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  April 27, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Poster by Marcello Dudovich (circa 1935)



St. Simon's Island, Georgia

by Marcy MacDonald

Sel & Poivre
by John Mariani



                FROM FARM TO FORK in the NEW SOUTH

                                    St. Simon's Island, Georgia

by Marcy MacDonald

    Island people are just different.  On every island. Everywhere. 
    No matter how connected to the mainland they may be -- whether by proximity or heredity -- islanders are a breed apart, and they specialize in irony.  For instance, some 4,000 years ago pre-Columbian Americans settled in what is now St. Simons Island (the largest of the Golden Isles off the Georgia coast) to harvest the highly prized local shrimp They were there to stay -- until, that is, Spanish conquistadors encouraged them to relocate.  By force. 
    "The shrimp here don't migrate." explains Captain Larry Credle, skipper of the Lady Jane, a shrimper dredged out of retirement to ply the Marshes of Glynn (below), made famous by poet Sidney Lanier.   Accompanied by marine biologist Phil Fournoy, Credle and his crew cast enormous nets into the marshes to catch everything from the famous shrimp to horseshoe crab and a wide variety of non-shell fish.
    "Pink and delicious," the captain repeats as he picks the delicious shrimp from the nets (right) for a genuine, sea-going Low Country Boil. This culinary tour isn't just for visitors: Tim and Melissa Wellford arrived on the island 25 years ago, raised their family there and opened The Sandcastle B&B, where they make Southern specialties every morning, from cheese grits to biscuits and gravy.  The Wellfords plan to celebrate their island anniversary on board. 
   Another of the island's typical local eccentrics is “Cap” Fendig, retired from the sea
40 years ago to run the Lighthouse Trolley Ghost Tours of the old 1807 Lighthouse, the charmingly named Bloody Marsh, Fort Frederica, and the graveyard at Christ Church.  Fendig comes from one of the oldest and largest families on the island: you'll see his surname (and those of other prominent islanders like King, Couper, Dodge, Page, Lord) repeated endlessly, from street signs to the historic graveyard at Christ Church.
    "There are no ghosts in my cemetery," contends Christ Church supervisor Oscar Covington. "Otherwise, I couldn't be working there."  Ask him and he'll tell you the history of each of the permanent residents buried there (one newspaper man's headstone is a gigantic typewriter with “Furman Bisher” engraved on it ). "The most requested graves are that of Eugenia Price (who wrote The Georgia Trilogy) and the first pastor, Rev. Anson Green Phelps Dodge."
    Many were the movers and shakers of the 18th and 19th centuries, when Southern cotton was king.  At the time, 14 large plantations dominated the 15-square mile island, where even slavery was markedly different from elsewhere in the South.  The owner of Retreat Plantation, Mrs. Anna Page King, educated her children and her slaves in pairs, then sent them off to the Civil War together.  Her eldest son, Captain 'Lordy' King, died in battle, and was brought home by his best friend and personal manservant, Neptune Small, who promptly returned to the war with King's youngest son, Cuyler.    When both returned to St. Simons alive, the family rewarded Neptune (by then a free man) with the best plot of land on their estate, known since as "Neptune's Park."  
     Small continued working for the King family, and planted the rows of oaks that still line the once majestic entry to the Retreat.  He was buried there in 1907.  Curiously, he was not alone: along a narrow lane at the southern edge of the oaks lies an ancient burial mound under which 30 native Americans are interred.   As more and more Northerners became Southerners by choice, a new kind of South began to emerge.  Like the local shrimp, these converted islanders didn't migrate farther than St. Simons.  They thrived and prospered without tourism. Schools, businesses and churches proliferated.  The Art Institute opened and is still thriving.  Local players continue to schedule productions years in advance.  Name your favorite pursuit: it's there, but in miniature.
     The result is not another gigantic polyester beach town dotted with fast food joints and tourist traps, but a very real destination for discerning travelers.  Today, with only 15,000 full-time residents, everyone seems to know everybody, and everywhere is about 15 minutes from everywhere else.  The entire island is clean and cared for, even the Spanish moss, draped like antique lace over the branches of the trees: it looks like a stage set, a kind of hometown Disneyland.  But real.
     Of course, there will always be segments of the touring population who just want to grease-up and grill on the beach, any beach. No matter which pursuits you choose, you won't be overcrowded, even on national holidays and college breaks.  Pick up a rent-a-bike from Soul Cycle and you'll be able to exercise your way around the 25 miles of paths and roads, from beach to golf course to barbeque joints without breaking the bank.
