Virtual Gourmet

September 14, 2008                                                          NEWSLETTER

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in "Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)

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In This Issue

CABO SAN LUCAS by Edward Brivio

NEW YORK CORNER: Matsugen by John Mariani



by Edward Brivio
Photos by Bobby Pirillo

    Tumbling down a high cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the southern tip of Baja California, is the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort in Cabo San Lucas.
       Half-way up the hill (actually about 25 stories above sea-level) is the grand entranceway: a flagstone-paved courtyard built around a hand-carved stone fountain. Inside, the marble lobby is decorated with beautiful antiques and artifacts, among them, a massive silver altar piece from the 19th century, a larger than life-size, polychrome statue of the Archangel Michael, and two life-size wicker katrinas,  that is,  the elegantly dressed skeletons that are unique to Mexican culture. A collection of 17th and 18th Century art, as well as tasteful, hand-crafted reproductions complete the luxurious Colonial decor.

     The “hacienda-style” architecture works well for this sprawling complex of  multi-story buildings, and everything looks fresh and brand new. Well-manicured lawns and flowerbeds are maintained by a small army of gardeners, while another small army takes care of housekeeping, transportation, and all-around guest wish-fulfillment. Accommodations are world-class, with over-sized, luxurious suites, and villas, all with terraces facing the ocean, perched at various elevations. Our room, almost at the top of the hill, was a Superior executive corner suite that was very large (living room with sleeper sofa, dining area, full kitchen, bedroom with two king beds as well as a seating area, and 2 marble-clad full bathrooms with walk-in showers, one with a bathtub as well) and featured a terrace, almost as big as the room, with a roomy hot tub.
     The resort is extensive, and since it is more-or-less vertical, mobility is provided by chauffeured golf carts that seem to appear at will. The thought of having to rely on the carts may seem annoying at first, in practice, however, they are usually already waiting for you. The rare times when we did have to wait, usually at dinner time, it was never longer than a minute, at most two. Besides, each pickup spot has its own phone, so you never feet stranded.
     The hotel is a busy place, and the three pool areas on different levels fill up fast, but you can usually find a space, especially at the Skypool (below), at the top of the complex with breathtaking views of  beach, cliffs, sunset, and sea.

