Virtual Gourmet

May  25, 2008                                                              NEWSLETTER

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Eating K-Rations, Tunisia, 1943


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In This Issue

by John Mariani

:   Bottega del Vino and Mia Dona by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: 30 Years of Solaia Shows What a Super Tuscan It Is by John Mariani


by John Mariani

       However friendly intercity feuds may be, neither contender likes it when the other gets more media attention. And that seems to be the case these days with Portland, Oregon, whose competitiveness with Seattle has been going on for a long time now.  But until recently, Seattle had most of the bragging rights when it came to restaurants and food.  Its Pikes Market alone is a pretty astinishing place.
       I take no sides on the issue except to say that Portland has come very far very fast in catching up with its larger competitor on the gastronomic front, and that ranges from cafes and bread stores to fine restaurants.
Like Vancouver, Portland has a very vibrant restaurant scene, but it's based largely on the reputation of small, individualistic establishments rather than upscale dining rooms. Along these lines are several new restaurants that have managed to develop a very faithful clientele of people who like to eat casually and well.


529 NW 23rd Street

  Chris Israel (below) must surely be the only chef to have taken a sabbatical from the restaurant biz to become an associate art director at Vanity Fair.  Before that he had given Portland some real culinary snap upon opening Zefiro in 1990, which was one of my favorite restaurants in the city at a time when modern gastronomy was just burgeoning there.
     Now he’s back in Oregon as chef at 23Hoyt and is again setting the agenda for a style of Mediterranean cuisine that is seriously dependent upon the magnificent seafood and provender of the Pacific Northwest.
    The two-story premises obviously have his esthetic touch all over them, along with partner Bruce Carey, who also trained in the visual arts and did stints at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe, Square One, and Fog City Diner before moving to Portland, where he also runs Bluehour, saucebox, and clarklewis. Thus, you could start off at the ground floor bar (right) with a glass of sauvignon blanc from the Willamette Valley and nibble on fried rice croquettes oozing mozzarella, or a freshly ground burger on brioche bun with jack cheese, bacon and French fries. There's always good jazz on weekends at 23 Hoyt.

     Up a few steps in the dining room you can snuggle into an out-of-the way banquette corner with a bottle of BlackCap Pinot Noir while dining by candlelight on lovely chickpea soup with a little bite of smoked paprika and a swirl of olive oil and, or roasted Alaskan halibut with grilled summer squash, fennel, and herbaceous sauce vierge. The new summer 2008 menu lists other Mediterranean-inflected dishes like s
pätzle with braised rabbit, leeks, cremini mushrooms, chives, crème fraîche, crispy shallots and dill; sautéed Idaho trout with sauce rémoulade, roasted potatoes and spinach; and lamb shank printanier with baby turnips, carrots, new potatoes, snap peas, tomato and white wine and herbs.
    Oregon is one of the great farm states for summer berries, so if Israel is listing the blueberry crisp with crème fraîche ice cream or the raspberry sorbet with vanilla shortbread or the rhubarb cobbler with cornmeal topping and crème fraîche ice cream, don't miss them.
     The winelist is solid, about 150 labels, all nicely printed on the back of the menu, with scores of wines under $50 and plenty of Oregon and Pacific Northwest wineries in proud array.
       23Hoyt has charm to burn and the kind of neighborhood congeniality that accrues to corner bistros like The Spotted Pig in NYC and Herbsaint in New Orleans--but only when they’re done with this kind of stylish panache.

Dinner appetizers run $6-$14, main courses $19-$30. Dinner only is served Tues.-Sat.

