Virtual Gourmet

November 4,  2007                                                       NEWSLETTER

The Harvey Girls of The Harvey House Restaurants, 1905

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Arabelle by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR:  Three Decades of Lehmann Shiraz by John Mariani


by John Mariani

    I find very little on the tourist-teeming island of Cancun that would draw me to its beaches, for I could have exactly the same blanket-to-blanket experience and much better food in Miami, which Cancun's hotels and restaurants have copied right down to the last pool towel. T-shirt shops and American fast food joints line the Boulevard Kukulcan, along with places with unappetizing names like Captain's Cove, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., El Shrimp Bucket, La Madonna, and Señor Frog's. The same people I would think most other people would want to escape from are all arrayed in the resort hotels here, gobbling up the buffets, oiling themselves on the sand, sloshing around in the pools, and slurping cloyingly sweet piña coladas while splayed on a chaise longue.  I'm told one of the big local thrills in Cancun is to pay 250 pesos to swim with the parrot fish. Glub, glub.
The Ritz-Carlton Cancun

    One of the few oases of luxury and sophistication, however, is the Ritz-Carlton
(Retorno del Rey #36, Zona Hotelera;  Phone:  52 998 881 0808), whose architect cannily arranged its U-shaped wings to block out the sight of other, less attractive hotels on the strip.  The Ritz has two good restaurants here, the casual El Café Mexicano and the more formal Club Grill.  They also have a brand new, very impressive $500,000 Culinary Center (left), outfitted by Viking Range, where, Monday through Saturday, the resort's chefs teach Mexican cooking in a huge kitchen with individual work stations and hold wine tastings that include a good array of highly promising Mexican wines.  The rooms are typically posh and impeccably set with amenities, and the service staff, exceptionally well trained and very fluent in English and several other languages,  puts you in mind of the best European seaside resorts.

       If you head south of Cancun, down the broad  Highway 307, along what is called the Mayan Riviera, whose  landscape is quickly filling up with more huge resorts and spectacular homes and condos, you can still have a true sense of getting away from it all. But hurry, development is rampant.

Maroma Resort and Spa

Carretera 307, Km 51
Riviera Maya, Solidaridad, Quintana Roo
Tel: 52 (998) 872 82 00

      One of the most reclusive places off 307 is Maroma Resort and Spa, 25 miles south of the airport and worlds away from the vulgar bustle of Cancun.
       The resort, spread over 25 acres,  is set down a bumpy road from the highway, and once inside you realize you are in the leafiest of environments, with whitewashed stucco buildings and casitas with thatched roofs, all facing an extraordinary expanse of blindingly white sand and restless blue sea.  There are 65 rooms and suites decorated in bamboo and polished mahogany, with king size beds, and fine big bathrooms. And each has a hammock whose seductive swaying could keep you in it for hours on end, reading, napping, or just wondering about the world far away. Or you could  drive 45 minutes to the Mayan ruins of Tulum and get in touch with the sun gods.
        I should comment that the service here is exceptional, especially among the young, well-trained, English-speaking reception staff, who, during a disastrous halting of flights out of Cancun because of stormy weather in the States, did everything possible for every anxious guest, including me,  both to make the best possible arrangements and to calm the flustered feathers of a very demanding clientele.

