Founded in 1996
Jude Law and Susan Saradon in "Alfie" (2004)
IN THIS ISSUE
DINING OUT IN THE BAHAMAS, Part Two
By Geoff Kalish
NEW YORK CORNER
Zhen Wei Fang
By John Mariani
THE CHALLENGES OF SELLING ITALIAN WINE TODAY:
AN INTERVIEW WITH TARA EMPSON
By John Mariani
DINING OUT IN THE BAHAMAS
By Geoff Kalish
DOWNTOWN & PARADISE ISLAND
From a choice of a dozen appetizers we shared a thick slice of tasty parmesan terrine served with a green salad topped with pine nuts and dressed in a good vinaigrette, and an order of octopus salad, with juicy slices of the cephalopod served with a mix of radicchio and chickpeas spiced with fresh, minty marjoram. The flavor of a main course of grilled grouper fillet benefited from a dousing with citrus sauce and was served atop a heap of buttery mashed potatoes. And in an order of prawns in a red curry sauce (left), the large, fiery crustaceans were surrounded by flavorful jasmine rice. For dessert we enjoyed a slice of decadently rich black and white chocolate cake served with strawberry sauce (right).
From a wine list offering a number of sensibly-priced (for the Bahamas) bottles we chose a fruity, cassis-scented Chapelle de la Trinité from St. Émilion, which matched well with the grouper but was overwhelmed by the heady spice of the prawns. Of note, service was timely and professional, overseen by owner Gregory Curry.
West Hill Street
Upon entering, patrons are seated first in an art museum-like anteroom for aperitifs, where menus and wine selections are presented. You are then escorted by an experienced staff member to one of a number of individual Old World-styled rooms with white-clothed tables, fine china, silverware and, of course, exquisite wine glasses.
The fare offered (soon to change a bit with the hiring of a Michelin-starred chef, Garzaroli confided) is a mélange of French and Italian classics. For example, appetizers run the gamut from mozzarella di bufala à l’Italienne to a brochette of snails with sauce bourguignonne. Main courses range from branzino à l’acqua pazza to raviolacci au langouste et tomates. We chose as appetizers a slice of Bahamian lobster tail set atop tasty greens and a small puff pastry adrift on a saffron-infused cream sauce, and a quinoa salad served with a dice of fresh vegetables, enlivened with an olive oil vinaigrette. For main courses we selected moist morsels of Bahamian lobster baked in its shell with a smooth, flavorful white wine tomato sauce, and a large veal tomahawk steak coated with a reduction of earthy mushrooms and truffles. We concluded with a selection of excellent cheeses served with thick honey. For wine the owner selected for us a bottle of the very popular 2015 Robert Foley “The Griffen” blend, which showed rich flavors of plums and strawberries with a bit of tannin in its finish.
#1 Bay Street, Navy Lion Road
From a choice of more than two dozen tapas, we shared orders of piping hot conch fritters that were crisp, a bit sweet and crunchy on the inside ($9.50); garlicky gambas ajillo ($14) as well as sizzling, fiery pil-pil gambas ($14), both shrimp dishes made with tender crustaceans and good olive oil. For main courses, from a list of more than a dozen choices, we selected an artfully presented special of grilled red snapper fillet with a variety of peppers ($21). The highlight of the evening— from a selection of individual bowls of paella ($28)—was one of rich, briny shrimp and calamari sautéed with saffron rice and black squid ink (above).
We accompanied the meal with a bottle of plum- and cherry-flavored Torres Gran Sangre de Toro Reserva and concluded with a lavish strawberry shortcake crêpe.
One Ocean Drive
But there are numerous other excellent dishes you’ll not encounter at any of his Manhattan outposts. For example, there are appetizers of fresh local lobster served with a passion fruit mustard; shrimp satay accompanied by a pungent sweet and sour sauce ($26); and a wide selection of noteworthy main courses like local lobster served with a heady but light curry sauce and accompanied by fried plantains and sautéed bok choy ($62). There’s also a classic roast duck breast served with a shallot confit, shitake mushrooms, asparagus and a tasty lotus root stir fry ($52).
