Virtual Gourmet

June 29, 2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

"Let's Eat Out" by Gil Elvgren (1967)


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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Scarpetta by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: 2005 Bordeaux Lives Up to its Rep by John Mariani


by John Mariani


                                          "Ice Cream Stand," Berlin, Connecticut (1939). Photo by Lee Russell

     Like most people, I’m a sucker for a good mom-and-pop restaurant, of which Connecticut has been acquiring a good number, including the fine Metro Bis in Simsbury, owned by Courtney Febbroriello and her husband Christopher Prosperi; and  Rebeccas, owned by Reza  Khorshidi and Rebecca Kirhoffer; Thomas Henkelmann at The Homestead, owned by Thomas and Theresa Henkelmann;, and Restaurant Jean-Louis, owned by Jean-Louis and Linda Gerin,
all in Greenwich; and the Dressing Room in Westport, opened next to the Westport Playhouse by Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward.  Two admirable new mom-and-pops have followed in recent months, opened by people with impressive New York credentials and local addresses—Fraîche in Fairfield and Harvest Supper in New Canaan. Both, despite their small size and modest storefront locations, are among the best restaurants to open in Connecticut in the past year. A slightly older restaurant named Bricco, in West Hartford, is a brother-brother-brother operation, and it's become one of Connecticut's best modern Italian restaurants.


75 Hillside Road, Fairfield

      Fraîche is the labor of love of Marc (below) and Karen Lippman, who  years have wanted to work near where they live after Marc’s stints as chef at La Ventanas al Paraiso in Cabos, Wild Blue, in New York, and Ocean Drive in South Norwalk, CT.
     The décor is described with some irony as “urban farmhouse,” which comes together as a mix of reclaimed barn wood tables, wicker chairs, and quilt-like rugs with contemporary leather sofa, stone walls, and post-modern deer heads made from plaited wood vines. The front room is far more appealing than the rear, which is separated by an l-shaped hallway.
     Lippman’s menu is a similar mix—homey dishes always leavened with a personal twist: A roasted butternut squash soup gets a dash of coconut, coriander, and a lacing of New England maple syrup, while juicy grilled octopus “Mykonos” style comes with the triple saline tang of feta, capers, and cured lemon. Pork chop “Shake & Bake” begins with first-rate, nicely fatted, brined pork in seasoned crackers and Japanese breadcrumbs served with bitter-salty broccoli di rabe, bright Sicilian blood oranges, a sweet potato puree and baby onions.
     His seemingly old-fashioned baked pasta with melted mozzarella and tomato is enriched with veal shank, Italian sausage, pancetta bacon, and one meatball packed with veal, pork, and beef. One of the best dishes here is nonpareil Colorado lamb, both the rack and the shoulder, with eggplant cannelloni, a chunky tomato ragù, and its own natural juices—a bargain at $39.
    For dessert the Vietnamese ice coffee milkshake or “Le Kit Kat Bar” in the style of D.C. French master chef Michel Richard, made with milk chocolate and caramel ice cream, is the way to finish a stellar meal at the well-named Fraîche.
    I applaud the winelist for its very reasonably priced categories of $34, $48, and $59, with a reserve list on the back.

Appetizers $11-$19, main courses $24-$39.

Harvest Supper
15 Elm Street, New Canaan

     Harvest Supper, opened in March, is the perhaps too-cutesy name for Grace and Jack Lamb’s new small plates restaurant on New Canaan’s main shopping street. Their considerable experience includes ownership of New York’s Jewel Bako sushi bar, Jack’s Oyster Bar, and Dégustation Wine & Tasting Bar. They, too, yearned to run a restaurant near home, Greenwich, ten minutes away.
      The Lambs (left) took over a defunct pizzeria, did it up with rustic furniture, a quaint folk art mural, and close-set wooden tables. And they have invested their own spirit of Connecticut bonhomie in the room, while chef Michael Campbell, who came from the also tiny New York restaurant Hearth in Greenwich Village, has crafted a menu perfect for the size of the dining room and kitchen—five dishes each from the garden, ocean, field and air, and three desserts.
     Grace recommends ordering three or four dishes per person, and with prices ranging from $7-$17, it’s advice easy to take. I started off with hot baked potato croquettes with feta cheese, thick Greek yogurt, and a sharp jolt of  fresh horseradish. A lobster and fingerling potato crepe is lavished with sauce Bearnaise, and I would be happy to order the overstuffed yellowfin tuna sandwich with a celeriac mayo and sunchoke every time.
    Somewhat more substantial dishes include impeccably braised short ribs in a burgundy red wine-tomato glaze with truffled polenta. Heartier still is crispy pork belly with sausage stuffed into shallots, (right) and a delicious grilled Kobe-style skirt steak served on a crouton with an assertive salsa verde.
    Unless you are soulless, it is impossible to refuse desserts like “grandma’s coconut cream pie revisited with spiced cool whip,” which is a paradigm of American pastry making, the cool whip being whipped cream scented with cardomon, white pepper, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Or cinnamon toast bread pudding with apple preserves, or a flourless dark chocolate cake with praline and almond ice cream.
     Both Fraîche and Harvest Supper prove that with enough style and commitment a small restaurant can deliver the same quality and excitement the much higher-priced Gold Coast dining salons do. Mon and Pop just do it with more personal attention.