       There are two principal eating venues here, the evocative dining room El Sol and the more casual El Restaurante, which spills out onto the patio and beach.
     El Sol (below) is where chef Guillermo Javier Gomez is doing some superlative work, incorporating Mayan culinary traditions into his own modern ideas, utilizing, as much as possible, the local provender.  The arched ceiling of the semi-round dining room is draped with fabric, and you sit watching the sunset at a commodious, well-set table, ministered to by a very affable, English-speaking staff.
     We began out dinner at El Sol with a trio of tuna renditions and followed with an entrada of King crab with jicama tacos, a cucumber and tomato confit salad, dressed with hibiscus vinaigrette.  Excellent indeed was a charming take on a downhome item, the chimichanga--filled with a foie gras parfait. Our main courses were a lovely, very fresh (not always a given in the Caribbean) red snapper with radish and spicy jalapeño, with a watercress relish over annato-colored yellow risotto and smoked tomato coulis; the other was a somewhat fussy but very good loin of venison crusted with coffee and ancho chile, and venison barbacoa (barbecued), with black bean mousseline and sautéed Brussels sprouts. Our desserts included a fine plantain soufflé with a chocolate bon bon and herb salad--an interesting idea well realized--and "bocanegra" an oddity of tomato confit, black olive syrup, lime ice cream, and basil foam that was better than it sounds.
     Appetizers at El Sol range from $22-$38, main courses $25-$40.

      We did not find during our visit much to recommend at El Restaurante, all all-day eatery whose menu--something for every tourist--almost seemed an afterthought to the carefully crafted dishes of El Sol.  Nor was the service here much beyond the rudimentary.  The various breakfast omelets with Mexican ingredients are dependable, the lunch pizza terrible.  Suffice it to say that the food was not untypical of Caribbean resorts or those up in Cancun, except for Maroma's delightful Mexican señora (right) who makes fresh tortillas at the side of the restaurant and brought them warm to your table, smelling and tasting of roasted corn.
An emphasis on the Spa at Maroma is not uncalled for.  Named Kinan, the Mayan word for "energy of the sun," the spa, which is built according to Mayan "Sacred Geometry,"  offers a open-air massage palapa tower with a 360-degree view. It is exceptionally beautiful, with a jantzu garden pool, and several treatment rooms. After being worked on, you can try to feel even more healthful by having a lunch of Spa Cuisine here, but I found nothing abou it worth the few calories lurking in the food.
       Seclusion is a big part of the draw here, and, because it doesn't have a large number of guestrooms--just 64--you pretty much have the run of the place and the average square footage you have all to yourself at the beach probably exceeds most people's backyard.                             
                                                                     Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery


Riviera Maya Playa Xcalacoco Frac 7

     I can't imagine why the new owners, the Kor Hotel Group, changed the wonderfully sublime and evocative Mayan name of "Ikal del Mar" to the far more mundane and less appealing The Tides, which evokes something more like a chain motel in Pensacola than it does the Mexican Riviera. Nevertheless, the unique beauty of  this highly hidden resort is still wholly intact, and constantly being improved upon.
      With only 30 villas, each sequestered deep in a jungle you must wend your way through, you're not likely to be tripping over other guests. In fact, it took me two days just to become familiar enough with the pathway to my own villa: You have to make up your own signposts--a big guava tree, a yellow umbrella, a curve in the pathway--that's how secluded things are here.  You can even take a shower outside your villa and no one will ever know, so dense is the foliage around you. And you get your own private plunge pool, 12 to 14 generous feet in length.
There are no motorized vehicles whatsoever at The Tides once beyond the entrance, and all you do is sign a guestbook in order to check in--none of that five minutes' of computer typing that makes one's arrival in most places less than welcoming.  You also need not sign any guest bills during your stay.
     There is, of course, the yoga studio and requisite spa here--Temazcal, a beach-side Maya-style sauna, a sweat lodge, with massage rooms in which you listen to "chants and prayers to cleanse holistically the body, spirit and mind." Whatever.
     The villas seem entirely yours, palapa-roofed, with  louvered-mahogany doors and windows, sisal rugs, and canopy beds spread with  Egyptian cotton linens.  Cell phone service is non-existent, although a computer hook-up is. And there are DVD and CD players in the room, if you've had enough sun and foliage. No children under 16 are permitted. So if total indolence is your preference on vacation, The Tides is ideal; if, however,  you wish to visit the Mayan ruins in the era--Tulum is the closest--there is that, too, along with all the usual sporting activities.
       The resort also offers a "dine anywhere" option, but the lovely Riviera Maya restaurant and cocktail lounge, (left) fronting the sea, is an enchanting way to spend an evening at twilight. When I was there I also had a chance to indulge in a tasting of Mexican wines--they stock more than 500 labels of all kinds--and one of the most delightful ways to dine here is at a beach barbecue. Yet another option is to take a cooking class with the resort's chef, held outdoors next to the "cooking spot"--a thatched hut with a hot rocks-heated pit in which the food is placed and covered with banana leaves. This was really a wonderful and unique experience.
     I would like to say more about the quality of the cuisine at the Riviera Maya, but the current chef came to the resort several weeks after I visited.  Suffice it to say that he is said to be cooking much in the style of his predecessor, updating Mayan food, albeit post-Columbus when the Spaniards had the good sense to bring in pigs and cattle to Mexico.  Glance at the menu at the restaurant and you'll get a pretty good sense of the kind of food I was very happy to feast on here.

