Founded in 1996
Barbara Stanwyck and S.Z. Zakall in "Christmas in Connecticut" (1945)
IN THIS ISSUE
TAPAS LAS VEGAS
By John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
By Geoff Kalish
WHAT'S NEW IN LAS VEGAS
OFF THE STRIP?
By John A. Curtas
What's new in Vegas? Well, quite a lot, but almost all of it is happening off the Strip. Unless you're the sort to get excited about Giada De Laurentiis slapping her name on some fast-casual outlet at Caesars Palace, or Gordon Ramsay phoning it in with something called Hell's Kitchen, there's not much to talk about on Las Vegas Boulevard South.
On the plus side, Spago's new reboot in the Bellagio has breathed some much needed life into the old Olives space, and the Michael Mina reboot has gone swimmingly. It now gives Las Vegas a second restaurant to challenge Estatorio Milos for serious seafood hegemony.
Aside from those, things have been pretty quiet on our three-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South for the past three years. NoMad (the hotel and namesake restaurant) will open next month just off the Strip, but, until then, it's the local food scene that is creating all the buzz, and here are the places serious foodies are talking about these days.
Three separate small-plates restaurants opened
this past summer, and lovers of tempranillo, pulpo and patatas bravas
couldn't be happier.
Start your meal with some jamon serrano on crusty bread, or the spicy sobrasada sausage spread. Move on to some Peruvian snapper ceviche with piquillo peppers, then to the most authentic versions of aceitunas (olives), patatas bravas (baby potatoes), setas al ajillo (mixed mushrooms with lots of garlic), piquillo relleno de queso de cabra (roasted, stuffed peppers) and a tortilla Español that Las Vegas has never seen. The hits keep coming with croquetas de pollo oozing with béchamel, empanadas and gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic) guaranteed to drive away all vampires. The dishes are not bereft of subtlety—LeBlanc knows how to balance his flavors—but he skews towards the genuine over trying to coddle the uneducated palate, further proving his mettle with an array of plancha, grilled and skewered meats, all cooked with care, with honey-glazed pork belly (below) and lamb chops the ones not to miss.
About the only thing I can't recommend about Pamplona is the wine list. In this era, when so much interesting wine is coming out of Spain, Portugal and South America (at all price points), the restaurant’s meager selection does no justice to either the food or the atmosphere. And, even though few Americans like to drink it, there should be several sherries offered by the glass, because absolutely nothing goes better with Spanish ham.
Travel about a mile south and you'll find Edo Tapas & Wine (below; 3400 South Jones Blvd.; 702- 641-1345), half as big as Pamplona with twice the ambition. Its matchbox size belies an attempt to expand the flavors of Spain beyond conventional boundaries. It may look unassuming from the front, but Edo has quite a pedigree. Executive Chef Oscar Edo is a Strip veteran (and a survivor of the food truck craze), while partner Roberto Liendo (formerly g.m. at Bazaar Meat) runs the front of the house. Between them, they have a strong sense of the food and service a place like this needs to appeal to gastronauts who demand the new over the tried and true.
Four different dressed oysters are offered, depending upon what sort of bath you like your bivalves to take. I preferred the tamarind mole with pickled cucumber, though you might like yours to be swimming in kiwi leche de tigre or braised melon, lemon and mint. Bottom line: they're all fabulous.
As satisfying as these starters are, it is in the cold and hot tapas where Edo hits his stride. His fermented tomatoes with burrata and basil both sparkles and soothes the palate the way only super-sweet tomatoes can, making like a super-ripe Caprese at half the weight. Nice big chunks of Maine lobster come "salpicón-style—dressed with more of that "tiger's milk,” which nicely lightens the richness of the crustacean. On the "hot tapas" side, go for the croquetas with kimchi pisto; pulpo viajero (octopus with tamarind mole), buñelos de bacalao (salt cod fritters with squid ink and lime); and something called "Bikini”—a thin, crispy compression of sobrasada and Mahon cheese—which might be the last word in tiny toast.
