Virtual Gourmet

May 16, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

"Crab Apples" (2009) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery



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GOOD NEWS! now has a new food section  called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA. THIS WEEK: THE OFFICE, DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA


In This Issue

by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by John Mariani

2100 Ross Avenue

     Stephan Pyles has for twenty years now been one of Dallas' preeminent chefs, first having made his mark with Routh Street Café, where he married Texas ingredients with nouvelle techniques that were wholly complementary.  Afterwards he stayed closer to traditional Texas and cowboy cookery at Star Canyon, then was in and out of the city's dining scene for years before opening his namesake Stephan Pyles restaurant four years ago, and that  seemed a culmination of his life's work and culinary thinking.  So Samar comes as quite a surprise, a restaurant that showcases his affinities for the flavors and styles of Mediterranean cuisines, from Spain to the Middle and Far East, and he, along with executive chef Matt MacAllisster does it all with amazing grace.
     It was a decade or more of traveling that Pyles (below) says "re-invigorated him," and Samar, in the Arts District,  shows off all he's learned, including about design, color, and décor of the Mediterranean and Indian subcontinent.  So, with co-owner George Majdalani, he has fashioned a series of rooms that begins with a red-tented doorway and a "white tent room" with seating for ten.  There is a gorgeous Persian tapestry in the bar area, with a green and red onyx bar top, adjacent to a "red tent room"  (below, left) for more private dining dining.  The main dining room (below) is quite casual (and can get extremely loud), its ceiling decked with glowing light boxes, its open kitchen set with dining counter.  Outside there is a hookah tented terrace (above) where, if one is so inclined, you can recline on cushions and may evoke fantasies of The Arabian Nights, The Sheltering Sky, even Alice in Wonderland as you lounge about smoking scented tobacco and nibbling on sweetmeats.
     The menu is composed principally of small plates, some as simple as Spanish Idiazabal cheese and marinated olives; blistered chilies with hickory smoked sea salt; three kinds of hummus; and there are more complex items, ranging from a superb almond gazpacho with liquid grapes and a lush foie gras brûlée with sherry-drenched pears and crispy Serrano ham to seared Sous-Vide pork tenderloin with apples, saffron and vanilla, and squash blossoms stuffed with haloumi cheese with an orange-black olive-preserved lemon salad. There was hardly a dish I tasted at Samar I did not think the equal of those counterparts I've had through the Mediterranean--a remarkable tour de force, full of Pyles's own sense of taste.
     How does one choose from a menu that reads so temptingly? Crispy bulghur wheat croquettes with golden beets tzatziki; Persian-spiced fried chicken with mashed potatoes laced with fenugreek; a succulent, aromatic tagine of veal with Medjool dates and a tri-color almond couscous; and one of my favorite non-Italian pastas-- Turkish manti, a kind of ravioli stuffed with spiced beef in a rich garlicky yogurt sauce with sizzling paprika butter, this last ingredient a brilliant touch.
     The "Inspirations from India" section includes tiger prawns "Bombay style" with crispy okra and a spiced pear chutney, and a South Indian coconut fish curry with masala spice and kari leaf, along with fragile pappadum wafers made into cones holding a sampler of foods. For something simple and creamy rich, go with the tandoori chicken in a butter masala with tomatoes and fenugreek. As you might imagine, all the breads at Samar are excellent, fragrant, and irresistible.
     Desserts in the Middle East are not always as delectable as they sound and look, but Samar's have plenty of flavor and textures, from a Turkish coffee pot de creme and a candied ginger-stuffed semolina croquettes with natilla, to a chocolate samosa with candied rose petal sauce and a saffron-coconut rice pudding with cardamon.
     I doubt anyone but Pyles could have pulled this all off with such aplomb. I can easily imagine a Middle Eastern restaurant this good, or a Spanish one, or an Indian one, but to put them all under one tented roof and make it all seem like a brand new cuisine is both testament to Pyles's relentless spirit of adventure and his grounding in classic culinary techniques.

Samar is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.; Dishes run $6-$19.


