Virtual Gourmet

May 13,   2007                                                       NEWSLETTER


                                 Happy Mother's Day!

                                        Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell in "The Grapes of Wrath" (1941)

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Centovini by John Mariani


by John Mariani

     A pile of truly dull cookbooks, wine books, and food reference books lands on my desk almost daily, and most are immediately relegated to the sales bin.  But a few appear each season that impress me for their authority, their intriguing recipes, or, perhaps, just for their wit.  Here are some I like very much.  To purchase a copy, click on the photos of the book cover to go to

How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons (Houghton Mifflin, $27)--A good deal of the best food writing is about fruits and vegetables these days, not as jeremiads against eating meat but in explaining, for one thing, whY American fruits and vegetables are usually so lousy.  How to Pick a Peach is well titled, and its subtitle, "The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table" telling. Even without the fine recipes, the book would be worth dipping into to learn precisely how to ferret out the best seasonal fruits and vegetables, how to store them, prepare them, and eat them, all with an eye to the fullest of flavor, the richest reward that only  really great ingredients can provide with fuss.

The Produce Bible by Leeanne Kitchen (Stewart Taboori & Chang, $29.95)-- A beautifully produced 500-page volume with more than 200 recipes for fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts, which sounds like but is not  a vegetarian cookbook, and that's all to the good.  This is simply a screed of wonderful recipes, like chicken stuffed with figs and fennel, sweet potato ravioli, walnut and cheddar soda bread, and plum cobbler. The information on  everything from cherries to Swiss chard, gooseberries to tamarillo, is up to date, from seasonality to storage and how to prepare all the ingredients.  A first-rate work that obviously was a long labor of love.

Vegetables by the Culinary Institute of America  (Lebhar-Friedman, $40)--For those who couldn't care less about memoirs of cooks growing up eating polenta  in Calabria or picking corn in Iowa but prefer hands-on, completely reliable, straightforward instruction about how to prepare vegetables, this book "from the classrooms of the CIA" will set you right from page one. You can tell that these recipes--for stuffed cherry tomatoes with minty barley cucumber salad, avocado and black bean crostini, broccoli in garlic sauce, and 167 others--have been worked on and worked on till they can be successfully taught every time to an incoming student, which would be you if you buy this well-illustrated standard volume.

The River Cottage Meat Book
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (10 Speed, $40)--A big, hefty volume with a name on the cover to inspire confidence and a photo to terrify vegans. Fearnley-Whittingstall, who hails from River Cottage Farm in Devon, England, is as focused on issues of health and meat safety as he is on guaranteeing that you will really learn the distinctions between cuts, the ineffable charm of offal, and how not to waste anything in the kitchen.  The 150 recipes are not fancy; instead they produce great results, from roast pork to roast beef, from bollito misto to chile con carne. You really won't need anything else on the subject than this important and thoroughly modern book on meat.


The Glory of Southern Cooking
by James Villas (Wiley, $34.95)--This is hardly the first time North Carolinian James Villas has poured out his heart and soul in praise of Southern food culture, and no one has more authority than he when it comes to detailing both the lore and the refinements of doing right by pecan dressing, deviled oysters, fried grits, cracklin' biscuits,  she-crab soup, and hundreds of other preparations that demonstrate the extraordinary culinary range of his beloved South.  With 380 recipes, good photography, and Villas' always witty assertions about the way things have always been done and the way things should still be done, this is the book he has long been destined to write, and it tops anything on the subject out there so far.

A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization
by Kenneth F. Kiple (Cambridge,  $27)--The subtitle suggests a pretty tall order for Mr. Kiple to deliver but he does so in a way that the linkage and connections between our neolithic ancestors and ourselves is neither to be dismissed as progress nor trifled with as evidence of what has gone wrong on our planet and its food chain over the last 10,000 years.  Mr. Kiple can be an engaging anecdotist, though his writing can sink to the academic.  But it gives a true understanding of why pepper was once worth its weight in gold and why drugs with narcotic properties have always been respected by humankind.

Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers
by Mark Bailey (Algonquin Books, $15.95)--This is a thin little tome, a mere trifle really, but a very colorful one, both literally and figuratively, with the musings of 43 American writers from William Styron to Ernest Hemingway, from Truman Capote to Jack Kerouac, on the subject of drink, drinking, and getting--or being--drunk.  There are so many great quotations here:  "I think a man ought to get drunk twice a year just on principle" (Raymond Chandler); "Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with, that it's compounding a felony" (Robert Benchley), as well as mini-profiles of the authors, excellent caricatures by Edward Hemingway, and recipes for classic cocktails.  Makes a good read and a good gift.


