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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Miami's Awesome Scarpetta

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Last week I jetted to Miami and, in less than 48 hours, had two stellar meals in hotel restaurants launched by star NYC chefs: Scott Conant and Michael Psilakis, both F&W Best New Chefs. I always get nervous when a chef I adore opens an outpost far away: It’s so easy for the quality or service to slide. But these two new Miami restaurants rival their spots in Manhattan.

Conant, who owns Scarpetta in NYC, opened his second Scarpetta in Miami Beach's legendary Fountainbleu hotel, which was fabulously renovated earlier this year. A true glutton, I tried nearly every dish on the menu. Conant’s signature dishes, like his supersimple spaghetti with tomato and basil and his roasted capretto (baby goat), were perfect. The Miami Scarpetta has more seafood options than the NYC one, including a crisp-skinned branzino served on top of saffron-ricotta gnocchi, cauliflower and lobster fricassee. After sampling six pasta dishes (I’m training for the NYC Marathon, which gives me an excuse to eat more pasta), I told myself I’d only taste the branzino, but somehow it vanished completely from my plate.

Check out this blog later today for details about my incredible meal at Psilakis’s Eos.

Cookbooks

Vermont Butter & Cheese

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Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. rolls out a new name and logo today. After 25 years in business, apparently there is still some confusion over whether there’s butter in the cheese. There’s not. The newly named Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery makes an amazing (and award-winning) cultured butter with sea salt crystals. It also makes lots of artisanal cheeses, including fresh and aged goat varieties, crème fraîche and mascarpone with milk from St. Alban’s Cooperative. The new name and logo emphasize Vermont and Creamery, rather than Butter & Cheese. It's more pastoral, quaint and practical.

VBCC is on quite a roll. Founder Allison Hooper has just written her first book, In a Cheesemaker’s Kitchen (out this fall). It's a pretty cookbook full of simple recipes using the company’s products. I'm considering making the herb-roasted chicken rubbed in that wonderful butter and the crème fraîche–potato gratin for my first official autumn dinner.

News

A Wealth of Champagne Information

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I think the advent of September, and, thankfully, a breath or two of cool breeze in NYC, has gotten me thinking about Champagne. (Of course, simply waking up in the morning can make me think about Champagne.) In any case, lately when I think about Champagne, I tend to think about Peter Liem's extraordinarily informative website, champagneguide.net. It is the most in-depth compendium of Champagne info that I've ever run into, largely thanks to the fact that Liem knows more about the history, character, vineyards, soils, terroirs, and producers of this region than anyone else I can think of (save perhaps Tom Stevenson). Membership isn't cheap—$89 a year for a subscription—but when you consider that that's about the price of a single bottle of Bollinger Rosé, it starts to seem more and more like a wise investment.

You can get a free sample of the site's content here. If you have a Champagne lover you're thinking of holiday gifts for, a membership wouldn't be a bad idea at all. And while you're at it, you might check out Liem's entertaining and informative blog, Besotted Ramblings, as well.

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Gail Simmons Takes on Top Chefs

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© brian malik

Like a lot of TV watchers in America, including Wynn’s Vegas oddsmakers, F&W staffers spend time on Wednesdays talking about what will happen that evening on Top Chef Season 6. But today, we’re distracted: F&W’s Gail Simmons, the outstanding Top Chef judge, is in our Test Kitchen right now working on a feature for our January 2010 issue. I can’t give too much away, but I can say that you might see some losers from seasons past, as well as some dishes that were the subject of great debate. I can also say that after watching Gail rock out in the kitchen, I wonder if she might switch sides and become a contestant in a future season of Top Chef.

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Yelping for Discounts

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Bad reviews posted on a website like yelp.com or urbanspoon.com can be the death of a restaurant, while glowing reviews can triple business. In an effort to generate more positive buzz, Mel’s Drive-In on Mission Street in San Francisco is doing something sneaky. Every check advertises a 20 percent discount on your next meal if you bring in a printout of your Yelp review. One blogger ponders if Yelpers will risk the integrity of their “Yelp status” for a few bucks off their next milkshake.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

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