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IN THIS ISSUE
STAYING AND DINING
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
NOT YOUR FATHER'S CHIANTI
By Geoff Kalish
STAYING AND DINING
By John Mariani
Bürgenstock Resort, Lake Lucerne
It seems a given that anyone visiting the beautiful city and region of Lucerne, Switzerland, will be asked more than once if they have visited Bürgenstock, the vast eagle’s nest resort at the top of a 3,600-foot mountain of the same name in the Uri Alps, reached by a funicular after a breathtakingly beautiful boat ride from the Lucerne Europaplatz docks.
Now composed of four hotels, private residence suites, two spas, a wellness center and nine restaurants, the resort dates back to 1873 as the Grand Hotel and then the Park Hotel. From 1925 to 1996 the complex was owned by the Frey-Furst family, and immediately a parade of international notables came to marvel at the resort’s vast splendor, from Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn to Sean Connery, who stayed there while filming the Alps section of the 1964 movie “Goldfinger.”
In fact, Bürgenstock has the remote look of a fabulously wealthy Bond villain’s lair, and the funicular would make for a great action scene. After several transfers of ownership and management over the subsequent years, the resort was bought by the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, wholly owned by the State of Qatar, and since 2013, more than 485 million CHF has been invested, with a total re-opening in 2017.
I haven’t the room in this column to detail all the attractions and amenities of the Bürgenstock, except to say that it ranks with the best of its kind as a mountain resort anywhere in Europe or the U.S. Its modern rooms have been carefully situated to take full advantage of the stunning panorama of Lake Lucerne, the trails into the woods are as very beautiful as they are restful, and the pool and spa offerings as up-to-the-moment as any.
I was able to dine at two of Bürgenstock’s restaurants, the casual and very handsome Spices and the more formal gastronomic dining salon, The Ritzcoffier.
Spices has a wrap-around window dining area with a large show kitchen (left) featuring Asian food culture that takes in China, Japan, Thailand and India, including sushi and dim sum. My wife and I enjoyed the six-course 80CHF lunch that began with a grilled chicken and tamarind salad; fried wonton with crabmeat and chili; a lovely, aromatic Thai coconut soup with sea bass; tandoori chicken with naan; wok-seared beef with black pepper sauce; steamed jasmine rice; and a chilled mango pudding. There is also an extensive à la carte menu.
At the time we dined at the Ritzcoffier, a new, more casual dining room and open kitchen (below) was being built for the restaurant—now open—but we dined splendidly in an adjacent, more formal room, where we put ourselves in the hands of Chef de Cuisine Bertrand Charles, who works with France’s Marc Haeberlin on the sumptuous menu. Courses are remarkably well priced for this level of haute cuisine: three courses for 125CHF, four for 155CHF and five for 185CHF, with tax and service included.
Charles told me, “I work with local farmers, and they tell me what is ready and when to cook with.”
Among the dishes we thoroughly enjoyed was Haeberlin’s silky foie gras with gelée and brioche bread we learned was made with equal amounts flour and butter; the season’s sweet white asparagus with crayfish, a dollop of caviar and seaweed dehydrated to look like “soil”; an odd dish of a whole onion carved out to contain a rich duck broth with potatoes, truffles and cheese; and gorgeously pink slices of veal tenderloin with carrots, peas and veal bacon. Haeberlin’s poached pear with sabayon and a very moist Black Forest Cake ended the meal. The wine list, I hardly need mention, is one of the finest in the region. Now that the new room is open, I assume the view from a table must be spectacular and, even if you’re not staying at the resort, a trip from Lucerne would make for a highly romantic evening.
Back in Lucerne itself, just about every kind of restaurant is in ample supply, from Indian to Vietnamese. Assuming, you’d want to have at least one traditional Swiss meal, there are several good options. An old favorite with a beautiful dining room is Wilden Mann (Bahnhofstrasse 30; +41 41 210 16 66), which dates as a hotel to 1860. The restaurant has two rooms, the Bürgerstube, with country furniture, ceiling beams and fireplace (left), and the slightly more formal Sauvage (Wilden Mann means “wild man” of the mountains). In recent years the menu has become more international, but there are still plenty of traditional dishes, from bauernschweins bratwurst pork sausage with onion sauce (26CHF) to Geschnetztes Kalbfleish (veal stew) with rösti potatoes (39CHF). Desserts are negligible. The wine list is strong in bottlings from Vaud.
