Virtual Gourmet

November 5, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

 The Brown Derby restaurant, Los Angeles, circa 1926

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: La Cantina Toscana by John Mariani


by John Mariani
    i578 In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (below), who knows a bit about pumping up with protein, signed a bill last spring outlawing the production of foie gras in California, to go into effect several years hence and affecting just one single producer in the state, Gonzalez's Sonoma Foie Gras, which must go out of business unless they can find a way to make foie gras without "too much stress on the animal."
       The irate, ill-informed constituency that is now opposing, state by state, city by city, the production, sale, purchase, of eating of foie gras has reached the point where producers and restaurateurs now fear for their own and their families' lives after physical threats against them from some zealots who believe the destruction of a human life is a rational antidote to what they feel is an inhumane practice.
      In Chicago the ban on foie gras has been an embarrassment to the City Council that passed it, even to the point of having the Mayor consider a legislative repeal. Now comes a passel of ignorant New Jersey legislators who, without knowing the facts of animal husbandry, assume the practice of fattening ducks for their liver to be wholly, irredeemably inhumane; their bill would effectively stop their state's D'Artagnan company (which buys its foie gras from the only other producer in the USA,  Hudson Valley Foie Gras.
      The answer to these vocal, often belligerent critics is simply to not eat foie gras if it offends them. But those who believe that human beings should stop the raising and slaughter of all animals--cattle, chickens, fish--are on a crusade to do just that, and foie gras, considered the decadent end product of an inhumane practice, is just the easiest target.  PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) proclaims on its website that the "
goal is to enlarge the animal's liver up to ten times its normal size" and that, "many birds become too sick to walk." There is no evidence that the sponsors of any of the current bills have ever visited an American foie gras farm.  If they did, they might find evidence that the ducks raised for foie gras production are treated at least as well cared for and probably better than most animals in the food chain. An unhealthy animal is, obviously, not an animal that can be used for food.
     Allow me, then, to reprint a message that Ariane Daguin (below), CEO and owner of D'Artagnan, Inc., sent to her consumers, which I think gives a far more balanced view of what actually goes on in the production of American foie gras.
                                                                                                                                       --John Mariani

      Raising ducks for foie gras is humane.  That's the only fair conclusion if you base your assessment on unbiased scientists and veterinarians rather than anti-meat activists.  Foie gras farming has been extensively researched by scientists and is in the mainstream of animal agriculture.  The artisanal duck farms and processing facilities comply with all state and federal regulations, including the rigorous food safety requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  To produce foie gras, the birds are hand-fed by producers two to three times a day over a two- to four-week period.  Each feeding takes only approximately 20 seconds.  Our flocks are in excellent health and our mortality rates are among the lowest in poultry farming.-=
     Proof points:
    · The American Veterinary Medical Association's House of Delegates has twice rejected resolutions opposing the practice of force feeding ducks and geese to produce foie gras, determining that the feeding technique had minimal adverse effects on the birds involved.  In 2006, the AVMA sent a blue-ribbon panel to personally observe foie gras farming practices, and the panel recommended that the AVMA oppose the anti-foie gras resolution.
    · A 2004 study in the World's Poultry Science Journal concluded that ducks and geese physiologically engage in a natural fattening phenomenon.  Further, the study found that the feeding procedure produced neither physiological indicators nor behavioral responses indicating stress.  It concluded foie gras was a "non-harmful" product to ducks. Stress levels in these studies were determined scientifically by taking of blood samples to measure the levels of corticosterone, a hormone released when birds are under stress, and by behavioral observation.
    · A 2001 published scientific study measured the reactions of ducks and geese to the farmers who feed them on foie gras farms.  There were no signs of avoidance in geese, and ducks displayed less avoidance to feeders than to unknown persons not performing any feeding.  There was absolutely no aversion to the feeders over the course of the feeding process.  Despite a normal avoidance in animals of stimuli associated with pain, ducks on foie gras farms "show little or no avoidance of force feeding procedure."
    · The AFA is happy to provide copies of scientific studies to those interested in learning the objective truth of the matter.
    · Dr. Y.M. Saif, a delegate from the American Association of Avian Pathologists, found that mortality is low and that the feeding personnel are highly trained.
    · Claims of "exploding livers" are simply outlandish.  Neither the scientific reviews nor countless fact-finding missions to foie gras farms support any such claims.
     Foie gras is a natural product.  Ducks and geese naturally store fat in the liver for use as energy during long migratory flights. The fatty livers produced by foie gras are healthy and the effects are reversible.  Claims that foie gras is "diseased" are preposterous and wholly unsupported by science.  The artisanal duck farms and processing facilities comply with all state and federal regulations, including the rigorous food safety requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.                                                                                  --Ariane Daguin, D'Artagnan, Inc.


