Virtual Gourmet

July 4, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER




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

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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.
 THIS WEEK: Silk Road, Las Vegas

There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week because Mariani is off again, this time eating and drinking around the West Coast.  The next issue will appear July 18.


In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER Valbella and Morello in Greenwich, CT by John Mariani

MAN ABOUT TOWN by Christopher Mariani



By Elin Jeffords

            I grew up on Sicilian-American food. My nonna, who lived with us and did most of the cooking, was from the “old country.”  The “new country,” Milwaukee, with its distinct ethnic neighborhoods, provided most ingredients necessary for her repertoire. That included tiny, black snails that the adults purged, steamed, picked out with a pin and gobbled, alternating with swigs of dago red (not a pejorative then, it was how the male members of the family referred to the jugged wine).
         We had baccalà in all it’s many salty manifestations, caponata, and a million other melanzan’ based dishes, pasta con sarde (with sardines), fish soup and thick, bready pizza topped with a shmear of intense tomato sauce, anchovies and granular hard cheese.  Cannoli and biscotti aside, my sister and I devoutly despised the lot of it. Fish soup? Give us Campbell’s. Pizza? How about a nice slice of cardboard with bland processed cheese like everyone else ate.
    But kids grow up and some of them become voracious food and restaurant writers who realize they might have missed out on something vital. Sure, I’ve eaten Sicilian dishes in Italian restaurants around the U.S. and even make some versions of my own; they are never like the grandmas’.  So, after many trips to mainland Italy, I finally headed for the ancestral homeland.

   We  flew into Catania, picked up our rental car and launched into the blood sport that is driving in Sicily. We were booked at  an agrotourism enclave outside of Siracusa, where we rented an apartment with kitchen.  (Long ago I learned the frustration of visiting a European market full of ripe cheeses, glistening produce and squirmingly fresh seafood with no way of preparing it.) The plan for the most part was to eat our main meal at lunch, hit the markets after siesta and cook in the evening.

     To celebrate our arrival and armed with a list of dining recommendations, we headed to nearby Siricusa for dinner. It was early so we had the chance to compare the rather graceless modern city with the old section of Ortigia. Surrounded by water, the softly crumbling buildings tinted pale gold in the fading light charmed us silly and it was the place we would return most often.

      The first restaurant on our list was Il Veliero; (Via Savoia, 6; 0931 465887‎) a tiny wedge-shaped space so closely packed with tables the waiters could barely navigate. At the back, near the kitchen, were two tables, one covered with dishes of antipasti, the other, an array of iced, raw seafood. We quickly determine the antipasti was one of the few starter selections and the seafood could be had grilled or fried as secondi following the pasta. (Side note: Although the four-course meal template holds true all over Italy, few eyebrows are raised if diners of fainter appetite skip one of them.). Other than a “green” salad that consisted solely of water-drenched iceberg lettuce, it was a satisfying meal full of clean, direct flavors. I especially loved the antipasti buffet, feasting on marinated mushrooms, incredibly sweet roasted peppers, sliced eggplant dusted in breadcrumbs that had softened to a savory coat and refreshing and simple orange salad with fennel, a bit of onion and slivers of nutty green olives.  No worries this would be my last encounter with one of these displays.

     Sunday, the following day, meant a big mid-day family feast and La Rambla (Via dei Mille, 8; 0931 66638‎) on the Ortigia waterfront was hopping with convivial groups. (Most noteworthy, children, no matter how young, sat quietly through the entire lengthy meal.) It was busy, yes, but as a veteran table-watcher I noted the well-paced service, until it came to us. In brief, we were all but ignored and our food was sub-par, from seafood pasta with only a hint of seafood to chewy, overcooked mussels.