More rustic and cozier is Wirsthaus Taube (Burgerstrasse 3, +41 41 210 07 47), with stucco and wood walls, graceful archways (right) and both a local and tourist clientele that pack the place, not least for the modestly priced menus and huge portions, including a two-course offering of the day’s soup or salad and fried pork schnitzel for 21.80CHF or char filet for 28.80CHF. The menu is large, the wine list poor, so have a good Swiss beer like Ur Bräu. One of the heartiest of dishes is rösti potatoes with a fried egg, tomato, bacon and melted cheese that requires a good walk afterwards.
Since Switzerland has its German, French and Italian cantons, you can expect excellent examples of their cuisines, not least Italian, which I found at Barbatti (Töpferstrasse 10, +41 41 410 13 41), one of the cheeriest spots in town, with a large dining room decorated with antique furniture, crystal chandeliers and busts of what I assume are ancient Romans (left). The place is packed at lunch and dinner and the staff is very fast paced, with a menu just large enough for the kitchen to maintain consistency at peak hours. For appetizers there are carpaccios, one of beef (24CHF), the other of octopus (23CHF), and a zuppa di pesce (15CHF).
The pastas number eight selections, and we very much enjoyed the potato gnocchi (right) with sweet tomatoes (a special that day for 21CHF or 27CHF for small and large portions) and light, delicate ravioli stuffed with eggplant in a tomato basil sauce (21CHF/27CHF). There is a mixed grill of local seafood (48CHF) and calf’s liver alla veneziana with sweet onions and balsamic vinegar (39CHF). The wine list is largely Italian and not cheap. They also offer a children’s menu.
Remember, service and tax are included in the price of the food, so tipping should be minimal, no more than 10 percent for special service.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
One Bryant Park
135 West 42nd Street (off Sixth Avenue)
The very civilized, now classic, Aureole continues, after more than a quarter of a century, to perform in the top ranks of New York restaurants and, therefore, of any U.S. city. It is a beautiful but not highly formal dining room, wonderfully lighted from overhead and done in soft colors with panels papered in a jazzy art deco graphic and centered with a bountiful vase of the season’s flowers.
Owner Charlie Palmer began as a chef and now has his name on more than a dozen restaurants, and a hotel in Healdsburg, California, where he lives. (There is another Aureole in Las Vegas that is a lot flashier, complete with women in cat suits swinging from wires in a glass-enclosed tower to retrieve your wine bottle. Whatever.)
Once located in an East Side townhouse, Aureole is now in the Bank of America Tower on 42nd Street, near Bryant Park, with a casual bar area called the Liberty Room with a separate menu and the restaurant adjacent to it, happily avoiding the noise of the six o’clock crowd next door. To the right is part of Aureole’s magnificent wine cache, stacked behind a dramatic glass wall. The list is one of the best and finest in New York—55 pages long, 1,425 labels and 9,200 bottles—not just in breadth and depth but in selectivity, and many of the trophy wines are priced considerably below the same to be found on competitors’ lists.
As most everywhere else, the price of dinner at Aureole has gone up, but not outrageously. Six years ago the fixed price was $89; now it’s $104, with a six-course tasting menu at $165, plus $85 for wines. My wife and I went for the latter and allowed sommelier Candace Olsen to choose the wines.
German-born Executive Chef Christopher Engel, with impressive credentials in European hotels and restaurants, follows the line Aureole has always maintained: cuisine based on a single main ingredient of impeccable quality enhanced with flavors that are both wholly complementary and somewhat unexpected. (By the way, the breads are addictive.)
We began with a creamy foie gras terrine (right) with summer’s pickled strawberries and a rhubarb compote with butter-rich toasted brioche. White asparagus (now past their season) came as a lustrous ivory velouté with the delightful surprise of goat milk ricotta ravioli and crunchy rosemary croutons.
Everyone has octopus on the menu now, but Engel’s is slowly cooked and retains all its moistness, served with the contrasts of pickled ramps, fava beans and lightly smoked cherry tomatoes. Fine, almost translucent, sea scallops were in full summer mode, scented with minted peas, basil and a lovely tomato broth.
A rosy roasted lamb loin in a classic crust (left) was the meat course, with a hearty bean cassoulet, grilled asparagus, smoked eggplant and the acidity of an Amalfi lemon—a dish somewhat out of character and a bit heavy in texture.
A perfect crème brûlée was brought for dessert, with the charming addition of caramelized white chocolate and a blackberry sorbet (right). Other desserts include a cherry pie with a caramelized pie crust, Morello cherries and sour cream sorbet, and a dish of rich coconut tres leches, mint and strawberry sorbet.
