Virtual Gourmet

December 3, 2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

                                                                                 Still Life by Kosta Hackman

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: San Pietro by John Mariani


 by John Mariani

To order any of the books here, simply click on the book cover and it takes you to the page.

by Barbara Fairchild (Wiley, $34.95)--The publication of the new retro-edition of Joy of Cooking has been greeted with  nostalgic reveries, but frankly it's not a book I would consult if I sought the best, most up-to-date advice on how to cook the simplest of biscuits to the most enticing chocolate desserts. The massive new Bon Appetit Cookbook, with more than 1,200 recipes, thoroughly tested under the eye of the magazine's editor, Barbara Fairchild, offers the best advice on upt-to-date techniques and the most appetizing recipes of a kind that can indeed be made at home without recourse to restaurant kitchen equipment.  Much to the publisher's credit, the book is impeccably laid out, clean and colorfully illustrated. I think this edition will be on my kitchen shelf for decades, or until they do another edition.

KEYS TO THE CELLAR: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting
by Peter D. Meltzer (Wiley, $29.95)--Starting a wine collection from scratch is a lot different from investing in fine art, rare books, or baseball cards.  Meltzer has been auction correspondent for Wine Spectator since 1981, and he begins his highly informative book by asking the reader to assess his own preferences, expectations, and storage facilities, promoting a “balanced cellar,” not a cache of “trophy wines."  He then turns to the thorny question of wine investing in an in-depth discussion of how to begin, what to expect from auctions, how to read the catalogs, and the importance of attending pre-sale tastings. The book gives all the details on how to assess the provenance of a wine, the tactics of absentee bidding, the wisdom of speaking directly with an auctioneer, and how to sell your own wines at auction, if you get to that point. Mr. Meltzer also provides excellent sources for internet sites, including those of auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christie’s, of the biggest of all,, with more than 38,000 registered bidders.
FIAMMA: The Essence of Contemporary Italian Cooking
by Michael White and Joanna Preuss (Wiley,  $34.95). Despite the unfortunate parting of the ways at publication time between chef Michael White and the management of NYC's Fiamma restaurant, this fine book of Italian recipes is one of the best to appear in years.  It is a book wherein the antipasti (fried zucchini blossoms with  fresh tomato sauce) are every bit as tempting as the pastas (spaghetti with fava beans and grape tomatoes), and the main courses  are simple and delicious, the way Italian food is supposed to be.  Try chicken in balsamic vinegar or  rabbit braised in oil Piedmont style and you'll see that the best dishes are the least complicated. If the book had only one dessert--ricotta beignets with chocolate dipping sauce--it would be worth the price.  And they all work at home.

uuuTHE KITCHEN TABLE: Brennan's of Houston
by Randy Evans and Alex Brennan-Martin (Bright Sky Press, $29.95). Brennan's of Houston (not associated with Brennan's in New Orleans) has long been one of that city's best and most consistent fine dining rooms, and this book, written by the chef and the owner, shows why.  Here are the Creole classics that the Brennan family pioneered, all given a Texas twang, like the crawfish macquechoux with jalapeno corn pound cake, and peanut-crusted soft-shell crabs.  "Wild Texas shrimp with Biscuits and Gravy" is a great seafood dish, and short ribs in a Southern Comfort marinade, served with pork and beans, is American cooking at its heartiest and most delectable.  Recipes are easy enough to follow, though there are a lot of steps to many of them, and some are strictly for restaurant cooks. But it is a beautiful, bountiful cookbook as indigenous as it is individualized by Chef Randy Evans.

AMBITIOUS BREW: The Story of American Beer
by Maureen Ogle (Harcourt, $25).  Since most mass-produced American beer is so bland and indistinguishable from one label to another, this well-researched volume puts into perspective the remarkable history of a beloved beverage, one that has become all too bland in the post-war period. Ogle begins at the beginning, when English settlers of the 17th century brought beer in kegs from the Old World to the New. She details, with telling anecdotes, how German-style lager came to dominate the American beer industry and how a handful of midwestern breweries came to dominate the business.  The conglomeration of breweries and the rise--in fits and starts--of the microbewery is all brought to rollicking life in this finely researched, well-told tale.

SWEETS: Soul Food Desserts & Memories
  by Patty Pinner and Sheri Giblin (10 Speed Press, $16.95). The evocative memoir has become a staple of regional cookbooks in recent years, and Sweets instantly becomes one to value for decades to come.  There's a story attached to almost every recipe, and every page manifests the wisdom of families' need to interact over the dining room table, in the warm kitchen, and on a picnic cloth spread on the ground. Recipes like Dr Pepper cake  and "Make You Slap Yo' Mamma Blueberry Pie" all tell a good yarn, and books like this will perpetuate the kind of Southern sweets that might have otherwise died out, had Pinner and Giblin not given them such an exuberant showcase as this lovingly illustrated volume.

