Virtual Gourmet

June 11, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

Coney Island, Brooklyn NY

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In This Issue

How to Eat Food by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: Beppe by John Mariani



by John Mariani
          I eat my peas with honey.
          I've done it all my life.
          It makes the peas taste funny,
          But it keeps them on my knife.
          So goes an old ditty that in its own satiric way gets at the heart of table manners. How far does one go to maintain equilibrium at the dinner table? And just how fastidious should one be in one's own country when dining in a restaurant where one is not so sure of the rules of etiquette?
     A martini "shaken, not stirred" is an idiosyncratic preference, not a rubric for the perfect martini, but the horror that a host or head waiter may stifle when a guest shows either a complete ignorance or disdain for traditional table etiquette can make even the proudest of men and women shrivel up with childlike shame.
   In her book The Rituals of Dinner (1991) culinary anthropologist Margaret Visser wrote that table manners "comprise the ritual movements which each culture chooses as those most appropriate to handle the mightiest of necessities, the most potent of symbols, the medium through which we repeatedly express our relationships with each other." Outsiders are those who do not know--or have not taken the trouble to learn--the table manners of other cultures. But to go out of one's way to learn such manners is to ingratiate oneself with the world, and, most important, to make oneself feel absolutely comfortable at the dinner table.
   For those perhaps a bit puzzled by the vagaries of eating unfamiliar foods, here's a tip sheet to make you feel right at home.
--Even though the French are aghast at eating most foods with their fingers, asparagus are an odd, glaring exception, although, as Larousse Gastronomique notes, "the tips may be eaten with a fork and the rest of the stem with the fingers."


Bouillabaisse--First of all, it's pronounced "boo-yah-BAYSS," not "bull-yuh-BAIZE." Traditionally the seafood and the soup are served separately, and in Marseilles, where bouillabaisse flourished, the soup is poured over dried, not toasted, bread. Elsewhere, lightly toasted bread or croutons rubbed with garlic and dabbed with a form of chile-tinged mayonnaise called a rouille are set afloat in the soup.rhr4
Bread--In France one never slices a bread roll or takes a bite from the whole roll. One pulls successive morsels from the roll. In Italy (where bread is never served during the pasta course), bread is not buttered, and the current fashion of dunking it in olive oil is an Italian-American restaurant affectation (but not a bad idea). In the U.S. it is considered perfectly O.K. to mop up gravy and barbecue sauce with morsels of bread, but not with the whole slice.

Cassoulet--A well-made cassoulet should have a crisp breadcrumb crust over the pork and beans beneath it, and, depending on whether one is eating a Castelnaudary or a Toulouse-style cassoulet, you tap the crust to break it either seven or eight times, respectively.
Europe cheeses are served after the main course, except in England where it may be served after dessert (though this is fast dying out). If presented with a cheese tray, it is best to choose one mild, like goat's cheese, one creamy, like Brie,  one firm, like Cheddar, and one blue, like Stilton. Eating the rind is purely a matter of personal taste, but if one chooses not to, do not cut off the rind from the entire wedge at once; instead, remove it with each morsel you eat.

Chinese food--The Chinese have many rituals attached to their food service, but the ones to keep in mind this side of the Pacific are as follows: In banquet service one may take as much from the service plate as one wishes, but one should not take more than one intends to eat. Food should be placed atop the rice, and the rice bowl lifted with the left hand and brought towards the mouth, where the use of chopsticks takes over.  Incidentally, in Thai restaurants forks and knives, not chopsticks, are used.
Couscous--Arab etiquette requires clean hands before sitting down to eat, because most Arab foods, including couscous is eaten with the fingers, although in the U.S. forks and knives are usually provided at Middle Eastern restaurants.

-While many Russians pop pancake-like buckwheat blini in their mouths the way Americans do pigs-in-a-blanket, the correct way with a blini is to spread it with melted butter or sour cream--and maybe a litle caviar--and to roll it (traditionally with two forks), then to eat it with knife and fork.

