Virtual Gourmet

October 5, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

Paul Newman (1925-2008)

NEW! Click to go to my new column at Esquire Magazine.

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on

SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking

In This Issue

A Few Words About Paul Newman by John Mariani

WHAT'S NEW IN SAN FRANCISCO, Part Two  by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: Rhong-Tiam by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: With French Wine Sales Down, Producers Look to a Young American Master for Help by John Mariani



by John Mariani

     I certainly never knew Paul Newman, though our paths crossed in press interviews years ago. But, like just about everyone else, I thought he was one of those few movie stars I'd really like to  have known, hung out with, had dinner with. His legacy as an actor is forever secure, his munificence as a philanthropist exemplified  the virtues of charity, and his entrepreneurship in making supermarket foods--as a way to raise more money for his charities--a quarter of a billion dollars--was as unexpected as it was and novel.
     In fact, Newman, who always looked like a guy who'd rather drink beer than wine--with a chaser, as he did in "Hud" (left)--was very devoted to the good things of the table, as the book cover above indicates.
     His food products were, by and large, better than most others that come in bottles and packages, his devotion to organic food under his own line was applaudable (he said he wanted to produce the kind of unadulterated food his father enjoyed eating in 1925), and he had just begun marketing wine, too.
     Indeed, his ability to combine the pleasures of his art with the pleasures of the table were manifest at a restaurant he owned called, punningly, the Dressing Room, adjacent to the Westport Playhouse to which he and his wife Joanne Woodward devoted so much time and effort and support. The two-year-old Dressing Room is exemplary as a casual but serious American restaurant, headed by chef Michel Nischan, whose dedication to seasonal, sustainable food is manifest in every dish served. Newman often dined there.
     Of course, the scene that leaps to mind about Newman that involves food is the hilarious, if stomach-tugging, challenge his title character accepts in the film "Cool Hand Luke," when, as a prisoner in a brutal Southern work farm, he insists he can eat 50 hardboiled eggs within a given time limit.  The bets go down and Luke begins to knock back the eggs, one at a time, first without a moment's hesitation, then, lying on his back, being force-fed by actor George Kennedy. Newman plays it for laughs, then for suspense, pretending at one point he won't be able to carry on. His fellow prisoners walk him around, massage that impeccable six-pack stomach now bloating up with eggs. In the agonizing end, he does it,  and he did it just to prove he could do it, flashing "that ol' Luke smile" Newman had a patent on whether he played a a pool hustler, an alcoholic lawyer, a closeted husband, or the most lovable outlaw in the west.
      Newman did it all and gave much of it away.  He got paid well for the pleasure he gave us onscreen, but the money he made from that most basic of needs--food--he gave to those in need.  Paul Newman was the complete American, as charming a leading man as he was a rascal, as honest as he was morally conflicted.  That he loved life seems obvious in every frame he filmed, and we all basked in that blonde-then-silver-streaked, blue-eyed, lanky beauty of his.
      So tonight, when you're eating well, toast his achievements with a glass of good wine. And tomorrow for breakfast, have a hardboiled egg or two.

by John Mariani

    Last issue I wrote of three high-end new restaurants in the Bay Area (click here). This week I go downscale a bit but with savory results.