     Despite the fact that St. Simons is all coast--and that there are vast estates and genteel, crumbling resorts, guesthouses and motels throughout, not to mention more than 50 restaurants--there is only one oceanfront resort: the King and Prince, a graceful nod to the past, gift wrapped with futuristic amenities.  Although it sprawls over many acres (whether or not you count the glamorous inland golf course), the resort has an intimate feel. The owners, the Sturdavent family, are Harvard-educated lawyers from Mississippi. They knew what they wanted: a series of doors for family, friends and perfect strangers that opened onto a well-manicured beach.  Back in 1935 the King and Prince opened as a dance club--in hurricane season--by two royal drunks who had been blackballed by a resort on the soigné island next door. Later, the K&P became an exalted, hurricane-proof resort that housed the Coast Guard, along with its haute guests, during World War II. Afterwards, renovation was in order, and the owners have been facelifting every few years ever since.
   Many returning guests may be surprised that the only thing that looks completely familiar is the chandelier above the original entrance.   The lobby wading pool is now covered in marble; the enormous multi-room ocean view restaurant is now "ECHO," and the beautiful stained glass ballroom is now the "Delegal Room."  Outdoor restaurants just beyond the pool fence comprise the "Sea Shack Bar and Bites."
    Since Chef Jason Brumfiel arrived there a few years ago, the haute cuisine has been elevated while seeming wonderfully un-renovated.  All of the dining rooms are packed, from breakfast until late night drinks. You might run into well-known locals there like Lynn St. Clair, a watercolorist dedicated to painting colorful hats that she donates to cancer patients.
    It's never too early or too late for a real Southern breakfast starring coastal cuisine and local innovations like Strata (a layered egg dish, baked in a pie tin). Shellfish and chocolate play a big part in the chef's menus, as do locally made mozzarella, spiced meats, olive oil (from Lakeland, where many of the chef's farm products grow), and, of course, those marvelous shrimp (below), as well as Sweet Grass Camembert, locally made pâtés, the chef's own marmite, and gorgeous seasoned greens. From Sunset Farms, he obtains Aztec cheddar, Sweet Queen of Dixie Ham; from Fort Creek Farms he gets grass-fed beef.
     Lunch runs the gamut from light to heavy: protein, light salad, using yogurt instead of mayo, water with strawberries and basil, naan flat bread made of chickpea flour, artisanal cheeses, a charcuterie board comprised of local smoked and cured meats, salsas, jams and jellies and olives. There’s also pecan-smoked bacon and fried green tomatoes, true South. A Salad niçoise looks, literally, gift wrapped. Then the real calories arrive from the sous chef: rather than drizzling puréed bananas over the waffles, she puts bananas into the batter.  Should a single calorie remain unburned, have a cup of hot tea with Banana Walnut Bread, a treat they've been doing for 70 years, their own kind of signature.
     Don't quit while you're ahead: Brumfiel's Southern coastal cuisine specializes in every kind of seafood.  His 'Creative Cooking School' in the Meadow House is a collection of Southern Classics that include Frogmore stew, pecan-crusted chicken,  fried green tomatoes, cornbread and peach bread pudding.
     The King and Prince often serves local wines with their local fare, like Stillpond Plantation White, Stillpond Plantation Red, and Stillpond Peach Wine.  Some are an acquired taste; others have already acquired a solid following.  Plentiful supplies of both familiar wines and are often paired with specialty dinner items and served at the First Night reception in the Solarium.
    If you have an inch left to grow around the waist, a visit to Southern Soul Barbecue  is in order, because owners Harrisson Sapp, the pit master, and Griffin Bufkin produce “smokin' fabulous” ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, beef brisket and even a smoked turkey breast.  Order the Southern Soul Sampler, which includes most of them and more. There's even something for vegetarians: “Soulful Sides,” which include potato salad, collard greens, fried okra, cornbread, hoppin’ John (blackeyed peas and rice) and other goodies you might not easily find elsewhere.
     The King and Prince offers a variety of accommodations. Oceanfront suites,  including the two-story Governor's Suite, are located in the historic main building.  Premium rooms include three oceanfront Tower Rooms and eight oceanfront Cabana Rooms. Each comes with its own parlor and private patio.  Oceanfront rooms are available in king or double queen-bed accommodations; resort view rooms are located in the main building. Beach villas are available with two or three bedrooms with a patio or balcony.  Resort residences include six private guesthouses ranging from one to five bedrooms.
        There is, of course, plenty to do off the resort grounds: Ft. Frederica National Monument; The Island Players, performing since 1956; and Lighthouse Trolleys tours. Like the local shrimp, none of the people who have migrated to St. Simons plan to move elsewhere -- ever.



