Virtual Gourmet

  February 5, 2006                                                         NEWSLETTER


                                              The Roundtable at The Algonquin Hotel, NYC by Al Hirschfeld
                 From left, clockwise: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun,                                                                Robert E. Sherwood, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, and Marc Connelly.

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In This Issue

Notes from the Wine Cellar: When in Rome Drink as the Romans Do by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNERPair of 8's by John Mariani



by John Mariani
                                                                      The Tiber River with St. Peter's in the background
Rome is awash with wine, especially in its growing number of wine bars. One of the oldest is eCasa Bleve (below) on the Via del Teatro Valle, still very popular, with a marvelous array of antipasti, walls of wine, and a very large tasting salon. The diversity and depth of Rome’s wine culture is nowhere better manifested than at the city’s oldest wine store, Enoteca Bulzoni (34 Viale Parioli), which dates to the 1930s, a trove of 2,500 regional Italian wines and plenty of older vintages, along with a considerable array of international wines, particularly Champagnes.
Another revered old-timer is Cul de Sac (73 Piazza Pasquino), a stone’s throw from the Piazza Navona, with an outdoor  trattoria and a wine store attached with  more than 3,000 wines,  grappas, and digestivi. Here you may also sit down at a shaded outdoor table on the piazza and enjoy all the traditional Roman dishes, like  coda alla vaccinara (stewed oxtail), trippa alla romana (tripe in tomato sauce), and spaghetti ai cacio e pepe (with cheese and pepper), while sampling any of the dozens of wines offered each day by the glass. Prices for the food are modest: A three-course meal will run you about 30 euros ($36), including tax and service, but without wine.
earby is L’Altro Mastai (53 Via G. Giraud), with a new restaurant across the street where chef, Fabio Baldassare (right), a protégé of theo great Heinz Beck at La Pergola, is doing modern riffs on Roman food.  Newer still is the very hip Fluid (46/47 Via del Governo Vecchio), which is flocked every evening with a young and svelte Roman crowd that goes as much for the music and singles scene as for the wine and food.
       Rome is not known for its seafood, yet the capital draws all the best of every kind of food to its bosom and belly, and great seafood abounds, although there is no great Roman seafood dish, as there are pasta and meat dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara and abbacchio al forno. Rome’s finest seafood restaurant is La Rosetta (8 Via della Rosetta; 06-68-61-002;, whose premises date back to 1763 as a “Grande Ristorante Rosticceria”; in 1965 Carmelo Riccioli and a photographer, Romana Colella, brought it to its present reputation, now with one Michelin star to its credit.
     The premises are handsome, with cream-colored walls, perfect lighting, and a large display of glistening fish on ice up front. Riccioli’s son Massimo has carried on as chef in a kitchen where practice has definitely made perfect, beginning with the selection of the finest seafood available.  So La Rosetta is not cheap: Figure on $100 per person, with wine, tax, and service--depending on the wine you order.
     oI wanted to order all the antipasti on the menu but settled for a plate of fried octopus sprinkled with Rome’s favorite herb, mint.  The fried (fritture) dishes here come out on brown paper, and they are briny, tender, flawlessly greaseless, and crisp as tempura.
     We then enjoyed a hefty portion of spaghetti with true scampi--prawns, not shrimp, as in U.S. restaurants--the housemade pasta perfectly al dente, mixed with a little tomato and light herbs. Another simply rendered pasta was linguine con astice--with Mediterranean sweet lobster.  Grilling is expertly done at La Rosetta, and we chose an orata (bream) of firm texture and marvelous succulence, and a steamed dentice (dentex) with buttered potatoes.
     Desserts here are housemade (not always a given in Rome), including a pear “crumble” with pignoli ice cream and lime honey, with which was suggested a late-harvest (tardiva) gewürztraminer ’02 from the Trentino producer Tramin. A “coppa esoterica” incorporated  crispy fruits with an amazingly good coconut milkshake and took well to a glass of Ronchi di Manzano verduzzo ’01.
      La Rosetta’s wine list is about 300 labels strong,  and selected mainly from modern, small estates, with featured wines of the month.
          One of the new hot spots in Rome is L’Arcangelo (59/61 Via Giuseppe Giocchino Belli; 06-321-0992; click), an unpretentious, glowingly lighted one-room restaurant near the Piazza Cavour.  The front room has tall, arched ceilings (below, right), well-set tables that fill up after 8 PM with Romans who truly love to eat,  and owners who are delighted everyone has come to the party each night.
      The food is described as “updated Roman tradition,” meaning that gnocchi potato dumplings come with dried tomatoes, salt cod, and the[[[ ubiquitous mint ($15.50).  The platter of cured meats--lardo, salsicce made from the china negra pig, and prosciutti--all from the master salami and sausage maker Fulvio Pierangelini, have the deep, rich, well-fatted flavor of the best charcuterie.  Yellow tomato soup gets a gloss of Campanian olive oil and a little slice of mozzarella, while a plate of crudi (raw) white shrimp, tuna, and white fish is glossed with olive oil.
    There is a torta of onion and cheese, and I tried two excellent pastas--tortelloni with lamb and cheese in chicken broth, and tagliatelle with artichokes and mint--a very Roman dish.
Breast of duck is glazed with honey and served with dried figs in a sweet-sour red wine sauce ($23.50), which went spectacularly well with a Borgogno Barolo 1967.
    Owners Stefania and Arcangelo Dandini stock a well-focused, 300-label wine list on which every selection is there to enhance the kitchen’s lusty cooking, from a Cori Bianco 2003 by Azienda Agricola Carpineti ($23.50) to a magnificent, impeccably aged Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1975 by Emidio Pepe ($143) that goes splendidly with the filet of beef dusted with coarse salt and rosemary, then cooked in beer.
      Desserts include unusual  millefoglie puff pastry with Chantilly cream; fabulous bignets (fritters filled with custard cream and served with candied orange peel and caramel), and a carpaccio of pineapple with crushed black pepper and sage-scented gelato, with which we drank a Poggio Le Volte Cannellino 2003, made from Frascati. We ended off with crisp Roman cookies  called tozzetti,  feeling full and wonderful, in need of a good walk back to our hotel.

