Virtual Gourmet

February 25,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Morimoto NY by John Mariani

The 2002 Brunello di Montalcinos  by John Mariani



by John Mariani

   47777   After my first visit to Vancouver a few years back,  I felt it would be difficult to design from scratch a city with such a striking confluence of natural northwest beauty and respect for the environment as this. Lying like a long ship anchored between the Burrard Inlet and English Bay, downtown Vancouver is dotted with lakes and green oases that include the 1,000-acre Stanley Park; from its banks across the waters rise carpets of dark fir forests and the snowy Coast Mountains. And above it all move strata of silver clouds across the deep blue skies of British Columbia.
    Some of this  beauty has recently been compromised by a long stretch of
blue-green glass-and-steel condos and office buildings on the site of what had been Expo 1986. These are beginning to block out the vistas, and, as one of the locals told me--oddly, with disturbing pride--"In five years the waterfront will look like Hong Kong."  If that pans out, little I say here will any longer matter.
      There’s no getting around the fact that Vancouver enjoys—or puts up with--plenty of rain. But since the city is warmed by the Pacific, it stays temperate year-round, rarely falling below the mid-40s in winter, which makes it easy enough to go kayaking in the morning, then head up to Whistler, an hour away, to go skiing that afternoon.
     With its grid pattern and an admirably flat landscape, Vancouver makes for great walking and biking, with a long, curving, paved seawall. Ferries ply its waters all day and evening, and you can catch a silver seaplane to whisk you off to Victoria in half an hour (see below).
     Vancouver is also a young city, dating back only to 1886, so most of its architecture is very modern, and the city is hosting the 20120 Winter Olympics.  Only Gas Town—named after an 1870s saloon keeper named “Gassy Jack” Deighton and rescued from being a Skid Row in the 1930s—provides a glimpse of late 19th century architecture and cobblestone streets, now home to new stores, restaurants, and nightclubs.
      With six colleges and universities, more than 100 art galleries, a photographers’ cooperative called the Exposure Gallery, and a fabulous Theatre Under  the Stars, featuring productions held amidst the fir trees of Stanley Park, Vancouver prides itself on a culture wed to the landscape.   Actress Carrie Anne Moss and musician Sarah McLachlan are Vancouver natives, Oprah Winfrey built a $14 million home here, and the great jazz singer Diana Krall was born and bred in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, where she has a home with husband Elvis Costello.6
      Downtown the principal attraction is the Vancouver Art Gallery (right), where you’ll find an eye-opening array of 20th century and contemporary Canadian art, including the work of the beloved, versatile painter Emily Carr. A bit further afield the Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research at the University of British Columbia spreads over 70 acres, with a native garden of 3,500 B.C. plants and a Physick Garden that recreates a 16th century monastic herb garden. The Museum of Anthropology is also here, one of the finest repositories of totemic and other Northwest Coast Indian art and an outdoor sculpture complex of tribal houses.
     The hottest neighborhood right now is Yaletown, a once decrepit industrial area now become the city’s version of Soho, whose warehouses and loading docks have been transformed with art galleries, restaurants, and the modern Opus Hotel.  From Yaletown you can hop a “seabus” to Granville Island,  a muddy industrial zone turned into  a warren of gift shops, Native American crafts, clothing boutiques, art galleries, a museum devoted to the world’s largest display of model trains, and the Public Food Market where you’ll find artisanal and organic foods, hot donuts, and B.C. wines in profusion.
       No week passes without a significant cultural or sporting event taking place in the city—from the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival in February and the mid-May Cloverdale Rodeo to the Vancouver Garden Show and International Jazz festival in June and for the holidays the Carol Ship Parade of Lights, with more than 80 festively lighted boats plying the city’s waterways.  And from September through April you can watch world-class hockey when the Canucks are in town.

