Founded in 1996
"The Soda Jerk" by Norman Rockwell
(Saturday Evening Post, August 22, 1953)
IN THIS ISSUE
STAYING AND EATING AROUND VAUD
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
CELEBRATE SUMMER'S ARRIVAL WITH
THESE WONDERFUL WITH THESE
By John Mariani
STAYING AND EATING
IN VAUD, SWITZERLAND
By John Mariani
La Verandah Brasserie, Grand Hotel du Lac, Vevey
Lying within Switzerland’s French canton, Vaud quite naturally nods to Gallic tradition in its cuisine. Yet, most menus take advantage of Vaud’s own regional and seasonal provender, dairy, meat and seafood. Though this last depends largely on importation, Lake Leman/Geneva is abundant with trout, perch, fera and the wonderful omble chevalier, a char that lives in cold Alpine lakes.
The cheeses of Vaud are world famous, from tête de Moine (“monk’s head”) and raclette, melted on bread and used in fondues, to Gruyère and Emmenthaler.
Restaurants in cities like Vevey and Montreux proudly serve the traditional dishes along with bright innovations on French and Swiss cuisine. Here are three that give an idea of their range.
(By the way, in Swiss restaurants tips are not mandatory, though it is customary to leave between 3% and 5% of the bill. Also, the US$ is nearly at parity with the Swiss franc)
GRAND HOTEL DU LAC
Rue d’Italie 1
+41 21 925 06 06
In the lakeside city of Vevey, my wife and I checked into the appropriately named Grand Hotel du Lac, which stretches out along the lake in view of the Dents du Midi Alps. A slow stroll along the Quai Perdonnet is always as inspiriting as it is breathtaking, not least when the passenger boats sail slowly into view and the swans scurry away.
Built in 1868, the hotel has since hosted most of those personages who have come through Vaud, from young people on the Grand Tour and aristocracy in exile to artists seeking quiet and those seeking refuge in wartime. The heroine of Anita Brookner’s 1984 comic novel Hotel du Lac stays there after an indiscreet “lapse” in London in an effort to “grow up.” That plan does not work out so well, because the romantic cast of the hotel, with hallways of civilized length, crystal chandeliers, a broad terrace and flowery lawn, fountain and exquisite appointments throughout are as much a temptation to dalliance as anywhere in Europe.
In need of an extensive facelift, the 50-room hotel was closed in 2005 and brought into modern focus, admirably retaining all the lineaments that make it such a peaceful place, with all the modern amenities of 43-inch LED TV, free WiFi, choice of pillows, marble bathrooms and Guerlain products. The decorator was Pierre Yves-Rochon, who did the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris.
The intimately chic bar done in Chinoiserie is snug and soigné, and the 25-seat Les Saisons restaurant, under chef Thomas Neeser, is considered one of the finest in Switzerland. When my wife and I stayed at the hotel, Les Saisons was closed, but we had the great pleasure of sampling Neeser’s cuisine at La Veranda, described as a brasserie—though you’d never mistake it for one of those large, fast-paced brasseries in Paris. La Veranda is all sweetness and light, which pours in from the tall windows and heightens the pastel colors of the beautifully decorated room.
We had Neeser choose our candlelit dinner—lunch runs 39CHF or 59CHF; dinner 85CHF, which is remarkable for cuisine of this quality— beginning with a salad of candied leeks and a light truffled potato foam, along with a sausage fritter stuffed with cabbage. Our two appetizers were a “lobster composition” with celery, potatoes and black truffles, and an “opéra” of foie gras touched with sweet limoncello liqueur, caramelized turnips and toasted brioche. Tender ravioli (above) oozed rich Vacherin Mont-d'Or cheese with a truffled artichoke cream, walnut and celery vinaigrette and fried parsley. Perch fillets from the lake—“according to arrival”—were bathed in a meunière butter with gnocchi and toasted hazelnuts.
The meat course was Swiss beef tenderloin with its own silky marrow whose richness was cut by an assertive vinegar jus, with braised rutabaga puree, salsify and beet chips. For dessert there was a lovely hazelnut shortbread millefeuille and iced dark chocolate mousse with coffee cream, licorice and Clementine.
The dinner was so impeccably rendered that we couldn’t imagine how the food at Les Saisons could be any better. And at breakfast La Veranda is a room cheery enough to restore anyone who is lamenting leaving the Grand Hotel du Lac.
Rue du Simplon 1
+41 21 921 14 13
Fondue is easily the most identifiable of Swiss dishes, especially back when fondue pots and utensils were all the rage as wedding gifts. For the real deal, plus a thirty-second floor show and fanfare, you must go to Les Trois Sifflets (The Three Whistles), tucked away in the curving streets of Vevey.
You’ll spot its red sign hanging outside and through the windows you’ll see what you’re getting into: within a cozy series of small rooms, there is always a table of people laughing, for every few minutes, there is the effusive presentation of the fondue as the staff performs a little routine of brandishing gigantic pepper mills and Swiss flags while the national anthem plays to applause. It’s a gimmicky ceremony well worth going along with any time you crave a true fondue.
