Virtual Gourmet

January 14,  2006                                                       NEWSLETTER

                                         Van De Kamp Coffee Shop, Glendale, CA. Architect Wayne McAllister, circa 1950

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In This Issue

Ah, Venezia!  by John Curtas


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLARAre Angelo Gaja’s White Wines Italy’s Greatest?  by John Mariani



Ah, Venezia![p;pp
Text and photos by John Curtas

            Some say Venice is an expensive, confusing, dirty, tourist trap, run by hucksters and overrun by tour buses, er, boats.  I pretty much agree with that assessment yet still love every inch of it.
     One of my best examples of dubious excess is the 80 euro, 30-minute water taxi ride to or from
Marco Polo International Airport.  Sure it’s a hundred bucks---but it is also a one of the most dramatic, scenic and romantic boat rides on the planet.  If your or your companion’s heart doesn’t start to race a bit upon seeing the city rise up from the lagoon, even from ten miles away, then I’d check for a pulse.  And if the two of you don’t want to smooch as you first turn onto the Grand Canal or view the Rialto Bridge, then I’d pick another travel mate.
             oppp[--Pick the Hotel Palace Bonvecchiati (San Marco, Calle dei Fabbri 4680 Venice, Italy;  041 2963111), and that taxi will deliver you to the side door right on the water. Almost equidistant from the Rialto as it is from Piazza San Marco, it is as contemporary as hotels get in Venice, and the rooms are every bit the 4-star accommodations they are advertised to be (not always the case in the hotels and inns of Italy).   Best of all, for a mid-October stay, and by booking over the internet, we snared one of these non-smoking, king-bed, flat-screened television, impeccably clean and modern rooms for 170 euros a night—a steal by the standards of Venezia.  Our (better-heeled), traveling companions had a suite at the Danieli (don’t even ask!), and for all its old school opulence and charm, I’d take the Bonvecchiati any day.

Photo courtesy of Palace Bonvecchiati.