      uuuuLa Matricianella (3 Via dell Leone; 06-683-2100) is a very wine-oriented trattoria, with a 95-page list, including four pages on the wines of Latium (Rome's province) alone, with wonderful, fascinating names like Dithyrambus 2001. There is nothing very wonderful about the two dining rooms here; they are merely typical, with wood beamed ceilings, blue-checked tablecloths, and a fast pace, with waiters wedging between tables carrying the specialty platter here--fried seafood, done to a golden turn and served on brown paper.  There are many Roman dishes here as well, from excellent, rich spaghetti alla carbonara and bucatini alla amatriciana, abbacchio (roast baby lamb) al forno with roast potatoes sprinkled with rosemary, and involtini of eggplant in a creamy tomato sauce.  Don't miss the side dish of spinach gratin.
     La Matricianella gets a very Roman crowd, from fashionistas and business people to young lovers and big tables of friends who always manage to have a very happy time without ever getting raucous or loud.  If the weather is good,  they park their Vespas next to the restaurant door and vie for an outdoor table (left), all the better to watch the world of Rome go by in a sashay.
      You can spend a fortune here on wine, but the food is very reasonable. A three-course meal, before wine, but with tax and service, will run about $40 per person.

The Rooftop Restaurant at Rome's Hassler Hotel, written about in last week's issue, will be closed for renovation and re-open in early fall.--J.M.


eerW hen in Rome,
Drink as the Romans Do
by John Mariani

The Sick Bacchus by Caravaggio (1593-4)