All dishes are “small plates” $7 to $17.

Restaurant BRICCO
78 La Salle Road, West Hartford

    On Billy Grant's website he writes: "Bricco is about my mother’s spaghetti carbonara. Let me explain. My mother can cook anything. She is a magician. On Sunday we would gather for dinner and no matter what was cooking in the pot, it was bound to be the sweet definition of `comfort food.' No dish spoke to me about the comforts of home more than her spaghetti carbonara. So, when my brothers, Michael and Anthony, and I started Bricco, at its heart we knew it had to be all about comfort food. Fresh, simple and honest. When combined with a glass of wine and the perfect dessert, a meal at Bricco is like the Sunday afternoon meals of my childhood. Corny, I know, but the truth often is."
      Not corny at all, as far as I'm concerned; homage to a mother's cooking is always encouraging, and Grant (above) has a whole lot on his menu that I doubt his mom never even dreamed of.  In essence, Bricco is a distillation of Grant's sentiment and his experience in working both traditional and modern Italian cuisine, and, if a Friday lunch packed to the rafters with locals was any indication, Bricco is pleasing an awful lot of people. I am a new convert myself.
     I told Billy Grant to cook as he wished and was rewarded with a first course of grilled cuttlefish, Portuguese octopus, and sea scallop, all impeccably cooked, with a simple salad of arugula, tomato confit, olives, olive oil and lemon--perfection! Then came two pastas: "Grandmother's ravioli," which did indeed have a wonderfully old-fashioned heft and flavor, stuffed with chicken and prosciutto and glossed with sage butter and tomato confit. (Did grandma actually use sage butter and tomato confit?)  Light, supple potato gnocchi were lavished with a braised lamb bolognese ragù with roasted tomatoes and minted peas. I could have eaten two plates of them.
     But then I wouldn't have had room for the beautifully cooked roasted halibut (left) --snowy, juicy, and fat--with a carrot puree, asparagus and morel mushrooms.
      For dessert there was a chocolate bombe with mango sorbet and pineapple mango salsa, a Key lime cheesecake with strawberries and whipped cream, and a delightful cannoli filled with ricotta, candied fruit, and chunks of chocolate.  Mom and grandma would be very proud.  I was simply happy as could be, reminded once again that there is terrific food served outside of the Metroplex to the south. Those fortunate to live in southern Connecticut should feel very proud of restaurants like these.

Appetizers run $6-$12, pizzas $14-$16, pastas $16-$18, main courses $18-$28.


