Founded in 1996
Léa Seydoux and Daniel Craig in "Spectre" (2015)
HAPPY ST. VALENTINE'S DAY
IN THIS ISSUE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
MARCO FELLUGA WINES
By John Mariani
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY
THE JEWEL OF THE HUDSON VALLEY
By John Mariani
As someone who once lived in Yonkers, along the Hudson River, which Henry James called “the great romantic stream,” I have never forgotten the peacefulness that a long view of it instilled upon my senses as it flowed silently down to the sea.
In southern New York the Hudson is broad and majestic, growing to its widest point thirty miles upstream in Haverstock before narrowing farther north. The scenery throughout the Hudson Valley is extraordinary in that so much of it still looks primeval, from the Palisades to Albany. Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson line allows a consistent view of the river, but the New York Thruway runs largely west through the Adirondacks, up to Saratoga Springs. It is a town enriched by a history of wealth, health, gambling and racing, and now, thanks to the renovation of its principal historic building, The Adelphi Hotel, Saratoga Springs has never looked more charming.
Before there was a town there were mineral springs, unseen by any white man until 1771, when a British general attributed the cure of his leg wound to the miraculous waters of High Rock Spring. After the American Revolution the area became a healthy refuge for luminaries that ranged from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, and the first hotel opened in 1802. The shipment of Saratoga’s restorative waters to New York City as of the 1830s made the town’s name famous, and, when swift steamboats began plying the Hudson, a gambling casino drew a new crowd to the town and the racetrack made its fortunes well into the 20th century.
In the 19th century there were three great hotels in Saratoga Springs: the Grand Union, with 824 rooms; the United States, stretching a quarter-mile along Broadway; and The Adelphi, filigreed in Victorian gingerbread. Today, only the last survives, bought several years ago in a seriously dilapidated condition for a mere $4.5 million, then gutted and restored over five years at a cost of $40 million. Today, its façade’s colonnade is one of the town’s most identifiable reference points.
The result of the restoration is a carefully maintained balance of the old and the new, with hardwood and antiques used throughout, marble tables, 19th century photographs and a well-appointed library with tufted leather and velvet chairs, all putting you in mind of a place where tycoons like Diamond Jim Brady used to get away from the bustle of New York.
But all the rooms, while evoking the ambiance of the hotel’s early incarnation, are completely modern, with complimentary refreshments and Nespresso machine, WiFi, and bathrooms as large as any at a California spa, with double-topped sink, separate tub and shower, an electronic bidet and toilet, heated floors and excellent lighting. There is also complimentary car service within a five-mile radius.
The downstairs bar is named after a bare-knuckles fighter and congressman named John Morrissey, who was also one of the developers of the town’s first casino. Next door to the hotel is a steakhouse called Salt & Char, but the main dining room, within the hotel, is the Blue Hen, set under a spectacular skylight like a gazebo of white wood and glass.
Chef Chris Bonnivier, who’s worked on the menus with Chef David Burke, sources provender as much as possible from the Hudson Valley and New York State, which translates into colorfully presented dishes like crispy glazed pork belly with smoked bleu cheese, blood orange, parsnips and pickled chilies ($15); a wintry kabochka squash bisque with cranberry gelée, sage and roasted pumpkin seeds ($12); classically executed lamb crêpinette (below) with cabbage puree, spiced carrots, curried eggplant mostarda and butter-poached turnip ($44); veal tenderloin with cornmeal puree, sunchokes and caramelized parsnips ($42); roasted Brussels sprouts ($8); and a lavish and lovely Paris “tea pot de crème” with almond, chocolate and hibiscus meringue crisps ($12).
This is a kind of finely crafted cuisine you won’t find anywhere else in Saratoga Springs, whose Broadway is lined with bistros, pizzerias, a deli, bakeries, cafés, sandwich shops, crêperies and ice cream shops.
My last visit was this winter, so not all of the area’s attractions were open (there’s skiing an hour away), but the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (left) on Union Avenue is a stunning presentation of the history of equestrianism in America, with whole rooms full of jockey silks, cases of ornate silver trophies, a reproduced starting gate and superb archival footage and photos throughout.
There is also the Saratoga Automobile Museum; the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame; and, in nearby Glenn Falls, the Hyde Collection, Art Museum and Historic House with works by Rembrandt, Picasso, Eakins and Homer. Nearby Smith College may be of interest to some, but its lay-out and architecture are curiously drab.
