Virtual Gourmet

  February 26,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Travel Poster by Roger Broders, 1924


VIENNA, Part Two
By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani



    As in every city of any size these days, Vienna is host to just about every kind of restaurant, from Wiener Schnitzel to sushi, although when I visit I tend to stick closer to Austrian fare, whether traditional or done with a contemporary flair.  Here are some of the restaurants I liked most on my recent trip to the capital city.


Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Schubertring 5-7

    Dstrikt, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, has made quite an impact in Vienna, for it is the first restaurant to combine the American steakhouse with an Austrian sensibility.  (It also may well be the only restaurant in Europe to adapt the cliché “farm-to-table.”)
    When spring comes, you may dine outside and watch the passing pedestrians on the Ringstrasse; inside you might begin with a cocktail at the swank, upholstered D-Bar, which stocks 40 rums, along with Viennese coffees and beers.  The Dstrikt dining room is smartly casual, with white walls and coffee brown floor, wine barrels and a ceiling of swirling metal ribbons, with very comfortable armchairs and a blackboard menu of the Austrian meat cuts available, all cooked on a charcoal grill.  There is a Steak Brunch on weekends.
    As everywhere in Vienna, Dstrikt’s service staff, dressed in white chef’s shirts, is extremely cordial in helping you with the menu (in German and English), and the wine list is certainly one of the finest in the city, with scores of the best modern Austrian bottlings.  You even get a choice of eleven knives with which to slice your steak, though I can’t imagine why.
    I began my meal with a “classic” onion soup (10€), whose broth was very onion-rich but whose Gruyère cheese topping had not been put under the grill long enough to give the soup its characteristic bubbling brown texture.  Chopped salad with baby gem lettuce, beets, pumpkin, green beans, radicchio, Manchego cheese and honey-mustard dressing (16€) was very well rendered and could make a main course for lunch or dinner, if you like.
    We enjoyed a sampling of three cuts of meat (65€ per person for two people), both Austrian and imported from the U.S., all nicely aged, which is uncommon in Europe. The ribeye was the most flavorful, the flank steak had its characteristic chewiness and succulence, and rack of lamb was the best of all.  These come with two side dishes; we chose truffled French fries dusted with Parmigiano and garlicky creamed spinach, and also indulged in some mac-and-cheese. There is also a choice of sauces like green pepper corn, aïoli or Béarnaise.
    As one might expect in Austria, the cheesecake (10€) is terrific (below), as well as a pear-blackberry crumble with goat’s cheese ice cream (9€).
   You might end the evening here at the Ritz’s Rooftop Bar with Austrian coffee and brandy, looking out over a city where everyone seems to be just exiting a musical event.

Open for lunch and dinner daily, breakfast Mon.-Fri.

Photos by Tina Herzl



Grinzingerstrasse 86

    Juan Amador is one of the stars of Austrian cuisine, with restaurants in Frankfurt and Singapore, and his new eponymous venture is located outside of Vienna’s city center near the Karl Marx Hof, a vast series of subsidized apartment buildings stretching for almost a mile in the 19th District, now becoming quite fashionable.
    Together with vineyard owner Fritz Wieninger, Amador has created two dining rooms under dramatic brick archways, one a fine dining venue (below), the other somewhat more rustic (right), although I found the food in the latter very sophisticated and representative of modern Austrian cooking.  Greisslerei refers to a small grocer, and you can purchase both wine and foods on the premises.
    Even at lunch, the menu is quite extensive, ranging from a lovely, tart-sweet cherry consommé à la Royal with quail egg and matzo dumpling to ravioli in a lush sauce vierge (left).  Sausage and lentils came with mashed potatoes and fried onions, but they were lighter than you’d have elsewhere in the city, and risotto was abundant with translucent scallops and shrimp in a foamy sauce. 
    You’ll find roast goose on many menus in Vienna, but Amador’s is one of the best, most carefully cooked I’ve ever had, with sweet glazed chestnuts, sour cherry-brined red cabbage and bread dumplings lavished with a fresh apple sauce.  The desserts, as you expect in Austria, are beautifully crafted, especially those made with chocolate or seasonal fruits.
    There is a 3-course meal at 55€; otherwise, à la carte dishes run 4.50€ to 16€ for first courses and 18€ to 24€ for main courses.
    If you want to see the new direction of Austrian cuisine, Amador’s is worth the drive out to the 19th District.




