Virtual Gourmet 

June 4, 2006                                                                      NEWSLETTER


                                                   Catherine Keener and Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote" (2005)

                                                                SUMMER BOOKS ISSUE

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In This Issue



A Tasting of Bob Pepi's New Label by Mort Hochstein


by John Mariani

       The publishing world basically has two seasons--fall and spring--with fall books dominating in hopes of bigger holiday gift sales.  Spring brings out most of the lightweights, with summer cooking in mind. Nevertheless there are always a few good food and drink books that make the season one of the best either to cook from or to sit in a hammock and simply read.
      One disclaimer: I get sent scores of books for possible review but by no means do I get them all; so if I leave out a few that seem to justify inclusion, why not write to me the reason why and I'll include your comments in an upcoming issue?

VEGETABLE LOVE by Barbara Kafka with Christopher Styler (Artisan, $35)--You gotta love the title, which is, by a word, a bit sexier than Barbara Kafka's previous books, Roasting-A Simple Art (1995) and Soup-A Way of Life (1998), which have long been bibles of their subject for me.  Kafka is one of those rare, indefatigable investigators into the way foods work, how they hold up under heat, and how they are best treated to achieve maximum flavor.  This is absolutely true to her newest volume, with an astounding 750 dishes included, with microwave variations (she also wrote the best-selling Microwave Gourmet cookbook in 1987). But this is not a vegetarian cookbook by a long shot, instead showing the versatility of vegetables with meats and fish, along with delectable recipes for spoonbread with raisins and cornmeal cookies, wonderful pastas like squash tortelli with sage-butter sauce, omelets and frittatas, stocks and broths.  The appendix of ingredients--more than 140 pages of them--would make an authoritative source book all its own.  Vegetable Love is subtitled "A book for cooks," and it has scant illustrations. But it is most certainly designed  for the cook in the kitchen.

qwTHE LEVER HOUSE COOKBOOK by Dan Silverman and Joann Cianciulli (Potter, $45)--While I have never been a fan of the subterranean, oddly designed, intensely loud Lever House restaurant in the stunning Lever House building on NYC's Park Avenue, I've always loved Dan Silverman's cooking--a paragon of Modern American Cuisine in which ingredients are allowed to reveal their flavors from gentle coaxing, not by manipulation. Dishes like monkfish with porcini, lentils, and cotechino sausage; Chatham cod with black olive and onion confit; and cranberry-pecan tart with maple ice cream are all perfect amalgams of flavors, textures, and good sense.  The photos (including many of the Lever House) are evocative, but this is clearly a book to impress chefs, and recipes can take some time and sophistication to bring off easily at home.  No professional chef should be without it, and any home cook with ambitions should have it on the shelf too.

by Meredith Brokaw and Ellen Wright (Artisan, $35)--For its photography alone (and a very decent price tag), this would be worth buying. Add in some charming essays by well-known western authors (including a small masterpiece by Tom McGuane), and you'll have a real appreciation for the western food culture so admirably explored in this beautiful book. Meredith Brokaw is NBC newsman Tom Brokaw's wife, and he too adds a foreword.  But the proof is in the corn pudding here, and the recipes are straightforward and very American in the best contemporary sense, arranged around meals like "cozy indoor dinner" and "Mexican fiesta," with recipes like grilled lamb with chimichurri sauce, berry cobbler, butterflied turkey on the grill, and pork tenderloin with chokeberry glaze.

by the Culinary Institute of America (Lebhar-Friedman,  $35)--Just how many grilling books does  the world need? I thought I'd  make a pretty decent dent in the genre when  I co-authored Grilling for Dummies  some years ago and since Stephen Raichlen has come to assume the well-deserved mantle of Grill Meister with a series of books on the subject.  Nevertheless, this book is exceptionally handsome (you may not want to take it out to the patio), with plenty of charts for types of wood and cooking times, along with 175 recipes that are very well laid out and far from difficult for anyone to achieve on the old Weber--even a spinach-feta omelet. These books are valuable for the C.I.A.'s own students but easily adapted to the home cook's level of expertise.

by John T. Edge (Putnam, $19.95)--Does anyone really need a whole book on donuts? Probably not, but the subject is as fascinating as a history of hamburgers, fried chicken or apple pie when John T. Edge  (director of the Southern Foodways Alliance) tells it.  This volume is the last of a series of small books  by Edge on single foods that do indeed cover fried chicken, hamburgers, and apple pie, and he attacks his subject with enthusiasm, starting with a chapter entitled "Conflicted About Krispy Kreme," then going on with his research into the origins and history of this beloved American snack.  He then proceeds to show the amazing variety of the item in essays on his favorite donut purveyors. This book is every bit as much a treat as a box full of mixed donuts.