A great deal of the pleasure of Saratoga Springs, on or off season, is simply to stroll up Broadway, lined with a mile or so of some of America’s most beautiful 19th century asymmetrical mansions, all in excellent shape, brightly colored, some turreted, others with widow’s walks, shingled or brick-wrapped, with bay windows of stained glass and with Gothic Revival, Queen Anne and Italianate decorative elements, not unlike a Hollywood street set for “Meet Me in St. Louis,” only very truly real.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
622 Third Avenue (at 40th Street)
Zengo occupies a vast three-level space once thought doomed as a restaurant location in New York, but nine years from opening it is still thriving in Midtown, just a couple of blocks from Grand Central Terminal. Downstairs there’s a bar called La Biblioteca de Tequila with 400 agave-based spirits (below); on ground level is a huge dining room with high ceilings, masses of dark wood, rafters and wrought-iron screens; on the mezzanine is another, smaller venue. Even on a brutally cold January night midweek, when I visited, Zengo was doing banner business.
“Zengo” means "give and take" in Japanese, something empire-building chef-owner Richard Sandoval, who grew up in Mexico City, has been toying with for years. He began in New York with restaurants Maya and Pampano, and over 18 years has gone global, with 45 “concepts” in nine states, Mexico, Dubai, Qatar and even Serbia.
There are in fact three Zengos, and there’s no question the New York operation is a “concept” designed to wow a Millennial crowd that comes as much for the scene as the food and drink. It may have taken its cue from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Asian restaurants Vong and Spice Market (both long gone), but, fortunately, the food is not formulaic and adds Mexican and Peruvian elements to the menu.
That menu is way too large to hit on every note, but it’s hard to resist ordering from so many categories, making it wise to go with a group of four or more, as did I. You can store your own tequila bottle in a locker downstairs, where the Happy Hour is held. There are ten specialty cocktails offered, running $13 to $15.
My friends and I ate from pretty much every category and made but a dent in the menu, which begins with sushi and sashimi. The “Angry Zengo Roll” ($14) was delicious, bulked up with spicy tuna, avocado, chipotle aïoli and cucumber. There’s an omekase chef’s selection of sushi rolls and ceviche ($65), but I found the sashimi platter ($22) was below par in flavor and in cut from what you’ll find at most Japanese sushi bars around town.
drinks it’s pleasant to nibble on salted edamame
peas ($7) or
shishito peppers with bonito flakes
($10), and you don’t want to miss
a fine fusion dish like spicy lump crab
guacamole with ginger, yuzu, cilantro
and Thai basil with tortilla chips ($19).
There’s a mixed grilled satay of skirt
steak, chicken thigh, pork and
sesame teriyaki ($16).
Toeing a stricter Mexican line is achiote hoisin pork arepas stuffed with masa and avocado with a rich crema fresca ($14), as are the adobo sweet and sour BBQ pork ribs (left) with papa rellena, bacon, Monterey jack cheese and chayote slaw ($16). This, and a few others, can be sticky sweet, which isn’t what I expected from pork carnitas noodles ($16) with too much hoisin sauce, along with carrots, bean sprouts, a poached egg, cashews and hot & sour sauce to boot.
There are even flatbreads on the menu, including one with wild mushrooms, black garlic and goat’s cheese ($13) and another with Chinese braised short rib with manchego cheese, arugula and crema fresca ($15).
That takes care of the appetizers. Big main courses follow and can be shared. The best I tried was a whole crispy fried fish (right) with a delightful malanga purée, watercress salad and black bean vinaigrette ($32).
There are just five desserts—quite enough—and you should consider a $25 platter of three or all five for $40. They’re not terrific: the chocolate tres leches cake is spongy; the coconut tapioca pudding lacked flavor, despite the lemon sorbet and guava espuma; and the churros with a bittersweet chocolate sauce hadn’t the right crunch-to-chewy texture.
So Zengo moves on, nearly a decade in this space, and it tries hard to distance itself from those tired, extravagant drinking halls like Tao, where food is negligible and outrageous set-ups are encouraged. Zengo is clearly about the food and drink, and concept or not, it works well.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARMarco and Roberto Felluga
THE WINES OF MARCO FELLUGA
By John Mariani
You may be forgiven if you confuse the vintners Marco Felluga and Livio Felluga, both of whose families came originally from Istria, made wine since the 1850s and re-settled in the northern Italian region of Friuli after World War I.
Not until 1956 did the two families split, quite amiably, and in the mid-1970s began exporting first-rate Pinot Grigio to the U.S. at a time when the only Italian white wines Americans knew were Frascati, Verdicchio and Soave.
