Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Leopard at des Artistes: Legendary Southern Italian Cuisine in an Historically Significant Setting

story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK---The Leopard at  des Artistes is the culinary equivalent of a Phoenix rising from the ashes. The restaurant reopened on May 10, 2011 to great media fanfare, with a new name and new owners, Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino along with veteran Chef Vito Gnazzo from Midtown's Il Gattopardo, after a lengthy and labor-intensive gut renovation and restoration of the historic murals by Howard Chandler Christy. At the Leopard at  des Artistes, the art of cuisine is married with the  history of art.

The Leopard at des Artistes is located in a landmark building that is one of the city's most famous, the Hotel Des Artistes, founded in 1918 as an artist's cooperative apartment building. Designed by George Mort Pollard and developed by Walter Russell, the 18 story building is the largest "studio" building in the city, with 115 apartments, mostly duplexes with double-height living rooms and balcony bedrooms.
The base of the building is decorated with figures of artists and many of the apartments are appointed with English Renaissance-styled paneling, beamed ceilings and fireplaces. With its well-lighted, airy apartments, the building quickly attracted the glitterati of celebrity and the arts; legendary dancer Isadora Duncan, playwright Noel Coward, Norman Rockwell, Alexander Woolcott and former Mayor John V. Lindsay.

The birth, demise and resurrection of the restaurant space on the main floor are similarly rooted in the history of the building. At its inception, none of the apartments had kitchens, instead there was a communcal restaurant on the lower floor, where the chef prepared meals from the ingredients that were brought in by the residents. In 1975, media consultant David Garth, a board member atr Hotel Des Artistes, asked restaurat maven George Lang, considered the leader of the postwar renaissance of the New York restaurant scene, to create a true restaurant in the space.  Lang, who died in 2011 at the age of 86, was the long-time manager of the Four Seasons,in addition to other achievements. As a consultant, he helped create restaurants for the Loews hotel chain, developed cuisine programs for cruise ships, the 1964 World's Fair and the Statue of Liberty. As a teacher, mentor, food historian and author, he created the Restaurant and Gastronomy entries in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Under Lang's guidance, Cafe des Artistes became one of the city's most distinctive eateries until the economic downturn and financial woes forced its closure in 2009. Enter new owners Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino of the wildly popular Il Gatopardo. With daring and commitment, they resurrected the Cafe with a renovation of the ground floor space and a painstaking restoration of the historical murals.  Combined with the culinary wizardry of Chef Vito Gnazzo, the art of cuisine and the art of of painting combined to make for an enchanting experience.

The atmosphere at The Leopard at des Artistes has a cozy, sort of clubby feel. On any given night, you can see some of the leading lights of the city. Its a place where the worlds of celebrity and finance
politics and the arts all intersect, creating a dynamic social atmosphere.  A museum director may be  holding court with his curator and donors at a corner table, a city commissioner or former Governor at another while a famous comedian strolls past the Art Deco bar to greet a fellow comic at yet another table.

The food similarly, has that comfortable, home-cooked feel to it. Based on the cuisines of Southern Italy, the food oozes authenticity, with slow-cooked favorites like Osso Bucco getting special treatment.  Colorado lamb is immersed in a savory sauce. Its terrific! Well-seasoned and tender with fresh thyme and oregano and served with sauteed spinach and pureed celery root, it made for a satisfying dish that paired well with the House Red, a flavorful mouthful of Sangiovese.  The Meatloaf "Il Gatopardo" is served in a huge medallion shaped portion slathered in the restaurant's signature sauce made with veal stock and meat reduction with fresh herbs and served with mashed potatoes and the same sauteed spinach. It was a little dense for my liking, but that didn't prevent me from eating every morsel and dabbing the crunchy, housemade bread into the few remaining gobs of sauce.