Recipes & Lore about America's Favorite Indulgence by Joanna Preuss (Lyons Press, $24.95)--I am usually unimpressed with single iem food books ("The Pleasures of Pomegranates," "Rutabagas Rule," etc), but in Joanna Preuss's charmingly exuberant book, bacon becomes both the medium and the message for a series of recipes that either gain from or add to the noble pig's best culinary virtue.  As I was happy to write on the back cover of this book, "What a misguided few might still regard as a guilty pleasure, Joanna Pruess has ennobled with a panache usually reserved for foie gras, caviar, and truffles, to which we can now joyously add, bacon."

BLACK FOREST CUISINE: The Classic Blending of European Flavors
by Walter Staib with Jennifer Lindner McGlinn (Running Press, $35)--German cooking has had such a bad rap for so long that the diversity and basic goodness has been wholly neglected.  Walter Staib, who runs the City Tavern in Philadelphia, and knows as much about food history as anyone, gives us a paean to his own culinary roots (his family descends from the original Huguenots).  here he brings back to favor dishes like a foolproof Wiener Schnitzel and  roast goose with cabbage and spaetzle, along with classics like paupiettes of brook trout with sturgeon roe and a slew of holiday recipes that really are very festive, including Schwarzwalder stollen.

by Katherine Kagel (10 Speed,  $29.95). Cafe Pasqual's is, hands down, the best restaurant, and the most friendly, in Santa Fe, and nothing comes out of its small kitchen that is not the quintessence of good Southwestern grub. This is a good-looking volume, very color packed, and though the number of recipes is a bit low for a $30 book, they are of a kind you really might attempt, from Caesar salad with carne asada and cheddar and poppy seed bread sticks to grilled lamb chops with pomegranate molasses and Meyer lemon ice cream with honeycomb drizzle.   It's the kind of book wherein you can sense the author really, really loves her own cooking, and the photographer delighted i n making them look as good as they taste.

by Andrew F. Smith (Greenwood Press, $85)--The price of this 322-page book is ridiculous, so you might want to wait for the paperback.  But if you are seriously interested in American culinary history, this book is a must and quite a scholarly job.  It begins with a fascinating chronology that shows Americans have been pioneers of the kind of food and drink that travel easily, from carbonated soft drinks to M&M's candy.  The writing is fairly academic, and Smith seems to cast too wide a net under his title, including entries on "Charities" favored by junk food companies, Toblerone chocolate, workplace injuries, and music ("used to promote food products"), but this is an impressive volume for its comprehensiveness and sets the record straight on many, many issues.

by Andrea Nguyen (10 Speed Press, $35).--Only now is Vietnamese food culture getting the attention it deserves, and a book of this beauty and seriousness will do much to explain the origins, traditions, and refinement of the country's cuisine.   The chapter on "The Roots of Vietnamese Cooking" is invaluable, showing how colonization by the Chinese and, later, the French, altered the basic cooking and added measurably to the culture. The chapter on ingredients, from fish sauce to wild betel leaf, is highly informative, and the recipes easy enough to reproduce in the home kitchen with a good seasoned wok and a good Asian grocery nearby. The recipes are also very well served by Leigh Beisch's fine color photography.

: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant by Yoshiro Murata (Kodansha, $45)--"Exquisite" most certainly describes the photography and graphics of this splendid volume, and the chapters are laid out seasonally, so that in spring you might wish to try steamed tilefish with cherry blossoms; in summer figs simmered in white miso, in autumn duck grilled on a magnolia leaf; and in winter pompano grilled Nanban style.  Beauty and a sense of serenity are very much a part of the kaiseki experience, and the photography, by Masashi Kuma, provide a backdrop for this cuisine's artfulness as well as a feeling for the land and the turn of the seasons.

by Jimmy Bradley and Andrew Friedman (Potter, $35)—Seemingly modest in intent, Red Cat is one of New York’s most beloved neighborhood (Chelsea) restaurants because of the no-nonsense, hearty, homey good American cooking created by Jimmy Bradley and Andrew Friedman (for a review, click), all amply displayed in this easy-to-use cookbook. Most recipes take no more than a page and fewer than a dozen ingredients, from cold corn soup with chili oil and crisp fried clams to turkey schnitzel with orzo Mac-and-Cheese and black mushroom purée and for dessert scrumptious ideas like a devil’s food cake with chocolate sauce and dark chocolate sorbet.  What’s not to love?

by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, $40)—As any pastry chef will be happy to tell you, pastry is as much science as it is culinary talent, and in this new 300-recipe tome The redoubtable Dorie Greenspan lays it all out for the home cook, from the right way to get puffy, moist, crumbly muffins to a foolproof method for making a humble pound cake into a sublime dessert.  Much of Greenspan’s knowledge and tricks of the trade have come from years of working with great bakers, from Julia Child to Pierre Hermé, so if you’re ready to bake at that level, this is the book for you.

