Virtual Gourmet

March 30,  2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

Esquire Magazine Cover (May, 1969)

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In This Issue

DC DINING by John Mariani

: One If by Land, Two If by Sea by John Mariani

Wining and Dining in South Africa by Mort Hochstein


By John Mariani
     It’s been said that dining out for a large segment of Washingtonians means subsisting on canapés and white wine at receptions, and that the city’s restaurants slow way down during those long,  frequent Congressional recesses.   Add to that proscriptions against lobbyists lavishly entertaining pols at posh restaurants and it may sound as if the nation’s capital has little of the gastro-clout of other American cities.
     Yet nothing could be further from the truth: DC not only has a slew of fine examples of restaurants featuring American regional cuisine, but it also has one of the nation’s best Indian restaurants (Rasika, see below), Spanish restaurants (Taberna del Alabardero), Middle Eastern restaurants (Zatinya), and several outstanding Italian and French restaurants.  Each year at least two or three newcomers stir national media attention, and, even if George and Laura Bush don’t venture out of the White House much to eat, the city’s restaurants create a lot of buzz with visiting dignitaries, sports figures, and Hollywood movies stars off on a crusade.


Park Hyatt Washington
24 & M Streets, NW
202- 419 6755

   The Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Hotel manages to marry a very sleek modern look with a blazing open kitchen and enough tavern-like earmarks of golden oak and slatted chairs, Windsor benches, limestone, white oak flooring, and open kitchen to keep it homey and wholly American in style, as is Chef Brian McBride’s cooking, based on the best ingredients from around the U.S.--their provenance printed proudly on the menu. McBride's background includes everything from working the wood-burning ovens in Tokyo and open kitchens in Singapore, along with a stint at the Park Haus in Zurich. These influences show in his proficiency with grilling and roasting both meats and seafood, as well as vegetable side dishes.
Thus, you might begin with a creamy bisque made with artichokes from Kentor Canyon, California; or an array of oysters from Virginia, Washington, and Maine. Meltingly rich roasted Hudson Valley foie gras comes with spiced pumpkin hash, the juicy roast Prime bone-in ribeye is from Copper Ridge, California, and the signature roast duck is from Crescent Farms, NY, served with heirloom apples. End off with Florida Key lime and white chocolate custard with huckleberry compote, and you start to get a sense of the regional diversity of American gastronomy. And that goes for the irresistible breads and rolls here, the hoppin' john, smoky collard greens, the macaroni and cheese, and the country ham and Cheddar grits.  I only wish more American restaurants served more American food like this.
      Everything is first-class at the Tavern, including Bernardaud china, Hepp flatware, Frette linens, and Riedel wineglasses, yet there is not a whit of pretension anywhere in the place, not least at the very popular bar here where you may eat lightly.
       Blue Duck Tavern is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  First courses $8-$18, entrees $18-$26.
633 D Street NW

  I've certainly never had better Indian food than that at  Rasika—Sanskrit for “flavors”--which sets out to prove that the Indian Subcontinent has amazing regional cuisines that go far beyond mulligatawny soup and lamb vindaloo. Here, in a shimmering dining room with golden lighting, the spice colors of saffron, tamarind, and cinnamon, gauze curtains, glass beads, and impeccably set tables, Chef Vikram Sunderam shows his mastery of tandoori cooking, pilafs, biryanis, and vegetarian dishes, and he may change your mind about Indian desserts.
     Let him do a tasting menu for you, and he will bring delicacies like amazingly crispy baby fried spinach served with cooling sweet yogurt and a tamarind-date chutney minced lamb galouti, cooked on the tawa griddle, with spring onions and green chutney, or black cod sweetened with honey and spiced with star anise and red wine vinegar.  Sliced okra with dry mango powder and the creamiest of lentil dals with caramelized onions and tomato are vegetable stand-outs. His carrot halwa with a cinnamon sabayon an extraordinary show of dessert-making (right).
     The menu is broad and deep, with seven dishes done on the griddle, four barbecue style, five from the tandoor, and a dozen or more main courses as well.  There is also a substantial winelist--I actually recommend white wines with Indian food or a very heavy red like a zinfandel--along with some delectable cocktails made with mango, ginger, and other eastern fruits.
     Rasika is not just the best Indian restaurants in America; it is  also one of America's best restaurants, period.
     Rasika is open daily, with starters $7-$12 and main courses $15-$24.
Brasserie Beck
1101 K Street NW
       A true brasserie is a big beer house serving generous portions of Alsatian food, and America has never really had a good one until now. When you walk into the sprawling 165-seat Brasserie Beck, with its 22-foot ceilings, big station clocks,  and see the gleaming  marble and walnut bar with its spigots of beer and towers of glistening shellfish, you know this is the real deal.  The design echoes the brasseries of European train stations, with white tile floors and art deco railway clocks. Sit down to crusty bread with good butter and slabs of charcuterie, then wait for the choucroute, topped with a pastry dome that releases fragrant steam when cut into. Spoon out the sausages and the wine-soaked sauerkraut, and order a side of frites with rich, yellow mayonnaise for dipping.
      The Chef's Table (above) is inlaid with Delft tiles, and the marble-and-walnut bar (left),  seats 21 and offers platters of seafood.
      Chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier, who also runs the French restaurant Marcel's, is Belgian, so he proudly mixes Alsace, Montparnasse, and Antwerp on his menu, stocking more than 40 Belgian beers. Don’t miss the remarkable, Champagne-like Deus, served in a tall glass by beer sommelier Bill Catron, who gets all dewy eyed just talking about his professional passion.  If you can have a better time anywhere in Washington, you’re probably in someone’s little black book.

