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  August 4 , 2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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by John Mariani   

The Elm
by John Mariani



by John Mariani


    Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Chef José Andrés’ 17-seat molecular cuisine minibar in Washington, DC, has received every award possible.  His restaurant Bazaaar in L.A. was Esquire’s Best New Restaurant of 2009.   Last year, chef José Andres was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. This year, Pres. and Mrs. Obama celebrated Valentine’s Day there. With all that success, you’d think that the molecular cuisine Andrés is selling  would take the nation’s capital, and the rest of the nation, by storm.  But the fact is, despite tremendous media hype -- not least the specious 2013 San Pellegrino Awards that ranked six restaurants specializing in molecular gastronomy in their top ten -- the expansion and influence of that avant garde cuisine has been next to zero.
    Especially in the U.S., the molecular/modernist (M&M) movement has barely budged beyond its first breakthrough in 2003 at Wylie Dufresne’s wd-50 in New York and in 2005 at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. The rest of the molecular restaurants in the U.S. can be numbered on the fingers of two hands: Schwa, Moto, and Grace, all in Chicago; Atelier Crenn  and Coi in San Francisco; The Pass in Houston;  Catbird Seat in Nashville, and one or two more that are struggling to stay open. In New York, Atera, Eleven Madison Park, and Chef’s Table are using minimal modernist techniques. Not much to show after ten years of evolution and hype.

    Two decades after Ferran Adrià mightily coaxed foam from carrots at El Bulli in the Catalonian mountains, his restaurant has been closed for three years and his modernist razzle-dazzlements are few and far between in American restaurants: smoldering cinnamon sticks (Alinea); hay-infused yogurt with chamomile and puffed rice (Catbird Seat); edible menus (Moto); smoked banana pudding (Grace); or oysters with liquid nitro pearls of smoked sturgeon set on top of rocks (Atelier Crenn).
    Yes, some of them fill their tables most nights they’re open, but if you tallied up all the seats at all those restaurants, you’d have fewer than one night’s seating at any branch of Smith & Wollensky’s.
    The irony is that so many avowed modernist chefs have pretty much gone in other, more traditional directions. One of the pioneers, Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck in Bray, England (who hates the term “molecular”) is now doing updated dishes from British history at his new London restaurant named Dinner, like frumenty and salamugundy. Achatz opened Next, a restaurant doing seasonal turns on global themes, like “The Hunt,” “Childhood,” and “Paris: 1906,” as well as a homage to El Bulli.      And when Vegas came calling for ideas from Andrés, he didn’t dispatch the minibar team there. Instead, he opened Jaleo, a traditional tapas restaurant, and China Poblano, a Chinese-Latino eatery. (He did, however, install a tiny version of minibar there called e.)
    Aside from a few media ever in search of the new, the general public has shown no particular interest in M&M cuisine.  Young, food-obsessed hipsters--who get positively pirhanic for everything from bone marrow to Cronuts--never really took to M&M gastronomy because of the exorbitant price tag. And home chefs have been hard-pressed to adopt the cuisine because it is so time-consuming and difficult.

    I’d estimate that 99 percent of America’s finest chefs admire the innovations of molecular gastronomy, and many have probably bought the six-volume, $625 book Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold hailed as a culinary landmark. But they have ignored all the liquid nitro machines, syringes and centrifuges required. Not a few have called modernism out as a passing fad. They are too busy reconceiving more traditional culinary genres that will happily appeal to most people: Chef Michael White (Marea, Ai Fiori) has just opened an Italian steakhouse called Crostata and a Wisconsin-inspired supper club named The Butterfly in New York; Ming Tsai (Blue Ginger) has opened an Asian gastropub named Blue Dragon in Boston;  Mike Lata (Fig) debuted a Southern seafood house called The Ordinary in Charleston; Ford Fry (The Optimist) is doing down-home American at King & Duke in Atlanta; Stephan Pyles (Stephan Pyles) is focusing on Texas cookery at Stampede 66 in Dallas; and  Michael Cimarusti (Providence) is doing a seafood shack in L.A. called  Connie & Ted’s. None is doing modernist cuisine.
    And where on the horizon is the next minibar? If you know of any, clue me in. Just don’t invest in one: most lose money: El Bulli lost millions.  As someone who has, over four decades, seen culinary fads come and go and “revolutionary” concepts crash and burn, I don’t think M&M restaurants are where the smart money is going.


