Virtual Gourmet

May 7, 2005                                                       NEWSLETTER

The Golden Arches of McDonald's, circa 1953

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In This Issue

HEAD FOR THE HILLS! Fine Dining in NYC's Suburbs by John Mariani

Notes from the Wine Cellar: Summer Whites and Rosés by John Mariani


by John Mariani

Fine Dining in NYC's Suburbs

Simsburytown Shops
928 Hopmeadow Street

Route 10
Simsbury, CT

         The charming little Connecticut town of Simsbury is a lot more affluent and sophisticated than suggested by Metro Bis' notice that "shoes and shirts are required."  Still, there's nothing stuffy about this darling 64-seat  restaurant, for its own simplicity of decor and the warm greeting by Courtney Febbroriello, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Chef Chris Prosperi, is what makes this as delightful a place to drop into if you're a local as it is a little gem to discover if you're driving through the beautiful countryside of Connecticut, outside of Hartford.
     Were the food merely a recitation of old bistro classics, I would not be spending this space writing about Metro Bis.  But Prosperi is an excellent and imaginative chef who goes far beyond the expected;  his restaurant has been named one of the top 30 in the state by Connecticut Magazine and its winelist has a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
      For lack of a better term--and it is a very good term--Prosperi serves Modern American Cuisine, buying the best ingredients he can find while keeping his prices gratifyingly moderate, with dinner appetizers running $3.95-$14.95 and main courses $19.95-$23.95. So, too, there are plenty of bargains on the winelist, which is just the right size for a restaurant of this size and aspirations.
     On a recent evening my party of four ate widely from a menu of 7 starters, 3 salads, and 6 entrees, beginning with some lustrous house-smoked salmon with a roasted golden beet salad, capers, and golden osietra caviar. Equally lustrous and wonderfully creamy was a torchon of foie gras with lightly grilled brioche, micro greens,8 a lovely compote of figs and a fig purée. A crab cocktail went beyond the ordinary in having a horseradish vinaigrette, pickled celery root, and a shot of vodka, while tuna tartare--another ubiquitous item--was here enhanced with a wakame seaweed salad, wasabi-laced crème fraîche, and crisp sesame wafers with which to scoop it all up.
     Our main courses included slow-roasted Niman Ranch pork with steamed baby bok choy, braised fennel, baby and carrots--the ideal vegetables to go with pork. Creamy sea scallops were pan-seared and served with parsnip purée, grilled corn, a spicy smoked pepper vinaigrette, and a reduction of Port wine, with all elements  admirably
coalescing in sweet, smoky balance.  Poached lobster was good, if not thrilling, with a tomato-herb couscous, butter poached jumbo prawns, and a saffron-fennel sauce that needed more bite.
     As is obvious from the above descriptions, Prosperi is a very generous guy, but he gives each dish proportion rather than simply piling on extra, smothering ingredients. So his grilled Kobe flat iron steak is rich enough on its own but gains measurably from whipped sweet potatoes, Gorgonzola, crispy onions, and a mustard demi-glace (actually it doesn't need this last gilding).21
     For dessert there were happy renderings of crème brûlée, a vanilla panna cotta with crème anglaise, a tangy blood orange sorbet, a warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream and a terrific warm caramel sauce, and a chocolate velvet torte with a berry coulis and whipped cream.
      If many items at Metro Bis sound familiar, read their descriptions again and then taste them: Prosperi is always adding something you don't expect or better than you've had before. Which is what makes him a considerable talent doing what he loves in a region of neighbors who love him back, packing the place on weekend nights. It's clear that he and his wife Courtney work very very hard at it, and if you wish to know just how hard, read her memoir, Wife of the Chef.
Metro Bis is open Monday-Saturday: Lunch 11:30 AM-2:30 PM;  Dinner 5:30-9:30.

