Virtual Gourmet

August 20, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                                               "Venise" by Louis Lessieux (1927)

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Parea by John Mariani


Venetian Dining and the Art of Concealed Art
Part One

by John Mariani
    'The first thing you have to understand about Venetians is that they are masters of what the Italians call sprezzatura--the art of concealed art. Venice is really a medieval town that almost completely ignored the excesses of the Baroque, and the Venetians tend to be more reserved in their passions, dress and appetites. They delight in foreigners calling their hometown the “Queen of the Adriatic,” a unique place, not a natural wonder at all but a confection that caused Truman Capote famously to observe, “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”
     The Venetians can even make the flooding of the Piazza San Marco into an excuse to sit at the Caffé Florian (right) under the arcades, listen to violin music, and wile away their time with an espresso or a nightcap until the water recedes enough to allow them--reluctantly--to wend their way home through glistening, wet streets.  This is a wholly Venetian response to life, enjoying yourself while waiting for the waters to recede, and nowhere is there a better vantage point to watch the natives at their most characteristic than in their cafes, trattorias and ristoranti, where they take their time eating, drinking and savoring the way the world goes by.yk
          At dinner a Venetian exercises all his faculties of good taste, harmony, manners and criticism. He dresses well for the occasion. He picks over a salad to make sure every leaf of arugula is well formed and the olive oil green. He demands to see the fish before it is cooked and to smell the white truffle before it is shaved over his risotto.  He swirls a glass of  wine ceremoniously, sniffs it carefully, tastes it slowly, pauses for a few hushed seconds, and then pronounces on its soundness.  He hates garniture and heavy sauces.   And he takes his time.  In the afternoon he stops for an ombra--a glass of wine or dish of tiramisù taken in the shadow cast by the bell tower and cathedral at San Marco. Later, around seven o’clock, he will begin the ritual of the passagiata, a lilting, arm-in-arm stroll through the Piazza that often includes a stop at a gelateria for a little ice cream. Then dinner.
    What they eat and drink at dinner is an amalgam of Italian culinary traditions married to strains of Austrian, Turkish and Middle Eastern flavors derived from Venice’s eminence as a window on the East and as Italy’s major trading port on the Adriatic for more than a millennium.  Even before the Crusades (for which Venice supplied ships and supplies) the city was importing foods and spices from the East, and Marco Polo was, of course, a hometown boy who brought back news of the gastronomic splendors of the Orient. Even though defeated by the Turks in 1718 and Napoleon in 1804, then occupied by the Austrians in 1815, Venice was able to absorb the best lessons from each culture, making it far more of an international city than Rome, Milan or Florence.  Venice made café society fashionable--the Florian opened in St. Mark’s plaza in 1720--and tourists have forever flocked here to savor the flavors of this man-made island city.

Foremost on Venetian tables is seafood, and in its Rialto market (below) you hear the fishmongers sing their praises of nostrani--"ours"-- meaning the fish brought from local waters.  You see inch-long live shrimp jumping, eels twisting, and mounds of fresh ice teeming with snails, clams, oysters, sea bass, swordfish, tuna, lobsters, prawns, cuttlefish, and unusual species available for only a few weeks, even days.  nnnVenetians created dishes utilizing cuttlefish ink, combining it with risotto, which is favored over pasta here. So, too, polenta, made from white rather than yellow cornmeal as elsewhere in Italy, may be topped with that same cuttlefish. Or it may be grilled and lavished with a fresh tomato sauce.

