Founded in 1996
Sophia Loren in "The Gold of Naples" (1957)
IN THIS ISSUE
EATING AROUND SCOTTSDALE, AZ
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
PORTER HOUSE BAR AND GRILL
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER
SOME WARMING SPIRITS FOR WINTER
By John Mariani
By John Mariani
I’ve been visiting Scottsdale, Arizona, for four decades and have seen its gastronomic diversity grow to include some of the region’s best restaurants. My first dining experience in Scottsdale was in 1977 at a very good French restaurant called Étienne’s, with a very large wine cellar, that I would enthusiastically write about for Travel & Leisure later that year. Since then French restaurants have given way to all kinds of others and on my most recent visit I found some excellent new places I am eager to tell you about.
Matt Carter, Phoenix-born, trained in French
cuisine at La
Chaumière, moved to France to learn more and
returned to Arizona to chef at The Mission, Zinc
Bistro and The House Brasserie. Now, with
partners Brian Raab and Mark Drinkwater, he is
doing a kind of southwestern take on an Italian
steakhouse, and the flavors are big and intense
and delicious. It’s food to share, and to tell
people about after your first or tenth visit.
daily for dinner.
Open daily for dinner.
known Charles “Chuck” Wiley for a long time and
have always considered him in the very top rank of
the area’s chefs. A New Jersey boy, he came west
in 1973, starting out as a dishwasher in Lake
Tahoe, Utah, followed by stints in Alaska and Salt
Lake City. I
met him when he moved to Arizona in 1989 to become
chef at The Boulders, then at Sanctuary Camelback
Mountain Resort. He is now executive chef at
Mountain Shadows Resort in Scottsdale, where his
style of cuisine is as imaginative as it is firmly
based on classic cuisine. (His hero was Jacques
Pépin, who wrote La Technique.)
You may have noticed that Arizona
is landlocked, so seafood is not, perhaps, what
leaps to mind when thinking of eating out in
But thanks to the Heflin family, which runs
Chula Seafood, which began in San Diego ten years
ago, the best seafood out of the Pacific comes
east to Arizona.
The Heflins's boat, Chula,
out of Point Loma, Calif., specializes in
harpoon-caught and deep-sea buoy fishing and they
have been selling retail sine 2015. Jon Heflin has
headed the Arizona stores in Scottsdale and
Phoenix for a year now and has made Chula the
foremost supplier of seafood to the region.
10 AM-7 PM Tues.-Sat.
10 AM-7 PM Tues.-Sat.
looks smaller than it really is for a 100-seat Old
Town restaurant, and its intimacy is a large part
of its charm and character, which you can tell
upon entering the colorfully lighted dining room,
where Chef Branden Levine serves a highly
personalized four-course $90 prix fixe dinner. In
cooler weather, which for Arizonans seems to be
anything under 85 degrees, there are outdoor
Open Tues.-Sat. for
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
BAR AND GRILL
10 Columbus Circle
the vast Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle
was looking for tenants, many restaurateurs
expressed doubts that people would want to
traipse up and down escalators, past clothing
boutiques and eyeglass shops, to dine there. By
attracting Thomas Keller to open Per Se and Masa
Takayama to open Masa, fears that the premises
would be occupied by chain restaurants owned by
Midwestern corporations eased, and a number of
upscale restaurateurs took a chance. Not all
succeeded: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose
Jean-Georges flagship was across the street in
the Trump building, signed to do a steakhouse at
Time-Warner that looked designed by the Addams
Family. It didn’t last long.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARSOME WARMING SPIRITS
By John Mariani
It used to be that, with the exception of a few gift bottles shaped like Napoleon or Elvis, liquors didn’t change much from year to year. Fans of, say, Dewar’s Scotch or Bacardi rum or Stoli vodka expected and wanted them to taste the same with every bottle. But marketing spirits has become enormous business, sometimes just by putting the same old liquor in a brand new bottle. But the most enticing spirits in the market are very new, often depending on “finishes” in various oak barrels previously used for wines of Sherry or even other spirits. Others are special editions from what have been deemed “vintage years,” even though vintages were once disdained for the same reason I gave about fans wanting their favorites always to taste the same. Here are some of most interesting new spirits I’ve found, not just those that somehow were “discovered” tucked away in an aging barn.
CASA SAN MATIAS LOS VECINOS DEL CAMPO MEZCAL ($34)—I won’t get into the myths and differences between tequila and mezcal. Suffice it to say that Casa San Matias is one of the oldest distilleries in Mexico—130 years—and is nevertheless as modern as any, now admirably invested in reducing its carbon footprint. The Los Vecinos del Campo range of mezcals is made in the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca by “master mezcaleros” who hand harvest and roast the agave plant. This expression, called Espadin, is 90 proof and is far more subtle and less smoky than others, so it has more spice in the nose and on first sip, with good fruit to follow. Good in cocktails at this price.