Chez Papa Resto
414 Jessie Street

     Chez Papa Resto is an offshoot in spirit but not menu of its sister restos, run by the Maktub Group--Chez Papa Bistro, two Chez Mamans, and Coluer Cafe. Its location, in a courtyard across from the old U.S. Mint, is a little hidden, but the place seems to have caught on for both lunch and dinner. The décor differs a good deal too--an L-shaped room with  a high ceiling lighted by black chandeliers, with gauze curtains, bare rosewood topped tables, an antique glass Chef's Table,  and a flamboyant orange banquette; one wall is covered with horsehair, another in grass. Black predominates--not the most convivial color for a bistro.
    With just 70 seats (more outside), it's a good size for a French eatery where the food toes a traditional line, via Chef David Bazirgan, who's done stints at Elizabeth Daniel and Baraka. He offers a baker's dozen of appetizers  and about 8 main courses.  Pastis is featured on the drinks list, along with two dozen wines by the glass, and a 150-selection list of French and global wines, whose prices tend to be on the high side.
     I very much enjoyed an heirloom tomato and yellow watermelon salad with tangy feta, drizzled with lemon and dotted with pine nuts and opal basil. Port-glazed sweetbreads with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, snap peas, and a garlic emulsion--really a tasteless foam--were fairly bland. Really very good was Papa's foie gras two-ways--a terrine with cherries, and fresh, seared with strawberries in a lovely Banyuls wine reduction.  And I had quite a smile on my face every time I took a bite of the bubbly, caramelized pissaladière onion tart with anchovies and Niçoise olives--as close as you'll come to those you'll find along the French Riviera.
      Of the three entrees I tried two were outstanding--juicy, flavorful, grilled New York strip steak with a tarragon-flecked sauce Béarnaise, though the frites were pale, not golden, and overseasoned with herbs; and a dark, winey lamb daube braised in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, with a little lick of rosemary oil. Good, if unexceptional, was roasted monkfish with a bouillabaisse fûmet, buttery la ratte potatoes, clams, calamari, and a garlicky rouille with toast.
       I finished off with
Pastry chef Yuko Fujiian's classically excellent, rum --rich baba with ice cream.
       Chez Papa Resto is a place everybody seems to like for good reason--honest food, friendly greeting, amiable service, and a nice tucked-away location off the beaten track, not unlike being tucked away behind some official building off the Place Garibaldi in Old Nice.

Chez resto Papa is open daily dinner, Mon-Fri. for lunch, and Sat. & Sun. for brunch. Dinner starters run $8-$22, entrees $22-$30.

1199 Valencia Street
415- 695-1199

      Beretta, like SPQR (see below), is cannily cashing in on San Franciscans' continuing love affair with casual Mediterranean fare.
      As I noted last week, this is not a bad thing, but it is a predictable one, and I would like to see many in the genre do something  a bit different from every place else. Pizzas and pastas rule.  Nonetheless, Beretta has been a winner since opening this year in the Mission District, and
Chef-owner Ruggero Gadaldi, who also runs Antica and Pesce in Russian Hill with partners Adriano Paganini and Deborah Blum (below), was able to turn an old, dated restaurant into a new, very gregarious example of the freewheeling, very casual, but, sadly, indescribably loud restaurant now called Beretta. OK, I'll take a crack at it: Beretta is about as loud as taking your lunch hour near a guy working a jackhammer.
     The walls of the 70-seat room are white and brown, with some charming, flowery stenciling, the ceiling tin and hung with black chandeliers. The place appears to be well broken in, and, given the decibel level, it sure doesn't need the throbbing piped-in music that makes conversation doubly difficult.

      While there are 13 wines by the glass, the number on the list is only little more than two score and could use some bolstering. There is also a thriving bar scene here for good reason--they don't take reservations for parties less than six, and the bartenders are very serious about making drinks correctly.
      Beretta features pizzas, a dozen of them, and since my measure of good pizza is the margherita, here made with very creamy burrata mozzarella, that's what I ordered, and it was very good in flavor; the crust was a bit too fashionable thin, though, and lacked the charred bubbling a true margherita should have.
      But Beretta is really about small plates of antipasti, and here you can go crazy with your guests by ordering nothing but antipasti and making a good meal out of it. Our table was particularly happy with the warm, marinated chubby cerignola olives tinged with citrus to nibble on; toasted, olive oil-rubbed bruschetta of robiola cheese and broccoli di rabe made a fine combo, and we loved another bruschetta of fava beans with sharp, salty pecorino shaved on top.  Tasty but undercooked, eggplant caponatina with burrata missed the mark; sautéed gnocchi with fresh porcini and guanciale (pork cheek) should have been wonderful, but for all its ingredients, lacked richness of flavor. Porcini mushroom risotto cooked with hearty Barbera wine was pretty good, the rice tender, the wine flavor coming through.
     By all means go for the  artisanal salumi or any other charcuterie at Beretta, and the fritto misto of fried fish was light and delicious. After that there are nightly main course specials, like meatballs in spicy tomato, or saltimbocca alla romana, and cioppino--San Fran's own version of Ligurian ciuppin--on Fridays. Desserts include house-made gelati and sorbetti, to be enjoyed with a nice glass of Moscato d'Asti or a vin santo.

