Virtual Gourmet

April 1, 2007                                                    NEWSLETTER


Happy April Fool's Day

To go to my web site, in which I will update food & travel information and help link readers to other first-rate travel & food sites,  click on: home page

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on

SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking

In This Issue

ATLANTA' S RESTAURANTS 2007 by Suzanne Wright

: Put Out at the Waverly Inn by John Mariani


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR:  Beyond Grüner Veltliner by John Mariani


By Suzanne Wright
     hyeTime has not been kind to restaurants touting fusion food.  That’s why when I heard a new restaurant that melds South African specialties with Southern twists opened, I was more than skeptical. Saga (1100 Crescent Avenue; 404-872-0999)—the name is combined from "South Africa" and "Georgia"—seems like an odd, even untimely, culinary marriage.
  Owner Sean Lupton-Smith is a native of Johannesburg, South Africa; talented chef Drew Van Leuvan (below) has hopscotched around town cooking at Toast, Spice and Woodfire Grill.  
Located on Midtown’s club-hopping Crescent Street, Saga is in the shadow of several office towers and popular at lunch with attorneys.  The contemporary interiors are handsome and understated, with deep butterscotch leather, dark woods, red accents, fresh flowers in five-foot high stands.  There’s also a bar and an enclosed outdoor patio. The room is nicely lighted though  not so romantic that it makes the business types uncomfortable, and not so bright that it quashes romance.

    The menu is ambitious, listing 16 starters and salads for dinner and 10 entrees, with much that  is new and tempting (at lunch, pastas, sandwiches and risotto, along with many of the starters are offered).  Make no mistake, this is fine dining.  The amuse bouche on one visit was a witty play on vinegar chips, plated on a three-compartment dish with homemade crisps dusted with dehydrated capers and olives, a champagne vinegar emulsion that awakened the tongue, and a cornichon.  I tried several South African wines by the glass, including the flinty, lemony Robertson chardonnay ($10) and the round, earthy Mulderbosch “Faithful Hound” ($14) served in mini carafes.  On one visit, the breathable Eisch glasses were removed with the explanation that “they are reserved for bottle purchases” and lesser stemware was presented.  But ask nicely and you can drink from the good glasses. There are also martinis made with amarula.
      The Mediterranean mussels ($10) served in a broth of Sweetwater 420 beer, apple cider, shallots, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese were, in the words of my dining companion, “ginormous” yet still succulent.  The luscious Springer Mountain chicken livers ($9) are cornmeal-crusted and served with rosemary, bacon and apple cider, Dixie-style. As we Southerners know, bacon makes everything better; even my liver-anxious friend tucked into one.  The potjie (pronounced poi-key) of the day is a cheese-topped South African stew served in a mini three-legged cast iron pot. On one visit it was lamb, on another beef; both were hearty and delicious, perfect for a chilly night. “Artisanal comfort food” my friend declared, spooning the last of it.24
   The slow-poached lobster tail served over spaghetti squash with clover honey, golden raisin and curry (at $20, the most expensive appetizer) is a knockout, presented in a gleaming elliptical white bowl, the  mild curry an ideal foil to the delicate lobster, which was just a tad undercooked.  The South African Antipasto plate ($12) offered biltong and droe wors, dried sausages (the former resembled like jerky, the latter  a darker, drier Slim Jim), Taylor’s organic arugula gently dressed with oil, salt and pepper, Guinness-cured Cheddar cubes and apple pâté (which tasted like solid applesauce). It may be on the pricey side, but you’re paying for high-quality ingredients you can’t source locally. The housemade pasta, flageolets and mortadella agnolotti with broccoli di rabe and cippolini onions is subtle and spare, and vegetarians will enjoy the musky porcini mushroom pie ($11) more a pocket than a puff pastry with sweet onion and micro greens.
    Among the main courses, Van Leuvan excels with beef.  The Harris Ranch hanger steak ($25) with fingerling potatoes, creamed collards, and bacon au jus (the lusty pig reappears) is rich and satisfying; the collards are hands-down the best I have ever tasted. The Painted Hills filet mignon (the most expensive thing on the menu, at $36) is perfection.  I’ve seen many descriptions of beef as “buttery,” but this cut, seared on the outside, rare on the inside, truly melts in your mouth.  Topped with a fried egg and served with a green peppercorn sauce, it is outstanding.  The seafood entrees suffered a bit in comparison.  The heads-on Peri Peri prawns ($31) put me in mind of peppery BBQ shrimp, though there’s little meat, mostly heads on these crustaceans.  And the accompaniments—lentils, undercooked haricot verts and shaved fennel (which tasted pickled)—were an odd combination. We were told the South African Kingklip ($24) is actually flown in from Venezuela.   The sweet, grouper-like fish was a bit overwhelmed by the tasty Basque-style sauce and pancetta (pig rules!).
       Having never seen it before, I ordered a glass of the dry, off-sweet Neige ice cider from Quebec, which our server kindly offered to split into two glasses.  Staffers tend to be young and many admit they have not served food of this caliber before, but they are well-schooled in the many intricacies of the dishes. On one visit our server was a bit over-eager in tending to us; on another our server was very calm and good-naturedly asked the chef about preparations.
After a pre-dessert of a macaroon-like chocolate cake with flaked coconut, we ordered the huckleberry and buttermilk pie and spiced chocolate truffle cake.   The tangy tart was the hands-down winner, though, skeptic that I am, I’m not sure if huckleberries grow in either locale.