      Once your water taxi delivery to the door of your hotel is done, and the formalities of checking in are completed, there’s only one thing to do in Venice--get lost!  That’s half the fun of being there, and if you don’t enjoy wandering aimlessly while having no idea where you are—all the time soaking up the unique sights and sounds of this mysterious place, then by all means take a tour boat.  Despite all of the city's nooks and crannies, though, it is really impossible to get really lost.  Everywhere you look there are signs pointing you to San Marco,
Rialto Bridge, or Academia. Set your bearings by one of them and you’re never far from your temporary home.  I also firmly advise getting a Streetwise Venice fold-out map (even though it will be of almost no use to you as anything but a security blanket), because gradually you will get used to the blissful feeling of strolling around Venice and discovering something new with every step.[[\]
          And, early one morning, if those steps don’t lead you to the fish market, Mercato del Pesce al Minuto  (right) in the shadow of the Rialto Bridge, you will truly be missing something.  Of course you will stroll right past the fruit and vegetable stands first; they are an education in brightly colored, healthful foods, unto themselves.   Continue to follow your nose to the long, open-air buildings, only steps away from the purple garlic and exotic artichokes, until you are awash in the sights and smells of good things to eat from the sea.
          What fascinates most about the seafood from the Venetian lagoon and beyond, besides their mineral-rich, intense flavors, is the sheer variety of fish and shellfish in the market—much of it unknown outside Italy. Seeing rombo (turbot), dentice, and razza (skate) only a few hours out of the water is one thing, but what amazes most is the exotic bounty of the northern Adriatic Sea that is unique to the Venetian table.   Thumb-sized crabs called mazzanette, which are invariably flash fried and served piled high on a plate adorned simply with lemon, will make you forget about calamari rings forever.  Canocce  (a much-loved local crustacean) looks like a tiny white-ish lobster tail (above) and has a delicacy of taste and texture that other shellfish never approach.  Other delicious oddities like seppioline (small cuttlefish), its snow-white first cousin: lotti di seppie, and a variety of tiny shrimp and slithery eels, are fascinating to see and standard fare (when available) in the better Venetian restaurants.
          79;The only trouble with an early morning stroll among all these edible creatures is that you’ll be hungry (and perhaps a bit thirsty), and it will probably be long before noon. Everyone knows Italians (and the French for that matter), aren’t big on breakfast.  In this part of the world, breakfast is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch.  And there’s no better place to abate that hunger (and ponder what seafood you’ll be having for lunch), than with a few small plates of cicchetti at the venerable Cantina do Mori (San Polo 429; 041-522-5401), only a stone’s throw from the Mercato, here since 1462.   On weekends it is packed with tourists, but stroll into its dark environs during the week and you will notice the copper caldrons hanging from the ceiling and the fishmongers and locals hanging out at the bar, chattering away while sipping the house vino that tasted just fine to me at nine AM.  The cicchetti (small tapas-like plates of salumi, cheese, marinated fish, and more, ranging from 3-8 euros apiece) are freshest then also, and a great way to start your day without ruining your appetite for the treats to come.
          It’s the ultimate cliché to say that all Americans go to Harry’s Bar when they come here—but they do--especially at night.  Which is why I always drop in for lunch.   Watching   locals (some straight out of Central Casting: an aging dowager at one table, various elegantly-dressed business types along the walls, and a silver-haired, preternaturally tanned, medallion-clad, movie producer-type with a stunning, 20-something starlet at another) is a treat unto itself.   qScore one of the low downstairs tables, order a bottle of wine, then the perfect carpaccio (Harry's invented it during an exhibition of Carpaccio's art in the city), and whatever fish your captain suggests, and you will be treated and feel like one of the cognoscenti, and eat superb food at the same time.  Some consider the décor drab and the bill outrageous for what is relatively simple fare. But the ingredients are exquisite (except for the bread, which is generally disappointing all over Italy), and soaking up the history of the place along with the local color is worth the tariff: my 3-course lunch, with one 63 euro bottle of wine, cheese, and grappa came to 263 euros.
   Unlike other food-crazy towns like