What's a Cook to Do?
by James Peterson (Artisan, $16.95)--With so many overwrought, overproduced, and super glossy food books wasting paper out there, I am always happy for a good, stocky little book chock full of basic information.  Peterson, who's written some of those overwrought volumes in the past, here turns succinctly to explain everything from how to shuck an oyster to how to make a perfect pie, with 484 tips, techniques, and tricks to tell why a mushroom is too old, how to make rich brown turkey gravy, and how to decorate a cake.  There is some padding here--do we really need half a page to tell us how to grind and use pepper?--but overall this is a book you'll keep in your kitchen in a very handy place.

111My Home Is Your Home
by Andrea Apuzzo with John DeMers (Vissi d'Arte, $39.95).  The Italian cookbook genre seems never played out, although there are so many repetitive volumes and so many silly ones devoted to single ingredient like  "Cooking with Farro" or "5,000 Granita Recipes," that it's good to be brought back to the basics by a master chef who truly knows and feels the cuisine as a native long involved with pleasing people.  Andrea Apuzzo is the ebullient owner of Andrea's in New Orleans, and in this splendid volume, with text by local author John deMers and photos by the city's pre-eminent photographer, Kerri McCaffety,  he goes step by step through the kinds of Italian dishes people really want to make, from pizza marinara and spinach gnocchi with fresh tomato sauce to his own creations admirably influenced by Louisiana food culture, in dishes like crawfish with angel's hair pastas, seafood-stuffed eggplant, and crabmeat au gratin Domenico.

The Shun Lee Cookbook: Recipes from a Chinese Restaurant Dynasty
by Michael Tong (Morrow, $29.95)--It may well be argued that Michael Tong, almost singlehandedly, brought Chinese food out of the egg foo yung era forty years ago and even transcended the fad for super-hot Sichuan and Hunan food by maintaining his Shun Lee restaurants in  New York as exemplars of refinement that demonstrated the glorious range of so many regional Chinese cuisines.  Many of the best dishes of his cooks are here, from hot and sour cabbage and red-cooked chicken to "ants climbing a tree" and  "Buddha's Delight." Amply illustrated with delectable photos, the recipes are well written and show you need not spend an inordinate amount of time hanging over a hot wok.


Bite Size
by François Payard (Morrow, $19.95)--I would be otherwise suspicious of this small book subtitled  (ho hum) "Elegant Recipes for Entertaining," but the author is François Payard, one of America's finest patîssiers, and owner of the delightful Payard Bistro & Patîsserie in New York.  He is a  third-generation pastry man, and while this is not specifically a pastry book, the precision and chemistry that art requires shows on every beautiful page.  It is a book of appetizers as fit for a Champagne soirée as a backyard get-together, from quail eggs with Russian salad and parsnip and mushroom tarts to very easy cheese sticks and highly nouvelle foie gras with toro tuna granitas. And Payard makes them all sound like something any good kitchen cook could whip up and still have time for her make-up and hair.