       Nevertheless, I hope other skeptics will give Saga a chance.  I’m a believer.
     tConcentrics Restaurants, Bob Amick/Todd Rushing culinary juggernaut (One Midtown Kitchen, Two Urban Licks, Piebar, et al), continues with Trois (1180 Peachtree Street; 404-815-3337), the duo’s most ambitious project to date. Located in a contemporary building designed by Calatrava, Trois is a  three-story tour-de-force overlooking the future site of the Atlanta Symphony Center that features a separate bar, dining room and private dining facility.  The crisp design is courtesy of a talent trio:  modernist architect Kenneth Hobgood and designer John Oetgen, and Dewhurst & MacFarland of London and New York City.  A cool, chic is achieved with white terrazzo floors and lots of glass, including a glass staircase connected the first and second floors.  Sheer curtains, wood finished trim and a palate of deep green leather and wintergreen velvet upholstery.  The center of the dining room features a suspended art gallery with rotating original photography.  Atlanta artist Mali Azima’s work, whose work appears on the menus, is currently featured.
  Classically trained executive chef Jeremy Lieb was lured to Atlanta from Le Cirque in Las Vegas.  His new interpretation of French cuisine incorporates the freshest seasonal and international ingredients.  Trois benefits from its location amidst a jungle of skyscrapers in Midtown, and since its November opening the restaurant has been a smash with the many nearby officed lawyers and other corporate titans.  Although I haven’t dined in the bar with its living room-like setting, back-lit aluminum floors, “cabana” areas,  and glass bar, its menu includes a popular cru bar with a selection of three raw items for $10, smoked salmon, beef short rib or coq au vin “sliders” (below, $12) and lobster corn dogs.  The cocktail menu includes “champagne opportunities” and “vintage quaffs” that evoke Hemingway and Ian Fleming.r4
  I’ve dined at both lunch and dinner and both meals have been nearly uniformly satisfying; Lieb is our most recent gastronomic coup. The shellfish sampler ($10 at lunch) includes petite platings (on sexy porcelain from Thailand) of fresh macerated scallops, poached prawns and lobster knuckles, while the French onion soup ($7) with sweet onion and a bubbling layer of Gruyère cheese is a blissful indulgence. The Toad in a Hole (below, $11) is a playful update on a Brit classic, with silky tuna tartare, a brown egg and wasabi caviar. The lobster gnocchi ($11) with quail eggs and chervil was simply too rich for my taste, though the lobster osso bucco ($26) has drawn raves.  Skip the crispy sweetbreads in favor of the burgundy snails ($12) with a plush goat cheese ravioli.  The flounder Parisian ($18 at dinner) with potato mousse, cauliflower, capers and lemons is a spot-on, straightforward and 34delicious rendition of a standard.  The luscious braised beef oxtail with roasted scallops ($25) is brilliantly conceived and executed (I’ve not seen these two paired before) and much, much more rewarding than the rather uninspired duck breast.  I do wish the duck fat fries, served steak or as a side, were less limp, but the flavorful is unquestionable.
  I don’t understand the raspberry Key lime tartlet (all desserts, $6 at lunch) with its nearly rock-hard crust, but I finished every sweet and salty spoonful of my caramel pot de crème, though I think the tiny pound cake is superfluous. The warm chocolate clafoutis, a twist on a traditional fruit-based dish, is light and rich without being cloying. 
     White-clad servers on both visits were a bit erratic, at one moment reserved, at another moment intrusive, often removing plates without permission (perhaps we were just resting!)
These are quibbles, however.  Trois is the most promising of Amick and Rushing’s restaurants from a culinary standpoint and one I can see myself frequenting a great deal, thanks to a talented chef and a big-city space that will be an apt counterpoint to Midtown’s rapidly expending entertainment district.