You can't eat at The Leopard withoout having the Grilled Octopus with crunchy celery salad. The extra virgin olive oil and lemon salad with green olives is to die for. No matter what you think of the idea of eating octopus, you owe it to yourself to try it. It's without question, one of the best things on the menu. Served as an appetizer, I could easily have eaten a larger portion as an entree.

There was absolutely no room for dessert, so I can't tell you about the Profiterol al chocolato or the Torta di Zucca or Pistachio Semifreddo. I haven't had Zabione since my days of hanging out at Vanessi's in San Francisco's North Beach Italian district, but here it was front and center on the menu of The Leopard Temptations.  All of the dessert items looked scrumptious as servers breezed past me on their way to other tables. Another time.

The waitstaff is courteous and efficient. There was never a moment when I waited for anything. The restaurant was jam packed, but the level of service never wavered. Waitstaff also graciously provided sharing plates, water and extra bread without asking. They  seemed to anticipate my every need. At times, it seemed to be an almost telepathic experience.

Some of the entrees seemed a bit pricey, but, because the restaurant deals only with seasonal offerings, using the very highest quality of locally sourced ingredients, the cost is justified. Given the atmosphere, the divine food, superb service and artsy ambiance and the sense of reliving art history and its gloried past, I'd opt for a return visit in a heartbeat. Besides, I hear Woody Allen and Steve Martin are regulars, I'd love to sit at a nearby table and eavesdrop on that conversation!

The Leopard at des Artistes
1 W. 67th Street near Central Park West
New York, NY 10023

Open for dinner only Monday thru Friday 5pm-11:30pm
Saturday, Brunch 11:30am-3pm, dinner 5pm-11:30pm
Sunday, Brunch 11:30-3pm, dinner 5pm-10pm
Dine at the Bar option

The Leopard also delivers in the local area

 The Leopard owners, Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino along with veteran Chef Vito Gnazzo(c)
 The cozy bar at The Leopard
 The celebrated Meatloaf at The Leopard
 Osso Bucco and fresh homemade bread make for a perfect pairing with the house Sangiovese wine

Below: the restored Howard Chandler Christy murals

 Pasta Carbonara at The Leopard at des Artistes
 The attentive service at The Leopard is prompt and courteous
 The Leopard has a clubby atmosphere, perfect for dining with old friends
 The table-hopping and celebrity sitings at The Leopard are part of the charm

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tre Bicchieri on world tour with best in Italian wines

by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--Tre Bicchieri (three glasses) is the highest honor for Italian wines in the world. Sponsored by Gambero Rosso (the Red Shrimp), the prestigious Italian culinary institute and headquarters of the Italian version of The Food Channel on both cable television and WebTv, the Tre Bicchieri World Tour 2014 is the main series of events dedicated to presenting the best in Italian wines to a global audience.

The U.S. portion kicked off the tour with a lavish presentation featuring 200 Italian wine producers presenting their award-winning wines.  The wines, all rated 90 points or more, represented almost every region and varietal in the vast arsenal of Italian wines now available in the United States. With Grand Tastings and seminars designed for the Trade and Media and evening tasting sessions for the wine-drinking public,  it was an experience destined to broaden the reach and appeal of Italian wines.

The New York kick-off was held in the prestigious Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Chicago was the next stop at the historic Great Hall of Union Station, followed by San Francisco at Fort Mason Center on San Francisco Bay in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Many regions and wineries that were unfamiliar to many U.S. consumers suddenly were pushed into the limelight because of the Tre Bicchieri recognition. This was their moment to shine. For example, everyone is familiar with the Chianti region of Tuscany, but how many know of Bolgheri. Located on the Tuscan coast, just south of Livorno, it is one of Italy's most prestigious vineyard areas and its best kept secret. However,  it is virtually unknown outside of its own borders. Best known for its trend-setting non-DOC wines, made by avant garde winemakers, the region is on the cutting edge of the innovative style known as "Super Tuscan." Empire Merchants LLC presented its Castello di Bolgheri Bolgheri Superiore 2010, a powerhouse of a wine with soft tannins and well balanced fruit and acid. Bolgheri DOC wines are unique in that their Rosso and Bolgheri Superiore wines are labeed without the mention of the grapes used, because terroir is considered more important than grape varieties. Bolgheri wines are known for their true expressions of terroir.

