Virtual Gourmet

March 28, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

Paul Henreid and Bette Davis in "Now, Voyager" (1942)


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In This Issue


South Gate by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Tiresome High-Alcohol Wines Face Backlash
as Buyers Wake Up
by John Mariani



by John Mariani

     I've never seen the sky looking remotely like the photo above, but the skyline hints at Toronto's superb modern architecture, not least in its fine new addition by Daniel Liebskind to the Royal Ontario Museum, nicknamed The ROM. Toronto, this year celebrating its 175th anniversary,  rightly calls itself a “city of neighborhoods,” from Yorkville, once a hippie center where Neil Young and Joni Mitchell started out, now quite gentrified,  to Little Italy, Little India, Little Poland, Chinatown, Greektown, Koreatown, Old Town, and Kensington Market, all packed with wonderful ethnic places to eat. At the St. Lawrence Market (left) you will find shops selling hundreds of cheeses, scores of breads and pastries, and the locals’ favorite snack, peameal bacon on a bun, made with brined pork loin, similar to what Americans call “Canadian bacon.” It was once coated in peameal during the brining, though cornmeal is now more widely used.
      Quite possibly the finest new restaurant in Toronto is 
C5 Restaurant Lounge at the top of the Royal Ontario Museum, whose glass and brushed aluminum exterior brings in tremendous light during the day and the Toronto starlight at night. Toronto native Chef Ted Corrado has created a truly international cuisine that reflects the restaurant’s artistic location, beginning with a pheasant confit with zucchini soufflé and onion marmalade. There is an Indian-inflected vindaloo pie made with Canadian lamb, fennel pollen brisée and pumpkin puree, and chestnut and mushroom ravioli with a pesto made from lovage.  Smoked sablefish comes with a sweet parsnip chowder, while foie gras is accompanied by a delightful spiced shortbread, and  sauced with a reduction of Concord grape and duck jus. Corrado's is an international menu, reflective of Toronto's international status, so you'll also find white truffle lasagna with lovage pesto and mimolette sauce; wild boar shank with celeriac and maple syrup and a bacon-pear stir fry; and poached spot prawn with a chili pork broth, barley and Savoy cabbage.
     c5 also has a beautiful lounge area with original glass installations and signature barware, and you can also have afternoon tea here.  In addition, there is on the premises of ROM a casual family eatery called the Food Studio serving salads, pizzas, and sandwiches, along with action stations featuring ethnic cuisines of the kind representative of the city's food culture.
     A meal for two at dinner in the main dining room will run about $90US.

      At the sophisticated yet casual Far Niente (below) in the Financial District, Ontario-bred Chef Gordon Mackie sublimates the iffy proposition of “something-for-everyone” by refining everything from Korean short ribs with sticky rice cake and his signature pot pies—the lobster version, with a one-and-a-quarter pound of the critter's meat, is sensationally good!--to a burger with oozing Brie cheese and crisp French fries with truffled mayonnaise.  The two-level restaurant has an engaging touch of swank along with a very fine winelist with Ontario bottlings among 4,400 bottles stocked, well worth trying.
        The "Simply Fish" section of the menu offers just that, fish with no frills--scallops, sablefish, ahi tuna, and others--along with daily veggies and fingerling potatoes. In addition to that lobster pot pie, the crustacean finds its way into a light bisque with coconut curry and coriander oil. I was unimpressed, however, with bland Yukon Gold potato crusted fish cakes, despite its romaine lettuce, miso dressing, and tartar sauce.  But the fine crème brûlée and a super rendering of campfire S'mores at dessert time more than made up for it.
Two can dine for about $90US here.

     On my Toronto visit I had checked in to the Hotel Le Germain, a stylish boutique hotel in the Entertainment District. Off the smart-looking two-level lobby (right) is the restaurant Victor, with its two-story wall of glass and polished wood,  where Chef David Chrystian pairs wines with his richly flavorful eclectic food. Like his contemporaries, Chrystian enjoys using as many local ingredients as possible; thus, his beef pot roast with chile beans, beets, and assertive horseradish is paired with viognier or merlot; his bison tartare with soft-fried egg with syrah, and his excellently gooey French onion soup with pinot noir. Each day there is a different curry dish offered--Monday butter-braised chicken, Tuesday Thai lamb, and so on. Dinner runs about $90US for two.