EL TESORO EXTRA AÑEJO TEQUILA ($100)—El Tesoro makes six different tequilas, from Blanco ($45) to Single Barrel Reposado ($55) and Paradiso ($130), which is aged for five years in former Cognac bottles. This new release, made by Don Felipe J. Camarena Orozco’s son and aged in bourbon barrels for four or five years, is a homage to his father, who believed in longer aging for more complexity and elegance. It is released at 80 proof, which is not out of the ordinary, but there is a richer caramel sweetness component than the company’s three-year aged Añejo. Not to be used as a component for a margarita, this is to be enjoyed with friends unaccustomed to a tequila of this refinement.
BAYOU SELECT BARREL RESERVE RUM ($28)—Here’s one of a handful of American rums distilled in Louisiana, in this case Lacassine, where sugar cane has been grown since the 1700s. Debuting in 2012, Bayou Rum Distillery produced its first bottlings according to state-of-the-art methods, while also hearkening back to the traditional Solera method of vertically stacking the barrels into a pyramid, by which, over time, barrels are topped off with older spirits and, last of all, with the oldest. This is a rum dark in color, which usually means a strong molasses taste, but I found this more subtle, more like a well-aged bourbon but retaining the distinct taste of rum. I even used it in my daiquiri recipe for which I usually use amber rum, wondering if Bayou might be too bold, but it made a beauty of a cocktail.
CATOCTIN CREEK ROUNDSTONE RYE WHISKEY ($53)—Catoctin makes three 100% ryes, and this is its highest proof, at 92; they make another at 80 proof ($45). It has power but finesse with a pleasing burn that follows some rich butterscotch notes and a good deal of woodsy flavors. It’s made by Becky and Scott Harris (she was a chemical engineer, he a businessman) in Purcellville, Virginia, which sounds like a real nice place to make a real good American whiskey.
CARIBOU CROSSING SINGLE BARREL CANADIAN
WHISKEY ($58)—Canadian whiskeys have
taken a big leap from the shots-and-beer image of
neighborhood bars, and Caribou Crossing shows why.
Selected from 200,000 barrels purchased from a
defunct Canadian distillery, this is said to be
the first single barrel Canadian whiskey, bottled
at 80 proof. I could certainly not tell if the
grain used was rye or corn, but I’m guessing some
of both, blended from various barrels whose grain
contents have probably been lost in the mists of
any case, it’s impressive and comes in a splendid
bottle with a pewter stopper of a caribou that
would make a nice Monopoly piece.
RHUM J.M ($38)—Rhum J.M makes a line of rums, including a shrubb liqueur with the flavors of dried bitter orange peels and spices. But their bottling distilled at 110 proof is one of the best white rums in the market because it has more flavor than most, though less than a gold or amber rum. It will make a very fine rum cocktail, especially one where you don't want the sugar and citrus to overpower the flavor of rum.
MOUNT GAY XO RESERVE CASK BARBADOS RUM ($190) —Made from select reserves eight to 15 years old, then aged in charred ex-American whiskey and bourbon barrels to round out the distillation. It’s a finer version of Mount Gay’s basic line and offers more sipping pleasure before dinner with a splash of water and a slice of lemon or after dinner by itself. The balance of fruit and acid is buoyed by a richness of spice and light sweetness. Another new bottling from Mount Gay is its “1703” ($110), made by new Master Blender Trudiann Branker, with only 4,920 bottles produced, from the 2009 vintage and aged 10 years in “virgin ex-whiskey casks” (whatever that means) for six months.
CAMUS VERY SPECIAL ($32) —This is an amazing price for a solidly knit Cognac with depth and floral aromas that tell you everything distinctive about Cognac, which is distilled from grapes, not grain. Camus distills it on the lees and ages it in fine-grained French oak. Camus has been making fine Cognacs since 1863, and its recent innovations, especially its Borderies spirits, towards a more intense, fruit-driven style are very much an applaudable move forward.
REMY MARTIN TERCET ($110) —At 84 proof, this is Remy’s highest proof Cognac, called a “tercet” because three artisans crafted it—the Wine Master Francois Nadeau, the Master Distiller Jean-Marie Bernard and Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau, using special eaux-de-vie aiming for a lighter, fruit-forward expression that is deliberately “emancipated” from the traditional Remy Martin style.
BUT DO NOT TURN THE A/C TO MAX
DipClip is a cup
holder for fast-food dipping sauces intended for
in-car use by clipping it onto your AC vent.
"At Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop (110 Franklin St., Brooklyn, $3.50-$5), in Greenpoint, which opened in 2018, there are laminate booths, glittery lime-green vinyl stools, and orange plastic trays. You can buy an ice-cold bottle of Coke from a vintage vending machine. Eating there makes me feel like a Carter-era teen-ager who’s saved up her allowance to buy a snack after a spin around the roller rink.”—Hannah Goldfield, “Paulie Gee’s, F&F Pizzeria, and New York City’s Slice Renaissance,” The New Yorker (Nov 29, 2019).
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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