Virtual Gourmet

November 16, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter for November 23 because Mariani will be traveling that week.  The next issue will be November 30.

In This Issue

WHAT'S NEW IN PHILLY? by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNERCafé Boulud by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: A Super Tuscan Celebrates its 20th Anniversary with a Sotheby’s Auction
by John Mariani


by John Mariani

3945 Chestnut Street
(215) 222-1657

   One wall is a pop art hanging of more than 600 shiny masks of ”lucha libre” pro wrestlers; another shows American westerns dubbed into Spanish then back into English subtitles. Chairs are covered in the bright tartan plaids of Mexican plastic shopping bags. Some seats swing back and forth, and booths swing in semi-circles.  Downstairs the bar is a riot of color and neon, with a green and yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked next to a real, working jukebox that plays—by request--everything from James Brown to Tom Petty. The place is a hoot, but it is also one of the wittiest, savviest examples of prole food design you’ll ever knock back three cans of Dos Equis in.
      Distrito, named after “Distrito Federal,” a nickname for Mexico City, could probably get away with serving merely good Mexican grub, but Chef José Garces (left), who also runs the excellent tapas eateries Amada and Tinto in Philly, has thrown everything he knows about the real flavors of Mexican street food into the place, from an avocado guacamole tossed with lump crabmeat and a ceviche of red snapper, olives, capers, and tomato to “huaraches” (sandals), which are masa cakes stuffed with carnitas of charred pork, chorizo, ham, potato, and Oaxacan cheese. All the ceviches are  terrific, from spicy shrimp and big eyed-tuna to grilled octopus. There are tacos packed with juicy pulled pork; queso fondito melted with duck barbecue; You’ll love the charred carne asada strip steak sizzling with fried tomatillos and a creamy poblano chile-and-corn rice on the side, and Garces’ moles—duck breast, rabbit, and pork belly—are as unusual as they are good.
     Then dessert--the formidably rich tres leche cake, and churros--those sensational long, golden-brown fritters served with hot chocolate dipping sauce. You won't leave hungry.
     Distrito is setting a very hip mold for Mexican restaurants to follow in both food and decor—and that includes Mexico City.  By the way, the bar stocks 60 tequilas. Good luck.

Distrito is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner lightly. Prices are quite moderate, with appetizers running $6-$12, main courses $6-$32, although this is a mix-and-match style of menu.

237 Saint James Place

    Zahav means “gold” in Hebrew, which is what Chef Michael Solomonov hopes he will strike by offering people the food, flavors, even wines, of Israel and those European countries with their own Jewish food cultures.  So forget any thought of this being a New York-style deli.  Instead Zahav opens a wide umbrella of mainly Middle Eastern dishes that I found as well made, or better, than in many well-known restaurants in that region of the world.
     The big dining room, mostly done up in browns, isn’t exciting in the way Dispirito is, but Solomonov brings just as much exuberance to the cuisine here—beginning with hot, puffy pita bread straight from the oven. I’ve never had better, creamier hummus than here, and both the cold and hot mezzes, like kibbe naya (spicy raw, ground lamb with bulghur wheat) and Moroccan pastilla of puff pastry, rabbit, prunes, and almonds could hardly be improved upon.  Crispy haloumi comes with dates and pine nuts, and if you love deli-style chopped liver, wait to you taste the finer variety here, served on rye toast with baby onions.
     The shipudim (skewered foods) cooked over charcoal are all aromatically seasoned so when they come off the grill, sizzling and smoky merguez sausage served with couscous, and baby eggplant with pistachios and rice, half the pleasure is in the scent of the food as it comes towards your table. At lunch, for $10, these are among the best bargains in town, and for $25 you can have a "party time" of four courses, including the skewers, while at dinner you may get together with friends for a Mesibah, at $50 per person, for salatim salad with pita bread and hummus (right), cold and hot mezzes, and choice of roast lamb, whole chicken, or whole fish cooked in grape leaves, then dessert.  The winelist has many interesting labels from the Middle East worth trying, since none is particularly expensive.

     God promised the Jews a land of milk and honey. Me, I’ll take the leg of lamb with saffron, Zahav serves in Philadelphia.

Zahav is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, for dinner nightly. There’s a secluded private room called "The Quarter" where Solomonov does extensive tasting menus for small parties.