1 Colonial Place, Harrison, NY

Photos by
John Porco, Integrated Enterprises Inc.
      Perfection comes from repetition, and in the case of Emilio Restaurant in Harrison, NY (about 40 minutes' drive from Manhattan), 27 years of refining what it has always done better than any other Italian restaurant in Westchester County has brought it close to that ideal.
      Emilio--the fellow with the brochette on the menu cover at left--and Lidia Brasesco opened Emilio in 1979 in an old clapboard house, once a girl's school, dating to 1894, and from the start they distinguished Emilio from the cliché-ridden Italian restaurants of that time by offering a wider range of regional Italian dishes and an antipasto table of daunting diversity. As more quality Italian products came into the U.S. market, like extra virgin olive oil, true Prosciutto di Parma, and aged balsamic vinegar, Emilio was among the first to use and serve them.
      Emilio passed away a few years ago, but his wife Lidia is still happily welcoming regulars at the door while her son Sergio--a man born to be a host--roams the dining room and, for the last three years, Chef Jeffrey Bruno (both shown below) does the cooking.
      I hadn’t been back to Emilio for some years, so I wondered if the restaurant had perhaps slipped into complacency with the same old menu.  I was delighted to find Emilio better than ever. The premises may be dated in design but are uncommonly warm and inviting, with a large, convivially lighted front dining room, a smaller one to the rear, two cozy alcoves and a semi-private room. Tables are widely separated, which allows for good conversation.
      Sergio long ago committed to stocking the best Italian wine list in the county, comparable to the finest in Manhattan.  Emilio cellars 317 labels and about 27,000 bottles, with all the top names like Angelo Gaja, Sassicaia, and Tignanello.  But it is in his personal selections of out-of-the-ordinary Italian wines that he shows his true mettle, with wines like Montepirolo San Patrignano 2001 ($65) from Emilia-Romagna;  Barolo Ca’Rome “Rapet” 1996 ($80) from Piedmont, and new, up-and-coming estates from winemakers who are making new varietal blends like Olpaio Rubbia al Colle 2000 ($38), made from sangiovese and canaiolo.  In addition there are almost as many fine bottlings from California, including Mr. Brasesco’s favorite winery, Kistler, with four different vineyard designated selections.d
       Sergio's enthusiasm brims over when speaking about wines to go with your food.  After discussing the specials with our table of four and recommending certain dishes, he politely asked what price range of wines we wished to stay within. Then, rubbing his hands like a sorcerer, said, “I think I have something very unusual you’re going to like.”  Moments later he returned with a bottle of Trebbiano d’abruzzo, which is a workhorse grape in Italy’s Abruzzo region, bottled in vast quantities and sold cheaply.  Only a handful of producers even try to make wines of real quality from them.  But the Masciarelli he brought us is one that does, with remarkable results. The 2002 trebbiano ($65 at Emilio) is one of the best white wines in Italy—crisp, layered with fruit and minerals, and able to take on years of aging to make it even better.
     It was a delight with our appetizers, which included an array of those antipasti from a cart wheeled to our table.  It was difficult to choose among the offerings, so Mr. Brasesco spooned up plates of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mushrooms, sweet-sour and spicy eggplant caponata, artichokes with sunflower oil and herbs, various sliced hams, and morsels of mozzarella and Parmigiano.

     We then moved on to share spaghettini teeming with mussels, Littleneck clams, cuttlefish, and rock shrimp in a light, quickly made tomato sauce ($18 as a full portion, $9.50 as a half). One of the signature items here is a plate of panzerotti—“big bellied” pasta filled with housemade ricotta and Swiss chard served in a decadently rich walnut cream sauce ($19/$9.50). A delicate pasta crêpe wrapped spinach, ricotta, and veal, baked in a very authentic bolognese sauce with both meat and vegetables, with a lavishing of béchamel. Ravioli stuffed with shredded short ribs of beef ($16 and $9.50) was richer still.
     0Swooning a bit now, we went on to the main courses, going as somewhat more lightly with a menu with a lot of heft on it. A marinated pork tenderloin with porcini mushrooms and fresh tomato ($23.95) was a triumph of simple flavors, as was a whole baby chicken slowly roasted to retain succulence then given a sweet balsamic glaze scented with rosemary ($21). Scaloppini of sautéed veal came with sweet sausage, porcini and braised cabbage in a brandied cream sauce ($23.25).  Filet of sole was applaudable for its Sardinian-style addition of raisins and pine nuts ($22.50), though that evening, at least, the fish was overcooked and falling apart.
      With the meats Brasesco chose a rare Jermann Blau & Blau 2002 ($60), from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, made from a blend of blauburgunder (pinot noir) and blaufrankisch blend. The label has a picture of a dog named Truman on it, owned by the Jermann family’s daughter, and is a pun on “Bow Wow.” It is a wine made in very small quantities, aged in French oak for 16 months, and tasting of violets and cherries.
      None of us needed dessert by then, but it was impossible to dispel Mr. Brasesco’s pleading to try one or two, maybe three. Most of the desserts are made by a neighborhood baked shop named CCG Patisserie.
      Having returned after a long hiatus, I was happy to find Emilio surpassing what I remember of its food and service back in the 1990s. Indeed, after 27 years, Emilio is a rare restaurant that still shows even more promise.
       Appetizers at dinner run: $6.50-$12 and main courses $18-$31.25.