     And so, for the most part, it went. Virtually every restaurant we visited from Taormina south to Marzamemi featured the same tight, unvarying menu and set-up. Antipasti spreads varied only slightly as did choice of catch of the day, but it all came down to seafood pasta or risotto, fish, calamari or shrimp grilled or fried, and a few sides. Quality of product and preparation varied little, it was mostly solid middle-of-the-road. Even the best service we experienced was never more than perfunctory.
    One of the few noticeably different eateries we visited was Ortigia’s Da Mariano, specializing in the iconic dishes of Sicily. The restaurant is situated in a narrow alley and consisting of three simple square rooms, and we were seated and quickly brought grilled crostini sprinkled with dried oregano, surprisingly good, with a platter of typical cold starters that included salumi, cheese, olives, a slice of room-temperature frittata, spinach with pine nuts and raisins and the most subtle, silky, balanced caponata imaginable. There is no menu as such. After the starters we were brought a creamy penne with ground almonds, rich and sweet and the best pasta con sarde I’ve ever eaten, served along with a bowl of breadcrumbs and one of grated cheese.  (Long ago, Franco Fazzuoli, a Florentine chef/restaurateur,   taught me that adding cheese to seafood pasta is heresy.) No such proscription in Sicily. The story goes that for ages the inhabitants were too poor to avail themselves of cheese and topped pasta dishes with toasted breadcrumbs instead. When better times came along not only did they keep ladling on the crumbs, cheese was added as well.
     I opted out of a secondo, but given the choice between seafood and a mixed grill, my husband gratefully opted for the latter, promising me a taste. Both the whisper thin lamb and chops were tough as a knock-off Fendi boot and even more tasteless. Juicy, garlic and fennel-studded sausage ruled the plate. Somehow the little decanter of after-dinner liqueur and biscotti others received didn’t reach our table.

     We took a couple jaunts inland where the restaurants veer from the all-seafood. The remarkable Pantalica necropolis site in the rugged Monti Iblei mountains involved a fair hike to view the rough burial holes dug in the rocky, vertiginous cliffs. It would be a staggering task even today with scaffolds and explosives; these were dug between the 13th and 8th centuries B.C. After all the exertion and awe, we were hungry.
     It was a holiday, the towns we drove back through were tightly shuttered. On one of the deserted streets in tiny Ferma, we saw a sign for a pizzeria pointing down a narrow alley. We took a chance and walked into a cool, dim two level space occupied only by the chef, a sweet-face waitress and a dour couple dressed in black hunching over full plates. Starving, my husband ordered an arugula, bresaola and Parmigiana salad and from what appeared to be two lists of pizza, I quickly chose a pizzolo Norma (a favorite Sicilian combo consisting of eggplant, tomato, basil and ricotta). When it was served, it looked like a standard pie wearing a separate thin crust like a hat. Turned out, after I researched it later at home, a pizzolo is a relatively rare regional variation. We got really lucky, the salad was a hearty take on carpaccio, sparked with lemon and nutty green olive oil -- the pizza was melting luscious with the bonus of two yeasty, crackling crisp crusts.
     Since dessert is the most negligible part of an Italian restaurant we’d usually head afterward to a nearby gelateria. Generations of artistry goes into the trays of fantastically sculpted frozen confection, each adorned with the appropriate fruits, nuts, candies and even fresh flowers. Cantaloupe, sweeter and more intense than the actual fruit ever seems to be, and cannoli flavor, smooth, rich and studded with bits of broken shell were impossible to stop eating.

     Again, though, it’s the same gelato everywhere --  everywhere except Caffé Sicilia (Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125; 0931 835013‎) in the strikingly baroque old section of Noto. Corrado Assenza, proprietor of the decidedly unfancy pastry shop has an international reputation for his mind-bogglingly inventive sweets. I am still reeling at the memory of his citrus salad gelato. Glassy smooth, the complex and understated flavors opened one after another – heavy cream, true citrus, sweet fennel, and onion, nutty green olive and the hint of chile heat. It was a revelation.

