Founded in 1996
"Specially for You" by Zoë Mozert (c. 1946)
ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week because Mariani will be eating around Arizona
IN THIS ISSUE
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
PLUMPJACK'S BIG CABS
By John Mariani
By John Mariani
The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach
I shall write in a moment about the principal reason people from all over the world visit Normandy, but it is important to remark on what a rich and historic region of France it is, apart from the famous D-Day beaches. Indeed, three of France’s greatest artistic sites are here—Giverney, where Claude Monet lived and painted, the Bayeux Tapestry and Mont Saint-Michel.
I certainly cannot add anything about the Normandy landings, this year having its 75th anniversary, that isn’t extensively covered in books and guides that describe every detail of the operation that began on the morning of June 6, 1944. I can comment on the unexpected quiet that pervades this tremendously popular tourist spot. As at monuments like New York’s World Trade Center and Pearl Harbor’s Arizona Memorial, all you hear is the wind. It sounds like reverence. It comes in off the English Channel and rustles the dunes where those brutish, intimidating German bunkers (below) familiar from all World War II documentaries are still anchored, their long guns thrust forever towards the sea. The wind blows through their ruins, too, reminding me of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias: “Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare/ The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
I was also amazed by how close to the Channel’s water were the palisades and slopes, the x-shaped, so-called Czech hedgehog barriers and those fearsome bunkers. It seems the beaches were mere yards in depth, and I understood how so many thousands lost their lives so quickly while struggling to get a foothold in the shifting sand.
And then there are the vast cemeteries with their simple white crosses stretching east and west, north and south, row after solemn row over the soft, well-tended green grass, each marked with the name of a soldier, sailor or airman, a husband, father, son or grandson who gave his life on a day when more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing. By now, most of the survivors are gone, too.
The visitors centers at the various beaches—Omaha, Sword, Juno, Utah, Gold— are each superbly done, with memorabilia, uniforms and flags, maps, recorded interviews and architecture that respectfully echoes the tenor of the events that happened there.
Normandy takes up a good chunk of northwestern France, and is largely agricultural, with a population of 3.5 million. (It’s astonishing that the region lost three-quarters of its population during the 14th century Hundred Years’ War). The Normans were a formidable power, once controlling England, Wales, Ireland, Sicily and other territories. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in the Norman city of Rouen.
Among Normandy’s fortifications was the extraordinary Mont Saint-Michel, which, since the 8th century, has been located half a mile off shore, at the mouth of the Couesnon River, whose high tide would block any attempts to mount an effective offensive. To see it from the mainland is like seeing Kubla Khan’s Xanadu “floating midway on the waves,” now reached by a fleet of shuttle buses that begin at far away parking lots.
Back in the 8th century, the bishop of Avranches declared that Michael the Archangel directed him to build a church on the mountain, which was to enclose a Carolingian Benedictine abbey and to be a major point of pilgrimage for Christians from all over Europe. In this century pilgrims are joined by mere tourists—more than 3 million each year—so that once on the island, you are in for a steep walk up clogged narrow streets lined with eateries and souvenir shops selling t-shirts and plastic swords. You’ll find yourself saying “Pardon,” every few feet until you enter the magnificent structure built into the sides of the mountain, clinging so precariously that one section is referred to as “the Marvel.”
After visiting the abbey itself, there is added pleasure in simply strolling over the salt marshes during low tide, with their glistening, sandy sweep into the ocean that will always return to engulf them.
Two other sites of old Norman history are the Bayeux Tapestries (left) in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, and the Basilica of Saint Thèrése in the town of Lisieux. Of the first of these there is nothing quite like it in the world: a 230-foot embroidered tapestry that tells the story of the history-changing Battle of Normandy in 1066 between William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold of Hastings, who was killed in action in the field. Believed to be woven shortly after the battle and depicted as a cartoon-like narrative of the battle, the tapestry also includes scenes of medieval farm life, animals and birds, ending with the first known illustration of Haley’s Comet. The tapestry has long been regarded as one of the most important achievements of western art—evoking the very earliest examples of the cave paintings of Lascaux in southern France—and, by the 19th century, travelers already complained of the length of the queues to get in to see it. So will you.
The Basilica of Saint Thèrése is a vast structure (right), complete with a large gift shop of mementos, that seems all out of character for a Carmelite nun known as the “Little Flower” for her simple goodness and piety. As a little girl, quite sickly, she claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her. After becoming a nun, she turned her own struggles, doubts and afflictions into widely read lessons of humility and endurance that were admired for their clarity and adherence to the true virtues of Christ’s teachings. Dying of tuberculosis at the age of 24, she remarked, "I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me."