    The Venetians also adore baccalà--the dried salted cod that is refreshed in water and served in all sorts of ways: puréed with potatoes and olive oil, poached in vinegar, baked with tomatoes. They ferret out the freshest sardines and white anchovies and eat them with a touch of olive oil and lemon.  Their fish soups range from light brodettos to rich, stew-like concoctions chock full of mussels and clams.
    Radicchio, which comes from nearby Treviso, is a favored salad, and arugula is sweet and peppery here. In season, zucchini flowers are fried crisp, sometimes stuffed with cheese, and eaten as a first course. And they love to use saffron--sparingly--which originally came from the Middle East but which has for centuries been grown in Italy.
For dessert they are likely to enjoy butter cookies or little donuts called frittelle; nor have they yet tired of tiramisù, which itself was created at El Toulà restaurant in Treviso.
   All of this is accompanied by regional wines, from the sparkling Prosecco to the well-known Soave, Bardolino and Valpolicella, along with less familiar, bold reds like Refosco and Amarone, and delicately sweet wines like Torcolato and Picolit.
      ;At Do Forni (below; 468 Calle dei Speccheri;  523-2148) the ebullient owner Eligio Pates Montagner comes to your tables and proudly ladles white polenta with tiny shrimp called schile from a huge silver tureen, then personally brings you tagliolini egg pasta with scampi and peppers. It is a very opulent place with several more or less intimate rooms, and though you will hear some clucking that it is a tourist stop, it is a ridiculous charge: Everywhere in Venice is a tourist stop!  If there are any undiscovered gems the Venetians--less than 300,000 people these days--keep to themselves, you won't hear about them.
     In a big, bustling trattoria like Alla Madonna, (594
Calle della Madonna; 522-3824) you'll find plenty of tourists and locals (there's often a line out the door in the high season) who come for the fresh seafood and the no-frills atmosphere.  The kitchen grills sole and San Pietro to perfection and bring it to your table  sizzling, with only a benediction of fragrant olive oil and lemon. There are several big rooms at Alla Madonna, and don't let them seat you in the rear rooms, which can be stiflingly hot in summer.  Nothing is very expensive here, though the Yankee dollar is making everything far more dear than it used to be in this, the most expensive city in Italy right now.
     Venetians like simplicity but they like it with a certain style and elegance. For this I head for a modest storefront with a red-and-gold sign reading Da Fiore (
Calle del Scaleter; 721-1308).  You enter and find yourself in a quietly elegant restaurant of enormous charm and hospitality (right). 'poOwner Maurizio Martin Martignier greets everyone warmly and presents a wine list of great depth, while his wife Mara cooks up exquisite specialties like squid stuffed with chestnut purée, risotto with scampi and funghi porcini, sushi-like tuna blessed with rosemary, and spaghetti in black cuttlefish ink.  Many, including the redoubtable Marcella Hazan, believe Da Fiore to be the best restaurant in the city, and who am I to quibble?   You can, by the way, get a good sense of the kitchen's prowess from The Da Fiore Cookbook by Damian Martin.
       I have to admit I am in thrall to Harry’s Bar (1323 Calle Vallaresso;  528-5331), the outrageously expensive international watering hole made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his novel Across the River and into the Trees.  hytI love the pacing--fast, brisk, seemingly hectic, but controlled, and Arrigo Cipriani (left) has run the place like a great Venetian New Year’s party for three decades now, as did his father before him.
     The food is delicious--unstintingly fresh seafood, risotto with cuttlefish, tailgating gratinate, pasta e fagiole and calf’s liver alla Veneziana with sweet onions, and ridiculously lavish and wonderful meringue cakes.  The famous bellinis, created here, are good but  are at  least $12 a pop by now, maybe a lot more. Have one, be happy you've done it, and  sit down to eat.
     Now, a few words about the eternal table mania at Harry's: It is certainly true that many people go into paroxysms of social angst if they do not get one of only three corner tables downstairs, or at least a table in front of the famous bar here.  But it is a useless pursuit, and many very big international names much prefer the quieter upstairs room, which is every bit as lovely and overlooks the lagoon.  The food is the same everywhere in the ristorante. Downstairs there are no bad tables (except that all are actually bar tables an inch or two lower than you're used to) for the simple reason that the room is small and rectangular and only has about a dozen tables.  So don't fret and ruin your meal; the price of your meal may do that.

