The Sarah Jane English Newsletter: 6th Edition
January 4, 1998
wine.gif (1421 bytes) AWARDS
’96 HUSCH Gewurztaminer won "Best California Gewurz" at the Texas State Fair.

’96 ST. SUPERY Sauvignon Blanc won gold medals in Colo., Ind. and at Orange County Fair, "Best Sauvignon Blanc in Calif." and "Best Wine from Napa Valley"—that means all wines, red or white.

PACIFIC COAST OYSTER WINE COMPETITION: Ten winners are Buena Vista Sauvignon blanc, Chateau Souverain Sauvignon Blanc, Covey Run Fumé Blanc, Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc, Erath Pinot Gris, Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc, Hedges Cellars Fumé-Chardonnay, Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc, Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc and Washington Hills Dry Chenin Blanc.

MEDICAL NEWS, etc 
It seems a glass of red or white wine a day (4 to 5 ounces) may keep the doctor away. The key is moderation. Latest studies in medical journals state "decreases in risk included coronary heart disease, stroke, other circulatory diseases and reduced overall mortality." Too much alcohol increased the risks of certain cancers and liver cirrhosis."

CONSOLIDATION: According to Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates 1997 California Table Wine Price Segment Survey: "While there are approximately 900 winery brand names produced in California, the top 15 suppliers produce 88% of California’s table wine production."

WINE INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA reports export sales are booming—437% increase from $61 million to $327 (1987-1996).

SHAFER Line on Wine: "Percentage of wine made each year throughout the world that’s consumed before the next harvest—95%." "The U.S.A represents 6.4% of the world’s wine production."

DIET
GLORIA FERRER Champagne Caves reports that Champagne and méthode champenoise sparkling wines offer up to 10% fewer calorie than premium Chardonnay, approximately 113.4 calories a 5-ounce glass compared to 121.4 calories for Chardonnay.

NEW RELEASES
CLOS DU BOIS announces the 2nd vintage of it’s Alexander Valley Selections: ’95 Cabernet $18, ’96 Chardonnay$15, and introducing the ’95 Merlot $20. Introduced in 1996, the wines are made from the finest grapes of CLOS DU BOIS vineyards and longtime growers.

LINDEMANS from Australia has its usual delicious, reasonably priced wines: ’96 Bin 40 Merlot $9; ’96 Bin 50 Shiraz $8; ’96 Bin 45 Cabernet $8; ’97 Bin 65 Chardonnay.

BEAULEIU VINEYARD temptations include ’94 BV Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve $50, ’94 Beaulieu Tapestry Reserve (79% cab, 12% Merlot, 5% cab franc +) $20, ’95 Beaulieu Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon $14, ’96 Beaulieu Napa Zinfandel $14, ’96 BV Beautour Zinfandel $10 and ’96 BV Beautour Chardonnay $10.

BERINGER’s multiple award winners over time are represented by this year’s special expression of terroir in the ’96 Private Reserve Chardonnay $32 and ’94 Howell Mountain Merlot $45.

ROBERT MONDAVI celebrates the release of the ’95 To-Kalon, I-Block Fumé Blanc. To-Kalon ("highest beauty" in Greek) vineyard, originally planted in 1866 is believed to be one of the oldest vineyards in Napa Valley. The limited bottling of ‘95 To-Kalon is available at selected restaurants and shops and retails for $50; however, the three other ROBERT MONDAVI Sauvignon Blanc wines are readily available: Fumé Blanc, Fumé Blanc Reserve and Stags Leap District Sauvignon Blanc.

’96 MERIDIAN Chardonnay Edna Valley $14 was 100% fermented in small French oak barrels.

CASTELLO di GABBIANO perpetuates the tradition of Tuscany and the integrity of the wines called Chianti and its latest quality proponents are the ’95 CASTELLO di GABBIANO Chianti DOCG $9 (87% sangiovese grosso for ripe berry fruit and acidity; 6 % canaiolo nero for color and softness; 5% trebbiano for body and aroma; 2% colorino for color and body) and Vino Rosso di Toscana $8 (90% sangiovese and 10% canaiolo).

DRY CREEK offers the ’96 Reserve Fumé Blanc, $15.75, and Reserve Chardonnay, $20, and ’95 Meritage red wine $25 with aging possibilities averaging 3 to 8 years for those who can wait.

