Virtual Gourmet

September 2,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue






or, Can’t Stop The Music!

By John A. Curtas

     New York chefs and restaurateurs continue their carpetbagging escapades in the High Mojave Desert with three new openings this year in two major hotels.  The latest invasion has seen David Burke at a namesake restaurant and Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich at B&B Ristorante, both in the Venetian Hotel and Casino, and the Pellegrino family of Rao’s fame in Caesar's Palace, all opened in the past 4 months. As with Vegas' Elvis impersonators, the guys cooking your food aren't going to be the celebrity chef whose name is on the door.  Given the heavyweight reputation of the first two and Rao’s lack of street cred among serious gourmands, the smart money was on B&B Ristorante and David Burke for who would deliver the tastiest goods.   After a number of meals at all of them, I think that just the opposite is true. Rao’s has emerged as the winner of the bunch, and despite having 200 seats, being open for lunch, and taking reservations from all comers, it is turning out to be as tough a ticket here as the 40-seat original is at 114th and Pleasant Avenue in Harlem.

David Burke at the Venetiandddddddddddddddd
3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South

        Two meals at David Burke revealed a celebrity chef restaurant in the worst sense of the phrase.  Everything seems geared to impress the rubes and soak them at the same time. The flashy décor looks like an overblown coffee shop--albeit one that cost a few million dollars to build--while his winelist reads like an afterthought, basically an overpriced New World list (and a short one at that) befitting this “Modern American” restaurant (read: cold, sterile, over-publicized and overpriced), and its bizarre food.  Why he even bothers with only seven  red Bordeaux, a few red Rhônes, and a handful of Burgundies is anyone’s guess.  Smarter money would load up on lots of Opus One and leave the European stuff to restaurants where the customers aren’t afraid to pronounce the names on the labels.
          Moving to the menu, you first encounter Burke’s much-vaunted pretzel crusted crab cake ($18), which  just looks gimmicky these days and tastes full of stringy back-fin meat.  His famous crunchy and "angry lobster " was in way too good of a mood the night I expected to feel its wrath; instead the beast was none-too-spicy, crunchy or tasty, but that didn’t keep it from incurring my own anger over this minuscule critter costing eight bucks a bite (i.e., $24 for three).   Most of what the menu calls  "Burke in a Box" ($35) should have been renamed "Burke in a Deep Fryer," containing fried pork belly layered with tomato slices of no discernible breeding; a deep fried, Jack-In-The-Box-quality rolled taco with bland guacamole that fr3r3ftasted as if it came out of a can; tasteless “white truffle” mayonnaise on the chicken salad that might have been stolen from a  church social; and curried tuna tartare containing little of either as far as flavor was concerned. Dishes that promised more than they delivered were a scrambled Peking duck, the meat almost cold ($35), inexplicably and inexcusably tossed in a giant bowl with a huge, grotesque duck egg atop it, and a warm Caesar Salad ($15), topped with another large, unsightly egg, which  may be the last word in bad bastardizations of this classic dish.

All of this is served at a noise level that competes in infamy with a ZZ Top concert (the Eliminator Tour, if memory serves) I attended fifteen years ago.  On the plus side, Burke, when he's in town, strolls around a lot, smiling and posing for pictures taken for no discernible reason but for his brilliance in pulling off such mediocrity, at such high prices, for such a credulous public.
       I should note well that the executive chef has just been let go by Burke, so I may want to alter what I've written sometime in the future.