Las Ventanas
Royal Hideaway Playacar

         Having recently met young Spanish star chef Sergi Arola, whose Madrid restaurant La Broche is considered one of the finest in the country, I made a special trip to dine at the restaurant he oversees at the huge Royal Hideaway Playacar, which is near the hip boomtown Playa del Carmen. The resort itself is pretty spectacular, spread over 13 acres, with villas, winding pathways, and an oceanfront whose beach was much damaged and not completely back to normal since Hurricane Wilma ploughed through the region in 2005.
    The villas' rooms are splendid, sumptuously decorated, and quiet, though the whole place has the look of a tourist package deal, and, unlike Maroma and The Tides, is anything but secluded.
     My wife and I had a pleasant enough light lunch at the casual Mexican restaurant here, Spices, waiting to be amazed at Arola's restaurant, Las Ventanas, that evening. We were very happy with the modern, handsome look of the latter, not least the sexy, backlighted bar area (right).  In the dining room (below), which seats a judicious number of 50,  there is a beautiful wall of wine behind glass and a pianist who plays romantic ballads throughout the evening. Tables were well set and well spaced, the service staff fairly well trained (one waiter sought to remove a wineglass still half full), the winelist good.  Unfortunately people come here dressed as if they'd just gotten off the beach, which detracts from the cool elegance of the place. The staff should also pay attention to the a/c: It was 82º F in the room when we dined.
     Opening the menu we were tantalized by the simple descriptions of what sounded like highly creative cuisine.  Arola, like most consulting chefs in the world, was nowhere to be seen. Our first taste of a crab soup with vegetables and mascarpone ice cream was typical of, and very good, Arola's style, which always has a little surprise in the simplicity of conception. An appetizer was described as "cubes of confit potato in a brava and ali-oli Style," and that's all they were--a very few cubes of potato with a mild olive oil dressing, more like a nibble than a course. Grouper and tuna salad with a creamy cod and almond soup (and unmentioned anchovies) was tasty, if not marvelous.
    Portion size is a problem here: We had a very small amount of lobster with stewed arborio rice and garlic ice cream , and what was described as "Angus Roast Beef with a Foie Gras Ice Cream and Aniseed Salad"
(the ice cream conceit was getting a bit conceited), which was a few small slices of cold roast beef with what might in lesser places be called gravy. It was truly a dull dish.
     Desserts weren't much better--ridiculously tiny thimbles of confit carrots with yogurt and pistachio praline, and a mediocre version of the ubiquitous soft-centered chocolate soufflé "in the idea of a Black Forest," whatever that means.
      I was disappointed pretty much with everything and wondered--not for the first time--why great chefs put their names on restaurants they really have no way on controlling unless they commit to a rigorous schedule of visitations.