by John Mariani
                                                                        25 West Houston Street
    Having just spent two weeks in Italy where I was often disappointed with the homogeneity of the menus from Rome to Venice to Florence, obviously catering to tourists rather than locals, I settled into a “Eureka!” disposition upon my first morsels of bread and cheese at the year-old Centovini, which by sitting on the south side of Houston Street is more a tad more SoHo than Greenwich Village.
    Centovini is the creation of Moss Design Gallery, which resides in the same building, and Nicola Marzovilla, who also owns the  very successful, 13-year-old Puglian restaurant i Trulli uptown. Here everything is centered on the 100+ wines offered at the bar and Z-shaped dining room, which has benefited from its owners' design expertise and won awards for such.  It is a shadowy place, sleek but not cold, cool but very friendly, with a nice neighborhood feel as well as the sense that you are in something quite new but not edgy.
     333333The nicely lighted bar is set in front of the dining area, with tables made of hard rubber and very straight-backed chairs I found none too comfortable.  White leather-chrome bar stools, Murano glass light fixtures and shelves of wine play counterpoint with some Edwardian-style cartoons of women's faces on the wall.  The waitstaff could not be more amiable, and food comes out at both the right tempo and the right temperature.
Opening the menu further increased my happiness, for here was a judiciously sized selection of the kinds of dishes I was starving for in Italy and wasn’t finding.  Chef Patti Jackson, who comes from a pastry background, makes all the grissini, focaccia, and pastas, and iher commitment shows. The peppery grissini and taralli biscuits (above) are addictive, and mind your intake of the focaccia (a little limp one night) if you plan to eat the pastas.  By all means order an array of antipasti here, from a wonderful little mound  of sautéed spring ramps with a duck egg custard and house-made guanciale bacon, to slices of Italian charcuterie, and a nicely subtle vitello tonnato.  A fricassée of morel mushrooms with "artisanal polenta" didn't come to much, because the mushrooms lacked flavor and the polenta needed a kick of cheese.
       Just about any pasta is going to make you smile here, whether it's the handmade cavatelli with bitter-salty and nicely tender broccoli di rabe with good olive oil from Mr. Marzovilla's own estate in Umbria, to the tagliatelle with peashoots, prosciutto, and pecorino toscano.  A special one evening was for those who love shad roe, now in peak season, here paired with pasta.  I find shad roe a bit fishy to my taste, but this was an admirable and inventive marriage of ingredients.
       You might want to stop eating before the main courses--or not eat all that precedes them--but I urge you on to the crispy, juicy fried rabbit with baby artichokes and mashed potatoes, and the veal cheeks with baby carrots and a cannellini bean purée.  So, too, braised lamb shank with mint couscous, eggplant, tomato and olives can compete with any in the city, and the fish of the day, served with farro, mushrooms, and wild onions, is dependably succulent throughout.33333
        Of course, with all those wines you have good reason to sample many by the glass from a list that has plenty to offer at under $50 a bottle.  So start off with a lightly frizzante prosecco, then let Mr. Marzovilla guide you to a wine from northern or southern Italy you have probably never heard of but will want to ferret out at the winestore.
       There are three cheeses offered, with an array of nuts and honey, pears and pepper, and the dolci, thanks to Ms. Jackson, are stand-outs in an Italian restaurant, including her almond torta with cherry apricot compote and chantilly cream and her rich and lovely steamed chocolate pudding.
        New York--and especially those acronymic neighborhoods of SoHo, NoLita, and TriBeCa--have oodles of good Italian trattorias, but Centovini is really adding the kinds of new dishes to a spectrum that are, as in Italy, too much the same.  Every other restaurateur should pay attention.
      Centovini is open for lunch and dinner, as well as weekend brunch.  Antipasti at dinner range from $12 to $16, full portions of pasta are all $20, and main courses $28-$32.


"On a late summer day in 2006 from a pier in Istanbul, I walked up the gangplank of a streamlined little ship named the Corinthian II with the excitement of a teenager going to her first prom."--Francine du Plessix Gray, "Cruising the Wine Dark Sea," Condé Nast Traveler  (April 2007).


Since January 1, more than 500,000  visitors to have been watching a 44-round of cheese mature 24 hours a day. It is expected to be ready in about a year.


* The Rome Cavalieri Hilton has launched an exclusive afternoon "Tea with Tiepolo” service inspired by three of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's greatest paintings, the latest additions to the hotel's world-renowned collection of masterpieces. Directly under "Ulysses Discovers Achilles Among the Daughters of Lycomedes," "The Flaying of Marsyas" and "Hercules and Anteus," guests are presented with a Berlucchi spumante rosé in a Vermeille flute, and a menu of Japan and China's rare teas, a choice o brewing water, finger sandwiches and dessert offerings include quail eggs with caviar and black truffles, "fruit sushi," and scones with essence of ginger, green tea and orange blossom.   Call 011-39 06 35091.  Visit

* On May 16, the first annual Brooklyn Uncorked Long Island Wine Tasting will take place at the BAMcafé at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with samples from nearly 30 Long Island wineries, many available for purchase. In addition to the wines, attendees will be able to enjoy L.I. Island oysters and a variety of other hors d’oeuvres, and an opportunity to win an overnight getaway at a B&B in LI wine country. $30 pp.  Call 631-537-4637.