Crayfish--The universal technique for eating crayfish (crawfish in Louisiana) is to hold the body with the fingers of one hand and twist the tail while pinching it with the other. This extracts the tail meat from the body. Then, a true aficionado will suck the fat from the body cavity.jh,l

Dim sum
--Chinese restaurants specializing in dim sum roll successive trays of various dim sum to one's table as they come from the kitchen. They are usually three to a plate, and you merely point to the ones you'd like. The bill will be tallied on the number of plates left on your table at meal's end.


Lamb chops--Big loin lamb chops should be eaten with knife and fork, but the smaller riblets may be picked up and eaten with the fingers. In fact, in Italy they call these little chops "scottaditti," which means "finger burners."
Lobster--Assuming one has ordered a whole lobster, one may ask the kitchen to split the tail and crack the claws so as to avoid all the splatter. More important, ask them to clip off the tips of the claws and to drain out the liquid, which cuts down on the messiness of wrestling with the critter at your table.  Otherwise, cut down through the tail and remove the meat whole. Use the crackers to crunch through the claws, being careful not to send anything flying towards your tablemates.

crabs--Unlike Florida stone crabs, whose hard claws come from the kitchen already cracked open, steamed, spiced Maryland crabs are brought whole to the table and dumped upon a paper covering. One then lifts off the top of the crab's carcass with one's fingers, removes the inedible banana-shaped slivers called "dead man's legs" from the cavity, and picks out the meat as best one can. Then, take the little sharp knife provided, place it sideways over a claw, and rap it with the wooden mallet provided. Pull the claw shell apart, and there's the meat.

--What to do with the pit? Carefully remove it from one's mouth with one's fingers (don't expel it into one's hand or napkin) and place it discreetly on your bread plate.


--Oysters on the half shell may be picked up and slurped down whole, but if you do choose to use a fork, never cut an oyster with a knife.


Italy pizzas are usually individual portions, not 12-inch pies, and, if seated, the Italians eat them with knife and fork; otherwise they fold them up into a "libretto" (little book) and eat them with the fingers.
Risotto--Should be eaten with a fork, not a spoon. If one needs a spoon, the risotto is too soupy.
Rodizio--A rodizio is one of those huge Brazilian restaurants where you have a grand buffet of appetizers followed by as many as a dozen or more meats brought to your table on a skewer. Ritual requires the waiter to hold the skewer downward as he slices off the meat. One should help with this process by placing one's fork in the slice so that it doesn't fall onto the table. One is provided with some kind of red-and-green token: if one keeps the green side up, the waiter will continue to bring more meats; if you turn up the red side up, he will stop coming. Then you repair to the dessert buffet.


Oriental soups
--In Japan,
China and most of Asia, soups are picked up with one's hand and sipped. Those little ladle-like spoons usually set on the table are for big bowl soups with plenty of meats and vegetables in them. If noodles are involved, chopsticks are easier to use than those little spoons.

Sauce spoons
--These fairly flat spoons became fashionable at the time when
France's la nouvelle cuisine stressed the kinds of intensely reduced sauces that begged to be consumed either with the fish, meat or dessert or on their own. These spoons allow one to scoop up the sauce along with a morsel of food and sauce by using the fork to spear the food, then pushing it towards the sauce spoon. Either the fork or the spoon can be used to bring the food to the mouth. The spoon also doubles as a form of fish knife.

--Snails, even cooked ones, don't come out of their shells easily and can be messy to hold with your fingers, so the French invented the oyster clamp, which holds them tightly while you dig out the mollusk with a pin.


Southern fried chicken--This seems like a no-brainer--one uses one's fingers--but in the South and Midwest, pouring gravy over the chicken is regarded as boorish. The gravy is for the mashed potatoes.

--Only in America are spaghetti dishes served with a big spoon on the side, against which to twirl the pasta strands, perhaps because spaghetti is so often over cooked and slippery in this country. Italians take a small amount of al dente spaghetti and twirl it just with a fork, never the spoon, which takes about five minutes of practice to get right.


Sushi and sashimi
--Sushi, which comprises the various forms of fish wrapped with nori seaweed or set atop vinegared rice, may be eaten either with the fingers or with chopsticks. Either way, one dips it into the soy sauce (which you may spike with a little wasabi horseradish to your taste) with the fish side down so that the rice doesn't fall apart. Ideally one should pop the whole morsel in one's mouth, but if one can't handle the whole of it, try to finish the rest off quickly and do not place it back on your tray. With sushi, which is simply sliced raw fish, chopsticks are requisite.