by John Mariani

Hotel Plaza-Athenée
37 East 64th Street

      The onus of being a restaurant in a hotel has, among those who know better, pretty much been dissipated in the last decade by the appearance of so many fine restaurants that just happen to reside in hotels around the world.  Indeed, in New York you'll find a stellar number, including Jean-Georges,  Joël Robuchon L'Atelier,  Gilt, The Dining Room at the Carlyle, Peacock Alley, Gordon Ramsay at The London, and Hakubai. Still, some people's eyes cloud over when you mention a hotel restaurant without a big name chef, especially if it is not located on the avenue, with its own, separate entrance.
     This may well be the case with Arabelle, sequestered in the posh Plaza-Athenée Hotel, whose own occupancy, despite room prices of $695 and up, is near full most nights of the year.  Despite Arabelle's being very fine and French, the new Michelin Guide 2008 to NYC doesn't even include it. Yet Arabelle is one of the loveliest restaurants in
New York, with a very talented young chef doing splendid, quite personalized work with admirable finesse.
      The decor was changed a while back from a rococo Valerian Rybar flamboyance, complete with painted cloudy skies, to a warm setting of fin-de-siècle moldings and arched columns that provide cozy banquette seating. That ceiling is now a glowing silvery-gold reflecting the light of glass chandeliers.  The tables are impeccably, richly set with heavy linens and fine glass and silverware, fresh flowers and candles, and the tables themselves are wonderfully spacious.
     Before you ever get to the dining room, however, you must pass from the hotel lobby through the Bar Seine (left), a sexy, shadowy place that begs the word soigné. The  night I visited the place was hopping--or seated--with a bevy of people who might very well have been just off the plane from Charles de Gaulle or whipped in from St. Bart's.
      At Arabelle Chef Ike Koutrakos works his menu to please but not to pander. It is just as American as it is French, as are most deluxe menus, even in Paris, these days. I suppose if you asked him for a filet mignon well done, he'd do it, but that would be a wave-off to one of the most interesting young chefs in New York right now.
   We began with a glass of Ruinart Brut Rosé, chosen by food and beverage director
Martin Magdeburg, to go with a trio of ahi tuna bites--sashimi with yuzu vinaigrette and daikon, a tartare with luscious avocado mousse and a dot of osietra caviar, and seared, rare tuna with a sesame seaweed salad.  Butter poached lobster came with white corn grits (no Franglais here), shavings of truffles, and smoked paprika-scented "Niblets," with tidbits of seared pork belly and a chicken jus, all of which added up to a very impressive starter. Sea scallops were gently roasted and served with a cranberry purée with tomato confit and dressed with a vinaigrette, a dish of tangy-sweet notes to cuddle the creamy flavor of the scallops.  Seared foie gras with a pear roasted with vanilla and served with a brandied pear coulis was a delightful dish, and a ragoût of rabbit was braised with citrus and accompanied by wheat germ pasta with a pecorino gremolata.  With these starters we drank a fine Franciscan Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay 2005.
     A Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2004 from Walker Bay, South Africa, was a complete surprise to me, and it alerted me to just how well that varietal is doing in that up-and-coming region.  It went exceptionally well with maple-glazed duck breast with roasted yams, okra spiked with cayenne pepper, and a red wine sauce, as well as with a terrifically flavorful rack of lamb, perfectly fatted around the edge, served with a fricassée of wild mushroom and roasted tomato, sautéed sunchokes, and truffled persillade.  
The red wine also went well with juicy pan-seared Chatham cod with roasted asparagus, sautéed chanterelles, a celeriac purée, and lobster emulsion.
    Desserts, by Lauren Ragone, were every bit as inventive as the other courses and included an "Autumn Trio Tasting Plate" composed of walnut sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce, rum raisin rice pudding with cinnamon, and sweet potato brioche pudding with marshmallow crème anglaise.  There is also a welcome cheese cart with every selection in peak condition.
     Arabelle's winelist, overseen by maître d' and sommelier 
Romano Chiazzo, holds 231 selections and 850 bottles.
      Dining in a room as lovely as this on cuisine prepared with obvious care and respect for ingredients by a young chef determined to make his mark through due diligence rather than spectacle means that you will have a civilized meal, good conversation with your friends, deftly poured wines, and be reminded that the antiquated frou-frou that once marked hotel dining rooms was never actually a true mark of elegance. Arabelle sets the proper tone for a modern hotel restaurant where you will feel  just as cosmopolitan as you fancy yourself to be.