      Shaun Doty has committed to Inman Park.  In addition to opening Shaun’s (1029 Edgewood Ave. 404-577-4358), across the street from the Inman Park Marta station, the baseball cap-wearing 37-year-old chef has moved to the heart of this historic but culinarily underserved ‘hood.  Lucky neighbors.  Doty is known for his high-profile posts at Table 1280, MidCity Cuisine (which he owned) and Mumbo Jumbo, so foodies were anxiously awaiting the opening of his latest restaurant; licensing snafus resulted in a delay until November. 
The restaurant, situated prominently on the corner of a residential street, brings to mind bistros in San Francisco, Boston, New York, even Paris. The Johnson Studio has shown admirable restraint with the 3,000-square foot space  that formerly housed Deacon Burton and the Inman Park Patio. 
With large street-facing windows, simple red brick floors, taupe walls, creamy wainscoting and tables topped with butcher paper over white linen feel Shaker-inspired The menu is printed daily to accommodate menu or wine list changes.  8It’s a comfortable restaurant sure to find an audience with those in the zip code.
     A quick review of the menu will yield familiar favorites, a “hit list” of some of Doty’s most successful dishes. The luscious chicken liver fettuccine ($14) is here, as is the toasted Sardinian flatbread ($10) topped with peppery arugula, delicate argon oil (from the nuts of the Moroccan argon tree), lemon juice, red pepper flakes and slivers of Parmesan cheese. It is the perfect, not-too–filling, flavorful appetizer, paired with  beef tartare ($14) that gets zip from piquillo pepper coulis.  The parmesan risotto ($18) is extraordinary, creamy and toothsome, lavished with black truffle butter and topped with a scattering of roasted wild mushrooms; the roast chicken ($18) with beer batter sage leaves, mashed potatoes and black kale is rustic and just right on an autumn night.  The peerless cheeseburger ($16) boasts Waygu beef, which surprises USDA marbling standards, raclette cheeses and homemade fries. Vegetarians will enjoy tucking into the almost dessert-rich butternut squash ravioli ($18) with amaretti “cookies,” sage leaves and pine nut foam. The only miss was the white shrimp and grits ($18) with Berkshire pork cheeks and poached egg, which was under-salted and rather bland.
     Long known for his playful desserts (I remember the dipping donuts from Table 1280?), Doty’s warm chocolate brioche pizza with homemade marshmallows is gooey, delicious and fun to eat; there’s also a fine lemon pound cake with whipped cream and poppy seed ice cream.  The date almond tart, by contrast, feels contrived and was very dry.  Turns out Doty is tinkering with vegan-friendly desserts; I remind him that Lush, which catered to vegans, is shuttered.   I hope Doty adds a few more whimsical choices.  There’s also a selection of farm cheeses from Sweetgrass Dairy).
      4rOur service on two visits was assured and attentive.  One quibble is with the proportions of the table (small) in relation to the size of the plates (huge).  The result?  Once two dishes are on the table we couldn’t use sharing plates and didn’t have room for the bread basket. The wine list is a work in progress. At the time of my visits, just three reds and four whites were available by the glass; you do get to drink from Spiegelau glasses. Among the choices, the South African “Faithful Hound” cabernet ($11) is a solid choice.
      Judging by the throng of folks waiting to get in the door a week after its opening, Shaun’s is a hit-- a place that feels exactly like the simple yet accomplished brassiere that was needed in this neighborhood—or any for that matter.  I bet realtors will soon be boasting of Shaun’s when they bring folks house-hunting.

