Dexter Fleming, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng and Nick Moran
in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
IN THIS ISSUE
A DISPASSIONATE LOOK AT
SAN MIGUEL ALLENDE, MEXICO
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Even in Tradition-Bound Champagne, Change and
Marketing Are Key to Continued Success
By John Mariani
ATTENTION! There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week because Mariani will be off wining and dining in Bruges and Antwerp, Belgium.
A DISPASSIONATE LOOK AT
SAN MIGUEL ALLENDE, MEXICO
By John Mariani
Photos by Galina Dargery (2018)
A few years ago I visited San Miguel Allende, Mexico, for the first time and, like most people, fell in thrall to its isolated beauty, its colonial architecture and grand cathedral, and the easy-going flow of the locals in this town 170 miles from Mexico City.
Made rich as a way-stop for the silver trade and overseen by a few prominent Mexican families of Spanish descent, San Miguel was an early rebel crucible for the War of Independence (1810-1821), and over the next century superb examples of churches, municipal buildings, parks, botanical gardens and artistic venues like the Teatro Angela Peralta and Mask Museum have only made the town more attractive as a tourist destination, now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The grand, always vibrant Plaza, centered by the pink Parroqia de San Miguel Arcangel church, whose towers evoke those of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, is central to everything, and all roads lead to it. Unfortunately, most of the roads are uphill and paved with cobblestones, which makes navigation a calf-testing trek.
Other worthwhile sites include the Bibiloteca Publica, the Museo Casa de Allende and the Fabrica La Aurora (now an art and design center), and every weekend there seems to be another festival, from Three Kings Day in January to the International Jazz and Blues Festival in December.
So delighted was I on my visit that I swore next time it would be with my wife, who is herself a painter and I knew would be enchanted by the artistic atmosphere that imbues the entire town. Indeed, some decades ago San Miguel was “discovered” by hippies and artists looking for cheap lodgings and space, far from the madding crowds of Mexico City and the tourist-swelled resort towns like Acapulco.
So the invitation to the wedding of one of my oldest friend’s daughter was a perfect excuse to return to San Miguel with my wife and to stay on for a couple of days to bask in its colonial and post-colonial splendor. Even a long flight from New York with a stopover and then a 90-minute jitney ride over a route with more speed bumps than open road did not dampen our spirits, and we collapsed with jetlag into a secluded, landscaped antique-decorated hacienda of great beauty and quiet.
The wedding events were joyous, from a rooftop party with fireworks the night before to a marriage ceremony in a courtyard perfumed with bougainvilleas, followed by a swaying walk through the plaza and on to the reception, serenaded along the way by a mariachi band and accompanied by giant costumed bride-and-groom figures (right) as the townspeople and other well wishers became part of the festivities. It was as memorable a wedding as I’ve ever attended.
But from the moment I arrived in San Miguel, I sensed a great deal had changed from my first visit. For one thing, the central part of the town had become a warren of tourist boutiques, most selling the same cheap trinkets. (The wonderful exception was three women’s shoe stores called San Miguel Shoe [left] that feature a sturdy form of wedge-heeled shoes perfect for walking on those cobblestones; pairs cost between $25 and $30.)
And where there are boutiques there are the tourists to engorge them. San Miguel Allende has, in a few words, become far too successful for its own good, unless, of course you own a boutique or restaurante. Indeed, the narrow streets have become so clogged by taxis that crawl up and down like snails that they are useless as transport, and since parking is at a bare minimum any increase in vehicular traffic comes at a great price. An expatriate American there told me if the town does not solve its central traffic problem it could lose its UNESCO status.
And then there are the restaurantes. I really don’t remember where or how well I ate on my last visit, but, except for one popular breakfast place called Cumpanio, with exceptional pastries, I found no restaurante I would ever choose to eat at again, or recommend—despite asking local authorities where to dine. Again, owing to the tourist crowd, the restaurantes, including those that claim to serve true Yucatan cuisine, offered vast menus of the same dishes, including hamburgers, mozzarella and spaghetti Bolognese. The Mexican dishes were bland—not as good as any twenty Mexican restaurants in the U.S. that I could rave about—and mostly variations of tacos, quesadillas and burritos filled with the same ingredients; service was friendly but without any local charm. Otherwise, you have options for plenty of pizza, sushi and Italian restaurants of a kind you hardly expect in a Mexican town of this size. Were I ever to go again, I would eat where the locals eat—at the massive Mercados near the Plaza Civica, where we saw stall after stall of vendors specializing in different foods—pork, seafood, fried items, cactus leaves and soups (right). Across the street is the maze of artisans’ stalls, brimming with knickknacks, statuary, silver and shoes.