Comcast Center
1701 JFK Boulevard

     Table 31 is a joint venture of  Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio after years of working together at Brasserie Perrier.  Georges, of course, is Philadelphia's most noted chef, who for three decades has symbolized haute cuisine at the great Le Bec Fin, which has scaled down (a bit) the opulence that always distinguished its décor, food, wine, and service.  Now they have turned their sights on a genre so many others are doing--the American steakhouse--and done so in a multi-level space inside the new Comcast Center skyscraper--the city's tallest building. The visuals in the lobby are literally astounding.
      Layered over three floors and 15,000 square feet, faced with the Center's huge windows, Table 31 gets its name from the most popular table not here but at  Brasserie Perrier. You can go very casual at the outdoor Cafe here, where most items are under $15, although you need not dress up anywhere on the premises: this is a steakhouse.  I'm not sure about the wisdom of a modern look to the interior, which looks like no other steakhouse you'll run across in Philly or anywhere else for that matter.  There is some color in wall hangings and good lighting in the bar (above) but otherwise it's fairly subdued, almost corporate lunchroom décor, although of a higher style--bare tables, lots of dark brown. The middle level dining room (below) is somewhat more attractive than the upstairs, which seems a bit of an afterthought. There is also a banquet room for 250.  This is a big operation. You are getting quality, though neither the raffish look of a traditional steakhouse nor the dash of a modern interpretation, and you will pay a high price for it all.
    The menu, which goes from appetizers and salads to maki rolls to sandwiches at the Plaza Café, is wide-ranging in the main restaurant, with salads, pastas, apps, steaks and chops, bistro dishes, and sides. I found many of the starters the most enticing things on the menu, including savory pork trotters wrapped in crispy phyllo-like North African brik paper with rosy Serrano ham; a plate of Italian orrechiette pasta with braised rabbit that took on a French accent from white asparagus, a fava bean ragoût, and mustard jus--very tasty indeed.  Pasta with littleneck clams and garlic was straightforward and good, and a New England lobster roll was enlivened, tastefully, with hearts of palm, smoked paprika, and a sesame brioche--a bit of lily gilding but pleasantly so.  The pizza margherita here is pretty standard stuff, however; by definition, a margherita shouldn't have Niçoise olives on it, which makes it more a pissaladière. Whole roasted chicken came crisp outside and juicy within, dashed with rosemary jus.
     I tried two of the steaks-- a New York strip at 14 ounces ($46), and a spice-rubbed Delmonico (a boned rib-eye) at the same weight ($38). The latter was nice and moist, as that cut usually is, well fatted, too, though the spice rub didn't do much for the beef. The New York strip,
pegged on the menu as USDA Prime, was of good, not outstanding,  beefy flavor.  You can go up to 24 ounces for a bone-in "tomahawk" steak ($68).  The optional Table 31 Steak Sauce, like all steak sauces, should be left off the table entirely.  Side dishes include a crisp and buttery potato tarte Tatin with onions and bacon, sautéed spinach with not enough garlic, and mashed potatoes which you can ennoble with lobster and/or black truffles for a $10 supplement.
     For dessert go with the ice creams and sorbets. The ultra-rich chocolate fantasy cake would be a real indulgence after this kind of fare.

      The winelist, which started out of whack with too many expensive bottlings, has settled into better balance.

Table 31, in its various forms, outdoor and in, is open for lunch a and dinner Mon.-Sat.  Starters range from $8-$16, entrees $25-$68.


Ritz-Carlton Hotel
10 S Broad Street

   Eric Ripert, partner at NYC's Le Bernardin and one of America's--oh, just make that the world's--greatest chefs, is not new to the Ritz-Carlton management team, having helped open a fine seafood restaurant at their resort in the Cayman Islands, and two new restaurants under his name, one in Washington DC, the other in Philadelphia. He is here titled as Culinary Director.
     At 10 Arts he has chosen a native Philadelphian, Jennifer Carroll,  as his chef de cuisine, having most recently come from Le Bernardin as sous-chef. 
Carroll focuses on what's best in the market seasonally, but I was surprised to hear that there is a high number of  the same items on both the Philadelphia and DC menus--an idea that sounds more Hyatt than Ritz-Carlton.
     The dining room is set off the magnificent domed lobby of the hotel, rising 140 feet, a structure that used to be the century-old Girard Trust Company, whose stateliness confers a great deal of beauty but also a kind of chilly white marble ambiance.  Wines are lighted and displayed
in ebony cases right under the rotunda (above).  The dining room (to the left in the photo) peeks out from behind those pillars into the lobby and is hung with heavy draperies and  glass beaded chandeliers. In a lounge area the menu is lighter, and don't miss the fabulous Philly-style soft pretzels here.  Prices range from $7 to $18.
     You might begin here with a thick, meaty crabcake with classic aïoli given a shot of Old Bay seasoning, or a beautiful tuna carpaccio (right) dressed with chives, lemon, and olive oil--very typical of the clean-cut Ripert style. A lovely bunch of mussels with a white wine broth takes on pleasing saline notes from chopped, spicy chorizo. The heirloom corn chowder is laced with crème fraîche, while hearty braised pork belly comes with a bean ragoût.
     For main courses, the seafood is the best option, like the orange-red bouillabaisse in a heady saffron broth, and striped bass "grand mère," cuddled in pearl onions, wild mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. For dessert do not miss the beignets, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a shot of chilled milk chocolate--heavenly, and soul soothing to every child of any age.