   Toronto has fallen in thrall with charcuterie and wine bars, none better than
Reds Bistro & Wine Bar (left) and Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar (the latter under new management since I visited). The former offers a broad array of both cold charcuterie, like a creamy foie gras and chicken liver parfait; an Italian offal terrine with focaccia and house-made mostarda; hot dishes include a superb  goose confit with warm lentil salad and a touch of fresh orange, and a generous piece of  smoked pork belly with sauerkraut and a caraway Stiegl beer mustard. I also thoroughly enjoyed the tender "popcorn" veal sweetbreads en cocotte with toasted brioche and black truffles.  Here, too, wine and beer selections are recommended with the menu items, whose main courses include Ontario veal with bacon and parsnip milk risotto, and sirloin and shortribs with garlic mashed potatoes in red wine sauce.
     Hard as it is to believe, most of these items are priced at just $12--they are small plates--and you can make a meal of them. But there are good appetizers, too, including a fabulous raviolo with squash, nutmeg, bacon, and truffle foam, and a deviled crab tart with avocado puree and grapefruit. Bay scallops from Nova Scotia were overpowered one night with anise, but the accompanying foie gras was in no way compromised. Ontario veal came with smoked bacon and parsnip milk risotto, and the lagniappe of Nova Scotia lobster.  For the heartiest of main courses, go with the very good grilled Wellington County sirloin and braised short rib with garlic mash and red wine jus.
If you eat heartily, $80US should do it for two people.


                                                                                  Toronto in the mid-19th Century


by John Mariani

South Gate

Jumeirah Hotel
154 Central Park South

        The experience gained cooking in NYC is, I'm told by professionals in the industry, like no other, simply because of the numerous occasions to cook in great kitchens with great master chefs. In the case of Kerry Heffernan, after stints at Montrachet, Le Régence, Restaurant Bouley, Mondrian, One Fifth Avenue, and as exec chef at Polo Restaurant and Eleven Madison Park, he has became one of those masters, soaked in classic tradition yet expressive of an exuberant New York style that shows in all his dishes.
      The bar and dining room glitter and pick up light from the huge windows overlooking  Central Park. This is a soaring space with 30-foot ceilings, walls covered with small mirrored tiles inset at differing angles so each reflection is slightly different from its neighbor’s, and big comfortable chairs around well-appointed tables separated by wide-open spaces. Towards the rear is a lovely fireplace, up front a sleek bar against a 40 foot “wall-of-wine” backdrop. And the chairs revolve!
       When I read menus these days I count up the number of ingredients in the dish and know that the more there are, the more insecure the chef is about his own cooking.  With Heffernan (below), everything on the plate seems absolutely apt, with nothing extraneous that does not directly invest the idea and flavor of the principal ingredient.  His parmesan bread pudding, then, with guanciale bacon and almonds has the rich taste of the cheese with the salty edge of  bacon and the textured nuttiness of the almonds. Perfect balance. So, too, a flan of butternut squash will taste wholly of the vegetables, along with added flavors from wonderfully tender Brussels sprouts and Prosciutto.  Lobster, which has a subtle flavor, is poached in butter till satin-like, bathed in its own broth, with just some winter vegetables. Risotto is laced with porcini, a little escarole for taste and color, and Parmigiano cheese.
     Everyone's doing pork belly and braised short ribs, but Heffernan's version doesn't seem like he felt he had to put them on the menu; they are there because he believes that glazing the pork belly and serving it with the loin and an accompanying side of kohlrabi and baby onions glazed with sherry is entirely a good idea, wholly his, and the shortribs come with mustard greens and a fondue of fingerling potatoes.  That use of kohlrabi and mustard greens is as out of the ordinary as it is warm-hearted in its simple honesty.
   This applies equally to the desserts, which have a simple integrity tied to imagination and a sense of good taste at work, as in the crème fraîche cheesecake with stewed cherries and the lagniappe of a small cacher torte.  There's also a passionfruit meringue tart with passion  fruit soda and coconut sorbet and rich, silky chocolate pot de crème. The caramel chocolate tart has the crunch of hazelnut brittle, caramel popcorn, and  salted caramel ice cream.
     South Gate is ideal for lunch and brunch, but when New York's night lights come on in and over Central Park, with the horse drawn carriages clopping by, it is a unique part of the great metropolis and a very romantic one too.

South Gate is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for brunch Sun,  and for dinner nightly. Appetizers: $12 to $21; entrees: $25 to $39; desserts: $9 to $12.