The hotels, like the new Rosewood, are as expensive as any in Mexico, and, while I thoroughly enjoyed our hacienda, it, too, was very pricey for an Airbnb whose caretaker we saw only once in four days. Internet service was wholly undependable.
There are worthwhile day trips to Santuario de Atonilco (another UNESCO site) and the archeological site Cañada de la Virgin Pyramid, 18 miles away. But the streets that lead away from the San Allende Plaza take on a sameness of stucco-ed walls in three or four colors, so often cracked and peeling, with sidewalks full of pitfalls.
I do recall those streets when I visited San Miguel Allende the first time, and I suppose I found much of it charming in an antique way. Now, like Venice, overrun with t-shirted foreigners year-round, the city’s soul has been largely drained by tourism. It’s still worth a visit, even a week’s stay if you just want to zone out, but beyond that you might easily be in other towns with much more to offer.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
110 South Street
I suppose Morristown, New Jersey, qualifies as a New York City suburb, though the infernal traffic of the Garden State’s highways does not make it easy to get to. Those who brave the slog will, however, be rewarded with one of the best seafood restaurants in the region, daPesca. (If you’re in the mood for pub fare or more casual dining, the premises, called Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, also contain a Rathskeller and an Oyster Bar.)
Veteran restaurateur Chris Cannon is managing partner for this venture, opened in 2014, within the historic Vail Mansion, whose stunning Italian marble staircase is still the centerpiece of the property. The restaurant has three separate dining rooms with period wainscoting, antique fireplaces and a glass-enclosed kitchen run by Chef Craig Polignano (left), previously at the acclaimed Ryland Inn. He offers four-course ($87) or six-course ($116) dinners (available à la carte Tues.-Fri.), with ingredients culled from individual fishing vessels out of Barnegat Light and Point Pleasant. Vegetables are from Let it Grow Farm in Mendham. On tasting Polignano’s food—especially those dishes not too fussed over—you can tell immediately the premium quality of all he buys.
One way to go simple is to order a bountiful seafood plateau ($68-$124) of oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, lobster and crudo. Our table of four ate extensively from an early spring menu that began with a glistening tuna tartare laced with black truffles and the nice sour touch of fermented cabbage, sesame oil and egg yolk ($19). Calamari à la plancha ($18) were wonderfully tender, enlivened with tamarind, papaya, peanuts, brown butter and long pepper. A spreadable rillette was a combination of lightly smoked bluefish served with an “everything” cracker, tangy-sweet pear mostarda condiment and caper berries ($16).
There were some hits and misses with the pastas, largely because the intensity of added flavors detracted from the pasta itself. The squid ink cavatelli with rock shrimp, neonata (tiny fish), tomato, prosciutto and breadcrumbs ($27) was, however, a triumph of well-coordinated flavors and textures. But trenette con riccio with surprisingly bland sea urchins, American caviar and cockles (at a whopping $30) didn’t add up to a happy marriage.
main courses are just-caught scallops (right) with
morel and fava beans accompanied by
a black garlic polenta flavored with sorrel ($39).
Lobster is basted lavishly
in the French style, with added nubbins of
sweetbreads and chanterelles and the
surprise addition of rhubarb, all napped in a beurre rouge red wine sauce ($44). Glistening ceviche (left) of
the best raw seafood in the market is
prettily arranged like a flower ($20).
Desserts were only slightly less impressive and at least one a bit gimmicky—the matcha panna cotta with black sesame ice cream, lemongrass puffed rice and caramel lime ($12). Much more welcome was carrot cake with a pistachio crumble, maple chiboust and mascarpone ice cream ($14), as well as a triple chocolate tart ($14).
The wine list at daPesca is rich with 500 selections, its focus on Northern Italy, with 40 wines by the glass and sixty bottlings under $50. They also carry more than 200 spirits selections.
So, if you live anywhere near Morristown, daPesca is the obvious choice for very fine dining, and if you live farther away it’s well worth the trip if you want to stay over in town. Few places in New Jersey offer seafood of this superb quality.
daPesca is open Tues.-Sat. for dinner.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
in Tradition-Bound Champagne, Change and
Chances are Demarville made a mental note of that clash so that he could go back to Reims and figure out a new blend that would go well with tomato sauce. “We must innovate,” he said. “The world is changing, and if we don’t keep up with people’s tastes around the world, a house like ours would disappear.”