     Brasserie Beck is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, every day but Sunday for dinner. Appetizers range from $9-$16, main courses $17-$23. The Chef's Table offers a 5-course prix fixe at $85-$95 pp.

1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW # 106
(202) 626-0015

    As revered as he is beloved, roly-poly bearded Chef Michel Richard (below) of the decade-old Citronelle in Georgetown easily ranks among the half dozen finest French chefs in the U.S.  A master of pastry, he also has the experience to know that French cuisine is not to be trifled with and requires enormous discipline to make it right.  Which is why, upon debuting Central, his homage to the brasserie tradition of a big, loud--and boy is it ever loud!--eatery with old favorite dishes you wouldn't find on the menu at Citronelle.
    He has turned over chef de cuisine duties to Cedric Maupillier, but the place lacks the ebullience Richard himself brings to a room, and he has recently, in any case, been away from both his DC restaurants while opening Citrus at Social in L.A., where he made his mark at the original Citrus a dozen years ago.
    Central is a very handsome restaurant, big, perhaps too big to deliver careful cooking, and the bare tables really need clothing: I watched while busboys wiped down vacated tables with the soiled napkins used by the previous guests! As noted, the decibel level is beyond ear-aching, and service is overwhelmed and amateurish, and the night I visited there was a half-hour wait between courses. And, since I was sitting opposite the open kitchen, I noticed the crucial difference between a staff that really knows what it's doing and one that doesn't quite get it: I saw no one tasting any of the food going out, so how could they know if it was correct?
     This is all too bad because the food can be very good, from a charcuterie tower, at $15 per person, to hot, puffy cheesy gougères and excellent soft shell crab of the season. Churlish really, Richard has put an iceberg lettuce and blue cheese salad on the menu, and it's terrific--the crisp lettuce is a great foil to the cheese.
     Among the main courses I liked a loup de mer with baby arugula and fried chicken
with mustard sauce--admirably as southern as it is Provençal. Good old bistro-style steak au poivre was very welcome indeed at our table, but curiously enough the French fries were as flaccid as asparagus and the macaroni and cheese was insipid.
      Desserts are pretty darn wonderful, from Central Cappuccino to a Kit Kat bar à la Richard. The banana split was nothing special.  The winelist here is a closely printed two-sided sheet rich in regional French wines, many under $40 a bottle.
        There is really a lot to love on the menu here, the prices are right, and the mix of French and American prole food is jolly indeed. But I think that Central needs Richard's closer attention.  Some years ago he tried to branch out his original Citrus restaurant in Los Angeles to several cities too quickly and they suffered and flopped through inattention.  Now, with his flagship Citronelle and another in L.A., I wonder how much time Richard can spend at Central to get it right.