by John Mariani


355 West 14th Street (near Ninth Avenue)


      Scarpetta is part of a second wave of restaurants to open around NYC's moribund Meat Market District in the West Village; most of the first wave have been pushed out by high rents that only high-fashion boutiques can afford, so the opening of Scarpetta is welcome, especially since its chef-owner, Scott Conant, (left) has long been considered one of NYC's finest interpreters of Italian cuisine, most recently at L'Impero and Alto uptown.  He parted ways with his partners last year, and now he has his own place, whose name means "a little shoe," a colloquialism for the crust of bread Italians use to clean their plates with.  That connotation says a lot about the kind of lusty, hearty fare that Conant is serving here, dominated at the start by primi piatti well worth sharing with a good bottle of wine from a solidly appointed list (although it could certainly use more bottlings under $75).
      From Day One Scarpetta took off with a foodie crowd that knows Conant's work, and when I visited the staff seemed a bit overwhelmed. The long room begins with a big mahogany bar that leads to a skylighted dining room room (below) with minimalist decor (the New York twilight and starlight are almost enough) and, alas, bare wood tables. Lighting is not flattering.  My biggest criticism on my visit early on was the unbearable loudness of the place, further fueled by pounding bass-and-drum notes piped through a sound system.  Conant told me they were working on baffling the sound, but the first step would be to turn off music no one can hear or care to listen to anyway.
      Those primi are among the best things in the menu: a wonderful old favorite, lightened and made bright and new, mozzarella in carozza, cooked with stewed baby tomatoes. Raw yellowtail comes simply glossed with ginger-scented oil and flaked sea salt that provide a nice textural crunch.  Grilled octopus with mint and greens was tender and good, but arrived lukewarm.  Fabulous braised ribs of beef would make a marvelous main course if the portion were only slightly larger; it is served with farro risotto and vegetables. The creamy polenta with a fricassée of truffled mushrooms had everyone battling over it at our table.  Tuna 'susci, a signature Conant item of raw fish, came with marinated vegetables and preserved truffles, and crispy fritto misto was  perfectly cooked, but a heavy seasoning of herbs overpowered everything.  My very favorite dish was the chickpea soup, a wonder of mingling flavors, with morsels of sausage and baby cabbage--a rich peasant's dish if there ever was one.
     Pastas we tried were all delicious, though portions are a tad smaller than we might have hoped at $22-$24. Simple spaghetti with tomato and basil is always welcome, while tagliatelle with a lamb ragù and fresh peas has become something of a cliché around NYC, though Conant's version is at the top of my list.   A light gracing with anchovy butter perks up ricotta raviolini with lovely golden squash blossoms, and the duck and foie gras ravioli in a Marsala reduction sums up quintessential Conant cuisine.
      By this time your appetite may be flagging but your palate should be anxious to try entrees like black cod with caramelized fennel and a concentration of tomatoes; seared, creamy-white sea scallops with mushrooms and sunchoke puree, and another well-known Conant dish, roast goat, capretto (left), as tender as can be, with peas and fingerling potatoes.  Orata, as usual, turned out not to be the tastiest fish in the sea, though here helped along with leeks and a fregola ragù.
      Desserts in Italian restaurants get better and better in America (not the case back in Italy), and Scarpetta's are among the best I've tasted in NYC, including a Key lime and torrone cheesecake with citrus salad; a caramelized apple pie with polenta crust and black pepper-dusted caramel sauce with honey-vanilla gelato; and a wonderful coconut panna cotta in a tangy-sweet guava soup with caramelized pineapple. Chocolate lovers will fall in thrall to the Amadei chocolate cake with burnt-orange caramel gelato and a dark espresso sauce.
      It's great to have Conant back cooking the kind of food on which he made his reputation at L'Impero.  The man's got soul, and it's manifested in every dish at Scarpetta, so remember to clean your plate with a morsel of bread.

Pastas, $22 to $25; main courses, $25 to $37.


2005 Bordeaux Deliver on a Promise of Greatness

by John Mariani

     The wine industry and media are overly fond of pronouncing promising Bordeaux releases as a “vintage of the century”—1982, 1989, 1990, 1995. But since we are only in the eighth year of the 21st century, I feel giddily confident that the 2005 Bordeaux is at least the best vintage of the decade—with the high prices to match.
     The most illustrious bottlings have soared out of sight for all but the wealthiest collectors of wines like Château Latour ($1,600), Château Ausone ($4,000), and Château Petrus ($5,000), despite the fact that most are already pre-sold. Even less prestigious, but still well-regarded, estates like La Mission-Haut-Brion ($950), La Mondotte ($500), and L’Église Clinet (($450), are tough to find in the market.
     Fortunately, there are an amazing number of terrific 2005 Bordeaux priced well under $100 that share the same strengths as  more famous estates.  The 2005 vintage—about 900,000 bottles--is full of bright wines with an early balance of fruit, acid, and tannin.  They are very easy to drink, even now, and it is not at all clear just how much better they will be in years to come.
      The reasons are not difficult for 2005’s excellence to understand: Good weather counted, but like everyone in the global wine market in the 21st century, Bordeaux vintners have learned how to make finer wines by cutting back grape yields, picking only the best fruit, carefully monitoring aging in the proper casks from vintage to vintage, and allowing the fruit, not the tannins or alcohol, to shine.
       Many of the wines I tasted over the last two weeks don’t have high recognition, but I found them as wonderful as Bordeaux can, and should, be.  You taste their distinctive cabernet sauvignon, with softening elements of merlot, and other varietals, they are red wines whose virtues are dimmed by sipping them without food. With red meats, poultry, and game their luster emerges, full-bodied, mineral-rich, and as satisfying with the first glass as with the second and third.
      Château Marquis d’Alesme-Becker ($34), a third growth Margaux, has come a long way in recent years. The 2005 is a superb wine, ready for the table, with big fruit and peppery flavors beneath, and at 13.5 percent alcohol, a wine to drink and drink again over the course of a dinner.