      Ever since the party-loving Roman general Lucullus (110-56 BC) lent his name to a word for unbridled gastronomic extravagance, wine has been central to Rome’s unrelenting la dolce vita, enjoyed at every lunch and dinner, and  the subject of endless enophilian debates in the city’s wine bars.
      No Rome restaurant now hoping to achieve critical applause from the pseudo-tough Italian food-and-wine press like the magazine Gambero Rosso can fail to stock a significant wine cellar.  The wine list at the no-frills trattoria La Matricianella (above) runs to 95 pages, while the ultra-posh terrace restaurant La Pergola at the Cavalieri Hilton (click), with two Michelin stars, stocks more than 50,000 bottles, including some dating back to 1848.
      Unfortunately the wines of Latium (Lazio, in Italian) have never enjoyed the kind of recognition those of Tuscany and Piedmont have, although Italian wine laws give 26 Latium wines a D.O.C. (denominazione d’origine controllata), legal status requiring the wines must be made according to traditional methods and with specific grape varieties.  Many, like Atina, Circeo, Genazzano, and Zagarolo, are almost impossible to find, even in a Roman wine shop, and few Roman restaurants carry more than a handful of the better-known D.O.C.s like Frascati,  Castelli Romani, Orvieto, and Est! Est!! Est!!!  This last gets its strange, exclamatory name from a Twelfth Century legend about a bishop who sent his servant ahead of him to Rome to mark the places with the best wines along the route. On tasting this straw-colored white Latium wine made from trebbiano and malvasia grapes, the servant scrawled thrice, “This is it!” in Latin,  with increasing fervor.
      Under the rubric to do as the Romans do when in Rome, I dutifully drank Latium wines throughout my recent stay there.  I found wines like Frascati, Colli Albani, Aprilia, Orvieto, and Nettuno far different from the way they tasted a decade ago, when so many were insipid, oxidized, or simply indistinguishable from one another. Up-and-coming Latium winemakers have adopted modern technologies both in the vineyard and in the winery to make their wines fresher, more balanced with fruit and acid, and more expressive of their individual estates. Still, they are remarkably well-priced.  Of 100+ Latium wines listed on the region's web site (click) none tops 15 euros ($18), and many sell for under 7 euros ($8.50).
      One of the Latium wines I was most delighted with was called Dithyrambus, made by Marco Carpineti in the Colle Paolino vineyards (below).  The 2001 vintage was a blend of 60 percent montepulciano, 30 percent cori, and 10 percent other varieties. It was a well-structured red wine with medium body, good tannins, big fruit, and probably a long aging potential.dddddddddddddddddddddddddd
    I also enjoyed several examples of Frascati, which is usually produced in huge bulk from malvasia bianca di candia, trebbiano toscano, malvasia del lazio, and other grapes. The best known in the U.S. would be Fontana-Candida, a dreary, acidic white wine that sells stateside for about $8 a bottle. Better contemporary producers include Castel de Paolis “Vigna Adriana” (not available in the U.S., but about 11 euros [$13.30] in Italy), a white blend of malvasia with several other grapes, including bellone, cacchione, trebbiano, bombino, grechetto, romanesca, and up to 40 percent viognier. Also among top Frascati wines is the single vineyard “Vigneto Filonardi” made by Piero Costantini at Villa Simone, which sells for about $11 in the U.S.
     A few Latium producers, like Antonio Santarelli of Casale del Giglio, have started making wines from international varietals like merlot, petit verdot and shiraz (the Australian name for syrah). The estate’s Mater Matuta—named after the Roman goddess of dawn--a blend of these last two varietals, has raised eyebrows for its quality and its price—about 25 euros.
      Such wines are made in small quantities and are still rare on Rome’s wine lists.  But interest in them is growing, and the more familiar Latium wines are finally getting the attention they have long lacked.  So if you do find yourself in Rome, drink them with pleasure but without undue seriousness. And don’t pay too much.