     Food shopping in Sicily was like opening a treasure chest. Each day an old man displayed his just-picked strawberries at a roadside stand near La Perciata. Loading up on picture perfect produce, dozens of kinds of cheeses and olives, salumi, sausages and breads is as easy as walking into a street market or supermarket (Carrefours is the go-to store). Every small seaside town invariably had a few fisherman hawking fresh-caught, glistening sea critters. Salted capers, which run almost  $10 for tiny bottle in our “gourmet” stores at home, cost less than a euro for twice the amount. Limoncello is almost as cheap as bottled water and we learned the trick of marinating the strawberries in it.
     Marzamemi, as tiny and sun baked as town in a Sergio Leone movie, is the place to buy bottled and vacuum-sealed seafood products including bottarga (dried fish roe), oil-packed tuna, fish jerky and much more. Upscale confectionery shops in Taormina, Ortigia and Noto beckon even those not afflicted with a sweet tooth and are bursting with crystalline candied citrus peel, soft nougat bars loaded with fruit and nuts, marzipan shaped to resemble every other kind of food imaginable and pastries that look as if they might float off their paper doilies. The bounty made cooking in our rather primitive apartment kitchen a joy rather than a chore.
     There are time-stopping sights in Sicily – the azure sea smacking the cliffs below Taormina, Etna crowning out of the mist, fields bursting with wildflowers in ever color imaginable. Others vistas, unfortunately, include overgrown roadways with burst bags of garbage and deserted structures marked with graffiti. Tiny, once charming villages destroyed during WWII were rebuilt on the same crowded footprint with graceless, brutalist concrete structures that are now peeling and held together with sheets of corrugated steel. The perhaps-once-majestic Parco Archeolgico in Siricusa, a grouping of ruins dating back to the sixth century B.C., is enmeshed in a welter of weeds and detritus. Though relatively prosperous, with plenty of industry and miles and miles of heavily cultivated agriculture, the atmosphere and attitudes exudes a pinched, poverty of spirit.
     No amount of smiling deference or use of rudimentary Italian on our parts cracked people’s frosty facades or got us better than negligible responses in any situation. It was frustrating and a little sad.
     Flying home, I thought I understood why my nonne labored so mightily to reproduce the food of her youth but never once expressed regret for leaving “the old country.”

Elin Jeffords is a longtime restaurant and food writer based in Phoenix, AZ.


by John Mariani

1300 Putnam Avenue, Riverside, CT
Photos: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

     New York's bedroom community of Greenwich, Connecticut has more than its share of fine restaurants that appeal both to the affluent residents of the area as well as to business people who have meetings there and those who wish to escape the city for a night out. 
     The term "suburban restaurant," of course, once carried a highly pejorative- reputation-well deserved, I might add--for bland continental restaurants and middling facsimiles of ethnic restaurants in Manhattan.  But that hasn't really been the case for quite a while in Greenwich, which counts among its stellar restaurants  Jean-Louis, Rebeccas, Thomas Henkelmann at the Homestead Inn, and L'Escale.
    For your edification this week, I've chosen two outstanding restaurants up there, one long established, the other relatively new.  The former is Valbella, which since 1992 has been a celebratory place and a regular haunt for the locals who pack it most nights of the week both for its sumptuous food and its astonishing wine cellar, containing 1,400 selections and 15,000 bottles. Owner David Ghatanfard, who also runs a very different-looking Valbella in NYC's Meat Packing District, and delightful Italian restaurant named Tutta Bella in Scarsdale, NY, knows his well-feathered clientele well and pampers them with a deft balance of familiarity and professional deference.
    Last year Valbella suffered significant fire damage, but it has been brought back to a vibrant new life with a brighter, fresher look that still maintains the trim look of a fine Greenwich home.  Downstairs in that wine cellar is where many people hold private parties of various sizes, and what a splendidly beautiful room its is, done in polished wood, with a lovely fireplace, the tables impeccably set, the stemware thin, the temperature geared to the maintenance of the wine.
    Key to Valbella's success is the quality of ingredients purchased by Mr. Ghatanfard, mostly from the butchers, seafood markets, and produce stalls in the Bronx's Arthur Avenue section.  Thus, you are assured that the shrimp cocktail will contain only the fattest, juiciest of the species, and no one gets better Dover sole week by week. Indeed, my favorite way to begin is with a cold seafood combo of lobster, shrimp and crabmeat with dipping sauces, but the medallions of first-rate tuna with a black pepper crust and light balsamic sauce are terrific too. Right now they're serving zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta over mashed potatoes in a truffle sauce--a little heavy for a starter but wonderfully tasty. And the potato gnocchi in a pink vodka sauce are among the most tender and perfectly rendered I've had in quite a while.
     I don't know how long the softshell crab season will last but get them at Valbella while you can, done with a caper and meuniere butter sauce. The steaks and veal and lamb are all top notch here--the t-bone in particular--and, as mentioned, seafood will be of the freshest, flakiest quality.
     Desserts are of a fairly predictable sort--cheesecake, tiramisu, and so on--but good, and there are plenty of dessert wines to accompany them.
     Valbella is not inexpensive but in terms of quality, breadth, depth, and the level of courtesy, you get more than you pay for here.