New York and Paris, Venice doesn’t have restaurants, pubs and cafes on every corner.  Relative to them, Venetian restaurants are few and far between.  And some are maddeningly hard to find.  Trattoria Antiche Carampane (San Polo 1911; 041-5240-165), is, I’m told, as good as it is hidden.  We had to take our friend’s word for the delectability of the local catch it serves nightly, because after 40 minutes of crawling among the calles (as the streets are referred to), with written directions no less, we gave up and headed for the second of our two meals at Ristorante da Ivo (Ramo dei Fuseri;  041-520-5889).   If you want a good laugh (and see what I mean), go to, read the tortured instructions on how to find it, then go off and try to find it.
     j Da Ivo is easier to locate, on a relatively busy walkway not far from the Piazza San Marco.  Despite the menu written in four languages (usually the sure sign of a tourist trap), it is one of the best in Venice for sampling the local catch and cuisine.  The kitschy décor, previously described to a “t” by Signore Mariani on this very site (click), gives not a clue to the purity of the cooking done here. The aforementioned mazzanette come piled high and disappear quickly; the canocce are so sweet and delicate you won’t believe they are a first cousin to shrimp and lobster. Risotto con seppie (black cuttlefish risotto) is finished tableside and precedes a plate of small and plump sogliola alla mugnaia (sole meunière) that are the perfect expression of this famous fish.  Even more remarkable is the tender veal calf's liver, so pale, sweet and un-liver-like that you may find yourself re-thinking your previous dislike of this  organ meat, as did I.  Antipasti and primi piatti (first courses) here range from 28-44 euros; secondi (main courses) from 48-70 euros.  The wine list is reasonably short, relatively reasonable and reliably related to the white wines of the region.  You can break your bank on wine here and elsewhere if you want to, but it has been my experience that even the most expensive of Venetian eateries (Cipriani, Harry’s Bar, et al) have wine lists chock full of interesting Italian white wines that are priced in the 50-100 euro range and go splendidly with the food at this absolutely unique place that is as much a cultural artifact as a restaurant or bar.
      This same commitment to bringing forth the pure and vivid flavors of Venetian seafood is the hallmark of al Covo (Castello 3968-30122;  041-522- 3812).  There is nothing in the world quite like the flavors of Venetian seafood (or liver for that matter), and Cesare and Diane Benelli (he’s from Venice, she’s from Texas), announce their passion for the unique varieties of fish and shellfish caught in the Gulf of Venice in the prelude to their menu. No overtures are needed, however, once you dive into a sampler platter of pesce e crostacei nostrani.  I prefer the grilled platter of squid, octopus, assorted fish, clams and mussels, but deep-fried is the only way to enjoy the sweetness and crunch of the ethereal tiny shrimps called gamberetti.  To Venetians, the deep-frying of seafood is an art; and restaurants like al Covo practice and refine that art nightly.  They also do a definitive spaghetti alla vongole (with clams) here, really more like a mountain of fresh clams with some spaghetti.  For dessert, if you’re really nice and do a little polite begging (always best done by the best-looking woman among you), your waiter will whip up a Marsala-drenched, orange-yellow zabaglione to the oohs and ahs of those jealous souls around you, who will be asking themselves: 1) how they missed it on the menu (because it’s not there); and 2) why none of them noticed the zabaglione pan and burner in the middle of the room.2
    A note on pricing.  Venice is very expensive to be sure, but there is a wide disparity between how better places price their wares for what is generally very similar cooking of identical raw ingredients. The fresh fish will always be the most expensive thing on any menu, and expect to pay at least 45 euros (or much more) for the catch of the day, just about anywhere.  Amazingly though, antipasti and first (pasta) courses at a less touristy place like al Covo will be half the price (15-27 euros) of a similar dish ordered at places closer to Piazza San Marco—like Harry’s Bar and Da Ivo. Likewise, primi piatti (main courses) at al Covo and the distinctly out-of-the-way Antiche Carampane are well below 30 euros, when they start at 45 euros at da Ivo and 60 euros at Harry’s.  Another specific (and common) example: at Antiche Carampane, spaghetti with spicy shellfish is 13 euros.  Da Ivo gets 36 euros for a similar dish.  Go figure.
     Regardless of price, these places capture the magic of Venetian cuisine for me.  The presentations are never fancy and the cooking is straightforward, but the excellence of technique and raw materials give you a whole new take on whatever you are eating.  And no better example of this deceptive simplicity can be found than in the simple plate of chilled grapes brought to us towards the end of our second meal in three days at da Ivo. Called uva fragola, they are from Friuli, the same grapes used to make the house dessert wine, vino fragolino.  Their flavor is intense, grapey and very sweet, without being cloying, and unlike any table grape I have ever tasted.  “Only in Venice,” I thought to myself, “can a simple table grape surprise, astonish and seduce the palate.”
by Mort Hochstein