One of the more eye-popping offerings is Huevos Estrellado (left), a toothsome concoction of olive-oil fried eggs and piquillo peppers sitting atop a melange of mushrooms and fried potatoes; the collection of maitake, shitake, enoki, and king-oysters is terrific in its own right, but top it all off with those eggs and peppers, and some garlic-parsley oil and you have a classic of Spain tweaked in all the right ways.
After bombarding your senses with all those oysters, clams, eggs, hams and octopus, you'll need something simple and soothing. The flan here pushes all the right buttons, and the olive oil dark chocolate fudge does the same. If you're looking to go lighter, try the surprising intensity of the strawberry granita with popcorn mousse.
Mordeo Boutique Wine Bar (5420 Spring Mountain Road; 702-545-0771) is a small-plates purveyor of a different stripe. Where Pamplona shoots and scores with authentic, Madrid-style tapas, and Edo gives an updated spin to Spanish classics, Mordeo takes the tapas thing in several different directions. What confronts you when you enter is a long, 30-seat, colorful three-sided bar. This counter represents the latest manifestation of the side-by-side dining that has been all the rage since Joël Robuchon made such a splash with it fifteen years ago. Those of a certain age may find it a tad awkward, and there are a couple of high-boy tables in one corner where four to six people can actually talk without leaning in and out with every sentence. Hearing is another matter.
Once you get comfortable (and to their credit, the staff puts everyone at ease), you will observe the hustle and bustle behind the bar, all sorts of people moving to and fro, taking orders, mixing drinks, pouring wines, and delivering plates. It's really quite a scene, and only a few months into its run, the staff and kitchen seem well synchronized. If you score one of those tables, don't expect to hear any whispered sweet nothings from your dearly beloved though, as that would require a bullhorn over the din.
A small-but-potent wine list is offered—five whites, six reds, some sake, several sherries—but everything is priced to sell. Strip wine maven Luis de Santos co-owns and runs the libations side of things, and he has tailored his wines to go with the food, but also to be quaffed and enjoyed, not pondered and discussed. You almost get the feeling that he and chef/owner Khai Vu are testing the waters with these wines, as they try out which ones, at what price point, will appeal to their customers. Something tells me the offerings will expand as this place gains its footing, and every bottle won't always be in the $30-$50 range. But for the time being, everything is quite a bargain—even the beer.
Tasty, inexpensive wine may be what brought you through the door, but the food is what will keep you here. Everyone starts with something called "The Cloud" (above) and it's a worthy way to begin the proceedings. A giant fried chiccarone is brought to the table festooned with thin strips of jamon iberico. The salty crispiness gets the palate juices flowing and sets you up for a number of dishes that are as attractive as they are savory. The Caesar salad is a worthy version, and the Beet Garden—red and golden beets with a goat cheese mousse—is as wine-friendly (and pretty) as any root veggie dish can get.
You'll want to follow those with the lomi lomi ocean trout ceviche (above left) and then either the cold, briny oysters, or the ginormous Nigerian prawn (above)—all of which prove chef/owner Khai Vu is serious about his seafood (left). The meaty king crab leg (at $38, the most expensive thing on the menu) is big enough for two, and the La Asada (grilled Angus skirt steak with chimichurri sauce) shows off Vu's facility with grilling denser proteins over binchotan charcoal. A stew of clams, chorizo, and mussels easily feeds two and has quite a kick of its own (left) from the white wine/sriracha sauce.
Desserts are only two in number and always in flux, but if the mango rice pudding, made to look like a fried egg, is offered, don't miss it.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
131 Summer Street
For a city its size, Stamford, Conn., could certainly use a few restaurants that rise above the mediocre, and Kashi, now two-and-a-half years old, does so with a whole lot of pizzazz. Part of a small Long Island chain, this is the only one in Connecticut, strategically located next to a Crowne Plaza Hotel and across from a Majestic multiplex movie theater. The intent is to attract both those who love modern Japanese food and those who want a cocktail lounge for entertainment.