Not that such a demise is likely to happen soon. Veuve Clicquot (since 1987 owned by the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy group) was founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron and has always been among the more innovative houses in the tradition-bound Champagne industry, where a house style, once established, is rigorously maintained every year for customers who prefer it to another house’s style.
Indeed, Veuve Clicquot is believed to have pioneered the process of remuage, by which a cellared Champagne bottle is tilted and frequently turned in order to settle and collect the sediment in the bottle (below), as of 1811, at a time when Clicquot’s widow, Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (left), became the first woman to take over control of a Champagne house. Madame Clicquot managed to be the first to ship her Champagne to Imperial Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, and the tradition of using a saber to open a bottle of Champagne came about when she shipped bottles to the Prussian guards. She was also the first to create a rosé Champagne in 1818 made with the addition of red Bouzy wine, ever since a standard practice for rosés. In honor of this year’s 200th anniversary, Veuve Clicquot launched a limited-edition packaging for the Non-Vintage Rosé Champagne ($70) with black foil around the bottle neck, under which is a hidden message.
For more than a century Veuve Clicquot has been made in a somewhat drier style than Champagnes of other houses, which in the 19th and early 20th century favored sweeter demi-sec versions. Veuve Clicquot’s basic and best-selling, non-vintage brand has always been called “Yellow Label” ($49), but top-of-the-line La Grande Dame ($150), made with the smallest amount of added sugar (called the dosage) to coax a second fermentation, has been made drier and drier. (Demarville's first La Grande Dame vintage is from 2008.) Nevertheless, said Demarville, sales of these so-called préstige cuvée Champagnes account for only two to three percent of sales.
Overall Champagne sales wax and wane with the world’s economy. “The U.S. is still our biggest client, but the Japan market keeps growing and growing for us,” said Demarville, who had previously worked at Mumm. “The UK sales have been declining because of the current economy, although we haven’t yet seen any problem because of Brexit. When the economy is good, people will drink more Champagne.”
I mentioned that recently the winemaker at Moët & Chandon told me that his brand is even encouraging serving Champagne on ice, to which Demarville merely shrugged and said, “Why not? If you’re sitting by the pool or the beach, Champagne on ice is a good idea, no? We even make a label called Rich ($70) in a silver bottle that is sweeter and made just for that preference. You pour it over ice and add your own slices of fruit.” He also said that while Veuve Clicquot is not heavily promoting demi-sec Champagnes yet, he admitted that there has been a recent growing interest in the style.
Demarville was appointed Cellar Master at Veuve Clicquot in 2009—only the ninth since 1771-- having spent several years as Cellar Master at Mumm. Since all Champagne is made from only three grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier—Demarville is a firm believer in using a diversity of terroirs to achieve balance and elegance in his wines to produce a consistent style in accord with the house’s motto "Only one quality, the finest." To this purpose reserve wines up to fifteen years old are used in the various blends.
Change in Champagne is now inevitable, if only because of global warming, of which Demarville says, “the heat builds up more sugar and phenols, which have to be taken into consideration in the future.”
Once considered a largely celebratory wine, Champagne is now being promoted at different price levels to compete with red and white still wines. It is also being promoted to be enjoyed throughout a meal, even with a club sandwich at the beach in Saint-Tropez. Now if DeMarville can just figure out a way to make a Champagne that goes with tomato sauce, Italy may become the company’s new frontier.
SPECIALS WILL INCLUDE CALE SALAD,
CANGAROO TAIL, CABOBS AND C LIME PIE.
FOOD WRITING 101: TRY NOT TO PACK MORE
"Deli fu cious: Fish burgers, crab croquettes, and anago (conger) hot dogs are the name of the game at this laid-back, popular diner. Main man Shinya Kudo was initially a sushi chef, so he has the training and connections to ensure everything is excellent quality. His attitude permeates the restaurant (note the “F U” in the name), but in a mellow way that fits easily in the ever-hip Naka-Meguro neighborhood.”—Robbie Swinnerton, "The 15 Hottest New Restaurants in Tokyo," Eater.com (4/19/18)
Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Wine is a joy year-round but
in cooler weather one
grape varietal has really taken center stage in my
daily activities – that most Italian of grapes,
Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello
Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese
BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites.
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage.
Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish.
Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation. Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998.
Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape. Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name. The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky. Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices. The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red. The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut. It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note. It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.
SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet. An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine.
Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.
Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table.
Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti. An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes. This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.
Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining.
Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.
Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region. The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice. It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.
Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.
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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, 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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NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
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