Virtual Gourmet

July 23, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                                             Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" (1988)

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In This Issue

La Dolce Vita in Torino by Marianne Camarda

NEW YORK CORNER: Fillip's by John Mariani



Chocolates by Peyrano, Turin      
fffLa Dolce Vita in Torino  
by  Marianne Camarda

      In Italy, when you crave something with sugar, the first place to go is Torino.
      This city more or less doubles as a national shrine to confections; those who aren’t aware beforehand find out pretty soon after they arrive here.  Chocolates.  Bonbons.  Torrone. Marrons glacés—they don’t say ‘La Dolce Vita’ here for
nothing. From the windows chock full of with candissoires to the  displays of colorfully wrapped morsels, I am amazed at what the city can do with the corner candy

     I headed to Turin and straight away prepared to take on the arcaded streets lined with baroque candymakers and the slew of pastry shops and caffès that go with them.  I was delighted to find myself a room at the Hotel Roma (right; Piazza Carlo Felice, 60;  011/561-2772), situated right on the city’s famous via Roma.  The building overlooks Piazza Carlo Felice--a great spot if you have a romantic rendezvous--or a serious sweet tooth.  Besides, this beautiful property is family run, and has been since 1854.  With its palatial high ceilings and distinctive rooms, the Roma always reminds me of old world Italian elegance.
      Before I made the rounds of sumptuous confetterie, I made a stop at the first chocolate factory of them all, the fffrflegendary Caffarel, world famous as one of Italy’s masters, and located a short distance from town. In 1826 Pier Paul Caffarel (left) converted a small tannery into a workshop where he would make chocolate into an art.
Caffarel has an enormous complex, and every square inch is saturated with the most delightful, sweet aroma. Luca Serafina, a Caffarel brand manager, explained to me a few essentials of great chocolate.  First, that cacao beans come from four primary portions of the globe – Africa, Guyana, Central America and Venezuela – and each maker blends as they see fit.  Deeply flavored African beans give chocolate body, while beans from Central America are known for their rich, fruity notes.  Those from Caribbean and Venezuela impart their own special flavors as well.  Like many chocolate makers here, Caffarel roasts its own hazelnuts and cacao beans.
      Serafina also explained the importance of the conching process, which uses centrifugal force to grind down the paste of cacao and sugar into a liquid that will then become chocolate.  The longer and more intense the conching, the sweeter and creamier the final product.  Caffarel has managed to orchestrate a system that brings their cacao paste to a superfine consistency 20 microns—causing the delightful sensation of the chocolate’s melting in your mouth.
      But among the people of Torino, candy makers and lay people alike, the great chocolate of all chocolates is the Gianduiotto.  The name comes from the character Gianduja, a farmer who fought for Piemontese independence and since entered the ranks of the Commedia dell’Arte (below, left).  Even creamier and more heavenly than its solid counterparts, the Gianduiotto owes its sublime flavor to the addition of finely ground hazelnuts.  Gianduiotto was created almost by chance, when the Napoleonic wars made it difficult to import cacao beans from rhhjhthe New World. Hazelnuts were used as a filler to make cacao last longer – and what a filler it was!  Their deep nutty overtones and silky texture make for a thoroughly decadent experience.  Only a handful of companies, including Caffarel, use what is considered Italy’s premium hazelnut, the Tonda Gentile delle Langhe.  It grows in the misty hills of the Langhe region of Piemonte, and has a flavor no other nut can rival.
    It is also the supreme pride of Caffarel that their creamy Gianduiotto (below) maintains the soft consistency of the original recipe.  This is due to a specially patented machine which carefully extrudes soft dollops of chocolate mixture, just firm enough for wrapping, in the size of a gold ingot.  Since 1865, when Caffarel first introduced the candy to the world, the shape (which also mimics the hat worn by Gianduja) remains unchanged.eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
      To appreciate fully what chocolate means to the city of Torino requires a little history on chocolate in general and Torino in particular.  In fact, Torino is the birthplace of chocolate as we know it.  It all began in 1560 when Emanuele Filiberto, king of Savoy, moved the capital city of his sovereignty from Chambéry to Torino. Since he was also general of the Spanish army,  Filiberto had ample access to precious cacao beans from the New World.  In fact, he celebrated his arrival in Torino by serving every single citizen a cup of hot chocolate.    His son, Carlo Emanuele I furthered the chocolate legacy by marrying Maria Giovanna Antonia Nemours, known to the people of Torino as Madama Reale.  She became the queen of Savoy in 1674, and three years later granted the first license for ordinary vendors to sell chocolate.  Previously the law forbade anyone other than a café owner from doing so.  ppp
       Fast forward to 1826 and you have Paolo Caffarel opening his chocolate factory in Turin. That’s how long it took before industrialization came to the chocolate bar. Henri Cailler studied the process with Caffarel, then returned to Switzerland to launch his own operation. 
     The legacy of Turinese chocolate lives on. To this day, the elegant Via Roma is dotted with coffee houses, pasticcerie, and candy makers or confetterie, all part of the city’s gastronomic history.  You can spend many an afternoon parading the arcaded streets of Piazza Carlo Felice, Piazza San Carlo, and Piazza Castello sampling the different flavors.  One of my favorite stops is for lunch at Neuv Caval ‘D Brons (Piazza San Carlo, 155; 011.545-354).  I dropped in for a light repast of tramezzini (finger sandwiches), effervescent mineral water, and a chinotto.  It was really just an excuse to peruse the display of pasticcini in the window.   This place is always bustling, so I quickly pointed to one of everything in the shop, with doubles of some, and had it all wrapped in double paper to take home on the plane.  Believe me, if you have any important appointments back home, there is nothing like a package from Neuv Caval ‘D Brons to put you on good footing with someone.
      ;;;;With my destiny safely secured under my arm, I made my way to the grande dame of confectioners, Flli. Stratta (Piazza San Carlo 191; 011 547920 011 547920 011 547920011-547-920).  Even if you’re not hungry, one look at this elaborate shop will change all that in about one minute.  Crystal chandeliers, elaborate carved wood paneling, beautiful Nineteenth Century glass showcases and a wonderland of sweets in every color, shape and size.  Oversized goblets were toppling with wrapped bonbons della nonna, the window cases piled with at least 50 or 60 different types of pralines, with a separate case of sorbets, macaroons, Turineis (chocolates filled with chestnut and rum cream), tartufini,  and loads more.
      A mere stone’s throw away is Peyrano (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 76) which puts out some 90 types of chocolate, and Roma già Talmone (Piazza Carlo Felice, 36; 011-50.69.215), one of the very first confectioners of Torino.  Talmone offers a selection of home-made gelati in addition to candies.  My favorite item here is the vanilla-laced chestnut cream.  Its subtle, nutty flavor enhances just about everything – though how would I know?  Iweew can’t stop pairing it with vanilla ice cream.    I love stopping into Talmone because it looks out right on Piazza Carlo Felice.  Unlike Stratta, which is a store, Talmone is also a caffè, and a delightful spot to spend an afternoon watching the comings and going in the city center. 
       Torino’s 12 miles of arcaded streets are ripe with candy-filled opportunity.  All you need is the time to explore.  Via Lagrange is the spot for the city’s most famous gourmet shops.   There are also magnificent ice creams, caffès and candies all along Via Po and Piazza Vittorio Veneteo.  Many caffès celebrate the local drink, bicerin, a frothy mix of chocolate, coffee and cream.  Plan on arriving hungry.  And plan on a very lengthy stay in Torino.