7713 Inwood Road
photo: Matt Callahan

     Dallas is a city as international as any other in the USA, proven by the number of fine Asian restaurants and ethnic enclaves there. Shinsei is one of the best, an effort by co-owners Lynae Fearing and Tracy Rathbun (below), to give Texas dash to Japanese food.
      The name means "rebirth," and a Japanese restaurant seemed quite a departure for the two Dallas women.  Fearing (whose husband's namesake restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton is one of the best in the city) long ago worked at Dairy Queen and found her calling as a restaurateur after a career in corporate fitness and modern dance; Rathbun (whose husband is behind his own restaurants. like Abacus,  in town), translated a degree in psychology into restaurant management for Hyatt, and four years ago they decided to share the rigors and responsibilities of running their own place, alternating nights. Sushi Chef "Elvis" Shuji Sugawara, born and trained in Japan, has been working at various Pacific Rim-style restaurants in Dallas for years now, and everything he's learned about sushi is on display at Shinsei. Executive chef
T.J. Lengnick handles the rest of the menu, is who worked at Kent Rathbun's Jasper's in Plano.

      The pristine quality of the sushi is evident in everything I tasted, from pure, unadorned sashimi to to various rolls like spicy tuna with a Texas-style habanero mayo and avocado to the Shinsei specials, like the hot crab hand roll of jumbo crab meat, radish sprouts. diced japaleño, mayo and habanero, or the "Elvis 'Mack' Sashimi of Spanish mackerel, yuzu, olive oil, shiso, and Japanese cucumber.

      Starters are a good array of generous items, like coconut shrimp with japaleño peppers and a delicious yellow curry dipping sauce, some plump garlic pork potstickers, and lettuce wraps with chicken, rock shrimp, or tenderloin. There's also a selection of five tempura items. For main courses--again Texas sized--the braised short ribs with noodles is a stand-out, as are pan-seared jumbo scallops with Asian risotto in soy brown butter, and tamarind BBQ chicken that is actually roasted and served with grilled summer squash.

      Usually Japanese restaurants toss in a couple of sweet things at the end of a meal but Shinsei takes as much pride in its desserts as everything else, so you get chocolate crème brûlée, banana parfait, and "Lynae's famous oatmeal cookies," which go remarkably well with a glass of Port.
     Shinsei is a shadowy, sexy, loud place with a very popular bar (the upstairs lounge seems perpetually packed with the best-looking people in town).  Fearing and Rathbun chose to pair delicacy of fabrics, ceramics, and utensils with dramatic lighting against wooden wall strips, rattan furniture that includes sofas to sink into, and fine Asian artwork.
     It all works principally because the food is so damn good at Shinsei, but there's no question that Fearing and Rathbun, along with an amiable "how y'all doin'?" waitstaff effectively eliminated the kind of subdued vibes that often characterize Japanese restaurants.  True, it can get very very loud, but the place says as much about Dallas' global dining scene as it does about the fusion of talent, taste, and swagger.

Shinsei is open for lunch Fri. only; for dinner, Mon.-Sat. Sushi ranges from $7-$18, starters $6-$22, and main courses $24-$32.


1722 Routh Street


Tei-An promotes itself primarily as a soba noodle house, but there is a great deal more on the menu here that draws people who want something a little different but still within the realm of the familiar. Chef-owner Teiichi "Teach" Sakurai took a space at One Arts Plaza in the Deep Elum neighborhood where his charming Asian servers gently instruct those who need a little visual aids on the way the menu is constructed and the food eaten.  They make it fun as well as a learning experience.  There is a chart with nutritional data about buckwheat noodles, as well as info on its healthfulness.  To me, it just tasted great.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine anyone not taking to this style of food enthusiastically, so riddled with tastes and textures that will come as a delightful surprise to most palates.
   As in Italy, noodles are prepared in myriad ways, and many restaurants in Japan serve nothing but soba, whose aficionados say they are at their best when cold and put into a dipping sauce or broth.  Tei-An serves about 30 varieties, from black sesame soba and Texas pecan soba with dipping sauces to tempura soba and fried tofu soba in soup.  There's even a Japanese take on spaghetti alla carbonara, here made with soba. There is also Sanuki style udon noodle dishes.
      But much of the interest at Tei-An is on the lefthand "Beginnings" side of the menu, where you'll find a tangy white seaweed salad; stuffed sepia with buckwheat grain; tuna tartare, and fried shisito peppers.  "From the Land" section involves dishes like Kurobuta black pork on skewers and miso-braised washu beef with truffled mashed potatoes. So, you can see that Mr. Sakurai expands the possibilities of Asian flavors into other countries' cuisines. Every day he makes numerous specials, so it's unlikely a weekly visit to Tei-An will ever deplete the entire menu.  Which really is the appeal of a place like this, which is wide-open, very comfortable, done in serene colors of red-brown wood paneling and soft gray banquettes, its tables simply and well appointed to Asian ceramics.
      Mr. Sakurai lives up to his nickname in the most delectable way for he is indeed someones who teaches the rest of of the diversity of Japanese and his own cuisine.