417 Lafayette Street

      It may be that great cheesecake all on its own or it may have caused the non-stop parade of always-on actors, comedians, ladies of the night, and all those raffish New York characters and flip waiters who traded jokes and insults from dark till dawn. It was a Broadway and a  world that no longer exists. Damon Runyon memorialized that guys-and-dolls scene, making Lindy’s, and in my mind, its cheesecake, legendary. It may be all those elements together, but when I think of cheesecake, I think of Lindy’s,  once home to all those doings, now a name attached to two surviving eateries on Seventh Avenue.
     I was reminded of Lindy’s recently when I dined at Colors, a restaurant that could not be further from Broadway madness; in its quiet décor and respectful service of a staff, this too could become a legend.  Colors, with a staff hailing from all parts of North and South America and Asia and an equally diverse menu reflecting those cuisines has a unique story to tell. And, each of them is a partner in the restaurant.
      But first the Colors cheesecake. Unlike the Lindy’s cake of my memory and many excellent American, French Italian and continental versions, unlike even those from Junior’s of Brooklyn and more recently of Times Square, the Colors cheesecake does not raise high above the plate. It reigns somewhere at mid-point,  Sara Lee-ish in stature, but its  consistency, taste and lingering flavor  easily bring this 21st century effort  to the Lindy’s pedestal.   It is a dessert to return for, many times. And, surprisingly, there is no one from Eastern Europe in the kitchen,  a background I’ve always felt necessary for good cheesecake.
     ‘Nuff about cheesecake. The Colors story is more dramatic.  Most of the crew who founded this restaurant in lower Manhattan were originally staffers at Windows on the World   in the World Trade Center, destroyed  on 9/11, taking with it 79 co-workers.  More than 350 employees of Windows and about 13,000 other food service employees were displaced by that disaster as restaurant business in New York plummeted. Most of the survivors went jobless for months and years as New York’s restaurant economy plummeted.
    The Windows survivors held weekly meetings, trading job leads and reinforcing each other. A few years ago, 50 of them joined in this unique, worker-owned and managed restaurant, which opened its doors in January, 2006. The workers put up 20% of the initial funding, with the bulk of financing, more than $1 million, coming from the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York (ROC) and an Italian food conglomerate.
     r3f3In this cooperative arrangement, every participant shares in the decision making so that someone like Rosario Ceia, a bar  assistant and back waiter, sits on the board of directors with chef Jean-Pierre Émy and other managers. Basic pay is $13.50 an hour, a level rare in New York City, rare in restaurants anywhere, while servers earn the current minimum wage plus tips. All employees receive medical insurance and a paid vacation.
    More than 70 percent of all restaurant workers in New York are  immigrants, 90 percent do not have health insurance and, says Saru Jayarman, the immigration   lawyer and labor activist who launched ROC as a center for workers, the majority do not receive proper overtime. Jayarman says the median annual income for restaurant workers in New York is $19,000.