     ]lllA very telling article appeared in the NY Times on October 29 about the data showing not only that smoking bans in restaurants and other public places have had a remarkable impact on the health of people formerly affected by it but that business is actually up at restaurants and cafés, and that there is overwhelming support for such bans even in righteously anti-regulatory countries like Italy, where it has been an enormous success. Here are a few stats from the article:
   -Cigarette sales in Italy have dropped 8 percent, and among young people 15-24, the drop was 23 percent.
   -One poll in Italy indicated that since the ban, 9.6 percent of people said they go out more often, and 7.4 percent less so.
   -Now, two years after the ban went into effect, 90 percent of Italians say they are in favor of it.
   -A study in Turin found that since the ban, heart attack victims decreased in emergency rooms.
   -Despite warnings that authorities and restaurateurs would simply ignore the ban, there is now 100 percent compliance.
     Similar findings have been published in other sources about the results of bans in Scandinavia and Ireland.  Next up, France, in 2008.
For the full article click here.

by John Mariani

La Cantina Toscana

1109 First Avenue

       How did I miss such a gem? La Cantina Toscana has been open since 2001, yet I don't recall hearing anything about it.  Now that I have and now that I've eaten at this small, rustic Florentine trattoria on the Upper East Side, I am eager to return again for what qualifies as a serious contender for the best Tuscan food in New York.  Too many of its better-known competitors purport to be a "Tuscan" restaurant but serve only the barest items of what you'd find back in Tuscany.  La Cantina Toscana comes very close to some of my Florentine favorites like Osteria  de' Benci, Cibreo, Il Latini, and Trattoria Mario.
      thwerhChef/restaurateur Pierluigi Sacchetti and his partner and wine director Massimiliano Caldini are themselves proud Florentines, and they've made their little slip of a trattoria very much in the style of those in their hometown, with wooden tables lighted with candles and set with Tuscan ceramic plates, terracotta floors, brick walls, and
custom-made Italian brass and glass wall sconces.
La Cantina Toscana features about 200  Italian wines, including several older vintages bought at auction.  The list has a “Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.”
    You'll find the menu full of very hearty cooking, particularly in its game dishes, which are featured seasonally. It's a big menu for a small kitchen, but, aside from some very salty dishes, I found most of what I ate absolutely and uniquely delicious, beginning with antipasti like artichoke flan with pecorino cheese, and a very unusual item, cieche alla pisana (described as Mr. Sacchetti's "grandpa's favorites"), and flash-sautéed baby eels with garlic and oil, something you rarely see outside of Spanish restaurants that charge a fortune for them.  Here the dish is $9.95.
     Going for the gut, Sacchetti also serves the Tuscan equivalent of chitterlings, with an assertive pepper sauce, and I really loved his boiled tongue with a parsley and olive oil sauce. Just try to find any of these dishes around town at pseudo-Tuscan restaurants like the hyped-up Da Silvano (where Mr. Caldini once worked).
     wPastas are every bit as impressive, including housemade pappardelle with a pheasant ragù, and an amazingly good lasagne (O.K., this is more of a Bolognese dish, but it's a magnificent example). Other pastas as yet untried include ravioli with potatoes and pancetta in a sausage ragù, and lemon tagliolini with shrimp and asparagus.
      These are all quite filling but push on to the secondi like slowly poached veal cheeks in a basil sauce with creamy polenta, or braised rabbit with olives, white wine, and thyme.  There is, of course, an authentic bistecca all fiorentina here, perfumed with rosemary and set on a bed of arugula. Wild boar is marinated in red wine then stewed, served with Swiss chard and polenta, and two nice fat quails are stuffed with sausage and potatoes, then wrapped in pancetta and cooked to a golden, crisp turn, served with tender broccoli di rape.
     Desserts are the usual Italian dolci but they are just fine.