by John Mariani

568 Amsterdam Avenue

   lllllllllllllllllThe taste level of the Upper West Side continues to rise with the opening of Pair of 8's, whose name derives from the simple fact that it's near 88th Street, certainly easy enough to remember. You will, however, remember it for a good deal more once you sample Chef Bill Peet's cooking in this small, utterly charming spot opened by Ron Didner, former manager of Café des Artistes. Add to the mix wine director, Tiffaney Prewitt and you have a happy place doing what it believes it can do best without resorting to handstands or fusionary complexities better left to the Lower East Side.
Peet has a quarter century  experience cooking in French restaurants, including 15 years at Lutèce, eventually as sous-chef to legendary chef-owner André Soltner. Afterwards Peet worked at La Petite Rose in Westfield, NJ, then back in Manhattan at Asia de Cuba,  44 at the Royalton, and as corporate chef for Ark (the company that bought Lutèce), where he oversaw a conglomeration of 26 restaurants in New York, Washington, Florida Keys, and Las Vegas.
Prewitt's commitment is to an ever-changing, 150-label winelist based on what's new, interesting, and complementary to Peet's seasonal menus. As the list grows I trust she will put more bottles on there under $50; at the moment I count only ten in that price range.  She has insisted that those wines be served in first-rate wineglasses, though she seems to have lost the battle to put cloths on the tables; for once, though, naked wooden tables work with the decor, which includes nature-based abstract Polaroid images by  Filipino artist  Augusto Arbizo,  weathered wood from an old barn, and farmhouse lanterns. Textured woven cotton chenille fabric panels with metallic threads on the walls add warmth and also absorb sound. There is a back dining room available for private parties and special wine dinners.
     For the size of the restaurant and kitchen, the menu may have two or three too many items among the appetizers and entrees, but most we tried were done with real panache. Peet is
particularly dedicated to the provender of small New York State farms.  Steamed Littlenecks and mussels were tender and sweet, with the addition of spicy chorizo sausage, and a fried calamari salad with frisée took on added depth from morsels of lemon, strips of prosciutto, and a balsamic glaze.  I was a little suspicious that fried artichoke hearts would be dull, as they so often are, but a sprightly spicy mustard and caper-herb aïoli dipping sauce gave the dish a nice snap.  New York restaurants are teeming with crabcakes, but Peet delivers, if not anything unusual, a good fat meaty cake with the addition of sea scallops, with a side of Asian slaw. My favorite of the starters was a plate of grilled, smoked prawns with mâche and a roasted tomato dressing, with lots of texture and sweet-peppery flavors.222
     There are nightly specials printed on the menu, one Thursday a grilled, honey-brined pork chop of real heft and succulence, served with spaetzle and good old collard greens.  If you wish to go a very hearty route, by all means consider the short ribs of beef braised in dark beer, with whipped potatoes, and a lush roasted tomato jam. If seafood is your preference, Peet does pan-seared sea scallops as well as anyone in town, keeping them just shy of translucence and giving them a delightful garnish of champagne-scented sauerkraut and juniper sauce--kind of scallop choucroute. Also very good was grilled branzino just sprinkled with herbs and olive oil.
      You may go with a cheese plate, but desserts are really good, from an over-the-top chocolate walnut brownie à la mode with hot fudge sauce to a  fine and delicate apple galette with vanilla ice cream.  The Meyer lemon cheesecake with raspberry coulis will make you glad you come too.
       Pair of 8's, which is open daily, is, as noted, on the  upper west side, where brunch is de rigeuer, so they bake up waffles, create their own smoked trout and salmon, lobster Benedict, and special hamburgers made with ground sirloin with pecorino romano cheese, and another with crumbled bacon mixed in the chopped meat.  One of the best bargains around is their "Neighborhood Night" that offers an appetizer, entree, and beverage for just $25.  Otherwise, appetizers at dinner run $7-$14 and main courses $16-$33.



In Thibodaux, Louisiana, Sharita Williams protested that her onion rings were cold at the Malt-N-Burger, then dialed 911 to have the police aid her in demanding a replacement. The police arrived and arrested Williams for wasting emergency police time.


"As you and your dogs sniff through these recipes--cooking your way to hound dog heaven--we hope you will paws from time to time to enjoy . . . ." Mark Beckoff and Dan Dye, Cooking the Three Dog Bakery Way (2005).


