Virtual Gourmet

May 27,   2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

Poster by Georges Redon,  circa 1935

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In This Issue

LA SAMANNA on St. Martin by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: Periyali Revisited by John Mariani



Life Is a Beach:  La Samanna, St. Martin
by John Mariani

     yyyyyyMake no mistake about the long-held assertions that St. Martin and Sint Maarten are two very different places on one medium-sized island of 37 square miles. They are mostly true: The French-run St. Martin is actually larger by four square miles, but it seems immediately more intimate, more congenial, and more reclusive.  The Dutch-run St. Maarten is mainly a sprawling commercial city of 30,000 people, most of whom seem always to be on the streets at any hour of the day or night.
      Columbus got here in 1493, and the French, Dutch, Spanish, and English all tried to assert their eminence until the 19th century, but which time the French and Dutch achieved enduring hegemony. Legend has it that the boundaries between the two governments were set back in 1648 when both countries landed there, and a Frenchman and a Dutchman decided against a duel, instead walking in opposite directions along the coast until they met each other again. Whoever walked faster got to claim more land for his country. Whatever.
      However the island was bisected, the French have done a much better job of maintaining a self-identity, centered in the town of Marigot, than the Dutch have in their capital of Philipsburg.  Don't even think of driving through Philipsburg when the schools let out: the school buses set themselves diagonally across the narrow streets so that no one can pass, and this happens every block or so.
     The island is more or less circled by a two-lane road that can be driven within a couple of hours, and, while the tropical beauty of the interior and the stately mountains have returned to some extent their pre-plantation wildness, there is not a great deal to see. Still, all the usual water sports are amply available, the beaches are gorgeous, and Loterie Farms is set on 160 acres of rain forest just made for hiking, complete with tree houses, dizzying planked bridges, and a series of cables which you can slide down Tarzan-like.
      Duty free shopping, of course, is rampant, and the island does very well by it, after centuries when tourism to the area was not high on Europeans' or Americans' list.  Only after France encouraged investment in St. Martin around 1985 did that side, and the town of Marigot, begin to accrue its current wealth and a population of 37,000 people.  Today there are shopping malls crammed with European boutiques and scores of jewelry stores.  The best restaurants are on the French side (surprise!), with a slew of them lining the road at Grand-Case, which they call the "Gastronomic Town," with names like L'Auberge Gourmande, La Chapelle, and Côté Plages.
     Otherwise you can stay put on the beach and let the tradewinds waft over you while you apply another layer=== of suntan lotion. The best place to do that is at La Samanna, on the French side,  which has a glorious setting on the Caribbean and a quiet that is all that I really look for and desire down there, aside from a cold cocktail and a good dinner.  It's a very sophisticated place, and you hear as much French as English spoken (both Yankee and Brit), so everyone who works here speaks English well.  The laid-back atmosphere of La Samanna is palpable the moment you turn off the road into La Samanna's circuitous driveway, but there are also all the modern amenities for those of us who like to know a reliable phone and internet are handy just in case the world blows up back home. They also have satellite TV in all the rooms, and excellent bathrooms.
                                                                             Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