     The restaurant is also unique in that specialists from the National Institutes of Health contributed to its design and visit regularly to insure that physical conditions are healthful for all workers. When COLORS first opened its doors in January 2005, the worker-owners were told that they would never survive in the New York City restaurant industry.  But now it is thriving and celebrating its first anniversary, with a new colorful décor,  a re-tooling of their menu to include a moderately priced global tapas menu. and the promotion of Jean Pierre to Executive Chef.
      All of that is secondary to what comes out of the kitchen and how the public is treated. Gold stars for Colors on both counts, with an extra star for the cheesecake. On a recent evening we concentrated primarily on light tapas dishes, started with   crisp fried plantain chips, sharpened with ginger and paprika and accompanied by a chick pea puree and spicy tomato salsa. That dish originated in an African background.
     We moved on toward Asia with the Colors interpretation of Thailand’s pad Thai, here called pam Thai, its shredded chicken accompanied by long beans, green papaya and a chili lime dressing.  Pam Thai shared space on our well-laden table with beer-battered shrimp taking on elegance atop a bed of watercress and a honey lime-dipping sauce.
      Papadam, normally associated with India, came in a new form, as rounds of  deep-fried lentils; l  teamed them with a spicy, mouth-challenging goat curry that reflected Haitian origins.  Marinated cubes of pork came on a skewer, dressed with scallions, lime juice and habanero peppers, served with  smashed plantains, another welcome import from Haiti. Mexico was represented by a radish, red-onion, and tomatillo soup, a variation on gazpacho, topped by  mild Chihuahua cheese.re5
      Guyanese empanadas in delightfully light pie crust came as rounds rather than  crescents, stuffed with spicy pork and chicken.. Then there was a flavorful  tuna taco, house-smoked toro tuna, dressed with mayonnaise and capers and paired with crispy taro chips.  Colors makes a ceviche shooter, scallops and shrimps  in tequila flowing over guava ice, a refreshing cool drink with a bit of a bite provided by red onion.
     We moved on to main courses, opening with an exceptional octopus salad, fiery little charred octopi on piquillo pepper strips in smoked olive oil. Our palates returned to more normal temperature with a plate of braised short ribs accompanied by an only slightly spicy carrot puree and miniature asparagus spear. The meat was flavorful and very tender, reflecting  the benefits of long, slow cooking.
     Chef Jean-Pierre has a way with fish and he demonstrated that by raising the humble mahi-mahi to feature dish status, pan-searing it to a shiny-black crust, while still keeping it moist. I’ve tried that dish in many other places and it often arrives dry and unappealing, but not here.    The fish is  served with julienned, sautéed snow peas  and has become   a popular addition to the Colors winter menu.
     34Rack of lamb, two huge ribs, came with a pumpkin seed crust, offering a nice contrast of crunchy bites into a succulent, oversized rib that would have pleased Henry VIII. It was accompanied by potatoes almost overdosed with truffles and sautéed wild mushrooms, but then, you can never get enough truffles, and Jean-Pierre is a generous provider.
   For kickers, competing with that great cheesecake, we enjoyed a perfectly textured crème brûlée with miniature chocolate chip cookies and egg nog for the season. As with everything else at Colors, the flavoring is never ordinary and in this case, the eggnog was spiced and tarted up with fresh, kitchen-ground  nutmeg, it made a nice ending.