To all media publicity agents:   Owing to the large volume of announcements received regarding holiday events, I will only have room in this newsletter for those that have a unique distinction to them.  It would be impossible to list all Valentine's Day dinners unless they are part of a much larger, more extensive format like those below.--John Mariani

* On Feb. 6 NYC’s  Women for WineSense hosts an “Evening with Ted Allen of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” for an "Essence Tasting" from chocolate and black pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon to grapefruit and vanilla in Fume Blanc, featuring Robert Mondavi Private Selection and a book signing at Jolly Hotel Madison Towers.  $45 Member and $55 Non-member (fee includes a free copy of Ted Allen's book) Visit

* From Feb. 10-15, The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas is offering a Valentine’s package incl. 2 nights in an Executive Suite; Breakfast; Ritz Champagne and red roses; Two-day rental of Harley-Davidson  motorcycles and ride to Red Rock Canyon,  escorted by Chef Stephen Marshall, with a grill-picnic-for-two; airport  transfers to/from the hotel.  $3,200.  Visit or call 1-800-241-3333.

* On Feb. 11 amd March 25, The Ritz-Carlton, Boston has brought back “Puttin’ On The Ritz®” in The Dining Room . The festivities begin at 7:00 p.m. Dancing continues to 11:30 p.m. to the 5-piece The Ritz-Carlton Orchestra.  $35 pp. for entrance only to The Dining Room. Guests then may order cocktails, champagne, wine, light dining dishes and desserts as they wish. For information and reservations please call Restaurant Reservations, 617-912-3355 or visit

* On Feb. 14 NYC’s  Tavern on the Green will offer two couples who become engaged at Tavern between 6:30 and 9:00 PM a chance to prove their love as they vie for the title of “Best Matched Couple,” as determined by relationship expert Dr. Scott Haltzman. They will win a trip to Bermuda’s “International Love Festival,” competing for the crown of “Best Matched Couple” with massage classes, salsa lessons and golf and tennis tournaments, to win a week-long honeymoon.  In addition, Tavern Chef John Milito will offer a 3-course dinner at $79 and $129 pp.  Call 212-873-3200 or visit For info about the Love Festival, visit

* On Feb. 16, at the Bohen Foundation in NYC, an event to raise money for the city of New Orleans will be held with a Valentine Patron Preview Reception, Cocktails, Live & Silent Auctions, and New Orleans Cuisine by John Besh of Restaurant August; Donald Link of Herbsaint; John Harris of Lilette; Susan Spicer of Bayona; and Chuck Subra of La Cote Brasserie; Live Music by "Willie Tee" and Friends. $150 pp. Visit

*On Feb. 17 & 18, Tristan in Charleston SC will hold its Big Game Dinner. Chef Ciarán Duffy will turn the restaurant into a churrascaria, with meats  presented on long skewers, and sliced tableside, incl. venison saddle, wild boar shoulder, kurabuta pork, leg of lamb, kangaroo, ostrich, game sausages and red deer.  Call 843-534-2155 or visit

* On Feb. 20 at Houston’s Strip House,  sommelier Lynda Barnes, Salvador Renteria, winemaker and owner of Renteria Wines and Steve Reynolds, winemaker and owner of Reynolds Wines, will be featured at a 5-course dinner. $125 pp. Call 713-659-6000.
* From Feb. 22-26 Chicago’s Naçional 27 celebrates Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval. Chef/Partner Randy Zweiban will create a Brazilian-inspired menu with Brazilian music.  Call 312-664-2727 or visit

* From March 6-9 Meadowood Napa Valley  hosts the 2006 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, featuring Antonia Allegra, Harriet Bell, Jack Hart, Rob Kasper, Karen MacNeil, Jay McInerney, Richard Nalley, Frank Prial, Andrea Immer Robinson, Rod Smith, and Harvey Steiman. The Symposium is open to published editorial wine writers, wine/food writers, wine/travel writers and editors. $475 pp (plus lodging). Visit

* From May 8-13, Venice’s Hotel Cipriani  is teaming up with  nutritionist Mary Kent Hearon and fashion expert Elisa Rusconi to offer guests the opportunity to become “Nutrishionista™s” with a 3-day course in nutrition and fashion, inc. welcome ‘juicing cocktail’shopping tour of Venice with the Beet Girls; nutritional and fashion consultations; 3 nights accommodation with full American or dietetic breakfast; in-room wellness kit; Choice of lunch or dinner. €1,050 (US $1,267).  Call 800-237-1236 or visit


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

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copyright John Mariani 2006