       Just behind the Rialto is an 80-year-old restaurant that four years ago became  Venice’s  hotspot--Al Graspo da Ua (5094 Calle Bombaseri; 520-0150)when Lucio Zanon, once manager at Harry’s Bar, took the place over,  left its 13th- century tile floor and modern artwork intact, and began attracting a very chic clientele. Lucio himself looks like an Italian Kevin Spacey and speaks perfect English.rhj
      The rooms (right) are done in rustic warm yellow walls, dark wood, and  13th-century floor tiles; its wooden beams are inscribed with Venetian proverbs like,  "Pan e vin, per far morbin" (Bread and wine bring happiness.”) and "Chi ga’ bon apetito, no ga’ bisogno de salsa" (“A good appetite doesn’t require anything fancy.”). There are little unforgettable touches here: A white-jacketed waitress--rare in fine ristoranti--spoons risotto onto a warm plate, then carefully shakes it so that the creamy rice settles perfectly and evenly at the rim.
      Begin with
an assortment of lightly dressed shrimp on a bed of greens with fresh mint, tender baby octopus in a celeriac slaw,  crab salad cupped in a lettuce leaf, ; and smoked swordfish fillet dressed with lemon, herbs and olive oil.  The local crab called granchio is served just barely chilled with a drizzle of olive oil.  Baccalà mantecato is as rich as a fish dish can get, and the pastizzio of polenta is fabulous. In the preparation of saltata di cozze e vongole verace al Prosecco, clams and mussels are piled high in a bowl filled with their juices,  served with grilled bread with which to polish off every last briny drop.  There are ten rice dishes, including the very Venetian risi e bisi (rice and peas), and a prime example of risotto con seppieRisotto di mezzancolle e carciofini novelli comes with prawns and artichokes.  For pasta try the pennette con “copin” di tonnetto al profumo di mentuccia, penne with tuna in a pennyroyal-scented tomato sauce.
     With your coffee they bring little Venetian butter cookies. The name of the restaurant means "Bunch of Grapes," and the winelist is excellent.  By all means sip a glass or two of the local Prosecco.