by John Mariani

The Elm
King & Grove Hotel
160 West 12th Street

     The rabid praise of Brooklyn restaurants opened in the past three years may be due more to local pride than to true excellence, despite a few places that are as good as the better restaurants in Manhattan.  Many others were so over-hyped that the so-called “Brooklynization” of dining out, more a warm breeze than a strong gust, engendered a backlash.
      But, with the arrival of Britain-born Chef Paul Liebrandt (right) in Williamsburg, expectations were high, and, after dining at his new restaurant, The Elm, I feel they have been more than met.  Liebrandt brings to Brooklyn a refinement few others have registered and a sensibility focused on the cooking, not on an expression of ego that demands guests eat 20 dishes of the chef’s choosing in monastic dining rooms where the discussion of the food becomes positively obsessive.
         Indeed, The Elm, set below ground level, across from McCarren Park, is a space easy to love, neither fussy nor stripped to its concrete bare bones, with greenery, very comfortable seating, and an open kitchen. The sound level is positively buoyant, and the staff exhibits none of that hauteur which in Brooklyn passes for hipster “seriousness.”
         Those familiar with Liebrandt’s work in the past will see how far he has evolved since the days at Atlas, when the more provocative the dish was, he thought the better. He later told me that the eccentricity of his cooking then was due to his lawyer telling him that to stay in America, he had to do things in the kitchen no other chef in NYC was even thinking.  The results were … odd. But the ruse worked.
         Later on Liebrandt continued with feats of sensationalism, as when he held dinners in the dark.  So it stirred tongue-wagging when, five years ago, veteran restaurateur Drew Nieporent, feeling his  TriBeCa fine dining destination named Montrachet in need of a shake-up, hired Liebrandt and re-named it Corton, which, within a year, won just about every star he could scoop up from the critics, including two Michelin stars and inclusion in Esquire's Best New Restaurants of the Year..
         Sadly, the word was confirmed this week that Liebrandt has parted with Nieporent at Corton (which is currently closed). Liebrandt also announced he would be opening a deluxe restaurant in Manhattan next year.  So, out on his own at The Elm, within the bosom of the new King & Grove Hotel.  Here he has streamlined his cooking, which was very complex at Corton, setting it up with four categories: RAW, SEA, LAND, and SHARE, the last meant for two people ($48-$56), with most other dishes costing about $20.
        You might begin with a circular slab of rich, silky foie gras with a spiced strawberry gelée (left), tiny pickled strawberries and ginger.  Gnudi, the naked pasta of the moment, is here topped with a gently seared scallop and flavored with spring onions and lemon balm, while hand-made agnolotti are packed with Swiss chard and cuddled in chunks of lobster, corn and shishito pepper.  There are Mediterranean notes to his Elysian Fields lamb with charred sweet eggplant and a subtle spicing of ras el hanout.
         Of the items for two, we tried the chicken “Kiev style,” which is a cylindrical, breaded breast of chicken that explodes with clarified butter when sliced open.  It has a large “wow” factor and is absolutely delicious.
    The summer garden of vegetables, also for two, is about nothing more than the perfection of summer vegetables and fruits served en cocotte.
    Desserts follow the same style of restrained elegance, very British really. The Eton Mess is a mélange of strawberry, violet crème and brown butter, which you can imagine might well be served at Windsor Castle, while the milk chocolate palet with lemon verbena, hazelnut and malted milk sorbet has a more international flavor.  There is also cheese—a single kind—offered.
    I for one have always dreaded the trek to Brooklyn for a meal that so easily might lack the kind of substance shown at The Elm.  In fact, I made the drive from Westchester County that night in record time –30 minutes--and the subway stops near The Elm’s door. Add to that, the gentrified charms of the surrounding neighborhood—not always the case in the past—and you have every reason to go out there to dine at the top of the form in that borough.

The Elm is open for breakfast and dinner daily. Dinner small plates run $15-$27, larger courses $20-$56 (for two people).



According to CNN, The Center for Disease Control gave  Silversea Cruises, whose passengers pay $5000 a week,  a failing grade for improperly storing food in crew member cabins on its Silver Shadow (right) luxury liner, citing the ship for "repeatedly for using an 'organized effort' to remove 15 trolleys of food from the ship's galley to individual crew cabins to 'avoid inspection.'"  The CDC inspectors then poured  chlorine over the improperly stored food.

“You might curl your lip at the cutesy lingo, but there’s no quarreling with the cuisine. That neighbor’s quail? It arrived as bronzed and beautiful as Cleopatra, plump with kale and apricot stuffing.”—Josh Sens “
Pt. Reyes Pastoral,” San Francisco Magazine (6/14/13


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their coffee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.

My new book--Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to 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).

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: Christopher Mariani, 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.

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© copyright John Mariani 2013