B&B Ristorante at the Venetian
3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South

     22222At the officially named B&B Ristorante, run by Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich, right across the hall from David Burke in the Venetian Casino Hotel, you also have to shout to be heard, but this time it’s over the din of what Molto Mario calls the soundtrack-to-his-life,which he insists you listen to as you parse a meal from his offal offerings.  Don’t even think of asking them to turn it down. I have no beef with Jimi Hendrix or the Flaming Lips, just not with my nicely done spicy lamb sausage inside mint “love letters” of folded pasta ($23; below, right), or even with a quite pedestrian fritto misto di mare ($19) that Rao’s version rolls past like a well-placed bocce ball.  Another fishy disappointment was a plate of four, tiny marinated fresh anchovies ($14) that tasted identical to the boquerones available at any Whole Foods, only at ten times the price.1
     Describing your main course to your dining companion will be difficult over the din, but with some items, such as the vertically constructed and overcooked pork chop with onions, artichokes, and far-too-little aceto Manodori ($34), the less said the better.  Equally humdrum are fennel-dusted sweetbreads ($29) with (not enough) sweet-and-sour onions, distractingly heavy duck bacon, and a smidge of Membrillo quince paste vinegar.  The sweetbreads define what’s wrong with hotshot American chefs in that the dish is unabashedly more complicated, ingredient-burdened, and flavor-laden than it needs to be.  The
pastas like the lamb's brains “francobolli,” seasoned with lemon and sage ($19), textbook perfect pappardelle alla bolognese ($22), and goat's cheese tortelloni with dried orange and wild fennel pollen ($22), are all pretty nifty.
     That said, the all-Italian wine list is broad and deep, with a fair share of bargains under a $100.
     That relentless rock-and-roll blare, however, only serves to distract from the food and teaches that the only things one should ever consume to "All Along The Watchtower" are two frozen pizzas (preferably unfrozen), and a dozen Krispy Kremes.

In Caesars Palace
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
702-731-RAOS (7267)

    None of this hubris is evident at Rao’s, although you’d think after 114 years in business they’d be entitled to some.   The big question is how the Pellegrinos managed to transplant a menu and a vibe so successfully from a 40-seat, four barstool joint in Harlem to a mega-casino operation and to do it so flawlessly.  Cynics might argue that the recipes wouldn’t exactly cause Burke or Batali to break a sweat, but the conscientiousness of the kitchen is evident on the plate.
     Maybe it’s the arugula salad that has me in its thrall ($12). It’s always of pristine quality, perfectly dressed with light lemon-olive oil, and invariably topped with plenty of shards and shavings of good Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Or perhaps it’s the tasty clams oreganata ($18), a little over-salted and breaded, but quite clam-y just the same.  Then there’s that old war-horse u57857Uncle Vincent’s lemon chicken ($24; right).  It’s been praised to death (beginning with a review in the New York Times  30 years ago) but still manages to satisfy and had me licking my plate.  Or perhaps it’s the pasta dishes, which  are never overcooked or over-sauced, or the pizza with Speck, farm-raised salmon with a spicy harissa sauce, and black lentils ($26), or even the sort-of-French-but-very-intense profiteroles ($10), bathed in an almost-bitter, dark and rich chocolate sauce, that have seduced me.
     The excellent gelatos and sorbets (also $10) are supplied by Patrice Caillot, former pastry chef at Le Cirque Las Vegas and member of the World Championship Pastry Team of 2004.  Taken as a whole, and even after discounting some points for their never-ending soundtrack that contains way too much Rod Stewart and Billy Joel, of the latest New York City chefs to ride the tidal wave to Vegas’s green felt shores, the relatively unknown Carla Pellegrino (Frank Jr.’s wife and Executive Chef) has best fulfilled the promise of bringing a taste of the Big Apple to the casino and convention crowd.
   And speaking of crowds, most nights at Rao’s it looks like the leftovers from a "Sopranos" casting call, with more than a few celebrities hanging out at the bar. Get lucky, and you may even catch Billy from ZZ Top, sipping on a nice Brunello there, as I recently did. . .without having to listen to “Legs” or “Supersize My Sleeping Bag.”
    (For a review of the original NYC Rao's, click.)
Since 1995, John A. Curtas has been commenting on the Las Vegas food
scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at

