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Joan Leslie and James Cagney in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)
IN THIS ISSUE
STAYING AND EATING IN SEDONA, ARIZONA
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
PRUNOTTO—TUSCAN OWNERS OVERSEE
LEGENDARY PIEMONTESE WINERY
By John Mariani
STAYING AND EATING
IN SEDONA, ARIZONA
By John Mariani
ETCH at Auberge de Sedona Resort
The marriage of a resort to a setting seems almost pre-ordained in Sedona, Arizona, owing to the grandeur of the red rock territory that surrounds it. Not to take full advantage of that grandeur would be difficult, for the spreading out of the mountains and mesas, the vibrancy of the colors that change from dawn through twilight, and a monumental scale that demands architectural respect would make any cookie-cutter resort or restaurant look ridiculous.
HILTON SEDONA RESORT AT BELL ROCK
90 Ridge Trail Drive
On a recent visit to the area I checked into the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock off Route 179, just outside the city of Sedona itself while offering easy proximity to the red rock countryside and a nearby golf course. With 221 rooms, including suites, every room looks out on those grand views, while inside there is a gas fireplace, two queen-size beds or one king bed, wet bar and 37-inch HDTV. Check-in is at an unusually inconvenient 4 p.m.
On Friday evenings on the Porch Lawn, when the arching skies are clear, high-powered telescopes provided by Verde Valley Astronomy give you a view of stars that dwarfs even the enormity of the Arizona mountains.
Jason Flores is the new chef at the indoor and outdoor restaurant called The Shadow Rock Tap + Table, whose name gives you an idea of its casual cast. The handsome bar takes up the majority of the interior, while outside on the porch, below strings of Edison lights, you can relax in Adirondack chairs near a pit fire and enjoy Flores’s very American menu, at pretty modest resort prices, beginning with Shares & Small Bites like lollipop chicken wings ($15) and juicy brisket “street” tacos ($15), then move on to a charbroiled strip steak or smoked short rib with Yukon mashed potatoes, garlic broccolini and amber ale jus ($32). The half roast Cornish game hen with pappardelle, roasted tomato, broccoli di rabe, toasted ricotta and saffron butter sauce ($32) is excellent.
All the desserts I tried were original and outstanding, including a cinnamon roll in a Mason jar with caramel ice cream, spiced apples, rum caramel and whipped cream ($12); luscious dulce de leche cheesecake with pecan brittle, cinnamon dust and dulce de leche mousse ($10) and a s’mores skillet of rocky road ice cream, Hershey’s chunks, toasted marshmallows fluff and graham cracker crust ($10). (You can also make your own over the fire pit.)
301 Little Lane
The lead photo of this article shows the babbling beauty of Oak Creek, which runs past Etch, the restaurant at L’Auberge de Sedona, one of the first deluxe modern resorts in the region. On an early summer’s day I sat outside for a leafy and leisurely lunch that went considerably beyond the ordinary menu you might expect. Instead there were highly recommended dishes like citrus-poached prawn cocktail in a Bloody Mary sauce with frisée ($17) and wonderful artichoke bruschetta with boursin cheese, artichoke barigoule, sun-dried tomato and crunchy baguette ($16). Caramelized French onion dip sliders with garlic sausage, bread and a beef patty ($18) is fine for a full lunch course, as is the charred octopus seasoned with Southwest spices and served with shishito peppers and lemon van aigrette ($16).
You can have a beef ($24) or bison ($25) burger with warm raclette cheese, or a crispy duck leg confit with peas, smoked bacon, parmesan and jibe berries ($36), ending off your meal with a “grand profiterole” fit for two with espresso crackle, Grand Marnier gelato, crushed Marcona almonds and citrus supremes ($11).
In so many ways Mariposa is settled into the Sedona landscape with true grace, for it takes full advantage of four panoramic views, foremost on its verandah, which is always packed with locals and visitors having cocktails and tapas while watching in awe the extraordinary sunsets. The interior’s own grandeur is in its latitudinal spaciousness, colors and woven textures that echo those of the hills and the Native-American motifs.
The formidable doyenne of Mariposa is Lisa Dahl, who is as much a charmer as she is a feisty businesswoman with a large presence in the area over a twenty-year tenure as executive chef and owner of Mariposa and four other restaurants, employing more than 250 people. Coming from the Bay Area fashion world, she brought flair and personal style to everything she’s done, and it shows in the color and presentation of her menus. The wine list is 135 selections strong.
The tapas selection seems almost as long, from mussels baked in a roasted tomato-white wine bouillabaisse finished with grilled chorizo, charred corn and grilled ciabatta ($18) to mushroom flatbread with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, Chèvre, Gorgonzola and white truffle oil ($16). The pulled pork tostadas ($17) are as good as any in the region, and the yellowfin poke with avocado, mango chile salsa, bibb lettuce, chipotle aïoli and crispy shoestring potatoes ($24) is a refreshing way to begin, along with a well-made margarita.