Tei-An is open Sun., Tues.-Thurs, for lunch and for dinner nightly. Starters range from $4.75-$17.50, Soba from $8-$20; specials $8-$32.

To read Part One of this article click here.



328 West 12th Street (at Greenwich Street)

    "Recette is an urban American restaurant that marries traditional and progressive techniques and flavors."
      So reads Recette's website, which sounds like a thousand other restaurants in NYC these days. It's a fair enough  declaration but doesn't really describe the douce charms of this little gem of a West Greenwich Village newcomer, whose traditional flavors are principally French, broken down into "Snacks and Plates," meaning less-than-large portions of very reasonably priced dishes that encourage ordering a few to share.
     Chef/owner Jesse Schenker (below), just 27, worked (suffered?) under Gordon Ramsay, while pastry chef Christina Lee is a veteran of Per Se, and they cook out of a tiny kitchen to serve a Baby Bear-size dining room (previously Jarnac) with windows open to the prettiness of West 12th Street.  The décor is the opposite of overwhelming: it's highly minimal: olive green walls, simple tablesettings, dark wood, some flowers, shaded sconces, gold-framed mirrors, and that's about it.  Waiters have to maneuver around tables and they're both good and good-natured about it. Which is a word that tells you a lot about Recette, its modest appearance and its ability to do so well what it does within so small a space.

      The snacks can range from real lightweights like marinated olives or something a bit more substantial, like salt cod fritters with a delicious lamb ragù and curry aïoli.  There's an assortment of good charcuterie, including a torchon of foie gras and Bayonne ham, as well as out-of-the-ordinary artisanal cheeses and breads.
     The prices top out at $28--that's for a duo of veal, with Parma-wrapped tenderloin and braised cheek with creamy potatoes fondant, baby carrots, and spinach in a cider-clover gastrique. Lustrous daurade comes with beluga lentils, sunchoke puree,  trumpet royale mushrooms, and tomato, while pork belly
(right) has admirably more lean than fat,  sided with rock shrimp, baby turnips and a romeso sauce with sherry caramel.  You can see how the vegetables are every bit as important to Schenker as the proteins on these dishes, which provides not just color and texture but a lesson in balance.  I loved the sweetbreads with escarole in brown butter, lemon, capers, and parsley--a classic and class rendition, and even usually dull halibut here took on woodsy notes from morels, baby artichokes, asparagus, and a saffron beurre blanc.  There are three side dishes worth considering, too--fingerling potatoes fried in duck fat that gives them additional flavor, and a pot of AnsonMills stone ground  grits sure to make any Southern cook blush.
     The same homey quality extends to the desserts by Christina Lee--s'mores (fast becoming a fad in restaurants), rich with a hot chocolate sauce, and an equally witty take on an ice cream club sandwich with cinnamon ice cream, rhubarb gelée, and bacon bark. Dark chocolate cake and milk gelato are an easy-to-love match, and for something with spring fruits, try the passion fruit tart with raspberry Meyer lemon sorbet and compressed pineapple.
      This is happy food, wholesome, and a good way to get people to eat their veggies. But the amount of talent and sophistication to bring it all off is impressive, and Recette is a real stand-out among downtown restaurants whose intent is to wow you in the sweetest possible way.

Recette is open for dinner nightly and for brunch Sat. & Sun.  Dinner "snacks" run $6-10, with charcuterie and cheese up to $21; "plates" run $10-$28.



IHOP has introduced a limited-time dessert sandwich
called Pancake Stackers featuring two buttermilk  pancakes enclosing a layer of cheesecake, topped with a strawberry, blueberry or cinnamon apple compote and whipped topping, which may also he ordered with its combo meal with eggs, hash browns and a choice of bacon, pork sausage links and ham to the tally, adding up to 1,250 calories. "It's an opportunity to give our guests another reason to come into IHOP," said Carolyn O'Keefe, IHOP's senior vice president of marketing.