Palmenhaus Burggarten

    What a splendid place this! Set within a long greenhouse dating to 1822 within the Hofburg Palace Gardens and re-designed in 1901 by architect Friedrich Ohman, who brought in huge palm trees, the restaurant actually saved the structure from the decrepitude into which it had fallen by 1988, when it was closed to the public for ten years.  After an investment of $17 million, it is now one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind in the world, complete with a butterfly house.  You can imagine it is very popular as an event venue (above).
    The staff is young, both on the service side and in the huge open kitchen, and the food is a mix of Austrian and international fare, which, in the spirit of things here, offers a kind of open-ended menu. You can have just a bowl of carrot soup (5.80€) or jalapeño-riddled meat loaf (12.80€) or a larger meal of a mixed grill (23.50€) of lake and sea fish (right), all of which are impeccably cooked.  Sandwiches are hefty and served on a baguette; we loved the spicy sausage, peppers and sauerkraut (left).
    The menu changes all the time, so when young herring is in season they serve it with red onion, apple-sour cream and buttered pumpernickel (14.10€), and for desserts they’ll bring in exotic fruit like mangolassi with a blood orange sorbet (9.20€).
    There’s a wine list adequate for this kind of big bistro, and plenty of beers to choose from. 
    I was at Palmenhaus in early winter, when its warm interior was a balm after a long cold walk through the streets of Vienna.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in the other seasons, when the gardens are in full flourish.


Open for lunch and dinner Wed.-Sun.; for breakfast Sat. & Sun.


Hotel Grand Ferdinand
Schubertring 10-12

    Just a few doors down from the Ritz-Carlton is the Hotel Grand Ferdinand, whose restaurant of the same name hearkens back to the sumptuous cuisine of the Hapsburg Empire, including, of course, Wiener Schnitzel and—presented with great flourish the way it used to be—tafelspitz, the famous boiled beef dish that here is wheeled out on a silver cart and ceremoniously carved and plated tableside (below).  From that steaming cart comes generous slices of shoulder, leg, tongue and marrow bones with a ladle of restorative broth, served with creamed spinach, lettuce with peas, pan-fried potatoes, apple horseradish and horseradish chive sauce at a remarkable 26€.
    Before that, consider the cured salmon with marinated cucumber (14€) or the delicious Kaisersuppe (8€), a hearty veal soup with sweetbreads and morsels of tongue.  One of the other classics on the menu is “minced meat fritters à la Metternich,” with spinach and poached egg (€24), said to made according to an original 1814 recipe and named after a Prince Metternich, who, to judge by this example, must’ve had fairly bland taste.   
    You may follow the main course with a selection of sweets that include sweet ravioli called powidltascherl, chocolate cake (below) and a dessert called “Wiener Waschermadl” (14€), meaning Viennese washerwoman, perhaps because the pastry is twisted like laundry.  Kaiserschmarn is a fine dessert made of cut-up caramelized pancakes (12€).
   On Ash Wednesday (March 1) the restaurant will hold an Old Viennese “Heringsschamus” of seafood dishes like pike dumplings with dill cream and carp soup.
    The wine list is not extensive but the selections, from Eastern and Western Europe, are admirable, with a good number of brandies, and the prices are reasonable.
    The dining room has enormous warmth and charm, well lighted by shimmering chandeliers, with double white tablecloths, café curtains, patterned tile floors and bentwood bistro chairs. You feel very much that you are a part of what is old and what is new in Vienna gastronomy right now.


Schnellinggasse 5

     One of four disparate restaurants—two on one street (one a pizzeria)—owned by the Huth family, this Gastwirtschaft is the most traditional and easily the most popular.  Best make a reservation, especially since paterfamilias Herr Richard Huth himself is not moved by your arriving without one and asking when a table might free up.  The fact is, they do fairly quickly, but you can sit at the bar, where, if you order a cocktail, he will tell you, “We are a restaurant, sir, not a cocktail bar!” Wine and beer are served there. Still, by 9 p.m. there were plenty of tables to be had by just walking in.
    Once seated in the two-story dining room, you’ll find the atmosphere is casually sophisticated and very friendly, and if you can engage the sober-faced proprietor in conversation, he may warm to you and tell you that his is the “original Wiener Schnitzel,” which is difficult to believe since the dish is the national dish of Austria and originated in the middle of the 19th century.  I’m sure Huth means his is made according to the original recipe, alleged to have been brought back from Italy by
Field Marshal von Radetz in 1857, but without any real historical evidence.
     In any case, Huth’s deep-fried Schnitzel (18.90€) is excellent, impeccably crispy, not at all greasy, served with a nice green salad. Before that, have the very good light chestnut soup, or the plump potato ravioli in a thick dough dressed with fine butter (8.90€ as a starter, or 13.90€ as a main).  At Huth the tafelspitz (19.90€) is served without broth (left)—“That’s what they do at Plachutta!” snapped Huth, referring to a well known restaurant in town whose specialty is tafelspitz.
For dessert one can hardly avoid having the comforting apple strudel (5.80€).