NORMANS Australian wines have a trio of CHAIS CLARENDON wines: ’95 Cabernet Sauvignon $18 (barrel aged 18 months), ’96 Chardonnay $15 (barrel fermented in new French oak) and ’95 Shiraz $18 (barrel fermented and aged in new American oak).

HOGUE CELLARS winemaker David Forsyth says Washington state Merlots are highly touted and claims the cabernet sauvignons deserve equal recognition. Certainly the price is right, ’94 Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon $15, and a nice touch is the’96 Semillon-Chardonnay $9.

COLUMBIA WINERY, Washington, winemaker David Lake continues his magic on the ’96 Syrah $14, Pinot Noir $13, ’95 Otis Vineyard Chardonnay $14 and ’93 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon $14, well-priced and more than worthy.

CONSOLIDATION: According to Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates 1997 California Table Wine Price Segment Survey: "While there are approximately 900 winery brand names produced in California, the top 15 suppliers produce 88% of California’s table wine production."

WINE INSTITUTE OF CALIFORNIA reports export sales are booming—437% increase from $61 million to $327 (1987-1996).

JOSEPH PHELPS winemaker Craig Williams says the 1997 growing season produced grapes with the intense flavor and extract associated with small crops, yet it’s one of the most abundant harvests on record. Looks like an opportunity for all to enjoy many fine bottles of 1997.

GRGICH HILLS has released the ’94 Cabernet Sauvignon—another stellar wines from that vintage.

VILLA MT. EDEN produces "California" designated wines for $12, ‘96 Pinot Noir and ‘95 Cabernet Sauvignon and two heartier "Grand Reserves" for $20, ’96 Pinot Noir and ’95 Syrah.

STERLING ’95 Cabernet Sauvignon is on the market for $14—who can resist!

CLOS DU BOIS has a ’96 Pinot Noir $14 for your pleasure.

BERNARDUS latest deliciousness:’95 Chardonnay $18, ’96 Sauvignon Blanc $14, ’94 Marinus $30.

food.gif (1390 bytes) I’ve discovered DESSERTS BY DAVID GLASS and life is complete! These luscious cakes are the Baccarat of sweets and worth every caloric bite with no regrets. Included among the fabulous enticements are Espresso Chocolate Walnut Madness, New York Cheesecake, Raspberry-Cassis Mousse Cake, White Chocolate Mousse Cake, Ginger Cream Torte, Albert Einstein Carrot Cake, Sophia Loren Luscious Italian Almond Cake, Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake, Passion Fruit Mousse Cake, Black Cherry Torte, Pumpkin Cheesecake (seasonal) Hazelnut Praline Mousse Cake, Chocolate Covered Cheesecake, Chocolate Truffle Cake, Chocolate Mousse Balls and All Natural Reduced Fat Chocolate Truffle Cake. I’ve tasted them all and simply ran out of superlatives. The essence of the featured flavor—raspberry, chocolate, hazelnut, etc.—is pure and honest and unmistakable. Made of the finest natural ingredients, the cakes are at Randall's, Central Market and Whole Foods grocers and specialty shops. Deny yourself no longer.

DOUBLETREE Austin received such applause for its first vintner’s dinner that Food and Beverage Director Nick Curra says they’ll present them monthly. The initial wine was Domaine Chandon, the California sparkling wine that celebrates its 25th year in 1998. Chef Paul Parnell’s selections were various tasty hors d’oeuvres with Chandon Brut and Simi Chardonnay; Sweet Potato and Smoked Chili Soup (attractive presentation balancing creamy and spicy while preserving the vegetable flavor) with Chandon Brut; Napoleon of Norwegian Smoked Salmon, Cucumbers, Oven-Dried Roma Tomatoes and Texas Goat Cheese with Fresh Mixed Greens and Shallot Dill Vinaigrette (nicely balanced textures and flavors between the crisp greens, vinaigrette and handsome layered Salmon Napoleon) and Chandon Reserve; Champagne Lime Sorbet (distinctively served in one-half lemon); Roast Veal Loin, Purple Mashed Potatoes with roasted garlic, Enoki Mushrooms and grilled Vegetable Medley (handsome presentation of simple, fresh fare deliciously prepared) and Chandon étoile, and Chardonnay Poached Bartlett Pear with Chocolate Mousse, Amaretto and Roasted Pecans with the Chandon Blanc de Noirs. The meal, $60, was beautifully planned and paired with the wines, and presented and I look forward to the next vintner’s dinner. For Information Call Nick Curra at the DOUBLETREE COURTYARD CAFÉ, 454-3737.