     Cantina Toscana is really a remarkable restaurant in its dedication to what its owners believe in.  When you can find a restaurant where barely a single dish is familiar in the way 95 percent of the Italian menus in NYC are, then you have something that is not only special but to be respected.

Appetizers range from $8.95-$11.95, pastas $15.95-$19.95 (full portions), and entrees $16.95-$23.95;  Tasting menus at $39.95 (4 courses) and $49.95 (six courses). There is a Tuscan brunch on Sundays at $19.95.



A Croatian barman named Ante Butic has created a new cocktail using cherry liqueur that is poured upside down into a cocktail mixer as the barman jumps out of an airplane at 10,000 feet, with the cold air chilling the drink while Mr. Butic does somersaults.


"The desserts are a trip in themselves, thanks to the elaborate domes of caramelized spun sugar that decorate many of them. This shiny tracery so struck me when I first saw it that I immediately placed it on top of my head, as if Tim Gunn of
Project Runway had charged me with making a wild beanie. Yes, it stuck to my hair; no, I didn't eat it. It was fun for a moment, though. I swear I couldn't help myself."--Alison Cook, "Chez Georges,"  Houston Chronicle (October 18, 2006).


TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the more unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* On Nov. 18 the Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center and J. Lohr Winery will present a 4-course Wine Dinner, created by Chef Jose Urrutia, complemented by J. Lohr wines; a representative from J. Lohr will explain how the characteristics of each wine pairs well with the flavors in the dishes being served. $100 pp. Call 202-416-8555.

* On Nov. 19 Roy Yamaguchi will join Roy’s San Francisco  Executive Chef Ty Mahler to celebrate the 6th anniversary of  Roy’s San Francisco at a Celebrity  Chefs Tasting Reception, with a private dinner optional, presented by the  Asian Chefs Association, sponsored by The Japan Society. Restaurants participating incl. Ana Mandara, Bacar, Boulevard, Gaylord  India Restaurant, Jack Falstaff, Poleng  Lounge, Roy’s, Sino  Restaurant, Straits Restaurant, Sushi Ran and Tommy Toy’s. $99 pp. for reception, $250 for dinner.  Call 415-986-4383 or visit

* San Domenico NY announces its “Daily White Truffle Menu,” available until the first week of December, with truffles $6 per gram. The menu features: Whole fried egg on soft polenta with robiola cheese; fillet of beef, dressed with extra virgin olive oil;  tajarin in a capon broth; fettuccine with butter and parmigiano;  soft egg-yolk filled raviolo with a truffle butter sauce; meat-filled ravioli with veal jus; risotto mantecato; et al. The Annual SAN DOMENICO NY White Truffle Gala & Auction will take place on  Nov. 16 with Trifolao Sandrino Romanelli and a surprise guest-chef.  Call 212-265-5959.

 * Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 15, the Hotel d’Angleterre in Geneva, Switzerland, is offering a 2- night package incl. a bottle of "Vin des Glaciers" and welcome gift of deluxe tree ornament and a basket of "Biscôme";  daily buffet breakfast; cheese fondue in a typical chalet of the Jura; 4-course dinner at Windows, by  chef Philippe Audonnet; cooking demo with Pastry Chef; access to the fitness and sauna;  if staying on Christmas Day, a stocking stuffed with season goodies. CHF1346 for two nights, based on two people sharing a double room., subject to availability. Call 877-955-1515; in Europe,  00 800 1698 8740.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