Valbella is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat. Appetizers run $14-$22, full pastas $28-$36, and main courses $30-$41.


253 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT

      This stately former bank building, decorated long ago with tilework by Rafael Guastavino, who also tiled the Great Hall on Ellis Island and Grand Central Terminal's Oyster Bar, has been through several mutations as a restaurant, but now, as Morello Italian Bistro, I think it's found a level of food, service, price level, and sheer amiability that gives it long legs. 
      I thoroughly enjoyed the two-level grandeur of the place when it was Gaia, a French restaurant, before becoming more of a bistro, now an Italian/Mediterranean version of the style.  Morello's owner,  Marlon Abela, runs several fine dining spots in London as well as the two A Voce restaurants in NYC, all of them well known for their winelists, overseen by director Olivier Flosse, which here in Greenwich includes 750 selections, with half priced under $90, 20 offered by the glass, and on Tuesdays, you may B.Y.O.B without a corkage fee. 
(They're holding a Sassicaia wine dinner July 19 with the vineyard's owner, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, at $250 per person.)
      Young chef Mark Medina-Rios (right), most recently at London's private club Morton's, is doing contemporary takes on classic dishes with an American largess of portions. So share a plate of grilled zucchini with mint, orange, and pine nuts, or a selection of salumi like coppa, Speck, and cacciatorini.  The  mozzarella en carozza is not true to classic form but it's very flavorful, and the juicy meatballs pentollina, long braised in tomato sauce with a whiff of truffles are not to be missed. I'd make a meal out of the porchetta with pickled red onion and ciabatta bread.
     Except for a bland pesto alla genovese that needed more intense basil flavor, there wasn't a miss among the lush pastas here, including the ricotta gnocchi with cotechino sausage and tomato sauce; the hearty garganelli bolognese; and the cuttlefish chitarra with broccoli, capers, ricotta, and olive oil. 
      Same goes for main meat courses like osso buco with polenta and sweet-sour gremolata.  Veal milanese--always a good test of an Italian kitchen--was as crisp as I could wish, the veal tender and greaseless, served with marinated tomatoes and arugula.  Trout comes stuffed with artichokes, almonds and chickpeas, and halibut was in need of more assertive fish broth.  If you're up for sharing a porterhouse for two, by all means do so, but there's a nicely chewy skirt steak with red wine sauce that's outstanding in its rich flavor. 
      You get a glass of amaretto di Saronno with your tiramisù dessert, but order a plate of the bombolini doughnuts (left) with an orange-honey cream, and chocolate sauce--giddy, childlike fun, good and messy too.
      Morello's ambiance is at least half its allure, and you get a well-dressed--casually dressed--Greenwich crowd that will often start off at the bar downstairs and move on to dinner from there. From hostess station to maître d' and waiters, the service staff could not be better attuned to this sophisticated crowd.  This place has hit its stride.

Morello Bistro is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., brunch on Sun., and nightly for dinner. Antipasti at dinner runs $6-$18, pastas (full portions) $19-$21, and  main courses, $22-$31, with the steak for two $58.