The 3-course dinner menu at Arabelle is $74.


A Thirty-Year Retrospective of Peter Lehmann Shiraz

by John Mariani
     Since no more than a handful of Australian wineries in the Barossa Valley date back more than 20 years, it was a unique event to taste 30 vintages of Shiraz from a single estate, Peter Lehmann Wines at a lunch for wine media, sommeliers, and retailers at The Modern in New York.
     Peter Lehmann, 76, the fifth generation Barossan who started his wine career in 1947 near Tanunda, north of Adelaide, and his son Douglas is now managing director. Over the last six decades the company has grown to produce 500,000 cases under the Lehmann label; another 4.5 million liters of grape juice is sold off to other wine producers. About 60 percent is exported, mostly to the EU and Great Britain. The U.S gets 66,000 cases, less than 10 percent. Switzerland’s Hess Group now owns 86 percent of Lehmann; Lehmann itself retains 11 percent, and the last 3 percent is owned by 410 Barossan grape growers, farmers, and local tradesmen.
      Yet when Lehmann (below) founded his winery, Australia’s wine industry was in a sad state, dominated by a British and local taste for fortified and sweet wines. The government was even offering money to grape growers to rip out their vines and plant different crops. Lehmann had to guarantee more than 150 growers he would buy their grapes if they grew them. The growers’ loyalty has ever since been one of the company’s strongest suits in good and bad times.
      Not until the 1980s did Australia’s modern wine industry get into gear.  Today the country is the world’s sixth largest producer and fourth largest exporter, with about 2,000 wineries making more than 350 million gallons of wine annually, and sales of more than $2.5 billion in sales. Today less than one percent of wines are fortified. Forty percent of all wines are exported, and United Kingdom and the U.S. absorbing 70 percent of it.
      Shiraz has long dominated the Australian wine market, with some vines dating back 150 years. Today Shiraz represents 24 percent of total grape production. The problem has been that the varietal has taken on several styles, not least the popular, heavily extracted, high alcohol Shirazes embraced by the wine media and importers since the 1990s.
      The opportunity, then, to taste three decades of Shiraz from the same company was really a history lesson in how the varietal has been pressed into service for a global market.
      As Lehmann’s winemaker, Ian Hongell, noted at the luncheon, "There are vineyards that history tells us to watch closely, [because they are] tended by the same family for generations. These old, low-yielding vineyards are located in the harder country of the Barossa, where rainfall is sparse.  Mother Nature allows only the strongest to survive so than the fruit carries with it presence and pedigree.”
      What impressed me most was the consistency of flavor in the Lehmann Shirazes, even though some were far past their prime and others sadly oxidized. The 1980 vintage was made while the winery was still being built, with wine spilling onto freshly laid cement. There were drought years in the early ‘80s, followed by the “Flood Year” of 1983, when barrels floated away down the river.
      The Lehmann style really began to show itself in the late 1980s, with fruit vibrant, color a nice ruby-purple, and very easy to drink while fairly young. By the ‘90s there was more concentration, at a time when, said Hongell, “we had some brand new technological toys for analysis of the grapes and their juice.”
      Alcohol levels began to creep up from 12.5 in 1986 to 14.5 percent in 2002, though Hongell insisted “We make wines that are more about texture—not jammy flavors or alcoholic sweetness”—a style other Australian Shirazes have had success with.
      Starting with the 1994 vintage, the wines revealed more and more complexity and a distinctive Aussie Shiraz flavor in contrast to the denser, more tannic Syrahs of France’s Rhone Valley. The Lehmann wines show an abundance of ripe (not over-ripe) fruit, sunny big wines ideal for grilled meats.  As of 1998 they began to develop a brawny backbone and a long finish. The most interesting vintage was the 2000, which smelled of the sea, briny, with a salty-anise flavor, and from 2002 on, the wines had exceptional balance, rich cherry-like fruit, and a lush explosion of flavors on the palate.
      After the formal tasting we sat down to a lunch by chef Gabriel Kreuther, accompanied by two more of Lehmann’s most prestigious Shiraz bottlings. The Eight Songs 2002 ($60), from the coolest Barossa vintage on record, was matured in wood for 18 months. It’s a huge wine, destined to get better and better over the next decade. Hongell, who has a talent for eccentric Aussie metaphors, called it “feminine but formidable, like Halle Berry.” Of a Stonewall 2002 ($100; left), a massive, chewy Shiraz that went through a slow-ripening summer and fall, Hongell mused, “Right now it tastes like buckets of bolts and nails and ground-up tractors, a Russell Crowe of a wine.”
      These last two wines are Lehmann’s big show pieces, and priced accordingly.  But the company has really made its reputation on more moderately priced Shiraz, which range from $13 to $30, with special bottlings like the Eight Songs and Stonewall higher.
      The tasting showed how the evolution of Shiraz, and Australian wines in general, passed through a shaky infancy into global prominence, even if much of the cheap, prune-sweet Shiraz coming out of Australia is not worth drinking at any price.
      When I asked Peter Morrell of New York’s Peter Morrell wineshop, who attended the tasting, if his customers buy the cheap Aussie Shiraz “No,” he said. “I have trouble selling $9 bottles of Australian red wine, but not these.”