by Tom Fitzmorris (Stewart Taboori & Chang, $19.95)--For as long as I've been writing about American food, Tom Fitzmorris has been my guru when it comes to the gastronomy of his native Louisiana, and his daily newsletter, The New Orleans Menu, is one of the best on the 'net. So I am delighted to have his newest book, with a foreword by Emeril Lagasse.  The headnotes are invaluable--the folklore, the origins, the traditions of how a dish is made--and the recipes clear and rarely run more than one page. Some he imparts as "articles of faith,"  other recipes are from specific restayurants. You cannot open a page without thinking, "This is something I'd really like to try."  His writing has an infectious enthusiasm that never flags and comes from the heart. What's more, Fitzmorris is donating 50% of the profits from the book's sale to Katrina relief.

by Hugh Johnson (U. of California,  $34.95)--So very few wine writers have anything close to a style that one is hesitant to call them writers at all: compilers of adjectives, b-s artists, perhaps, but not writers. Still, the Brits have excelled at this sort of thing, and none rises higher in my estimation than Hugh Johnson, who is as erudite about gardening (his Encylopedia of Trees is considered seminal) as he is about wine, and his Story of Wine, which was also a TV series, has never been surpassed.  Johnson hates the "fruit salad" school of wine writing, full of "pomelo and passionfruit, with dried currants on the palate."  Instead he is a raconteur, beginning with the statement, "I was born in a terrible year. No wine-maker in Europe seems to be proud of his 1939," and taking you through to his 1990s partnership in taking over a Hungarian Tokaji vineyard. And he reminds all of those wine pinheads who taste wines in antiseptic ways that in wine,   "There is nothing else we buy to eat or drink that brings us the identity of a place and time in the same way, that memorises and recalls (if we listen) all the circumstances that made it what it is."

g[]THE TWINKIES COOKBOOK by Hostess (Ten Speed Press,  $12.95)--Tbis a a very silly book but so lovable in its silliness and so revelatory of a particular streak--and very wide one--of American taste that it is worth savoring more for what it says about us than about Twinkies, which have about the same value in American culture as "The Price Is Right," and have persisted far longer.  You can't help but laugh at the pictures of such giddy, sugary innocence--Twinkies in boxing gloves, Twinkie sushi, "French Twinkies" (made like French toast), Twinkie lasagna--you soon begin to believe there is nothing a Twinkie cannot be made into.  How can you not love a recipe for pumpkin Twinkie bread pudding whose author, a Kansas City woman named Sorya Hamid, says "makes the house smell yummy in the fall and winter.  As an added bonus, the scent of pumpkin is an aphrodisiac for men!"?

by John Mariani


       In a world where the "celebrity chef" has become an oxymoron, not cooking in one's restaurant has become a measure of one's success. Such people prattle on by repeating Paul Bocuse's throwaway line, "Who cooks when I'm not in my restaurant? The same person who cooks when I am there," to the effect that it makes not a smidge of  difference whether a celeb chef ever shows his face in any of the 15 restaurants he is paid to put his name on.  As someone whorrurhr has long crusaded for those chefs who respect their guests enough actually to cook for them and rapped the knuckles of those who think such an idea is totally passé, I was interested to read Mario Batali's comments in The United States of Arugula by David Kamp (to be published this September) that,  "John Mariani is living in the seventies.  He's still consumed by the fantasy of going to three-star Michelin restaurants where you're greeted by the mama out front while papa's in the kitchen, and the little boys are busing their plates.  It's a beautiful little world, and there's nothing wrong with it per se, but there's no reason for me to live it." Which he does not, with seven restaurants in NYC, two to come on line in Vegas, and another in L.A., not to mention his new Mario Batali wind-up doll.                                       
                                                                Mario Batali on/off doll; click here for video

     Ignore the fact that Batali has lovingly and reverentially credited his own culinary coming-of-age to working at a family-run restaurant in Borgo Capanne, Italy, and that he earned his early reputation cooking at a tiny Greenwich Village restaurant named Pó. Instead, allow me merely to provide him with a short list (in no particular order) of some of NYC's greatest chefs who are more often than not still cooking in their kitchens.  On any given night, you will probably find them there, eager to see you, happy you have come, and trying to make every dish come out of the kitchen as he or she wishes it to be.  A seventies fantasy?  Not by a long shot. My apologies to those scores of other working chefs I have not room to mention here.
    (And for further discussion of the absentee chef syndrome, click on Mark Bittman's excellent essay in this morning's NY Times Magazine section, "Dining by Satellite.")