    I like that the rooms have a simple Caribbean decor rather than that garish, over-the-top posh you'd find at a crowd-pleaser like Atlantis on Paradise Island. Fabrics are bright, the air-conditioning works just fine, and there's a world-class Elysées Spa here.
     The main Restaurant here overlooks the beach and the water, and sunsets are as enticing here as anywhere in the Caribbean, so everyone vies for a terrace table.  You should begin the evening at the very seductive, shadowy Bar de Champagne,  444fthen proceed to dinner, where chef
Daniel  has long experience in marrying the precision of his French technique to regional and tropical provender. Born in Saint Nazaire, Eschasseriau has cooked  at The Coconut Residence in Gambia, West Africa, The Body Holiday, LeSport on St. Lucia, and since last fall, at La Samanna. He dashes his food with West Indian spices and uses foods like  sweet potatoes, okra, yam, dasheens, breadnuts, and plantains in his cooking. And it is all backed by one of the grandest--and ever increasing--winelists in the Caribbean, overseen by sommelier Thibaut Asso, who is never more delighted than when guests request to dine in the beautiful wine cellar (below, left), surrounded by more than 10,000 bottles and 700 international labels.  Each year La Samanna has held a highly gregarious food and wine festival, which I recently attended, bringing in chefs from Europe and the Americas, along with some of the finest winemakers.34
      Dinner at The Restaurant (right) may include appetizers like crispy spring rolls with shrimp and mint and a ginger-balsamic-caramel dressing; a selection of sushi; sugar cane  chicken satay, with tempura-fried  Bermuda onion rings and  spicy peanut sauce; and smoked sea scallops salad, Japanese beans,  and pineapple coulis. For main courses there is pan-fried mahi mahi with a saffron-fruits salsa;  red snapper filet with plantain tostones, purple potatoes mash, and black beans salsa; duck breast with star anise and scallion pancakes; and beef tenderloin with red Thai curry and green tea noodles.  There's even Kobe beef sirloin with Cajun sweet yam fries, sautéed morels and Pinot chocolate reduction.
     4t455tThis being the Caribbean, where food has to be flown in, and this being a French resort, where the euro trumps the U.S. dollar, prices are high indeed, with appetizers in the $20-$30 range and main courses going from $35-$50.
   This also being the Caribbean, service by local waiters is only as cordial as it needs to be, a lapse most noticeable in the casual Grill by the pool, which serves very conventional fare.


by John Mariani

35 West 20th Street

                      uukThe opening, in 1987, of Periyali in Manhattan's Flatiron District, was a significant event in the short history of modern Greek restaurants in America.
    Prior to Periyali, most Greek restaurants were merely a cut above a diner (a genre Greeks have long dominated in the U.S. despite no gastronomic connection to the Motherland) and most were in Greek-American enclaves like Astoria, Queens.  The menus were so similar as to seem Xerox copies of one another.
     So when Steve Tzolis and Nicola Kotsoni, who had previously run the Italian restaurant Il Cantinori, opened Periyali on West 20th Street they wanted to bring a broader definition of Greek cooking to bear, while still serving many of the entrenched favorites like taramasolata, dolmades, and the ubiquitous baklava.  Periyali won raves from the critics at the time of its opening, and has always had a very faithful fan base. Well its should: all goes well here with no deviation from the commitment to good and true tastes.
    Oddly enough, Periyali's influence on the older Greek establishments was slight, and it took the opening, ten years later, of the solely seafood-based Milos and the big-hearted taverna-like Molyvos near Carnegie Hall to push Greek food into another mode.  (For a good, brief history of the principal players in Greek-American food, read Colman Andrews' excellent article "Greece Is the Word" in the June issue of Gourmet Magazine.)  Periyali seemed to content to maintain its own ideas on traditional Greek fare with flair, and it is doing the same fine job it has for two decades now.th6
    The well-lighted L-shaped dining rooms are still very pretty, the long front room (above), with its striped banquettes and tent-like ceiling  more glowing and gregarious, the rear room with white brick, a wave-like metal wall-hanging, and a mural of the Aegean pleasantly appended with a skylight.  Pink roses dot the tables decked with white cloths.  Conversation is lively and the sound level civilized, so the throbbing disco music is definitely not needed in what is always a very convivial atmosphere here.
     The winelist is as up to date in Greek varietals as you need, though not in the league of Milos or Molyvos. The service staff ia cordial and fleet-footed, the bread very good, and the little phyllo pastry stuffed with spinach and a cheese pie make delicious morsels to begin with.  A very good way to go here is with the mixed appetizers, served family style, which  includes what is perhaps the very best octopus--marinated in red wine and grilled over charcoal to be silky tender--in New York, along with some irresistibly juicy Greek meatballs.  If you like very large mussels, you may like Periyali's, though I find smaller mussels sweeter and more subtle in flavor. There is wonderful taramasolata that escapes being overly fishy, and the giant white skordalia white beans are delectably garlicky, while the eggplant puree is seriously addictive with the bread here. A beet salad with feta and garlic sauce was something you might find in too many other restaurants these days to be exciting. With these appetizers we enjoyed a crisp, quite dry Kallisti Boutari Assyrtiko  2005 from Santorini.
      hKouneli stifado is a succulent stew of  full-flavored rabbit that absorbs tomato and red wine into its flesh along with the sweetness of white onions. Garides Periyali has long been a specialty here, though it is very simply grilled jumbo shrimp with excellent olive oil and fresh herbs--simply terrific.  Lavraki is a filet of baked sea bass with tomatoes and garlic, while arni youvetsi is a long-simmered dish of Greek lamb with herbs and spices and tomato, served with orzo pasta. With this we drank a round, full-bodied Gaia Estate Agiorghitiko 2003.
      Greek pastries can be intensely sweet, but Periyali trades off cloying sweetness in favor of impeccably crisp pastry and lemony rice pudding and cookies.  The yogurt is sublime--thick, very rich, slightly sweetened with honey, and whether or not it makes you live to an old age is of no consequence when the pleasure of it is so heart-stoppingly good.
     What Periyali set in motion twenty years ago it has only improved, and now, under Chef James Henderson, it is still a beacon for what authentic Greek, rather than Greek-American, food should be but too often is something less.