And for dessert, in addition to Jean-George’s well-known warm chocolate cake with a molten center, served with coconut sorbet, there are a number of other interesting choices like a passion fruit sunflower served with orange blossom cream and meringue.
We accompanied the meal with a bottle of 2014 Edmeades Zinfandel that had bold flavors of ripe plums, mint and other earthy spices.
Golf on Paradise Island
The 18-hole rate is $295 January–April and slightly less at other times, with play restricted to guests of the Atlantis and Four Seasons hotels and Troon Club members.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
ZHEN WEI FANG
New York is not exactly flush with hot pot-style restaurants, and those that do exist, like Mister Hotpot in Brooklyn and Hou Yi in the East Village, are modest, all-you-can-eat spots. Zhen Wei Fang, on the other hand, brings a unique, even extravagant style to the genre, starting with a Mandarin-speaking greeter that happens to be a big white robot.
The 170-seat room dazzles with Crayola colors, set on two levels, with swirling psychedelic videos and Avatar landscapes while pop music (not too loud) thrums in the background. Four huge TVs are showing Jackie Chan singing, without sound. There are three semi-enclosed rooms above the main dining area that are delightful with a party of four or more. Zhen Wei Fang’s owner, Wei Chen, is out to tantalize all your senses, not just your sense of taste. Zhen means “finest,” wei means “delicious.” Chef Wei Huang, from Guangdong, oversees both the New York and the original Miami locations.
The menu is very long and somewhat confusing. There are three sections of hot, cold and house special appetizers, then hot pot sections of Chef’s Special, Special Meat Selections, Meat Dishes, Seafood, Pastes & Paste Balls, Organic Vegetables, Organic Mushroom & Fungi, Bean Curd and Wheat Flour Dishes. How’s a person to choose?
Let’s begin with the apps. Spicy bang-bang chicken ($7.99) lives up to its name, with the first bang coming from the fact that it’s unexpectedly chilled, the second that the chilies are very hot. “Pecking [sic] duck” (half $35, whole $65) is served as a first course, with its brittle skin and meat wrapped in Chinese pancakes at the table. A huge, meaty spicy Dungeness crab ($59.95) can serve four as a starter, and if you’re up for a pot of spicy frog ($24.99), go for it.
The main event at ZWF is the hot pot of various broths, with a soup base of Szechuan spicy, herbal, beef bone, spicy tomato and others ($4.99-$5.99), into which you dip and cook a wide array of items, along with a dipping sauce that adds to the simple flavors of the cooked food. You can be adventurous with five-spice braised pork intestines ($5.99) or Chengdu skewers ($10.99) of duck feet, intestines, pig’s blood, beef artery, tripe, pork brain, and more offal. Otherwise, there is New Zealand lamb ($8.99) and an assortment of enoki and other mushrooms ($4.99).
There is, of course, the now requisite wagyu beef (below), and the better way to have it is sliced ($79.95) rather than the ice-cold beef cubes ($26.99). One of the very interesting pastes is cuttlefish ($9.99), which is somewhat viscous and not at all fishy-tasting. There are even ten tofu selections to choose among, and the dumplings ($3.99-$7.99) are delicious when briefly dunked into the hot pot.
At the very end of the main section of the meal, you get rice, which, frankly, you’ll be very happy to have because all those proteins that went before might fail to fill you up, and that little bowl of steamed carbs will help round out the meal.
There is only one kind of dessert, though available in several flavors—a “dream pop” of ice cream or sorbet ($5.99), which is refreshing if not in a league with Ben & Jerry’s.
In New York, then, Zhen Wei Fang is unique on several counts, certainly for its spectacle and party vibe but also for the quality of its ingredients and variety that makes it a special night out downtown.
Open for lunch Thurs-.Sun., for dinner daily.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE CHALLENGES OF IMPORTING
AND MARKETING ITALIAN WINE
AN INTERVIEW WITH
By John Mariani
Maria, Tara and Neil Empson
nearly a half century Empson &
Co. has championed fine Italian wines in
the United States and around the world.
Founded by Neil and Maria
Empson in 1972, when most Americans
knew nothing but Chianti, Valpolicella and
Soave , the importer was the first to
bring in the highest quality wines from
names like Gaja, Marcarini, Sassicaia,
Conterno Fantino, Boscarelli and dozens of
others, now with operations in all 50
states and 28 countries.