by John Mariani

200 Ninth Avenue

     Tyrolean restaurants do not exactly dot NYC, so for its uniqueness alone Klee Brasserie would be of interest to any good feinschmecker.
   And when you step through the glass-and-steel door off Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, you may well be reminded of an Alpine ski resort eatery, with its woodpanelled walls, porcelain tile floor, exposed brick, maplewood bar, chairs, and tables, and a peek into the kitchen window, under which is set a chef's table.
Leather place mats stand in for tablecloths, and, appropriately enough, the glassware is from Riedel.
      Klee does not take its name from the Swiss artist but from the Austrian word for "mountain flowering clover," which is a leitmotif throughout the restaurant, including a white glass tile mosaic to the rear.
Chef/owner Daniel Angerer took his design from his memories of growing up in just such a mountain area in Austria, and his food is exactly the kind of hearty fare you'd want to eat after trekking through the Zillertal Nature Park or schussing down the Stubaier Glacier.  Angerer was last chef at Fresh, after stints at David Bouley and Jean Georges in NYC, Robuchon in Paris, and Alberg Hospiz in Austria.  He describes his cooking as “Cuisine Vitale,” characterized by a reliance on fresh herbs and careful reductions that keep the food lighter than you would find in Austria, where butter and cream dominate the gastronomy.jh
Angerer's fiancée, Lori Mason (at right, with Angerer), is by day a lawyer, then turns into host and manager for Klee in the evenings, and she sets just the right balance of neighborhood affability and genuine glee in meeting newcomers. Indeed, the entire staff, mostly women, including wine director Melissa Sack, who stocks a very reasonably priced list with dozens of wines by the glass and half-bottle, could not be more Gemültlich if they wore dirndls and pigtails.
     The slender room doesn't look like it seats 65, with another 15 at the bar, the chef's table, and, somewhere, a private room for 30.  So the menu might be a tad too ambitious, with 8 appetizers, 6 "Small Bites," 5 "Snacks & Sides,"  and 11 main courses, in addition to cheeses, 6 teas, and a dozen desserts.  Nevertheless, the food comes out with dispatch and at all the right temperatures, beginning with a plate of mini lobster rolls you can just pop in your mouth and irresistible hot, garlic-perfumed potato chips right out of the fryer.  A garlic scape soup was based on a good, rich broth with an herb bouquet and silky chicken confit.  But "starchy" was the word on everyone's lips at my table for cold pea soup with shaved Idiazabal cheese and corn crisps.  Don't fail to order an "Alsatian pizza" (below) more properly called flammekueche, made with crème fraîche, smoky bacon, and plenty of sweet Vidalia onions.  It's just big enough for two to share as a starter.
      eeeeeetyThe entrees are categorized under "Wood Stone Oven," from which came a juicy slow-roasted duckling with plums, honey, and quinoa; "Mesquite Grill," providing a deliciously melting BBQ pork belly with beans and a lovely cherry relish; and "Griddle and Others," which includes excellent  Maine sea scallops with lemon spaetzle and green peas. The Thursday Specials I tried were baked rigatoni rich with a Colorado lamb bolognese and tomatoes, and roast wagyu-style beef with melted Emmenthaler cheese and mushrooms,  a steal at $25.
    Angerer's desserts fit impeccably into Klee's menu for hearty, seasonal flavors, including mango panna cotta with a blueberry and elderberry compote and raspberry sprinkles to a peach-apricot cobbler mit Schlag, the enhanced whipped cream that also goes with the classic fudgy Austrian Sacher torte here.  Cherry cheesecake was pleasant and moist if uninspired in a New York context, but apple strüdel with toasted walnuts and vanilla ice cream pretty much summed up Klee's spirit. And then, there is a plate of hot cookies--Linzers, Mexican wedding, chocolate chip, oatmeal, and brownie, which are very hard to wave off. Have them with a glass of Port or rum, and you'll be very happy, especially when the bill comes, because nothing on the menu tops $27.
     It's easy enough to love mom-and-pop restaurants (even if the wedding and Kinder are still to come in Klee's case), because you know there is always far more commitment to making guests happy than in a more corporate-run restaurant where volume and numbers-crunching count more.  Klee should be here a long time in Chelsea.