Periyali serves lunch Monday thru Friday, and dinner daily Monday thru Saturday.  Appetizers are a very reasonable $7-$12, while main courses run $18-$28.




by John Mariani
       ttttttttt“Claret is the liquor for boys,” said Samuel Johnson, “Port, for men.”
      He was wrong on both counts.  First, claret is red Bordeaux wine, not liquor at all, and second, there seem to be as many sophisticated women these days enjoying a luscious glass of Port after dinner as men. Indeed, Americans have learned the extraordinary marriage of flavors that Port—especially with cheese--provide at the end of a superb meal.
     Even in warm weather Port has become the natural accompaniment to an increasing interest in cheese as a third course in the meal. Happily, the purchase and appreciation of Port do not take require an enormous expenditure of money. Even very old vintage Ports can cost much less than a bottle of, well, claret. Consider, for instance, that the great Warre 1955 sells for about $90, while a bottle of Mouton-Rothschild from the same year goes for $1,275.  And you can still find bottles of Taylor-Fladgate 1927 (considered one of the very greatest vintages ever) at auction for $450 a bottle, while a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 from the Napa Valley is going for over $1,000!  If a Port is not a vintage, they are much cheaper and still absolutely wonderful.
       A few words, then, about what Port is. . . and isn’t.  In the first place, true Port (or Porto) comes only from the region around the Douro River Valley (below, right) in Portugal--despite some California and Australian wineries that label their sweet dessert wines as “port." A new organization, the Center for Wine Origins is fighting to have the names of Port, Sherry, and Champagne protected from such name stealing.
     Port is made from a blend of grapes—90+ varieties are allowed—whose must is fortified with neutral grape alcohol during fermentation in order to maintain the wine’s rich sweetness.  Most are then aged in oak casks, and, in most cases, blended with wines of various vintages to achieve a balance and style distinctive to a particular producer, called a quinta. Only if an individual quinta decides that a particular year has produced an exceptional Port that would be compromised by blending with other years’ products will it be “declared” a vintage Port. These are bottled after two to two-and-a half years in cask, then allowed to age for ten years or more.  The declaration of a vintage Port may happen only every few years, and even then not every quinta will declare in a particular year.