Fortunately, the latter, upstairs, does not
infringe too much on the former, despite a
pounding bass line in the air. This is
a big space, and the downstairs dining room, with
sushi counter and bar, is shadowy and pretty
dark—the walls and ceiling are painted
black—lighted mostly by chandeliers. Tables
are roomy and very comfortable, and the service
staff, led by manager Daniel Li, mostly
The menu is very long, rarely a good sign, but, if you leave yourself in the hands of the chef, as I did by asking him to choose his best dishes from several sections of the menu—appetizers, sushi, sashimi, rolls, hot main courses—you will receive Japanese food of a high order, the sashimi and sushi based on pristine seafood, the rest packed with plenty of seasonings and dressings.
The wine list is short and stocked with nothing but the most commercial bottlings, but there is a good sake list and a whole column of imaginative cocktails with names like “Angry Dragon” and “Cracked Lobster.”
Everything that came from the
kitchen had enormous color in its presentation,
evoking the snazzy décor. The very first dish, a
filet mignon carpaccio with wasabi yuzu soy,
ginger and garlic, was one that I would order
every time I return. Very balanced in its many
flavors, the meat itself was thinly cut and
absorbed the other ingredients perfectly. Grilled
octopus ($12) was enlivened with piquillo pepper
in a yuzu
kosho pepper sauce, and yellowtail was
seared and served with cucumber, celery, a lovely
gel of yuzo
koshi and dashi sauce. Soy paper was wrapped
around a spicy lobster salad ($16) and shiitakes,
topped with salmon roe, mango chili, along with a
(with cucumber wrap) with spicy tuna that really
worked as an appetite spur ($12).
Calmer dishes followed in a lavish platter of sushi and sashimi, each distinct from the next, the sashimi lustrous and the sushi well served by the lightly vinegared, slightly warmed rice.
blue sea” ($16) is a delectable dish of blue crab,
avocado and mango topped with seared spicy tuna
and eel sauce, and crunchy tuna—really good—with
an wasabi aïoli took the name “Valentine roll”
Richer flavors were next in a fried King crab with avocado, kani roll of shrimp topped with spicy tuna and sweet Thai chili whose flavors melded but hit all on their own. Thai basil chicken ($20) was a departure, with wok-fried chicken, mushrooms, onion, carrot, basil and chili paste. Portions for everything are very generous. Desserts are negligible.
Kashi does have something of a Vegas-style vibe that contrasts with the traditional ambiance of a sushi bar. So, next time I go, I will sit myself at the counter, nod to the chef and concentrate on his mastery while enjoying Asian food rare in a big city like Stamford. Along with OKO Kitchen in Westport, Kashi gives Connecticut two excellent options for a wide-ranging cuisine.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
VINTAGE AND “PRESTIGE” CHAMPAGNES
More Than Just For Toasting
By Geoff Kalish
While they can be quite costly, vintage and so-called “prestige” French Champagnes provide bouquet and taste rarely found in lesser bubblies, making them perfect to mate with even the most delicate fare. In fact, merely toasting with these wines often fails to allow them to provide maximum gustatory pleasure, because their combinations with food seems, in most instances, to heighten not only the flavor of the fare, but of the bubbly itself.
Of note, what sets these wines apart from other Champagnes is generally the great attention to detail in their grape-growing and processing procedures. For example, only top-level specific plots of grapes grown in a particular year are selected for inclusion, with meticulous planning and care at harvest time and technique as well as fermentation, aging, blending and bottling. And, as affirmation of this, the Wine Media Guild (a professional organization of wine writers and communicators) recently held a luncheon tasting of 17 of these top-shelf Champagnes at Manhattan’s Il Gattopardo restaurant. What emerged was not only a testament to the exceptional aesthetics of these bubblies but their great affinity for a range of fare. The following are some brief notes on my top ten in the tasting—although I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to drink any of the 17.