Klee is open for lunch and brunch Thurs.-Sun. from noon-3 PM and nightly for dinner.  At dinner first courses run $8-$14, second courses $21-$27.


Wineries in
New York's Finger Lakes Region have adopted a soccer-like penalty system for tourists who turn unruly under the influence of wine tastings. "A customer almost did a head-dive off the porch at one point," said Paul Thomas of Seneca Lake Wine Trail. "Other instances of people urinating in parking lots, people swimming when they're inebriated in ponds that aren't intended to be swum in. Nor do we want them going topless in the vineyards, which has also occurred on occasion." Members of various associations will now  issue such guests a yellow warning card, next a red card, which will deny access to other wineries.


“What we found at [Luang Prabang’s Talat Tha Heua marketplace] was. . . everything you never wanted to put near your mouth and more.  Under glaring streetlights, stall after stall boasted the most revolting things Mother Nature had to offer: steamed giblets, foot soup and crusty things that, if they weren’t insects, did a pretty good cockroach impression.  Even the vegetables were scary.  For all I know, this was the stuff that went into those roadhouse microwave hot dogs, but there is such a thing as Too Much Information.”—Tamara Sheward, Bad Karma (2007).



* Throughout the month of Sept.  the Lark Creek Restaurant Group will be offering special menus in each of its Bay Area restaurants featuring sweet and savory dishes infused with the very best of American chocolate. Participating restaurants of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group include The Lark Creek Inn (415-924-7766), One Market Restaurant (415-777-5577), LarkCreekSteak (415-593-4100), Lark Creek Walnut Creek (925-256-1234), Yankee Pier in Larkspur (415-924-7676), Yankee Pier at Santana Row in San Jose (408-244-1244) and Parcel 104 in Santa Clara (408-974-6104).

* On Sept. 7 in Sonoma, CA, the  Buena Vista Winery will celebrate its  150th anniversary with local artisan cuisine from Sonoma restaurants, such as Carneros Bistro and El Dorado Kitchen, paired with Buena Vista Carneros wines, live music, and proclamations from local government officials in honor of Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, who founded the winery in 1857. $60 pp. with proceeds to  the  Sonoma Valley Historical Society. Call (800) 325-2764. Visit

* Boston's Langham Hotel Executive Chef Mark Sapienza celebrates Café Fleuri's recent green certification from the Green Restaurant Assoc. by introducing a brunch format that supports sustainable farming and the use of local ingredients.  Divided among 4 stations--Sea, Garden, Forest & Farm--stations offer sushi, omelets, carving and pasta stations. Suppliers will be in attendance once a month, to share their knowledge of their product and their insights into sustainable farming. Sept. 23: Pat Woodbury, Wellfleet Littlenecks and Oysters; Oct.  21:  Woodcock Farm - Mark and Gari Fisher, - Woodcock Farms Sheep's Milk Cheeses;  Nov. 11:  Carl DeMatteo, of Northeast Family Farms. $50 pp (17.50 for children).  Call 6179568751  or 617-451-1900.

* Park Hyatt Chicago announces a culinary U.S. Tour of Park Hyatt sister hotels at its restaurant NoMI on Sept.  21 &  22, incl.  a grand tasting, cooking demons, luncheon, reception and multi-course dinner collaboration between Christophe David, executive chef of NoMI and Argentine chefs Fernando Trocca, of Buenos Aires’ Sucre and El Diamante and New York City’s Industria  Argentina; Juan Manuel Guizzo, chef, Bistro M, Park Hyatt Mendoza; Màximo López May, Restaurant Goia, Palacio Duhau – Park Hyatt Buenos Aires; and Juliana López May, owner, Taller de Cocina-Buenos Aires.  For full info call 312-239-4044.