by John Mariani

Put Out at the Waverly Inn
16 Bank Street
No Telephone

       tAs I pushed my way through the rude, hard-to-find dark door of The Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village at 6:45 on a Sunday evening, I felt much as Alice must have on attending the Mad Tea Party:  “The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!' they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There's plenty of room!' said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.”

     A slick-haired maître d’ asked me, “Do you have a reservation?”
  I  answered, "I was  under the impression one can’t make a reservation. I called your phone number but it’s not in service.”
     “Yes, and no one would pick it up if it were.”
     “Then how could I possibly make a reservation?” The slick-haired man seemed to yawn and raise his eyebrows.
      “Why, you just show up two days before you wish to come, between the hours of one and six P.M. and ask.”

     “And I’ll get a reservation?"
     “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
     “Do you have a table tonight?”
     “Do we have a table tonight? Yes, of course.”
     With that I was led past a cramped bar through a completely empty, very dark dining room arrayed with red banquettes, which everyone knows is for “A” list guests, to a rear room pretentiously called The Conservatory, which would be quite charming, with a fireplace and garden atmosphere, but which  everyone knows is Siberia. Here I sat with a lot of people who looked very humbled and forlorn, trying desperately to pretend they’d not been summarily snubbed. We were handed a menu that read--after several months of the restaurant's being in operation--PREVIEW MENU. Curioser and curioser.
     The waitstaff couldn’t be nicer, the food couldn’t be more comforting, though the bartender hadn't a clue how to make a daiquiri.  "We don't have the ingredients," was the report. Bewildered, I told the messenger, "You have limes?" "Yessir."  "You have rum?"  "Oh, yessir." You have sugar?" "Certainly, sir." "Then why can't you make a daiquiri?" With that he went back to the bar and returned with quite a nicely made cocktail.
      One good thing that is very, very good is a first-rate, buttery, flaky, hot biscuit.  They give you. . . one; you may ask for another.  You can get macaroni and cheese with truffles for $55, but most of the prices aren't particularly high, with most entrees in the mid-$20s.  The winelist is short, acceptably priced, and thoroughly boring.
      No one is going to get very excited by the beet salad, which would not rank high  among  23,000 examples now offered in NYC restaurants, and the crab cake was a bit fishy and bland. 
Short ribs were nothing to go crazy over either, about as good as hundreds of others. A delightful, steamy, well-crusted chicken pot pie, however, really hit the spot on a winter's eve, brimming with chunks of chicken and vegetables in a good, thick broth.  Other dishes include clam chowder, pork chops, and steak, nice WASP-y food for people who are usually on diets anyway and couldn't care less about.  For dessert the chocolate cake is yet another cliché that I barely touched after one bite.
     Upon exiting, in the dim light of the “A” dining room, which has a $50,000 Edward Sorel mural with caricatures of Anais Nin, Thelonious Monk, Norman Mailer, Dylan Thomas, and many others, I thought I spotted Uma Thurman, but it was too dark to tell. Suffice it to say, other famous bottoms, including those with names like Gwyneth, Mariah,  and others known by odd first names, have adorned those banquettes since the century-old Waverly Inn was taken over in November by Graydon Carter, 56, the imperious, chain-smoking Canadian-born editor-in-chief of Conde-Nast’s Vanity Fair, whose signature wing-like hair actually resembles that of the Mad Hatter.  Famous as a flaming Left-winger in his editor’s pages, he is decidedly un-egalitarian when it comes to the proles who want to eat at his restaurant.  "Don't take it personally," a waiter told a reporter from the NY Post, "It's not you, it's us."23e231
     Apparently there are only two ways  one can get a reservation--either by begging for one in person from the restaurant's manager named Emil (rhymes with eel), or by knowing Graydon Carter's phone number--and you’d better be one of his ten thousand closest celebrity friends! Carter, with partners Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode (owners of the Bowery Hotel that just happened to be profiled in Vanity Fair), has carried elitism to a torturous extreme here, for while other New York restaurateurs may play favoritism with celebs and regular patrons, no restaurant in New York so blatantly seems not to want your business at all.
     And here’s the wrinkle:  A few years back, when forced to wait a few minutes for a table at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s TriBeCa Chinese restaurant, 66, Carter stormed out and rang up London’s meanest food critic, A. A. Gill, to fly over ASAP and to review 66 in Vanity Fair, which curiously had never before or since published restaurant reviews. Gill was, as expected, suitably savage. Among other things, Gill wrote that the dumplings tasted like “fishy liver-filled condoms.”
     6676The reviews of Waverly Inn haven’t been quite that brutal. Frank Bruni in the New York Times wrote his review as if done by a socialite named Frannie, who gushed, “No kidding, Graydon, Waverly is sweet. It’s not just about an A-list daisy chain of writers, actors, models. It’s not just about ringside seats to the latest Perelman-Barkin smackdown. It’s about the ease and privilege of being among people who reflect your brainiest, prettiest sense of self.”

