Virtual Gourmet 

August 5,   2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue

Resorting to Fine Food: Woodlands Inn and Auberge du Soleil  by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: New Chef at Gramercy Tavern by John Mariani



125 Parsons Road
Summerville, SC
                     When I was last at Woodlands Inn, my admiration for the new chef, Scott Crawford, was very high, just as it had been for the previous one, Ken Vedrinski.  Now, there is another, every bit as good as his predecessors.  Tarver King  is young, full of enthusiasm, and as adept at keeping a classic foundation as he is coming up with brilliant new dishes he can call his own.
      The Inn is  about twenty miles outside of Charleston, originally built by a Pennsylvania railroad baron named Robert Parsons  on 100 acres of land then considered a refuge from the mosquito-infested Charleston.  Twelve years ago the mansion and 42 acres were bought and restored with all modern amenities while maintaining the extraordinary Georgian beauty of the place, from the mansion itself to the landscaped gardens, now added to with guest suites, a tennis cottage, and, of course, the requisite 21st century spa.  Dotted with pines, palmettos, and oaks, the resort is  as splendid as any I've seen in the South, and the mansion, with its impeccably, individually decorated guest rooms, most with fireplaces, king- and queen-sized beds, and marble bathrooms with Jacuzzis are as relaxing as they are beautiful.
        The Dining Room at the inn, with its 14-foot coffered ceilings, French doors, and a ceiling of painted clouds (below) , is sedate but sumptuous, although a little updating of furniture and less formality in the decor would make it a lot livelier.   Stephane Peltier oversees the winelist,  which has a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence,  is indeed  one of the finest in the nation.[re
      On my last visit we began with several amuses, ranging from a roasted potato consommé with sweet garlic flan to a lovely little omelet with onion hollandaise and shavings of white truffles.  The appetizers took off with superbly silky seared foie gras with a rhubarb compote and a jelly glaze with a layer of foie gras, then fried peanuts, then Port wine jelly--a terrific idea.  Foie gras also appeared with truffled French toast, toasted cashews, orange Muscat jam, and hybiscus sea salt. Scallop dumplings were accompanied by prosciutto and crispy sage drizzled with drops of vincotto.
      These seem like complicated dishes, and they take time to make and plate, but the ingredients are all in perfect equilibrium, never covering over essential flavors.  For our second courses there was witty take on steakhouse salads--an iceberg lettuce wedge with bacon, sour cherries, a sherry vinegar gastrique, and blue cheese, with just a shake of smoked sea salt.  Gently poached in a carrot beurre montée, monkfish was tender and juicy, but a carrot-potato mousseline, green bean salad, and other ingredients clashed with the fish. Monkfish re-appeared sautéed with sweet pepper spoonbread and a classic sauce Robert klp;that showed how Tarver (left) can blend the old--in this case old Southern culinary tradition and French too--with the modern touch of pancetta and fried broccolini.
  Then came the meat course, a wonderfully crispy pork belly that had been brined for a week then made into a confit and served with cumin-scented turtle beans, and sweet-sour stewed radicchio with sour cream and baby arugula. Desserts, by Sheree McDowell, are just as inventive, from a mango-lime sorbet to re-charge the palate to hazelnut griddle cakes with Granny Smith apples, caraway cream, and salted caramel.   Her rich chocolate ganache cake with malted milk ice cream, chimay sabayon, and English toffee is absolutely dreamy.
       No one going anywhere near Charleston should miss an evening--and stay--over at Woodlands Inn, which gives South Carolina bragging rights few other regions can boast of at this level.

      A 3-course dinner is $54, 4-courses $69, with a 5-course tasting menu at $88 and a vegetarian dinner at $78, with wine pairings $45.