One winery that has garnered acclaim with a similar style is the legendary Sassicaia, which is credited with putting Bolgheri  on the map. Sassicaia is the first and only Italian winemaker to be honored with its own single-estate classification.

Some of the other outstanding wines experienced at the Metropolitan Pavilion tasting were Donnafugata's Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2011, an apperitif wine with intense aromas and concentrated f flavors. The grapes are grown in the sandy, volcanic soils of the Mediterranean island paradise of Pantelleria, one of the southernmost outposts of Italy, within striking distance of the north African coast. The wine is rich, with a honey gold color and flavor. Served often as a dessert wine, it can virtually 'stand alone' at the end of a meal.

The Veneto made a strong impression with Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella 2009 and its flagship Palazzo della Torre 2010, which won Due Bicchieri.

Among the sparkling wines, Ferrari of Trentino made a return appearance to the Tre Bicchieri awards with a new offering, Trento Extra Brut Perle' Nero 2007, a creamy, rich dry sparkling wine, similar in tone to some of the prized sparklers of France, with its small, persistent bubbles and well integrated tropical fruit flavors with just a hint of dosage. Best served in large format bottles, the Magnums, this is a celebration wine that is also at home on the dinner table.

Villa Sandi made a big splash with its elegant Cartizze V. La Rivetta, A Prosecco DOCG Valdobbiadene Superiore sparkling wine made with 100% Glera grape, the original grape of Prosecco.
The grapes are softy pressed under carefully controlled temperature and then fermented at 60 degrees F. Once optimum sugar and alcohol levels are met, the fermentation is stopped, and after a short settling period, the sparkling wine is ready for bottling. Villa Sandi Cartizze is an intense, fruit driven sparklingwine with the taste and aroma of fresh golden apples, star fruit and a hint of tangerine and white jasmine flowers. It's fresh, dry and elegant from start to finish. This is the one to have with Lobster Souffle or Lobster Mac n' Cheese with that special someone. Bring a second bottle along in case you decide to take the rest of the afternoon off!

The Tre Bicchieri World Tour 2014 next rolls into Dusseldorf March 22, 2014 and then Vancouver, May 22, 2014. It would be a good idea to circle one or both of these dates on your calendar and make travel arrangements to attend. There'll be additional producers there who did not make the U.S. tour. it"s a great opportunity to taste some terrific wines that you otherwise would not be able to sample under one roof. Tre Bicchieri is a wine lover's paradise for those who covet the best in Italian wines.

Antonio D'Ambrosio and Laura Ferghetitina  of Empson and Co. with Ferghetitina Franciacorta Pas Dose '33 Riserva 2006

 Angelica Raggi and Alessandro Nicolucci of Fattoria Casetto dei Maudori with  their Nero de Predappio 201l from Casetto Dei Mandorli of Emilia Romagna

Gioia Cresti with her Dofana 2010 wine from Fattoria Carpineta Fontalpino

Adam Jacobs of Total Beverage with his Castello di Bolgheri-Bolgheri Superiore 2010

Dr. Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti (r)  Cantine Del Nataio with his Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2010

Ilham Zrida of Ethica Wines with her Trentino Muller Thurgau Vigna delle Forche 2012 from La Vis/Valle Di Cembra
 Patricia Toth-winemaker with Planeta of Sicily and her Noto Santa Cecilia 2010 wine
 Sara Maule, Brand Ambassador for Nino Negri wines/Frederick Wildman and Sons, LTD with Valtelina Sfursat Stelle 2010 wine from Lombardy
 Chiarra Abbona with Dogliani Papa Celso 2011 wine from Piedmont

Mandolin Wines: The Character of California's Central Coast in a Bottle

Mandolin 2012 Pinot Noir Monterey $12
Mandolin 2012 Chardonnay Monterey $10

by Dwight Casimere

MONTEREY, CA---There is an oft heard criticism that good quality California wines are difficult to find below the $20 mark. Mandolin wines from Monterey County explode that myth by delivering a superb 2012 Pinot Noir and a luscious 2012 Chardonnay for $12 and $10, respectively.