    Herr Huth is a character, all right, but I rather enjoyed dining there, not despite his demeanor but because of it.  Jolliness can take different forms, and for food this good, it’s worth the character study.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.



*  Just about every restaurant has a menu in English. 

* Dress, as everywhere in Europe these days, is casual, but at the more traditional restaurants and cafés you will want to dress a bit conservatively, although bluejeans are everywhere.

* There is no smoking allowed inside.

* Service is unfailingly courteous, and in the cafés very efficient; you won't wait more than a minute or two for your order.

* As for tipping, I received various answers from various Austrian friends.  Many restaurants still list an old-fashioned cover charge, which can be a hefty €2-4, along with the standard 10 percent value added tax.  A reasonable gratuity is 10-15 percent of the bill, before the tax.


By John Mariani

Le Marais   
150 West 46th Street (Between 6th and 7th Aves.)

    After saying that Le Marais is a kosher steakhouse and noting that it serves no dairy products or shellfish and must close on Friday evenings and Saturdays, I have said all I need to about its differences from a non-kosher steakhouse.  And that was the guiding principle when a non-Jewish Portuguese named José Meirelles took the advice of his lawyers to open a kosher steakhouse (he was already partner at the non-kosher Les Halles bistro).  After first sourcing some of the finest beef available, Meirelles went out and hired an Irish-American chef named Mark Hennessey. What  could go wrong?
    Remarkably, nothing did, and over the past two decades Le Marais, which is named after a Jewish neighborhood in Paris, has distinguished itself as among NYC’s best steakhouses, if you don’t mind missing shrimp cocktail and cheesecake made with cheese.  Meirelles and Hennessey honed their own way of cooking their meat, both grain- and grass-fed, giving its exterior a magnificent charring while keeping the interior extremely juicy.
most of all a “La Surprise” cut ($50), which begins as a massive ribeye with its cap removed, making it a kind of filet mignon; the cap is then grilled till succulent as a steak. More important, their dry-aging process gives the beef a richness of mineral flavors without a hint of sourness you get from wet aging.  As Hennessey is fond of repeating,  “When your mom comes in and asks if our meat is fresh, we proudly say ‘no.’”
    The restaurant is set on two floors, past a boucherie and modest bar, both done in dark woods, fin de siècle light fixtures, banquettes and tilted mirrors, white tablecloths and an undraped communal table, and, upstairs, armchairs you will literally sink down into.  The service staff is very cordial indeed and quick on their feet.  You won’t wait long for your food.
    The menu is quite a bit longer than the average steakhouse’s, despite a lack of shellfish.  Cured and smoked “bacon” is made from veal ($18).  The creamy, delicious rillettes are made from duck and veal ($12), and the two fish offered,  seemingly an afterthought, are fillet of roast salmon with ratatouille ($30) and pan-fried flounder with Israeli couscous and tomato-cucumber salsa ($29).
    I delighted in a large, easy-to-share frisée salad of smoked duck confit ($38), refreshingly crisp and the duck meat so tender.  Rare, sesame-crusted tuna with chilled rice noodles and pickled vegetables ($18) was unexpectedly fine, ranking with versions in many Pan-Asian restaurants but with better tuna. Sweet but peppery Merguez sausages with couscous ($24) is another good starter to share.
    And so we come to the beef, which is outstanding across the board,
    The onglet (hanger) steak ($38), which is as much a staple of bistros as steak-frites, was as good or better than any I’ve had in France, nicely chewy, with plenty of flinty flavor and superior fried potatoes.  Hennessey also does an interesting turn on veal, as a roulade ($37), which keeps it very moist and suffused with flavor.  And,  despite my high esteem for the steaks at Le Marais, I have unqualified praise for a dish easy enough to do acceptably but very difficult to do really well: the steak tartare here (above) is the best I’ve had in NYC, maybe ever, with perfect chopped texture and seasonings, lightly bound and served with French fries. At $26 it is an amazing bargain.
    Despite a lack of butter in the mashed potatoes side order ($9), they’re okay, and the sautéed onions are very good ($9).
    Le Marais does serve dessert, and if you must, after all this rich food, have the fruit sorbets.  The rest are not made with dairy.
    The wine list has several kosher bottlings worth trying at fair prices.
    Before ending my remarks, I must draw your attention to the restaurant’s cookbook, Le Marais: A Rare Steakhouse...Well Done by Hennessey and Meirelles, which actually gives alternate recipes for kosher and non-kosher preparation for many dishes.  It is as fine a carnivore’s guide to great meat and the proper way to cook it as any out there, including a chapter on the individual cuts with churlish comments about some, such as the tournedo and pepper steak are “girly cuts” and the exclamation of “Oy gevalt!” next to the temperature “well done.”
    You get that sense of humor throughout an evening at Le Marais. You go for great food and great fun with friends.  They treat you nice.
     Gotta end with a  joke:

    Q: What did the waiter ask the group of Jewish mothers?
    A: "Is anything OK?"

    Waiters at Le Marais are not likely to get many complaints about anything.

Open for lunch and dinner Sun.-Thurs.


By John Mariani


Sarah McCrea, MIke Chelini, Peter and Willinda McCrea

    Despite a production of only 1,000 cases each year, it is hardly a compliment to call the chardonnay of Napa’s Stony Hill winery a “cult wine,” which in the overheated parlance of the wine media refers to an outrageously expensive California wine whose dubious reputation is based on a few hyperbolic reviews and high score numbers that cause a mad rush among well-heeled oenophiles to buy up all they can in order to stock their trophy case.
    To be sure, Stony Hill’s chardonnays are much sought after and very well respected, not least because the winery seems so stubborn about making them its flagship bottling. (Stony Hill also makes about 400 cases of cabernet sauvignon, as well as gewürztraminer, syrah, white riesling and semillon de soleil.)  More importantly, Stony Hill’s chardonnays depart significantly from the usual Napa Valley style of heavily oaked, high alcohol wines tasting like buttered caramel.  Stony Hill’s are far more like Burgundian chardonnays that aim for balance and finesse based on a millennium of working with a varietal that can be made into the finest Grand Crus as well as cheap Chablis.
    “I guess you could say we’re just more stuck in our ways than dogmatic,” Stony Hill’s president and marketing manager, Sarah McCrea, told me over dinner in New York at Union Square Café. “It’s a style choice of others to make a high alcohol wine, and we don’t want overripe fruit.  We also age our chardonnay in old barrels, which means they haven’t that strong charred oak taste and are more neutral, and our chardonnays do not go through malolactic fermentation. We look for elegance in our wines, not power.  We’ve just been doing what we’ve always done for three generations of our family.”
 Back in 1943 advertising exec Fred McCrea and his wife, Eleanor, bought a vineyard on a rugged hillside of Spring Mountain and took wine courses at the U. of California, determined to evoke their favorite white Burgundies along with other varietals to even out the vineyard. The first harvest was in 1952, successfully selling only through the mail. Upon Fred’s death in 1977, his assistant and protégé, Mike Chelini, became winemaker, now a 40-year veteran who is not about to change his methods based on trends.
    After Eleanor’s death in 1991, her son Peter, an exec at Chevron Corporation, and daughter-in-law, Willinda, assumed day-to-day management of the winery, and in 2011, their daughter, Sarah, joined the family business.  It was not her first choice of careers, though she always knew she’d be involved in one way or the other.
    Sarah grew up in
San Francisco but spent memorable weekends and summers on Spring Mountain.  She later worked as a strategist for global brand consulting firm Landor Associates and became an in-house brand strategist for Nordstrom, then for Starbucks, then as brand strategy and marketing communications manager for Jamba Juice.  In 2010, when her father and mother spoke of retiring, Sarah began working at the winery part-time; three years later she was leading operations, including the direct mail list, national sales, and working closely with Chelini.  She is married and has three step-children.
    Now, thanks to her marketing efforts, Stony Hill is sold in 20 states, largely by mail order and in restaurants, with only a few retail stores.
    Stony Hill’s location in the upper levels of rocky Spring Mountain takes advantage of its cooler climate and its more acidic soil, with shale bedrock.  Although immune to phylloxera, the vines suffered terribly from the bacterial Pierce’s Disease, for which there is no cure, and replanting has been extensive, acre by acre.
    Stony Hill’s chardonnays have been justly famous for their longevity, not unusual in the finest Burgundies but rare in California, where the wines are made to be drunk upon release.  “We seek to bring out the best fruit from the vintage,” said McCrea, “to see what might develop in five or six years.  Oak can just mask, even obliterate, that development, and it’s why our wines taste so fresh after so many years.”
    Yet, despite such renown and such small production, McCrea says her family insists on keeping their wines at reasonable prices, with most vintages—even older ones, if you can find them—around $42 and, for the exceptional 2009, just $58.   The current 2012 vintage of cabernet sauvignon is sold out, but other years run around $60; Gewürztraminer, white Riesling and the sweet passito-like semillon de soleil are all $30.
    I asked McCrea what she sees for Stony Hill ten years in the future for a winery with a long view of history.
    “We just want to continue to find ways to optimize what we do,” she said. “
The winery has seen very few changes over the decades and is still minimalist by design, but we’re under pressure to plant more cabernet, because you can charge so much more for it.  You can’t even get a bank loan to plant the other varietals we do.  But we’ve been doing it for three generations, it’s a family business, and everything’s worked out pretty well for us.  If we don’t have to change, we just won’t.”
    She also sees the future of fine wine with great optimism, saying,
“The wine world is decidedly not the same. If anything, it’s better—more people are drinking wine than ever, and Americans are developing a renewed understanding of what Chardonnay truly is. All the more reason for us to stay true to tradition and produce elegant, age-worthy Chardonnay.”