Similar items are on the extensive appetizer menu, and the entrees are based on a wood-fired grill that include a meat trio ($58) of filet mignon, bone-in lamb lollipops, and spicy chorizo links, as well as New York strip and ribeyes. (Given Mariposa’s resolutely American menu, it’s odd to find Australian rather than American lamb.) The 34-ounce tomahawk ribeye ($115) with truffle butters and roasted mushrooms almost seems requisite at such a southwestern-influenced table. It comes at a fixed price of $175 for two (plus $35 for wine pairings) that begins with a tiger shrimp cocktail and chopped salads, then the steak, then mixed berries with Grand Marnier and lemon biscotti.
All the main dishes come garnished, but the sides are well worth ordering, like “Lisa’s Lovely Lemon Mashed Potatoes” with arugula and almond or with lobster scampi ($11).
Mariposa exemplifies the generosity and scale of Sedona, with no one leaving hungry or unsatisfied.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
New York has more than its share of posh, high-end Italian restaurants, but Felice 56 is the first of real significance since Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center opened ten years ago. (Last year’s Leoni made an attempt in décor, but the food fell well short.) Indeed, Felice 56, has overcome the problems of a subterranean, windowless space that used to house a dreary David Chang restaurant through congenial lighting, the drama of high ceilings and a gorgeous landscape mural, making this one of the most beautiful new restaurants in the city.
The designers created drama by making the double staircase a shadowy descent, opening onto a large room and dazzling lounge done in soft leathers, oiled, stained wood, white tablecloths and colorful area rugs, adding palm trees in the middle of it all for extra effect. The sound level is genteel. (Upstairs is a pastry and coffee bar.)
The restaurant is part of SA Hospitality Group, which also runs several Sant Ambroeus far more casual eateries around town. One of the company’s partners, Jacopo Giustiniani, contends Felice 56 is a “truly authentic Tuscan experience,” whatever that means, for there are, happily, several non-Tuscan dishes on the menu from other Italian regions, like Rome’s cacio e pepe and carbonara.
No matter. The food here, under Executive Chef Adrian Kercuku, is excellent, from antipasti to dolci, and pricing is not unreasonable for this degree of sophistication and fine cuisine—no $30 risottos as at Leonti or $37 pastas as at Ai Fiori or outrageous $179 tasting menus at Del Posto. The wine list is extensive and being built month by month, with prices with rational mark-ups: a Grifi Avignonesi we ordered at $70 goes for $35 in a wine store. A bottle of sparkling water for nine bucks is, however, out of whack. Drink the New York tap instead.
When you sit down you’ll have an array of freshly baked breads to choose among, with Tuscan olive oil for dipping.
Don’t ignore the appetizers here: Fritelle (fritters) with prosciutto and ricotta proved irresistible at our table ($17). Pop-in-the-mouth crocchette de riso ($15) are firm rice bites with tomato and taleggio cheese, coated with breadcrumbs. Battuta di manzo (pricey at $27) is impeccably chopped Black Angus beef with Parmigiano and mustard seeds, and pristine fluke crudi ($21) with a citrus-pistachio pesto was superb. Out-of-the-ordinary cheeses and charcuterie ($7-$13) like finocchiona with fennel, Sienese salame, and a creamy blu del mugello, made from cow’s milk with blueberries.
Each of the pastas we tried was first-rate, all made on premises, all perfectly cooked to the right texture. That Roman cacio e pepe ($21) was made with thick tonnarelli noodles napped with both pecorino and Parmigiano and cracked black pepper. Pici all’aglione ($19) is a short, egg-rich Tuscan pasta with garlic sauce and roasted plum tomatoes that gave it a smoky flavor, and pumpkin pasta ($23) of poached butternut squash, crumbled amaretti cookies, a reduction of red wine called saba and Parmigiano ($36) was ideal for autumn. Each night here is a special ravioli, made with fine, delicately rolled pasta ($30). There’s also an unusual pappardelle al cacao ($25) made with cocoa nibs pressed into the pasta, served with a lusty short-rib ragù, Chianti-based tomato sauce, cracked black peppercorns and rosemary.
Main courses stay true to the simplicity of Italian secondi: the branzino ($41) comes with tangy sun-dried tomatoes, olives and a delightful almond pesto, while braciola di pollo ($28) is grilled pounded chicken breast with oven-roasted pumpkin and heirloom carrots. I was very pleased with an arrosto (roast beef) in thin slices slowly cooked and served with a cipollini onion confit and aromatic herbs ($37).
Given its on-premises café, Felice 56 produces a wide array of pastries, as well as gelati and sorbetti brought in from Sant Ambroeus. The torta della nonna ($9)—“grandma’s tart”—couldn’t be simpler, made from sugar dough, vanilla cream and pine nuts, while, while fritelle di bosco e zabaione is a lovely rendering of a berry salad with whipped vin santo cream ($14), and the zuccotto ($12) is an old-fashioned Florentine alchermes cake with fior di latte cream, orange confit and chocolate.