-Alfred Portale, Gotham Bar & Grill (left)
-Eric Ripert, Le Bernardin, NYC
-Marco Canora, Hearth
-Eric Lind,  Bayard's
-Cyril Renaud, Fleur de Sel
-Survir Saran, Dévi (left)

-Shea Gallante, Cru
-April Bloomfield, Spotted Pig
-Galen Zamarra, Mas
-Daniel Boulud, Daniel

-Dan Silverman, Lever House (left)
-Wayne Nish, March
-Cornelius Gallagher, Oceana
-Christian Albin, The Four Seasons
Matt Tropeano,  La Grenouille
-Francois Payard, Payard (left)
-Craig Koketsu, Quality Meats
- Fortunato Nicotra,  Felidia
- Benedetto Bartolotta, Table XII
-Michael White, Fiamma Osteria

-Masa  Takayama, Masa (left)
-Pierre Schaedelin, Le Cirque
Pino Coladonato,  La Masseria
-Ed Brown, The Sea Grill
-David Waltuck, Chanterelle

-Anita Lo, Annisa (left)
-Jo-Ann Makovitsky and Marco Moreira, Tocqueville
-Daniel Humm,  Eleven Madison Park
-Marc Meyer, Five Points

-Gray Kunz, Café Gray (left)

-Mauro Mafrici, La Scolca
-Francois Payard, Payard
-Roberto Paciullo, Roberto's
-Antonio Bruno,  San Pietro
-Gabriel Kreuther, The Modern (left)

-Bill Telepan, Telepan
-John Fraser, Compass
-Lee McGrath,
-Wylie Dufresne, WD-50


A Tasting of Bob Pepi's New Label
by Mort Hochstein

                 ho[It seemed incongruous to be dining in a ornate traditional  Italian wine cellar and singing the praises of American wine.  The wine cellar was at Bottega Del Vino (left), a NYC beachhead for a 117-year-old Verona restaurant.  The wines we enjoyed were from American producer Bob Pepi, though they are  not on BDV's encyclopedia-sized wine book.
     Not yet anyway, but they will find a place there in the future, according to  proprietor Severino Barzan and Pepi.   Bottega del Vino's Verona progenitor carries  about 10,000 labels on its list  and the NYC outpost has about 1,000, but the NYC list increases steadily as shipments arrive from the group's warehouse in  
Italy and from American sources. The restaurant’s wine list is international in  scope, showing many of the great names of France and California along with those of  its native Italy. (For a review of Bottega del Vino click.)