 59-61 Main Street, Yonkers, NY

      4ty[0Yonkers, NY, is one of the great Hudson River towns whose former "Hello, Dolly!" turn-of-the-last-century elegance is evoked in the tinted postcard of Getty Square at the left.  But over decades of decay Getty Square acquired such a poor reputation that when the owners of Zuppa Restaurant & Lounge opened there in 2003, their customers’ greatest fear was to exit the restaurant and find their car had bee stolen or burglarized.
      Indeed, the restaurant’s location the neighborhood had acquired the nickname “Ghetto Square.”  Despite efforts to revive this section of Hudson riverfront in the late 1990s with a renovated Metro North train station, a new library, and an $8 million arts center that closed soon after it opened, Getty Square was still a place most people did not venture after 6 PM. (It didn’t help that the man in charge of the riverfront development was a convicted child molester.)
      Still, owners Robert and Philip Leggio and Armando Santucci believed an upscale Italian restaurant had a good shot at succeeding, especially since Getty Square had become an empowerment zone offering substantial tax breaks for private development. “We were pioneers,” says Robert Leggio, “We thought the kind of upscale, Westchester clientele we needed would find out about us and come down here. Unfortunately none of them lived in this part of Yonkers.”
      The restaurateurs spent a year renovating the strikingly handsome, historic Yonkers Gazette news building of very tall ceilings, huge windows, and vast red brickwork, to which they added a spacious, shadowy lounge and a deep red dining room with well-separated tables, excellent table appointments, and glowing table lights.
      After a slow start, the word did get out, and soon people from Riverdale and Westchester County’s affluent neighborhoods like Scarsdale, Bronxville, and Dobbs Ferry began to flock the place.  On weekends Zuppa is jammed and its bar packed with a young crowd come to listen to live jazz.
      As happened when one or two good restaurants opened in neighborhoods like SoHo, TriBeCa, and the Lower East Side in New York, South Philly, Chicago’s Loop, and San Francisco’s Mission District, Zuppa threw light onto a dark street and helped bring people to what were once derelict, unsafe areas. Zuppa eased the way by offering free valet parking.
      Zuppa’s success has very clearly spurred the area’s development: Two months ago a delightful French bistro named Chartreuse opened up the block, a modern pub named the Grist Mill opened across the street, and near the river Pierview Restaurant has brought further vitality. A Caribbean restaurant named Legends is coming in nearby, and one of the county’s star chefs, Peter Kelly, is due to  open a fine dining restaurant on the river.ruilui
      But Zuppa would never have succeeded if it did not offer food of a kind not readily found in even the richest enclaves of Westchester.  Zuppa’s 27-year-old chef, David DiBari, who formerly worked at stellar New York restaurants like Mario Batali’s Babbo and David Bouley’s Danube, has fashioned a menu of generously proportioned Italian classics like fried calamari that he sidles with a tomato sweet-sour sauce and dusts with fennel salt. He roasts fine loin of veal then serves it with mushroom-scented Italian couscous called fregula and honey-lemon glazed onions. An excellent, full-flavored pork chop is stuffed with cotechino sausage, tomatoes, and parmigiano, served with roasted rosemary potatoes and escarole, and juicy Niman Ranch lamb shank is slowly cooked till it oozes with vegetable-enriched juices absorbed into cranberry-barley risotto and celery root.
      DiBari says that the rich, soulful Italian food of Mario Batali is his greatest influence, and you taste it in pastas like pappardelle with a veal bolognese sauce with fresh mint and artichoke cappelletti cuddled in slowly cooked, sweet tomato.  Ricotta gnocchi dumplings come with a duck ragù, pea greens, and a dose of assertive pecorino cheese. He also does some creditable pizzas, which make for a terrific nibble before the pastas and main courses.
      Beautifully presented desserts match any I’ve had in Manhattan Italian restaurants for imagination and simple goodness, from a creamy budino chocolate pudding with Italian marshmallow to a tangy-sweet blood orange semi-freddo—a cross between custard and ice cream. Do not leave without ordering a bag of hot, chocolate-filled zeppole fritters laced with caramel.
      Zuppa’s winelist offers about 20 wines by the glass, in addition to a very fine collection of Italian and international reds, including all the top producers like Tignanello, Sassicaia, and Gaja.  Mark-ups seem to average about two-and-a-half times retail, with some, like the Gaja Barbaresco 1999, a relative bargain at $295, when it sells in some U.S. wine shops for $200 and up.
      If Zuppa did not deliver good food and good vibes, it probably would not have survived its first year in Getty Square.  That it has shows not only that people will take a chance on what they hear is distinctive but that restaurateurs who take a chance on a neighborhood can be a real catalyst for revitalization.
 Dinner appetizers at Zuppa run $8-$15,  pastas (full portions), $17-$20; main courses $22-$33. Live jazz on weekends.