       WHERE TO STAY25
     Vancouver has a number of high-end hotels that rank with the best anywhere, including the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (900 West Georgia; 604-684-3131) downtown (right), originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railways. The current structure dates to 1939, but a $70 million renovation a decade ago brought the 556-room hotel well into the 21st century.  It also has one of the most delightful amenities anywhere I’ve stayed: a house Labrador retriever named Mavis who allows guests to take her on walks around town.trtrgt
      Amiably attached to the Pacific Centre housing 140 retail stores, The Four Seasons (791 West Georgia Street; 604-689-9333) downtown shows the usual civilized posh this Canadian hotel company is famous for, with its own Club Four health facilities, a sunning terrace, and a fine foral dining room named Chartwell’s.  For a spectacular panorama over the city, book the Royal Terrace Suite, on the 27th and 28th floors.
      Highly stylized, opulent décor is the signature of the Metropolitan Hotel (645 Howe Street; 604-687-1122) with 197 rooms, which offers downtown complimentary limo service in the morning, a glass-ceiling pool, and a fine modern East-West fusion style restaurant, Diva at the Met, buoyed by a 500-label winelist.
     Now almost four years old, the very hip Opus Hotel (above) in Yaletown (322 Davie Street; 604-642- 6787) with 96 very colorful, minimalist rooms with state-of-the-art modern baths, sits smack in the middle of Yaletown’s buzz, and its own Opus Bar attracts a both a sophisticated and young clientele.
    2t5tA Trip to Vancouver without visiting Victoria, capital of Vancouver Island to the west, would be like going to Venice and not seeing Verona.
You can glide over the forested islands (left) by seaplane or take a 90-minute ferry to this extraordinary, beautiful city, dominated by its provincial capital building and the marvelous old Victorian Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government Street; 250-384-8111).

Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

     Walking around town, which includes a few blocks-long Chinatown, takes but a couple of hours, and in its architecture and small-city ambiance Victoria is probably much like Vancouver was a decade ago and remains so, with true B.C. style and proud adherence to tradition.  Driving around the very affluent  area known as Oak Bay, with its Royal Victoria Golf Course and breathtaking views of the water along its rippling landscape is to feel that being an islander in the Pacific Northwest is just far enough from a world of distractions and just near enough to be entertained by its follies.