pok pok

3226 SE Division Street

      Portland has a good number of Asian restaurants—Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese—and one of the finest, the three-year-old Pok Pok, is run by chef Andy Ricker.   You could easily pass right by Pok Pok and not have a clue that this is one of the best Asian restaurants in Portland; it was named "Restaurant of the Year for 2007" by The Oregonian food critic Karen Brooks. It looks a bit ramshackle, the Richmond neighborhood is taking its time gentrifying, and the outdoor tables put you more in mind of a burger stand.  Inside there are about 12 tables in an area called the Whiskey Soda Lounge, and you can readily imagine American servicemen once upon a time dropping by here for a cold one in any city in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos.
But it is here that Ricker has truly devoted himself to reproducing as much as possible the kinds of street foods he loves in Southeast Asia, after a lifetime of frequent travels there.  Today he himself leads occasional tours to the region. You can readily tell this man has found his passion, for he translates it with such fervor in every dish he produces out of his tiny kitchen.
      Pok Pok (the name is from the sound of a pestle hitting a mortar to grind ingredients) serves up big bowls and platters like savory roasted game hen with green papaya salad and sticky rice. Ricker's northern Thai curry noodle soup teems with chicken on the bone in coconut milk and is zinged with roast chile paste; khao kha muu is leg of pork stewed in soy and spices with pickled mustard greens. Don't bring much money: Nothing runs more than $14 here.                   Photo: Portland

     Best thing to do is just point to anything on the broadside menu--maybe a starter of yam khai dao, a salad pf crispy fried egg, plenty of chilies, Chinese celery, onions, carrots, lime and a fish sauce dressing with a bit of palm sugar in it, served with jasmine rice. Move on to khao kha muu, a wonderfully, savory stew of pork leg in soy sauce with pickled mustard greens , a boiled egg, and a chile dipping sauce.  The foot is spicy but not necessarily so overpowering hot with chilies that you can't taste anything else, which is the balance that a good Asian chef wishes to achieve. Desserts include coconut ice cream sandwich with jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts and sweet sticky rice.
     Pok Pok also offers an array of cocktails, classic and novel, like the tamarind whiskey sour and a bloody Mary made with Thai chilies. 
     Everything is of a piece here, and Ricker is not so much out to impress you as to feed you in a style he both loves and wants more people to know about, without any formality about it.

Pok Pok is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. Menu prices at dinner range from $8-$14. Cash only.

215 SE 9th Avenue

   Unlike Pok Pok, Biwa has the more conventional look of an Asian restaurant, in this case one focusing on "ramen, udon, yakitori, sashimi, sake, kimchi, gyoza" and other Japanese items that form the basis of izakaya eateries, which are basically drop-in places to get sake and drinks and stay for casual food.  It's a pleasant place, barebones in most ways, with a bar, some tables, and not much else. From 5:00 PM till 6:30 there's a happy hour that mirrors that after-work period in Tokyo or Osaka,  when you can do sake flights, and Monday night they do tabletop nabe cooking from a simmering pot.
     Much of the menu is taken up with noodles--bog bowls of steaming, thick, chewy udon wheat noodles with daikon and green onions, or you can order them chilled.  The thinner broth noodles known as ramen are also offered in may ways, with add-ons of eggs, barbecued pork belly, corn (Saporo style) and oxtail and tongue.
     Traditional yakitori is served, as well as freshly made hiya yakko soft tofu.  Maguro poke donburi is yellowfin tuna sushi with ginger and shoyu flavor over seasoned rice, and shioyaki saba is salt-grilled mackerel with grated daikon. The gyoza are tender and pork filled, the yukke (odd name) is Korean-style beef tartare with a quail egg. It's all simple, very fresh, and very good, with nothing on the menu over $12.  Biwa does what it does modestly and aims simply to please.


by John Mariani

7 East 59th Street

   NYC's Bottega del Vino has, after three years, gone from being a reasonable facsimile of the original in Verona, Italy, to an Italian restaurant that stands out all on its own.
   The original, opened 120 years ago, has long been a mecca for wine lovers, with 3,000 different wines and 130,000 bottles; its food has been Veronese, hearty and good. In NYC those basic tenets have been added to, so that in addition to a superb winelist, the menu ranges farther than the Veneto for inspiration. This is all to the good, for at the beginning the food was not as good as in Verona  (ingredients do count), and it's taken some time for the restaurant to distinguish itself. The owner of both restaurants is Severino Barzan.