by Christopher Mariani

The Spirit of ThailandMekhong Thai Spirit is making its mark throughout NYC, stocking the shelves of some of the hottest restaurants and bars such as Blue Smoke, Fatty Crab, and Gaslight, which have each created their own summer cocktail.  Mekhong  is 35% alcohol by volume and has a spicy ginger aroma and slightly sweet finish, which is enjoyed neat by most Thai locals but mixed here in the States.  I was present at the “Ask a Thai Princess” promotional event, which took place in Manhattan’s Meat Packing District to showcase some of the spirit’s specialty drinks offered at Revel, STK and Gaslight.
     The evening started at Revel, which served up the Lightning Bug,
made with 2 oz Mekhong, ½ oz lemon juice, ½ oz egg whites, 2 oz prosecco and three sprigs lemon grass, served chilled in a martini glass. Moving on to Entwine by way of a two-passenger rickshaw, accompanied by a “Thai Princess," (left), I tried the Mekhong Old Gashion: 2 oz Mekhong, 1 oz simple syrup, 1 dash of bitters, 1 dash of club soda, topped with an orange slice and a Maraschino cherry, which tasted very similar to a Campari on the rocks with a splash of soda.
     The final stop after jumping back into the rickshaw with a different Princess--ironically from Queens, NY--I headed to Gaslight for my final drink of the evening, where I tested the Mekhong Cosmopolitan: 1 ½ oz Mekhong, ½ oz. Triple Sec, ½ tablespoon of cranberry juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice topped with one mint leaf.  For more Thai cocktails go to


Lillet’s New Summer Label--Lillet recently held its launch party at the rooftop lounge, Above Allen, on top of the Thompson LES Hotel to celebrate its new summer label for its Lillet Blanc (right).  The limited edition summer label was created by artist Autumn Whitehust and portrays Lillet’s "The Lady of the Vine" in an art déco fashion representing the roaring 20’s lifestyle.  Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif from Bordeaux, a blend of 85% wine and 15% citrus liqueurs,  is most recognized for being the key ingredient in James Bond’s famed Vesper Martini introduced in the novel Casino Royale.
     The party offered some interesting cocktail blends, my favorite being the Unusual Negroni: 1 ¼ oz Hendrick’s Gin, 1 oz Aperol and 1 oz Lillet Blanc shaken with ice and served into a chilled martini glass garnished with a pink grapefruit twist.  A favorite drink among many of the female guests was the Lillet sangria: 3 oz Lillet Blanc, diced apples, orange, peach, melon, grapes and berries, lemon-lime soda, and ½ oz fresh lime juice stirred together served over ice, topped with a splash of soda and garnished with an orange slice.           




In Anchorage, Alaska, Police received a report of a man trying to deliver a pizza order Sunday night and was confronted  by a man with a gun and a stick and three other people who attacked him from behind, grabbed the pizza, and ran away--but did not steal his money.  The delivery man followed one of the attackers,to a home where police arrested her., while the other suspects barricaded themselves inside, at which point the Anchorage SWAT team entered the property, arresting the alleged perpetrators.



Danny Meyer, CEO of NYC's  Union Square Hospitality Group, which incl.  Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Shake Shack and others gave his list of Five Phrases Danny Meyer Hopes You'll Never Hear in One of His Restaurants:

1. "Are we still working on the salmon?"

2. "May I bring you a bottle of mineral water or do you drink Bloomberg tap water?"

3. "It's against our policy."

4. "May I grind some fresh pepper for the lady?"

5. "How is everyone enjoying themselves?"



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

* In Atlantic City, NJ, Tropicana Casino & Resort's new seafood restaurant FIN presents Wasabi Wednesdays. From 5-7 pm The Bar at FIN will offer half-price sushi rolls, sake and saketini drinks. Visit  or call 609-340-4000.

* From now – Sept. 4 in Portland, OR, East India Co. Grill & Bar presents a summer “Farmer’s Market” dinner menu at $20 pp. Call 503-227-8815;

* From now until July  31 in Pontefract, England, the licorice capital of England, in Yorkshire, will welcome the Pontefract Liquorice Festival with a host of items made from the black root available to sample, as well as family-themed events and a town center parade.  Call +44-0845-601-8353.