As a fine ristorante of real style and considerable finesse, Felice 56 joins Il Gattopardo, Barbetta, Lincoln, Ai Fiori and Marea in New York’s top rank for Italian cuisine. Nothing could be more welcome at a time when too many New York trattorias are just going through the motions.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
The marriage of two prestigious and expensive Piedmontese products both harvested in autumn—Alba white truffles and Barolo wines—is akin to serving caviar with Champagne and foie gras with Sauternes. So, beginning November 8 through November 17, Prunotto Wines, Urbani truffles, San Pellegrino, Wine Enthusiast and Cucina Italiana magazines are partnering in a series of dinners at participating restaurants in New York, Boston, Washington, Miami, Las Vegas, Denver and San Francisco for a White Truffle Festival 2019.
Urbani was established in 1852 as an exporter of truffles, while Prunotto dates to 1904 as a producer of classic Barolos and Barbarescos. White truffles, which are sniffed out by trained hounds in Italy, haven’t changed in 150 years—though their worldwide popularity since the 1980s has made them increasingly expensive—while Barolo and Barbaresco have, and Prunotto, known for being a traditionalist winery in contrast to many who have experimented with mixed results, has had its ups and downs.
I recently had dinner in New York with Prunotto’s current commercial manager, Emanuele Baldi, who told me that in the 19th century Barolo had been made as a sweet and “vivace” (effervescent) wine, only becoming a dry wine in the next century. In the past fermentation and maceration could last up to two months, so that in big vintages the alcohol level could rise over 15%.
In 1904 a cooperative call Cantina Sociale “Ai Vini delle Langhe” (Langhe is the region where Barolo and Barbaresco are produced) met to incorporate, with Alfredo Prunotto as a witness. The first harvest took place a year later, but the First World War seriously impacted the Cantina’s ability to produce fine wine, and, facing an uncertain economic future, Prunotto and his wife, Luigina, took over the control of the co-op and began exporting their wines. Prunotto retired in 1956, ceding control to wine technicians Beppe and Tino Colla, who soon began to identify the better plots and terroirs within the region for production of better wines, with a new winery built in 1972.
The biggest change in the winery’s history came when Tuscany’s wine giant, the Marchesi Antinori family, took on the job of distributing Prunotto’s wines in 1989, then bought the winery from the Colla brothers in 1994, at a time when the label’s reputation had flagged. Under Marchese Piero Antinori’s eldest daughter, Albiera, further investigations of plots and terroir were undertaken and land purchased (Prunotto had prior to that bought all its grapes from local growers), followed by the planting of new varietals like Albarossa and Syrah and crafting new white wines like Moscato d’Asti and Arneis under the Prunotto label. Identifying production areas in Bussia, Bussia Vigna Colonnello, Costamiòle, Bansella, Bric Turot, Pian Romualdo and Occhetti, the best, healthiest clones were discovered. The old 100-hectoliter oak barrels were retired in favor of four smaller sized barrels intended to allow better monitoring of individual vineyards’ potential and style. Cement vats were replaced with stainless steel.
“Back in the 1980s young Piedmontese winemakers began to travel and taste wines from France and California,” said Baldi. “I call them the `Barolo Boys,’ and they came back to Piedmont with new ideas that Antinori was able to finance.”
Comparing Barolo to orchestra stringed instruments, Baldi said, “Today our Barolos might express different weight and style. One might be a violin, one a viola, another a double bass or a cello.”
Barolos are unlikely to ever be compared to stringed instruments like a ukulele, harp or bouzouki—for such a lighter style Prunotto has the white Moscato d’Asti and Arneis. Barolos and Barbarescos are based on the hefty Nebbiolo grape, known for producing big, tannic, long-lived reds. The name is believed to refer to the fog in northern Italy called nebbia that rolls in over the vineyards and has a cooling effect on the grapes, and they ripen late in the harvest season, coinciding with the collecting of the white truffles.
Barolos, called the “King of Wines,” and their counterpart Barbarescos, the “Queen,” need time to mature, and Prunotto’s 2010 Barolo, aged in French oak for 12 months, then an additional year in bottle, now shows the power of the Nebbiolo grape when softened by time, and with just 13.5% alcohol you’ll get the structure and complexity that defines the varietal. The 2013 is very much the same, perhaps a bit fruitier. Bussia Barolo 2010, from an estate in use since 1961, had 24 months in barrel before a year in bottle, and it’s a bolder style, but still only 13.5% alcohol.
Those so-called Barolo Boys of the 1980s recognized that Barolo could change for the better, though I’ve also found that too many producers who rushed into the Langhe to buy property also rushed their viticulture and viniculture, often producing one-dimensional versions of Barolo. Prunotto, once in danger of becoming backward-looking, has instead brought its Barolos to the prestigious heights that include the wines of Angelo Gaja, Giacomo Conterno and Domenico Clerico. It’s a classy place to be.
NOTHING LIKE DEEP-FRIED WHIMSY TO KEEP
THE MINIONS HAPPY!
NOTHING LIKE DEEP-FRIED WHIMSY TO KEEP
THE MINIONS HAPPY!
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