Next Week: 
WHERE TO EAT in Vancouver

by John Mariani

88 10th Avenue
212- 989-8883

      566556566565Bigger is rarely better when it comes to restaurants, unless you're opening up a feedhall, an Alsatian brasserie, or a rathskeller, where the food need only be of a certain standard, and the buoyant atmosphere is a great part of the fun of being there. But when it comes to the exacting precision needed to raise Japanese food above fast food, smaller is always better.  To whit, the best sushi restaurants in the world are all rather small, including the tiny Masa in New York, where chef Masa Takayama prepares food for a counter of twelve people and a few small tables. So, too, Sushi of Gari (reviewed here last week) has only 11 stools and 40 seats.
       But there has been a trend to bigger and snazzier Japanese restaurants in NYC, including Ono, Nobu 27, Matsuri, and the original Megu (the newer Megu Midtown is of medium size and does quite well on all counts). Last year a branch of the original Morimoto from Philadelphia was opened in NYC's Meat Market District (also home to the gargantuan Buddakan, Ono, Craftsteak, and Del Posto) by restaurateur Stephen Starr, and it's a beauty, with wafting gauzy drapes, sleek use of multi-tiered dining areas (above), communal dining table (below) and sushi bar, and burnished metal and wood surfaces.  The Morimoto in question is
Masaharu Morimoto (below), whose fame as one of the American Iron Chefs on TV has garnered him as much attention and business as his colleagues on the show, Bobby Flay and Mario Batali (both of whom, incidentally, have opened gargantuan restaurants in the past year).
     Remarkably, despite his TV schedule, personal appearances, and restaurants in Philadelphia and Mumbai, Morimoto keeps as much as possible to the NYC namesake restaurant, usually at the sushi bar but appearing around the room asking how everything is going.  He's a big, powerful-looking ponytailed guy in Japanese attire, a cross between a lightweight Sumo wrestler and a middleweight Mario Batali, and I'm sure many of his guests go ga-ga when he roams the room.888880
     The service staff all speaks good English, though the hostess desk seems to have odd ideas about seating.  Our party of four had made a weekday reservation a month in advance, yet upon arrival, we were given the single worst table in the restaurant, tucked away in a corner flanking the hostess desk.  We cordially asked for a different table and were offered one right by the entrance, complete with frigid breezes blowing through.  When we pointed to any of several unoccupied tables in various sections of the main dining room, we were told 1) that one is being set for five, b) that one is set for an 8:15 table, and c) those two-tops cannot be put together to make a four-top.  We finally settled for a table in a side room so overheated, we started removing items of clothing.
     As in NYC, the original Morimoto in Philadelphia is as much a scene as it is a restaurant, and I found much of the food less than wonderful, built more on wacky concepts like dropping a red hot stone into broth to cook lobster at your table.
The fact that the lights changed color all night didn't do anything to help the food.  The NYC place is just as loud, with pounding music, of course, so conversation is nearly impossible, which seems not to bother most of the raucous, shouting clientele at all. The bare tables were not wiped down by servers or busboys but merely re-set for the next party as soon as the first left. The chopsticks are plastic, the wineglasses of decent quality, and the winelist better than expected in a Japanese restaurant; sakes are offered in profusion.
      We ordered from just about every category on the menu, and overall the food was pleasant, imaginative, but lacking in intensity of flavors.  Clearly the kitchen churns this food out at a headlong pace, and the number of orders it must handle makes finesse a dead issue.  One of the odder items was "Morimoto Sushi," described as "seared toro, salmon, eel, hamachi, and five spices," which sounds like an array; instead it is like a napoleon in which all the ingredients are layered and the salmon overpowers all the other fish flavors. 266At $28 it is a downer.  Something called "beef curry bread" with a panko crust was a nice crispy little tidbit but not worth $11. The tempura of crispy rock shrimp with wasabi aïoli was all right but the crust--the whole point of good tempura--was mushy, and lobster fritters with pickled ginger, scallion, and a lobster reduction tasted only of batter and oil, not lobster.  Soft shell crab roll, also deep fried, was, on the other hand,  very good and very crisp.
      We moved on to main courses that ranged from O.K.--braised black cod with Japanese ratatouille and ginger soy emulsion, and a halibut with bland black bean sauce, shaved ginger, and hot oil that was not particularly hot--to the downright silly: something called ishi yaki buri bop (which reminds me of the old song "Down in Nagasaki where the boys all chew tobackee and the girls are really wicky-wacky-woo!") turns out to be yellowtail on rice cooked at your table in a hot stone bowl. The clumps of fish are then mixed, ignobly, together into a near mush.  Peking salmon also suffered from having a fishy salmon taste, and Madeira and tomato seemed oddly out of place.
     Desserts like tofu cheesecake didn't entice anyone at our table, but a chocolate-pecan brownie was pretty good, topped with amaretto cream, espresso ice cream, and cardomon sauce. A coconut macaroon was flavorless in the face of a cloying banana mousse, passion fruit sauce, and rum raisin ice cream.
      Morimoto is a swinging hot spot, for sure, but it delivers more sizzle than good taste, and I suspect that if it were 25 percent smaller it would be 50 percent better.
       There is an omekase dinner at $120. Otherwise, appetizers run $9-$28, main courses, $23-$49, and sushi/sashimi $4-$10 per piece.


2rrThe 2002 Brunellos Are Light, Charming, and Ready for Their Close-up
by  John Mariani