    For some reason, despite the year-round crush of tourists filling every piazza and alleyway, I always feel very, very removed from the world when I’m in Venice.  The worse the weather the more my sense of isolation is heightened, and walking on the wet wooden platforms set across the constantly flooded Piazza San Marco in autumn is for me a feeling of being above it all.  I may repair to one of the scores of bacari--little snack  bars--like Do Mori or Vini da Pinto for a glass of wine, or sit under the arcade outside  Florian and listen to the waltz music while sipping an espresso.  But my favorite romantic spot in Venice is the ten-table Da Ivo (1809 Ramo dei Fuseri; 528-5004) tucked away in a warren of serpentine streets near San Marco.  You have to squeeze into the place, and dreamy-eyed lovers take up most of the tables. The room is decked out with artifacts of Venetian kitsch, and someone has painted a mural of a voluptuous red-headed nude that owes nothing to Botticelli.  Everyone gives her a name, and I miss seeing her every now and again.
   You come hungry and they know it. You hit your seat and out comes an array of  raw vegetables to eat with seasoned olive oil and grissini breadsticks. The waiter presents a blackboard menu of the day’s specials--golden-yellow fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with lush crabmeat, tagliolini egg noodles lavished with white truffles, and grilled orata (a luscious bream with a golden band on its neck), which the waiter deftly de-bones then squeezes those bones to extract their succulence.  At the end of this perfect, simple meal you receive cookies, almonds in caramel, and a glass of sweet vin santo (“holy wine”). I always stay late, linger over a bit more vin santo, and let the place empty out, till I’m nearly alone.  But what I like most about Da Ivo is that outside a tiny window you can watch the weary gondoliers pulling up and stopping for a moment to pick up a glass of wine left by the owner on the sill.
     Across the lagoon on the island of Guidecca, is the beautiful Hotel Cipriani (not for many years under the Cipriani family’s ownership), where one of the grandmasters of la sprezzatura--manager Natale Rusconi-- dotes on every guest with suave, grace and respect, whether you’re Julio Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Harrison Ford, or Whoopi Goldberg. The fine dining room, with its glorious outdoor terrace (right) is the most romantic venue in Venice.  But for a more casual alternative, there is  Cip’s, and quite chic it is.   The menu is based on the best seafood in the market, the most fragrant of white truffles, and the very creamiest mozzarella I’ve ever eaten.”
     Corte Sconta (3886 Calle del Pestrin; 522-7024) is even better than I remember it.  We sat out in the vine-trellised courtyard that gives the restaurant its name on a clear, sun-dappled day, and, as is the ritual here, turned ourselves over to the chef, resulting in platter after platter of seafood food--first, a plate of marinated salmon and seafood pâté, accompanied by very good bread. Next came tiny shrimp (gamberetti), fried fish, octopus, calamari, and mussels, followed by two spaghettis, one with tender cuttlefish, the other with shrimp, ending off (at our request) with four kinds of grilled fish, all of it accompanied by Corte Sconta’s Prosecco house wine. The food will be brought to you in waves, until you says, "Basta!" and the check, while not cheap, will not blow you off your seat. Drink the local wines here and save some euros.
          yyyyi76One of the best  new places to stay and dine is at the stunningly renovated Il Palazzo, an  18th century wing appended to the 1940s main building of the Bauer (1459 San Marco; 520-7022).  This is a true Venetian palace, with its view of the Grand Canal, and 35 deluxe double rooms and 40 suites (the latter with walk-in closets and fireplaces), exquisite fabrics and silks and Murano glass throughout, as elegant as any in the city but with every modern amenity required by a traveling business person, has become a very sophisticated spot for meeting before dinner at the hotel’s new restaurant, De Pisis (left), which has a gorgeous outdoor terrace where once we were suddenly interrupted by a fearsome thunderstorm.  With uncanny grace under pressure, the formally dressed staff collected linens, china, and glassware and had everyone seated and served within minutes as the storm blew quickly out to sea--all handled with the nonchalance of someone changing a skipping record, so that what might have been a disaster became a fond, romantic memory.
       Dinner is prepared by young chef Giovanni Ciresa, who's worked at Enoteca Pinchiorri in both Florence and Tokyo, and has a very modern approach to cuisine in this very traditional town. My meal included steamed zucchini flowers filled with seafood on a zucchini-basil fondue, saffron pappardelle with lobster sauce, as well as ravioli filled with a crema of peas and sun-dried tomatoes, with a squid sauce.  He has garnered a reputation for his bigoli al torchio, with truffles and broccoli in a light anchovy sauce, and his tempura-treated veal livers with polenta and onion fondue.  He also does a lemon risotto with seafood and fresh capers, and a Tuscan-style suckling  pig, both the roasted saddle and the leg cooked in a tandoori oven, with red peppers.  jwI also enjoyed  a delicious duck breast with crêpes made from grain accompanied by onion jam and a coconut-lime soup that was quite far from Venetian traditions.  Desserts, via Japanese pastry chef Hiraki Masakatsu, included a refreshing cold melon soup with barley, yogurt, and luscious almond ice cream, followed by iced nougat soufflé with a mascarpone cheese sauce and warm fruit compote, and cappuccino crème brûlée with a hazelnut brittle.
     Also, two of the swankiest lounges in Venice are here--the B Bar and the Bar Gran Canale (right), both offering light food.  And Bauer Hotels has just opened the Palladio Hotel & Spa on Giudecca, with fifty rooms and a new restaurant I have not visited.
Nota Bene: I have not given prices for any of the restaurants here because they change so quickly, owing to the falling US$.  In trattorias, expect to spend $60 per person (with tax and service, but not wine, included), in ristoranti considerably more.