Beretta is open for dinner nightly, for lunch Sat. & Sun. Antipasti run $3-$15, pizzas $11-$14, main courses $11-$18. No reservations for less than six people.

1911 Fillmore Street
415- 771-7779

      One can describe the decor of SPQR, which takes its name from the Roman signature Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Senate and the People of Rome"), as near monastic--a storefront eatery in a small, long room with bare white walls hung with a few posters, and a white marble bar backed by shelves of wines and liquors. Like Beretta (above) it is blisteringly loud, but service is amiable and the food comes out with dispatch. Chef Nate Appleman (below) also runs the very successful A16 in the Marina, whose name refers to the Autostrade number on the way to Naples and whose food is featured there.  SPQR is more clearly Roman, focused on the hearty cooking of Trastevere's trattorie.
     Here, again, the small plates idea informs the menu, starting with a page-and-a-half of antipasti that include bocconcini balls of mozzarella with spicy tomato sauce; cauliflower with garlic, parsley, capers and lemon; potatoes with pancetta bacon, fried chilies, lemon, and pecorino cheese; and local anchovies with cucumbers and pickled onions--every one well worth ordering and fighting over, for these are small plates.  Pile them on the table, order a bottle of not-very-expensive Italian wine, and you'll be out the door without spending very much at all, since the antipasti are $8 each or $21 for three.
     Then there's the slightly more expensive "antipasti grande," a part of the menu I did not find quite so savory as what precede it, like the fried chicken spiked with Calabrian chilies, garlic, and lemon. They were O.K. but not really a match for most Buffalo wings you find at a good sports bar. Grilled pork ribs were tender, savory with fennel and rosemary, but fatty.  Fried sweetbreads with celery, garlic, parsley and lemon was a good dish, but petrale sole--a fine local fish--didn't gain much from beans, olives, and cherry tomatoes.
     Next comes the pasta section, with plenty of appetite-raising choices, like trombette with a romanesco sauce and ricotta salata; the best was a lusty cannelloni of pork sausage with ricotta, spinach, and pecorino; the least of them was a weak carbonara, whose tossing of guanciale, eggs, black pepper, and pecorino somehow lacked the toothsome bite this Roman dish should have.   At least two of those pastas I tried were overcooked.
    Desserts are, sensibly, light--a soupy budino of rice with strawberries and pistachios, and a honey granita with bright nectarines, Sicilian almonds, and ricotta--two desserts you would be hard put to find made this well in Italy today.
       SPQR's name may sound a bit official, but SPQR lacks any sense of pretense--
no reservations are accepted. It just wants to serve good Roman fare at good American prices.

Dinner is served nightly, lunch Mon.-Fri., and brunch Sat. & Sun.

PERBACCO ristorante + bar

230 California Street


     Unlike Beretta and SPQR, Perbacco is a very large space, two floors, with a mezzanine, 1913 brick walls, marble bar, huge kitchen,  and a marble floor--which put me more in mind of a grand dining hall in Milan than a contemporary ristorante in Liguria, where Chef/owner Staffan Terje and Umberto Gibin, whose experience include working in Fifth Floor, Masa's,  Scala’s Bistro, Chianti, and Poggio,  have put their culinary focus. Don't miss that reference to "bar" in the logo--you can eat as well as drink there--for it's an important element  here, and the whole production has been carefully crafted to be big, very loud, and somewhat frantic, so it is not a place I'd recommend for a romantic or business meal.  Size and success can also put a strain on the kitchen.
     Up front, I have to say that I dined at Perbacco a year ago, so service and a few lapses might have all been improved upon. But I note that the majority of dishes I tasted then are still on the menus now, so I think my report still carries weight.
     There's certainly good food to be had here: not least a dish of rock shrimp fried crisp, with green beans, olives, fennel and a sharp lemon aïoli.    
 Semolina-dusted Petrale sole comes with a squash salad, raw tomato, and more of the same aïoli, and the conserva (confit) of duck leg with roasted peach, arugula, and mosto cotto (cooked wine must) is rich and delicious. Brandacujun, a Ligurian-style brandade of salt cod and potato gratin  had the proper richness, texture and wallop of garlic.
      Pastas were not nearly so successful--several were bland, some overcooked, some barely warm,  like the agnolotti dal plin with roast veal and Savoy cabbage in a sugo d'arrosto sauce, which should have been piping hot. Ricotta gnocchi were too soft, and the sauce of garlic and basil detracted from their delicacy. Desserts, like the hazelnut cookies called "ugly but good," and the sweet corn panna cotta with blueberry compote were excellent.
      An Italian restaurant can be too big for its own good, and I think Perbacco has that problem.  Fewer customers, a slower pacing, and more care would make it one of San Francisco's better Italian restaurants and certainly a rarity for its Ligurian cast.

