Virtual Gourmet

June 20, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

"Little Miss Sunshine" (2006)




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GOOD NEWS! now has a new food section  called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.


In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER Le Périgord by John Mariani



by Christopher Mariani


"Nave Nave Mahanna" by Paul Gauguin

     When the artist Paul Gauguin lived in Tahiti in 1885, he wrote to his friend in Paris, that he had a hut built for himself in the country on a "magnificent site in the shade, at the roadside, with a stunning view of the mountains behind me.  Imagine a huge bird-cage with bamboo bars and a roof of coconut-thatch, divided into two parts by my old studio curtains. . . . On the floor there are some mats and my old Persian rug; the whole place is adorned with pieces of material, curios, and drawings. " Then, with churlish understatement, he wrote, "You see I am not too much to be pitied for the moment."
     One hundred twenty-five years later, things haven't changed very much on Tahiti, where a feeling of contentment within the simplicity of nature is as real as the color of the water and sky.

It was during my time off the M/S Paul Gauguin that I felt a little like Indiana Jones or maybe Fletcher Christian while searching far and wide for authentic French Polynesian food.  On the second day of my voyage, the ship docked alongside the beautiful green, sacred island of Raiatea (below), where I began my search for local food culture under the hot South Pacific sun.  I ventured out with anxious curiosity onto a barren Raiatea, coming to find out that Sundays are very religious, with most businesses shut down.
     I quickly walked far opposite the dock to escape the tourist trap vendors, then down a very skinny road bordered by simple one-story homes and twisting through the base of the island’s mountainside.  As cars whizzed by, I didn’t recognize anything or anyone, still I had a feeling I was getting close to my culinary goal.  As I passed a tall concrete wall, I saw a sign that read Tonoi. I peaked into an outdoor restaurant and bar, with wooden picnic tables set  with umbrellas, right along aside the crystal clear ocean.  The tables were filled with locals, which convinced me I had found what I was looking for.  As I approached the bar, I locked eyes with a Polynesian girl probably in her mid-twenties, with golden brown skin and long dark flowing hair who said “
ia ora na”-- "hello" in Tahitian—then in English, with a lovely French accent, then asked me if I would like to join her and her cousin for lunch. With a smile as broad as I’ve ever had, I said yes.
     We sat at one of the wooden picnic tables and I left the ordering to the girls.  They ordered a platter dish called the Ma’a Tahiti and a carton of fresh sweet mango juice.  While waiting for the food to arrive, we took a dip in the water to cool off and refresh, apparently  an everyday habit of the locals, who are true ocean lovers.  After our swim, we returned to our table where we were presented with the ma’a Tahiti platter, consisting of three different dishes surrounding a cup of fresh coconut juice mixed with the juice of shrimp heads known as mitihue.
The first section of the platter was the poulet fafa, chicken mixed with coconut milk, onion, lard, and the leaves of the local taro tree, with their spinach-like taste.  The next section was filled with the fafaru, translated into “stinky fish.” The fafaru is a local fish, served raw, that has been marinated for three hours in the juice from shrimp heads and sea water—hence, the “stinky” smell--but with a complex flavor, similar to traditional French bouillabaisse.   The fafaru is meant to be eaten after being dipped in the Mitihue sauce.
The third section of the platter consists of a slightly sweeter item, which could be considered the dessert, known as the taro po’e, mashed  taro root mixed with flour and coconut milk and sometimes topped by vanilla and rum.  The same preparation can also be made by replacing the taro root with either banana or papaya for a sweeter taste. No silverware was presented with the platter, and that’s when I was told that the meal was to be eaten just with my fingers. The ma’a Tahiti is a very common dish found throughout the Society Islands and is made up of the three most abundant ingredients on the island, fish, taro root, and coconut juice.  When the lunch was over, I thanked the two girls for their hospitality and said goodbye, as they nodded and, in their sing-song voices, replied, “nana.”
     Two days later I arrived on the island of Moorea (below), where I decided to rent a small two-door stick shift car and explore the beautiful island by myself.  I drove for about 20 minutes along the ocean road and came across another outdoor restaurant called Mahana, which means sunshine, overlooking the ocean.  At Mahana I enjoyed fried mahi mahi  topped with chopped raw onions and tomatoes over a coconut milk sauce with a side of french fries.  The second dish I ate was very traditional (above), consisting of shrimp mixed with tomatoes, cucumber, coconut milk, and a touch of lemon served with hot rice.  Halfway through my meal I noticed the local customers all stood up and almost simultaneously brought their food inside.  I stood there puzzled and alone, when a local came running over to me and said, “Come join us inside, it is about to rain!” and within ten seconds of his statement, the rain came crashing down onto the thatched roof.  I finished my meal indoors and chatted with the kind gentleman who had warned me of the flash rain, clearly a very common occurrence throughout French Polynesia.  I parted after great conversation by saying “nana” and walked outside where the bright sun had returned.
     If you have the chance, make sure to try the local fire grilled kabobs, which may be prepared with beef, tuna, parrot fish, or jackfish.   The slowly-roasted suckling pig is also a must: the locals will dig out a giant sandpit and place red hot amber stones at the base, then place the pig on top,  wrapped in banana leaves, then covered by sand and roasted for up to five hours.
     The islands’ culture is very laid back, offering all the time you wish to savor the beauty of life.  Many locals stated that there is not an abundance of work beyond farming, landscaping, fishing and/or tourist hospitality jobs, so they spend a lot of there free time racing canoes, surfing, playing soccer, going camping and swimming in the ocean.  Most families are large in numbers and spend Sundays at church in the morning followed by a family meal in the afternoon.  The largest religion throughout French Polynesia is Protestant, followed by the Catholic and Mormon faith.
    The islands are breathtaking and it is a miracle how untouched they really are.  Only on the island of Tahiti, will you find the jolting sight of a  a McDonald’s or Starbucks.   Another attribute of French Polynesia is that you  will not find one beggar or street hustler trying to make an obnoxious sale, which is a common occurrence in many tropical tourist destinations. Reason being, the locals are very content with their lives in paradise and are not enticed by the allure of the American lifestyle.  The people are as simple and good as their food, with a little spice and seasoning.