Mandolin 2012 Pinot Noir Monterey ($12) is made from grapes sources from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. This is no shrinking violent Pinot Noir, but one brimming with lush fruit flavors of ripe raspberries,  cherries and a hint of nutmeg and allspice. Cedar shavings and a hint of saddle leather round out the experience as the wine slides down the back of the throat. Aged in French oak for 8 months before bottling, this wine, at $12, delivers a taste experience you would have to pay many times more for from other vintners. A terrific food wine, I tried it with Steak tartare; freshly ground Sirloin with capers, worcestershire,  dry mustard, finely diced shallots or red onions with a fresh quail egg dolloped on top. Serve with toast points or dark rye and you've got the perfect flavor pairing.

Mandolin 2012 Chardonnay Monterey ($10) is also sourced from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The area, with its high winds, dry days and cool, foggy nights and mornings, makes for a long growing season and produces grapes dripping with honeyed fruit flavor. The grapes were harvested under ideal conditions, with the resulting juice having a perfect balance of acid and sugar. After undergoing malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was aged in 1-2 year old French oak barrels to reveal a wine bursting with tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and mango and hints of Meyer lemon and nicely integrated hints of oak, in the flavor of Tahitian vanilla and a hint of nutmeg.  This is a terrific wine with salads, mild, soft cheese, such as goat cheese or Feta and seafood. I had it with a cold shrimp appetizer with avocado and lime dressing and a lunch entree of Skate wing, sauteed in brown butter and olive oil with capers, lemon juice a dash of tarragon and finished with a splash of the wine for a dramatic flambe' finish. It was exquisite!


Signorello Wines of Napa Valley Break Away From Pack with Flavorful, Value-Priced Wines

New brands have broader economic appeal

by Dwight Casimere

NAPA VALLEY, CA--Ray Signorello is a different kind of winemaker. Instead of focusing all of his attention on the high-end estate bottled wines that have won him critical acclaim and countless awards, he is charting new territory with a cadre of value-priced wines that deliver the undeniable quality and flavor that he is known for, while appealing to the more value conscious consumer.

"For most of my career at our 30 year old estate, "I have focused on producing wines from our 100-acre estate that are dedicated to excellence.  We know that despite our full time dedication to producing these wines, we know their price points make them inaccessible to some."

Enter the new Signorello wines TRIM ($12.99), EDGE($21.99), and FUSE ($25.99); brands that are produced with the same oversight, care, and the exceptional estate-grown grapes as their heralded Cabernet Sauvignon ($90) and Hope's Cuvee Chardonnay ($70).

"Backbone" and "spine" are two words that wine critics often use to describe Ray Signorello's wines. There's yet another word that he likes to use in describing his wines, and that's drinkability. "We're not trying to build a blockbuster wine. Our wines have grip and tannin and are age-worthy yet, our wines don't overpower things. They go well with food."

That's precisely where we find his Trim, Edge and Focus wines. They are terrific tasting wines that have body and structure, yet they go well with a whole range of foods and recipes.

Let's start with TRIM ($12.99), a wine that best represents the Signorello approach. "At TRIM wines, we strive to make a Cabernet Sauvignon using only the best fruit in California. The goal is to make a wine with concentrated fruit flavors and good acid balance." There's  no compromise in quality, even though the wine is nearly a tenth of what their flagship Cabernet costs. The TRIM 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is well-crafted. It shows that the winemaking team threw their heart and soul into it. Blended with Merlot, it has layers of ripe strawberries, raspberries, wet stone and a hint of pipe tobacco,sassafras and baking spice on the palate. "This is wine that can easily age for another six years," Signorello says proudly. That's not a quality you'd find everyday in a wine that costs less than $20. I made my signature Louisiana gumbo and served it with this wine. The pairing was an absolute hit!