     The premises certainly evoke the original's rustic, historic decor--yellow walls are lined with shelves crammed with wine bottles. Folkloric motifs are painted on dark wooden pillars, and there are Italian gastronomic sayings stenciled about, including "Dio mi guardi da chi non beve vino"--God protect me from those who don't drink wine.
   You may wish to begin with antipasti like fresh buffalo mozzarella or a creamy mix of polenta with mushrooms, salami, and taleggio cheese.  The bean and pasta soup called pasta e fasoi is a lusty way to begin an evening, and the black, squid ink spaghetti with bay scallops (when available) and arugula is a good marriage of Veronese tradition with American seafood. The gnocchi are tender and properly al dente, made with potato and beet, lavished with a creamy vegetable sauce.  Chitarucci pasta ina duck ragù was terrifically flavorful. The signature pasta here is tortellini della Bottega, filled with braised beef and prosciutto and dusted with porcini powder.
     I have not found the seafood to be the kitchen's strong suit--although a recent serving of roasted sea bass in a balsamic glaze was delicious in its simplicity--and the more complicated those dishes become the less successful they are. Much better are
Chef Massimiliano Covertini's meat dishes, including a roasted veal chop in a rich porcini mushroom sauce;  impeccably  sautéed veal liver in olive oil and sweet onions, served with polenta; and the really wonderful  brasato di manzo all'amarone--braised beef in a wine-dark Amarone sauce, with polenta.  With such dishes I highly recommend a wine of the Veneto region, like a valpolicella ripasso or an Amarone, of which there are dozens of examples on this stellar list.
      Desserts are rightfully rich--a cheese cake made with buffalo ricotta; panna cotta with creamy chocolate-hazelnut Nutella; and housemade ice cream. A semifreddo with lychees and cassis purée was rather dull, but a flourless chocolate soufflé with wild cherries and vanilla ice cream can stand with any in the city.

     BDV opens daily at 8 AM for Italian breakfasts of pastries and coffee, and they serve panini throughout the day. At dinner antipasti run$12-$22, pastas $20-$24 (as main courses), with entrees $26-$42.

mia dona
206 East 58th Street

      my admiration for Chef Michael Psilakis and partner Donatella Arpaia could hardly be higher with regard to how they have transformed culinary concepts about Greek and Mediterranean food at Anthos (I chose Psilakis as "Chef of the Year" for Esquire's Best New Restaurants 2007) and his more casual Greek restaurant Kefi (now being expanded).
         Self-taught and possessed of tremendous energy, Psilakis has  a knack for bringing the best of tradition into the 21st century, with a definite American swagger.  Arpaia, meanwhile, runs the front of the houses with aplomb and a sure sense of design.  They have several projects in the air at one time, including the re-opening of their first restaurant together, Dona, which was also one of my best new restaurants of the year it opened.
       Mia Dona is Psilakis' take on Italian food in a lustier vein than the exquisite renderings of his modern Greek food at Anthos.  This in itself is laudable enough, and Mia Dona is a more casual place, though it still has its fetching swank in its zebra carpets, white-covered books, huge mirror, and Fonasetti plates hung on the wall. Tables are clothless. The place is loud, the waitstaff a little frantic.  The winelist, though building, was hardly impressive when I visited a few weeks ago.
       Psilakis is a Greek-American and Arpaia an Italian-American, bloodlines they put to good advantage at Dona.  But at Mia Dona the food doesn't always come together and seems too quickly thought out rather than thought through, quite possibly because the two of them have so much--excuse the pun--on their plate right now. Mia Dona seems more like a good opportunity than a distinctive restaurant; I found much of the food good but not all that wonderful.
       Very good indeed was an arugula and chicory salad with grilled onions, oven-dried tomato, aged provolone cheese, a bite of pepperoncini, and a chianti vinaigrette--a bargain at $8. Indeed, prices across the menu are very reasonable, with nothing above $25, and half-portions of pastas $11-$13. There are also some good Italian wines in carafe, from $9-$13.
     The rich, delicate taste of burrata, the cream-centered buffalo mozzarella, was compromised by blood orange, red onion, balsamico, and fennel dusted with an assertive dill. Spiedini of grilled quail, merguez sausage sweetbreads, pork involtini, and lamb polpetti was a nice idea, as was crispy rabbit on the bone with salt-and-vinegar fingerling potato chips, and a cucumber rémoulade. Dull in flavor was warm calf's tongue with a poached egg, mushrooms, and pecorino cheese.
     The pastas we tried included a pappardelle with a white bolognese sauce (without tomato), toasted hazelnuts, and pecorino--O.K. but very gummy that night. Bigoli with sausage, broccoli di rabe, lentils, chilies, and pecorino was not very pretty but had plenty of hearty flavors, while gnudi--"naked"--pasta with sheep's milk ricotta, truffle butter, mushrooms, crispy Speck, and sage was undercooked.
      We enjoyed a mixed grill of lamb chop, rib, cotechino, bone marrow, salsa verde, and lemon, again dished out with no idea to color or presentation; an olive oil-poached cod with broccoli di rabe, calamari, clams, and a sun-dried tomato pesto that had too much going on,;and a not very pleasant hockey puck of braised veal breast with almost raw escarole and cannellini beans.
      Mia Dona needs focus; moreso, it needs commitment of a kind that a very busy chef like Psilakis may not be able to provide while keeping all the balls in the air of his various enterprises.  Hubris is a good Greek word for believing one's powers limitless. Perhaps it's time for Psilakis and Arpaia to stand back, slow down, and smooth everything out before embarking on another restaurant adventure.
Mia Dona is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., Brunch Sat. & Sun., and dinner nightly.