To read Part One of this article, click here.



Le Périgord
405 East 52nd Street


     For those who wonder what has become of classic French cuisine, there are very few options left in NYC where you can explore the subject. There are plenty of old bistros where  Franco-Manhattan cooking is featured
(La Petite Auberge,  Le Réfuge,  and Chez Napoleon, for instance), along with a slew of more modern bistros that have a far more authentic cast to the menus, like Orsay, Benoit, and Nice Matin, and singular French modern restaurants like Le Bernardin, Corton, and Jean-Georges, and, to a certain extent, Le Cirque. But by and large, the traditions of French grand cuisine and service is no longer extant, as it was when NYC teemed with places--not all of them very good--like La Côte Basque, Le Pavillon, Lutèce, Le Madrigal, Le Cheval Blanc, Chambertain, Le Marmiton, Le Chanteclair, and so many others now long gone.
      Only two of that genre survive--La Grenouille and Le Périgord, now almost a half-century old and still under the beneficent ownership and service of Georges Briguet, who is now the paterfamilias of French restaurateurs.  Under his watch, Le Périgord sails on, through culinary fashion, and its clientele comes back, generation after generation, for  classic French cuisine that not only survives but reminds us all of its elegant excellence.
   Indeed, Mr. Briguet's bonhomie is one of the consistent virtues of Le Périgord, where you will be welcomed effusively, seated at a lovely table (there are no lesser ones here) in a room lighted and designed to be gracious and smart without ever being trendy.  You can converse with your friends but no one is near enough  or due enough to eavesdrop.  Cocktails are well made, wines impeccably opened and poured.
You will be handed a winelist with an amazing number of old vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy at prices you  might have paid 10 years ago--a tradition Briguet has kept of not hiking prices on bottles he bought  long ago. Some are well below replacement costs.
       Le Périgord may serve haute
cuisine but it does not ask haute prices: For what you'd pay in most NYC restaurants for a steak and no potatoes, you can have a complete lunch at "LP" for just $35; dinner is $65 (with a few awkward  supplements).

    The Executive Chef is Joël Benjamin, reared in Brittany and, after a ten-year stint at Lutèce, he has spent the last seven at Le Périgord, refining what he knows best.
There is a sumptuous cold buffet of appetizers (right) every day and night; along with  asparagus or artichoke vinaigrette; endive salad with beets and walnut Port vinaigrette; housemade smoked salmon and corn muffin with sour cream and salmon caviar; a very finely textured, creamy foie gras Maison with Sauternes aspic (below); and hot, seared fresh foie gras with seasonal fruits; and delicious sweetbreads dusted with harissa and  laced with a sweet red bell pepper emulsion.   I love the fat, sweet sea scallops with  creamy risotto, and there is no better lobster bisque in the city than LP's.
    For main courses, the $15 supplement for the Dover sole is worthwhile, for LP never obtains less than the best, meaty sole possible, cooked in good butter or grilled and deftly de-boned, if you like. A more modern rendering is the lobster, which comes in an Asian-tinted coriander broth, and the turbot crusted with Comté cheese and lavished with Champagne sauce is quite justly a signature item here for the past few years.

     Among meat dishes, it is difficult to choose from a lovely filet of lamb au jus with artichoke hearts and carrots or the medallions of veal with morel sauce. And if you miss the kind of crisply roasted duck French restaurants everywhere (though not so much in France) used to serve, LP's is a paragon of luxurious form. For the lustier side of French cuisine, there is calf's liver with lemon butter and veal kidneys with mustard sauce.
      This is followed by the option of choosing several cheeses in perfect condition or options from the dessert wagon, which carries sweets  again the legacy of French gastronomic history for good reason: I can never resist the oeufs à la neige, those puffy meringues bobbing in thick, rich crème anglaise, and there is a decadently good chocolate mousse, and nonpareil hot  soufflés.
      And so, in view of fresh flowers and bathed in soft lighting,  with Monsieur Briguet and his veteran staff at your behest, you begin to realize how much you missed such pampering and beauty, and for those who have no such memories, Le Périgord is a place to acquire them.