Central Michel Richard  is open daily for dinner and Mon.-Fri. for lunch. Dinner starters are $6-$18, main courses $16-$28.
401 Seventh Street NW, Washington DC
      You can count on the strings of a guitar the number of Mexican restaurants that are truly distinguished in the USA, mainly because so many are so predictable and standardized for a Gringo palate—a thought that would never occur to the restlessly creative mind of José Andrés, whose highly eclectic, six-seat DC restaurant minibar pays homage to the master, Catalan chef Ferran Adrià.  Now in Penn Corner, at a reincarnation of what had been a much larger Oyamel in Crystal City, Andrès has taken the small plate idea to a level that may at first remind you of the tantalizing street fare of Guadalahara;   then, on first bite, you realize you are eating some of the best Mexican food of your life.
     Chef de cuisine Joe Raffa, previously at Majestic Cafe in Alexandria and Andrès' Cafe Atlantico in Penn  Corner,  sends out hot tacos filled with chapulines (Oaxacan grasshoppers) sautéed crisp with plenty of garlic and tequila. There is an array of glistening, colorful ceviches, like the lovely sweet sea scallops shown in the photo at right.  He does carnitas of suckling pig with tomatillo sauce, pork rinds, onions, and cilantro.  Guacamole, prepared tableside, is silky and vibrantly green, and plantain fritters come stuffed with black beans and covered with coconut sauce, while pumpkin seed sauce naps seared scallops.
     For dessert the warm chocolate cake with a cream of mole poblano, a cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with crushed peanuts and cocoa beans, and served with vanilla ice cream is my pick for Dessert of the Year.

     Oyamel is open daily for lunch and dinner. Antojitos priced from $4.75-$8.50. Entrees $19-$25.

by John Mariani

One If by Land, Two If by Sea
17 Barrow Street
(near Bleecker Street)

  Consistently mentioned as one of NYC's most romantic restaurants, One If by Land, Two If by Sea (hereafter "1-2") has been the scene of more trysts, courtships, proposals, and, probably, break-ups than  any place you can imagine. It opened in 1970 on the premises of a 1754 Greenwich Village carriage house, where both Aaron Burr and John Jacob Astor once lived. With its brick interior, two working fireplaces, red cushioned chairs, wrought iron chandeliers, a delightful outdoor courtyard, and period artwork throughout that includes a reproduction of Grant Wood's "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" from which the restaurant takes its name, 1-2 has always had a congenial coziness.
     But for some years now, it has also had a certain dated, hushed stodginess, a lacy atmosphere and continental menu that may have worked its charms back in the 1970s and 1980s when guys thought it seductive to have an engagement ring baked into an apple tart and a tinkling piano play music from "Cats." Beef Wellington was all the rage.
     Owner Oscar Proust, therefore, seeing that times have changed, has not so much re-cast 1-2 as he has brought its menu into the 21st century by bringing in a first-class young chef, an Aussie named Craig Hopson (below) whose long résumé includes stints at the Hôtel d'Angleterre in Geneva, Switzerland, Troigros, Guy Savoy, and Lucas Carton in France, Circa in Brisbane, and, most recently as chef de cuisine at Picholine in NYC. Designers Christopher Hersheimer and Melissa Hamilton are also slowly, cautiously modifying the interior with more modern furniture.  Meanwhile wine director Bob Salem has been bringing an already solid winelist into focus with Hopson's culinary style.
You can eat quite extensively and inexpensively at the cozy bar here, with dishes like lamb filet with eggplant, garam masala and goat's cheese; duck liver tortellini with black trumpet mushrooms; quail à la plancha with jicama kimchee; and veal  “fingers” lime  with a chili aïoli, each $12.  There is also a selection of artisanal cheeses.
     One of the new signature dishes here is "Gruyère Gnocchi with wild Burgundy snails, yellowfoots, and bottarga," (left) which, frankly, sounded awful to me: gnocchi are very delicate in flavor, snails need help to be other than bland and chewy, and bottarga usually has a very strong flavor of roe. Yet the dish was a success, because none of the ingredients was allowed to overpower another; it worked. Seared foie gras with bacon, barley and butternut squash was a fine rendering of good duck liver and lightly sweet notes, and that lightly smoked quail á la plancha was nice and plump and juicy.
     Among the entrees I most liked the halibut poached in coconut milk with crab meat, sweet mango, and tender sea beans--wonderful textures, creaminess, sweet seafood and fruit combined. Black truffles ennobled fat creamy sea scallops with celery hearts and an apple-hazelnut tea.  The beef Wellington is still on the menu, and while I barely remember how it was cooked in the past, Hopson's seems an improvement, if only marginal. The addition of foie gras sabayon was a fine twist on the old sauce périgueux, but the idea of wrapping good beef in puff pastry just doesn't make all that much culinary sense.
     Desserts range form a charming apple buttermilk cake with cheesecake ice cream and caramel to a rich dark chocolate soufflé and a kumquat baba and tangelo, blood orange and pomelo.
      It is always encouraging to see a restaurant so beloved for what it did for so long so well adapt to contemporary tastes without losing--indeed, enhancing--its soul.  One If by Land, Two If by Sea is no longer a rare and historical curiosity;  it has the courage to change and stay enough the same that it will draw the faithful and the newcomers with equal panache.