`Tiresome' High-Alcohol Wines Face Backlash as Buyers Wake Up
by John Mariani

    It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had just enjoyed a glass of white wine with some seafood and the next course was lamb, with which was served a big red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Trouble was, this was lunch, and I spent the rest of the afternoon asleep.
    True, the older one gets the less one should drink at lunch, but the real culprit was the red's 14.5 percent alcohol, a level made popular by the sun-burned Napa Valley blockbusters and California cult wines that delighted many U.S. wine critics since they emerged in the late 1970s.
    Robert Parker (right), publisher of The Wine Advocate, raved about big “plummy” high-alcohol red wines with “gobs of fruit,” encouraging California winemakers to go for higher and higher alcohol levels. Some labels now list 17 percent, which may actually be a degree or higher in the bottle -- closer to Port than wine.
    In fact, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives only labels wines between 7 percent and 14 percent alcohol as “table wine.” Above that, even if the level of alcohol is reached naturally, they are categorized as "fortified” and, with some leeway, are taxed at a rate four times higher.
    While higher alcohol rates do occur naturally in warmer climates, winemakers can boost the level by letting the grapes hang longer to achieve phenolic ripeness and build up sugars that ferment into alcohol. The result is wines with a richer, slightly sweeter flavor that do well in competitions, where deep color and big aromas count.
     Now, with the economy crippling high-priced, high-alcohol wine sales, there is a backlash against what the industry calls the “Parkerization” of red wines.
    “If you want to get drunk, booze is cheaper and quicker than wine,” wine writer Gerry Dawes (left) said in a phone interview. “High alcohol destroys the balance wine should have. You need acid, not high alcohol, to go with food. After a single glass these wines are tiresome to drink and people will leave a very expensive bottle half-empty on the table because they can’t finish it. Nobody can convince me these are good wines.”
      More wineries now seem to be paying attention to what Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards said in a public statement in 2007 after being horrified that his 2004 vintage broke the 14 percent barrier.
     “The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop,'' Dunn said. ``Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 percent to 16 percent and more alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to drink.”
     Another wake-up call came from Darrell Corti (below), president of the Sacramento wine and food market Corti Bros., who announced that he would not even sample any wines above 14.5 percent and refused to sell them.
        Many Napa Valley winemakers are now heading into the lower alcohol camp: "As a Napa winemaker (with my 30th vintage 
beginning budbreak) I would argue that it is possible to both pick for  ripe flavors and bottle wine with moderate alcohols and without high-tech intervention," says David Mahaffey of Palladian.  "The secret is small lot fermentations with lots of  surface area, lots of gentle punchdowns to work the cap--a hand made wine fermented in one ton bins. I can lose .5% alcohol and get the  wine bottled at or under 14%."
    Yet many winemakers still persist in producing the kind of powerhouse wines that made California's reputation. I recently opened a bottle of 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvée ($29), a Napa Valley blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. The alcohol was 14.9 percent, its color very dark, its aroma somewhat medicinal, its flavor more like grape jam than wine, with a blast of alcohol.
    I put the glass down and shook my head. The next day, to see if it had mellowed, I tasted the wine again. It was still inky, plum-like, and heady.
   “Frankly I don’t think you see that many really great California wines with low alcohol levels,'' Chappellet’s winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus (left) said in a phone interview. ``Leaving the grapes to ripen longer lowers the vegetative, green taste of wines, which can be unpleasant. I get very few complaints about alcohol levels. I think maybe people’s tolerance is going up
      Still, even Corallo-Titus thinks that 16 percent to 17 percent is too much. “Those wines tend to get so overripe we call them `gooey,’” he said.
      While one man’s gooey may be another man’s plummy, I’m betting that the in-your-face California style will give way to a restrained refinement that makes wine a lot easier for the consumer to love.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.


BUT. . . UH-UH.

In NYC,  Matsuri restaurant will host the Penis Festival on April 1, a tribute to the annual Japanese phallic fête. The Planned Parenthood–sponsored event will feature Big Sausage and a Hard Banana Cream Pie, plus free Jeremy Scott condoms.


"After a quick look at some superior donutty freshness, we strapped on our fancy English powder wigs and went a-judgin' some barbecue sauces, all for your edification. Not only that, we provided some dirt-simple recipes to experiment with. Our current obsession is to try out the beer bread recipe with some Kronenbourg 1664 and a dash of honey. That's gonna be some crisp-ass bread, right there. . . . We're also not shy about doling out the burger porn as often as we can."--John Seaborn Gray, "This Week in Deliciousness," Houston Press.


Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani


* Each Monday March 29 through April 30, Piero Selvaggio’s Valentino Houston located inside Hotel Derek is offering half-off on select bottles of wine for guests, incl. an extensive variety of Italian and California small producers—hard to get little gems—and a special selection of verticals and rare vintages. Call 713-850-9200; toll-free at 1-877-484-4244.  Or visit

* On Apr. 3, in New Orleans, The Southern Food and Beverage Museum will host Chef Gunter Preuss of Broussard's Restaurant for a demo of the restaurant's  Bouillabaisse. Free for SoFAB Members, $10 for non-members. Call 504-569-0405 or email . . . On Apr. 4 the  Museum will host the International Society of Africans in Wine as they launch their 2010 Drink Well Do Good Tour, a 14-city global series of food and wine exhibitions and concerts. The launch event at the museum will feature restaurants Dooky Chase and Bennachin's and wines from their official sponsor, Heritage Link Brands. $80 for SoFAB Members, $100 General Admission, and $120 for VIP. Email or call 504-569-0405.

* On April 5, 12, 19 & 26, in Chicago and Schaumburg, IL, Shaw's Crab House is celebrating its Silver 25th Anniversary  at both Chicagoland locations, with a  Monday Oyster Deal as a thank you for their patronage: $.25 raw Oysters on the half shell. The by-the-piece oyster special will take place Shaw's Oyster Bar from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Call Chicago 312-527-2722 or Schaumburg 847-517-2722.

* On Apr. 6 in Dallas, a Kamen Estate Wine Dinner will be held at Aurora, with guest Owner & Screenwriter Robert Kamen. Six-course dinner paired with Kamen Cabernet & Syrah. $150 pp.  Call 214-528-9400 or email

* On April 7, Pub & Kitchen in Philadelphia   will host an ongoing monthly series of "Retro Cookbook Dinners," featuring Chef Jonathan Adams’ interpretations of recipes from classic cookbooks.  The first cookbook dinner will feature dishes from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook, published in 1961.  $40 pp. Call 215-545-0350 or visit

* On April 11th at 12:30 p.m. on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, Biras Creek Resort will host a luncheon with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena Winery, where Barrett’s wines will be paired with the cuisine of Biras’ executive chef Jermaine “Monk” George in 3-course meal and reception.  $65 pp. Guests of Biras Creek Resort can attend as well for $30. Call 284-494-3555.

* On April 12 in Colorado Springs, CO, the Summit restaurant at The Broadmoor will be hosting a Spring Wine Dinner featuring Chef Bertrand Bouquin’s new menu and special guest, Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman. 5 courses with wine pairings for $79 pp. Call 719-577-5896 or visit

* Apr. 12 will mark the first Spanish wine class at NYC's La Fonda del Sol restaurant.  The wine classes will be held every second Monday of the month, featuring 6 wines and an assortment of tapas,  taught in the restaurant's private dining room by wine director Nicholas Nahigian. $45 pp. visit

* On April 14, in NYC  GILT Restaurant will offer an  organic wine dinner hosted by acclaimed importer Joe Dressner along with GILT’s Wine Director, Patrick Cappiell. Chef Justin Bogle of GILT will prepare a 6-course organic menu paired with three flights of organic wine. $275 pp. Call  212-891-8100.

* On Apr. 16 in New Orleans, the Independent Champagne and Sparkling Wine Invitational (ICSWI), a world premiere conference, will expose consumers to more than 100 independent global producers.  Conference activities include seminars, grand tastings, and champagne dinners at renowned New Orleans’ restaurants, after parties and more. $325 for the two day event; visit Call 877-427-9410.

* From Apr. 16 -26, South Australia will be home to Tastes of the Outback. South Australian Flinders Ranges and Outback.  Sample some authentic camp oven cooking prepared from the finest regional produce and local wines. Kayaking down nearby Cooper Creek, propagating native Australian plants.  Visit

On Apr. 17 in Santa Margarita, CA, the Central Coast Vineyard Team presents the Earth Day Food & Wine Festival, celebration of sustainablyproduced, award-winning food and wine, with  barrel tastings, cooking demons, live music, and vineyard tours throughout the weekend. $15- $600. Call 805-369-2288 or visit

* On Apr 17, in NYC, Chef Daniel Boulud at Daniel presents "Burgundy, Bordeaux Blue Jeans & Bluesan Annual Dinner & Auction" in support of Citymeals-on-Wheels. Boulud and special guest Chef Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck prepare a spring menu paired with prestigious Burgundy and Bordeaux wines. $1,000  pp; tables $25,000. Contact Heather Gere 212-687-1290


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with 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,  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: ZURICH; LETTER FROM PARIS: TWO CLASSIC BISTROS


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 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 Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


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). THIS WEEK:

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


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

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Bloomberg News, 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.

My 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

© copyright John Mariani 2010