       Forty-eight producers from Tuscany’s Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino came to New York last month to show off the just-released 2002 vintage.  Well, not all of them: some didn’t think highly enough of the vintage to present it to the 450 importers, distributors, wineshop owners, restaurateurs, and wine media who gathered at Gotham Hall. Just about everyone, including this reporter, felt the wines had an easy-to-like charm but lacked the classic big body and longevity of this prestigious D.O.C.G. Italian red.
      “I would wait a year or two to drink the 2002s,” Stefano Campatelli, the Consorzio’s Director, told me at the tasting. “I would not drink it after more than six to seven years, however.”  Such a statement has a certain telling irony, for brunello di montalcino’s reputation has long rested on its ability to age over decades before coming to its full maturity.  And even though the 2002 is indeed a light vintage, many longtime brunello admirers feel that the producers have shifted to a 21st century style more in tune with today’s global taste for ready-to-drink, very fruity red wines.144
      Campatelli counters such concerns by saying, “Brunellos are still aged for four years, five for riservas, and in a good vintage can age for a long time. Of course technology has changed vinification for all modern wines, and you can drink many brunellos earlier now, but it’s still the same wine it’s always been.”
      Brunello di Montalcino must, by Italian wine law, be made from a clone of sangiovese grapes named “sangiovese grosso,” called “brunello” in the area around Montalcino (right). The wine’s origins date to 1865, when Clemente Santi of Montalcino won a citation for a wine he called “Brunello.” His son, Ferrucio Biondi-Santi, grandson Tancredi, and great-grandson, Franco, improved the wine decade by decade, always making it in a big, bold, highly tannic style that needs decades to flourish in the bottle. I once had the occasion to taste Biondi-Santi brunellos dating to the 1890s and found them impeccably sound and astoundingly delicious.
     Twenty-five years ago finding more than a handful of brunello producers would have been difficult. But the wine’s reputation soared in the 1970s, so that by 1978 there were 80 registered brunello properties; today there are 208, making 7 million bottles annually, with 60 percent exported, and 25 percent of total production going to the U.S. market, which has claimed the biggest chunk since the mid-1990s. Only about 20 percent is consumed locally around Montalcino and in Tuscany.
      By far the largest investor in brunello has been Castello Banfi, established by Americans John and Harry Mariani (no relation to this wine writer), who in 1978 began developing vineyards around Montalcino, where they financed research to find the 15 best, healthiest clones out of 650, information they shared freely with their competitors.
       Banfi was one of the wineries that did not pour a 2002 at the New York exhibition this year, instead showing their 2001 riserva, which was very rich and long lasting on the palate, as was the 2001 Lisini.13
       Clearly there are just far too many brunellos being made by far too many investors who jumped on the bandwagon in the 1990s, and their wines lack the distinction of labels like Biondi-Santi, Castello Banfi, Col d’Orcia, Barbi, Lisini, and Costanti. Too many are obviously being made according to a formula for success: middle-bodied, overextracted wines of maximum fruit and little complexity.
      Overall, having tasted about 30 brunellos that day, I was delighted by many for their lushness and velvety quality of fruit balanced with light tannins. Some, like that from Tricerchi, had a big rush of fruit in the nose and a very satisfying, if short, finish. Others, like Col D’Orcia were light in color and quite thin, a bit tart but still fruity. Prices were not as high as in better vintages, so that for $40 you can buy a good example from 2002 that will be immediately rewarding as a red wine to drink right away or in a year with all red meats, especially a thick bistecca alla fiorentina grilled over charcoal.
      Most producers were also showing brunello’s little sister, rosso di brunello, which usually only hints at the boldness of its bigger brother.  Yet in my samplings of the 2002s the rossos were far closer to the brunellos themselves than I’ve ever tasted, which makes a case for buying the cheaper rossos for many of the same virtues of the brunellos this year.
      I do not wish to dissuade anyone from buying a bottle or two of 2002 brunello di Montalcino, for they have their delicious rewards.  But they are not wines to be bought by the case to be stored in a cellar.  For those, you’ll have to wait till next year or, as some are now saying, the potentially great 2006 vintage.  Check back with me when they are released in 2011.
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.


Texas Monthly
food editor Patricia Sharpe did a round-up of the 63 best tacos in the state.

THIRD OPTION: Wave your hand in front of your nose and keep saying, "Whew!"

"THE STINKER. The guy next to you [on the plane] smells like an onion bagel, and you're trapped six inches from his face.  First option: If there are empty seats, ask a flight attendant if you can move.  Second option: Get out your breath mints and offer one to your seatmate.  He'll see you as a cordial flight companion."--Anne Marie Sabath, author of One Minute Manners: Quick Solutions to the Most Awkward Situations You'll Ever Face.


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with Everett Potter's Travel  Report, which I consider the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  To go to his blog click on the logo below:



* San Domenico NY announces its month-long Risotto Festival that will take place Feb.  25-March 16.  The menu, designed by Executive Chef Odette Fada, features multiple types of Italian rice in elegant and memorable risotto dishes, all priced at $25,  with a special risotto tasting for two, featuring four risotti for $45 pp. Call 212- 265-5959. Visit

* Through the end of March, Chicago’s Spiaggia has introduced a 7-course tasting menu featuring the black truffle. Tartufi neri, by  Chef/Partner Tony Mantuano and Executive Chef Missy Robbins.  $165 pp, with 7 wine pairings, +$90. Call 312-280-2750; visit

* From Feb. 27-March 11, to celebrate the Japanese film “Udon,” Hakubai in The Kitano New York will offer a special 5-course Sanuki Udon menu.; on Feb. 27 chef Mr. Osamu Miyoshi, the premier Sanuki Udon Chef in Japan, as he demonstrates how to create the Udon noodle. Guests will be able enjoy this unique cooking demonstration at Hakubai throughout the evening.. $65 pp. Call Hakubai at (212) 885-7111. Visit

* On March 1 Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, CT, will hold a 4-course Wine Tasting dinner--"The best of Louis Jadot,” at $150 pp. Call 203-622-8450.