Summer  and Rosés

by John Mariani
     e7iAre rosé wines returning to favor in the U.S. ? An increasing number of delicious rosés are now to be  found in the market from regions as disparate as Provence, the Loire Valley, Italy, Spain and California.
That wasn't always the case, and the limited selection
contributed to the wine's image problem. Nowadays, anyone who  still thinks that rosé wines never rise above the mundane  obviously haven't tried Robert Sinksey's Los Carneros Vin  Gris (about $17), which has levels of complexity from its Pinot Noir  components rarely found in the rosés of the past.
     With all roses, the latest vintage is likely to be the best available; they are not intended for long aging. I am delighted by Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Graham's  take on a Provençal-style rosé that he calls Vin Gris de Cigare 2002 ($11), made from a complex of grapes -- 34 percent Grenache,  25 percent Cinsault, 19 percent Mourvèdre, 12 percent Counoise, 8  percent Syrah and 2 percent Viognier.  The combination makes this ``California Pink Wine,'' as it's  called on the label, considerably more interesting and layered than others of this style, and a lot more flavorful than some of  the dull roses of even five years ago.
      Back in the 1960s, Americans started tanking up on pink  wines like Mateus, Lancers, Cold Duck and Lambrusco. They  particularly liked Riunite Lambrusco, which by 1984 was selling  11.5 million cases in the U.S. annually, still sells 2.1 million cases, and is the third-most-popular imported wine in the country (after Australia's Yellow Tail and Chile's Concho y Toro).   The virtues of these wines were principally fizz, sweetness,  and a low alcohol level that made them easy to love among those  raised on Coke and Mountain Dew. In 1973, California's Sutter  Home came out with white zinfandel, which was not fizzy and not  white, but rosy and sweet. Sales soared, making it the most  popular wine varietal in America from 1980 to 1998. It still  sells 10 million cases a year.hrrr
      Slightly more upscale drinkers bought Tavel Rosé or Domaine  Ott, which were considerably more expensive, had a pretty, peachy-rose color, more alcohol (13 percent and up), came in curvaceous  bottles and tasted like distilled flowers.
     While I can't say rosés have made a dramatic comeback, I am  happy to report that there are more and much better examples of  this light, summery wine than ever before, with more based on a  greater diversity of grape varieties. I found a dozen at a  premium New York wine shop, with more due as summer rolls in. I began my tasting with good old Domaine Ott 2002 from the  Côtes de Provence ($25.19), a blend of Cabernet, Grenache and  Cinsault, and found it had just as pretty a color as ever, with a  lovely dry finish. It wasn't particularly flavorful, but its  bouquet was fresh. I thought it didn't offer enough bang for the  buck.
      Flavors became a bit bolder and fruitier with a 2002  Marsannay from Burgundy producer Sylvain Pataille, at about $15.  This is both a good buy and an ideal wine to go with a plate of  spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, sautéed onions, and shards of  sheep's milk cheese at twilight. It is made from Pinot Noir  grapes, which gives the wine its body and definite character.
      For finesse and levels of bright fruit and bouquet, I'd  recommend another bargain: Château Rosé, Mourgues de Gres from  the Costiéres de Nîmes in the Rhône Valley ($11). The expressive  label reads ``Sine Sole Nihil,'' or nothing without sun. This  dark, ruby-like rosé is one I'd much rather drink all summer than  just about any dank Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio at the same price.
     Going for a bigger-bodied wine, I recommend a Sancerre rosé  from the Loire Valley, which has the flintiness of a white Sancerre made from Sauvignon Blanc and the ripe edge of a red  made from Pinot Noir. La Poussie is a splendid example,  selling for about $20 a bottle and worth every penny, a good  match with lamb and grilled chicken.
    hjk I didn't find much to get excited about in Spanish rosados,  though I have had some pleasant ones in the past. Among Italian  rosatos I like best the simple, cherry-like wines called  Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a Sicilian light red made from Calabrese  and Frappato grapes. It's difficult to find in the U.S. and  probably doesn't beg for importation, since it's relatively  unknown, but it's a beauty of a wine, sunny, good as an aperitif.
      California rosés definitely showed best, probably because  the abundance of sun and the mineral-rich soil are ideal for the  category. Alexander Valley's Iron Horse Vineyards produces a well  fruited Italian-style rose, from Sangiovese grapes that spend  seven days on the skins (more than usual for a rose), giving the  wine considerable richness and color, and a nice strawberry note  ($10).
     I tasted all these wines quite cold, then tasted them again  only slightly chilled, a temperature that revealed more levels of  flavor and bouquet. At lunch, I had the rest of the Sinskey with  funghi porcini sautéed in garlic, olive oil and parsley, and the  rain outside failed to darken the sunny pleasure of the match.