     Non-vintage Ports go by various names, which can be confusing. White Port is a very light version made from white grapes and rarely aged in wood. It is sipped as an aperitif, on the rocks, or with soda--very popular in France. Ruby Port is a simple, light red variety, with nearly no bottle age, made from grapes from a lesser region of the Douro.
        Things start to get much more interesting with tawny Ports, which may be either aged or unaged; the latter is a kind of higher grade ruby; the former, which may stay for several years in wood cask, is highly regarded by connoisseurs, who drink them with great pleasure on a regular basis.  Tawny Ports are well named for their rich, red-brown color, their medium sweetness and nutty finish, and their refinement as a cheese or dessert wine. They are neither massive nor light in body, with many complexities, depending on the producer, who may call its tawny by a proprietary name, like “Hunter’s,” “Six Grapes,” and “Founder’s Reserve.”777
       Beyond that there are other generalized names for tawny Ports, including colheita: a rare, reserve tawny from a single harvest aged at least seven years; “vintage character”: medium-bodied Ports made from wines averaging four to six years in barrel; “late bottled vintage Port” or "LBV"; they come from a single vintage and age for four to six years in wood and may get even better with bottle age. There is also the even more confusing “traditional late bottled vintage Port” made from a good but not exceptional vintage, and aged in wood for four years;  “crusted” Port: an unfiltered, aged Port that throws off considerable sediment in the bottle, requiring decanting. It can, however, be a very robust Port; and “garrafeira”:  briefly aged in wood then further in large glass bottles for up to 40 years before release in regular bottles.
     None of these wines is as expensive as vintage Port, and all are meant to be drunk upon their release in the wine shop.
     With the exception of crusted and vintage Ports, decanting is usually not necessary, although the presentation of a beautiful decanter of Port at the table is impressive indeed. 
Upon their initial release in the market, vintage Ports take fifteen or more years to mature, picking up complexity and nuance along the way. In fact, the purchase of a vintage Port is a real commitment and takes enormous patience.  Few marriages last as long as it takes for a vintage Port to reach full maturity, and no old man should even consider buying a new vintage that won’t be ready to drink for decades to come.

      The most obvious virtue of a vintage Port then, is that the quintas, with the approval of the governmental Instituto do Vinho do Porto,  literally guarantee that what is in the bottle is the very best that can be produced, which makes it nearly impossible to buy a bad vintage Port.  Some years, of course, are considered to be the best of the best, most recently, 1994 and 1997, which won’t be ready to drink for some time.
      Not surprisingly, the vintage Port market always follows the stock market. In boom times people regard vintage Port the way they do custom-made clothes, hand-tooled cars, and made-to-order furniture, as an indulgence expected to endure through downturns. But when the market declines, so do the sales of vintage Port, although many may break out the older bottles before someone comes to take them away as part of an estate settlement. Fortunately, there are plenty of ruby and tawny Ports that make poorer times bearable without spending a great deal of money.

A FEW THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PORT (courtesy of the Center for Wine Origins)


• When passing the Port, someone who keeps the decanter in front of him for too long might be called “The Bishop of Norwich,” after a famously stingy priest (left). Likewise, if you would like someone to pass you the Port, simply ask, “Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?”

• There are more than 100,000 individual vineyards and approximately 25,000 farmers in the Douro region.

• Percy Croft, a member of the founding family of the House of Croft once said, “Any time not spent drinking Port is a waste of time.”kl

• Before 1986, all Port wine had to shipped from the Vila Nova da Gaia. But today, Port can also be shipped directly from the Douro demarcated region.

• The French drink the most Port generally, while the U.S. ranks sixth in consumption.

• There are over 90 different grape varieties allowed to grow in the Douro region.

n• The corks of some Vintage Port bottles are so difficult to remove that special heated tongs (right) are used to cut the neck of the bottle.

• The writer Evelyn Waugh (left) once said, “Port is not for the very young, the vain and the active. It is the comfort of age and the companion of the scholar and the philosopher.”


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.