Perbacco is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. At dinner starters range from $8-$18, pastas $10-$12  for appetizer portions, $15-$17 for full portions; main courses $22-$29.

by John Mariani

541 La Guardia Place (near Bleecker St)

      Rhong Tiam is one of those wonderful restaurants I have somehow managed to miss until now because of the never-ending number of new places constantly opening on a weekly basis in New York. Now that I've "discovered" it, along with thousands of faithful regulars who pack the place every night, I want everyone to know that this serves some of the best Thai food I've had in New York, and I am as enthusiastic about it as I am about the Cambodian food at Kampuchea on the Lower East Side.
     Owner Andy Yang also has a Rhong-Tiam on the east side on Fifth Street, but I have not been to it so can't compare the two. The Greenwich Village version on La Guardia Place, just shy of Bleecker Street and NYU, has an outdoor patio that is very pleasant this time of the year; inside is a long room bisected by an ivy  planter and anchored by a red Vespa; the banquettes are gaily striped, the floors tiled, the color and lighting conducive to conviviality.
   Yang calls his food "Bangkok style," which, as a native of that Thailand capital, he emphasizes with a complexity of flavors rather than so much chile-induced killer heat.  To my palate this certainly seems to work well, for Yang's cooking does reveal far more than the usual shot of searing pepper you  get in so many less sophisticated Thai eateries.
    I make no claim to know which is more "authentic," but, despite my fondess for hot food, I do appreciate the levels of spices achieved at Rhong-Tiam, starting in appetizers like the crispy roll with carrot, onion, bean threads, and pork with a chili-plum sauce. His duck spring roll is equally as good, and the chicken wrapped in lemongrass as aromatic as it is savory.  The so-called "Thai nacho" is made from those funny, crispy shrimp chips that instantly puff up when fried, the bed for coconut shrimp and a chicken dipping sauce;  I could have eaten a dozen of the fried (or steamed) chicken and shrimp dumplings with a ginger vinaigrette. By the way, many, many dishes here offer vegetables as fillings or components of a dish as alternatives to meat and fish.
    No visit to a Thai restaurant can go on for long without soup, noodles, and salad. I highly recommend the Thai beef salad, with all the ingredients and spicy-citrus-sweet flavors melding perfectly. Tom Kha is a delicious, tangy-sweet coconut and galangal soup with either shrimp or chicken, and it has as much of a cleansing effect on the palate as it does a tantalizing spirit.  That old standby of Thai restaurants, pad Thai, is well rendered here, not clogged up with too many noodles or a cloying sauce, and the "Drunken Noodle Beef" with rice noodles, basil leaves, garlic, hot birds'-eye chile, onions, and bell peppers is a triumph of complexity pulled together impeccably.
     Our table of four happily plowed our way through all these dishes and had not even hit the seafood or meat main courses,  not to mention the lovely green curry fried rice.  And portions, though meant to be shared, are not small here. We kept going though, sustained, I believe, by the way Thai seasonings make the appetite roar. So we launched into fried red snapper with tamarind sauce, and coriander-and-curry scented tiger shrimp, and a dish of chicken sautéed with cashews, an explosive roasted chili paste, scallions and bell peppers. Then there's "Andy's omelet special"--a pan-fried egg with glass noodles and minced meat. Damn good!
     Were we stuffed? More or less, but immensely satisfied, assured that, even in a casual setting like Rhong-Tiam, Thai food can assert itself among the best in New York.
     By the way, Mr. Yang has very fine taste in jazz, which he plays at a cordial level in his restaurant.