In Sarasota, FL, a 57-year-old woman sued Michael's on East restaurant for injuries after she fell backward to the floor while dancing atop a lounge piano.  The restaurant's attorneys contend the accident was the result of the woman's drunkenness and carelessness. But the lawsuit says the restaurant's director encouraged her to climb up on the piano, and even took her by the arm and helped her climb up.

FOOD WRITING 101Try not to write as if you had only completed the fourth grade.frd

"The pulled pork was well done; the fat was gone, but the meat, bathed in the house-made barbecue sauce, was tender and flavorful. So, too, was the big, roasted sweet potato, that was oh-so naturally sweet. The fresh greens in the salad were dressed with a delicious house-made dressing. The oven-fried chicken was slightly dry, but it did gain a decent flavor from the seasoning in the crisp breading. It came with good macaroni and cheese and sauteed cabbage. Both meals came with a complimentary slice of sweet potato pie."--John Long, "Healthful Choice Opens on Cleveland's East Side," Cleveland Plain Dealer (March 15, 2006).

qrqrThis 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 Villefranche.  There will be a welcoming cocktail party, gourmet dinners with wines,9999 cooking demos by John and Galina Mariani 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 Hotel 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.


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 Mother's Day event. --John Mariani

* Throughout May, Chef/Owner Cesare Lanfranconi of Tosca in Washington, DCwill feature a 4-course "Il Menu del Asparagi," at $60 pp, with wine pairing an additional $30.  Call 202-367-1990.

* Dukes Hotel has created a special “Children's London package for children ages five and up. At £2,400 ($4,186.37) for three nights, for Fri.  arrivals from now through July 24. Incl: Accommodations for four people (2 adults and 2 children in a Deluxe Suite with adjoining Superior Room);  English breakfast; Visit to Hamley's Toy Shop;  Four matinee tickets to either Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music;   Dino Jaws Exhibition at the Natural History Museum;  Afternoon tea;   Dinner in Dukes Restaurant; Martinis for the parents in Dukes Bar.  Call 011 44 207 491 4840 or  toll free from the US at 1 800 381-4702.

* From May 12-20 NYC will celebrate the cuisine and wines of Navarra, in northern Spain, with a 14 restaurant event entitled The Kingdom of Navarra, Spain Visits New York, sponsored by the Government of Navarra and the Navarra Chamber of Commerce, with each restaurant presenting dishes, menus or wine selection to highlight the Navarrese dining experience, incl: Alcala (212-370-1866), Artisanal (212-725-8585), Bolo (212-228-2200), Casa Mono (212-253-2773), Hearth (646-602-1300), Olives (212-353-8345), Pintxos (212-343-9924), Sala One Nine (212-229-2300), Solera (212-644-1166), Suba (212-982-5714), Tia Pol (212-675-8805), Toledo (212-696-5036),  Ureña  (212-213-2328), and wd-50 (212-477-2900).

* On May 13 the Lodge at Tiburon will hold the “Sip & Sleep Wine Festival Package” in conjunction with the 23rd Annual Tiburon Wine Festival, starting at $299 for a one-night stay in a Deluxe Room; Two admission tickets to the 23rd Annual Wine Festival; Breakfast for two by the Bay at Café Acri.  Visit or call 1-800-TIBURON 800-842-8766. The Festival features wines from over 65 premium California wineries incl.  De Lorimier, Donati Vineyards, Judd’s Hill, Rancho Zabaco, Wente Family Estates, Handley Cellars, plus food from local purveyors and 10 area restaurants; music and a silent auction of library edition wines and original artwork.  For info on the festival visit