       When Pepi's wines join that array, they won't, however, wear his name, because  he's  from one of the many California families who've sold their name to a larger  constellation.  He went off to join the ranks of consultants and flying winemakers in  the early nineties and returned to proprietorship as the new century began. In 2000, wearying of being the hired gun, Pepi discovered an opportunity to work with grapes  from an exceptional Napa vineyard and once more became an entrepreneur.
       Pepi said his first Cabernet, the 2000, was in bottle for six months and he had  not been able to come up with a fitting name. One evening he heard his daughter use the word “eponymous.” It was a problem-solving moment,  "I found the perfect name for my concept,"  he comments.   Pepi's first   vintages   were Cabernet blends, using small amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but in 2003, the stars were right for a 100%  single-vineyard Cabernet. Future editions of Eponymous are most likely to follow that path of 100% Cab.
     The Eponymous wines, which list at about $58,  have been winners from the start, earning raves from critics and high rankings on  the numbers charts, outscoring some of California's most honored Cabs and cult wines. Pepi's newest entry  is the '03  MacAllister Red Wine, his first to come from outside Napa Valley.  Like its siblings, the MacAllister is rich and elegant, with a long finish. About 60% Cab, 30% Cab Franc, and 10% Merlot; it will sell for $45.   Grapes for the MacAllister come from a steep site just over the peak of Mount Veeder, on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamus Range that runs between the Napa and Sonoma "The vineyard is as close to Napa as you can get,"   Pepi notes.
      As a winemaker, Pepi has worked nearly three dozen harvests, a feat possible at his age only for commuting consultants who travel between the continents, in his case between North and South America.  His most notable work abroad came with Valentine Bianchi, an outstanding Argentine producer, for whom he still consults.     At Whitehall Lane, one of several California wineries where he was employed, his wines earned ratings in the nineties on several occasions.ek
      In  the 1990s Pepi and his winemaking partner Jeff Booth  were working for the Washington-based wine group, Stimson Lane, where they teamed up to produce one of California's legendary reds, the 1991 Conn Creek Anthology.  They joined forces again in Napa to create the Eponymous wines and another line under the Two Angels banner for his distributor, Quintessential. One of those Quintessential  bottlings, a 2004 Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc, was our first wine of the evening at Bottega del Vino. Crisp and elegant, it mated nicely with a zesty carpaccio of smoked salmon and tuna, nestled on a fennel and orange salad. Chef  Masimuliano Convertini  followed up with a powerful  risotto  spiked with Amarone; Pepi doesn't make an Amarone, but his  2002 Eponymous, which was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,  had more than enough muscle for the rustic risotto.
     Our next pairing was   a moist filet of pan seared sea bream with capers and black olives in a light cherry tomato sauce, teamed with the '03 MacAllister in its first public tasting. The new blend, with Cab Franc tempering the Cabernet Sauvignon, adding  cassis and chocolate tones, played nicely off the tang of the olives and capers. Convertini's meat entrée was a succulent, tender loin of lamb in rosemary red wine sauce which was served with a Two Angels Syrah.
         Pepi confesses to a secret passion for Petite Sirah,  which he feels does not deserve to be regarded as the illegitimate cousin of Syrah.  Its unheralded charm showed at  dessert time in the most unusual pairing of the evening,  We enjoyed  a perfect  marriage of   lush semifreddo hazelnut  ice cream  topped by chocolate sauce   and rather than, say, an Italian sweet wine,  a dark, muscular, yet supple, Two Angels Petite Sirah, rich in chocolate, coffee and licorice flavors. It was a match I would never have considered, but Convertini and Pepi put it together beautifully. It was a great wind-up to an evening of Italian food and American wines in a wine cellar setting not to be missed.


"So I'm in line at Starbucks, waiting for the coed in front of me to decide whether she wants regular or low-gluten soy foam in her iced-decaf chai latte.  I have a good fifteen minutes to kill, and to pass the time I admire the succulent collection of pastries in the display case.  That's when I notice the . . . muffin."
      --Jay Forman, "A Cupcake by Any Other Name," Food and Dining Magazine (Spring 2006).


Forty years ago in Springfield, ILL, Steve Jenne retrieved a half-eaten buffalo barbecue sandwich from a 1960 presidential campaign stop by Richard M. Nixon.  Jenne has kept it in peak condition ever since and exhibited it on TV shows. "It ain't easy," Jenne said. "First of all, to fly with dry ice I would have had to go through all different channels of security. So I forgot the dry ice and rigged up a way to keep it frozen in a cooler as part of my luggage and made sure it never left my side."


* On June 14 Chicago’s Vinci Chef Paul LoDuca will host a 4-course Sicilian Wine Dinner with Ajello Wines.  $43 pp.  Call  312-266-.1199 or visit

* On June 15   Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in San Francisco will hold a  5-course Sterling Vineyards Wine Dinner prepared by Spenger's Executive Chef Romero Miraflor, paired with Sterling Vineyards wine selected from their Vintners’ Collection. $50 pp.  Call 510-845-7771.
* On June 15, the icon café  in Providence, RI, is holding a party to raise money for the employees of Downcity Food + Cocktails, which had a kitchen fire that destroyed the popular Providence restaurant on May 22. The ticket price for the party is $20, and half of the proceeds will go to the Downcity employees.  Call 401- 861-4266.

* From June 21-27 Chicago’s Nacional 27 celebrates a “Summer of the Blue Agave,” with Chef Randy Zweiban’s agave-inspired menu of  five a la carte courses, each paired with an agave cocktail created by Car Chef Adam Seger.  Also, a 5-Course Gran Tequila Menu with Tasting Cocktails is available for $65. Call 312.664.2727 or visit
* On June 25 the 6th Annual “Taste of Wilmington” will be held at Frawley Stadium on Wilmington’s Riverfront Sunday, presented by Delaware’s New 99.5, with food from dozens of area restaurants, live entertainment from “Jellyroll,” a giant children’s area presented by Metro Kids, along with cooking demonstrations, and model turned culinary/lifestyle/author Maria Liberati ( as Celebrity Chef.   Partial proceeds from the event benefit the Food Bank of Delaware.

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.


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.

6y6My 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.
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, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

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copyright John Mariani 2006