Appetizers at Colors run $7-$14, main courses $21-$29. There is also a menu at the bar (left). Colors is open for dinner seven days a week and serves brunch  on Sunday. Colors offers BYOB on Monday nights.


Are Angelo Gaja’s White Wines Italy’s Greatest?
  By John Mariani
      There is little debate among connoisseurs that Piedmont’s most famous winemaker, Angelo Gaja, makes some of the greatest red wines in Italy—magnificent barbarescos and barolos.  But not nearly as much attention has been paid to his white wines.  So let me state right away that I believe his whites to be the greatest in Italy and, by extension, among the finest white wines in the world.
      QFQRExcept for a handful of prestigious white burgundies like Meursault and Montrachet, no other white wines can match the power, finesse, and elegance of Gaja’s chardonnay-based whites.  In Italy the only white wine I know that even approaches Gaja’s eminence would be Edoardo Valentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Nothing else comes close.
      It was in fact Gaja, 66, whose family has had vineyards in Piedmont since 1859, who both pioneered and popularized chardonnay in the region, specifically in the Langhe area, whose calcareous clay lends minerality to the wines’ taste and acidity to keep them fresh. Pio Cesare and Aldo Conterno, following Gaja’s lead, also now make fine examples, but none is at Gaja’s level.
      Principal among many innovations he made in Italian viniculture was to age both his red and white wines in French  barriques.
      With 250 vineyard acres in Piedmont (he also has holdings in Tuscany), Gaja is also constantly experimenting, making it difficult for his avid fans to keep up with all the different wines he may be making in any given year. A look at his American importer’s website, Paterno Wines (, lists no less than 20 different wines, most of them reds made from the local nebbiolo grape, many with whimsical dialect names, like Darmagi, which means “what a pity!”—which is what his father said when Angelo tore out nebbiolo from an old vineyard and replanted it with cabernet sauvignon.
      He only makes three white wines (not counting grappas), two chardonnays, and one sauvignon blanc.  Rossj-Bass, named after his youngest daughter Rossana, has a touch of sauvignon blanc that gives very pleasing vegetal notes to the opulent fruit and the marvelous balance of acids and minerals.
      Alteni di Brassica is 100 percent sauvignon blanc, another varietal Gaja has championed in a region better known for traditional whites like erbaluce, roero arneis, and cortese di gavi. John Ragan, wine director of New York’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant says the Alteni is his favorite among Gaja’s wines: “The chardonnays are excellent but I am really enamored of the sauvignon. They are just gorgeous, very clean, with all that Italian minerality and unique expression of the fruit and very clean.” Ragan says that as soon as a customer who knows Gaja’s name on the winelist, “There’s no more conversation; they just jump right on them.”EEE4
       But it is Gaja’s Gaia & Rey (named after his daughter Gaia and grandmother Clotilde Rey), which he first planted in 1979, releasing his first vintage in 1984, that is the most prestigious of his white wine labels. Gaja, a fiery, square-jawed, blue-eyed Italian who speaks excellent English with a strong Piemontese accent, makes Gaia & Rey with the same commitment and passion he devotes to his barbarescos and barolos.
      It is 100 percent chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel tanks for four weeks with natural yeasts, finishing at a hefty 14 percent alcohol, then aging 6-8 months in barrique to give it a roundness, fullness, and toasty vanilla notes.
      The wine is always quite complex, beginning in the nose, which has the aromas of caramel, oak, and honey.  These follow on the palate, opening up to floral notes and a long, satisfying finish that is sustained in every glass you drink.
      Getting hold of enough Gaia & Rey to drink is, however, a problem. Winestore owners and restaurateurs wring their hands in anticipation of the next vintage—not because they wonder how good it will be but because they worry how little they might receive. Only about 3,600 bottles of the 2004 will be coming to the U.S. this November, and the wine is strictly allocated. (This also is true of Rossj-Bass, with 4,800 bottles of the 2005, and Alteni di Brassica, with 2,400 of the 2004, which are harder to find because so little is made.)
      My search of the quite comprehensive turned up only a handful of sources for any of the wines. Probably your best chance of finding the wines is at, which currently carries a few in earlier vintages. If you do locate a bottle of Gaia & Rey, expect to pay around $130-$160 a bottle—which is a lot less than a white burgundy like Domaine Romanée- Conti’s Le Montrachet at $1,950 a bottle.
      The new allocations for Gaja wines will be announced soon, so if you want to taste Italy’s finest white wine, better get your wine merchant on speed-dial.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



"If you want to create an impression of class in your restaurant, just drop in a little French. Unfortunately, some French words aren’t easy for English-speakers to handle. Take “prix fixe,” which means “fixed price” — a full meal of several courses offered for a set tab. Neat concept. Not easy to spell and pronounce. I’ve seen it rendered as “prefix” and pronounced as 'pricks fix,' but nooooo: Make it “pree feese,” and you’ll hear no snobby Frenchmen snickering at you."--
"Leo's Eat and Blog: The Fix Is In" by Robin Garr

SAY, AH....[[98j
In Tempe, AZ, The Heart Attack Grill (which serves items like the Quadruple Bypass Burger--
4 1/2--pound beef patties, 4 pieces of cheese and a mound of bacon, with Flatliner Fries) has angered local hospital nurses because  management dresses its waitresses in  naughty nurse uniforms, who, if "patients," as customers are called, finish a Triple or Quadruple Bypass, will push them to their cars in wheelchairs.  The Arizona attorney general's office and a national nursing group have demanded  owner Jon Basso stop using the outfits. "If anything, I think it glorifies nurses to be thought of as a physically attractive and desirable individual," Basso answered back.  "There's a Faye Dunaway, Florence Nightingale hipness to it. None of the women actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services. It should be made clear that the Heart Attack Grill and its employees do not offer any therapeutic treatments (aside from laughter) whatsoever."