     Located one level down from the lobby, the resort’s signature restaurant, La Frida, features the contemporary alta cocina mexicana of executive chef Antonio de Livier. How fitting to name a great Mexican restaurant after Frida Kahlo, one of Mexico’s great artists. The snug jewel-box of a dining room transports you to an affluent hacienda of the 20‘s or 30‘s, with its flagstone floor, heavy brocade hangings, marble wainscoting, and a coffered, cedar wood ceiling punctuated by large exposed beams. Massive, upholstered, deeply comfortable Spanish-Colonial style armchairs surround large, spacious tables, all softly lit by candles, elegant, wrought-iron sconces, and chandeliers. Voices are hushed, dress is “tropical beachfront” elegant; the wait staff  appears to move “on little cat's feet”; glasses are refilled and dishes removed unobtrusively. Al fresco dining is available on the terrace overlooking the ocean.
     Frida Kahlo artifacts embellish the walls alongside reproductions of her beautiful paintings, as well as original art inspired by them. I couldn’t take my eyes off one enormous one, the dimensions of a Jackson Pollock canvas; in the center, one of her self-portraits with two parrots, the  other of women in those massive white headdresses, and colorful, heavily embroidered, flower-covered dresses worn at fiestas.
     Also “channeling” Frida, in the best sense, and drawing on a seemingly endless Mexican songbook, is the resort’s own, in-house chanteuse, the incomparable, and beautiful Luna Itzel (below). Her gorgeous voice, exquisite diction, and spot-on dramatic delivery can, in one song, draw every bit of pathos out of love‘s betrayal, and in the next, rise above it all with an equally poignant restraint and understatement.  It’s the kind of small-scale, intimate, world-class musical performance and talent of no more than local renown that one can find all over Mexico.
     Chef de Livier likes to give his dishes a sense of place. Take the Huejotzingo fava bean soup we began with. Flavored with spicy toasted chile de arbol and a touch of mint, it was rich, creamy, and delicious. As a few seconds on the laptop will tell you, Huejotzingo is a small town at the foot of Mount Popocatepetl in the state of Puebla, famous for its richly-decorated, 16th century fortress-monastery. I’m not sure what all this has to do with favas, but another name has been added to my shortlist of places worth a visit.
     I also don’t know who “Don Agustino” was, but his eponymous Adobo pork empanadas--thin and crusty pastry enclosing spicy slow-braised pork flavored with chiltepin, a very hot chile pepper that grows wild in Mexico--do credit to his memory. Another snippet of Mexican food lore comes with the Cahuamanta-style crabmeat tostadas, a wonderful fresh lump crab meat stew, cooked quickly with tomatoes, olives, and capers, and served over crisp corn tortillas, with the tapenade complementing rather than overwhelming the sweet shellfish. “Cahuamanta”  refers to a chunky seafood stew from Hermosillo, originally made from sea turtle (cahuama), now from manta ray.
     De Livier proudly acknowledges that his home town, Mexicali, “has the best Chinese food in Mexico, bar none," and his Asian-inspired Sea Bass Veronica was little short of divine. (Veronica not Veronique, so don’t expect grapes.) Finished with lemon-thyme butter, accompanied by sautéed shrimp and shiitake mushrooms, all in a dark, delicious ginger-soy broth, the fish was perfectly grilled and super crisp, and the flavor pure bliss.
   If you’re good and hungry, by all means order the barbacoa braised lamb shank. Appropriately massive, the slowly braised, then broiled shank was all dark mahogany meaty goodness served over ever-so-slightly bitter broccoli di rabe to cut its richness. Barbacoa originally referred to the Mexican version of barbecue, in which large cuts of meat, or even a whole animal, were slow-cooked in a hole dug in the ground, filled with coals, and covered with maguey leaves. Nowadays, it refers to any meat that’s slow cooked to make it tender.
     I‘ve always loved tres leches cakes: How thoughtful to serve cake that’s already been dunked. “Besos de Paulina” comprised three different mini-cakes: pecan, chocolate, and vanilla, served alongside a tiny pitcher of the tres leches mixture to soak them with, if so desired, a second time. The banana and white chocolate cream pie with peanut butter sauce, however, may have been the high point of the evening, silky smooth, and with an intense banana flavor. The peanut butter sauce, however, refined and subtle as it was (no mean feat,) I thought expendable.
     Diners here expect the best, and La Frida provides it in the person of award-winning sommelier, Juan Carlos Flores, who won the 5 Star Diamond Award for Best North American Sommelier in 2005, at age 28. Wine is no afterthought here, and Juan Carlos not only has a  thorough knowledge of the world’s wines at his fingertips, but also a deep love for his own country’s efforts. Mexican wines are in the throes of a quality revolution started sometime in the mid-90‘s. If you’d like to take part in same, however small, then turn to the short but selective list of national wines.
      More than anyone else, oenologist Hugo D’Acosta of the Casa de Piedra winery, is responsible for the sea-change in Mexican wines, as well as for the best wines coming out of another Ensenada winery, Adobe Guadalupe, founded by Don Miller. Juan Carlos suggested one of their archangel series, various grape blends named after the roster of archangels. (Wonderful how bits of religious trivia accumulated in grammar school,pop-up again when you least expect it.)
     The Adobe Guadalupe, “Gabriel” 2005, a blend of 55% Merlot, 28% Malbec, 11 % Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc, aged 11 months in barriques, was a deep, dark wine, with plenty of fresh, New World fruit, but also showed a welcome bit of roughness on the palate from the acids and tannins, and a good finish. It was exactly what I had hoped for. At $99 it wasn’t cheap, but something this good, made in such small amounts (1,100 cases) should cost a lot more.
      First courses: $11 to $21; Main courses: $28-$42; Desserts: $12 to $14.