     10 Arts is open fro breakfast daily, lunch Mon.-Fri. and dinner Tues.-Sat.



20 East 76th Street (near Madison Avenue)

     For some years now Café Boulud has functioned as master chef Daniel Boulud's less formal dining venue (Restaurant Daniel was once on these premises), and through minor tweaks of décor and a succession of remarkably talented chefs trained à la Daniel, it has remained one of the Upper East Siders' favorite restaurants. You'll probably see the same faces their midweek and at lunch, then on weekends the rest of the world comes here to dine.
     The place has a sophisticated swank to it--dark and light play off white tablecloths, flowers, and highly colored wall art. There's a slight Parisian art déco feel to it, with a communal marble topped tables ideal for cocktails or walk-ins who want a bite to eat.
Nickel sconces and rice paper shaded lamps light brown, chocolate, and beige walls with ivory curtains and mirrored columns surround tables set with all the finest names, from Limôges to Orfé.  It's about as far from the look of the original, rustic family-run Café Boulud  that inspired it, where Daniel grew up in Lyon, as one can imagine, but the tastes of the food, even the more exotic food, seems as true to the original spirit of honesty and authenticity.
     From the beginning the menu here has always been divided into four sections--La Tradition, with a classic French slant; La Saison, now autumn flavors; Le Potager, inspired by the market; and Le Voyage, "world cuisine."  Nevertheless, there is nothing radically different stylistically among them; this is very much in the Boulud style, with strong input from exec chef, Gavin Kayen (below).  On a recent evening I chose from all over the place, starting off with a delightful pumpkin-ricotta terrine, and a clean, sparkling fresh tasting of tuna tartare with a zingy scallion vinaigrette and yellowtail hamachi crusted with a chile spice mixture called togaroshi (obviously from the Le Voyage side of the menu).  Wild mushroom risotto with pecorino, chanterelles, and watercress was good if not outstanding (and at $20 as a appetizer, a tad pricey).  Pricier still was
a marvelous dish of the most lightly scrambled, perfect eggs I've ever had with generous shavings of the tartufi bianchi, but you have to assume those truffles are not going to go cheap.

      Seared wild striped bass was delicious, though the sum of kabocha squash puree, Brussels sprouts, bacon, porcini, and honey apple was a bit of overload.  Very, very good indeed was pan-roasted saddle of lamb with pancetta, mushrooms, lovely Swiss chard and green beans.
       For dessert there was the inevitable but excellent soft-centered chocolate timbale and addictive apple fingers.
       Service at Café Boulud is a study in attentiveness, for despite the numbers the staff must deal with each evening, the cadence, the friendliness, and wine pouring, and all the other niceties remain in an impeccable balance of professionalism and cordiality.
       The winelist is similarly balanced for each budget, with more than 50 percent priced between $30 and $80. and 20 wines by the glass.
       The haute cuisine you will find at Restaurant Daniel on East 65th Street (now newly redecorated) is more lavish than that at Café Boulud, but Kaysen is nevertheless turning out a very sophisticated menu with amazing variety for a clientele who knows the differences and travels in both worlds with ease.
Café Boulud is open for lunch Tues.-Sat., for dinner nightly. At dinner appetizers run $17-$33, main courses $31-$47.


In the Nov. 2 issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet, a review of Charlie Palmer's Aureole in NYC ran on the basis of my dining at the restaurant three weeks ago when the executive chef was Tony Aiazzi.  It has now been announced that Mr. Aiazzi is to be replaced by Chris Lee, presently at Gilt. According to Nation's Restaurant News, Mr Aiazzi will be "
going to be taking some time off traveling and expressed an interest in getting back to Paris." So, nothing I said in my article is now as it was then, and, therefore, the report should be dismissed as immediately out of date. --John Mariani.



