Virtual Gourmet

  February 26, 2005                                                        NEWSLETTER


                                                          NEW RECIPES COOKBOOK (1950)

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In This Issue

Chocolate, with Attitude by Denise Harrigan

NEW YORK CORNER: Ribot by John Mariani

MICHELIN GUIDE France, Great Britain, and Ireland Updates by John Mariani


Chocolate, With Attitude
 by Denise Harrigan

     tttIn financially savvy Zurich, the gnarly cocoa bean is a serious player, thanks to its history as currency and its healthy impact on the Swiss economy. Switzerland's master chocolatiers have fussed for centuries over this humble bean, and their masterpieces are now showcased throughout Zurich, where chocolate is dressed to the nines by high-end confectioners, perched on eider down pillows at five-star hotels, and spun into elegant deserts at the city's world-class restaurants.
      Swiss chocolate is integral to Swiss hospitality, as I discovered aboard my flight from Newark to Zurich. The last thing I remember as the lights dimmed was the flight attendant offered me yet another tray of tempting chocolates. I awoke six hours later, remarkably refreshed and wondering, "Is chocolate the new melatonin?"
The cocoa bean's  original transport to Europe took somewhat more time, arriving from the Old World in 1528.  This "food of the gods" was hand carried and much hyped (as an aphrodisiac) by Hernando Cortez. The Spanish adapted the exotic Aztec recipe for the bitter chocolate brew known as xocolatl, replacing chili powder with sugar. But the cost of the cocoa bean was prohibitive, and its use was limited to liquid refreshment, prompting Europe's elite to keep chocolate's charms under wraps for almost three centuries.
Juliette Binoche in  "Chocolat" (2000)
In the early 1800s, the cocoa bean finally found its way to Switzerland, "where it would find some of its greatest patrons and pioneers," according to Chocosuisse, a union of Swiss chocolate manufacturers. The clever Swiss played a huge role in converting chocolate from a liquid to a solid indulgence.  In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt of Zurich developed the revolutionary conching process that kneads, blends and gets the grit out of unprocessed chocolate.www
       Just a few miles outside Zurich, I witnessed the contemporary version of conching, at the world headquarters of  Lindt-Sprüngli in Filchberg. This immaculate chocolate factory is not open to the public, owing to hygiene as well as proprietary concerns.  But our brief journalists' tour revealed a precisely orchestrated sequence of mass production and painstaking handiwork--as well as utter reverence for the finest  ingredients. The cocoa beans arrive in Filchberg, primarily from Ecuador and Madagascar, fermented, dried and ready to roast and shell (right). The extracted chocolate nibs are ground into a paste called "chocolate mass" (sandy cocoa solids suspended in cocoa butter), then mixed with sugar and conched for up to 48 hours. The glossy, luxurious liquid  is then ready to mold and mix with other delicacies such as Piedmont hazelnuts, California almonds, and "kirsch from little farms in the heart of Switzerland," as Lindt's master chocolatier, Hans Geller, explained.  "Chocolate is a great carrier. You can appreciate all the details of other flavors."
    5Tourist may, however, visit the museum beside the Lindt & Sprüngli factory (, where you may be taught to taste chocolate like fine wine. Between sips of rosehip tea (to cleanse the palate) I worked my way through various Excellence bars, from milk chocolate to Lindt's new 99% bar--that's one percent sugar--not for the timid palate. I learned that fine chocolate snaps when you break it, flirts with the taste buds when it first enters the mouth, liquefies on the back of the tongue and finally reveals itself in layers with undertones like honey, cherry, tobacco.  A lower sugar content means more complex (and assertive) flavors and a more audible snap when you break the chocolate.
      Despite their reputation for milk chocolate, the Swiss (along with the French and Germans) prefer their chocolate on the dark  side. Americans are gradually following their lead,  inspired, surely, by clinical studies that suggest bitter chocolate is filled with heart-friendly flavenols. The medical journal Lancet recently  reported that U.S. chocolate manufacturer Mars, Inc. is seeking pharmaceutical partners to develop synthesized flavenols into prescription drugs. Despite the huge pharmaceutical presence in Switzerland, the Swiss seem amused by the concept of chocolate as medicine.
The stylish yet sensible citizens of Zurich make no apologies for indulging in chocolate. They don't split their chocolate desserts or study calorie counts on chocolate wrappers. They regard chocolate as a legitimate indulgence -- a small celebration. On the world-famous Bahnofstrasse, confectioners like Teuscher and Sprüngli take chocolate to new heights, in terms of tastes--like a memorable chile pepper-chocolate pairing--and presentation.  You can still find chocolates shaped like cowbells and cuckoo clocks, but contemporary packaging more often  takes its lead from the fashion world.ppppppppp
      Adopting the Swiss attitude of absolution, I relished every morsel of chocolate Zurich offered: the flaky chocolate croissants at the exquisite Hotel Widder (click); the rich chocolate buffet that followed the rich Zurich-style veal in cream and crisp potato rösti at Zunfthaus Zur Waag (right), the former guild hall (Münsterhof 8; Tel. 044 216 99 66;  click), where, many years ago, Marcel Chardon, then owner of a cake shop, gave away the recipe for his chocolate mousse to the host of the guild hall; the recipe has been safeguarded ever since and only few know it. The crisp chocolate butterfly atop pomegranate sorbet at the pristine Buhlegg restaurant in Weggis; and the autumn-spiced chocolate mousse with orange salad at Jasper, a sleek, modern outpost in Lucerne's ornate Palace Hotel (click).
       Fortunately, my Swiss mentors also shared their antidote for such chocolate indulgence: long, brisk walks up and down the charming cobblestone streets of Zurich and bracing hikes in the shadows of the nearby Alps. A small price to pay, it seems, for the pleasure  of so much fine chocolate, served in such high style.