More than two million visitors each year come to the small city of Lisieux to visit the Basilica—the second largest religious tourist site in France after Lourdes—which opened only in 1954. Its Roman-Byzantine design echoes that of Sacre Coeur in Paris, shaped like a Latin cross, with an interior that stands without columns and is resplendent with colorful mosaics. The crypt below depicts scenes from the saint’s short life.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
487 Amsterdam Avenue (between 83rd and 84th Streets)
crudo with radishes
For several years Bustan, which means “garden” or “orchard,” was among the best and most popular ethnic restaurants on the Upper West Side. Sadly, last year, the interior was engulfed by fire, though the lovely outdoor patio (below) was largely spared. Now re-opened by owner Tuvia Feldman, Bustan has been restored to look pretty much the way it had, and Chef Efi Buliskeria, now joined by Shir Rozenblatt as pastry chef (below), has taken what was always wonderful on the menu and refined and lightened it all with real finesse.
The menu is still resolutely devoted to the flavors and culinary traditions of North Africa, Italy, Greece and the Middle East, from mezes (or mazettim) to many dishes cooked in a dome-shaped, wood-fired taboon oven. There is a short wine and beer list on the back of the menu, but a far more extensive and interesting collection is also available.
The long room and bar off Amsterdam Avenue is done in gem-like hues and glowing, lunar-like wall art. It can get loud, especially with the piped-in music, but the patio now opened is currently one of the most genial and quiet oases from the bustle of the neighborhood.
The service staff matches the ambiance in both charm and warmth, and general manager Udi Vaknin seems to be everywhere and at every table’s behest.
At our table we ate extensively from the menu, leaving ourselves in Buliskeria’s hands to choose, starting with an array of mezes ($7-$19), beginning with several spreads that included creamy hummus, crispy falafel and spiced feta cheese and tangy yogurt in a pool of pale golden olive oil. One of the most distinguishing aspects of Mediterranean cooking are the puffy, yeasty breads of a kind Bustan excels at, and a hot, steamy loaf arrives with the mezes and is replenished throughout the evening.
More substantial appetizers included a radiant and translucent tuna crudo with tomato seeds, radish and basil ($16), made more savory by the exotic flavor of preserved lemon. New to the menu is a wonderful eggplant carpaccio ($14) with smoky roasted eggplant, chile peppers, shallots, sesame and herbs. I was duly impressed by a dish of sliced tomatoes with feta, shallots, za’atar, Moroccan olives and fresh herbs ($15), simply because this is June, when tomatoes of this sweetness are not in season. Somehow Buliskeria has managed to find these at their ripest, which I assume are from a hothouse, and they are delicious.
Plump shrimp were grilled and spiked with fiery harissa, coriander and a lemony tzatziki sauce, with herbed frisee on the side ($19). Grilled octopus (right), as you'd expect, is a first rate rendition.
The main courses come in big terracotta casseroles draped with pastry dough that puffs up in the taboon. When the dough is removed, the air is suffused with the flavors of whatever has been cooked inside, like chicken Musakhan with tahini, a dried, salted mango condiment called amba, watercress-basil and sumac-spiced almonds ($27); or a sumptuous seafood stew named chraimeh containing tomatoes, sweet red peppers, chickpeas, coriander and tahini ($29).
There are, of course, kebabs, and one of the best, called halabi, is made in the taboon with roasted onions, tomatoes, chile peppers, pine nuts and tahini ($31). Needless to say, these dishes are made to be shared, and at our table every morsel was lapped up with pleasure.
Do not neglect Rozenblat’s lovely desserts (all $11), which include laila—a coconut cake (left) made with semolina, Malabi cream, crunchy pistachios and strawberries; kisses—not an Arabic word—which is a custard of baked vanilla meringue, Chantilly cream, raspberry sorbet and mixed berries; nemesis, which is a very rich baked chocolate mousse, salted caramel and chocolate pearls, and ice cream.
So, Bustan has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes and emerged all the better, and now sets a new standard for Mediterranean food for all of Manhattan.
Open for dinner nightly; Fri., Sat. & Sun. for brunch.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE BIG CABS
By John Mariani
The Odette Winery, Napa Calley
Gordon Getty sings
and writes operas. He also
makes wine, but he’d much rather talk about
music, and he gets positively
exultant about certain composers and their
Over dinner at New York’s Benjamin Steakhouse, Getty rhapsodized about his favorite composers and about who’s overrated and underrated—he puts Mozart only “among the top five”—all while enjoying his wines. Wearing a plaid shirt and dark windbreaker, his hair refusing any attempt to comb it, he looked as much like a farmer in from the fields as he did a musician in the throes of composing a new opus.