* On March 4 in Philadelphia Susanna Foo Gourmet Kitchen will mark the end of the Chinese New Year by hosting a Lantern Festival, starting  at noon, with red envelopes,  a hands-on  cooking class, Chinese dancing and music, with a 4-course feast to celebrate the Year of the Golden Pig at both Susanna Foo Gourmet Kitchen (610-688-8808) and Susanna Foo Chinese Cuisine (215-545-8800).  $55 pp.

* From March 9-10 Savor Dallas, An International Celebration of Wine,Food, Spirits and the Arts, returns to Victory Park with a world-class selection of over 500 wines, spirits and beer, while and signature cuisine from the area's top chefs. Call 866-277-7920.

* From March 9-11 the Fifth Annual Boca Bacchanal Winefest &Auction to support educational causes will be held, with 9 Vintner Dinners at private residences on Fri. evening; a Sat. afternoon Bacchanal & Auction at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, and the Sunday Grand Tasting,  comprising Wine Seminars and a food and wine gathering at the Centre for the Arts at Mizner Park, showcasing the specialties of 28 top local restaurants and more than 140 wines, incl. chef Andrew Roenbeck of the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Other participating chefs incl.,  Michel Richard (Citronelle,  D.C.); Angela Hartnett (Cielo at the Boca Raton Resort & Club); Robert Clark (C Restaurant, Vancouver, B.C.);  Kevin Garcia (‘Cesca, NYC);  Pano Karatassos (Kyma, Atlanta)  Zach Bell (Café Boulud, Palm Beach); Joel Huff (Silks,  San Francisco)  David Medure (Restaurant Medure, Ponte Vedra Beach) and  Jeremy Sewell (Lineage, Brookline, MA), and vintners  Kathryn Hall  (Hall Winery); Matthew J. Lane (Penfolds); Kathy Benziger (Benziger Family Winery); Steve Thomson (King Estates); Michaela Rodeno (St. Supéry Vineyards); Francesco Zonin (Costello d’Albola); Jerome Jeandin (Tattinger), and Tony Apostolakos (Masi Vinyards). Call  561-395-6766, ext. 101.  Visit at

* On March 11 Chef Susan Goss and wine director Drew Goss of West Town Tavern in Chicago  partner with Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) to host a 4-course “Fried Chicken Throwdown Dinner.” SFA director John T. Edge, author Fried Chicken: An AmericanStory, will share stories about this Southern food icon and  screen two films by the SFA's Joe York:  "Hot Chicken," a portrait of Prince's Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tenn., as well as excerpts from "Scotch and Milk: Saving Willie Mae's," the tale of volunteer efforts to reinvigorate a New Orleans restaurant devastated by Hurricane Katrina. $75 pp. with proceeds to  benefit SFA. Call 312-666-6175;

* On March 14 & 15 The Victoria Festival of Wine’s theme this year is
"Defining the Vine," which gives the winemaker a chance to explain a complete philosophy on what they are trying to accomplish from vineyard all the way to the bottle.  Incl. are the Public Tasting,  featuring hundreds of wines from around the world;  Proceeds go to Theatre  Skam.  Visit

* On March 14 Chicago’s Vinci features the Umbrian region of Italy at a 4-course wine dinner with La Carraia Wines. $45 pp.  Call 312-266-1199 or visit

* On March 14 North Square restaurant in the Washington Square Hotel in NYC will host a Burgundy-inspired dinner celebrating Pinot Noirs from Firesteed Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with a menu by Chef Yoel Cruz  and special guest Howard Rossbach, President of Firesteed Wines, will be on hand to discuss the wines.  $80 pp.   Call  212-254-1200;

* From March 16-18  the St. Patrick's Festival will be celebrated at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel with  two packages:  “The St. Patrick's Day Shamrock Package,” features 2 nights in a Superior or Twin room in the contemporary Garden Wing, full Irish breakfast daily, The Merrion's signature “Black Velvet” cocktail, two grandstand tickets for the Festival Parade and a picnic box with snacks to take to the parade.   €795 per couple’ “The St. Patrick's Day Festival Special Offer” features overnight accommodation, full Irish breakfast and a Black Velvet cocktail for €355 per night for a Superior Room or €375 per night for a Deluxe Twin room in the Garden Wing.   Call 011-353-1-603-0600;

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