ITALIAN TWO EASY: Simple Recipes from the London River Café
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (Potter, $37.50)—Over the last twenty years at the still stylish, always packed River Café, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers have more than anyone been more instrumental in opening British eyes to the truly wonderful rustic pleasures of the Italian table. Their work has always been based on simple concepts well rendered, and this new book shows how a dish of “smashed” cannellini beans and olives, can be one of the most delicious dishes in the world.  Their 5-ingredient dessert of quince and brown sugar shows that the most delicious flavors do not always come from the most complex of pastries.

by Floyd Cardoz (Morrow, $35)—Floyd Cardoz has been one of the signal lights of bringing modern Indian cuisine—with a decided New York flair—to attention at the Manhattan restaurants Tabla and Bread Bar.  In this collection of highly personalized recipes, he shows how, if you get hold of the right ingredients, such wonderful ideas like lobster coconut curry with eggplant and cabbage, lamb meatballs stuffed with fresh figs, and green mango-marinated fish with pickled daikon and beets can be translated at home with results that will fill your kitchen with wonderful fragrances.

THE OXFORD COMPANION TO WINE, 3rd Edition by Jancis Robinson (Oxford University Press, $65)--Two editions after its original 1994 appearance, the OCW remains the standard reference volume for enophilians who need to know the most up-to-date info on their favorite beverage.  Jancis Robinson and her hundred-plus colleagues have added nearly 400 new entries and revised every other in need of updating, totaling about 4,000 entries in all.  There is added attention given to New World wines, and the science of wine, which has become far more important than ever, is handled with sound scholarship and an easy writing style. If you had to have only one reference guide on your shelf, this would eclipse all others.  It would, however, at $65, be even better with more photos and graphics.

eg4yyANTHONY DIAS BLUE'S POCKET GUIDE TO WINE 2007 by Anthony Dias Blue (Fireside, $15)--You'll need a bigger pocket this year to fit this second edition of Blue's invaluable and comprehensive guide to the world's wines, with more up-to-date info than anything else out there. The concise reports on thousands of wineries, based on extensive tastings by Blue's own panel, are cogent and right on the mark, giving you website info, personnel, and direction to the best varietals, along with good avice on "How to Find a $20 Bottle That Drinks Like a $40 Bottle."  This is definitely a consumer's guide for the winelover, not the wine snob, and it's easy enough to pack to go with you on your next trip to Napa, Sicily, the Rhine or Barossa Valley.


by John Mariani

San Pietro
18 East 54th Street
        rujSan Pietro does not often show up among the trendy fashionista Italian trattorie in Manhattan, yet getting a table at this ebullient, fast-paced ristorante between Fifth and Madison on 54th Street is not all that easy at either lunch or dinner.  Indeed, the number of regulars who beseech the Bruno Brothers who own San Pietro for a table was so overwhelming on a recent weekday night that they had to squeeze in more tables into an already crowded L-shaped dining room, with its polished wood, well-set tables, and marine artwork of Saint Peter the fisherman at work.46j
     They come knowing that the Brunos, led by host Gerardo and his brother behind the bar, Cosimo, will treat them as the faithful they are, and newcomers with genuine interest, always asking, “How did you hear about us?”  After 15 years in business, San Pietro is certainly no secret. So people come to be cosseted and to enjoy some of the finest cucina all’italiana in the city, with a distinctive Campanian accent, because that’s where the Brunos come from—Salerno--including chef Antonio Bruno, whose food is straightforward but always surprising because of one added ingredient or some exotic flavor you haven’t had before.  When available, by all means try their renditions of the fish that gives the restaurant its name, pesce san pietro (above), known in English as John Dory.  The Italian name derives from the legend that St. Peter left an imprint of his thumb on the fish's body when thrown back into the sea after the fish begged for mercy.
      Gerardo oversees a very fine winelist, 800 labels strong, with scores of regional Italian wines he has himself ferreted out and is eager to have you taste. And Cosimo makes cocktails the way they do in the best bars in Venice, Rome, and Florence.
      A few nights ago I returned to San Pietro to sample the autumn menu, beginning with  antipasti of grilled sardines free of their bones, tasty red mullet, and fried zucchini flowers stuffed with excellent mozzarella and capers.  With this we sipped a crisp Falanghina del Taburno 2003.  Irresistible as always was the fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and greens (below, right). When we heard that Antonio had made his wonderful little Neapolitan meatballs, we were powerless not to order them--delicious, juicy morsels in a fresh tomato sauce, terrific all on their own, without pasta. Which was just as well because the pasta for the evening was egg-rich fettuccine lavished generously with highly aromatic white truffles--some of the best I've had this season.  A lovely match-up with this rich dish was a Bue Apis Aglianico del Taburno 2003, whose youth was on its size, its tannins smoothed out.999
      Afterwards the four of us passed plates of pompano cooked in white wine with peppers and artichokes.  This was one of those rare times when I thought pompano traveled first class from southern waters; usually it tastes muddy up here, but this was as firm-fleshed and sweet as Mark Twain once described it: "As delicious as the less criminal forms of sin."
     A veal scaloppine with mascarpone cheese, diced vegetables, sage, and scallions was tender and full of flavor, as was simply sautéed breast of chicken with fresh figs, tomatoes, red onions, and balsamic vinegar, and a very hefty, deeply flavorful; casserole of beef, veal, and lamb with porcini mushrooms stewed with tomatoes. With these main courses we drank a hearty Zero Aglianico del Cilento 2001, a big red that had great affinity with the meats.
     A simple dessert of a torroncino semifreddo and espresso sauce was a perfect ending, and this is one of the handful of restaurants in the U.S. where I am always assured of a well-made espresso.
     San Pietro sails on, like the sailor saint it is named for, and the Bruno Brothers have never wavered from providing that ideal balance between good taste and caring service, both for their legion of regulars and those who are coming through the glass door for the first time. Or, if it's good warm weather, ask for a seat under the white umbrellas outside and watch the chic passing parade down 54th Street.
     By the way, another brother of the family,  Giuseppe, runs the very fine Sistina on the Upper East Side at 2nd Aveuue and 80th Street, whic I hope to review soon.
     San Pietro is open for lunch and dinner, Mon.-Sat. Antipasti run from $14-$25, pastas (full portions) $22-$26, and main courses, $28-$45.