Why is this man laughing?

    New York Magazine's Adam Platt (who once wrote for Carter) puffed, "
I didn’t actually beg to get my table at the Waverly Inn. I had other people do it for me. And once inside, I must admit, I felt pretty damn good about myself. . . . And who were all these other people? Who knew? Who cared? Tonight we were all members of the same select and cozy club." The New York Observer (which Carter once edited) published an ooh-and-ah article on the Inn, comparing it to the Elaine's on the upper east side as a new form of Café Society.  But as habitués of Elaine's noted in the piece, Elaine's--which has rarely received any praise for its food--has for more than 40 years been the hang-out for veteran authors and journalists whom Elaine once took care of in the Village when they were down-and-outs and who have stuck with her ever since.    In the case of the Waverly Inn, "[Graydon's] selling fame," said Gay Talese, "the great narcotic of the century." The Waverly Inn has been created for  nouveau poseurs, and pretty people who may or may not have ever done a commendable day's work.  The Waverly Inn isn't even about glamor; it's about the exclusivity of celebrity. As Dorothy Parker once observed, "If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at whom He gave it to."
     Which makes one wonder why Carter (above) bothered opening up to scrutiny a public restaurant whose non-famous riffraff (which would include most of his readers) are there only to ogle or to carp. Why didn’t he just open a private club and keep the riffraff out?  Then he could gloat, as Oscar Wilde noted, “One should never criticize society. Only those who can’t get into it do that.” Vanity Fair indeed.

The Waverly Inn is open for dinner each evening; Appetizers run $8-$15, entrees $13-$55.

  The 2007 edition of the Relais & Chateaux International Guide features 460 independently owned hotels and gourmet restaurants (Relais Gourmands) in 50 countries. Twenty-one new entries have been introduced this year. Europe has the most properties, with 326, the U.S. has 57, Asia, 17, and Africa, 20. Visit
     The new properties (those in red are Relais Gourmands) are:

-Le Château de Beaulieu, Busnes, France
-Hotel Brittany, Roscoff, France
-Abbaye de la Bussière, La Bussière-sur-Ouche, France
-Auberge de l’Ile, Lyon, France
-Hôtel du Castellet, Le Castellet, France
-Hôtel Imperial Garoupe, Cap d’Antibes, France
-Kasteel Withof, Brasschaat, Belgium
-Waldhotel Fletschorn, Saas-Fee, Switzerland
Burg Schwarzenstein, Geisenheim, Germany
Tennerhof ,Kitzbühel, Austria
-Morwald, Kloster Und Krems, Austria
-Ristorante Il Rigoletto, Reggiolo, Italy
-Villa la Vedetta, Firenze, Italy
Grand Hotel San Pietro, Taormina, Italy
Myconian Ambassador & Spa, Mykonos, Greece
-Mehmet Ali Aga Mansion, Datça, Turkey
-Singita Grumeti Reserves, Mugumu, Tanzania
-Marataba, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
-Family Li Imperial Cuisine, Shanghai, China
-Hotel of Modern Art – HOMA Guilin, China
-Les Mars Hotel, Healdsburg, California, USA