"Dish worms its way into patrons' hearts at Sticky Rice restaurant,"
by Lisa Donovan, Chicago Sun Times (April 11, 2007).

According to an article in the NY Times, on a grant from Danish Bacon and Food Council, researchers at the Leeds University in England spent 1,000 hours testing 700 variants of bacon sandwiches to come up with the conclusion that crisp bacon on white bread is the best, according to the formula: N = C + {fb (cm) fb (tc)} = fb (T8) + fc . ta.


* On June 3, Old World and New World wines will square off in Chicago at a 5-course wine dinner at TRU, with Sommelier Scott Tyree, Master Sommelier Alpana Singh, and Master Sommelier Robert Bath will host winemaker Susana Balbo of Susana Balbo Winery, Argentina.  $225 pp. Call 312-202-0001.

* On June 5 in Summerville, SC, Chef Tarver King of the Dining Room at Woodlands Inn will hold a cooking demo and tastings with a "Summer Corn" Tasting Menu. Stay for dinner and enjoy the demonstration for free, with a  charge of $35 for the demo only. Call 843-308-2115, or visit

* Chicago’s Heaven on Seven’s Rush Street location is celebrating its 10th Anniversary, so for the entire month of June, Chef/Owner Jimmy Bannos will cook up a “Jimmy Feed Me,” a 10-course (plus lagniappe) dinner of his favorite Cajun creations over the past 10 years, priced at $50, plus tax and gratuity. Also, Rush Street will offer its Blue Plate Special (the special includes a choice of soup or salad, the featured entrée, a non-alcoholic beverage, and dessert) for lunch for $10 plus tax and gratuity. Call 312.263-6443. Visit

* On June 13 in San Francisco LarkCreekSteak will host cult winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett, whose clients incl. Her clients include Paradigm, Lamborn Family, Showket, and her own labels Amuse Bouche and La Sirena, for a 5-course USDA Prime and Kobe-style steak-focused dinner.
$155 pp. Call 415-593-4100.

* From June 17-22 in Sacramento Wine & Dine Week, will offer a fixed-price 3 to 4-course menu with a unique local wine paired with each course, prepared by area chefs. . .On June 23 in Sacramento, California, Grape Escape will add two major new elements: a performance by Michael McDonald and a change of venue to Raley Field. The event begins with a walk-around wine and food with 65 wineries,  followed by the McDonald concert. Tix start at  $47.50. Visit
* On June 18 & 19 in Cambridge, MA,  chef Michel Richard of Washington, DC's Citronelle will collaborate with Chef Raymond Ost of Sandrine's Bistro for a 4-course dinner featuring recipes from Happy in the Kitchen, Richard's latest cookbook. $100 pp.   Call 617-497-5300;

*  On June 23 the 12th Biennual Five-Star Sensation, a fundraiser for Cleveland Ireland Cancer Center, will take place at the  site of the Ahuja Medical Center, in Beachwood, OH, with  35 chefs, incl. Ken Callaghan, Stephen Lewandowski, Mark Peel, Wolfgang Puck, Lydia Shire, Michael Romano, and 40 vintners, incl. Grgich Hills, Duckhorn, Frog’s Leap, Terrabianca, Domaine Skouras, Maison Joseph Drouhin. Ticket prices $300-$1000.  Call 440-446-0713.

* From June 25-29 Curtain Bluff, Antigua, will host Master Chef André Soltner, former Chef/Owner of NY's award-winning restaurant Lutèce, as guest Chef at the resort.  In addition to cooking for guests, Chef Soltner will hold cooking demos and classes with Curtain Bluff's Chef Christophe Blatz. for any guests wishing to participate. Guests booking NOW through June 25th can take advantage of these classes, which will be complimentary to any guest booking an Executive Suite or higher category room.  Special Summer Rates of $595 per couple apply, incl. all meals, activities and cooking classes. Call 1-888-289-9898 or visit

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, 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