by John Mariani

780 Third Ave. at 48th Street

      Hope springs eternal in the brutally competitive restaurant biz, and I am always rooting for anyone who undertakes an enterprise and tries both to be distinctive and to please a neighborhood in need of  fine food without attitude.  That is a good description of Ribot, whose affable owner, Marco Verciani, and managing director Ratha Chau have taken the leap of faith that they can make a mark in a part of town without many restaurants of this stripe--the East Side in midtown, which has been dominated by steakhouses and sushi bars for ages.
       rrrryyyyyyRibot takes its name from
a beloved Italian  racehorse of the post-World War II era who was often considered the underdog but who remained unbeaten in 16 races.   It's a name meant to inspire the restaurant's staff, including Chef Jeremy Griffiths, a Welschman with an impressive résumé that includes stints at the  Oak Room in London, the Queen Elizabeth II,  18 months in Osaka chef Joël Robuchon, the Ritz Carleton in Sydney, La Palme D’Or in Cannes, and in NYC Park Bistro and Il Buco.  Verciani, whose earlier career was in the fashion world as Director for Luca Luca, opened the wine & tapas bar Léa. Chau, most recently at Fleur de Sel, also worked at Blue Water Grill and Asia de Cuba in NYC, as well as Elephant Walk in Boston.
     The interior of Ribot is a bit awkward--an L-shape that hides the main part of the 50-seat dining room (left) from the bar area, and the ceilings are very tall, with windows looking out over Third Avenue. But the decor works comfortably, with leather banquettes, sepia prints of the equestrian world, a nicely back-lighted lounge area, and a
12-foot, blown-glass Murano chandelier at its center. It is one of the rare new restaurants these days that actually has--God bless 'em--tablecloths.  In summer, Ribot offers an al fresco sidewalk terrace.
      The winelist is of an ideal size for a restaurant with 50 seats, a screed of 270 labels, 16 by the glass, and pricing is for the most part pretty fair-minded.  On Mondays featured wine flights are priced between $10 and $15 and--I love this!--half-off all wines by the bottle.
      Griffiths has learned all his lessons well, and his style in international buoyed by Mediterranean flavors.  So you may begin with a luminous butternut and acorn squash soup enriched with sour cream and dotted with chives, or perhaps a delicious three-cheese soufflé--Parmesan, pecorino, and goat's--with baby greens and olives. Chargrilled portobello mushroom was enlivened with roasted scallions, fingerling potatoes, and chorizo, making it slightly more interesting than most of its kind.  Two pastas we tried passed the taste test admirable--potato gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms glossed with truffle butter, and trofie, a Genoese rolled pasta with pesto authentically made with green beans and new potatoes.
      Our favorite main dish was roasted rack of lamb with a mint-pesto crust, accompanied by couscous and Moroccan-spiced dates, while roasted Berkshire suckling pig perfumed with rosemary and served with black cabbage was good though, as often happens throughout an evening, a bit overcooked. Seared red snapper came with softly roasted eggplant, pine nuts, tomato confit and herb chips for a fine massing of textures, while seared branzino was well complemented by fennel potato gratin and shaved fennel salad with its lovely anise flavor.
      Pastry chef Maria Lindstrend has "Heidi" as a nickname, which she may well have earned from her work with chocolate, as borne out by her warm Valrhona chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream, and a frozen hazelnut parfait with phyllo crisp and chocolate cream.  Also  very good was a winter fruit crumble lavished with vanilla ice cream, and an apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream. Isn't it delightful how every restaurant these days can so easily make its own ice cream daily?
       Allow me an extended, if obvious metaphor, by saying that Ribot is coming from behind and its location might be a long stretch, but I think they've got a winner on their hands.