Properties that have gained membership after the release of the 2007 Guide:
-Pousada Estrela d’Agua, Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil
-El Colibri, Cordoba, Argentina
-The Pavilions Bali
-Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
-Japamala Resort, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
Tamarind Springs Restaurant, Ampang, Malaysia
-The Eugenia, Bangkok, Thailand
-The Pavilions Phuket, Phuket, Thailand
-The Rachamankha, Chiang Mai, Thailand
-Heritage Suites Hotel, Slokram Village, Cambodia


Beyond Grüner Veltliner--The Other Wines of Austria by John Mariani

         qwI am not at all sure why American sommeliers keep pushing Austrian Grüner Veltliners, which at their best taste like highly refined, slightly sweet petroleum. Oddly enough those same sommeliers seem to like that signature aroma and taste. Not me.
      There are, however, other Austrian wines that have been produced for ages that I think are considerably better and more interesting. One of the reasons I don’t think you hear much about them is that the Austrian wine industry has take a long time to recover from a scandal in 1985 when several criminal Austrian wine merchants doctored their wines with a chemical, diethylene glycol used in a antifreeze as a sweetener. You'd have to drink a helluva lot of diethylene glycol to cause any health problem, but Austrian exports plummeted to a fifth of what they’d been. Thus, Grüner Veltliner is now being promoted as a light, refreshing, easy-to-drink, not very expensive white wine—which just happens to smell like Exxon.
      Today 32,000 Austrian wine producers make about 2.5 hectoliters (66 million gallons) of wine, about one-fourth of Germany’s production.  During the Middle Ages the monks mostly tended the vineyards, so to this day the bottle labels carry the names of ancient monasteries like Klosterneuberg, Melk, and Gottwieg. Today about 15 percent of the wine is made by cooperatives.
      Austrian wines from the same grapes tend to be drier than German examples, with a residual sugar level generally under 4 grams per liter. The wineries are modern, with cold fermentation and stainless steel tanks, and many white wines spend time in oak barrels.
      Just about all the Austrian wines exported to the U.S. are at the Qualitätswein level established by laws drawn up in 1985. Yet despite the Austrians’ reputation for making refreshingly acidic wines, a recent tasting showed examples to be far softer and fleshier than expected.
      The cheapest of the wines I sampled was a Leo Hillinger Welschriesling 2004 ($9, which is entirely un-related to the riesling grape. The Welschriesling (the name means “foreign riesling”) is widely planted throughout Eastern Europe, producing wines quite high in acid but, if affected by the “noble rot” fungus, they may be vinified very sweet. Usually, though, they are made fairly dry and light, this example with 11.5 percent alcohol.
      Nigl Kremsleiten Riesling 2004 ($39) comes from the Kremstal area (Krems is a medieval town there), and Nigl is one of the better growers. I found the nose unappealing and the acid surprisingly low, so that after drinking a half glass of it, with a risotto made with Gorgonzola that it should have help cut through, I didn’t care for another drop.      Hirsch Gaisberg Riesling Zöbing April 2002 ($40) comes from the Kamtal region, south of Kremstal, around the town of Langenlois. Josef Hirsch tends the Gaisberg vineyard while his son Johannes (below) does the vinification and aging. Theirs was the first Austrian estate to use screwtops for their top quality wines, but they also use old, twrtgrgrtproven methods like harvesting in small crates,  fermentation with natural yeasts, and, according to their website (, lest anyone think their winery shared in the 1985 taint scandal, “doing without chemical intervention.” Here was some good, clean acid and fruit in balance with spice and minerals, a pretty wine, but a pricey one.
      Pichler Riesling Loibner Berg 2000 ($75) [] is from the westernmost region of Wachau, with small production but very high quality, from grapes grown along the hills of the Danube. The word “Smaragd” (emerald) indicates a wine of very high quality, with intensity along with high alcohol, 13.5 percent.  This combined with the reputation for excellent wines in the 2000 vintage allows for the high price. The Loibner Berg vineyard gets a good deal of sun, which gives the wines body, spice, and richness. Pichler’s vineyards date back to 1898 and have great renown among Austrian winemakers.
      I deliberately threw myself a curve ball by including—blind—a bottle of Franz Hirtzberger Smaragd 2005 ($55, made from Grüner Veltliner, which makes up about 45 percent of his production; 40 percent is made from riesling.  My notes read, “very slight, with low acid, and a slight, chemical tasting sweetness.” I was not surprised when I revealed the label.
      By the way, three of the bottles I purchased (but not the Hillinger or Pichler) had screwtops, not corks, and I’m getting to love the ease with which they open and stay fresh.