As the fourth child of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, Gordon oversaw the company’s vast holdings after his father’s death in 1976, but clearly his personal interests lay in classical music, earning a B.A. in the discipline from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Ten years later he sold Getty Oil to Texaco for $10 billion, making him the world’s richest man at the time. (Forbes currently ranks him at 212th richest, with a $2.1 billion net worth.) Since then he has been a canny investor as well as a generous philanthropist, underwriting the San Francisco Opera and the Russian National Orchestra through the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.
All the while he has also been composing operas, choral and chamber works, orchestral and piano works, with several performances and recordings to his credit.
And then there’s the wine. An initial investment by Getty in Mt. Eden Winery, located on 53 acres of vineyard land in Oakville, soured quickly, so he bought out the other investors and brought in his lifelong friend, entrepreneur Gavin Newsom (right), later mayor of San Francisco, two-term Lieutenant Governor of California and now Governor. Together they founded The PlumpJack Group in 1992 and opened the PlumpJack wine store, then expanding to include a boutique hotel, three restaurants and, in 1997, PlumpJack Winery (replacing Mt. Eden).
The name PlumpJack refers to Shakespeare’s fat Jack Falstaff and reflects, as the winery owners say, his “fun-loving, down-to-earth disposition ... rivaled by his fierce loyalty to Prince Henry V, with whom he shares more than a few goblets of sack (wine) at the local tavern. We pay allegiance to our world-class vineyard by crafting high-quality wines that honor the land, and we celebrate the convivial spirit of our namesake with their inviting, approachable style.”
In 1999 Newsom and Getty brought in John Conover (below) as General Manager and partner, who methodically increased production from 1,000 to 12,500 cases annually. In 2003 a second estate, called Cade, was planted on 21 acres of Howell Mountain, and in 2012 a Stags Leap District property was purchased to become the 45-acre Odette Estate Winery, which, like Cade, would be designed around state-of-the-art technology for LEED certification, with a living green roof, 2,500 square feet of solar panels and use of recycled shipping containers from China. Odette now produces about the same number of cases as PlumpJack.
The PlumpJack estates began early on to garner high praise for their Cabernet Sauvignons, but it was a daring decision in 2000 for the company to replace traditional corks with the Stelvin screwcap closure on half (150 cases) of its most expensive bottling—PlumpJack's 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($135)—which would cost $10 per bottle more than those in the cases closed with corks.
“In 1994 UC Davis [University of California at Davis] studied screwcaps versus corks and found they were the best for every wine,” Conover said at dinner. “It just made sense to us.” The idea would not have been novel in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, even in France, but in California the association of screwcaps with jug wines made PlumpJack’s decision shocking to some. But down deep, most of PlumpJack’s competitors knew that screwcaps were a fool-proof way to prevent the cork-caused taint trichloroanisole, which can make up to 10% of wines undrinkable.
Experimentation has always been important to PlumpJack, but, unlike some of their competitors, making a wide range of varietals was never the plan. “When we started out we were making 20 different wines,” Conover said, “and discontinued 18 of them the first year.”
PlumpJack does not, however, make only the Cabs for which it is so well known. Syrah, a reserve Chardonnay and a Merlot are also in the estate’s portfolio. Odette makes Chardonnay and Petite Syrah, and Cade produces Sauvignon Blanc. They also make many of their reds in magnums, and the winery is especially canny about offering gift packages through their catalogs.
Like many of the more prestigious California wines, much of PlumpJack’s production (about one-thirds) is sold by direct shipping to regular customers; of the rest, 80% is sold to restaurants and 20% to wine retailers.
I’ve admired PlumpJack wines since they were first released, at a time when too many California Cabs were aiming to be massive fruit bombs. Not least I applauded the estate’s iterations of the various terroirs and honesty about vintages—“The 2011 vintage was a disaster with late rains in October, which threatened rot,” said Conover—though I’m not a fan of their Cabs that go north of 15% in alcohol. I suppose what I like most is the way Getty allows his own natural exuberance to be tempered by the harsh realities of an industry now in the grips of climate change and global market forces, leaving Conover to make sure they achieve a signature style that is always open to change for the better.
Hershey’s is adding 25 of “the most popular emojis” to its 125-year-old Hershey Bar. Senior brand manager Kriston Ohm said, "In today’s text savvy world, many conversations start (and end) with an emoji. By adding an emoji design to each pip of chocolate, we hope that parents and kids are inspired to share a chocolate emoji and make a connection with someone new.”
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
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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