These are blended Champagnes, from grapes harvested in a number of years, with blends varying from producer to producer, but considered their top-of –the-line bottling.
NV Krug “Grande Cuvée” Brut 166th edition ($180)
I’ve been a fan of this barrel-fermented bubbly since first tasting it with Rémy Krug some 30 years ago. Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier culled from over 100 different wines produced over 10 years, it has a rich, toasty bouquet and taste with notes of honey and spice in its long elegant finish. It’s perfect to mate with main course items like duck, beef or lamb.
NV Collet “Espirit Couture” ($120)
Packaged in an elegant hand-blown glass bottle, it’s made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier from Prémiere and Grand Cru vineyards. It shows a bouquet and taste of white peaches and brioche, with hints of dried apricots in its long, smooth finish and marries well with scallops, shrimp or halibut.
NV Alfred Gratien “Cuvée Paradis” Rosé ($100)
The only rosé in the tasting, it was fashioned from a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and showed a robust bouquet and the taste of ripe strawberries and raspberries, with notes of cherry in its vibrant finish. It pairs perfectly with hors d’oeuvres like smoked salmon, foie gras or caviar.
Comprising less than 5% of all Champagne produced, all the grapes used must be from the same vintage and bottle aging must be for at least 3 years – as compared with 15 months for non-vintage Champagne.
2006 Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne ($140)
This 100% Chardonnay-based bubbly, produced only in exceptional years, shows a complex bouquet and taste of apples and notes of lemon and mint, with a light but memorable finish. It marries harmoniously with shrimp, scallops or other denizens of the deep, as well as roasted chicken or turkey. Expect this wine to actually improve with 5 to 10 years of aging, with even greater complexity in its bouquet and taste.
2012 Ayala Blanc de Blancs ($65)
This extremely well-priced bubbly was produced from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in Grand Cru vineyards. It has a smoky bouquet and tastes of toast, peaches and pears with a hint of lemon in its dry, crisp finish. It’s ideal to pair with bivalves, shrimp or crabmeat cocktail and pasta with white wine sauce.
2009 Moët & Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon ($165)
This classy, classic bubbly shows a rich floral bouquet and taste of cherries, brioche and grapefruit with notes of orange zest in its long, elegant finish. It marries well with a wide range of appetizers, from smoked fish to hummus laced with white truffle oil as well as main courses of roasted chicken or grilled salmon.
2008 Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin “La Grande Dame” ($160)
Containing about 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, this wine, which honors Madame Clicquot (who was widowed at age 27 and took over her husband’s Champagne business and ran it to perfection), shows a floral bouquet and tastes of ripe plums and honey, with a bit of spice in its long fruity finish. It pairs well with hors d’oeuvres like pigs in a blanket and mini egg rolls as well as appetizers like grilled octopus or calamari.
2005 Henriot “Cuvée Hemera” Brut ($200)
Named in homage to the Greek Goddess of daylight, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay (50%) and Pinot Noir (50%). It shows a toasty bouquet and tastes of apricots and honey and makes great accompaniment for main course items like grilled branzino, pasta with white wine sauce or pork roast.
2007 Boizel Grand Vintage ($75)
Made from a blend of Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay (40%) and Pinot Meunier (10%) this wine shows a bouquet and taste of ripe apples, toast and lemon zest. It mates best with bivalves or sushi.
2007 Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs ($150)
This is a light, fruity, 100% Chardonnay wine that lacks some of the complexity of other vintage Champagnes but makes up for it in its vibrant, refreshing taste. It’s a good choice to mate with robust cheeses or pasta with red sauce.
WILL ALSO BE HANDING OUT
THEY WILL ALSO BE HANDING OUT HAZMAT SUITS
FOOD WRITING 101: TRY NOT TO
SOUND LIKE AN ABSOLUTE TWIT
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 di Montalcino.
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
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish,
and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical
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