180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA

     tyyIt's 1985: Take 33 acres of Napa Valley hills, place a sprawling but secluded series of beautifully decorated rooms all around, install a sparkling swimming pool and a fine dining room whose terrace overlooks it all, and you have a uniquely California inn called Auberge du Soleil, opened by Claude Rouas and Robert Harmon, the first to come to the valley and bring the kind of glamor and elegance it had never really needed in the past. Now, with Napa overrun with gentlemen farmers and tourists, the Auberge is as quiet and reclusive as ever, and the food, now by chef Robert Curry, is better than ever in its history.
Curry had been exec chef at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, and has also worked at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, as well at Citrus in L.A., Louis XV in Monaco and Michel Rostang in France. He is fully cognizant of the Auberge's being smack in the center of  wine country, and every dish and ingredient draws strength from that.
      The dining room here has the same quiet, soft, colorful ambiance as do the rooms and suites (below), which are a combination of California-and-Provence elegance. The more rustic terrace dining area is the most coveted, overlooking the vineyards below. The winelist, under Chris Margerum, has a Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator and is  now up to 1,500 selections and 17,000 bottles, not just California offerings but a screed of global wines too.lll';'
       On a glorious summer's day my party of four began lunch with potato gnocchi with pea shoots, tomato confit, and a parmesan nage; simply seared sea scallops needed nothing more than white corn, braised onions, peas, and a vanilla nage to complement their own sweetness, while a corn soup with rock crab and chervil oil couldn't have been better on that 75-degree afternoon.
      Next came seared foie gras with peaches, pain perdu, and almonds, and main courses of seared ahi tuna with eggplant caviar, ratatouille, and a black olive emulsion, along with snow-white halibut with shell beans and a very interesting bacon basil broth.  The meat dishes were a fine leg of California lamb with a potato risotto, peas, and reduction of red wine and basil, and a splendid roast chicken as juicy as the sherry vinaigrette is came with. With these we drank a seductive Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Central Coast 2004.
     There were some artisan's cheese, both local and French, then sumptuous desserts by Paul Lemieux of blueberry and a peach tart with verbena pudding and yogurt sorbet; chocolate-stuffed filo dumplings with tarragon ice cream (not wonderful) and arbequina olive oil (doubly not wonderful); the best was palm sugar-roasted apricot with vanilla-scented pound cake.
     We sipped a 20-year old Graham's Tawny Port, looked out over the valley and the same thing was on everyone's mind: It really, really doesn't get any nicer than this.
      At lunch prices for first courses run $12-$16, main courses $19-$29; at dinner, $79 fixed price for four courses, with six courses at $105.


42 East 20th Street

      My, my, times fly. Gramercy Tavern opened 13 years ago, and it's probably safe to say there haven't been many empty tables anytime since.  For one thing, it's a Danny Meyer-run restaurant, which means a sure degree of sophistication without stuffiness, a warm greeting, and a consistency year after year in food, wine, and service.  (For the record, my son works at another Danny Meyer restaurant, The Modern.)
      For another, upon opening it was the most hyped of any of Meyer's enterprises, and its original chef, Tom Colicchio, garnered stars galore for GT for more than a decade.  While still at GT, Colicchio on his own opened Craft, Craftsteak, and other restaurants, and last year left Meyer's employ.  The result has been no radical change in the style of GT's menu, though I think the brilliant young chef Michael Anthony shows a greater degree of finesse in his cooking.
       The big, three-room dining area hasn't changed, designed by Bentel & Bentel, with American quilts on the wall and artwork by Robert Kushner. Tablecloths and fine silver and glassware cover the spacious tables. Up front is the tavern part of the Tavern, which serves a simpler menu, and in between you have to pass the open wood-burning oven and an array of cheeses I heartily recommend you save room for. The noise level can be very high, depending on where you're seated.
     The one really off-note that has become a real distraction since 1994 is the current complete lack of any dress guidelines, much less a requested dress code at GT. Ten years ago most men would wear a jacket, if not a suit here, but as casual dreck has exerted its full force in restaurants of the 21st century all bets are off, so you may be aptly attired for a night at one of NYC's finest restaurants, where most women come beautifully dressed, but you may be seated next to a gaggle of guys in less-than-brand-new t-shirts, bluejeans that did not cost them $200, and sandals of old vintage, not to mention the unmentionable shock of seeing more than you wish to when such men bend over the table.  Even the waitstaff at GT is put off by this sad lapse of what is appropriate to a place like GT.e

     But on to the true glories here, starting with a stellar 400-label winelist (with a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence) priced rationally and chosen wisely.  Oddly enough, GT has no formal sommelier, but the captains and waiters are so well trained that you're not going to need further consultation.
     I put myself in Chef Anthony's hands, and, as our captain poured a 2006 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli (not a varietal you see everyday), we began with what looked like cole slaw but was actually thinly sliced calamari and carrot salad, with toasted pinenuts and lemon vinaigrette.  There was also a summer warm salad of vegetables and farro grain and a tomato-bread salad with gooseberries and wild arugula.  These little touches, like wild arugula, indicate the absolute commitment to great ingredients, many bought at the nearby Union Square Greenmarket.
      Satin-textured cod came with a zucchini puree and avocado squash, and an open seafood ravioli with mussels and parsley was a simple enchantment. Swiss chard, and a mussel broth was good, and ivory King salmon took on just the right nuances of sweetness from baby onions and chanterelles. 
Best of all the seafood dishes were a lightly smoked trout with a puree of kohlrabi and pickled vinaigrette, and a nicely fleshy sturgeon with new potatoes and pattypan squash sauce.  Monkfish with scallions, Swiss chard in a light mussel broth was good, and ivory King salmon took on just enough sweet nuance from baby onions and chanterelles.
      rMustard greens and a carrot puree accompanied nice fat quail, with its own species' egg, and sweetbreads came with radish, spinach, baby Romaine.  I could easily have eaten six more of the mushroom ravioli plumped with trumpet royale mushrooms and aged balsamic and stopped there.  But then I wouldn't have had the succulent rack of lab with zucchini puree and favas, or the rack of veal with morels, favas, and Swiss chard, or the rack of pork belly--with just enough gelatinous fat--with corn and baby onions.
      We somehow did manage to have an array of half a dozen cheese in perfect ripeness, then came desserts like lemon-thyme pannacotta with a cherry almond salad, an apricot-pistachio frangipane tart with honey ice cream, and a chocolate nougat semifreddo, all by patîssier Nancy Olsen.
      By the time we left, near eleven o'clock, the dining room was still sitting people, and the kitchen was still working at peak performance to serve them.  With a last sip of Port and a refreshing Moscato, I left with the thought that restaurants like Gramercy Tavern will keep me from ever being jaded.  That the staff makes everything seem so effortless night after night after so many years is testament to their commitment and to a professionalism rare anywhere these days.