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.


In Nanuet, NY, the Rockland County Health Department cited Great China Buffet restaurant with two violations after pictures surfaced showing  the cook jumping up and down in his boots on garlic cloves to crush them.  A Health Dept. official reported that a person’s shoe or boot is not a proper instrument to use in food preparation.


“A venerable bit of wisdom from the Greek sage Heraclitus teaches that you can never step in the same river twice, for neither you nor the ceaselessly flowing river remains the same. Your odds are better at restaurants, which also change, though not quite ceaselessly. (I am extrapolating from Heraclitus here; if the man ever made remarks about restaurants, posterity has forgotten them.) Crowds come and go, of course — but decor and menu can remain little changed for months or even years. In a restless culture, such stability can seem boring or even slightly sinister, a dawdling on the way to some new and improved destiny. Yet there are those of us who like our points of reference.”—Paul Redinger, “Destino: Destiny's house,” San Francisco Bay Guardian ( Sept. 18, 2007).



TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* Palm Terrace at The Island Hotel Newport Beach, CA, is now offering Executive Chef Bill Bracken and Pastry Chef Michael Owens’ “Special Sunday Suppers,” at  $39 pp, with a $10 donation for each going to Orangewood Children's Foundation. Visit or call 949-760-4920. . . .The Terrace will also host three 4-course wine producer dinners this winter: Nov. 13: "A Toast To Tuscany" featuring Castello Banfi Wines;  $175 pp;  "The King of Champagnes" featuring Dom Perignon, with Bertrand Steip, Business Development Director; $350; Jan. 24: "Excellence From the Ground Up" featuring Joseph Phelps Insignia; $225. Call 949-760-4920.