Rhing-Tiam is open daily for dinner, and for lunch Mon.-Sat. Appetizers, soups and salads, $4 to $14; noodles and rice dishes, $9 to $13; entrees, $11 to $26; desserts, $3 to $8.


With French Wine Sales Down, Producers Look to a Young American Master for Help
by  John Mariani

     It isn’t yet une grande panique, but the French wine industry has shaken off its malaise and shifted to a fighting stance for their share of the global market. Sales of their wines are down almost everywhere, even in France itself. While global consumption of wine from 2001-2005 rose 4 percent, France’s dropped by 11 percent. Exports to the U.S. dropped 12.5 percent this year so far.
      The French still drink 52 liters per capita--compared to the Italians’ 46, and Americans’ less than 9 liters. But while worldwide wine consumption is expected to soar 10 percent within the next two years, France’s is going in the other direction. When Australia toppled France as the largest wine exporter to the U.K. around 2003—by history, tradition, and taste, a huge market for French wines--a collective shiver went down the Gallic spine.
      The requisite solution, therefore, is to export more French wine to other markets. For the task of selling Americans on the charms and affordability of French wines, Sopexa USA's Wines of France promotional arm has thrown $2.6 million into a new “umbrella campaign” to hold 700 tastings at more than 300 points of sale throughout the U.S.
      Leading the charge is a 33-year-old North Carolina woman who doesn’t speak French.  But Sheri Sauter Morano (left), from Durham, does speak with the authority of being one of the youngest of only 278 Masters of Wine in the world—the most prestigious order of educators and wine industry consultants—and only the second American woman to achieve the distinction since 1953.  Her job now is to show and tell American winedrinkers why French wines are neither intimidating nor overpriced.
      “The producers realize they have a problem with perception and image among American consumers,” says Morano, who bears a blond resemblance to Laura Bush. “The French want to break down the ideas that their wines are old-fashioned or should be saved only for special occasions. The producers were stunned by Americans’ reaction to France’s refusal to join in the Iraq war: people were pouring French wines in the gutter—after having already paid for them. And there’s no question the strength of the euro makes all European goods more expensive.”
      As a result, French producers are trying to find ways to cut their own costs (glass bottles alone have risen up to 20 percent in the last year) and to pass savings on to the consumer. “I have no problem with wines that come in a box or have screwtops,” says Morano. “I applauded when Mommessin said they would put their Beaujolais into aluminum cans (right), which are lighter, easier to ship, and keep the wine fresher.”
      If such talk sounds sacrilegious among the tradition-bound French, it is not likely to effect the most famous crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy, which are always in short supply, always allocated, and priced according to overwhelming demand for very little supply.
      “Those wines always sell,” says Morano. “My job is to address the everyday French wines that are regional vin du pays, grass roots wines. I try to appeal to a wide swathe of Americans with different tastes, so I’ve picked out 40 wines are think are innovative and good value. The American palate is at a fragile point right now, because there are so many wines in the market, some very fruity, others with high alcohol levels, others from people have never heard of.”
     To this end Morano will visit seven U.S. cities to speak with media and retailers. Her appeal to the average winedrinker is through her blog at, where she reports on her own travels, offers wine and food advice, and answers questions from readers.
     I had a chance to taste the kinds of wines Morano is promoting, with Thai appetizers at New York’s Rhong Tiam restaurant (see review above), whose spicy, sweet and hot flavors presented an interesting challenge.  Morano first popped a sparkling wine, a slightly sweet Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé from Lucien Albrecht, whose bubbles cut through the food’s flavors. At $24 it is a delightful bubbly.
     Another Alsatian wine, Pierre Sparr’s simply named One 2007 ($13) was a delicate, floral blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, muscat, riesling, and gewürztraminer, which struck me as ideal for Thai or any other spicy food.  Somewhat more subtle and quite refined was Laurent Miquel’s Viognier 2007 ($13), a varietal Morano describes as “a beautiful woman wearing a flowing sundress and Chanel No. 5.”
      I asked her if she chose wines that played up to the American palate the way wines of New Zealand and Australia have so successfully. “No, these are French wines,” she said, “and I try to explain that wine is both an art form and a beverage. I don’t want to recommend wines to Americans that taste like those they may already know. I ask them, `What is this wine saying to you?’ Because for me a wine from the south of France should taste like it’s from the south of France. Otherwise, French wines will never find that important balance of terroir and distinction that is crucial in the American market right now.”
To read Ms. Morano's blog for Wines of France,
click here.