Le Périgord is open for lunch and dinner daily. There is a charming private dining room in the rear.



When Copenhagen Noma  won Restaurant Magazine's Number One Restaurant in the World this year, Chef René Redzepi (right) was asked by a Wall Street Journal interviewer,  "Your book discusses how Noma was mocked by your fellow Danish chefs before you opened.  What explains the ribbing?" Redzepi replied, "When I met my colleagues at various conventions or dinners, they would say, `I heard you're opening a restaurant doing something Scandinavian.  That's a joke, right? What are you going to call it, `The Stinky Whale?'"

For richer or poorer--most probably the latter

In Buffalo, NY Kristy Zimmerman and Clifton Swigart (left) were married on the day  the Elmwood Avenue location of Buffalo Wild Wings was to close. The couple met there  on a smoke break at the restaurant and  decided it would be the perfect place to get married. "We found out it was closing and I'm like, what better way to go out?" said Zimmerman."We thought it would be the perfect day to do it," said the bride. Watch the video of the wedding by clicking here.




Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

* On June 25 in Costa Mesa, CA, Spectrum Wine Auctions will host its third fine and rare wine live auction at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. Attendance is open to the public and free of charge. Auction catalogs are available through the website at <> , or by calling Spectrum Wine at 949-748-4845.


* From June 21 – 26 in NYC, Spina celebrates its 1st anniversary with a week of special menus and wines. 4-course menu at $35pp with optional pairing of wines $25pp).  On June 26  a unique Magnum Dinner takes place, 4 courses paired with magnums of '08 Grosjean Petite Arvine "Vigne Rovetta", '97 Fattoria di Felsina Fontalloro Supertuscan and '96 Cantina Vignaioli Elvio Pertinace Barbaresco. $78 pp incl wines. Call 212-253-2250;

* From June 21-June 24 in NYC, Bill Telepan is offering a special Summer Harvest menu at his restaurant, Telepan, which will feature the produce of Guy Jones from Blooming Hill Farm.  The 5-course tasting menu is $75 pp; $135 total with wine pairings.  Call 212-580-4300.

* On June 24 Marino Ristorante in Los Angeles is hosting a wine dinner featuring the 1980 Angelo Gaja Barbaresco wines 1983,1985
,1986,1988, 1989,1990, Sori' Tildin 1985,Costa Russi 1986,  Sal Marino (Il Grano Restaurant) will be executing the cooking, with Mario Marino and Stefano Ongaro Maitre' d. $375 pp. Call  323 – 466 - 8812.

* On June 25 and 26, Executive Chef Guillaume Bienaimé of Marché in Menlo Park, NJ, will offer a special 4-course menu featuring the best in Pacific Coast seafood, the proceeds of which will benefit the Gulf Coast Oil Spill cleanup. Marché will donate $10 for each menu sold to the Louisiana Bayoukeepers, members of the Waterkeeper Alliance. $80 pp and $59 add’l for wine pairings. Call 650-324-9092 or visit  <> .

* On June 29 in Los Angeles, Craft will host a wine dinner with Ojai Vineyards. Chef  Anthony Zappola and pastry chef Shannon Swindle will serve a 5-course menu.   $125 pp. Call Anna Morini at 424-204-7485 or email

* On June 29 in Berkeley, CA, Gather Restaurant hosts "Dinner and a Movie" with  patio buffet-style BBQ dinner, a sneak preview of new material from the film Edible City, and a panel discussion with the filmmakers and cast members. $85 pp. Call 510-525-4864;

* On Jul. 6-14th in NYC, La Fonda del Sol honors the Spanish tradition of the Running of the Bulls with a celebration of wines nand toro tapas, priced at $12 each, prepared by Chef Josh DeChellis. Call 212-867-6767.

* From July 23-25 on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Part two of the Great Barrier Feast “Chef’s Table” weekend series opens with Chef/Owner Justin North of Becasse hosting exclusive tastings and master classes at two of the island’s  venues—qualia and the new Hamilton Island Yacht Club. Wine Critic James Halliday will pair wines for the weekend’s meals. Please visit the site for booking and pricing details:

* On July 10 in Los Angeles, Concern Foundation for Cancer Research holds its 36th Annual Block Party at Paramount Studios Back lot in Hollywood.   50+ restaurants incl. Chaya Brasserie, Tavern, La Cachette Bistro, Akasha along with wineries and offers casino-style gambling, 4 bands, on-site Spa and other entertaining and entertainment opportunities.  For more information visit   or call 310-360-6100.

NEW FEATURE: 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."  THIS WEEK: Walk in the English Countryside with Everett Potter and The Wayfarers


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:

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

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


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, Bloomberg News, 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 2010