Gramercy Tavern is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner nightly. Dinner is fixed price at $76, with a summer tasting menu at $98 and vegetarian menu at $82 (all prices will be going up after Labor Day). The Tavern is open for lunch and dinner daily, with a 3-course à la carte meal averaging $45-$50.


Residents from Russia's Rostov region caught a weird sea creature (right) after after a strong storm in the Sea of Azov. The 101-kilogram creature was said to produce odd "squeaky sounds," and the fishermen at first  believed  they had caught an alien, which they the video-ed (to see video, click here).
They then said that they were scared of the creature so they ate it, and one of the fisherman declared it the best fish he'd ever tasted.


A group of New South Wales oyster farmers  have patented a process to chemically boost the aphrodisiac qualities of their oysters by feeding them Viagra. After George May's doctor prescribed a low dose of Viagra for him, he tried sprinkling Viagra dust on his oysters. He and colleagues are calling their product, ViagraOysters, the "ultimate aphrodisiac," although Pfizer Pharmaceutical holds the trademark on the drug, and Australian authorities prohibit the selling of proscription drugs by anyone but physicians.

* On Aug. 12 in Southampton, NY, Chef/owner Douglas Gulija of The Plaza Cafe will host a Capiaux Vintner Dinner with Sean Capiaux. $125 pp; Call 631-283- 9323.

* On Aug. 16 at The Bourbon House in New Orleans will hold a “Small Batch Bourbon Bash,” with bourbon expert Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim Beam, featuring Booker's, Bakers, Knob Creek & Basil Hayden and a 5-course dinner. Call 504-274-1831.

* On Aug 16 in Lombard, IL, Sequel will be hosting its first annual Hawaiian luau, an 8-course Hawaiian tasting menu, prepared by Chef Mark Downing, Chef de Cuisine Scott Staples, and Pastry Chef Matthew Sayers, on the tropical patio serenaded by a Polynesian band, complete with hula and fire dancers. $65 pp.  Call 630-629-6560.

* S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water sponsors the 6th annual Dine Out Program during the weeks of Aug.  19-23,  and Aug.  26-30, with participating restaurants offering 3-course menus ($25 for lunch, $35 for dinner).  S.Pellegrino will donate $1 to Share Our Strength. For a list of participating restaurants or to make a reservation at a participating restaurant online, visit

* On Aug. 20 chef Debbie Gold of 40 Sardines in Overland Park, Kansas, will hold the  4th Annual Heirloom Tomato Dinner of  heirloom tomatoes at a 5-course dinner.  $55 pp, +$25 with wines. Call 913-451-1040; visit

* On Aug. 21 in Summerville, SC,  Woodlands Resort & Inn (see review above) will host its next monthly "Wines  of the World" tasting and dinner, "For the Pinot Lovers," with 12 wines chosen by sommelier Stephane Peltier and a 4-course pairing dinner by Chef Tarver King.  $79 pp. Call 843-308-2115.
* On Aug. 23 in Schaumburg, IL,  Shaw's Crab House hosts Owner Fred Koehler and Winemaker Andre Basso of Lynfred Winery at a 5-course dinner  prepared by Chef Juvenal Reyes. $74.95 pp. Call  847.517.2722; visit

* On Aug 26 at The Lodge at Koele in Hawaii Chef Thomas Bellec  will serve a 5-course menu paired with  whiskys, hosted by Jo McGarry, founding member of the Celtic band, Irish Hearts. Outdoor reception with live music. $95 pp. Call  (808) 565-2388.

* Chef Hugo Ortega of
Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe in Houston will host  a food and wine lovers' trip to Baja, California September 23-28.  The group will fly to San Diego and travel by chartered coach to Ensenada, for a 5-night stay on the beach at the  Las Rosas Hotel. The group will visit 10 of $1,584 pp. Call 713-479-1312.

* On Aug 29 Martini House in St. Helena, CA, will feature  paired wines from local winemakers Rob Lawson and Robert Foley with Chef Todd Humphries’ tomato tasting menu, with  special guest John DeBello, director of “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” There will be a screening of the movie and dinner. $170 pp. Call  707- 963-2233;

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with two 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,  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."  To go to his blog click on the logo below:


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

6y6My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

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copyright John Mariani 2007