The GREAT HARVEST BREAD Co. (at West Woods, 3201 Bee Caves Rd., #126, 329-9216) is a perfect example of how bakery products have excelled in Austin. These loaves are among the finest to come out of any oven any where. Concentrating on breads may be the key: Premium White, Sourdough, Spinach Feta, Parmesan Garlic, Honey Whole Wheat, Cranberry Orange, Sunflower Whole Wheat, Cinnamon Raisin Walnut, Pizza bread, etc. averaging between $3 and $4.—some available on special days. Each loaf I’ve tasted—that’s most of them--was incomparable.

travel.gif (1493 bytes) NEW ORLEANS  is a diner’s paradise. While writing my cookbook, TOP CHEFS IN NEW ORLEANS, I established lasting friendships with the chefs and admiration for their food.

Christie Fisher, proprietor-chef at DE VILLE BISTRO, 2037 Metairie Road, 504/837-6900, is one of the best young chefs in America. Everything she cooked for me was perfect. This 27-year-old apprenticed with Susan Spicer, always praiseworthy, and then bought Chez Daniel from Daniel Bonnot, another favorite chef of mine who’s delicious food can be enjoyed at BIZOU. Expect great things from this talented, young chef—you’ll get them.

DOMINIQUE’S, 1001 Rue Toulouse, 504/522-8800, is headed by Dominique Macquet, the intense and devoted chef who scrutinizes each sprig of parsley or twig of dill as carefully as he inspects the fish. Like all my favorite chefs, he is strict about the freshness of their products. His food is beautifully balanced with well-integrated flavors that are tastily appropriate. His accolades increase daily. Dominique’s has "Best New Restaurant" honors from Esquire and Bon Appetit.

NEW JERSEY AND NEW YORK
Ever thought about vacationing in New Jersey? I thought so. Well, think again. New Jersey is called the Garden State for good reason. Go in the spring and admire the pale-rose cherry blossoms, the white and shocking-pink dogwoods, iridescent purple Japanese maples, fuchsia azaleas and the acres of green pastures that thoroughbreds romp across in the horse country of Somerset Hills..

Or go anytime and stay at the flawless Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, where the food and the service are superb. The renovated building is like a grand, long-standing country house with 21 guest rooms, only elegantly refurbished with highly polished mahogany furniture, hunter’s green wall coverings, floral prints, brass chandeliers and handsome oil portraits. Initially built in 1907, Edwardian Bernards Inn served as additional quarters for overflow guests from the owners estate and mansion. Interior-designer and co-owner Alice Rochat has used her special talents expertly to create an exquisite luxury facility. Every consideration has been given for the guests’ comfort. For example, the impeccable, 100% premium cotton, softest-ever sheets are laundered and ironed on the property. Stretching out on them is pure indulgence. At eventide, a poetic quotation written on parchment is placed on the pillow, recalling one of life’s blessings—not the least of which is being at Bernards Inn to read it.

Another great indulgence is the fine cuisine of co-owner Chef Edward Stone. He cooked for me several times and my only regret was that I had to leave before he could cook for me several times more. Chef Stone is such a delightful human being that his food even reflects it. His easy-going, agreeable personality is immediately likable and so is his food. Try his Sautéed Sea Bass with Lobster, Corn and Snap Pea Salsa, Sherry Reduction with Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard; the Scallop and Sweetbreads Ragout with White Asparagus, Morel Mushrooms with Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon; Rack of Lamb with Celery Root, Parsnip, Black Truffle Salad, Fava Bean with the William Selyem Pinot Noir; Pan Seared Foie Gras, Fruit Compote and Mache Salad with a Sauternes, and, of course, the White Chocolate Mousse Torte with Raspberry Coulis and a side order of Coconut Ice Cream with Bananas and Chocolate Sauce and a lovely Port.