by John Mariani


36 East 20th Street
      888e4It is very possible to eat well at the new Greek restaurant Parea ("group of friends"), but you have to go through a lot of 
άγώνίά to do so.
       Cleveland-based chef Michael Symon (below) and partners, together with on-premises chef Jonathan Sawyer, have created a menu of personalized dishes that use Greek cookery as a starting point. Anyone looking for the traditional Greek fare of Manhattan restaurants like Periyali and Molyvos, or the straightforward seafood of places like Milos and Avra, should not expect them here, but there are plenty of tantalizing ideas well realized among some that are not.
      Nonetheless Parea, like a tragic figure out of Greek drama, sows the seeds of its own decline. Outrageous noise levels, long waits between courses, inconsistent cooking and seasoning, and too many guests at one time make an evening at the 135-seat restaurant something of an endurance test: Ours lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours.
     Symon is perhaps the most celebrated known chef in Cleveland, known for his restaurants Lola (opened in 1996, soon to relocate downtown) and the smaller Lolita, neither Greek.  Although I've seen nothing in numerous bio notes and articles about his having any Greek connection in his background, he contends that he does have some Hellenic blood; how much time he spent eating Greek food while growing up or cooking in Greece to prepare for Parea, I do not know.  Symon is, however, a savvy enough chef to master the basics and, along with Sawyer (whose name certainly doesn't sound like he grew up eating spanakopita and tsatsiki), they have developed a wide array of mezes and main courses that taste right, though a lot of the food lacks real soul--and not enough fat to carry flavor.vj
      Upon entering Parea on a lovely Tuesday evening for a 7:15 reservation, I found the place pretty empty and pleasingly quiet.  The decor is stunningly beautiful--a long bar backed by a wall of sandy waves, a slatted ceiling, fine lighting, and a distinctive concrete "tree" column surrounded by an impressive wrought-iron filigree of tree leaves, unfortunately compromised by four huge audio speakers (which Symon contends will soon be removed). A long communal table runs down the center of the dining room (above). The polished wood tables are attractive but, without so much as a table mat, not particularly sanitary: when guests left no staff member came to scrub them down, only to place new silverware on surfaces previous guests had been touching with hands and elbows all night. (Shouldn't there be some health regulation about that?)
      We ordered some of Parea's signature cocktails--at a jaw-dropping $14 a pop!--most of them on the sweet side, and none in any way Greek-inspired.  The 70-selection Greek winelist here is first-rate, with a dozen offered by the glass, and the sommelier is very helpful with wine labels as difficult to pronounce as they are unfamiliar to most people. Mark-ups seem to vary from a gentle 100 percent up to a whopping 400 percent.
      A small (very small) bowl of olives and feta is placed on the table with rustic bread. Our party of four ordered an array of starters, including tasty goat dumplings with roasted beets.  Crispy pork, honey-glazed and pickled came overcooked and dry, and pickled octopus was oddly bland.  And, as we found throughout the evening, some dishes supposed to be  served hot would come out tepid.
     Right from the start service problems began, although
some of the delays were clearly not the waitstaff's fault but the kitchen's.  Even though Parea did not start to fill up until 8 PM, we waited nearly 45 minutes to get those mezes--items that in any Greek restaurant in Astoria would have landed  on the table within ten minutes, tops.  So, too, an array of appetizers that included lustrous house-made charcuterie, dried, barely warm rabbit wrapped in phyllo, and a so-so shrimp saganaki, took forever to arrive, and then came the interminable wait for the main courses. Wineglasses were not always refilled.
The Lounge at Parea                 -Meanwhile the intensity of the noise increased with the arrival of every new guest, and although the music seemed toned down in the dining room, it was throbbing in the lounge. By 8:30 no one at our table could hear the other, and my wife kept having to repeat every word our friend in front of her was forced to shout.  Indeed, the only restaurant I can think of louder than Parea is. . . Lola in Cleveland, which is ear-shattering.
     By the time the entrees arrived the intensity was wearing us out but we pushed on through a nice rendering of black cod; bland pan-roasted skate wing with mussels, mustard greens, and saffron;  nice, juicy veal breast with beans and sausage, and a decent porterhouse of lamb--surprisingly, the only lamb dish on this Greek menu.
On the other hand, although you won't easily find any recipes for salmon in Greek cookbooks, this being New York, Parea serves at least two. Greek fried potatoes lacked any discernible lemon juice flavor.
      Desserts were a mixed bag, from a pleasant walnut cake with caramel ice cream  and phyllo milk pie with lemon marmalade and sorbet, to leaden, oily cinnamon-laced doughnut holes.  These came with acrid sage iced tea--not something I ever want to taste again.