Readers of my articles know I arch an eyebrow at chefs who run multiple restaurants all over the map, and I can’t say how much time Charlie Palmer spends in New York overseeing Aureole. But the professionals he has in place, not least chef Engel, know what he wants and what he expects, which is precisely what I want and expect—and get—at Aureole.
Aureole is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
NOT YOUR FATHER'S CHIANTI
By Geoff Kalish
With its chalky, weathered sandstone vineyards stretching from just north of Florence to slightly south of Siena, Italy’s Chianti region has been producing wine since the 13th century. Yet wine from the area wasn’t officially known as Chianti until the early 18th century, when producers around the towns of Gaiole, Castellina and Radda formed the “Lega de Chianti” in order to jointly market their bottles. With the increased popularity of the wine, other producers outside these towns eventually adopted the name “chianti” to assist in marketing their wares. And by a government edict, starting in the mid 19th century the wine was required to be made from a blend of grapes—the most common of which were Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia.
Unfortunately, many brands, particularly those that reached U.S. shores in the 1950s and ‘60s, were often flavorless, sometimes rancid, products that came in squat, straw-encased bottles (fiaschi) that, once emptied, were frequently used as candleholders on red-and-white-checkered-cloth-topped tables in more than a few Italian restaurants.
And, while in 1932 the “Chianti Classico” designation could be used only for wines produced in and around the original 18th century area, it was not until the late 1970s and ‘80s that a union of producers, “Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico,” was formed to improve the quality and promote the wines of the demarcated Classico region, which currently includes over 500 producers. Now the wines from the area must contain at least 80% Sangiovese and no juice from “white” grapes, with three levels of wine specified: Chianti Classico; Chianti Classico Riserva; and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which must be made from at least 80% Sangiovese and only from “estate grown” grapes.
Of note, in my opinion, while “riservas” must be barrel aged for at least 24 months, as compared with 4-7 months for “non-riservas,” and Gran Selezione must be aged for at least 30 months, aging is not necessarily tied to the quality of the wine, with a number of riservas outshining the more expensive Gran Seleziones. However, these are all usually wines of excellent quality, as signified by their highest governmental rating, DOCG, and noted by the Black Rooster (“Gallo Nero”) on the neck of the bottle. Moreover, Chianti Classicos are now bargains in comparison with many of the overhyped, so-called super Tuscans and “prized bottles” from Italy’s Veneto and Piedmont regions.
Based on a recent visit to the Chianti Classico region and a series of tastings over the past six months, the following 18 labels are my choices (by style) for sensibly priced Chianti Classicos available in the U.S market—albeit some of the Gran Seleziones may dent the wallet a bit.
In general, these brands are rather simple and straightforward, with fragrant bouquets of ripe plums and an easy-drinking, pleasant taste with hints of raspberry and a smooth finish. Also, while rarely benefiting from bottle aging, these wines usually make excellent mates for hors d’ouevres ranging from mild cheeses to boiled shrimp and smoked salmon as well as everyday main course items like hamburgers and grilled chicken Caesar salad.
2016 Villa Vignamaggio Chianti Classico (Terre di Prenzano) ($25)
2017 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico ($16)
2017 Antinori Chianti Classico (Peppoli) ($15)
2016 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico ($25)
2017 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico ($21)
The hallmark of these are the lively acidity in their finish, and they range from those that show concentrated flavors of plums and ripe cherries with hints of herbs to those with classic Burgundian flavors of strawberries and undertones of violets and truffle (think Chambolle-Musigny). Match these wines with baked chicken, game birds, veal chops, or pasta with truffles or risotto with vegetables.
2016 Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva ($25)
2015 Castelli Villa Chianti Classico ($25)
2016 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva ($35)
2016 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva (Berardenga) ($32)
2015 Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva ($48)
2015 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Riserva ($21)
2015 Fontodi Chianti Classico ($33)
In general, these bottles show bouquets of cherries and cassis with complex multilayered flavors of exotic herbs, almonds and fruit, with a long smooth finish. Most benefit from some decanting or prolonged swirling in the glass. Marry these wines with beef (especially medium rare steak), lamb, veal parmigiana, or pasta with red sauce or seppia (cuttlefish with their ink).
2016 Luiano Gran Selezione (Ottantuno) ($55)
2013 Colle Bereto Riserva ($65)
2015 Fontodi Gran Selezione (Vigna de Sorbo) ($78)
2015 Castello di Verrazzano Gran Selezione (Sassello) ($29)
2015 Castello di Ama Gran Selezione (San Lorenzo) ($42)
2016 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva (Rancia) ($55)
FOOD WRITING 101: STIFLE YOURSELF
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Eating Las Vegas
JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
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