      For a change from the family-friendly ambiance, and merrymaking of the Pueblo Bonito Sunset, take a short five-minute ride on the free hotel shuttle to what many consider the jewel in the crown here, the Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Resort. Situated at sea level, right off the sand, its full name is the PB Pacifica Holistic Retreat and Spa, and for once the “holistic retreat and spa” part can be taken literally and not dismissed as meaningless hype. As soon as you arrive and look through an entranceway of floor-to-ceiling, pane-less glass, across a soaring, circular lobby of off-white stone, through more unglazed glass to the shimmering Pacific and the pure blue sky beyond, you realize you’ve found a special place, somewhere as far removed from the everyday as possible. No children under 16 are allowed, and the quiet, tranquil atmosphere really does make the whole resort feel like the hushed precincts of a luxury spa. Even the pool areas are oases of serenity. You’re as close to the ocean here--the main pools, one of which is huge, are but feet from the beach-- as you can get. The constant crashing of the surf provides the perfect, eons-old, soundtrack.
     Whereas the emphasis at La Frida is on complex dishes and cutting-edge Mexican cuisine, the fare at Siempre (above) the signature restaurant at Pacifica, is simpler and more international, while still relying heavily on the abundance of locally available foodstuffs. The dining room is a sprawling, airy, circular space, designed around a towering, sky-lit,  kiva-like core. Floor-to-ceiling windows turn the restless sea into spectacle, while soft-lighting and large, well-appointed tables with prairies of room between them, invite leisurely, elegant dining. There’s an attractive sushi bar in one corner. Once again, outdoor tables are available.
    A rich, velvet-smooth Black bean soup, flavored with bacon and cilantro, with a small dice of avocado, and topped with panela cheese, started us off. Panela is a fresh, white, mild-flavored cheese from Mexico, that turned soft and creamy in the hot soup. Starters also included a perfect, crispy, soft shell crab with a drizzle of rémoulade and a small salad of baby greens--one small-to-medium size crab, however, was not enough, especially for $24--as well as tender salmon ravioli in an opulent, classic shellfish-based cream sauce, laced with cognac.
     Seared parrot fish, its firm white flesh done to a turn, arrived over a mound of nicely sautéed chard, in a clam broth studded with baby clams, while the seared tuna was pure Pacific Rim in style,  the slab of blue fin encrusted with sesame seeds, well-browned without while still sashimi-like within--just the way I like it--and served with seasonal baby vegetables, all bathed in an agave honey/soy sauce combination.
     Our excellent wine steward suggested another “archangel:“ a “Miguel” 2005 from Adobe Guadalupe (1125 cases), a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Grenache, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tempranillo travels well: it can usually be relied upon for a nice big mouthful of fruit, along with enough tannic structure and acidity to keep the wine from becoming flabby. By the way, the various archangels cost $110 a bottle in Siempre, whereas in La Frida they were all $99.
        What’s better than pineapple cheesecake, especially the one served here bursting with fresh, sweet pineapple flavor, or a dessert combining three different textures of chocolate, mousse, cake, and ganache, with homemade fresh plum ice cream and a caramel sauce spiked with tequila?  Also available is a corn flan. You may well like it, but I didn’t think the addition of whole kernel corn worked in a dessert.
     Appetizers: $17 to $26; Main courses: $28-$46, $65 for lobster; Desserts: $12 to $14.