* On Jan. 18 the Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center in DC will feature a 4-course wine dinner showcasing game dishes specially created by Chef Jose Urrutia with wines from Cambria Winery, with a representative from the winery on hand. $100 pp. Call 202-416-8555. Visit

* On Jan. 19 at NYC’s Havana Central at The West End owner Jeremy Merrin will inaugurate an oral history project designed to capture “great West End stories” for a book that will chronicle its nearly 100-year history as a gathering spot for the making of lifelong memories. From 7 to 9 p.m., former West End-ists are invited to tell their stories to on-site videographers about this internationally known  clubhouse of The Beats, a hothouse for the growth or jazz talents, and a hotbed of 60s counterculture revolution.  They will be rewarded with a complimentary empanada sampler platter – three empanadas of their choice – one of Havana Central’s signature presentations. Call 212-751-6731.

* From Jan. 19-21 Pebble Beach Resorts is holding “A Taste of California Wine Country” at the Casa Palmero, incl. a reception in the courtyard with principals from Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Shafer Vineyards, and Far Niente to pour  2002 Cabernets, and other special selections, followed by  a 4-course dinner; also, a panel tasting of 10 years of the Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon and  Far Niente Cave Collection Cabernets;  a sparkling wine reception and 7-course dinner prepared by Club XIX Chef Ressul Rassallat, matched with  rare cult wines. This package includes 2 nights at Casa Palmero, food, wine and special amenities. $2,435 single occupancy to $3,750. . . . From Feb. 2-4 21 the Resort is holding “Tuscany Treats with Piero Antinori” and Renzo Cotarella, Antinori winemaker, with Italian Coastal Cuisine cooking demos and lunch with Antinori wines and a gala dinner. This package includes 2 night accommodations at The Inn at Spanish Bay, at $1,725 single occupancy, $2,850 double occupancy. . . . From March 9-11, the Resort will hold a “Taste of France,” with top Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Rhone Valley wines incl.  Domaine Dujac, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, and Chapoutier, a 5-course dinner paired with Krug Champagne, Pavillon Blanc and La Tour Vielles Banyuls;  tastings of Dom Perignon and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti;  7-course chef's tasting dinner, prepared by Club XIX's chef Ressul Rassallat.  The package incl. 2 nights at The Lodge.  $1,885 single occupancy, $3,095 double occupancy.  Call (866) 226-5442 or visit

* On Jan. 19, Executive Chef Lewis Rossman of  Cetrella in Half Moon Bay, CA, will host a 4-course dinner featuring cheeses from Harley Farms, and wines from Alfaro Family Vineyards.  Dee Harley from Harley Farms and Winemaker Richard Alfaro will also be on-hand. $85 pp. Call (650) 726-4090.

* On Jan. 20 & 21 Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT, will hold SUN WINEFEST 2007, with executive chef Michael Luboff and chefs Todd English, Jasper White, Roberto Donna, Susur Lee, Daisy Martinez, Mary Sue Milliken, Sara Moulton, Walter Potenza, Luis Bollo, Jimmy Burke, Michael Ginor, Chris Schlesinger, Kim Canteenwalla, Ihsan Gurdal, Lydia Shire, Mary Ann Esposito, Floyd Cardoz, Douglas Rodriguez, and Aaron Sanchez, joined by Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group and Jill Cordes of HGTV and The Food Network, and wine experts Stefano Girelli, Casa Girelli; Leonardo LoCascio, Winebow; Saskia Prüm,  S.A. Prüm Winery; Kate MacMurray, MacMurray Ranch; Paul Hoffman, Medusa Winery; and Walter Schug, Schug Winery.   Tix are $175 pp for the Dine-Around event on Saturday, with a portion to benefit Share Our Strength. Visit

* From Jan 22-25 more than 75 Napa Valley vintners will visit NYC to showcase America's classic wine region in "Taste Napa Valley: New York"-a week of consumer, trade, and private events sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV). The consumer events range from tastings at top wine shops and retail stores to wine dinners at restaurants such as Tribeca Grill, to fundraisers for Citymeals-on-Wheels and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. A complete schedule is available at; to see a list of all participating wineries, visit

* On Jan. 24 Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf will hold a wine tasting and multi-course wine dinner with the renowned Italian grower Vincenzo Abbruzzese of Valdicava at their restaurant Charleston in Baltimore, at $249 pp.  Call (410) 332-7373;  Visit
* On Jan. 24 at Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, CT, Laurent Drouhin will bring his Burgundy wines to a dinner prepared by Jean-Louis Guerin at $150 pp.  Call (203) 622-8450.