30-Year Retrospective of Solaia Shows
What a Super Tuscan Really Is

by John Mariani

     When Marchese Piero Antinori first produced a single vineyard blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc in 1978, it was a wine that deliberately diverted from government regulations as to what grapes could and could not go into traditional Tuscan appellations like Chianti Classico. As a result, Solaia and other renegade Tuscan wines like Sassicaia, Ornellaia, and Antinori’s own Tignanello were only allowed to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” later “IGT” (Typical Geographic Indication).
     Yet it was clear from the start that these non-traditional  wines were far superior to Chianti Classico and, with the exception of the great Brunello di Montalcino, most other Tuscan reds. In the trade they were dubbed “Super Tuscans.”
      “Solaia coincided with the incredible revolution in Italian wine when vintners began focusing on quality rather than quantity,” said Antinori at a wine media tasting and luncheon at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant, where Solaia was first introduced in the U.S. back in 1979.
     “It has now been 30 years we have been making Solaia,” he said, “and it has evolved over that period depending on what we’ve learned and what we want to express about elegance and finesse. The first two vintages were blends of only cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, but eventually we began to add sangiovese, and each year adjusted the amounts of the varietals in the blend.”
      Imperially slim and impeccably dressed in a dark gray suit and blue tie, the Marchese, 69, whose family has been making wine for more than 600 years, epitomizes Tuscan nobility in the 21st century.  Together with his daughters Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia (right), he is intimately involved with the business of Antinori wines and tirelessly promotes them throughout the world, along with the company’s other labels, which include holdings in Piedmont, Puglia, and Umbria, as well as in California, Washington State, Hungary, Chile, and Malta.
      Antinori reeled off his own stipulations for a wine to be great: “First, it needs complexity; it cannot be a simple wine; next it must have consistency: it should be at least as good 30 minutes after you drink the first glass. Third, it must have aging potential, and last, a great wine should give you both intellectual and mystic pleasure.”
       All these attributes were amply on display at Le Cirque that afternoon, with 10 different vintages poured, from the first, 1978, to the yet-unreleased 2005.  One vintage, the 1985 ($380), had lost all appeal and showed oxidation; others, like the 2001 ($170), tasted delicious right now, with silky tannins and layers of flavor, though Antinori insisted “one must be patient for four or five years with this vintage.”
      The 1978 ($520)was remarkably sound, with enormous depth, while the 1988 ($260), from a very small vintage, had lively vegetal and spice notes, with semi-firm tannins.  The 1990 ($400) was richly masculine, a wine of brawn, with years to go; Antinori declared it a “great vintage, though not as elegant as we first thought.”  One of his own favorites was the 1994 ($200), a more feminine wine with brilliant color, vibrancy, and freshness.
      The 1997 ($450), once considered the greatest vintage of the last century in Tuscany, was thinner than I expected, its tannins mellowed out. The 1999 ($220) clearly needs at least two more years to open up and to mellow out the oak and tannins.
      The 2005, which should be released next year, had a medium body and backbone, having spent 24 months in new oak and then being bottled last December. “Solaia absolutely needs bottle aging to realize its potential,” declared Antinori.
      At the luncheon the estate’s delicately fruity white wine from Umbria, Cervaro della Sala 2005 ($40), a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent grechetto, was served with a lustrous lobster risotto. Then, with a succulent roasted loin of veal in morel cream sauce, the 1997 Solaia was poured, and with the Italian cheese course the 2004 ($170), whose youth was a virtue with strong cheeses like gorgonzola cremificato, piave, and robiola bosina.
       By day’s end I came away convinced that Solaia is indeed one of the greatest red wines of Italy or anywhere else, and that, despite so many variations and adjustments over the years, the wine has kept its essential Tuscan character of velvety elegance and complexity.  I can hardly wait for its 40th birthday.