--President Gerald Ford embarrassed himself--yet again--by visiting a Tex-Mex restaurant and trying to stuff the whole tamale, husk and all, in his mouth. What he should have done was to open up the inedible corn husk, and remove the filling forkful by forkful. But then, he's from


45 East 22nd Street

     u   It is never easy for a restaurant
created around the persona of a well-known chef to lose that chef. In the case of Beppe, Chef-partner Cesare Casella had built a formidable reputation in NYC as the city's premier Tuscan chef and upon opening Beppe in 2001; he even named it after his own grandfather.
      Casella had made his rep first at Coco Pazzo in 1993, then at Il Toscanaccio, along the way writing Diary of a Tuscan Chef and Italian Cooking for Dummies. Beppe thrived
in this Gramercy Square neighborhood, and last year Casella went across town  to open the delightful Maremma on West 10th Street (for a review click). For reasons I know nothing of, he decided to leave Beppe a few months later, leaving the restaurant to be run by his partner Gerald Lieblich and Chef Marc Taxiera.
      So what's changed? Not very much, Grazie Dio!  The Tuscan farmhouse look of the place, with its 
terracotta tiled roof, antique barn-wood flooring, and fireplace is still intact, and the menu is much the same, focusing on Tuscan cookery with a good deal of other dishes well worth savoring.  True, you no longer get to see Casella bounding from his kitchen, signature sprig of rosemary in his chef's pocket, and that was indeed a large part of the personality of Beppe. But manager Tom Piscitello and Taxiera are keeping the spirit of the place going without a bump, and my recent meal here was as fine as any I'd had in the past. The food is hearty, lusty, and deeply flavorful, from antipasti to dolci.  The winelist is very solid, with plenty of unusual estates at good value throughout, along with the big names in Italian wine.yiy9
       A dinner two weeks ago was a delight, beginning with antipasti that included crisply fried bianchetti (whitefish) mixed with fresh herbs, and a tasting of fried zucchini flowers and zucchini salad.  Little on this menu will be found at other Italian ristoranti in NYC, like Taxiera's poached, sliced breast of capon with a balsamic vinegar sauce.  Tender grilled octopus (right) is served with red onion, pignoli, and a raisin salad. So, too, pastas rise well above the standard issue: Spaghetti with crumbled pork, garlic, rosemary and tomato, simmered in Chianti--alla norcino ("butcher's style")--was hefty and good, while hand-cut pinci infused with Parmigiano was served with summer's fava beans, spring onions, guanciale, mint, and assertive pecorino.  Farrotto--a grain that sustained the Roman legions--can be very bland on its own, but at Beppe, cuddled with spring vegetables, it took on all kinds of flavors. The night we visited we were lucky a special was a platter of morels stuffed with potato and bacon, then fried lightly to make them crisp.
     If you want seafood, by all means have the juicy pan-seared rombo (turbot) with simple micro-greens and the spark of preserved lemons. But the heart and soul of Tuscan cooking is in its lusty meat dishes, like rabbit strüdel with the flavor of curry and chickpeas, or succulent pork ribs that have been marinated with rosemary and garlic, then roasted and afterwards grilled to give them additional flavor-- a really gutsy, wonderful dish.  Quite interesting for an Italian restaurant was a stewed lamb shepherd's pie with grilled lamb tenderloin. And don't forget to order the Tuscan fried potatoes doused with fresh herbs.  If you have room for dessert, keep it on the simple side.
     I'm happy to know that Beppe is still doing well and doing what it does so well.  It's always been one of those places you go to for the unusual, the regional, and a style of Italian cooking you won't easily find elsewhere.
Beppe is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat.


Christian Delpeuch, managing director of the Bordeaux negoçiant firm Ginestet, has created a series of perfumes based on wine molecules, including "Botrytis," which "recalls a great Sauternes in its sparkling autumn silk robe."