"The Breslin is one hell of a restaurant. Packed with regular Joes talking with their mouths full and their heads empty. I loved it here.
And here’s the thing. All this depression chow comes from a very narrow range of big, bawling flavours. There’s a lot of pig here. A great, oily, steaming valley of Gadarene swine. And there’s a thick coating of fat and a dusting of sugar and a lake of syrup with caramel and chocolate. And although it superficially looks like the return to the Edwardian caff that we’ve had over here, this goes beyond comfort eating. The mouth appeal of the fat and the sweet and the sticky is incoherent. The flavours just make your mouth a big, warm sleepover. This is cud Valium, mood-altering, head-numbing, feelgood food. It’s medication three times a day with meals."—A. A. Gill,   The Times (2/28/10).


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

* On May 15 – 16, 21 – 23, 28 –31 in San Francisco, CA, The Old US Mint will host the temporary exhibit “From Earth to 5-Star.” Exhibit will look the rich history of food in the Bay Area and how it has impacted the way San Francisco, the nation and the world think about food.  $15pp or $5pp for SFMHS members. Visit: or call (415) 537-1105 x100 for more info.

* On May 16th in Portland, ORCochon 555 holds the only heritage pig and chef competition in the U.S.,  with 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs and 5 Winemakers working  to raise awareness for heritage breeds: Gabriel Rucker, Naomi Pomeroy, Jason Barwikowski, Andy Ricker, and Cathy Whims; winemakers incl. Elk Cove Vineyards, Bethel Heights Vineyard, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Soter Vineyards, Domaine Serene. To be held at The Governor Hotel. Visit

* On May 17th in Redondo Beach, CA, Hudson House teams up with The Grilled Cheese Truck for a one-night-only grilled sandwiches & drinks event. Hudson House will serve beverages from their beer, wine and cocktail menus and the Grilled Cheese Truck will grill up some of their cheesy specialties. Visit   or call 310-798-9183.

* Starting May 17 in Los Angeles, Drago Centro is introducing “The People’s Cocktail” contest. Twitter followers can submit favorite original cocktail recipe for chance to appear on summer menu. Follow @dragocentro for additional info or call 213-228-8998.

* On May 21, Le Titi De Paris in Arlington Hts., IL, will highlight Cakebread Cellars of the Napa Valley. $85p p, 847-506-0222.

* On  May 22, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, LA will host a discussion and tasting of the classic southern drink, the mint julep. Food and drinks included, $20 for Non-members, $15 for members. Then, Anne Butler will sign her newest cookbook, River Road Plantation Country Cookbook, while Chef Doug Clark prepares Mussels Rockefeller. Free for members, $10 for non-members. Visit


* On May 27 in Peoria Heights, Ill, June restaurant will host a 6-course Grower Dinner, paired with wines, with the chefs from Epiphany Farms Enterprises. $125 pp, Call 309-682-JUNE (5863).

* On June 3 - 5 in San Francisco, CA, Zaré at Flytrap is partnering with Syre Piorkowski and Ryan Corbett from The Monk’s Kettle for an interactive evening exploring beer and wine pairings with classic bar food reinvented with Persian flavors. The 5-course is paired with both a beer and a wine. $75pp. 415-243-0580.


* From June 4-12, in NYC, the Gourmet Latino Festival makes its debut at the Astor Center , a celebration of Latin gastronomy and culture, with over 30 food and beverage experts, incl. chef Aarón Sánchez and noted mixologists, who will showcase regional dishes, wines, spirits, beers, cocktails and gourmet coffees. Local Latin spots will tie-in via “Authentic Dining Week.” $65-$85 per seminar and grand tasting event. Visit

* On June 5, in Atlanta, Chef Scott Serpas of Serpas True Food serves up an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil with all the Creole accompaniments. Enjoy live music on their expansive patio in the historic Old Fourth Ward. $28 adults, $14 children under 10. Call 404-688-0040.

* On June 6, in Clayton, GA, Persimmon Creek Vineyards presents Southern Accents Dinner; an evening of Southern cuisine prepared by Chef Jay Swift, of 4th and Swift, Atlanta, and Persimmon Creek wine paired by Winemaker Caroline Hoogenboom. $95 pp. Call 706-212-7380.


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:


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