Your parents have seen the enormous growth of Italian wine worldwide since 1972. What factors in that decade contributed the most to success? What did the family do in those early days to change the image of Italian wines?
The selection of wines was very limited in the market, as the French had marketed themselves and their wine in an impeccable manner. My parents’ struggle was to go out there and teach about Italian wine diversity and potential of quality at a time in which the best vineyards were often owned and sold locally by small farmers. They dedicated their life to traveling (as they began as brokers prior to Empson USA being founded in 1991) and established connections and relationships with their various clients and with this also trust in selecting and importing “fine” Italian wine.
My parents were amazing at seeing the potential in the wines that they decided to represent and with that they entered the market with iconic names such as Sassicaia and Gaja. Their interest was not in mass production but in qualitative production.
One of the principal factors to the early success was in their selection of wines that were both intrinsic to the Italian culture and cuisine, while also made with such elegance that these wines — while very different from most being offered from other countries – were also suitable to the international market.
Your website reads: "At Empson & Co. … family, integrity, leadership, and authenticity are the four key strengths that have enabled the Empson Company to establish its standout positioning as a pioneer in exporting fine Italian wine worldwide.” What are the ways these strengths have dealt with a wine world composed of giant corporations and a reputation for toughness that goes back to Prohibition?
Our relationships and the wineries we partner with have defined who we are. We have always gone above and beyond business by supporting and investing with our partners where we could. Life is not just about celebrating the good times, it’s also about weathering out the “less than ideal” times and this is a valuable lesson my parents taught me. We are known for celebrating many years of partnerships with our wineries and we have many in our portfolio that are well beyond 30 to 40 years, like the generations of the Speri family of the Veneto (left).
We still very much believe in the “human touch” wherein everyone can be involved in making a difference. Lastly, most of our wineries are family owned and run. We value this very much as we ourselves are a family-run company and we understand the values and sometimes the struggles that come with the necessity to grow and always try to improve.
We know that the power of marketing, when it comes to large corporations, is difficult to compete with, so we target a different route to market, preferring clients who understand the value of hand selling, story telling and relationship building.
Explain simply how the selling and buying of wine works, i.e., how does a wine estate in Italy sell its wine abroad and what role do importers and distributors play? What role do state wine laws play in the U.S. as to what may be imported?
The uniqueness and difference of the U.S. market lies in the fact that it is one country but each state has its own taxes, laws and requirements. This situation many times acts as if we were dealing with 50 different countries rather than a single entity, so the back office and bureaucracy can be very extensive for any importer.
Importers have a distinct and select portfolio of wines that they choose to develop and promote. They hold the relationships and choose to co-invest when needed to support that same portfolio. Importers’ selections traditionally are based on similar vision and ideology with their winery partners. There are many new importers each year in the market as the wine selections are more numerous and the need for a strong representation through a reputable importer is more essential than ever.
Distributors hold most of the inventory needed to supply retail stores and restaurants on a daily basis. These days, inventory at distributors’ warehouses can be very tight, with a much greater need for a highly efficient logistics operation on the importers’ side to reduce times and to try to prevent retailers and restaurants from running out of supply. This is just one of the many important services that good importers perform for their distribution network.
If a winery sells a wine to an importer for, say, $10, why does it cost what it does, eventually, in a wine store? In a restaurant?
It all depends on the kind of representation the winery has, which route to market the winery employs, what kind of exchange rates can be secured and for how long, how many markets the winery wishes to be in, and what kind of investments are available or agreed upon to support the wineries. It is also important to take into consideration how long the distribution chain needs to implement programming . Prices can vary 20-40% in states that are right next to each other. So with so many variables, even within the individual winery selection of a portfolio, it’s very hard to give a formula to arrive at a price for all wines. Generally, a wine shop will sell it for $28-$30.
The global wine market is huge and hugely competitive, with far too many wines trying to gain market share at any one moment. Do some nations make it difficult, as with import taxes and quotas, to sell wines in their countries?