* From July 6 - 10 in NYC, The SHO Shaun Hergatt Restaurant, located at the The Setai Wall Street, is celebrating its first year anniversary with a 4-course menu from Executive Chef Shaun Hergatt paired with Cremant du Jura.  Each guest will be awarded a gift card to The Setai Spa in the amount of $50 as a special thank you. $79 pp.  Call 212-809-3993 or visit

* On Jul. 7 in NYC, Vosges Haut-Chocolat will host an Oyster+Chocolate Tasting Soiree at their SoHo boutique, featuring Chef Nick Korbee of Smith & Mills. Champagne will be poured. $50 pp. Call 212-625-2929 or email

* On July 8 in Manhattan Beach, CASashi presents an All Star Culinary  Experience for Chef Makoto's "Iron Chef America Battle Viewing"--6-course Tasting Menu. Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Top Chef Champion Michael Voltaggio and more come together to prepare meal. $120 pp. Visit or call 310-545-0400.

* On July 11 Bacaro Restaurant in Champaign, Il will present Borgogno Barolo Riserva Vertical and Summer Black Truffle Tasting menu with Steven Alexander, wine director at Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago as guest sommelier. The Borgogno Barolo Riservas to be poured are the '67, '78, '82, '90, '96, '00.  $300 pp.  Call 217-398-6982.

* From July 12-17, Pierrot Gourmet at The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, is running a week-long à la carte menu to celebrate Bastille Day.  Call 312-573-6754.

* On July 13, in Chicago, IL, The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s sommelier Pierre Lasserre and 850 Lake Shore Drive host “Wine Tasting at The Ritz,” incl. an informational presentation on 850 LSD and education on the art of wine appreciation at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s Pearson Room. Call 312-915-0850.

* On July 14,  Grand Cafe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco, CA celebrates Bastille Day when a beautiful Marie Antoinette will greet guests with complimentary cake and Executive Chef Sophiane Benaouda has prepared a 4-course dinner at $75 pp. $17.89 bar menu;   Call 415-292-0101.

* On July 14 in San Francisco, CA, Chez Papa Resto hosts a Bastille Day celebration with a 4-course dinner with wine pairings, plus live music.  $90 pp. Call 415- 546-4134 or visit

* On July 16 and 17, the Museum of New Mexico Foundation in Santa Fe announces the Taste of Santa Fe featuring 30+ restaurants. Chef John Rivera Sedlar of Rivera Restaurant in Los Angeles hosts the Fri. night Gala, with a dinner prepared by  Santa Fe chefs who will cook Spanish, Mexican, New Mexican, Native American and Argentinean cuisines. Gala Tix $600 (per couple) and the Community Tasting Event is $25 for 12 tickets. Visit

    * On July 16 in Atlanta, GA, eleven at Loews Hotel will host a cheese tasting and culinary delight dinner. Jeremy Little from Sweet Grass Dairy Farm and cheese expert Clark Wolf will host an interactive tasting experience with tasting stations and plated servings.  $50 pp.   Call 404-745-5745.

* From July 18-25 in Los Cabos, Mexico, Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts and Spas hosts "2010 PacifiCooks," featuring custom dinners designed by collaborating master chefs, cooking seminars, cocktail receptions and much more.  Call (52) (624) 142 9999 or visit

* On July 19 in NYC, Gohan Society Presents "Suntory: the Whiskey of Japan" at FCI with Mr. Seiichi Koshimizu of Suntory Whisky, Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, food pairings by Chef Suvir Saran of Devi.  $30 pp. call 212-710-0529.

* On July 20, L'Espalier in Boston  hosts an exploration of Vermont cheeses with Boston's only Grand Fromager. Call 617-262-3023 or contact Maryanne Keeney, 617-848-8805.

* On July 22,  at Strip House in NYC, Executive Chef John Schenk will host an evening of  cuisine paired with exceptional bourbon. This 5-course dinner will be complemented by  Woodford Reserve bourbon –infused cocktails . $85 per person. Call 713-659-6000.

* From Jul. 24 – 30 in Whitstable, South East England, the Whitstable Oyster Festival celebrates Whitstable, old and new.  Highlights at the annual fair incl. the Landing of the Oyster ceremony and the Oyster Parade, as well as walks and talks around Old Whitstable and the harbor.  Ticket prices vary by event.  Call +44-0122-786-2267.


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: A Lighthouse with a View; Iceland Is Closer than You Think.


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).

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 SeasonsMagazine; Wine Columnist,;;


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, 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