     Mexican cuisine has long suffered from two misconceptions on the world's stage. First, that it’s all about incendiary chile peppers, nachos, and fajitas (“Fajitas are not Mexican--not at all,“ says de Livier) and that the real thing is still only prepared in private homes.  To make people rethink what is Mexican food, de Livier has for the last two years, hosted "PacifiCooks" for three weeks in July. Bringing together master chefs from all over the country, the event includes cocktail receptions, seminars, wine-tastings, and five All-Star dinners at La Frida. We were fortunate to take part in two of them, extravagant tasting-menus of 6 or 7 courses, each prepared by a different guest chef. PacifiCooks not only proclaims Mexico’s entrance into international culinary circles, but also gives the Master chefs a chance to try out novel techniques and combinations, as well as to learn from one another. What follows is a small sampling from these feasts.
     De Livier contributed his signature amuse-bouche, La boquita de Frida, a small portion of his delicious chicken mole, just large enough to fill a spoon, served with a glass of Negra Modelo beer.  Another offering was a miso and Yucatan-spiced sea bass over a taquito filled with pork belly on a smearing of olive-green poblano sauce. Grilled quail was paired with Mexican rainfall mushrooms and a huitlacoche tamal, the starchy, bland tamal just what the intensely-flavored corn fungus needed and vice-versa. That man of legend who first ate an oyster may have been brave, but whoever it was who put the hideously swollen, dark purple-to-black kernels of huitlacoche-infected corn into his mouth for the first time was either braver, stupider, or, what is most likely, just plain too hungry to care. Known as “Mexican truffle”  (shown in the photo below upper lefthand corner) it does share with that tuber a profound, earthy, almost off-putting petroleum-like flavor that’s irresistible. Grilled rib-eye steak with a coffee/vanilla butter, for once, made sense of the subtle use of vanilla in a savory dish, and the grandly named La soledad de su majestad, “the solitude of  your (or, “one’s”) majesty,” was a delicate baby squash tamal, on a puddle of deep, dark mahogany mole.   photo: wikipedia           

    Not to be outdone by the otherwise mostly male équipe, pastry chef Paulina Abascal provided two delicious desserts, the first night a sweet corn tart with chocolate fondant and a mango mousse that was worth a detour all by itself, and the next, a creamy cinnamon-flavored pudding with a crisp amaranth cookie, on a puddle of Excellence chocolate. Amaranth is an age-old grain-like seed much favored by the Aztecs, who called it huautli, for preparing ritual drinks and food. Señora Abascal is executive chef for Mexico City’s Trico pastry shops as well as host of the popular TV show.
     Other participating chefs were Enrique Olvera, whose Restaurante Pujol in Mexico City is considered one of the best in the country, as his many national awards prove; Ricardo Munoz Zurita, named by Time magazine as a prophet and preserver of his country’s culinary heritage, who not only runs two of the capital’s most popular restaurants, both named Café Azul y Oro, but is also the author of the Diccionario Enciclopedio de Gastronomica Mexicana, considered by many the Larousse of Mexican cuisine; Benito Molina, Executive chef for three noted restaurants in Ensenada, La Manzanila, Silvestre and Muelle Tres; Federico Lopez, co-founder of the Ambrosia Culinary Academy, Mexico‘s premiere culinary institute; Guillermo Gonzales Beristain,  chef and owner of Grupo Pangea, which creates menus for five of the best restaurants in Monterrey, Mexico, including the original Pangea, as well as Genoma, La Catarina, and Bistro Bardot; Margarita Salinas, Executive Chef at Don Emiliano, and Brisas, both in Los Cabos, and Gilberto Del Toro Cello, Executive chef at the Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan resort.
      From January 14 to 18, the Pueblo Bonito Resorts will host the “Cabo Wine & Food Fest 2009.” The festival will include elaborate winemaker dinners, personalized cooking classes with award-winning chefs, special seminars on the Spirits of Mexico and Wines of Mexico, customized wine tastings, including a Grand Tasting of the Wines of the World, activities for families and a variety of Cabo San Lucas inspired activities. The festival is open to the public and hotel guests. Packages range from US$180 to US$485.  Tickets and packages will  be available for purchase on the Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts & Spas website at

Edward Brivio is a freelance writer who lives in New York.