The prices quoted above are an average of listings at for various vintages of Solaia.

NEXT WEEK: The Other Antinori Super Tuscan--Ornellaia

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.


Thoroughly Danish?

“I piled the red jelly, white ice cream, black chocolate and frozen white nuggets [of nitrogen-treated elderberry flowers] into my mouth, half-expecting the mass to burn through my body and downward toward China.  Instead they burst on my tongue and crackled like Pop Rocks.  Thoroughly Danish, impressively innovative and potentially explosive, they seemed apt symbols of the new Copehagen dining scene.”—Seth Sherwood, “The Coming of Age of Nordic Cuisine,” NY Times (May 4, 2008).


A restaurant in Changchun, Cina, allows fancy fish to swim in a four-meter long trough in the men's room (left)

.  A spokesman for the restaurant said  the urinal contained a mixture of urine and water  not harmful to the fish.

"It's not much different to a fish tank," he said.

 The owner said the fish were intended only as an attraction and not served on the menu.

In response to my article last week on the Best Foodie Movies, I received several delightful and informative emails, including this:

Dear John,
Enjoyed your newsletter as always. One clarification.  In 'Tortilla Soup', you have the name correct, but Carmen is the middle sister, not the youngest.  The youngest, Maribel, is played by Tamara Mello.  I would also like to put in a vote for a future list to contain 'Dinner Rush', which in addition to being an excellent changing-of-the-guard food movie also has a great soundtrack.  The songs from which, curiously, are almost impossible to find anywhere.
     Best regards, Eric Rubin, Managing Partner Tres Agaves Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Lounge, San Francisco.


* From June 1-Aug. 28 The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, CA and  MacArthur Place Inn ( is featuring the “Girl and the Fig Spa Package,” available Sunday-Thursday, incl.:- 2 nights accommodations;  Girl and the Fig Cookbook autographed by Author, Sondra Bernstein;  One 100-minute “Figs from the Garden” spa treatment per person;  Dinner for two at Girl and the Fig;  complimentary continental breakfast buffet and evening wine and cheese reception.  $649-950 per night.  Two night stay is required.  Visit

* On June 1 in NYC, Union Square Cafe’s array of wines from the late Valentino Migliorini, of Rocche dei Manzoni, will be p;aired to Chefs Michael Romano and Carmen Quagliata multi-course feast of  la cucina Piemontese. $300 Call 212-243-4020.

* On the first Tuesday of every month, NYC’s Sanctuary T’s Dawn Cameron takes tea lovers on a “virtual” tasting tour of a tea region of the world.  This First Annual Iced Tea Festival begins June 3 with a “Chillin’ with Iced Tea” tea slam.”   The admission fee will go to benefit City Harvest. Call 212-941-7832. Visit

•    On June 3 in Highwood, IL,  Chef Gabriel Viti and Sommelier Bob Bansberg at Gabriel’s Restaurant will present "Ernest Hemingway’s Table – A Feast," to celebrate the renowned author’s passion for food and wine, a 5-course menu with wines. $125 pp.  Call 847-433-0031. Visit

* The Hotel Cipriani  in Venice, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a  double-room rate of US$6 to the first 5 guests booking directly through the hotel’s Web site ( rate of opening night at the hotel in 1958.