Hope Lichtman is the pastry chef and she’s a miracle. Once the personal chef of Bruce Springstein, she bakes divinely. After an evening feast that lasted past midnight, I thought I’d have a light breakfast of coffee, fresh fruit and a "Basket of Breakfast Breads." Chef Lichtman’s basket included moist and crumbly coconut bread, sun-dried-cherry bran bread, spicy zucchini bread and a wheat bread with citron and pineapple, all served in my suite on a mahogany table, with white linens, a fresh yellow rose in a glass bowl, silver and china service pieces and an array of honey and jams. I’ve already made my reservation for a return visit; fortunately, the turn-of-the-century train station is across the street and only an hour away from Manhattan.

Another reason I’m going back is Chef Craig Shelton. Reserve dining privileges down the road at his Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, but do so several weeks in advance—six-weeks for Saturday dining—for everyone seems aware of his unique culinary expertise. Chef Craig Shelton creates the sort of magic fare you’ve only dreamed about experiencing. We met at the Masters of Food and Wine in Carmel where he was a guest chef. Among the 28 internationally renowned chefs brought to Highlands Inn to cook for the event, Craig’s food was outstanding. His cooking compelled me to New Jersey.

The Ryland Inn, a historic, 1796 stagecoach station, has been a restaurant for simple and good food for the past 58 years. Chef Shelton, however, has transformed it into a nonpareil establishment the likes of which Paris and other places with gastronomic temples can only covet.

Craig has received enough stars, diamonds, greats, bests, A-ratings, and various awards to make the most revered toque a bit cocky—including "Number One French Wine List in America." He could be, but he isn’t. His alter ego is diligence and dedication to hard work. Nothing is left to chance and every aspect of a meal gets undivided attention.

For starters there’s the Ryland Inn garden. Shelton not only uses mirepoix, he grows it. The garden covers eight acres and at the height of summer provides almost all the herbs and vegetables used in his dishes. There are two full time gardeners.

"From April through October, our kitchen brigade is constantly inspired—and occasionally overwhelmed—by the procession of superb produce issuing from our garden," Shelton says. "Last year there were Korean Yard-long Beans and several new turnip varieties. All our fruits and vegetables are shy-yielding, intensely-flavored "heirloom" varieties that simply cannot be grown in commercial quantities. We also tend treasured patches of herbs such as lovage, nettles, anise hyssop and shiso—all integral parts of dishes, not just garni."

The kitchen, to hear Shelton describe it, was not much better than the 18th-century wood-burning stoves originally in it.

"I’d envisioned the blueprint of my dream kitchen for ten years, and The Ryland Inn renovation gave me the opportunity to realize it," he says. "It took extensive shoring up of the old floor to handle the weight for my new equipment. Now eight state-of-the-art stoves are backed against each other in the European fashion so the centers for cooking meats and fish are accessible to easy supervision."

The wine cellar is as stunning as the kitchen and the garden. Several rooms in the basement are devoted to the bottles representing 40 pages in the wine list. They come from almost every country that grows wine and to suit every taste.

Craig and I had what he described as a light lunch—three courses, three wines—because I’d had my first luncheon at d’Artangnan—a company producing foie gras and game. We chatted so easily, exchanging ideas, philosophies and laughter that I failed to write down a description of the courses other than excellent! I do recall the 1989 Chateau d’ Yquem with dessert.

Dinner, however, was quite another matter. The menu for my evening feast was recorded, complete with the wines that accompanied each course: Napoleon of marinated Tuna filled with Couscous and Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée; Cream of Sea Urchin Soup (like lobster bisque) and 1994 Chassagne Montrachet "Les Chaumées" Colin-Déleger; Sautéed wild Mushrooms between discs of dried Root Vegetables Shavings (the last item should be packaged and sold for snacks) and 1993 Pernand-Vergelesses "Ile des Vergelesses" Dubreuil; Blanquette of Halibut, Maine Oysters, Oyster Mushrooms and Salsify with Watercress Cream and 1993 Chablis 1er Cru "Vaillons" Domaine Dauvissat; Fricassee of Maine Lobster and "Ratte" Potatoes with Spanish Onions and Black Truffles and 1994 Condrieu , Yves Cuilleron; Grilled Foie Gras à la Craig and 1989 Riesling Grand Cru "Geisberg" Vendanges Tardive, Kientzler; Pan-Roasted, dry-aged Prime Rib-Eye with Szechuan Pepper and Cèpes-Potato Purée and 1991 Brunello di Montalcino "Pian di Conte", Talenti; Selection of Cheeses (and the best ever Stilton) and 1989 Bandol, Mas de la Rouvière; Layers of Cream and Cake with Selection of Ice Creams and 1989 Vouvray SGN "Cuvée Constance" Gaston Huët.