* From Nov. 1- Feb. 29, The Omni Hotels' will present a special brandwide program spotlighting “Sumptuous Flavors of Argentina” all authentically prepared by Omni Hotels' chefs, with wines of the region. Guests may also  enjoy the "Discover Argentina" weekend package, incl. a private cooking lesson and wine pairing, and traditional Argentinean dinner;  leather wine tote featuring Malbec and Torrontés wines; CD of tango music. Rates range from $350-$700. Call 1-800-THE-OMNI or visit

* From Nov. 4-Dec. 26 Castello Banfi in Montalcino, Italy, offers a “Romantic Winter Escape” that incl. a guided tour of winery; a visit  to the Giovanni F. Mariani Museum of Glass and Wine; L’Enoteca vineyard estate collection tasting; Traditional Tuscan 5-course wine pairing dinner at La Taverna; Tuscan breakfast; Half-day tour of the Val  D’Orcia, with chauffeured car service, English speaking driver, professional guide; Lunch at a traditional Tuscan trattoria; Ayurveda Massage for two in your room; Dinner at Il Ristorante; Cost pp ranges from €1140-1590. . . .On New Year’s Eve at the Castello, a tasting reception will be followed by a hearthside aperitif, and 8-course dinner, with midnight Champagne toast. On New Year’s Day, breakfast, Champagne buffet brunch, and guided tour of the winery. €935-1385. Call  +39-0577-877700 or visit

* In Ventura, CA, Brooks introduces a half-price wine list every Wednesday night, along with Tuesday night winemaker dinners. On  Nov. 6: Carr Winemaker Dinner. $100 pp. Call  805-652-7070 or visit

 * Ashford Castle in Cong, Ireland is featuring “A Royal Weekend in the Irish Countryside,” incl. a luxurious room with views of the gardens, the River Cong or Lough Corrib; decanter of sherry or Irish liqueur;  full Irish breakfast;  A dinner, created by Chef Stefan Metz in the George V Room; estate activities, e.g.,  trout fishing, archery, sporting clay shooting and falconry. Rates begin at €325 per guest for a 2-night weekend package through April 2008. Visit

* On Nov. 13 NYC-based Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) will hold its consumer tasting “Vino e Cucina,” at Cipriani 23rd Street, presenting Italian delicacies and signature dishes paired with the best Italian wines and spirits, plus a wide range of auction items,  ranging from vacation getaways to Italy  to unique dining and wine experiences in NYC. Some of the restaurants incl: NYC—San Domenico New York; Maremma; Il Gattopardo; and Remi. L.A.: Valentino, and Drago; Chicago—Coco Pazzo; $95 pp in advance,  $115 at the door.  Funds will support the ‘GRI-Giacomo Bologna’ culinary scholarship. Go to

* On Nov. 13 the Hotel Bel-Air in Bel-Air, CA will hold a 4-course dinner hosting Firestone Winery, with Kevin Willenborg. $150 pp. Call Karla at 310-943-6742. Also available is a special discounted rate for wine dinner attendees to stay overnight  for $395. Call  800-648-4097.

* On  Nov. 13 Benoit Cornet will demonstrate the art of at home mixology at Sanctuary T in  NYC as part of the inaugural meeting of the monthly Cocktail Club demonstration and tasting, scheduled to meet on the second Tuesday of each month. Attendees will sample 3 cocktails, be given with recipe cards, as well as free tea samples, and Chef Kevin Stanton will supply some items from the new bar menu. The Cocktail Club fee will be $20 per session. Club cocktails will be half priced after each class.  Sanctuary T will also offer their new Cocktail Kit available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds to City Harvest.  Call 212-941-7832. Visit

* On Nov. 14 in Louisville, KY,  Park Place on Main's chef Jay Denham is bringing together three Southern flavors with the Benton's, Bourbon and Beer Dinner. Artisanal bacon and ham purveyor Allan Benton will discuss world-class bacon and ham featured in Denham's dishes; Julian and Preston Van Winkle will discuss beer pairings.  $50 pp.  Call 502-515-0172 or visit

* On Nov. 14 in Wabash, ILL, Heaven on Seven Chef/Owner Jimmy Bannos is co-hosting an evening with The Trust for Public Land to benefit New OrleansCity Park.  Following two presentations in the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, the restaurants will hold “Cocktails and Lagniappe.”  Tickets are priced at $125 for both events; $25 for the presentation only; $100 for the cocktail reception. Call 312-427-1979.