* On June 11 & 12, the leading wineries of Brazil will host their first-ever Chicago tastings.  A tasting for trade and media professionals will be hosted at BIN 36 on June 12, and a special consumer tasting event ($35) will be offered at Just Grapes in Chicago on June 11, featuring Brazilian hors d'oeuvres and Latin jazz. Call 312-627-9463;

*  In Monaco The Hôtel de Paris’ Wine Cellar package features a private tour and wine tasting in Les Caves, now through Jan. 4, 2009, at $2,434 for two. Package incl. accommodations for two nights, buffet breakfast,  dinner and drinks for two at “Le Grill,." Call (800) 595-0898;  visit

 * On June 14 In Santa Monica, CA,   Akasha Richmond of Akasha ,  Govind Armstrong of Table 8, Gregory Foos of  Ocean & Vine,  Joe Miller of Joe’s Restaurant,  Katsuya Uechi of Katsu-Ya, Neal Fraser of Grace and BLD restaurants ,    Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen, and Michael Green of Gourmet Wine & Spirits Consultant  will attend Gourmet magazine’s annual Gourmet On Fire!   Tickets are $90 pp before June 1, $100 after;  Visit; or call 1-877-490-3337. Proceeds benefit The Southland Farmer’s Markets Association.

*   This summer The Bedford Village Inn and Restaurantin New Hampshire hosts 5 renowned chefs who will be participating in its 2008 Chefs Invitational Series.   One guest chef per month will appear in the inn's Overlook Room for 4-course, $85 dinners with wine. Schedule incl: June 19--Jason Tucker, Executive Chef, TRESCA  Boston; July 31--Chef Renee Bajeux, LA PROVENCE  Lacombe, Louisiana; Aug. 14 ---Kurtis Jantz, NEOMI’s at Trump International Hotel  Miami, Florida; Sept. 18 --Donald Link, COCHON and HERBSAINT  New Orleans; Oct. 16 --Matthew Levin, LACROIX at the Rittenhouse  Philadelphia; Nov. 14 --Lorenzo Polegri,  ZEPPELIN  Orvieto, Italy. Individual chefs' menus and bios are available online at; Call 800-852-1166.

* From June 18-22 at La Samanna in St. Martin will hold its Gastronomic Week Act II culinary event, with chefs from five Orient-Express properties worldwide, as well as wine pairings from five different wineries.  Chefs incl. Raymond Blanc, from the Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons in Oxfordshire, England; Francesco Carli, from Copacabana Palace in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil,;Daniel Echasseriau from La Samanna; John Greeley from 21 Club, New York City; and Wilo Benet from Pikayo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Call 590 590 87 64 00; Toll-free US: +1(800) 854-2252.

* On June 20-22 in Chicago,  The 11th Annual Taste of Randolph Street presented by Miller Lite and Bank of America will be held in the Randolph Street corridor, Highlights incl. popular local and national musical acts on the Southwest Airlines Main Stage, dishes from the West Loop neighborhood’s best restaurants, a wine garden, and chef cooking demonstrations at the Taste of Randolph Street Culinary Pavilion presented by Whole Foods Market. $10 suggested donation goes towards the West Loop Community Organization. Visit or call 312.458.9401.

* On June 28 in Daytona Beach Shores, FL, The Shores Resort & Spa presents the 6th Annual Shores Wine & Food Festival, with 150 allocated wines from around the World and a silent auction, to benefit local scholarship funds.  $149 for the night or The Shores Grand Tasting Package for Two Starting At $254. Call (800) 934-SHORES 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: THIS WEEK: 1.The Merrion Hotel, Dublin reviewed; 2. Biking in Vermont and New Hampshire; 3. Jacob Collins paints the Maine landscape


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


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). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. 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, 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.

My 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

© copyright John Mariani 2008