,000-square-foot warren of rooms of varying sizes that give guests the feeling of winding their way through a mysterious place of shadow and light, carved Indian mahogany, Chinese screens, silk banquettes and white marble walls and tables, with an open kitchen in the flanks. Table settings, silverware and stemware are of very high quality; service is very cordial, if sometimes slow; the 380-label wine list, under sommelier Nicole Cheon, far exceeds that of most other Chinese restaurants in NYC. And all the food is beautifully presented on a variety of china.
Yet, typical of the responses to Hakkasan when it opened in 2012 was that of Pete Wells in the Times, who called it a “multi-million-dollar exercise in Orientalism,” itself an archaic term best scrubbed from a politically correct newspaper. Wells went on to claim, “It wouldn’t be hard to muster a mob of New Yorkers outraged by a restaurant that asks $48 for grilled Chilean sea bass or wok-fried lamb chops. After a few days of pickets out front, Hakkasan would cave and drop its lunatic prices.”
Well, Hakkasan did not drop its prices and shouldn’t have. Nor have angry mobs stormed the front door. For not only is this a very beautiful and grand restaurant, but the food is superb, beginning with an array of jewel-like dim sum offerings that include scallop shumai, bamboo dumpling, prawn and Chinese chive dumplings, Shanghai siew long bao, Morel crystal dumpling, and fried or pan-seared items like turnip cake ($8) and crispy duck roll ($14). A Hakka platter of dim sum is $26; vegetarian dim sum $22.
All the Hakkasan restaurants are overseen by Chef Tong Chee Hwee and International Executive Chef Ho Chee Boon, so the menus overlap to a great degree. If you liked the crab and corn soup in Dubai, you’ll like it here ($11); if the signature crispy silver cod with Champagne and honey sauce pleased you in San Francisco, it will do so in NYC ($42).
Stir-fry pea shoots were silky with abundant garlic ($18), and udon noodles with duck in XO sauce ($16) were cooked to a texture to absorb all the flavors. Tofu is one of those foods that on its own is patently boring, but adding Szechuan heat and spices with minced beef makes it come alive and its creaminess a pleasure ($22). Wok-fried lamb tenderloin ($32) never lost its own flavor within the enhancement of a chili bean sauce. One of the “small eat” dishes I loved was crispy pork belly ($23) cut into bite-size cubes—twelve of them—and set on the plate with a ribbon of yellow mustard, but for the moment off the new menu.
Hakkasan is now in competition with the just-opened DaDong in Bryant Park, itself an extravagant branch of a Shanghai original, to serve the best Peking-style duck in NYC. Needless to say, New York magazine’s Adam Platt has already accused DaDong of “Michelin-fueled ambition and style” and slammed its $98 Peking duck. Since I have not eaten at DaDong, I would not make a comparison to the version I had at Hakkasan, but I would compare the latter’s to the best I’ve had elsewhere in NYC, its skin as crackling as a candy wafer, its meat moist and velvety and its steamed pancakes impeccably light and thin ($88). You can also have your Peking duck in two courses topped with Chinese Kaluga caviar for $258, but that is a wholly unnecessary extravagance, and the caviar only lends a fishiness to the duck.
One never expects great desserts ($15) at a Chinese restaurant but at Hakkasan every effort has been made by pastry chef Alexander Zecena to change your mind with a coconut and lychee mousse with coconut tapioca and coconut lime sorbet; and a matcha apple custard bun with apple sorbet and custard cream.
Hakkasan’s size and theatricality fits well into its location off Times Square, but it is the food and the sophisticated way guests are greeted and guided to their table, and then ceremoniously served that makes it an attraction on its own. NYC’s food media should wake up to the fact that Chinese food and décor at this level is well worth paying for.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
SOME COLD FACTS ABOUT ITALIAN OLIVE OIL
An Interview with Giovanni Colavita
By John Mariani
For most consumers who love olive oil distinguishing among “virgine,” “extra virgine,” “soprafino virgine,” “cold-pressed,” “olio di sansa di Oliva,” “olii varii” and “olio nuova” can be daunting. Italy has D.O.C. standards that more or less conform to those of the International Olive Council, which controls 95% of the world’s production. The EU also has an olive oil regulatory agency, and the U.S. only updated its own standards since 1948 in 2010. With so much vagary about a product that is not easy to test or to assure national provenance, there is, of course, a good deal of fakery and false marketing within the industry, and even some of the world’s bestselling companies have been accused of falsifying data and labeling, including the world’s top selling 100% olive oil, Colavita. (In Italy only Bertolli sells more.)
I sat down with Giovanni Colavita, president and CEO of Colavita (right), to discuss not only accusations against Colavita that were sparked by a report by the University of California Davis Olive Center, but also the general state of the olive oil industry today.
Q: Can you give me an answer to the recent controversy about mis-labeled olive oil?