One If by Land, Two If by Sea is open for Dinner nightly; Sunday brunch. Prix Fixe dinner $75; Bar Menu small plates $12 and $15.


                                                 The Durbanville Mountain Vineyards 

by Mort Hochstein

     When  asked to name  the prettiest vineyard view in the world,  I stick close to home, responding“The Finger Lakes of New York.”   I have also enjoyed great views in Napa and Sonoma, along the Rhine in Germany,  along  the perilously steep vineyards of Austria, amid  the swooping hills of Tuscany and the Piedmont in Italy. But  none gives me that same tingle that I get when looking out across Keuka Lake  when the autumn palette is at its most colorful.
My mind turned to  that   patch of  gorgeous nature while traveling across the lowlands and highlands and sea-bounded vineyards of
South Africa. The Cape Winelands of South Africa range over ever-changing terrain, extending approximately 100 miles north and east from Cape Town.  Grapes have been cultivated in this lush region  since the first Dutch settlers put down roots in the mid 1600’s.  Their ancient manor houses still stand amid great flowered gardens and vast vineyards.
      While the region is primarily  lowland, the changes in level, sudden ascents and descents, the switch from brown wheat fields to emerald-hued meadows and  endless ranks of vines at every turn can be breathtaking. I visited in late November when the fields blanketed with  yellows and browns and greens were a delight for eyes dulled by  the cold gray  canyons of
New York City.
The South Africans   discovered the virtues of onsite dining to a greater degree and long before winemakers in other regions. A restaurant is almost required at the larger wineries, in stark contrast to the great châteaux of
France where producers only recently began cultivating visitors as well as wine. In South Africa  restaurants are often  the destination, rather than an  adjunct to the winery.
Our  first   visit took us to Vergelegen (left), a 300-year-old property where diners eat outside at lunch and  enjoy tea time until
4 p.m. each afternoon. Under  shady, centuries' old camphor trees we enjoyed a huge sea food platter and Karoo lamb, a local specialty, both dishes showing well with wine, the fish accompanied  by  an intense, concentrated Sauvignon Blanc ‘06 reserve and the  lamb by a deep, brawny single vineyard ’05 Cabernet Sauvignon. While young, it was still a neat match, but I would like to try that beauty in another five years. Vergelegen produces a full line of European grapes and has wide distribution in the United States.
At Boschendal, one of the oldest south African wineries, we had our choice of  a picnic on the grounds which have remained much the same for nearly three centuries, a light lunch served under a squadron of spreading oaks (right), or a huge indoor buffet which offered local specialties as well as continental fare. We opted for the buffet,
and it was sinfully good, with freshly made seafood and veggies and meats flowing from the kitchen in a non-stop  relay. Almost too extravagant, too  much to chose from, particularly at dessert time.
       Boschendal, nestled in a mountain bordered valley, is not the place for anyone trying to visit three wineries in one day.  There are just too many sights to absorb in this enclave of stately gabled homes,  thatched cottages, gardens and towering old oaks.   Taking in the   grandeur of the grounds, graceful tree lined gardens and charming historical buildings could require an entire day of   a relaxed,  unhurried wine tasting adventure.
      The property was once owned by Cecil John Rhodes, diamond mining millionaire, imperialist, statesman and father  of the Rhodes Scholars program; he acquired it  in 1896 from Huguenots who had   raised grapes there for nearly two centuries. Boschendahl’s vines were devastated by phylloxera soon after,  so Rhodes switched crops, adding ten nearby farms as the site for  Rhodes Fruit Farms and his own canning factory.    Not until the 1990s, two owners later,  was the property once more dedicated to wine grapes.
        At the humbly named Goatshed at Fairview Winery, food service starts at breakfast time and  proceeds to deli and fine dining possibilities at noon with  pastrami, Italian salami  and Parma Ham on the sandwich  menu, and more sophisticated  dishes such as lamb shoulder curry, panfried red snapper with green curry dressed with coconut coriander sauce,  duck, beef fillet and other more elegant items also available.
The Goatshed, of course, takes its name from a goat raising venture  conducted by the winery’s colorful owner Charles Back (right) and  also is an allusion to  Goats Do Roam, his  none-too-subtle, French-hackle-raising take-off on Côte du Rhone.  It seems as if   sales of Goats Do Roam tee-shirts and sweaters  occurred just as frequently  as traffic  in  the bottles of the same name.
Fairview’s many levels of wine include excellent Shiraz, a Dom Pagel Semillon that is one of the best on the Cape and a laudable Viognier.
Meerendal Manor House, the gracious  old Dutch
Homestead that is the headquarters for Meerendal Wine Farm sits on the slopes of the Tygerberg Hills near Durbanville. Its restaurant,  Wheatfields,  is a target for Cape Town families who come frequently on Sundays to enjoy  a buffet table groaning with goodies from nearby farms and   waters just a half hour away.  The winery releases a half dozen varietals and a blended red. Its fields hold some of the oldest Pinotage and Shiraz Vineyards on the Cape.  Meerendal’s Prestige line includes the overpowering Bin 159 Shiraz, a powerful big black monster with earthy, minty notes. At that same level, look for the Heritage Block Pinotage made from 60-year-old, low-yielding bush vines, a wine that can only improve over the next decade. Meerendal is also  one of a small number  of top Chenin Blanc producers.  The  ’06   is a highly concentrated wine with scents of orange blossom and tropical fruit.
       Amidst all the old colonial wineries on the South African wine map, it is almost a shock to come upon the starkly modern Durbanville Hills (left), its sharply angled walls looking out toward Table  Bay and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela, hero-father of post-apartheid South Africa, spent most of his 27 years in jail,  and toward Table Mountain and Cape Town, a 20 minute drive to the East. The gleaming, pristine facility is almost totally mechanized and it seems as if Durbanville’s gregarious wine master Michael Moore runs the place himself from a bank of computers. Not really so, but Moore is all over the place, greeting visitors, conducting  a food and wine pairing demo in the restaurant (right), checking his tanks, and joining guests for a drink on the balustrades as they watch the setting sun in the late afternoon. Moore is a talented chef and his newsletter frequently includes a recipe for exotic local dishes, such as monkey gland sauce, and a whole range of native dishes such as sosaties, sousbourtjies and potbroad, that last being a venison dish.  Tongue-twisting names  aside,  a visit to the Restaurant is often the main point of  a country-ride   for   Cape Town residents.
   His wines, the top-rated reserves and the second level Rhinofields line, have propelled Durbanville Hills into the upper   ranks of South African producers since the winery was formed in 2001.   Our favorites after a late   afternoon tasting were a blackberry-scented ’03 Luipardsberg single vineyard Merlot reserve, a rich chocolate flavored Cabernet Sauivignon-Merlot blend from the same vintage and  a fresh young Rhinofields ‘06  Chardonnay , laden with peach and apricot flavors tangy by a tinge of acidity.