      Leaving Parea was, sadly, a relief from the cacaphony inside.  Which is too bad because the food can be  very good and the style of the place is undeniably attractive.  But it's all too big, too loud, and too frenzied.  And, owing to some early-on good reviews, too popular at the moment.  When the din dies down, I'll go back, perhaps packing ear-plugs and sanitary plastic gloves, just to be on the safe side.

Parea is open for Mon.-Fri, and dinner nightly. Appetizers range from $7-$14, main courses from $23-$28.

"The masterpiece of the [BBC America productions] is `Macbeth.' Set in the nocturnal confines of a chic restaurant, with its silvery kitchen and eerie back alley, it moves with the gory majesty of great tragedy. . . . The dramatic potential of knives and foods is used to the fullest, from the kitchen slicing of red vegetables--tomatoes, Treviso lettuce--to Joe cutting up a pig's head, to Ella smearing blood on Duncan's kitchen whites before he goes out to meet the customers.  The blasted heath is a garbage heap, the witches are garbage men, and instead of throwing eye of newt into the cauldron, they eat nasty sandwiches: corned beef and anchovy; egg mayonnaise and ketchup.  Food is the metaphor for horror.  By the time Joe becomes haunted by guilt and milk turns to blood, you never want to eat again."--Joan Juliet Buck, "Delicious Shakespeare Lite," in Vogue (August 2006).


"Freegans" is the name for people who don't believe in buying food at all, subsisting solely on what can be scavenged from garbage in an effort to minimize impact on the environment. The group's website--, "Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called 'urban foraging' or 'dumpster diving.' This technique involves rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for useful goods. Despite our society's stereotypes about garbage, the goods recovered by freegans are safe, useable, clean, and in perfect or near-perfect condition, a symptom of a throwaway culture that encourages us to constantly replace our older goods with newer ones, and where retailers plan high-volume product disposal as part of their economic model. Some urban foragers go at it alone, others dive in groups, but we always share the discoveries openly with one another and with anyone along the way who wants them."


* On Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Palace Café (504-523-1661), Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (504-522-2467) and Bourbon House (504-522-0111) will raise funds for Share Our Strength’s Restaurants for Relief 2, presented by American Express by contributing $5 per guest when they order our special three-course menus.  Additional guest donations are accepted.

* From Aug. 29-Sept. 4, Scott  Boswell, chef/owner of Stella! and Stanley at the Hotel Provincial  in New Orleans,  will recreate his post-storm parking lot  hamburger operation.  During what he has dubbed a "Week of Remembrance," Boswell will set up a grill in Hotel Provincial's  parking lot and flip the Stanley  cheeseburger, and sell it with a pickle, chips and  a soft drink for $5.  Call 504-587-0091 or visit