* Throughout February, Dungeness crab fans will be pleased to discover the Lark Creek Restaurant Group is ushering in its 18th Annual Crab Festival for a month-long celebration of special menus at all its restaurants: The Lark Creek Inn, One Market, LarkCreekSteak, Lark Creek Walnut Creek, and the Yankee Pier restaurants in Larkspur, Santana Row, and SFO.

* On Jan. 31 Martini House in St. Helena, CA,  is once again holding its 4-course “Wine Geeks and Mushroom Freaks Dinner,” with local winemakers pairing their wines with Chef Todd Humphries’ mushroom creations, featuring winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett, and Patrick Hamilton, Foragers’ Report columnist for the Mycological Society of San Francisco and the Sonoma County Mycological Association.  $65 pp, with wines $125. ( All menu items available À La Carte) Call 707- 963-2233; visit
* In Palm Beach at The Breakers, L'Escalier's Master Sommelier Virginia Philip has invited celebrated winemakers from around the world to present two extraordinary evenings of food and wine pairings, with a tasting reception and  4-course dinner prepared by  gifted culinary team lead by Chef Kevin Ives: Feb. 18, Silver Oak Winery, with VP Tom Johnson. $300 pp; March 5,  Clos de Tart and Mommessin Wineries, with Sylvain Pitiot, Winemaker. $575.  Call 561-659-.8480.

* From Feb.14-18, The Island Hotel Newport Beach offers a romance packages for the month of February: Chef Bill Bracken's  5-course "Menu Designed with Him and Her in Mind."  After dinner, couples will be treated to a performance by singer, pianist and songwriter Kristina Pruitt in Gardens Lounge.   $250 per couple with overnight accommodation package starting at $545.  Call 888-321-4752;

* One&Only Maldives at Reethi Rah is offering various romantic packages for Valentine’s Day:  Private Sandbank Dinner—Take a dhoni boat to a private sandbank and sip Champagne while sailing through the neighboring coral islands, followed by a private oceanfront barbecue of native seafood cooked by your personal chef and waiter. $2,000 per couple. . . .Luxury Catamaran Dinner Charter--Drop anchor at any one of the neighboring islands while savoring the local cuisine from your on-board chef. $1300 per couple . . . .Middle Eastern Sunset Barbeque—Enjoyed at the resort at the beach while reclining on Arabian rugs in front of your beachfront villa while your personal butler prepares your meal. For morning romance, call upon villa staff to create a Champagne brunch overlooking the ocean from your terrace. Visit

* From Feb. 22-March 4, the 8th annual Montréal HIGH LIGHTS Festival, will take place with a performing arts series, gastronomic and wine tasting activities, and light shows. The featured region this year is South Africa and the U.S. city is NYC. Performances incl. Angèle Dubeau, who will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of La Pietà, an all-female orchestra; Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal dance company; actress Amanda Plummer; Men-Jaro, an “Afro-fusion” creation by South African dancer Vincent Mansoe; and more.  Star Praised Chefs from five continents (180 Chefs and wine makers, incl. 19 NYC chefs) are teaming with their Montréal Chef colleagues to pay tribute to New York City’s culinary talents; South Africa will serve as the featured wine-producing region; Honorary President’s Dinner, created by feature chef Daniel Boulud; The Festival of Our Cheeses; The Festival’s Finest Tables, including approximately 40 establishments, will be featuring a MONTREAL HIGH LIGHTS menu created specially for the Festival.  Call 1-888-477-9955, 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 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 2007