EDGE 2011 ($21.99) is a bit more complex with a pronounced flavor of dark fruit;  blueberry jam, coca cola and hints of black pepper.The wine has a long finish that makes it perfect "barbeque wine" or a great wine for pizza night. "The wine is drinakable now, with its blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, but it will improve in the bottle for another 5-7 years. " The wine is aged a minimum of 15 months in French and American oak.  Again, you won't find that quality in many wines that cost just over $20 a bottle.

FUSE 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($29.99) was my personal favorite of all of the wines and, to my thinking, the most versatile. Bright red strawberries dominated the palate with a touch of white pepper and well-integrated tannins. Like the EDGE wine, its a blend of predominantly Cabernet with Merlot, Syrah and a hint of Malbec thrown into the mix, which gives the wine a distinctive deep purple color that is so indicative of the Malbec grape. It's just enough of a difference in blending to tip the flavor balance. The wine has an extremely long finish and will give you good cause to go to the nearest butcher and order his or her best Prime Aged Porterhouse Steak.  Ray Signorello explains why this wine is so exceptional. "The FUSE is sourced from premier Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot vineyards in the Napa Valley. Our production program follows traditional French winemaking practices with techniques included the use of cold soaking and extended maceration (23-32 days). Prior to bottling, the wine is aged.

 FUSE gets its name because this modern Napa Valley Cabernet blend will ignite your mouth!
 Winemaker and owner Ray Signorello in his aging cellar

Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Pierre Birebent
Below: Signorello Estate in Napa Valley

One of the creations of Executive Chef Britny Sundi

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Wine of The Week: Uncensored Red ($12) by Geyser Peak of Sonoma County

A winemaking pioneer breaks the boundaries of tradition with a bold, but balanced  wine

by Dwight Casimere

GEYSERVILLE, CA.-- Geyser Peak is one of Sonoma County's pioneering wineries, but its newest offering, Uncensored Red ($12) breaks all bounds of tradition. It's a bold expression that pushes the bounds of tradition; blending noble grapes with non-traditional varieties to create a completely unorthodox yet pleasurable wine experience.

Uncensored Red 2011 is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel. Intensity is the watchword for this wine, with its lush flavors of tart pomegranate, succulent blackberries and hints of dark chocolate. Fruit flavors literally brim forth and drip from the corners of your mouth, yet, there's an elegant balance that makes it an ideal companion for food pairing. Wood-fired pizza. blackened steak or chicken, a bowl of ripe Mediterranean olives or ripe, aged cheese are the first things that come to mind. Try it with Osso Bucco or grandma's meat loaf recipe. Of course, Baby back ribs pulled piping hot off the grill or a Kobe burger, crunchy seared on the outside and oozing pink on the inside with a healthy dollop of Maytag Bleu on top served on a pretzel roll with crispy garlic fries is yet another option. The winery only made 20,000 cases, so a wine this complex at a price just over $10 a bottle is hard to beat. Better to get a case now that its readily available than to be sorry later when its all gone!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Do-It-Yourself Valentine's Dinner For Two from Gambero Rosso, Rome

 The "City of Love" shows how to prepare a romantic dinner for two at home for Valentine's Day

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

ROME---Gambero Rosso (the Red Shrimp), the prestigious culinary institute in Rome and the location which houses both the cooking school and Italy's version of The Food Network, was the site of an unusual cooking class and participatory demonstration. As part of the Roam Around Rome Educational Tour organized and sponsored by Promoroma, the Special Agency of the Chamber of Commerce of Rome, our group experienced a "hands on" introduction to true Roman cuisine at Citta del Gusto at Gambero Rosso for a cooking show in which we were the stars. What resulted was a terrific idea for preparing a romantic dinner for two at home for Valentine's Day.