I feel truly privileged to have dined at Craig’s table. No connoisseur’s experiences are complete without this nonpareil gourmet event.

About the only thing that could tempt me away from the bucolic splendor of Bernards Inn and the Ryland Inn is the Westbury Hotel in New York City. It was built by an American polo player who named the hotel after his favorite polo field (on Long Island). Now the name for the Polo Restaurant also becomes clear. New Owners renovated the 1920s building, giving the historic red brick a comfortably refined ambiance. I especially appreciate the handsome writing desk and homey sofa where I read all curled up in my terry-cloth robe. More than I like the guest-provided robe, though, are the bathroom linens. They’re made by Lissadell of 100% Irish cotton, a combination of just the right weight, texture and size to cozily dry off. I’ve never cared for velour which strains to absorb water.

For business travelers this hotel is especially considerate. I had four telephones, two facsimile machines, paper pads and pens on every table and two complete bathrooms, one adjacent to the bedroom and the other by the living room. There was ample closet space for clothes and plenty of bathroom shelves and drawers for various toiletries. Double French doors close the living room off from the bedroom.

The Polo Restaurant is ideal for conference luncheons and you can take the elevator rather than a taxi. Chef Kerry Heffernan makes a delicious salad dressing. He combines tissue-paper thin, air-dried beef and dill in such a flavorful way that I dipped bread in it. Chef’s Flan of English Peas with Morels (a specialty) tasted well with the Pan Seared Chilean Sea Bass. Another favorite was a sandwich—Breast of Chicken on Toasted Potato Bread with Beefsteak Tomato, Farm Bacon and Grilled Onion and Avocado. For the especially health-conscious dinner there’s a Portabello dish and a lovely Bounty of Early Spring Vegetables roasted and grilled. For breakfast—have it in your room and the pancakes are irresistible.

Nightly, my pillows were fluffed, the bed covers turned back and the terry robe placed at the foot of the bed. I wasn’t surprised. This attention to detail at New York’s Hotel Westbury is usual.

"Only the best for my guests," television show host Rosie O’Donnell says in selecting the Westbury for her visitors.

I didn’t see Rosie’s celebrities but I was treated like one.

When visiting the Big Apple, the Westbury is a convenient place to stay. Situated on the corner of 69th and Madison Avenue (ph. 212/535-2000), it’s the perfect location for a walkaholic like me. Ask the concierge for a copy of WHERE Magazine and a city map. They’re excellent guides, locating theaters, department stores, major attractions, subway and bus maps and sightseeing tours.

An excellent introduction to the city is an attraction called "Show Me New York." Located in a convenient midtown building (42 E. 58th between Park and Madison, ph. 888-5200), the feature is an overview of Manhattan then and now. It begins with appropriately dressed actors portraying a turn-of-the-century street scene. Afterwards, in the theater, a laser light show and a High Definition Video present tourists a view of the entire city: neighborhoods, current events, famous sites—including visits to all the boroughs and a tour of the Chrysler Building which isn’t even open for real visits. Altogether, it takes about 45 minutes. Open 365 days, tickets are $11.50 for adults and $9 for children aged 5-12 and seniors.

New York is easy to maneuver once the neighborhoods become familiar. For the most part, numbered streets run east to west and numbered avenues (and named thoroughfares like Park and Madison) run north to south. A defining focal point is Central Park. It divides Manhattan into the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.

Upper East Side (59th to 96th streets—an exclusive residential section) has many fine museums: Frick Collection, Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Guggenheim and Jewish Museum. Upper West Side (110th Street to Columbus Circle—home to the artistic and intellectuals) includes the Lincoln Center, American Museum of Natural History, Museum of American Folk Art, Hayden Planetarium, shops—including Zabar’s gourmet treats and H & H Bagels where New Yorkers line-up daily for fresh breakfast bagels—and many fine restaurants. With more than 25,000 places to eat, however, restaurants are located all over Manhattan.