Part Two of this article will follow within a few weeks.

Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, has written  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.


"Parents will do almost anything to get their kids to eat healthier, but unfortunately, they’ve found that begging, pleading, threatening, and bribing don’t work. With their patience wearing thin, parents will `give in' for the sake of family peace, and reach for 'kiddie' favorites-often nutritionally inferior choices such as fried fish sticks, mac n’ cheese, Pop-sicles, and cookies. Missy Chase Lapine, former publisher of Eating Well magazine, faced the same challenges with her two young daughters, and she sought a solution. Now in The Sneaky Chef, Lapine presents over 75 recipes that ingeniously disguise the most important superfoods inside kids’ favorite meals. With the addition of a few simple make-ahead purees or clever replacements, (some may surprise you!) parents can pack more fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants in their kids’ foods. Examples of 'Sneaky' recipes include:

·  No Harm Chicken Parm
·  Power Pizza
·  Incognito Burritos
·  Guerilla Grilled Cheese
·  Brainy Brownies
·  Health-by-Chocolate Cookies
·  Quick fixes for Jell-O(R) "--Press Release for The Sneaky Chef : Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine (Running Press).



A British man named Adam Deeley, 34, choked to death during a cupcake-eating contest at a pub in Wales, competing with his friends to see who could eat more of the "fairy cakes" that were left over from a party at the Monkey Cafe and Bar in Swansea. "It is thought Mr Deeley had around five of the cakes lodged in his throat," according to the South Wales Evening Post says.  "It was a tragic accident and very sad and should serve as a cautionary tale," the nightclub's owners told  BBC News.