I recall vividly being amazed by the richness, complexity, and aromatics of those Felluga Pinot Grigios (pinot gris in France), but their success resulted in U.S. importers bringing in oceans of mediocre Pinot Grigios, like the way-over-priced Santa Margherita. Today there are more than 600 producers of the varietal, but the Felluga wines outpace them all for quality.
I had occasion last month to dine in New York with Roberto Felluga, scion of Marco Felluga, whose vineyards, located in Gradisco d'Isonzo, cover 120 hectares/300 acres (either family owned or operated) in the Collio region, which has a DOC appellation. The family also owns 100 hectares/250 acres of Russiz Superiore in Capriva dei Friuli that produces Felluga’s most highly regarded wines. The family’s operations are only 15 kilometers/9 miles from Livio Felluga’s.
Roberto’s father, Marco, has been considered one of the most innovative vintners in Italy, a tradition carried on by Roberto, a tall, slender, bearded fellow who looks quite a bit like The Dude in The Big Lebowski and as much German as he does Italian, given that Friuli is close to the Austrian-German border. (His daughter Ilaria is in training to join the family business.)
“We do have a different, German tradition and approach to wines. We look for freshness and a balance of fruit and acid. Some of our wines are 100% fermented in stainless steel, but others in oak. We also produce a riserva, which is unusual for a white wine.”
We tasted an array of Felluga’s wines, which went with a variety of dishes at Michael’s restaurant that included a bowl of farro and quinoa with pear, cranberries and fromage blanc, mushroom ravioli, grilled Dover sole and delicata squash risotto.
A Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris 2016 Riserva ($36) is 100% Pinot Grigio, with 30% of the must fermented in oak barrels, the remainder in steel, aging for more than two years in bottle, all of which adds to the complexity and richness of this faintly copper-colored wine, so different in refinement from most Pinot Grigio sold in this country.
The Russiz Superiore Collio Pinot Grigio 2017 ($29) is a younger wine, also 100% Pinot Grigio, from a cool microclimate and soil rich in clay and limestone. The grapes are all hand-picked in September, with 15% fermented in oak, the rest in stainless steel, then aged on the lees for eight months and a minimum of one month in bottle. The wine has an abundance of aromas, especially pear and apple, and at 13.5% alcohol a pleasing heft in the body.
The Russiz Superiore Collio Bianco Col Disore 2013 ($40), with four years of age, is a blend of 40% Pinot Bianco, 35% Tocai Friulano, 15% Sauvignon and 10% Ribolla Gialla. In this case the wine was fermented entirely in oak barrels, aged on the lees for a year and a year in bottle. It’s a white wine that hints at the longevity of German whites, with minerality and vegetable flavors in tandem with the fruit. This was a very good wine to go with the woodsy flavors of the risotto.
Superiore Collio Pinot Bianco Riserva
2015 ($36) is made from Pinot Bianco, which often
produces a fairly bland white
Felluga pointed out that for a long period in
the family history, more red wine was made than
white, and they still make a
considerable amount. That evening
we tasted the Collio Cabernet Franc 2016 ($29),
macerated in stainless steel,
then aged a year in barriques and six months in
bottle. It is richer than many
northern Cabernet Francs, which tend to be rather
The Milleridge Inn in Jericho. NY, will “transform into scenes from the Netflix blockbuster Bird Box as hundreds of local residents blindfold themselves and eat a meal to reenact the iconic scenes of the movie.” Diners will, as in the movie, not utter a word throughout the entire dinner, during which music, bird sounds, and rushing water sounds from the film will play. Eventually, they’ll be allowed to enter “the birdhouse,” where they can take off their blindfolds “without fearing the monsters.”
FOOD WRITING 101: TRY HARDER TO SHUT UP
“When I went to New
Orleans for my 30th (!!) birthday, we went to N7 three
times. I’d never felt so seen by a
restaurant. I could eat there every day for the rest
of my life and die happy (or full of mercury from all
the tinned fish, hard to predict). The wine is divine,
the atmosphere is like a sexy secret garden, the fresh
seafood and fried bar snacks all pull my heartstrings.
Ugh, I want to get on a plane and go back right now.”--Alex Beggs,
Restaurants That Turned Us Into Dedicated Regulars in
2018;We can’t shut up about
our new favorite restaurants," Bon Appetit (12/14/19)
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.
Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured favorite. The story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair.
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“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw
“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.
“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.
“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.
“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.
❖❖❖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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