                                                                                                                                     Château d'Issan

      Another third growth Margaux, Château D’Issan ($85), was tight on first sip but blossomed quickly with a rare steak from the grill, accentuating the flavors of the beef while showing a burst of fruit and black cherry, with an edge of oak beneath.
      Château Fombrauge ($55), the largest vineyard in Saint-Émilion, is made by vintner Bernard Magrez, who also makes the famous Grand Cru Pape Clement. Fombrauge is 77 percent merlot, 14 percent cabernet franc, and just 9 percent cabernet sauvignon, unfiltered, and is a very velvety but intensely rewarding, highly refined Saint-Émilion. It is also one of the best buys of the vintage. If you can get a case, do so.
      Château Rocher-Calon was the biggest surprise of my tastings—a big, brawny Saint-Émilion to be sloshed into a glass, swirled, and enjoyed with a lamb stew, and at $17-$20, an astounding bargain.
     If you like very soft, merlot-based pomerols, the blend of 95 percent with 5 percent cabernet franc under the simple label “Pomerol Christian Moueix” ($32) is a dreamy wine for those who cannot afford Moueix’s great Château Petrus.
      I did sample some well-structured but very tannic 2005s that will take a few more years to come into focus.  Sarget de Gruaud-Larose (which ranges at retail from $40-$75), from Saint-Julien, was one of the more tannic examples—much like its better- known sister wine Gruaud-Larose, and those tannins are stubborn right now, requiring at least a year or two more to release their grip. And Château Les Gravieres ($40), a Grand Cru Saint-Emilion (not to be confused with La Graviere in Pomerol), usually made with 100 percent unfiltered merlot, was so tight that I couldn’t puzzle out what other flavors lay beneath the tannins. Give it five years.
      Vintages like this do not come along often enough, but if Bordeaux viniculture continues to modernize without losing the soul of its terroir and history, we should see more vintages like 2005 than would have been possible twenty years ago.

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 Beijing the waitresses at
Red Flag Fluttering restaurant wear green army uniforms, red armbands and greet guests saying, “I swear to Chairman Mao that I will serve you with all my heart.” The décor consists of huge portraits of Mao and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. One fried pork and red chili dish is named “The Whole Country Is Red." Restaurateur Huang Zhen said he “just wanted to recreate some historical scenes so people can remember the past.” According to China, one waitress
said, "I don't really know much about the Cultural Revolution. I was born 10 years after Mao died, but our boss says we must learn Mao's quotations by heart and dance the 'loyalty dance'," which features a group of dancers in army uniforms and with the "Little Red Book" (Mao's quotations) in hand, clenching fists symbolizing their revolutionary fervor.

FOOD WRITING 101: Try to keep references to 17th-century German astronomers to a minimum.

“Johannes Kepler used the figure panis quadragesimalis—the Lenten pretzel—to illustrate  the knotty path certain planets would have to circle the earth, but supposing the pretzel, not the sun, is the center of the universe, then Erwin Schrottner, the owner of Café Katja, might be its Copernicus. The guy who has it all figured out.”—Lauren Collins, “Café Katja,” The New Yorker (June 2, 2008).