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 on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



In Osaka, Japan, the restaurant chain Senba Kitcho admitted that its units regularly served food recycled from customers’ plates if the food looked untouched.  Chain president Sachiko Yuki announced he was halting business and apologized for “betraying the public’s trust for food security and safety.”


“”Har gu should be thin, opalescent, rice skins through which you can just see three small prawns making love, their arses bulging against the dumpling walls like stolen babies stuffed in a pillow case.”—Giles Coren, “Ping Pong,” The Times (6/14).


* On Oct. 6 in DC, Taberna del Alabardero’s October wine dinner will be “The Battle of Tempranillos by Executive Chef Dani Arana and Sommelier Gustavo Iniesta.   $125 pp. Call 202-429-2200.

* London’s  Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge is offering a “Wet Shave and Whiskey” experience for gentlemen staying at the hotel on business. The package incl. a single room at with full English, a wet shave at Andreas of Knightsbridge, anda glass of 12 year old Glenfiddich in the Capital’s Art Deco Bar to enjoy either before or after dinner.  £225 pp. Contact  or call (800) 628-8929.

* On Oct. 6  at the Stadium Club at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, current and former NY Giants players and  chefs from Metropolitan Area restaurants such as Tao, Oceana, Patsy’s, Destino and Scalini Fedeli , with ShopRite and Kraft are hosting the Second Annual Taste of the Giants benefit to help fight hunger.  Other activities include a tour of the Giants locker room, walking the field, and participating in live and silent auctions featuring sports memorabilia, vacation packages and other unique items and experiences.  General admission tix $250 pp, limited number of VIP tix at  $400. Contact 973-316-1665.

* On Oct. 9 in NYC, Macelleria features “Buy It Cold and Serve It Up Hot, Baby!” with a 4-course dinner at $100 pp, with  Suzy Sirloin,  a working meatpacker whose family has been buying, butchering and selling beef since the 1800s. Call 212-741-2555.

* Hakubai Japanese Restaurant, located in NYC’s Kitano Hotel New York offers a “Fall Early-Bird Special Dinner” menu focusing on fresh, seasonal ingredients for a special rate of $69 pp. for orders placed from 6 – 6:30 p.m valid from Oct. 15 – Nov. 15. Call 212- 885-7111;

* Malt Advocate Magazine’
s 2nd Annual WhiskyFest comes to  San Francisco on Oct. 10, showcasing  over 250 of the world’s finest whiskies with samples, custom whisky-based cocktails and seminars led by distillery managers and master blenders.  A gourmet buffet complimenting whisky, with proceeds  to benefit Food Runners of San Francisco. $150 (VIP) $110 (General Admission); Visit

* On Oct. 17  the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego  holds its Second Annual “Beer vs. Wine” dinner at El Bizcocho,  with a long-simmering issue: which goes better with fine cuisine—beer or wine? Steven Rojas, recently appointed chef de cuisine at El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, has created a special 6-course menu  paired with wines selected by Sommelier Barry Wiss and beers chosen by Stone Brewing Company’s CEO Greg Koch. Results will be tabulated and announced at the end of the dinner. $125 pp. Call 858-675-8550.
* On Oct 18 Chillingsworth in Brewster, MA, will hold its The Annual Game Dinner: $150 pp. . . . On Nov. 15: Beaujolais Nouveau dinner; Visit Http://