* On March 31, in Washington, DC,  Taberna del Alabardero has partnered with Gonzalez Byass  to present a Sherry Tasting Dinner paired with Chef Dani Arana's Spanish cuisine.  $90 pp. Call 202-429-2200.

* Valley restaurant in Garrison, NY,  debuts its new “Eat Local” menu concept every Thursday, with co-chefs Brandon Collins and Vinny Mocarski, and pastry chef Laura Digiorno creating 3- three-course menus built around one seasonal ingredient sourced from one or more local farms. $40 pp.Valley's Eat Local menu will be posted on website each week Call 845- 424-3604.

   From April 1-15 NYC Executive chef/owner Turgut Balikci of Bodrum is launching a special Kebab Festival with a wide variety of specialty kebabs (Adana Kebab, Urfa Kebab, Antep Kebab, Hashash Kebab, and others), priced $19-$22.  Call 212-799-2806; visit

* On April 3 in New Orleans, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse will host a “Select Abita Beer Dinner” paired with cuisineby Chef Jack Martinez and Executive Sous-Chef Alfred Singleton. Call 504-521-8310. $75 pp.

*On April 4-6 The 2008 Greater New York Wine & Food Festival at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, presents a special Casino Night featuring a vertical tasting of the full line of Dewar’s and Aberfeldy Scotch, along with classic cocktails to enjoy with the creative menu offered by Chef Peter X. Kelly. The festival will also showcase more than 35 internationally and locally acclaimed chefs and 40 restaurants at the Grand Tasting Hall.  Tix from $75 pp for the Grand Tasting to $350 for a full weekend pass. Lodging packages available by visiting

* On April 6 at Acme Chophouse Taste of the Nation SF  will be hosted by Traci des Jardins along with former competitors from "The Next Iron Chef" for a meal, with wines from top sommeliers. Chefs incl. Michael Symon, Chris Cosentino, Gavin Kaysen and  Elizabeth Faulkner. $250-$300 pp.  or call 1-877-26-TASTE.
* On April 15 in Highwood, IL, Chef Gabriel Viti and Sommelier Robert Bansberg of Gabriel’s welcome Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars in NapaValley for a 4-course wine dinner. $125 pp.  Call 847-433-0031;

From April 16-19 the Craft Brewers Conference will be held at: Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, San Diego, CA, with more than 1,600 of the world’s leading brewers, brewery owners, and brewing supply professionals and over 130 vendors. Also, the World Beer Cup International Competition. Not open to the public.

* On April 19 & 20 Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur will cook with David Kinch of  Manresa in Los Gatos,  for an 8-course dinner at $195 pp, with sommelier-selected wine pairings available. Call 408-354-4330.  Visit

* On April 21 Chianti Classico & The Tuscan Nose: The Chianti Classico Wine Consortium will present a tasting of over 200 Black Rooster wines produced in the Chianti region, kicked off by a sensory experience of Tuscany: 27 different  aromas (“The Essence of Chianti Classico”) created by Italian perfumer, Lorenzo Villoresi. The tasting will take place 583  Park Avenue  in NYC.  $40 entrance fee will be donated in its entirety to Slow Food USA. Call 212-929-7700.

* On April 22, 2008, Chicago’s Cafe Matou will celebrate Earth Day with an eco-friendly menu. Chef Charlie Socher will prepare dishes featuring organic Berkshire pork, free-range eggs and chicken, plus local and seasonal ingredients, and an organic cocktail by Wine Director James Rahn. Call 773-384-8911. Call 773-384-8911; visit

* On April 23 in Chicago and Schaumburg, IL,  Shaw's Crab House celebrates Administrative Assistant Day. Lunch at Shaw's and your administrative assistant will receive a $25 gift certificate. Call 312-527-2722 (Chicago) or 847-517-2722 (Schaumburg);

* On April 26  the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association holds its  “8th Annual Vineyard to Vintner: On the Trail of World Class Cabernet,” with a fun and informative sensory seminar by author and educator Karen MacNeil, followed by 14 private winery open houses and culminating in a vintner-hosted fun and entertaining dinner at the Stags' Leap Winery.  $40-$290 pp.  Call 707-255-1720;

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, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin .

John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, Diversion.,, and Cowboys and Indians.  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 2008