Roman Cuisine: The True Roman Tradition was the subject of the night and the dinner that was to be prepared. Our team of professional chefs guided us through each step of preparation for the night's meal, which would consist of Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, homemade spaghetti prepared in a creamy sauce consisting of pork cheek bacon (guonciole), fresh whipped eggs, grated Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly ground pepper as the first course and Salti In Bocca Alla Romana (jumps in your mouth), a flavorful construction of  thinly sliced Veal round steak, Italian ham,  and sage leaves dredged in flour and sauteed in a combination of unsalted butter, olive oil with a splash of dry white wine for a dramatic flaming finish.

The experience of cooking the meal in the stainless steel kitchen setting of the famed Gambero Rosso, under the guidance of celebrity chefs, combined with the thrill of eating a fabulous meal which you created yourself, was a heady one. Combined with the flavors of crisp,  local wines, it was a sensation that will be long remembered.

Italian sparkling wines are among the best and most value priced on the market today and the wine regions around Rome produce some of the best. Contadi Castaldi sparking Rose from Franciacorta is the sparkler of choice at Gambero Rosso. You can find it at discriminating wine shops in your area and it only costs around $20. A few sips during the cooking process and a hearty toast once the meal is completed will make this a Valentine's Day to remember!

Here are the recipes from Gambero Rosso in Rome:


1 lb. freshly made spaghetti
1/4 lb fresh pork cheek bacon (guanciole) or Pancetta (Boar's Head, Citterio, Columbus or La Quercia are brands that are readily available, particularly at Trader Joe's. Look in the gourmet cheese section)
4 fresh eggs
4 Tbs grated Pecorino Romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into tiny strips if not already sliced and cook slowly in a saute pan until crispy, preserving the hot residual oil for later use in the recipe

Beat the eggs in a bowl along with with grated cheese and black pepper
Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water. Drain the pasta, but reserve some of the cooking liquid for later use in creating the "sauce"
Put the pasta in the sautee pan with the crispy bacon and a bit of the reserved cooking fat. Cook the pasta and oil mixture until creamy, stirring constantly over a low flame, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water to soften

Remove the pasta from the heat and pour the spaghetti into the bowl with the egg, cheese and pepper mixture. Mix well until pasta is coated with the creamy mixture. Add additional cheese and pepper to taste and eat quickly while still warm with a hearty swig of sparkling wine! Buon Appetito!




1 lb Veal Round Steak, thinly sliced and lightly pounded
1/4 thin sliced Italian ham (Prosciutto)
unsalted butter
extra virgin olive oil
fresh sage leaves
freshly ground Sea Salt

Tenderize veal cutlets with a mallet
Lay a slice of prosciutto and a leaf of sage on top of each piece of veal and weave a skewer or toothpick in and out of each cutlet to secure the ham and sage
Place flour on a platter and dredge bottom side of the veal in flour. Shake off excess flour
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, flat skillet over a medium flame. Place veal in the pan, ham side down, and cook for 3 minutes, just to crisp it up. Flip the veal over and saute' on the other side for 2 minutes, until golden.
Remove veal from the pan and place it on a warm plate. Deglaze the pan with the white wine over a medium flame and season lightly with the sea salt. (You can get fancy and flame the pan with the warm wine for dramatic effect!)
Continue to deglaze the pan, stirring the wine and pan juices to make a nice sauce.
Pour the sauce immediately over the veal cutlets and garnish the plate with extra sage leaves and serve with a sparkling wine toast!

About Contadi Castaldi Sparkling Rose' ($20)

It's a bold, modern and intriguing blend of Chardonnay (65%) and Pinot Nero (35%)  with a bright pink color and full-bodied taste of raspberries and strawberries and the distinct aroma of crushed red rose petals. Perfect for Valentine's Day!