A Super Tuscan Celebrates its 20th
Anniversary with a Sotheby’s Auction

by John Mariani

     Say the name Ornellaia and most connoisseurs will start drooling.  So the opportunity to taste a retrospective of eight vintages back to 1988 at a pre-auction dinner at Sotheby’s New York (below) to celebrate Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia’s 20th anniversary was a dinner I’d move mountains to attend.
      The evening was hosted by Master of Wine Serena Sutcliffe, Head of Sotheby’s International Wine Department and Robert Sleigh, Vice President of the New York branch, along with Ornellaia’s Franco-German winemaker, since 2005, Axel Heinz.
     There is, of course, no legal appellation for the name “Super Tuscan,” which is instead a coinage to describe a single estate’s Tuscan red wine made with grapes that do not conform to the strict Italian denominazione d'origine di controllata (D.O.C.) wine regulations. As a result, Ornellaia and other single vineyard wines like Solaia, Sassicaia, and Tignanello were originally only allowed to be labeled as “vino da tavola,” but now are “IGT” (Typical Geographic Indication).
    Ornellaia, starting in 1981 at Bolgheri in Tuscany’s Maremma district, was the masterwork of Ludovico Antinori (his brother Piero makes both Solaia and Tignanello and his cousin Nicolo Incisa makes Sassicaia), who planted cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot on 70 hectares there. From the first vintage, in 1985, Ornellaia was recognized both as a departure from the Sangiovese-based Tuscan reds like Chianti Classico, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Brunello di Montalcino, and as an outstanding red wine all on its own. In different years the blend may change, but Ornellaia is always more Bordeaux-like in its components than Tuscan.
     Antinori eventually sold a minority interest to California’s Robert Mondavi, who afterwards took full ownership, then sold shares to Tuscany’s Frescobaldi wine family. When Constellation Brands bought Mondavi, Frescobaldi assumed full ownership of Ornellaia in 2005.
      Today the winery also now makes Le Serre Nuove, another red blend, and Masseto, a merlot. Le Volte is 50 percent sangiovese and 50 percent cabernet and merlot.
     The Sotheby’s evening on October 27 began with the youngest wines: 2005, a year of highly promising weather, resulted in a wine of big, still unyielding tannins that loosened with the food served—a tart of mushroom risotto. The blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, and 14% cabernet franc had a 4 percent touch of petit verdot, a troublesome grape given to rot but which when fully ripened gives a little spice to a wine.
      The next day, the first of 80 numbered imperials (6 liters, containing 8 bottles each) of the 2005, designated as Number 1, sold for $10,000. If you can find a regular bottle in a store, it runs about $160.
       The 2002 vintage ($140), again needing time and food to bring out its complexity after a flat beginning, is a brawny wine that will take some time to even out. Pan-seared moulard duck breast with dried cherries was beautifully matched to the powerhouse 2001 ($140), whose alcohol (Ornellaia usually comes in around 14 percent) was strongly in the nose, while the wine showed still strong, tight tannins.
       I loved the peppery, robust style of the 1999 ($150), which had softened up, had levels of flavor, and seemed quite ready to drink right now, though it should get even better over the next five years.  With roasted tenderloin of venison the 1998 ($160) had a gorgeous bouquet of fruit whose flavor flowed over the palate along with some black pepper notes and a long, deep finish.
      I have never been a huge fan of the overhyped 1997 vintages in Tuscany, and the Ornellaia from that year ($200) that night did nothing to change my mind. It was a pretty dull wine.
      With Italian cheeses, the 1995 ($175) and the 1988 ($225) were quite different: The younger wine was kind of funky, perhaps going through a so-called “dumb” period, without much distinction or complexity. The 1988 was clearly of an older style, not as heavily fruity and far more restrained, although its tannins had softened well and tasting the wine provided a time warp look at a time when Ornellaia was just beginning to show its character.
       The next evening numbered bottles of 2001-2004, in an individually numbered oak case (1 of 600) handmade by a Bolgheri craftsman, went for $3,750. Proceeds from these lots went to the Friends of Florence Foundation for the restoration of The Tribuna, an octagonal room in the Uffizi Gallery.

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 Jacksonville, Florida, Reginald Peterson called 911 to complain that Subway forgot to give him sauce with his Spicy Italian Sandwich, then called again because police did not respond in time. He was then arrested for making false 911 calls.