* On Nov. 15 Chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco will collaborate with Niloufer Ichaporia King, author of My Bombay Kitchen, to craft a menu showcasing the flavors of traditional and modern Parsi cuisine.  Call 415-648-7600.

* On Nov. 16 SWEET, presented by Ferrero Rocher, a late night dessert party for 1,500 guests at The Waterfront, featuring Food Network stars and creations by NYC’s premier pastry chefs, chocolatiers, bakers, and confectioners,  complemented by great wines, Champagnes and spirits from the Southern Wine & Spirits of NY. To benefit the Food Bank For NYC and Share Our Strength. Visit

* On Nov. 15 a Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Dinner will be held at La  Provence in San Francisco for $40 pp. Call (415) 643 4333 or

* On Nov. 15 in Chicago, Cafe Matou heralds Cru Beaujolais picked by Wine Director James Rahn, served by the glass, as well as menu specials by Chef Charlie Socher. Call 773-384-8911.
* From Nov. 15-18 the Fairmont Newport Beach, CA,  will host The American Cheesemaker Awards, featuring tastings, cheese seminars, cooking classes, an awards ceremony and gala dinner, bringing together 40 cheesemakers, cheese experts, chefs, winemakers and specialty food purveyors from around the country to rate 200 cheeses. Tickets to the Awards Dinner and Cheese Tasting are available at Bristol Farms in Mission Viejo and Newport Beach, or visit or by phone at 949-475-2331.

* From Nov. 16-25 in NYC, Dévi will be offering a 5-course "Diwali: Hindu Festival of Lights" Tasting Menu paired with wines in honor of the goddess of good fortune. $125 pp. Call 212-691-1300;

*  On Nov. 16 in NYC the nation's pastry elite descend upon the Waterfront  to celebrate SWEET, an  evening when guests can sample the  creations of premiere pastry chefs, chocolatiers, confectioners, bakers and fromagers, incl. such James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef award winners Le Bernardin's Michael Laiskonis,  Jean Georges' Johnny Iuzzini, and Karen DeMasco of Craft.  Also participating are Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Duff Goldman, Cat Cora and more.  Desserts will be complemented by wines and spirits from the Southern Wine & Spirits. Proceeds go to Share Our Strength.  Tix $200 pp. Go to

* On Nov. 17 in Dallas, Hotel St Germain will celebrate its 16th anniversary with a 7-course wine dinner, with proprietor Claire Heymann by Chef Chad Martin and  wine expert Bertrand Leulliette. $150 pp.  Call 214-871-2516.

*   On Nov. 19 in NYC, San Domenico NY will hold its annual 10-course White Truffle Gala Dinner and Auction prepared by Executive Chef Odette Fada ,in collaboration with the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreign Professionals (ICIF), Enoteca Regionale del Barolo and Regione Piemonte. Five white truffles ranging from 180-300 grams and custom-designed diamond jewelry from Brilliant Stars, will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Proceeds of the auction will benefit the Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) Giacomo Bologna Scholarship Fund. $300 pp.  Call 212-265-5959.

* From now through December, Spiaggia in Chicago is offering an 8-course
Degustazione di Tartufi Bianchi, through December,  at $245 pp, with wines, $95. Call 312-280-2750.

* In Washington, D.C.,  the Park Hyatt Washington is offering an “American Harvest package” with luxury accommodations starting at $399, available weekends through Nov. 18 and weekdays beginning Thanksgiving week, Nov. 19-25. The package incl. upgrade to a Park Deluxe room, apple pie upon arrival, preferred seating for a Thanksgiving brunch or dinner, American breakfast, and more. for two each morning in the Park Hyatt Lounge. Blue Duck Tavern will be offering Thanksgiving brunch from a fixed-price, 3-course menu at $80. Call 800-778-7477.

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. It was 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