By John Mariani

241 Church Street (near Leonard Street)

      Star power is brightest when a nova bursts onto the scene, whether it's in Hollywood or in the restaurant game, and no one deserved his time in the spotlight more than Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose cuisine I have been praising in Esquire and other venues since he was chef de cuisine at Restaurant Le Marquis de Lafayette in Boston (1985) and later at Restaurant Lafayette in New York (1986). His very personalized JoJo was a bistro like none other here or in Paris, and it became my pick as "Restaurant of the Year"  for 1991. Vong (1993) was a signal announcement that Euro-Asian food could be a fine cuisine, and his flagship Jean-Georges (1997), where he still cooks when he is in New York, remains one of the finest dining experiences in America; that year I picked him as "Chef of the Year."
      But, perhaps inevitably, his eyes grew starry and the urgings of his partners grew stronger to put his name on projects he had little time to devote his energies to.  Some, like Prime Steakhouse in Las Vegas were over the top but innovative, while others like V Steakhouse in New York and Banc in Houston were high-end flops.  With restaurants in the Bahamas, French Polynesia, Paris, Shanghai, Chicago, and London, soon Vancouver and Cabos, and several in New York itself, including Spice Market and Perry Street, there were bound to be hits and misses, and  his Chinese restaurant, 66, in TriBeCa, flared briefly  (several Chinese cooks were imported to give it authenticity, then left within weeks of opening), then petered out.  66's replacement is Matsugen, more a contractual agreement than a  hands-on Jean-Georges restaurant, for he has signed on the Matsushita brothers (below, with Jean-Georges) who run a small chain of soba noodle restaurants in Japan and Hawaii.
       Upon opening, NY Times critic Frank Bruni rained down three stars over Matsugen, gushing, "I was riveted by the way bitter, funky and briny notes in the [bakudan] dish jousted. And at the end of that same meal, I was riveted by the one-two punch in a startling dessert that floats cubes of tomato gelatin in a cold coconut soup. Just as you savor the soup’s silky sweetness, you bite into a cube and set off a tart explosion."
       Others, like Adam Platt of New York Magazine, were not quite so riveted. Platt gave Matsugen one star, though his review was generally quite positive. Nevertheless, JG, tactfully, retorted in his blog that Platt seemed to have "misunderstood the concept behind Matsugen—it’s commitment to pure, authentic Japanese cooking. Even in warming up the 66 space, we adhered to minimalist Japanese restaurant design concepts. Because Matsugen is not like any other restaurant in New York City, it can’t be compared to other restaurants, including those in Koreatown. . . . It can’t even be categorized with other Japanese restaurants in the city. There are no jalapeños, no California rolls."
         That seems fair enough comment, so you're just going to have to trust your own tastebuds and decide whether soba noodles with sea urchin at $36 and otoro (bluefin tuna) tataki  $48 is for you.  Still, the prices on the sushi, sashimi, and soba noodles are not really out of whack, with most of the soba dishes around $15.  Portions, as is always the case in Japanese restaurants, are far from what Americans would ever call generous. You may leave hungry.
       The original minimalist space designed by Richard Meier for 66 seems more minimalist still, with the fish tank intact, and very, very low lighting.  The sound level, depending on where you sit, can be loud or ear-shattering, and a former cocktail space is now a sushi bar. A few bursts of color would certainly help the appeal of the décor.
      Once through the massive exterior door, you will be well received by a highly attractive crew, some Asian, some not, and brought to a bare table and handed a menu on light brown paper, which doesn't make it any easier to read in this low lighting.  You're going to need a lot of time going over the menu because there are scores of items, ranging from soup and appetizers to salad, tempura, grill dishes, kamameshi items, cold soba, hot soba, sushi, sashimi, and rolls. Our party ranged all over the map, choosing from as many categories as possible, beginning with assorted sashimi ($50 for 16 pieces)  and the sushi that struck me as nothing better than I might have in any of a hundred sushi bars around town, certainly not on a par with that at Nobu or Masa. So, too, the tempura vegetables were good if not special, and the simple cold tofu was, as usual, simply bland. A shrimp cake with eggplant and shiitakes was delicious, and I wish the portion were bigger.
     The tuna tataki was superb, very thinly sliced pieces of pale pink tuna belly whose flavor was so subtle and evanescent it seemed wrong to dip them into the sauce provided.  Kurobuta pork belly was as luscious as I'd hoped, oozing melting fat with a nice streak of lean. Oddly enough, the black cod with miso, now a cliché among Pacific Rim restaurants, was certainly not among the best I've had elsewhere.
    There are three shabu shabu dishes, one with lobster ($52), one with wagyu beef rib-eye ($160!!!), and the one closest  to my budget, Kurobuta pork loin ($52), which was fine enough pork, though everyone at our table agreed that the simmering broth had about as much flavor as boiled water--a real disappointment.
      Now, since the focus of the Matsugen restaurants are those soba noodles (which aficionados will tell you comes as coarse, medium husk, or no husk), I suppose one ultimately must judge the New York operation by those items. Perhaps the passion for soba noodles is an acquired one--
I can't say that I crave cold noodles (except for midnight lasagna)--for, like most noodles, some kind of sauce or dressing is necessary. So my tablemates and I dutifully ordered several soba dishes and found that the more sauce we added the more we liked them, obtuse, perhaps, to the ultra-subtle textures and tastes of huskiness.  Goma-dare ($14), with a sesame sauce, fared best among the cold soba, and kamoseiro ($20), with duck soup, was pleasing. The best of the hot soba was kamo nanban duck with scallion ($20), because there was plenty of flavor between those two ingredients to perk up the soba. Some jalapeños wouldn't hurt.
     I don't suppose the Matsushita brothers are dessert masters, so the sweets at the end of the meal have only a vaguely Pacific flavor, like the awful green tea brûlée.
     You can run up a very small or a very large bill at Matsugen, since everything is à la carte (there is a 7-course omakase tasting menu at $85). although you'll have to order a lot of food in order to sate your hunger here. A couple of bowls of soba noodles is just not going to do it for dinner, maybe at lunch.
      So, we shall see if New Yorkers develop a new soba lust at a time when Asian noodle places are popping up everywhere south of 14th Street.  Matsugen gives off the strong scent of chic right now, but that might not be enough to make up for some other weak Japanese dishes here that do little to distinguish this hot new spot from so many other fine Japanese restaurants around town.