Despite the cauldron of cheese to come, we began with a fried cheese fritter called a malakoff (16CHF), whose name, for some reason, commemorates the 1855 Battle of Malakoff during the siege of Sevastapol by Swiss mercenaries.
We dined with an acquaintance who told us fondue is always enjoyed with Swiss white wine, not beer, because the acidity of a wine like Chasselas helps cut the richness of the cheese. The dunking of the bread into the bubbling liquid is a great deal of the communal fun, and the flavor is so good that you might consider finding that old wedding gift at home and putting it to use.
Another dish new to me was papet (28CHF), a large, fat sausage stuffed with cabbage leeks, potatoes, cream and white wine (right), which by tradition you are supposed to cut open, scrape out the insides and discard the skin. It was very heavy but quite delicious.
Dessert was a tad lighter: a meringue in double cream (10CHF).
The fondue is 24CHF-27CHF per person. The menu also offers fried fish with salad and French fries for 45CHF, and a plate of the day for 19CHF, trout meunière for 32CHF and other dishes. Right now you’ll be able to dine outside.
LE PONT DE BRENT
Route de Blonay
+41 21 964 52 30
You’ll need a driver or a dependable GPS to find this charming chef-owned restaurant in the town of Brent, about 20 minutes from Vevey or 11 from Montreux. Once in the village you’ll find a trim little house with a welcoming front door that leads into two pale gray dining rooms, both minimal in décor, with widely separated tables and very fine table settings.
There, chef Stéphane Décotterd, with his lovely wife, Stéphanie (right), has established himself as one the young masters of modern French-Swiss cuisine, with every dish clearly his own. The restaurant opened in 1980 under Gérard Rabaey, who handed over the apron to Décotterd in 2011, making him swear to keep the style and quality of haute cuisine ever intact. Working with local farmers, fishermen, foragers and vignerons, Decotterd has certainly kept the faith, and he revels in local products.
We began our meal with a bite of wafer with whipped Vacherin cheese and little bon bons (below) with honey mustard and saffron. Small ravioli of beef were dotted with Swiss farmed sturgeon caviar and a gelée of ginger and cucumber, followed by a delightful omble chevalier sausage in a deeply flavorful court-bouillon flavored with fennel and dill. Fried goujonettes of lotte were lavished with a shrimp sauce. All the fish had that remarkable, singular flavor of their species, which is a rarity on this side of the Atlantic when European fish are flown in.
Next was a salad of salsify with a cheese puree and black truffles with marvelous aroma. Dessert included intense sorbets of the season, and wild raspberries meringue and cream. Gelato was scented with lemon verbena plucked from the garden (left), and the modern version of Black Forest chocolate cake with cherries was lighter and more refined than most.
is always a joy to find a
couple married as much to their labor of love as
to themselves, and the
Décotterds work very, very hard to stay at the top
of fine dining in
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
103 West 77th Street (near Columbus Ave)
Despite media neglect, New York’s Upper West Side has more upscale dining restaurants than ever, including Boulud Sud, The Grand Tier, Lincoln Ristorante, Per Se, Masa, The Leopard at Café des Artistes and, opened last fall, Leonti, on the premises of what had been the fine dining restaurant Dovetail.
Leonti has achieved that rare thing in New York these days: Where Dovetail had been one of the most egregiously loud restaurants in the city, its acoustics have been transformed so that Leonti is a very civilized place for people to dine within a room that might well be exemplary of modern Milanese décor.
You walk up a few steps and the room opens up to well-set tables amidst varnished wood columns and soft-white brick walls, with lights on the tables and ceiling chandeliers that cast a subtle glow. Chairs are exceptionally comfortable. Gold-rimmed china and silver domes are part of the service, wineglasses thin. The staff is in dark suits; the male clientele mostly without. No booming music intrudes and the well-trained, highly professional staff moves with ease in their courteous ministrations. The oddly varied artwork could, however, be better focused to maintain a theme of elegance.
Adam Leonti, formerly chef de cuisine at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia, is trying to carve out a highly personalized style on Italian food, and on my first visit some months ago, I found some of the dishes overly elaborated and clumsy. The menu has since calmed down a bit, though the high prices have not. Full, though not generous, portions of pastas at $24 to $38 are the equal of the prices at Ai Fiori, but higher than Sant Ambroeus, with main courses ranging from $32 to $42.
Indeed, generosity is hardly to be found at Leonti. An amuse consisted of one, single stuffed olive and a sip of beef broth. The breads are excellent, however—the focaccia extraordinary (above)—as is the big slab of butter brought to the table.
One of the best items on the menu since the beginning is a Roman-style artichoke green noodle lasagna richly embellished with a minted besciamella ($24); a similar treatment to a superbly sweet scallop (yes, just one) breaded and seasoned with oregano and lashed with a cheese-and-butter Alfredo sauce ($22).