Ahoy, Great Fish, You  Are  My  Friend---AAAAAAGH!o

"Bill Buford writes that `people don't want to know what meat is.' I didn't want to, either. But eventually I realized that meat is a thinking, breathing, feeling animal, with a will to live, which is callously bred to be killed as soon as it is economically profitable to do so. Now that I know, I don't eat animals anymore.  I can look them in the eye, honestly and in friendship, and I don't have to play games to arbitrate between my diet and my conscience." --Gary Loewenthal, in a letter to the New Yorker (May 29, 2006).


* On June 20 the wines of Jarvis Winery will be featured at a 5-course dinner at  Ortolan in Los Angeles.  $180 pp.  Call 323-653-3300.

* On June 23 in Arlington Hills, ILL, Le Titi De Paris Sommelier James Crooker will host a Monterey Dinner, as part of the 2006 Global Wine Dinner series, prepared by Executive Chef/Owner Michael Maddox. $78 pp. Call 847-506-0222.

* On June 24 a QBQ BBQ Beach Burger Bash will be held at Water Taxi Beach, Hunter’s Point,  Long Island City, NY, with a  screening of “Hamburger America.”  Harry’s at Water Taxi Beach will grind fresh 100% certified angus beef at the Beach throughout the evening and serve up regional specialties incl. The Guber Burger,  The Butter Burger, The Motz Burger, et al.  $9-$16 pp. Go to;;
*  On  June 25, Mangia Trattoria in Kenosha, WI, will hold a Masters of the Grill XIV summertime feast, by some of the region's top chefs, incl. Tony Mantuano,  Spiaggia; John Hogan, Keefer's ; Jimmy Bannos, Heaven on Seven;  Patrick Concannon and Massimo Salentino/Salantini and Mia Francesca;  to benefit the Les Turner ALS  Foundation, with a  7-course meal, with wines. Two seatings; $85 pp. Call (262) 652-4285.
* On June 29, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs will host "At the Table New York: Toasting Women Chefs & Restaurateurs," part of a national series of fundraising events presented by Visa Signature, to support WCR’s scholarship and internship programs for women in  culinary careers. A reception and 5-course dinner  presented by women chefs, winemakers and sommeliers, incl. Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, Lassi; Rebecca Charles, Pearl Oyster Bar; Mary Cleaver, Cleaver Company; Amanda Freitag & Vera Eisenberg, Sette ; Elizabeth Katz, Fiamma Osteria/B.R. Guest; Anita Lo, Annisa; Ellen Mirsky, Public; Nora Pouillon, Nora and Asia Nora in Washington, DC; Amy Scherber, Amy’s Bread; Barbara Sibley & Margaritte Malfy, La Palapa; Jody Williams, Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano; Patricia Yeo, Sapa;   Sara Moulton of Gourmet Magazine is Honorary Chair and MC for the event, at the Prince George Ballroom. $150 pp  or $1,250 per table of 10 at or by calling WCR toll-free at 877-927-7787.

* On June 30, July 28, and Aug. 18 “Puttin’ On The Ritz on The Roof” returns at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton, with dancing to the 5-piece Ritz-Carlton Orchestra. A light summer dining menu is served incl.  shrimp and lobster cocktail, Caesar salad, The Ritz-Carlton Club sandwich, lobster salad, parfaits and profiteroles. $40 pp. Call (617) 912-3355. For a more extensive menu, reservations may be made for dinner in The Café off the hotel lobby.

* To showcase the cuisine  in Mexico today, Las Ventanas al Paraíso, will host a culinary event June 29-July 1, featuring two of Mexico City’s most acclaimed restaurants and chefs: Chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol  and Chef Bruno Oteiza of Tezka will prepare 4- and 6-course meals from their menus,  offered at  dinner at all the dining facilities at Las Ventanas. Tasting menus alsoavailable through in-suite dining. Call  888-ROSEWOOD (888-767-3966);  from outside the USA and Canada, call 52-624-144-2800.
* Throughout the month of July, Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe, owner of the River Café in Brooklyn, will celebrate the restaurant's 30th Anniversary with a special menu prepared by its current and former chefs, incl. Larry Forgione, Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Rick Laakkonen and Brad Steelman,  each  preparing a signature dish from his days at the Café.  Wine Director Joe DeLissio will pair wines with each course.  River Cafe pastry chef alumni -- Dan Budd, Richard Leach, Ellen Sternau and Karen McGrath -- will re-create signature desserts. Call 718-522-5200.

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