Ribot is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., with a $25 prix fixe option, and for dinner Mon.-Sat., both a la carte, with appetizers $9-$15 and entrees $21-$34; $42 prix fixe option (which is the price of a steak alone at any of the nearby steakhouses).

by John Mariani

      =The new, always highly anticipated Michelin Red Guide to France's hotels and restaurants has just been published, as it has been since 1900, and though it officially hits the bookstalls March 1 in France and March 15 in the USA ($26), the usual buzz and whispers are being heard in the land.
Of last year's 26 three-star restaurant recipients, one lost its rating, for reasons entirely O.K. with its owner, Alain Senderens, who actually closed the deluxe Lucas Carton in Paris in order to downscale it, make it more affordable, and accessible. Michelin 2006 awarded Senderens new place two stars. Chef Joël Robuchon, who himself years ago gave up his own three-star restaurant, now has two stars each for Table de Joël Robuchon and the very casual counter eatery Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, and one for his namesake restaurant in Monaco.
     Les Maisons de Bricourt in Cancale, Brittany, a restaurant owned by Olivier Roellinger, was the only new three-star appointment this year, having for the previous 18 years enjoyed  two stars. Six new two-star restaurants (70 in all) have been added, including six named "hopes" to achieve three stars in the future. The venerable (a kind word) Tour D'Argent in Paris lost one of its two stars. This year 50 one-star restaurants have been added.
       The appearance of the France guide follows that of the controversial New York Guide (for a review click) that came out last fall. A Great Britain and Ireland volume appeared last month, awarding 17 new one-star ratings, which included two pubs--
The Hand & Flowers in Marlow and the Masons Arms at Knowstone. There are now 17 one-star restaurants in the guide, and one new two-star, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Auchterarder.  Also listed are the ‘Rising star’ establishments in their category that "have the potential to develop further and already have an element of superior quality," which included Fraiche in Birkenhead, The Atlantic Hotel, La Pulente in Jersey, and The Harrow at Little Bedwyn near Hungerford, for potential one-star status; The Greenhouse in London  and The Vineyard at Stockcross near Newbury are tipped as two-star candidates.


"Spending time on the North Shore of Oahu, just 30 miles from the urban sprawl of Honolulu, provides a crash course in the hang-10 lifestyle. . . There is hardly a waiter, store clerk or bartender around who doesn't have a ripped physique, a sunburned nose and flip flops barely encasing scraped-up feet."--Julia Chaplin, "For Surfers, All Waves Lead to Hawaii," NY Times (Jan. 29, 2005).


The Welsh wine industry was not happy with remarks by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (right) after he sent 24 bottles of Italian wine to the Swedish Prime Minister
Goran Persson, saying it was to help him recover from having to drink Welsh and English wines the week before at the European Union summit. Mr. Berlusconi, who's believed not to have even tasted the Welsh wine, told reporters that Persson was "so aghast at the wines at the summit that I promised to send him some of our wines."

f4This fall, from Sept. 29-Oct. 6 John Mariani (left), publisher of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet and food & travel columnist for Esquire Magazine,  will host and lead a 7-day cruise called "The Sweet Life," aboard  Silverseas' Millennium Class Silver Whisper, with days visiting Barcelona, Tunis, Naples, Milazzo (Sicily), Rome, Livorno, and Villfranche.  There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines, cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani2222, co-authors of The Italian-American Cookbook). Optional shore excursions will include a tour of the Amalfi Coast, dinner at the great Don Alfonso 1890 (2 Michelin stars), a private tour of the Vatican, dinner at La Pergola (3 Michelin stars) in Rome, a Night Cruise to Hôtel de Paris and dinner at Louis XV (3 Michelin stars) in Monaco, and much more.  Rates (a 20% savings) range from $4,411 to $5,771.   For complete information click.


* On Feb. 28 NYC’s Pair of 8’s will host a 4-course wine dinner featuring Italian wines from the T. Edward Wines portfolio, chosen by Wine Director Tiffaney Prewitt focusing on wines made from grapes native to Italy, e.g.,  Falaghina, Barbera, Sangiovese, et al. $65 pp. Call 212-874-2742.

* During the month of March Four Seasons Hotel Chicago’s Seasons, The Café and Seasons Bar & Lounge Restaurant celebrate foie gras with a menu with foie gras in every course. Selected wines will also be featured. Call  312-649-2349.