At the beginning of the winter season at  the four-start luxury hotel  Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt in Turrach, Austria, hackers accessed the hotel’s IT system and shut everything down, locking many of the 180 people were staying at the hotel out of their rooms.  The hackers demanded the hotel pay $1,600 to re-open the rooms, which the hotel did. "We had no other choice,” said managing director Christoph Brandstaetter. “Neither police nor insurance help you in this case.” Afterwards, Brandstaetter promised  to downgrade to old-fashioned keys in the locks.





“Last year, I read a multivolume Proustian novel about the life of the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard.”—Melissa Clark, “Swedish Meatballs,” NY Times (1/6/17)


Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
By John Fodera    

     The story of coastal Tuscany, the Maremma -- or Bolgheri as its interchangeably referred to -- began with Sassicaia, but it's not anywhere close to reaching its pinnacle.  The region has been a prime area for nurturing vitis vinifera into compelling wine for decades.
         As I've written many times, the expansion to Maremma of wineries based in central Tuscany and even beyond to Piedmont, has taken on a frenetic pace.   The wild, untamed Maremma countryside, replete with water buffalo, wild horses, and cowboys called butteri,  has become the perfect cradle for cultivation of classic Bordelaise varieties.
         Castello Banfi acquired 5 small hectares of vineyards along the Tuscan coast with the aim of producing a classic Cabernet-based wine that portrayed the hallmarks of their elegant style.  The result, Aska.  The legend relates that  Aska  is the ancient Etruscan name for "wine vessel".  These ancient people, who called Tuscany home a millennia ago, used Askas  to contain and transport wine and olive oil.
    Aska  was a touchstone for the Etruscans because they believed that beneficial human emotions were conferred by the Etruscan Gods of Sun and Moon.  This legend is symbolized by the two luminous discs on the wine's label. First released in the 2012 vintage, Aska is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with minor additions of Cabernet Franc.  The vineyards giving the fruit are young, and the debut release of Aska was elegant and approachable.  I harbor the same sentiment for the subject of today's review and look forward to following this vineyard as it develops. We decanted the 2013 Banfi Aska for about 45 minutes before dinner, a simple pasta with earthy flavors of wild boar and chanterelles.

 In the glass, the wine exudes aromas of crushed red plums, cherries, soft vanilla and spice notes and a faint hint of pine.  It's attractive to smell.   On the palate, the flavors echo the nose with primary red plum flavors backed by soft wood and vanilla notes.  The round, elegant mouth feel trails off delicately and there is little "bite" from the well-integrated tannins.  This wine stays fresh and lively and will be best enjoyed over the next 3-4 years.   Aska is vinified in stainless steel and then transferred to French  barriques  for 10 months of refinement. A brief bottle aging takes place before release.


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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

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"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.

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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: 5 MYTHS ABOUT MAUI

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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

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