Actor Rupert Everett (right) says that he has not cooked a meal for himself in 25 years, after serving a disastrous dinner to guests during a storm in Hollywood. "I go out to dinner every night," he says. "I love going to the same restaurant every day, having the same food every day."


The Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute has published findings that flavenoids in chocolate (and red wine) are thought to help reduce platelet activation; may affect the relaxation capabilities of blood vessels; may positively affect the balance of certain hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, which are thought to play a role in cardiovascular health.


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 Dec. 5 the famous Paris tasting of 1976, when nine French judges sat down for a blind tasting of 20 California and French wines, will be recreated by Manhattan Wine Company at 7SQUARE in NYC. Ten 1986 wines, 5 Bordeaux and 5 California, will be served with a menu created by 7SQUARE’s chef Shane McBride.  $250 pp.  Call 212-333-7749.

* is hosting 4 traveling series of tasting events around the country called “Rising Stars,” honoring the city's top culinary picks, both chef, pastry chef and wine. On Dec. 13, the focus will be on Washington DC, at a Rising Stars Revue walk-around tasting event at The National Housing Center Atrium, with proceeds from the Jade Products Range Raffle donated DC Central Kitchen. The chefs incl. Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve; Tony Chittum,  Dish;   RJ Cooper, Vidalia; Katsuya Fukushima,  Café Atlantico; Eric Ziebold, CityZen, and many others.

* On Dec. 21 in Washington DC,  The Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center and Antinori Winery will present a Wine Dinner featuring Italian wines that pair well with an eclectic array of flavors created by Chef Jose Urrutia. $100 pp. Call 202-416-8555.

* On Dec. 24 Piero Selvaggio and  Chef Angelo Auriana of Valentino in
Santa Monica, CA, will present “La Vigilia di Natale,” an Italian Feast  with a 6-course menu  inspired by Italian regional  cuisines. $85 pp,  with  wine pairings, $55 additional. Visit or call 310.829.4313.

* On New Year’s Eve The Inn At Dos Brisas, in Brenham, TX , will turn recreate the glory days of 1907 with a black tie 9-course dinner with caviar, truffles and foie gras, fine wine, accompanied by classical music performed by a strolling string quartet and a fireworks show and dancing. (A limo service can be arranged to pick up guests at their residence in the Houston area, drive them to The Inn.)  Alternatively, Dos Brisas offers it¹s own four luxury casitas, and several nearby bed and breakfast inns. $650 per couple; $1050 per couple including a night’s stay and continental brunch the next afternoon.  Call 979-277-7750.

* From Jan. 1-March 31, Sivory Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic offers its “Good Life” incl. 3 nights in an ocean view Deluxe Jr. Suite; complimentary private helicopter arrival transfer from Punta Cana International Airport; private beach check-in with chilled towel service and Champagne; daily American breakfast; Daily selection of house wines in guests' suite;  premium box of Leon Jimenez cigars; 55-minute Aromatherapy treatment, per person; one gourmet dinner for two. $320 plus tax per person, per night; $240 April 1-Dec. 21. 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