Midtown, the main business district, extends from South Central Park to 34th Street between Seventh and First avenues. Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Grand Central Station, Chrysler Building, New York Public Library, Pierpont Morgan Library and the Empire State Building are some of the attractions located in Midtown.

The Theater District, adjacent to Midtown, stretches down Broadway from 57th Street at South Central Park to Times Square at 42nd.

Rockefeller Center is a world of its own. It was the city’s first integrated commercial complex and has become an internationally famous architectural landmark. The Channel Gardens are planted seasonally displaying 20,000 varieties yearly. Radio City Music Hall is a wonder with its 24-carat gold ceiling and 29-foot chandeliers, the largest theater organ in the world and the best equipped stage with its fantastic underground hydraulic system. The GE Building (formerly RCA) is decorated inside and outside with murals and reliefs and has a two-mile underground concourse lined with shops, services and restaurants. And an 18-foot, 8-ton gilded bronze Prometheus still hovers above the New York scene.

Other interesting neighborhoods are Gramercy Park (northernmost city boundary until 1850s),Greenwich Village (easy-going and avant gard lifestyles) and SoHo (an acronym for the location SOuth of HOuston Street) with 19th-century architecture, trendy boutiques, eclectic restaurants, galleries and great food shopping at Dean & DeLuca. Unless you like elongated clothes hanging from the wall to the floor, variously shaped hats exhibited on prongs or a series of unevenly elevated television screens showing—I’m not sure just what—skip the SoHo Guggenheim. As George Will said in defining acceptable standards for a number of things: "There comes a time when a difference in degree is a difference in kind."

I like to walk from Westbury Hotel down Madison Avenue past Gramercy Park—that’s about 50 blocks. Verbena is a neighborhood restaurant on Irving St. near the park with herbs growing around the terrace. Try a Mixed Green Salad ($6), the Herb Crusted Souffle Roll ($10), or the fresh fish of the day ($11) and the Rhubarb Shortcake ($5), all delicious with Veuve Clicquot Brut. It’s a light and pleasant lunch and reasonably priced for New York. In any event, Madison Avenue window shopping beats buying plus there’s good sightseeing along the way. Frequently one of the major commercial buildings has an interesting exhibit and they are free.

New York City has cleaned up some of its unpleasantness. Last year panhandlers stopped me on three consecutive corners asking for money, and when refused, cursed at a threateningly close range. This year they were gone. I was not interrupted once during my walk. And the sleaze has diminished along other routes where it was previously rampant. I felt safer than I had in years.

Walk back up Fifth Avenue and admire the Flatiron Building at 22nd, triangularly shaped like the implement memorializing the Garment District. Continue on Fifth to see the Empire State Building. Go one block east to Madison to visit the Pierpont Morgan Library (Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, rare books and changing exhibitions) and adjacent 1852 brownstone mansion, former residence of J.P.Morgan and connected by a soaring, glass and steel, curved skylight ceiling—Garden Court and Café. Light luncheon and afternoon tea are served here. All museums offer a complimentary Museums User’s Guide with a current daily calendar. There’s a requested contribution, $5 for adults and $3 for students, closed Monday, call 685-0610.

Go back to Fifth and 42th St. to visit the New York Public Library. Admission is free. Call 869-8089 for recorded current exhibits. The 100-year-old building is a national historic landmark, a Beaux-Art masterpiece worth seeing itself but also housing changing exhibits of literary, artistic and historic interest (and has two of my books). Shops in libraries and museums offer interesting and unique gifts relating to the housed collections.

Go east two blocks to see Grand Central Station, another architectural treasure built in the Beaux-Art style between 1903-1913. The one-hour walking tours led by volunteers of the Municipal Art Society are free. Call 935-3960

There’s music, theater, castles, bridges, dance, art galleries, parks, gardens, zoos, sports and even a turn-of-the-century merry-go-round at 64th mid-Park Avenue that’s open daily, weather permitting. Call 879-0244.

Just two blocks west of Hotel Westbury at Central Park is the lovely Frick Collection. This former private home of steel magnate Harry Frick was built in 1914 in classic 18th-century European domestic architecture. It is grandiose in an American sort of way because Frick, born in 1849 on a farm in rural Pennsylvania lacked advantages and had little education but was a millionaire by age 30. To celebrate, he and Andrew Mellon sailed to Europe for an introduction to the history of great art. He had a naturally exquisite eye and collected more than 1,100 important works from the Renaissance to the late 19th century over his lifetime. His house was built to accommodate the collection. It includes an indoor garden court with a fountain and reflecting pool surrounded by foliage and columns, a uniquely lovely respite in busy New York.