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.


  A concierge's pledge to "do the impossible" is often sorely tested by guests. Here, compiled by InterContinental Hotels & Resorts' Global Concierge Advisory Board, and Denis T. C. O'Brien, International President of Les Clefs d'Or society, are a few of guests' odder requests.

* A request to enroll a guest's 16 year-old in a
prestigious private high-school  for the next 10 days.



*  A thousand red roses and a violinist to
stage a secret surprise inside a guest's girlfriend's room.



* 300 kilometers of barbwire shipped back to a guest's farm in
South America.


*  A list of local, late-night swingers' clubs
that accept walk-ins


*   A hairdresser's chair sent to the guest room
then picked up again in one hour

*  Help mapping out a marriage proposal--with a guaranteed "yes" response--then a flight by helicopter to an inaccessible mountain lake, with only a radio telephone and champagne

* A Thai guest last fall (2006) said he was in desperate need of the Sept. 17, 1957 issue of the New York Times, as his father was pictured on page four of this edition,  the day of Thailand's coup d'état.



* A woman who asked the concierge "to please tell my husband that he is to be a father. I'm still in shock!"



* A pair of baby shoes bronzed, by
3:45 that afternoon.


* One hundred empty jelly jars,
for a marmalade work of art.



"Calamari alla Napoletana brought squid, with lots of the tender tentacles we love. . . . Parmesan gnocchi brought feathery dumplings with an earthy mushroom sauce. . . . A prettily presented trio of bluefin tuna brought only passable components of a slice of seared tuna."--excerpts from recent reviews by M.H. Reed of the New York Times.

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with two excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this 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:


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.



* From April 1-May 31, The Lodge at Sonoma in California is offering a "Sip, Cycle and Savor" 2-night package, incl. deluxe Cottage guestroom, bottle of Sonoma county wine upon arrival, dinner for two at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, two 50- minute massages or body exfoliations; bike rentals; Complimentary shuttle service to Sonoma plaza for shopping. $869.  From June 1-Nov. 15, $979.00.  Call 707-935-6600 or visit

* The Old Edwards Inn and Spa in  Highlands, NC, will run special Elopement Packages for spring and summer wedding seasons. Package details incl.: 2 nights accommodations in a Luxury Suite or Luxury Spa Suite; Champagne arrival; Continental breakfasts; Butler¹s Pantry with snacks, fresh fruit and non-alcoholic beverages;  Rose petal turndown on night of ceremony; 3-course dinner in Madison's on night of wedding; Two-tier wedding cake;  with fresh flowers; Two Couples massage,  and more. $2749.  Call 828-526-8008 or 1-866-526-8008.

* NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the James Beard Foundation pair up for new food and wine courses , incl. Go Behind the Scenes with Celebrity Chefs like Chef Sirio Maccioni, Suvir Saran, Bill Yosses and Michel Nischan; Educate Yourself in the World of Wine and Spirits: Becoming a Wine Expert: The Essentials of Wine Tasting; ·     Pairing Wines with Chocolate: Beyond Cabs and Ports; Seven Wines to Devastate Your Friends; Wine Emergency!; Blending Innovation and Tradition: Old and New World Wine Regions; The Spirits Series; ·     The James Beard House: An Insider’s Tour and Dining Experience; ·     Thoroughly Modern Manners for the 21st Century. Call 212-999-7171 or visit

* In Lake Placid, NY, the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa is hosting 3 tasting menu and wine pairing dinners, each led by a different chef at the inn: April 12: Chef de Cuisine Jason T. Porter will host "An Artist's Rendition’; he has selected 7 of his favorite paintings and interpreted each with  a different course. May 3: Chef de Tournant Tim McQuinn, Grillade Clark Soulia and Grillade Thomas Burns host an Australian/New Zealand Wine Dinner.  June 14: Executive Chef Paul Sorgule host a “Great Inns Wine Dinner” with a 6-course  menu incl. dishes from The White Barn Inn, The Inn at Little Washington and The Greenbrier Resort. All  dinners $75 pp.  Call  518-523-7834 ext. 140.  Visit

* On April 12 NYC’s Zócalo will offer 3 tequilas, 3 new cocktails, and three mini-tacos for $10 per person, with all proceeds to benefit City Harvest. Along with Bobby and Laura Shapiro of Zócalo, tequila expert Clarena Mosquera will be on hand to lead the event, a history and talk on tequila styles and production, with the tasting.  Call 212-717-7772.

* On April 15 chef Susan Goss and wine director Drew Goss of West Town Tavern in Chicago celebrate their 5th anniversary with a 5-course menu chosen from dishes that have been patron favorites over the past five years, paired with a wine from d'Arenberg Winery by Rebecca Loewy from the winery. There will also be a drawing of gifts. $95 pp. Call 312-666-6175;

* On April 16, NYC’s TriBeCa Grill will present a Spanish wine dinner featuring some of Spain's top wines from  the regions of Rueda, Rias Biaxas, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Priorat and Campo de Borja. Chef Stephen Lewandowski has created an Iberian-inspired five course dinner to accompany the wines.  $150 pp. Call 212-941-3900.

* On April 17 Chef Tenney Flynn of GW Fins in New Orleans will serve a 5-course dinner with the wines of Cakebread Cellars, with host Dennis Cakebread. $125 pp. Call 504-581-3478.

* From now through April 30,  Pink Beach Club in Tucker's Town, Bermuda is offering a special Culinary Weekend package, with 4     days and 3 nights learning all about Bermudian cuisine and the wines that best pair with these dishes.  Starting at $2,600 for an Ocean Junior Suite. The Culinary Weekend features an escorted excursion with a local fisherman; visit to a different local fruit markets each day;  preparation of  dishes with instruction on which wine best accompanies each course.  Breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner daily; Call 800-355-6161 or 203-655-6161 or visit

* On April 22, a Gruaud Larose Dinner will be held at Cetrella Restaurant in Half Moon Bay, CA , by K&L Wine Merchants.   Managing director of Gruaud-Larose David Launay will be the guest. $140 pp. Visit or call 415-896-1734.

* From April 28-30, Bimini Bay Resort and the Bahamian Culinary Team will host the First Annual Bimini Bay Resort Food Festival, led by Pres. of the Bahamian Culinary Association Chef Wayde Sweeting and his staff, offering 7 interactive cooking stations. Joining the Bahamian culinary celebration will be the crew of ESPN2 to film the series BXRL07, Billfishing Xtreme Release League Tournament.  $20 pp and $10 for children.  Call 242-347-2900 or visit

* The Grace Bay Club at Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands, is offering the following amenities to couples / families staying 6 days / 5 nights in the Penthouse: Airport Limo transfers; oceanfront three-bedroom Penthouse; Personal Chef and Concierge; Unlimited meals in any of Club’s restaurants; Full-day Luxury Yacht Cruise with lunch by Grace Bay Club; Unlimited Anani Spa Treatments; Unlimited Limo Service; Daily continental breakfast; Island Tour and Lunch at Da Conch Shack; Unlimited Horseback Riding; and more. Call 800-946-575.


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.

rrrrrrrr10My 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


copyright John Mariani 2007