by John Mariani

F illip's
202 Seventh Avenue

     More than once in this newsletter I have sung the praises of the humble French bistro, as much for its conviviality as for its dependable, good food based on classics of bourgeois cooking.  Yet as fond as I am of those classics, it is nice to know that the genre is, like the blues, amazingly resilient and elastic, allowing for young interpreters to bring freshness and new ideas.  Such is happily  the case  at Fillip's, a darling, two-year-old restaurant  in Chelsea.
    Inconspicuous among a slew of ethnic eateries in a restaurant-rich neighborhood, Fillip's ups the ante for finer fare.  Owner
Fillip Billan works on a small scale--only about 12 tables, with a few more outside in good weather--while Chef Brian Biehler work with a very varied palette. And you will pay a modest amount for excellent food here, where appetizers run $7-$15 and entrees $16-$30, with a remarkable 3-course $29 pre-theater dinner available Monday through Friday.  There is also a 5-course tasting menu at $59 (with wine $85) and 7 courses at $75 (with wine $105). And every bottle on Fillip's admirable wine list is priced at only $15 above cost!--and they serve it in thin Schott Zwiesel glassware. er
      It's and yellow walls, dark wood chairs, beamed ceiling, vases of flowers bistro lighting, and, hurrah!, tablecloths!  The service staffers, which for some reason are made to wear ties six inches too short,  are well meaning if not always quick on their feet (the rudiments of English escape some of them), but just relax and enjoy yourself.  This ain't Pastis or Balthazar, where they'll want your table toute suite!
      I was looking forward to solid traditional cooking but I got much more, starting with very good crispy skate wine with a warm fingerling potato salad, braised bacon, and sauce verte.  Biehler poaches his foie gras, which is a pleasing alternative to the ever-seared variety, and serves it with pistachios, pickled California raisins, and baby mâche--all tantalizing, complementary counterpoints of texture and taste.  Excellent indeed was a warm purée of English pea soup with a dash of white truffle oil and shavings of Pecorino Toscano that gave it a good little bite.
      The main courses included a finely rendered wild sea bass with warm shiitake and oyster mushroom salad, parsnip purée, and arugula pesto, as well as a good crisp-skinned duck breast with broccoli di rabe, pignoli, a baby carrot confit, and natural reduction.  As noted, such dishes go beyond, but not too far out of focus from, bistro classics and they are very welcome.  Braised pork belly was not very fatty (isn't fat the point?) and a tad stringy, embellished nicely with Granny Smith apple, wild rocket greens, and French lentils.  Rack of lamb was cooked well beyond medium-rare, but the flavor, from Cedar Spring Farms, was all there, along with chestnut spaetzle, roasted baby veggies, and a thyme-scented reduction.
       It's hard to resist Fillip's delightful plate of cheeses, three for $12, five for $15, which are well described on the menu. Desserts include a chocolate opera cake with chocolate crunch, praline, coffee butter, and raspberries; a warm Callebaut chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream; and an heirloom apple tart with crème fraîche ice cream. For those who can't live without one, there is also crème brûlée.
      I suspect that Billan and Biehler have fashioned the kind of place they themselves have always loved--unpretentious, devoted to good food, dependent on fine ingredients, and done with personal flair.  I hope the neighborhood responds and appreciates what they've got amidst a slew of mediocre places.  If I lived in Chelsea, Fillip's would be my once-a-week choice, with a good bottle of inexpensive wine, and a menu I could never tire of.