For the best fresh seafood in New York prepared sublimely, dine at Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St. between 6th and 7th aves., ph. 489-1515). Chef Eric Ripert cooks as handsomely as he looks. The $42 prixe fixe luncheon and $68 prixe fixe dinner menus offer ample selections. Chef Ripert prepared five courses for my dinner: Herbed Crab Meat in Saffron Ravioli and a Shellfish Tarragon Reduction; Fricassée of Mussels, Clams, and Oysters in their Broth, with Sweet Garlic and Tomato Butter; Garlic and Parsley Sauté Calamari, Sweet Confit Early Pimentos, Spicy Pimento Oil; Paupiette of Black Bass and Cabbage, Julienne of Celery, Carrots and Leeks, Thin Melting Slice of Foie Gras and Truffles, Purple-Mustard Shallot Sauce; Striped Bass in a Marinière of Baby Cockles, La Reine Potatoes and Leeks, Splash of Lime and Red Curry Oil—and, several desserts—Pear Fantasy: Spiced Honey Cookie and Pear "Sandwich," Fan of Pear in Caramel-Passion Sauce, Pear Sorbet; A Light and Flaky Millefeuille of Chocolate; Milk Chocolate Mousse with Caramelized Meringue, wrapped in a Soft Chocolate Purse, Vanilla Sauce; Mont Blanc: Dome of Crisp Meringue, Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, Candied Chestnut and Rum "Vermicelli," Whipped Cream; Warm Fresh Black Current Clafoutis, Crème Fraiche Sorbet, Black Currant Sauce and Earl Grey Tea "Crème Brulée" Sprinkled with Wafer Crispies, Green Apple Sorbet and Dried Candied Apples. I enjoyed a delicious Champagne Billecart-Salmon with everything. I shall return!

Another place not to be missed is Picholine (35 W. 64th St. between Broadway and Central Park West, ph. 724-8585, cost @ $40). Chef Terrence Brennon, formerly at The Polo in Hotel Westbury, cooks sensationally. There’s a daily selection the Chef specifically prepares. I dined on Tuesday so I had the recommended chicken, crispy yet moist and prepared under a brick. I didn’t watch so I can’t describe how its done—but it works beautifully. Other seasonal specialties are soft-shell crabs, sweet bay scallops, roast baby lamb, and a wild mushroom and duck risotto. The most unique feature concerns cheese. Picholine has a resident cheese expert, Maîte de Fromage Max McCalman, and the only cheese cave in America. There are more than 50 artisan cheeses and other, more familiar selections. Ask Max to make a nice array to compliment your wine(s).

Gotham Bar and Grill has a convenient and well-priced-for-New-York prix fixe luncheon for $19.97 with two choices for three courses. I selected Caesar Salad, Sautéed Atlantic Salmon and Chocolate Cake with Espresso Ice Cream and Champagne Taittinger with everything. My friend Kimberly Charles from Kobrand had Gotham Daily Soup (broccoli/cheese that day), Wild Mushroom Pasta and A Trio of Sorbets. I especially enjoyed our friendly waiter: He was from Texas. Gotham is near SoHo and in an interesting area to walk.

Well, these suggestions should help start a visit. There’s always more for return visits, but if all else fails, go to New Jersey first to experience The Bernards Inn and The Ryland Inn. They’re unforgettable.

The Ryland Inn, P.O.Box 284 Route 22 West, Whitehouse, NJ 08888, 908/534-4011

The Bernards Inn, 27 Mine Brook Road, Bernardsville, NJ 07924, 888/766-0002

The Westbury, 15 E. 69th at Madison, New York, NY 10021, 212/535-2000

Le Bernardin, 155 W. 51st Street, New York, NY 10019, 212/480-1515

Picholine, 35 W. 64th Street, New York, NY 10023, 212/724-8585

Verbena, 54 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003, 212/260-5454

Gotham Bar & Grill, 12 E. 12th Street, New York, NY 10003, 212/620-4020