* On Sept. 9 the Kendall-Jackson Winery 10th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival will be held to benefit The School Garden Network in Santa Rosa, CA. More than 175 varieties of heirloom tomatoes from the Culinary Gardens at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center, with 60 gourmet food purveyors, local  and Bay Area chefs and restaurateurs, Kendall-Jackson wines, seminars, a garden-inspired juried art festival, garden tours, live entertainment. Food & Wine Magazine will sponsor a Chef's Challenge, featuring Douglas Keane of Cyrus; Keith Luce of Press; and Mathias Wolf of Village Pub, et al. $60 pp.Call 800-769-3649, or go to

* On Sept. 10 at the Hollywood Palladium, Break the Cycle, an organization protecting the rights of teens experiencing dating violence, celebrates "Savor the Season 2006," a  food and wine gala with live big-band music, dancing, VIP reception, live and silent auctions, and an exclusive after-party. Food Network’s Marc Summers will emcee; Participating L.A. chefs incl.:  Josie Le Balch, Josie Restaurant; Neal Fraser, Grace; André Guerrero, Max; The Oinkster; David LeFevre, Water Grill; E. Michael Reidt, Sevilla (Santa Barbara), and many others. Savor the Season, $175 pp; VIP Reception, $75 supplement; After-Party, $75 supplement  Call 310-424-2888 or visit
* Houston-based Sullivan’s Custom Tours ( has created two special travel packages for those looking for a quick getaway, culinary experience, and spa vacation: “Cooking in Cuernavaca” incl. accommodations at Hosteria Las Quintas, for 6 days; hands-on cooking classes at the  Hacienda Amaranto Spa Restaurant; yoga class or meditation in the Eco-Spa; excursion in Taxco.  Sept. 12-17, Oct.  31-Nov. 5, Nov.  28-Dec. 3, 2006. Double Occupancy $1495; Single $1895. . . .“Cooking & Spa Escape in Costa Rica” is a 5-day incl. a 2-night stay and 6 hours of cooking instruction at Guayabo Lodge in Turrialba, then 2 nights at Rio Perlas, in the Orosi Valley, for relaxation and rejuvenation including a 2 ½ hours spa treatment. Tour dates:Oct. 25-29, Nov. 22-26, and into 2007. $995 pp double occupancy. Call  713-291-3492.

* This September Orient-Express Hotels, Trains & Cruises will introduce “Table Travels at ‘21,’ an international showcase of NYC’s ‘21 Club’s culinary cousins, featuring special 4-course dinners and events with guest chefs: Sept. 12:  Diego Moyano from La Cabaňa in Buenos Aires; Ssept. 25:  Guillerma Gomez from Maroma Resort and Spa on the Mayan Riviera. $85 pp. Call 212-582-7200.
* On Sept. 13, in honor of their 15th anniversary, Vinci in Chicago will host a wine dinner featuring Avignonesi wines, with Chef/Owner Paul LoDuca cooking a 5-course menu.  $43 pp. Call 312-266-1199  or visit
* From Sept. 15-24 at Paris Biennale des Antiquaires, nine of France’s top chefs will offer signature 3-course menus at the Cordon Bleu restaurant in  the Grand Palais.  Chefs incl. Michel Roth, L’Espadon at the Ritz; Yannick Alleno, Hotel Meurice, Paris; Eric Fréchon, Hotel Le Bristol, Paris; Anne-Sophie Pic, Maison Pic, Valence. The restaurant is situated in a Beaux Arts-inspired trompe l’oeil setting designed by famed interior designer Francois-Josef Graf. The menu is 250 Euros pp. Visit
* This September  NYC Chef Carol Frazzeta along with Sicily's Chef Donna Antonia will hold an 11-day series of cooking classes at the Villa Lionti,  an 18th-century villa on the slopes of Mt. Etna, which will be visited, along with a visit to an Artisan Cheese Maker, excursion to Caltagirone pottery makers, vineyard visits, a trip to Villa Romana del Casale;  accommodations in Palermo at Villa Franca; visit to Cefalu; full day in Palermo and Monreale with a final stop at Mondello.  $2,850 pp.   Call 011-39-339-60429-33.


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