A tuna caught off the coast of Kenya that bore what some believed was a Koranic verse--"You are the best provider"--was recovered after being stolen from a government fisheries office in Mombasa. Some Muslim clerics in Kenya have preached about the five-pound tuna, with offers to buy it running up to $150.


Corrections in recent LA Times Food Section Stories

Milkshakes: An article in last week's Food section about where to get a great milkshake misspelled the last name of Louis B. Mayer as Meyer. Also, the former name of ice cream store Mashti Malone's was Mugsy Malone's, not Bugsy Malone's.

Wine bottles — In last week's Food section, an article about winemakers reusing bottles said more than 30 billion wine bottles are used annually in California. The correct figure is more than 3 billion.

Stonehill Tavern manager — An April 26 Food review of Stonehill Tavern, the restaurant at St. Regis Resort Monarch Beach, stated that manager Tim Flowers is a master of wine. He is not. f3

For the record
Corkage policy: A review of Republic restaurant in last week's Food section said that if a customer buys a bottle of wine from the list, the corkage fee is waived. The policy is that if a customer buys a bottle of wine from the list, the corkage fee on a bottle of wine brought in by the customer is waived.

Restaurant name: In an article in last week's Food section, the name of the restaurant where Mia Sushi chef Kazo Ozawa previously worked was incorrectly stated as Flying Fish. The restaurant's name is Frying Fish.

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.


* On Aug. 6 Wally's Wine Store will host its  3rd Annual Central Coast Wine and Food Celebration, to benefit the Michael Bonaccorsi Scholarship Fund at UC Davis' Dept. of Viticulture and Enology. The tasting incl.  50+ Central Coast wineries.  Restaurants incl. Spago Beverly Hills, Lucques/A.O.C., Campanile, Grace, BLD, Sona, Boa, Sushi Roku and Katana in Los Angeles, and The Hitching Post, Bouchon, Olio e Limone, Miro at the Bacara Resort, and the Santa Barbara Olive Company. Also, silent auction of rare wine offerings and premier gift packages. $95 pp. Call 310-475-0606 or visit

* On Aug. 15 Roy’s in San Francisco will present a culinary tour of the flavors indigenous to the 5 Hawaiian Islands, as created by Chef Roy Yamaguchi.  This 5-course “Island Hop” Wine Dinner will be paired with a selection of premier wines. $85 pp. Call 415-777-0277.

* From Aug. 17-20, The Crested Butte Wild Mushroom Festival will incl. hands-on activities, lectures, workshops and jazz.  Chefs from Timberline Restaurant, Buffalo Grille, Cucina, and Arrangements Catering & Events will prepare imaginative wild mushroom dishes  The registration fee for the 3-day festival is $115. Call all (800) 545-4505 or visit  
* On Aug. 17 in Berkeley, CA,  Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto Chef Romero Miraflor will serve a 5-course Anchor Steam Brewery Beer Dinner.  $45 pp. Call 510-845-7771;

* From Aug. 17-20, The Crested Butte Wild Mushroom Festival will incl. hands-on activities, lectures, workshops and jazz.  Chefs from Timberline Restaurant, Buffalo Grille, Cucina, and Arrangements Catering & Events will prepare imaginative wild mushroom dishes  The registration fee for the 3-day festival is $115. Call all (800) 545-4505 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.

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