* The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s 2006 “Girls  Will Be Girls” Package offers  female guests a chance to raid Chef Anthony Chavez’s pastry kitchen and  nibble their way through his signature desserts. Also incl: Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago beauty professionals in-store makeovers; a farewell gift of savings and gift certificates at  Burberry, Frette, La Perla, Lillie Rubin, at al;  Museum of Contemporary Art  admission for two;  a Cosmopolitan martini in The Greenhouse, complimentary fresh-popped, and the movie-of-your-choice in your room; receive exclusive savings and incentives with your Premier Perks card at Water Tower Place, just an elevator ride away from the hotel; late check-out on Sunday;, allowing you plenty of time to continue to sleep Sunday Brunch.  Rates begin at $500 per night,   plus $240 for an additional connecting guestroom. Call 800-621-6906.

From May 17-19 the First Annual Festival of Food and Wine will be held at the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa at Lake Placid, NY. Chef Paul Sorgule of  the Mirror Lake Inn, has invited 6 of his colleagues to share their knowledge and break bread with food and wine enthusiasts, concluding with a farewell dinner as well as a ready-set cook competition,  a lecture series, and demos, seminars.  Attendees can purchase a 3- day packages inclusive of all events and a special room rate or  individual events available. For a schedule of events, bios of attending chefs, and prices, visit

* On May 20 Ghirardelli Square’s first annual public wine festival, "Uncorked!," will be held in partnership with COPIA, bringing award-winning wines to the San Francisco waterfront,  with  tastings, engaging chef demos, wine seminars, and  a chocolate & wine pairing event. Live entertainment and a blind tasting led by a selection of industry notables. $35 in advance, $40 at the festival; $75 VIP Reserve, $100 at the tent.
*  On May 21, Chef Laurent Tourondel  of BLT Fish will host Café Boulud, Nobu, and more of NYC’s top chefs as they battle it out for the City's best crab cake and dish out crab tastings during BLT Fish's First Annual Crab Festival, with  100% of proceeds from to benefit City Harvest.  $35. Visit or call 212-691-8888.

* On May 22 Max and Benny's Restaurant-Deli-Bakery in Northbrook, IL, and the Joe Lessman Auxiliary of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society are hosting a Multiple Sclerosis Benefit, with an  a la carte dinner from their regular menu from which a percentage of the proceeds  go to MS Research.  Call 847-272-9490.

* On May 22 the Asian Chefs Association debuts their on-going “Taste of Asia dinner” series at Malacca Restaurant in San Francisco with a 6-course meal paired wines. $85 pp. Call 510-883-9386 or visit

* On May 23, Martini House in St. Helena, CA, will present its third “Wine Geeks and Mushroom Freaks” dinner entitled “The Taming of the Shroom” featuring a 5-course meal for $68 pp, developed by Chef/Owner and fungi fan Todd Humphries, paying  homage to a different mushroom with every course. For $128 pp, each course will be paired with wine selected by Bob Foley of Pride Mountain Vineyards, Hourglass Wine Company, Switchback Ridge and Robert Foley Vineyards. A mycological expert will also be on hand to lend their fungal expertise. Visit Call 707-963-2233.

* On May 23 in the private dining room at Boston’s Tomasso Trattoria & Enoteca  a 5-course wine dinner by Chef Tony Bettencourt will feature  the wines of  Villa Giada in Canelli, Italy, with winemaker Andrea Faccio.  $85 pp. Call 508-481-8484.

* From May 27-29  the 16th annual Memorial Day Weekend in Wine Country, sponsored by the Willamette Valley Wineries Assoc., will be held with an opportunity to visit some of the Valley’s small, family-owned wineries often closed to visitors, as well as larger wineries and tasting rooms offering new releases, barrel tasting, gourmet food and limited quantity wines. For a wine touring map with winery listings, lodging and dining, please call 503-646-2985, or visit

* On June 3 Auction Napa Valley has a  line-up of celebrity chefs from all across the country at “The Party,” incl. Traci Des Jardins of Jardinière in San Francisco; John Folse of Chef John Folse & Co in Louisiana; Suzanne Tracht of Jar in Los Angeles; and pastry chef and author, Mary Cech. The Sat. evening Live Auction festivities will kick off with an opening reception.  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).


4332My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. A beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there. Below is a chapter from the book, "Mozz in Water," about how Italian-American food was inextricably entwined with that time and place.
    Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, just click on  Almost Golden.
                                                                                                           --John Mariani

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

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copyright John Mariani 2006