A: The 2010 study done by UC Davis regarding what they alleged was mislabeled olive oil was financed by the California olive industry. The study did not conclude that the oils it tested were fake or adulterated. Although the study alleges that certain oils that they tested did not meet requirements for “Extra Virgin,” that alone does not mean the oils were fake or adulterated. Also, the 2010 report has been completely discredited. The testing methods employed in the report had been rejected as unreliable by the International Olive Council, which is operated under the auspices of the United Nations. Furthermore, for the subjective taste component of the tests, samples of all brands were sent to be tasted in Australia, where olive oil has characteristics uniquely different from European oils, rather than to Europe, where most of the tested brands were produced. Finally, a California law firm dropped their lawsuit based on the 2010 report when independent testing could not reproduce the report’s findings. We spent a lot of money to fight the accusations, but our family name was being questioned.
Q: It seems that an overwhelming amount of olive oil currently purchased and consumed in the U.S. is extra virgin. In fact, it’s difficult to find anything that is not labeled “extra virgin” on the shelves. What exactly constitutes the category?
A: Virgin Olive Oil results from pressing olives that are over-ripe or have been bruised, and therefore have a high acidity, ranging from 1% to 4%. This type of oil has not been treated chemically. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the highest grade of olive oil available, the result of the simple crushing of the olives which have been washed and separated from the leaves. This is by far the best product offering the widest range of perfect flavors and aromas with a maximum acidity of 1% (1 gram/100g of free oleic acid). Extra Virgin Olive Oil must meet the highest standards of flavor and aroma. The olive oil produced earns its “Extra” star if it has less than 0.8 grams per 100 grams of free oleic acid and exhibits superior taste, color, and aroma. Ordinary Olive Oil is a blend of low-quality virgin olive oil that’s refined using mechanical, thermal, or even chemical processes in order to actually be fit for consumption.
Q: Can you explain what you mean when you say, “Olive oil production is controlled by the mills, not the farmers.”
A: In Italy, differently from Spain and California, most olive growers have very small plots of land, so most of them produce small quantities. They then sell their olives to local olive mills that press the olives and produce the olive oil, which is then purchased by companies.
A: My job is to guarantee quality and price. Origin is important for me, but what is even more important is the quality of the oil, regardless of where the olives originate. In May of 2016, Colavita’s Premium Selection extra virgin olive oils were granted permission to use the North American Olive Oil Association Quality Seal, thereby elevating the line to the highest status possible as ranked by the International Olive Oil Council. The seal certifies that the Colavita olive oil has been tested by industry professionals for quality and authenticity and satisfies both criteria. To maintain the seal and high status, participating brands must agree to have samples taken from random retail locations twice a year. This ensures that seal-holding brands sustain high quality oils perpetually.
You say that
except for DOP—the Italian designation meaning
denomination of protected origin—all olive oils
must list where the olive oil in the bottle comes
from, e.g., Spain, Greece, Tunisia, etc. But I
recently visited a gourmet grocery in NYC that
stocks dozens of very fine, expensive oils, yet
few of them had a designation of origin, despite
having different notations liked “produced in
Italy” and “packed in Italy.” Please explain
A: In the U.S., it is required by law for the origin to be on the label. For example, if you say “product of Italy” it means that the product is 100% Italian. If you read on the front “packed in Italy,” you still need the origin of the product to be declared on the label. So if the labels you refer to say "packed in Italy," they are leaving out information that they are supposed to contain. Otherwise, they say "product of Italy," which means the oil is 100% Italian. You will notice that all of Colavita's extra virgin olive oil indicates the country or countries from which the olive oils in the blends come, in the case of our olive oils that are not 100% Italian; we have both.
Master Chef Paul Bocuse Dies at 91
By John Mariani
Paul Bocuse, certainly the most celebrated French chef of the so-called la nouvelle cuisine movement, died on Saturday at the age of 91. If anyone can be called a giant in his industry, it was Bocuse, although he preferred to be called the Lion of Lyon, where he had his famous namesake restaurant.
I met Bocuse a few times and interviewed him once, though I never got to eat at his flamboyantly baroque Lyon restaurant (left). I doubt he spoke more than ten words of English and he had none of the savoir-faire of colleagues like Roger Vergé, Michel Guérard and Louis Outhiers. Bocuse was not an attractive man—his face looked like a fallen soufflé—but in some ways he was the very image of a French chef. Happily photographed in his whites and high toque, he was a stout, big-boned fellow (although he lost a good deal of weight later in life) who looked as if he could out eat everyone at the table.
Indeed, at a birthday bash held for him by his friend Jean Banchet at Le Français outside of Chicago that I was privileged to attend in the 1990s, Bocuse never flagged as course after course came out, even while much younger chefs who flew with him from France drooped with jetlag.
Although a true innovator and creator of signature dishes like his truffled chicken poached inside a pig’s bladder and his truffle-and-foie gras soup beneath puff pastry (right), Bocuse was never comfortable with the excesses of la nouvelle cuisine, dismissing it as “mini-portions on maxi-plates.” He was very much a traditionalist and in my interview with him he told me, “If every chef tasted his own food, we would have better cuisine.” He was a champion of ferreting out the very finest ingredients and respecting their natural flavors.