Matsugen is open for lunch Tues.-Sun, and for dinner nightly.


In Utsunomia, Japan, restaurateur Kaoru Otsuka  has a monkey named Ya-Chan serve drinks to customers and performs a dance for them, contending that the monkey picked up the skills himself by watching other servers. You may watch the simian waiting on tables on You Tube:


“It has the taste of the forbidden, the illicit — the subversive, even,” said Hélène Samuel, a restaurant consultant here. “Eating with your hands, it’s pure regression. Naturally, everyone wants it.”—“In Paris, Burgers Turn Chic,”
NY Times.


* On Sept. 18 in Alexandria, VA, The Neighborhood Restaurant Group  and Outstanding in the Field have partnered to offer an al fresco farm dinner celebrating this region’s local bounty at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument near the town of Montross. Vermilion Executive Chef Anthony Chittum does a 5-course dinner at $180 pp.  Call 703-684-9669; visit

* On Sept. 24 in Brooklyn, NY, The Red Hook Initiative will be hosting the 2nd annual “A Taste of Red Hook” dine-around featuring Brooklyn-based restaurants incl. Annabelle’s, Mazzat, The Good Fork, Baked, Blue Marble, Defonte’s, Tini Wine Bar Cafe, Alma, Margaret Palca Bakes, Ferdinandos Focacceria, Viva, and Hope and Anchor.  Hometown Brooklyn Brewery.  $100 pp in advance; $125 at the event.  Visit

* From Sept. 26-Nov. 9 in Lake Buena Vista, FL, the 13th annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at Walt Disney World Resort opens with 8 of the country’s top chef teams ompete at the gold-standard Bocuse d’Or USA semifinals.  Also,  guests can explore the culinary “Cities in Wonderland” showcasing tastes from 6 continents. More than 25 international marketplaces will serve tapas-sized portions of regional specialties and recommended wines and beers;  Eat to the Beat! concert series featuring a varied lineup of classic rock, soul, R&B, oldies, jazz and funk hit-makers; Some 250 Disney chefs and guest chefs conducting culinary demos, elegant dinners, and tasting events.  Visit

* On Sept. 26 in Arlington Heights, ILL, Le Titi de Paris will hold its annual Champagne & Sparkling Wines of France Dinner. $95 pp.  Call 847-506-0222.