*   In Calabasas, CA, Saddle Peak Lodge, has announced its line up for the summer/fall wine dinner series,  with a guest winemaker presenting his or her favorite vintages coupled with a 6-course dinner created by Chef de Cuisine Adam Horton and Sous Chef Chris Kufek.  $150-200 pp.  July 17: Corte Riva Vineyards;  July 31: Qupé Wine Cellars; Aug.  21--Michaud Vineyard; Sept. 5: Foxen Winery; Sept. 18: Rosenthal Malibu;  Oct. 9: Justin Winery. Call 818-222-3888. Visit

* The Museum of the American Cocktail will open the doors to its new home in New Orleans this July, inside the Southern Food & Beverage Museum at the Riverwalk Marketplace. The unique-and-expanded exhibit, designed by Curator, Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, features two hundred years of cocktail history. The mueum will be open during the "Tales of the Cocktail" event. Visit:

* From July 7-12 in NYC, Chef owner Alex Urena will celebrate the festival of San Fermin at his restaurant Pamplona, 5 courses, $65 pp. or $90 with wine pairing. Call 212-213-2328;

* On July 14 in NYC, Tribeca Grill presents a 5 -course dinner paired with beer by the famed Brooklyn Brewery with brewmaster Garrett Oliver and chef Stephen Lewandowski's contemporary American cuisine .  $75 pp.  Call 212-941-3900.

* On July 15 Angelina’s in Tuckahoe, NY, will hold a Caymus Wine Dinner, serving Meritage by Conundrum, Belle Glos Pinot Noir, and Mer Soleil Chardonnay. $100  pp. Call 914-779-7319 or visit

* On July 16 Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Chicago will celebrate its 70th Anniversary Dinner, hosted by Lawry’s chairman Richard N. Frank, and president and CEO Richard R. Frank, respectively the son and grandson of founder Lawrence L. Frank.  $70 pp. Call 312-787-5000.

* From July 17-19 in Napa the Robert Mondavi Winery’s TASTE3 conference will bring more than 300 guests together incl.  Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety; Ben Wallace, author of The Billionaire’s Vinega;  Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar in Lebanon; Dan Barber, chef/owner, Blue Hill & Blue Hill at Stone Barns; and others. Speakers’ and hosts’ bios are posted at Private winery dinners at Etude, Gargiulo, Hall Wines, Mumm, Quintessa and Rubicon Estate; a private tour of artists’ studios with Margrit Mondavi;  a hands-on exploration of “all things fermented” at the Culinary Institute of America with Master Baker Peter Reinhart; a hike up Mount Veeder with Mount Veeder Winery winemaker Janet Myers.  Visit or call  707-967-3997.

* On July 17 in Charlotte, NC, Upstream Restaurant will host a dinner featuring Napa Cellars wines, with Brian Garnett, National Sales Manager for the winery, to greet guests. and offer insight into the production of Napa Cellars vintages. Chef Tom Condron, Chef de Cuisine Scott Wallen and Pastry Chef Lauren Jakubek serve a 5-course menu. $58 pp. Call 704-556-7730.

* From July 18-20 St. Lucia's Jade Mountain will celebrate its “Mango Madness Festival--1001 things you could do to a mango before you die,"  with consulting Chef Allen Susser, author of The Great Mango Book, with a mango chutney workshop, cocktail party, tasting and demo, cooking class, and the "Night of 1000 Mangos" dinner. $250 pp. Call 800-223-1108.

* From July 19-20 at  Watkins Glen, NY,  The Finger Lakes Wine Festival, presented by Yancey’s Fancy New York’s Artisan Cheese and sponsored by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation will feature wine seminars on: Wine & Chocolate; Seven S’s of Wine Tasting; Riesling Heaven and more.   For tickets and information call 866-461-7223 or visit

*On July 19 The Chef's Garden, in Huron, Ohio is hosting it's 6th annual Food & Wine Celebration, a fund-raiser for Veggie U to support children's health. Tickets are $145 until June 1. Call  419-499-7500. Visit

*  On July 20 in Atlanta, Share Our Strength invites Georgians to join the fight against hunger at “Give Me Five,” an evening of gourmet food and wine at The Lodge at Waterfall Country Club on Lake Burton.  5-course dinner featuring Georgia grown products prepared by chefs are Scott Crawford, the Georgian Room at The Cloister at Sea Island;  Shaun Doty,  Shaun’s; Doug Turbush, Bluepointe, Robert Gerstenecker, Park 75;  Christopher Jennings, pastry chef at Park 75, with wines selected by Thomas Roberts, sommelier at the Georgian Room.  $375 pp. Visit  For rooms at  Kingwood Golf Club & Resort, call 866-546-4966.


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with three 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: Jumel Terrace B&B, NYC; Abu Dhabi.


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). . 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