As he became more famous, awarded the French Legion of Honor medal by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Bocuse was less and less in his kitchen, and when asked who cooked at his restaurant when he wasn’t there, his response became a mantra for every chef, good and bad, who defended not cooking in his own restaurant: “The same person who cooks when I am there cooks when I’m not.”
That statement was at radical odds with the long tradition of chefs who rarely ever came out of their kitchens and whose names were barely even known to his guests. Bocuse, as much as anyone, changed that perception, saying, “You’ve got to beat the drum in life,” when critics said he had become more of a self-promoter and product seller than a true chef. Indeed, he put his name on glassware, pots and pans, pepper mills, wine and Cognac, even cigarette lighters. He joined with Vergé (left) and Jean Troisgros to open a restaurant at Disney’s EPCOT Center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. They made a fortune from it, which allowed Bocuse to maintain a wife and two mistresses, as he wrote about in his autobiography.
As he passed into his seventies Bocuse had become part of the pantheon of great master chefs who were widely revered and highly influential beyond merely creating great food. He came to epitomize what a chef could achieve beyond the stoves, a man of great ebullience, joie de vivre and with the capacity to revel in his own success.
Though Bocuse has been out of the limelight for the past decade, the fifty years preceding could rightly be called the Age of Bocuse, and his legacy is confirmed by the hundreds of younger chefs—some of them now in their sixties—who look up to the grand of Lion of Lyon.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
SO YOU WANT TO HOLD
A WINE TASTING
By John Mariani
"Bottle Shock" (2008)
I once knew a wine writer—always with a buzz on—who exulted that he’d tasted his way through 120 wines at an international exposition. Now, my job as a wine writer has its joys, but tasting my way through 120 wines, or 50 wines—which is about par for a judge at a wine competition—is not one of them.
Such a slog is not only hard work but palate fatigue sets in early, so that the 46th wine you taste is never going to have quite the luster of the third, and by number 75 you are in agony and in need of a shower.
Still, holding your own wine tasting at home, or in a restaurant, can be one of the most convivial of pleasures, as long as you go about it the right way, starting with whom you invite.
Basically, there are three kinds of people who drink wine: those who kind of like it, those who truly love it, and those who regard it as a study in one-upmanship. Only the second type is any fun at a wine tasting, especially if you’re going to be serving some expensive wines, which the first group will shrug at and the third will sniff and go into a discourse about a wine’s Ph level or a vineyard’s trellising techniques.
Once you’ve chosen your jolly group (please skip the black tie request!), there are certain guidelines that make such tastings a great deal of fun.
• I recommend serving six wines. Fewer is hardly worth the effort, and more becomes a bore. If this will only be a tasting, the amount sampled in each glass should be no more than a couple of ounces, so one bottle will serve for about eight people; if you plan to consume all the wines afterwards, you'll have more than enough for that number of people.
• Will it be a blind tasting? If so, cover each bottle with a paper bag to hide the labels, making sure the shape of the bottle is not evident. (Pinot noirs and rieslings always come in distinctively shaped bottles.) Number them and keep the list of names and numbers out of sight.
• If it’s not a blind tasting, rather than have a random selection of wines, choose one region, say Tuscany, or a single estate, say, Jordan cabernet. If the former, a horizontal tasting of a single vintage will give interesting insight into the differences of wines from the same region; if the latter, have a vertical tasting, that is, from different vintages of the same wine.
• Use standard wineglasses for all the wines and pour only about an ounce or so to begin with. Later your guests can enjoy whatever they like.
• Have plain water available to help clear the palate between wines.
• Crackers or bread is traditionally made available, also to clear the palate, chosen because they are bland and do not interfere with the wine flavors. But I believe it is much better to serve crackers like Saltines or bread like focaccia whose salt works as salt always does—to perk up flavors. I’ve also found that a little fat, along with the salt, brings out much more depth in wines you taste, so put a sheer amount of salted butter, or olive oil, on the bread. It works wonders.
• If you are serving the wines with dinner—and I heartily recommend you do so—keep the food very, very simple, like mild cheese, chicken broth, a steak, or, if you’re tasting white wines, fillet of fish.
• You might have guests taste all the wines prior to dinner—remember, you’re only sampling six—then match them with dinner. For the real point of tasting wines is that they go best with food, and with few exceptions, aren’t worth much without food, not even a glass of Champagne without at least a canape.
• During the discussion, try to keep the conversation lively (remember, you didn't invite the wine snobs to lecture anyone), and it’s a capital idea to have a few choice observations from great writers handy for toasts like these:
—“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap.”—Thomas Jefferson.
•Print out the names of all the wines for guests to take home.
every drop of every wine you open.
ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND
ALWAYS BE AN ENGLAND
“It was a table for ten: Esther and I and our two kids, Esther’s sister Hannah (who lives in Oxford now) and her four (count them, four) boys, and my youngest sister-in-law, Florence, who is a woman of many parts and is currently trying her hand at car journalism, so showed up halfway through the meal, yodeling across a crowded pub, `I’ve got a convertible red Bentley out here the size of a f***ing bendy bus. Can I stick it in your drive?'”—Giles Coren, “Western’s Laundry,” The London Times (12/30/17)
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❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
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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." 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 (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
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
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