*  On May 22 Legal Sea Foods, National Distributing Company, Boca Raton Magazine, Town Center, Viking Range, and Florida Table are leading a local effort to help rebuild the hospitality industry in New Orleans, by hosting a "by the bite" at Town Center Boca Raton featuring New Orleans-style food and wine, cooking demos by New Orleans culinary personality Poppy Tooker, and a raffle incl. culinary treasures provided by Viking Range. $85 pp (pre-purchase) and $100 at the door.  Call 561- 447-2139 or visit

* From May 26-28 The Austin Wine Festival will feature the 20 wineries of the Texas Hill Country, as well as 10 guest wineries from around the state. A list of participating wineries is available at Advance tickets, available on-line at $15 for a one-day adult pass and $35 for a 3-day adult pass. Event proceeds will benefit the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the Austin Farmers' Market.

* From May 27-June 2 RA Sushi in Chicago will host its third annual “Nicky’s Week” fundraiser with proceeds from food sales  to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. All 13 RA Sushi stores, located in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada and Texas, will participate in the fundraiser.  Nicky¹s Week will culminate on June 2 with a special silent auction featuring such items as 4 tix to any White Sox home game.  For info visit

* As part of the 5th annual Tofino Food & Wine Festival in Tofino, BC, that takes place June 1-3, Long Beach Lodge has a package that includes 2 nights accommodation in a beachfront room, daily breakfast, welcome gift of feature wines, tix to Fri. reception, and tix and shuttle to Sat.'s event at the Botanical Gardens. Packagesfrom $388.00 CAD / $350.00 USD. Visit or call 1-877-844-7873.

*This June, Muriel's Jackson Square in New Orleans will promote Louisiana's own wild-caught blue crabs, with a portion of the June sales of menu to benefit the Crescent City Farmers Market. Rick Gratia, Muriel's Co-Owner and Managing Partner, and chef Guy D. Sockrider  will present  a 4-course menu at $38 pp.  Call 504-568-1885 or visit

* On June 2 & 3, The Chicago Botanic Garden offers the opportunity to sample domestic and international wines from more than 40 vendors at the Wine Festival, then stay after sunset to experience the first lighting of Evening Island.  Some 250 domestic and international wines will be presented, with tastings of food froma selection of Chicago restaurants. Top experts will reveal the rules of wine tasting and the art of pairing food and wine during seminars.  $25 pp. Designated drivers $15. Call 847-835-8363 or visit

* On June 3 in L.A., the 27th Annual Picnic des Chefs will be held at The Old Lodge at Elysian Park. Chefs include Akira Hirose, Maison Akira; Joe Miller, Joe and Josie LeBalch, Josie's; Michel Blanchet, Michel Cordon Bleu; Conny Andersson, The Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel; Patrick Jamon, The Regency Club; Bruno Lopez, Hotel Bel Air; Jean-Pierre Bosc, Mimosa Bistro; Berty Siegels, Pacific Dining Car, and many others. Silent and live auctions.  $50 pp; Children $20. Call 949-295-0506 or visit

* On June 4 begins the 2nd annual Wine. Dine. Donate restaurant series to mark National Hunger Awareness Day, with a series of benefit dinners held at 5 of the country's top restaurants. Proceeds to the Food Bank of NY  thru America's Second Harvest.'s editor-in-chief Tanya Steel will host each prix-fixe dinner, Chefs incl: Dan Barber of Blue Hill, Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern, and Cyril Renaud of Fleur de Sel  in NYC (June 4), Michael Kornick of MK in Chicago (June 6), Govind Armstrong of Table 8 in Los Angeles (June 7), and Mark Franz of Farallon in San Francisco (June 8). $150 pp. Call 212-539-1776 or visit

* From June 5-7 The Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl ®, the nation’s largest all-you-can-eat ice cream festival, celebrates its 25th birthday, when Boston City Hall Plaza turns into a mega ice cream parlor with more than 40 flavors of top brand ice creams, incl. Baskin-Robbins, Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, Brigham’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Élan Frozen Yogurt, Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, Garelick Farms, Gifford’s, Häagen-Dazs and HP Hood. Also,  live music,  contests from professional sports teams, and games.   $7 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-9, and free for children younger than 3.  Go to

* The Rosen Centre in Orlando  will feature the "Rosen Centre Vine and Dine," a 4-part  5-course wine dinner series, exploring a different region with each dinner prepared by Executive Chef Michael Rumplik and Specialty Restaurant Chef Fred Vlachos doing cuisine perfectly paired with that region's best-suited wines: June 22, Aug. 24, and Oct.  26.  $65 pp. Call 407 996-9840, or visit or

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.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker,  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