Yes, of course, but then again there only recently has been a will to invest heavily in other markets other than the United States. Many countries, like certain states within the U.S.A., actually are controlled by the state with a monopoly system that makes all the decisions for all wines being bought and distributed. While difficult to enter in many cases, it does offer both the producer and consumer a fairer “playing field,” with wines more often gaining visibility due to a genuine price-quality ratio rather than thanks to large marketing support programs.
Up until the crisis of 2008-2009 the U.S.A. was considered the prime market for many wines out of Italy (as it still is), but when things took a turn wineries understood that they had to put their eggs in more than one basket and also think of their financial growth and stability. Many markets do not import as many wines as the U.S.A. does and the market layout is very different and at times very expensive.
If a wine store owner or restaurateur finds a wine from a small estate in Italy, how does he arrange for it to be brought into the U.S. and what minimum quantity is required?
It depends on the structure of the winery and what arrangements they have set up for importation into the U.S.. If they have a good relationship with their importer, the importer can arrange through its distributor to bring the wine in for the specific account. There are, however, several factors that always have to be considered before doing this: getting U.S. TTB [Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] approval for the label; calculating production and shipment timing, and having the security that the restaurant will fulfill their side of the arrangement. Minimum quantities also depend heavily on the size of the winery, the distributor and the volume that the account can sell though.
Obviously the best-known labels can sell for exorbitant prices, e.g., DRC, Premier Cru Bordeaux. But why do so many Italian wines like Tignanello sell for such high prices, despite their easy availability? Do the Italians argue with importers that their wines should sell for higher prices in the U.S.?
All the time! When you look at some of the very high prices out of France, or many U.S. wineries, for example, and compare cost of production, size of production, world demand for that wine, and the amount of similar wines on offer, there are many examples of Italian wines that merit higher prices. Even though the Italian “fine” wine segment has grown over the last two decades, with some more top “cru” wines now being recognized on an international level, the number of these is still relatively small. For such a serious and historic wine producing country, we should have many more “Tignanellos” to offer. Fortunately, we’ve also seen the sliding margin scale applied more and more, with importers, and restaurateurs, looking at the dollar revenue per bottle instead of a fixed margin structure. We are major advocates for this and have witnessed very positive results where this principle is worked through all the way to the consumer. Today’s high-end wine consumer is no fool, and whilst prepared to accept the need for a controlled and certain guarantee for the wine he or she is buying, they are fully aware of its pricing at many levels.
wine consumption is down in Europe. Why do
you think that is? Italian
In general the consumption per capita has decreased as people are drinking less but better. As far as wine goes, the “still” wine category has taken a major hit as Prosecco has recently dominated the market. But the new trends and exciting grape varietals, many of which are indigenous to Italy, are reshaping consumption.
Empson is an artist who specializes in
work whose subject is wine.
China continues to be a difficult market for importers to work with and make deals with. Have you found this to be the case?
China is a market which has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. The fastest area in this growth is undoubtedly the knowledge and appreciation for wine. As with other Asian markets, many Chinese have an ability to understand different styles and flavors very distinctly. This said, the overall picture and “education” is still in infancy, but with a growing middle income bracket, interest for more serious wines is definitely happening.
Due to the size of China, together with its diverse business models, consistent and well planned distribution channels can be still the biggest hurdle to overcome. There are several very serious and well-organized importers and distributors for wine, but there is a clear need for many more with the amount of growth still occurring today.
How do you think global warming is affecting the world’s vineyards within the next five to ten years?
We’ve already witnessed a change over the last 10 years with more high elevation vineyards coming into the fold of top quality, as well as seeing new “cooler climate” wine growing areas gaining awards. This, however, is partly due to a string of particularly warm summers (e.g, in Europe) which may not repeat every year. To see the real effects and new possibilities created from global warming in the world of viticulture, we’ll need to monitor the averages for much longer than 5 to 10 years.
This said, each and every winery has a story to tell on how global warming is playing a role in the fast or slow term.
DON'T BLAME SPELLCHECK
In the running for most misspellings on one menu: Sapori II, Scarsdale, NY:
• marieka gouda
• rigatoni bolognaise
• praire breaze
• fillet mignon
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.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
“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
If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here: http://www.johnmariani.com/subscribe/index.html
© copyright John Mariani 2019