* For the month of March Atlanta’s  Rosa Mexicano will hold its  Chocolate Festival, with 28 days of chocolate-inspired menu specials.  A 5-course Chocolate Festival Dinner on March 9 with guest chef Iliana de la Vega; a  chocolate-themed cooking demo followed by a 3-course luncheon will be held March 11.   $65 pp. Call 404-347-4090.

* On March 2 Carmen the Restaurant in Coral Gables, FL,  presents a Chef's Table  featuring the cuisine of Chef Carmen paired with  "Gems from Australia" wines; March 21: Wine Dinner featuring Wines from Spain; March 24: The first of our new Friday's "Ladies to Lunch Series" hosted by Southern Wine and Spirits. Call 305-913-1944.

* On March 3,  the Hotel Bel-Air will hold a Château Pichon-Lallande Dinner, with 5 vintages, prepared by chef Chef Douglas Dodd, with discussion by Gildas d'Ollone, the Château's Managing Director. $299 pp.  Call 310-475-0606.

* On March 6 Naomi Daguid re-traces her travels through Asia’s subcontinent collecting the recipes and experiences  documented in the newly released and highly praised Mangoes & Curry Leaves, hosted by the Jolly Hotel Madison Towers in concert with the Artisan and the New York Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. Mionetto Prosecco and samplings of representative dishes from the book will be served. Tix are $40, incl. a copy of the book. $30 without the book. Call (212) 751-6731.

* To celebrate their March "St. Patrick's Madness Burger," O’Neill’s Irish Pub in NYC is offering one lucky diner a trip to Dublin, Ireland.  Now through March 16,  all guests who order the $10 signature burger and beer combo will receive one "St. Patrick's Madness Sweepstakes" entry.  The winner will be announced live on St. Patrick's Day at 8 p.m.  The prize includes round-trip airfare for two between JFK and Dublin, accommodations for two nights at the Quality Hotel Dublin City and a dinner for two at O'Shea's Merchant's Pub.  Calll  212-661-3530.

* From March 6-11, in celebration of Italy's National Women's Day, Co-owners Cesare Lanfranconi and Paolo Sacco of Tosca will honor Washington women with a “Festa della Donna”3-course  menu, with which guests will receive a complimentary ticket to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  $22 pp for lunch and $35 for dinner., call 202-367-1990.

* On  March 8,  the Hotel Phillips in Kansasa City, MO, will host a “Major Brands Wine Tasting” with extensive hors d’ouevres.  Wine reps from European Cellars, Mt. Veeder, Fess Parker, Kobrand, Heron, Flora Springs, Inniskillin, L'Ecole, Nickel and Nickel, Paterno, Hayman Hill, Leasingham, Far Niente will be on hand to pour and talk about the wines. $35 pp. Call Phillips ChopHouse at 816-221-9292. Special Room Rates available for attendees.  Call 800-433-1426 for details.

* On March 13, WCF hosts its annual New York “Parties of Your Choice” gala, featuring  leading women in politics, celebrities, fabulous homes and NYC’s renowned chefs, incl. Stephen Lewandowski of Tribeca Grill, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, Julian Alonzo of Brasserie 8 ½, Edward Brown of The Sea Grill, Craig Hobson of Picholine, Rene Lenger of Strip House, Gary Robins of The Biltmore Room, et al. A cocktail reception with keynote speaker Al Franken at Doyle New York will be followed by 12 intimate dinner parties held in private homes around the Upper East and West Sides, with each dinner cooked by a NYC chef. Visit

* On March 15 The Third Annual Wine Tasting & Auction to benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro NY will be held at Pier 60, Chelsea Piers. Wines from around the world, tours of some of the most distinguished wineries, and luxury products will be auctioned, while attendees taste dishes from the city’s restaurants & caterers, incl. Abigail Kirsch, Allure Catering, Culinary Institute of America, European Union, Il Nido, MG Kitchen, Public, Sapa, The Myriad Restaurant Group, W Vinotheque, et alChampagne reception courtesy of Iron Horse Vineyards. Sponsorships incl. a VIP Tasting of notable cabernets from around the world. $150 pp; $200 at the Call 212.699.7045 or email:

* On March 16, The Peninsula New York pays tribute to Irish families who helped create some of the finest Old World Bordeaux wines with a special WineMaker Dinner at FIVES restaurant.  Chef Gordon Maybury, a native of Dublin, will combine his favorite traditional Irish dishes with a fine-dining flair, along with a selection of  Bordeaux wines, incl. Lynch-Bages '96, Ducru-Beaucaillou '98 and Leoville-Barton '98.  $150 pp. Call 212-903-3918 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