"I think it’s important that we all keep positive, so I’ve decided that this column will be a happy place. A happy, smiley, look-on-the- bright-side haven of goodie-good news and cheery optimism, born out of nothing more than an innate belief in the cosmic power of babies’ laughter, crisp autumn leaves, hot chocolate and crossed fingers. Think of this little hidey-hole as a pea-green lifeboat bobbing in an ocean of tears. And as the bloated corpses of investment advisors, dog walkers, kick-boxing trainers, your friends, family and neighbours float past, we’ll sing uplifting shanties and born-again hymns. Think of me as Noël Coward at the tiller. All together now: `The Stately Homes of England, how beautifully they stand, to prove the upper classes still have the upper hand.' Sing, you chavvy wretches at the back! Remember: a sea of torment is never half empty, it’s always half full."—AA Gill, "Table Talk," London Times,(11/2/08).


TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* Chef Fabio Hakill of Fabio Piccolo Fiore in NYC is introducing a new menu for his Pasta Festival,  with three separate tasting portions of pasta, sandwiched by a selection of starters and desserts, for $30, available between 5 & 7 PM each night. Call 212-922-0581.

*Beginning Nov. 16, NYC’s Bar Stuzzichini is featuring “La Famiglia Domenica”--Sunday Family Dinner, with Chef Paul Di Bari serving 3 family-style courses and supplemental dessert for $26 pp. He will also feature “porchetta,” a traditional and celebratory dish in Italy. A daily happy hour offers a complimentary stuzzichino with every drink; lunch prix fixe is $19.95. Call (212) 750-8100 or visit

* From now until Dec. 20 and from Jan .8-Match 31, Angsana Riads Collection Morocco, a group of 6 riads located in Marrakesh, offers its “Romantic Escape Package” that starts at $864 and incl. 2 night’s accommodation in a Junior Suite; breakfast;  Airport transfers ; Champagne on arrival; Spa treatment; private dinner for two. Visit or call 1-800-591-0439.

* On Nov. 22 in Burlington, VT, Hemingway’s will host a dinner with Martin Kolk, owner of Tramonti, a winery in the Chianti region of Italy, and VINILANDIA USA, an importer of quality wines from small, family-owned, Italian wine producers.  $60 pp.  for AIWF members; $70. non-members. Proceeds will help fund the AIWF scholarship for VT students. Call 802-422 -3886;

* ON Nov. 29 Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery will be holding its Annual Holiday Open House  at their family farm winery in Westport, MA, with wine Tastings throughout the day, vineyard tours, hayrides and pony rides, live entertainment and Christmas music, local vendors and baked goods, children's activities, ornament decorating, and Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Free admission. Visit or call 508-636-3423.

* On Dec 1 in NYC, the 9th ANNUAL WINTER’S EVE at Lincoln Square, hosted by the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, featuring family fun, children’s activities, live entertainment, and shopping throughout the Lincoln Square area. This year, Kevin Bacon and his band, the Bacon Brothers. Tastings will be offered free or for a nominal fee ($1-$4), to benefit City Harvest, from 6–8:00 pm, by area restaurants under Winter’s Eve canopies in front of Time Warner Center.  Restaurants incl. Asiate, Bar Boulud, Bar Masa, Compass, et al. Visit

* From Dec. 1-14 Marquis Los Cabos’ “Blue Cabo Culinary Getaway,” hosted by food and wine expert Anthony Dias Blue, celebrates Mexico’s prestige as a gastronomic destination, as well as the food and wine landscape of Los Cabos, with Chefs Thierry Dufour of Marquis Los Cabos; Margarita Salinas of San Jose del Cabo’s Don Emiliano,  and Dr. Jaime A. Villalobos Diaz, founder of The Mexican Academy of Tequila-Mezcal-Wine Tasters. $1,485 pp. Visit or call 877-238-9399.

* On Dec 5 in Washington, DC, DC Craft Bartenders’ Guild is inviting area residents to Washington’s only Repeal Day party, taking place at The City Tavern Club, priced at $80 pp. before Nov. 20 ($90 thereafter) ,with proceeds benefiting the Club’s Preservation Fund and the Museum of the American Cocktail. A 1930s jazz band will set the mood and provide the tunes for dancing. Visit or

* The Tourist Board of the Turks & Caicos Islands announced a line-up of top chefs and properties participating in the second annual Turks & Caicos Gourmet Safari, taking place Dec. 19–20, on Providenciales (Provo).  “The Gourmet Safari” will be a display of Turks & Caicos cuisine and culture against the backdrop of Grace Bay Beach.   Space is limited, with costs per couple starting at $500.  Visit


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."  THIS WEEK: SMART DEALS--NYC AT CHRISTMAS.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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:  WINTER TENNIS BARGAINS.

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