By John Mariani

Sel & Poivre
853 Lexington Avenue
212- 517-5780

        “Fashion,” said French couturier Coco Chanel, “is made to go out of style,” and as I read about how insects are the hot new menu item, or about a restaurant in Brooklyn where dinner is held in total silence, I wag my head and consider that the traditional French bistro has never been out of style, because, like work boots, they were never deliberately stylish in the first place.
        The pleasures of a true French bistro have never waned for the most sensible reasons: bistros are neighborhood restaurants, built for sheer comfort. There will be good crusty bread and abundant butter on the table and a pot of flowers, along with a votive candle, re-lighted throughout the evening.
       Bistro menus change their specials daily, but the basic menu is always pretty much the same in season, so that each dish has been perfected by long practice, day after day, night after night.  So, even if one bistro’s onion soup gratinée doesn't taste quite like another’s, it will always taste the same in each.
       What I have just described is exactly what you will find at Sel &t Poivre now celebrating its 25th year in business on the Upper East Side. Any week now, when warm weather comes back, you may sit outside and watch the parade of women laden down with brown Bloomingdale’s bags, Hunter College students with backpacks, and young mothers with expensive strollers.
       The inside dining room is the very definition of cozy--and certainly nothing moderne--with bentwood chairs and squeaky banquettes, wall sconces, and old Parisian photos.  The tables have tablecloths topped with crisp paper.
       Owners Christian and Pamela Schienle are always welcoming old friends and new with the same consistent warmth of personality, and the couple has been very careful to keep Sel & Poivre in the same culinary groove while adding dishes like pastas and a delicious cold lobster salad with avocado mousse and grapefruit coulis ($16.95).
       Escargots are tender and piping hot, bathed in plenty of garlic, butter, and parsley ($9.50). One of the best appetizers is the silky terrine of foie gras ($17.95). The French onion soup ($7.95) has not gotten any more caramelized or the broth richer than the last time I had it four years ago, but the perfectly pink calf's liver à la lyonnais--one of the regulars’ most popular dishes--has plenty of those caramelized onions.
       The menu has all the old bistro classics--skate with lemon and capers, trout almandine, duck à l’orange, and one you rarely see any more: meaty frogs’ legs in a Pernod sauce with wild mushrooms and fragrant basmati rice ($20.95). Also something of a rarity in a city of lamb chops is Sel & Poivre’s leg of lamb with haricots vertes ($22.95), generous slices in a dark jus. The coq au vin is done in a superb reduction of red wine to a lusciously viscous texture and the chicken absorbs it all right down to the bone.
       Several dishes are accompanied by mashed potatoes (which should be more buttery for a French rendition), but I urge you to get a side of hot, golden crisp French fries ($6), which come free with roast chicken and steak frites.
I mentioned that bistros always have daily specials people come for once a week, and Sel & Poivre is no different:  Mon. bouillabaisse; Tues. coq au vin; Wed. venison; Thurs. pot au feu; Fri. cassoulet; Sat. cous cous royal; Sun. roast leg of lamb.
       Desserts are in line with what precedes them--a fine crème brûlée, and two big ice cream-stuffed profiteroles with dark chocolate sauce. However, the pear tart’s pastry was flaccid, the fruit tired. 
       Mr. Schienle is happily in charge of the wine list, which he keeps very reasonably priced, with plenty of options under $50.
       You can always count on his being there, taking his own late night dinner at the bar when his guests have mostly gone.  So many of them have been coming here for so long, some since the day it opened, that there is a real bonhomie between them and the staff that is both endearing and well worth cultivating.
   So, Happy 25th Anniversary, Sel & Poivre, and may you always stay the way you are.

Sel & Poivre is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun., dinner nightly.


Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

by Cristina Mariani-May         
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners America's leading wine importer

    Even if there is still a distinct chill in the air, with all this winter’s seemingly unprecedented snow finally washed away we are finally enjoying definite signs of spring.  Gradually our stodgy winter diet is turning to fresh produce, and our selection of wine is turning from the big and bold to the light and fruity, right?  Well, not necessarily so.  One of the great rites of spring, at least in the wine world, is the debut of the newest vintage of hot Tuscany’s hottest wine, Brunello di Montalcino and its “younger brother,” Rosso di Montalcino.
    Over the past few months, wine professionals and journalists were given a sneak preview of the 2009 Brunello and the 2012 Rosso.  Now it is our turn, as these debutantes finally hit the shelves of our finest wine shops and the wine lists of our favorite restaurants.
    Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino are known to be age-worthy wines, the stuff of collectors and cellars, so why the fuss over their youngest renditions?  Well, first of all, the smart collectors snap these wines up while they are young and release them again after they’ve reached elegant maturity with cellaring of 10, 15 or over 20 years.  But before heading into their cellar slumber, these wines show magnificent character and flex some hunky wine muscles that could make a wine-lover swoon. 
    It’s sort of like having a wondrous, somewhat naughty fling with a younger person and then meeting them years later to fall into deeper romance with the now suave and sophisticated grown up.  You are connecting on a deeper plane now, but oh the glorious memories of that youthful lust… 
    Pause.  Breathe.  Open a bottle of 2009 Brunello di Montalcino (ideally, of course, from my family’s Castello Banfi estate!), and feel the power of its muscular youth.  Bold but not brash, its tannins are soft and caressing, all ivy league charm.  Dine gregariously with the young Brunello, enjoying grilled baby lamb chops, seared pork tenderloin, roasted squab.  Seize the Mrs. Robinson moment, get lost in the revelry, for like all bold young men – oh, I mean wine – this one will sooner or later seem to slip away from you, sowing their wild oats for a while, retreating to what wine aficionados call a “dumb phase,” snoozing in the cellar until one day to awakens as a refined gentleperson.    
    Now fast forward a few years, or make it fast forward on its own (who has the time to wait for these kids anyway?) by turning to the cellar for an older Brunello, say a 2001, a 1999 or a 1997.  Hey, I remember you, that same chiseled jawline, that endearing smile, but wait, something’s changed.  We’re meeting over some artisan cheese, lingering over after dinner conversation.  You’re holding yourself a little differently now, more poised, smoother, more charming, deep, sophisticated.  Memories come flooding back but do not take from the moment; they only enhance it. 
    Pause again.  Breathe again.
   If that’s all a bit too much for the system right now, just enjoy the platonic company of a cute teenager, and open a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino 2011 or 2012 (again, guess whose?).  What a great kid, very forward, nicely polished, in his prep school charm you can see the older sibling’s genes, and this one too will make a fine adult someday.  But for now just enjoy their company with a bowl of pasta, some roasted chicken, veal alla milanese.  They’ll give you some hints of what the vintage will bring when you meet it again as Brunello in three years.  And the fun will really start, because you knew them “when.”          

Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of forward fruit and subtle influence of oak aging. Round, complete, well-balanced with hints of chocolate and berries.  In 2009, extremely warm weather was mitigated by generous spring rainfall and relieving showers in June.  The gradual ripening of the grapes favored an excellent evolution of the tannins, which resulted in a smooth, harmonious wine, yet one with great power and intense varietal expression. 

Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino - Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrels for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish.  The 2011 can still be found as the 2012 begins to enter the market.  Both vintages demonstrate bright fruit and zesty style. 

Cristina Mariani is not related by family or through business with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter.


"Unless you’ve got a hankering for a Subway sandwich or a Five Guys burger, the Shops at SkyView Center, a mall packed with big-box stores like Target and Best Buy, may seem like the least likely place to eat in Flushing. And yet, around the corner from Chuck E. Cheese and just past Applebee’s, one of the world’s most thrilling culinary experiences awaits, at a place called Little Lamb."--Hanna Goldfield, "Little Lamb," The New Yorker (April 21, 2014).




Palcohol is a new product of powdered alcohol. due to be sold this fall.  Creator Mark Phillips says that it cannot be snorted: "We've added volume to the powder so it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. You would feel a lot of pain for very little gain."


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

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

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,  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: MARTINIQUE RUMS; QUEBEC FESTIVAL

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. Editor: Walter Bagley. 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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