The best of the four pastas on the menu is the simplest: tagliatelle (unfortunately a tad gummy) with morels and Parmigiano ($28). Cappellacci stuffed with lamb in a pecorino fonduta with fava beans and tarragon is a pleasing dish, but $29 for three of the pasta packets is not. Very thin pappardelle stuffed with baccalà cod was terrible, not only because the amount of baccalà was minimal but because it swam in a malodorous, fishy sauce of clam broth, shrimp, calamari and, adding to its strong taste, uni ($38).
Main courses did not fare well. A whole, salt-baked branzino was an impressive presentation within its snowy mountain of sea salt, with Savoy cabbage, crab involtini and a lobster butter ($65), but, with an endless amount of branzino in the market, this one had very little flavor. And it came tepid.
Stuffed rabbit with cipollini, pistachio and grappa-soaked carrots ($38) was an interesting dish, but so salty as to make one bite more than enough.
Apparently even Italian ristoranti must serve wagyu these days, and Leonti offers a tagliata cut of unknown origin—five slices of chewy, not particularly flavorful beef inelegantly placed on a plate with a few capers and a bland, cold cannellini bean puree on the side ($55).
Everyone at our table of five was puzzled when an unattractive portion of deep-fried chicken arrived ($36), whose very brittle, salty skin made from sourdough batter broke free of the poultry meat in shards, leaving the naked, lukewarm chicken behind. Why this is even on an Italian menu is beyond me.
The desserts may not be imaginative at Leonti but they are well rendered, especially a first-rate tiramisù.
The wine stash, some purchased from Dovetail, is one of the richest, in both senses of the word, in town—impressive in its breadth and depth, with plenty of $500-plus bottles throughout but few under $100.
For its cosmopolitan ambiance Leonti is an easy place to enjoy, but for most Italian food-lovers it will have to be a rare indulgence at these prices. With more focus on ingredients and a more generous hand in the kitchen, Leonti could evolve into one of New York’s finest.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
CELEBRATE SUMMER’S ARRIVAL
WITH THESE WONDERFUL WINES
By John Mariani
Summer has officially begun, offering ample opportunities to try out some well-priced wines for those outdoor parties when not everyone appreciates the high-priced wines. Here are several I’m happy to drink through August.
HORTON VINEYARDS PETIT MANSENG 2016 ($25)—A gold medal winner this spring at the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition, this Petite Manseng (a popular grape in southwestern France) has plenty of floral notes along with nut flavors and a good deal of tropical fruit buoying it all up. Very good match with shellfish.
MACROSTIE SONOMA COAST CHARDONNAY 2017 ($25)—This is the price level at which American Chardonnays begin to show off their distinctive character, and founder Steve MacRostie has been refining his for forty years now. Made from a blend of grapes from Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast, it has just enough oak to bring out the vanilla without being a cloying example. It is creamy but refreshing and a very good match for whole fish on the grill.
FRANCIS COPPOLA RESERVE CHARDONNAY 2015 ($41)—I’m not a fan of several Coppola wines, but this one deserves its price for a Chardonnay smack in the zone for those who like them big, fruity and able to stand up to garlic, as with spaghetti with clam sauce. It pushes the alcohol level that can wreck a Chardonnay, but drink it now and be amazed at its finesse.
CHÂTEAU GRAND TAYAC 2014 ($30)—A remarkable price for a basic Margaux, made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (no Cabernet Franc), with that Merlot really smoothing down the tannins into a soft, velvety, fruit-forward red wine that will serve all summer long with anything from chicken to sirloins. Try it with salmon, too.
THE VICE PINOT NOIR BATCH #10 ROSÉ 2018 ($23)—Pinot Noir almost always makes for a more interesting rosé in the hands of a good winemaker, and this Carneros Napa Valley example has plenty of fruit and flowers, with just 12% alcohol. The vintage was, according to founder and owner Malek Amrani, “A winemaker’s dream,” with above average yields. A fine choice to go with summer cheeses, sausage and pastas.
MAYBE IF THEY HOSE IT DOWN WITH SOY SAUCE?
"On a good day the wind blows the fumes right out to sea, but the residents of St. Mary’s, Newfoundland aren’t always that lucky. When the wind comes from the northeast, it carries the stench of over 100 vats of rotten, nearly 20-year-old fish sauce into the homes and business of everyone in the tiny community. The reason: the hollowed-out shell of what was once the Atlantic Seafood Sauce Company, which closed its doors in 2001."--Madeline Muzzi, "A Town Drowned in the Smell of Fish Sauce: What will it take to clean up Newfoundland’s abandoned fish sauce factory?" Eater.com (5/23/19)
WHEN COMBINED WITH
A PITCHER OF KOOL-AID,
WHEN COMBINED WITH
A PITCHER OF KOOL-AID,
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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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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❖❖❖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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