*   Morton's The Steakhouse announces plans to host a series of special events its steakhouses across the USA to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Morton's with a commitment to raise a minimum of $125,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation®. Morton’s in Buckhead and Downtown Atlanta plan to raise enough funds to grant a local wish. The Buckhead, GA, location will host a special anniversary event on Oct.  4 in the restaurant’s boardrooms upstairs and will include a cocktail reception and dinner. $175 pp. with  $50 of each ticket to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

* Maison Akira in Pasadena , CA, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a month-long series of special dinners during the month of October. Owner Akira Hirose will begin the month with a reunion of other L'Orangerie alumni besides himself including Jean Francois Meteigner of La Cachette and Yvan Valentin of Sweet Temptations. 4 courses ($90 pp, r $130 with wine pairing. Oct. 2 Kaiseki Bento Night menu and throughout the month 4 courses $60 or 5 courses $80. Call  626-796-9501.

*  October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so  more than 50 Chicago-area restaurants and others will participate in The Lynn Sage Foundation’s Chicago’s In Good Taste campaign to fundraise for breast cancer research. More than 50 Chicagoland restaurants will ask customers to donate $1 per check to The Lynn Sage Foundation. For more information, email , call 312.347.1706 or visit

* On Oct. 1 Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright, Tom Colicchio, Chef and Owner of Craft Restaurants, and Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, will host an evening of fine dining and entertainment for a worthy cause.  Autism Speaks to Wall Street: 2nd Annual Celebrity Chef Gala, with a live musical performance by Harry Connick, Jr. and 60 y of the nation’s chefs at Cipriani Wall Street . Tix  start at $1,500 –$100,000 for a VIP table.   Call  212-252-8584.

*   On Oct. 1  Alden-Houston hotel’s *17 restaurant sommelier Evan Turner has selected 9 Greek wines that pair with *17 Executive Chef Wes Morton’s 7- seven course Greek dinner, at $150 pp, with a special $169 room rate.  Call 832-200-8843 or visit

* During the month of October, Virginia’s 130+ wineries, hotels and resorts will offer guests unique opportunities to experience the 20th Anniversary of Virginia Wine Month, with a variety of travel package and getaway ideas, incl. Norton Bluegrass Festival, Pet-Friendly Wine Travel, Drink Wine Under the Stars, Mt Vernon's annual Wine festival and Sunset Tour, Hot Air Ballon and Wine Festival, Women Wild About Wine at The Tides Inn, Wine Aficionado Wine Tour, et al.  Visit

* NYC’s Babbo Pastry Chef Gina DePalma is teaming with sommelier and chef Paul Lang for a one-week gourmet tour of Tuscany, Oct. 6-13: “A Casa In Italia,” with a stay in a 16th-century Renaissance villa on the wine estate Tenuta di Capezzana, hands-on Tuscan cooking classes, tastings of local wines and olive oils, and excursions,  a natural thermal spa, guided tour of the private Contini Bonacossi collection in Florence's Uffizi, and visit to the vineyards and cellars of the Capezzana estate. Fee incl. accommodations, transportation and airport transfers, all meals, cooking classes, art and cultural tours. Visit

*    On Oct. 7 Wines from Spain will hold its 1"5th annual Great Match: Wine & tasting tour "at the Metropolitan Pavilion in NYC with proceeds to go to  New York Cares, Chef José Andrés, host of the PBS series “Made In Spain,” will be joined by 10 NYC area chefs, each of whom will prepare small signature dishes , with more than 300 current release wines. $70 pp.Visit or call 1-888-772-4694.

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: RATING THE RENTAL CAR AGENCIES.


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,  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