* On September 27, in
San Diego, the Rancho Bernardo Inn’s Gavin Kaysen, Chef de Cuisine at El Bizcocho, will serve a 6-course menu for a "Beer Vs. Wine" dinner, each paired with wines selected by Sommelier Barry Wiss and beers chosen by Stone Brewing Company CEO Greg Koch. Once diners taste both beer and wine with the food, they will fill out a small card noting their preference, and results will be tabulated and announced at the end of the dinner. $125 pp. Call  (858) 675-8550; visit

* The 2007 New York Rising Stars will be honored at the New York Rising Stars Revue on Sept. 18, at Mansion in NYC.  The push-cart tasting gala and awards ceremony, open to the public, will allow attendees to enjoy high-concept street food from up-and-coming culinary stars from the top restaurants in the city.  All dishes are paired with ultra-premium wines selected by the Rising Star Sommelier.  $125 pp. $200 VIP admission incl. private pre-event reception with vintage Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or Champagne and caviar, plus early entrance.  Tix may be purchased thru

* On Sept. 28-29, 20 U.S. will host “The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America” (, in 20 U.S. cities. In Miami Mark Militello and Norman Van Aken, Michael Bloise of Wish,  Cindy Hutson of Ortanique, Malka Espinel, pastry chef at Johnny V, and Clay Conley of Azul for a 4-course dinner at Mandarin Oriental.  $240 pp. Call 305-913-3840.  . . .Los Angeles events incl. chefs Michael Cimarusti of Providence; Michel Richard of Michel Richard Citronelle; and Nancy Silverton of La Brea Bakery and Osteria  Mozza. Sept. 28: Fundraising dinner at Providence restaurant; $150 pp,  $200 with wine. Sept. 29: JB  Foundation and  Williams-Sonoma will host an event open to the public, with a cooking demo by Nancy Silverton, Children’s Activities for our  "Foodies of the Future,"   Festival Marketplace featuring  tastings from Gelato Bar in  Studio  City. Visit . . . On Sept. 28, in Brookline, MA, at Veronique, the Ballroom, local James Beard winners, incl. Ana Sortun of Oleana and Frank McClelland of L'Espalier, will be on-hand for an event featuring the Next Generation of James Beard Award Winners," such as Marc Orfaly, Pigalle and Marco;  Dante deMagistris, dante; and Tom Berry, Temple Bar. In addition, Boston's bar managers will make custom cocktails with Plymouth Gin. $175 pp; General Admission:   $125. Call  617-375-9700.

* In Alexandria, VA,  Rustico is introducing a 6-course tasting menu paired with four-ounce pours of unique craft and  boutique beers from the restaurant’s 300+ bottle selection,  available by reservation  only Tues.-Thurs. nights at the  Chef’s Bar, where patrons can watch and interact with Executive Chef  Frank Morales. $115. Call 703-224-5051.

* On Oct. 1 Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington D.C.,  headlines  the "Sunday Guest Chef Series" at West Hollywood's BIN 8945, collaborating Chef Michael Bryant and Managing Director David Haskell to re-create 7 special dishes from Richard’s cookbook Happy in the Kitchen. $135 pp, + wine for $65 or $100 pp. Call 310-550-8945.

* The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa is uncorking its 18th season  of 8 monthly 4 to 6-course Winemaker Dinners, Oct. 4-May 1, 2008, at Wright’s at The Biltmore, with dinner prepared by Exec Chef Michael Cairns and Chef de Cuisine Matt Alleshouse in conjunction with a winery representative. At each Winemaker Dinner, United Auto Group of Phoenix will  showcase one of the world’s finest automobiles. $135 pp, with a season ticket for all 8 dinners at $945. Call 602-954-2507. Visit

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