* On Oct 18 in Charleston , SC, chef Callie White will cater an al fresco dinner overlooking Middleton Place’s “Butterfly Lakes.”  The musical group Cary Ann Hearst, and bestselling authors spinning tales of the South.  $150 pp, incl. a full day admission to the Charleston Garden Festival.  Call 843-266-7494.
*  On Oct. 19 in Portland, OR,  Nicky USA holds its 8th annual Wild About Game & Wine Celebration at the Resort at The Mountain in Welches, pairing game chefs for a cooking competition and educational cooking demo; also a culinary marketplace with food & wine tastings and cookbook signings,  incl. Vitaly Paley, author of The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwest;  Paul Bosch, chef at the Resort at The Mountain will prepare a game dinner buffet.  Call 800-669-7666; visit

* During the 3rd week of October in Chicago and Schaumburg, IL, Shaw’s Crab House is hosting its 20th Annual Royster with the Oyster Festival , with the Oyster Slurping Contest, culminating Oct.  17, with the famous Tent Party in Chicago outside of Shaw’s Chicago location. Call 312-527-2722 (Chicago) or 847-517-2722 (Schaumburg), or visit

*From Oct. 23-26 the 2008 Kohler Food & Wine Experience in Kohler, Wisconsin features Top Chef Season 2 Winner Ilan Hall and Top Chef Season 3 Winner Hung Huynh award-winning local and international chefs, cookbook signings, et al. Call 800-344-2838 or

* From Oct. 23-25 Eats3 Scottsdale will showcase over 40 of Arizona's best independent and unique culinary talents, on Scottsdale's SouthBridge, with over 200 wineries from across the globe and cocktail creations from nationally acclaimed mixologists.  Proceeds go to support Food & Wine's Grow for Good and Scottsdale's own Waste Not organizations. Visit or call 480-275-8888.

* From Oct. 24-26, The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts will host a "Super Vintage" wine auction weekend at the Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Rioja, Spain in October, with  a gala dinner and charity auction of local vintages conducted by Christie's, incl. the Riscal Superlot, proceeds from which will go to UNICEF. $3,936 or $2500 euros/ Visit

* From Oct. 20-24 in NYC, The Kellari Hospitality Group holds its second annual "Dionysos Festival," at Kellari Taverna and Kellari's Parea, culminating  in an extravagant party featuring limitless wine, a special chef's tasting menu, and traditional Greek music and dance on Octo. 24t at Kellari Taverna. Each day of the week will feature a different grape varietal specific to the wine-producing regions of Greece.  Experts will speak about the grapes characteristics, growing conditions, aromas, etc.  Call 212-221-0144.

*  From Oct. 20-26  “Palm Beach Restaurant Week” will showcase the culinary talents from some of the island’s finest chefs with a pre-fixed menu of $20.08 for a 3-course lunch.  The participating restaurants incl. Amici Ristorante & Bar, Café Boulud at The Brazilian Court, Café L’Europe, The Flagler Steakhouse at The Breakers, et al. Visit

* On Oct. 21, for the first time in the U.S., the 18 members of the Grandi Marchi showcase their wines at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, incl. guided wine tasting and luncheon (exclusively for media), walk-around Grand Tasting for trade, press and a Gala Dinner. . Tix for the tasting $40 pp for the general public;  Call 877-217- 9867. Tix  for Gala Dinner $250 pp. by calling (305) 913-3203, or at the door.

* On Oct. 23 in Chicago, IL,  N9NE Steakhouse and Winemaker Bob Lindquist hold a Qupé Wine Dinner. Chef Michael Shrader will prepare a 5-course menu with 6 wines, at $80 pp. Email or call 312.575.9900; visit
On The Ave Hotel New York is offering guests a “Romance Concierge”; the on-site Romance Concierge will help guests create an intimate, personalized romantic experience to include a 2-night stay in a luxurious suite;  bath butler with champagne and bubbles; breakfast in bed both mornings; and personalized NYC excursions, e.g.,  a Carriage Ride or bicycling through Central Park and along the Hudson River ; Romantic Picnic in Central Park ; treatments for two at the Equinox Wellness Spa;  private night tour of the Empire State Building;  dinner at Jean-Gorges. Rate start at $399; visit

* The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Las Vegas™ will take place Oct. 24 - 26,  with restaurateurs, journalists, cookbook authors and sommeliers, dinners, cooking demos, educational panels. Visit

I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with four 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."


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).

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and 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, 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