Virtual Gourmet

July 17,  2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER


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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.
The Michelin Man Goes to Chi-Town, But Who Gets the Stars?


In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER Testaccio by John Mariani


MAN ABOUT TOWN by Christopher Mariani

Tradition and Innovation in Basque Country Dining
by Misha Mariani

                                                                                  San Sebastián

        As a whole, Spain has a very strong national identity and a community of people who want to hold onto their regional roots by calling on a history that pre-dates the Romans, but it is quite evident that each region's people don't want to recognize themselves as Spaniards as much as they do Catalans, Valencians, Castillians, or, especially, Basques.  In the Basque country of the north, the language is drastically different than Catalonian or any dialect,  and during a recent trip I noticed these distinctions  firsthand while sitting in a pintxos bar in San Sebastián when a woman tourist  watching a TV soccer game screamed out, “Viva España!” Not  a good idea, because to the Basques,  España is little more than a  generalization: the locals looked at her and started yelling at her for what they took as profanity, as if she found the regional patriotism insignificant.

     But besides the language, the Basque  region is also defined by the glorious food and the social interactions that surround eating and drinking. When we arrived in San Sebastián, we met up with some friends who live there and happen to work at the world renowned Mugaritz restaurant. Through  them, we were able to  get a local perspective and the opportunity to experience only the best of what San Sebastián had to offer.

      Most of our eating in town consisted of a lot of pintxos  (the Basque term for tapas), which traditionally consists of slices of fresh bread topped with different items such as anchovies, peppers, jamon, and a few other ingredients. (To be wholly traditional about it, as Spanish food and wine authority Gerry Dawes points out, the topped breads are called montaditos, and pintxos are more on toothpicks, though  pintxos are now being used interchangeably with tapas.)

      Pintxos bars tend to be the meeting places for friends, lovers, people on dates ,and are the places where individuals come to socialize and relax over a glass of beer or txakoli, the fizzy regional white wine poured from a height into the flat-bottom glass.  Bouncing from one bar to the next is very common, for the reason that some bars are known for certain items and also because a glass of txakoli and pintxos will only cost you €4-5, allowing you to move around as you please.

     The first bar we went to was Bar Portaletas, one of the larger in the area, where we had classic pintxos of white anchovies, diced pimientos, and a pepper relish, as well as with white anchovies, jamon and an onion relish, both well balanced, clean tasting, with the right amount of fat, salt, and acidity.  The giant local mushrooms called hongo beltza a la plancha (left) were sliced and cooked on the griddle and dressed with olive oil, parsley, garlic and sea salt.

     We then moved on to Bar Ganbara, known for their braised octopus, served either hot or warm with potatoes, a generous amount of olive oil,  Spanish paprika, and a side of fresh bread with which to sop up the oil. Ganbara is also recognized for its warm mini-croissant sandwiches (below) stuffed simply with great quality jamon and melted cheese as well as their croquetas de jamon, which everyone does, but they  do perfectly.

    As I noted, many of the bars are known for specific items: La Cepa, open since 1948, is the place to go for jamon de Jabugo. Here you can enjoy a glass of txakoli and a small or large palette of thinly sliced jamon cut from one of the dozens of legs that hang from the ceiling. For anchovies, get over to Txepetxa, which  cures their own and creates exciting and delicious pintxos with them.

     Not all the bars in San Sebastián stick to classic Basque country pintxos; some are doing slightly more modern,  upscale dishes. For this type of bar, I recommend Cuchara De San Telmo and Bar Barri. At the former you can get small plates of braised beef cheeks, cannelloni of braised meat trimmings with beef jus and sea salt, croquetas of sweetbreads (not that great), or pig’s ear crisped on the plancha with a puree of chickpea and braising jus. And at Bar Barri, which I thought was a little better, you can sample the goat’s cheese à la plancha with sesame seeds and prune puree; ham neck with pimiento choricero, a traditional pepper puree; a tempura-fried croqueta of mixed meat mousse and an aïoli; or stuffed piquillo peppers with beef cheek, goat’s  cheese, mushroom puree and aïoli--all extremely tasty and satisfying.

     On our last day in San Sebastián, our friends brought us to one of their favorite places, Donostiarra, quickly becoming one of my favorites, a place with a long history; once owned by a gentleman who decided to close up shop after decades of success,  the new owner re-opened, calling on the previous owner to ask for all his recipes so that it could continue to produce the same food that its costumers had come to love.

    The design of the bar is simple but contemporary. Recommended items are the classic potato and egg salad with cured anchovies; a plate of oil-packed anchovies (left), tuna, olives, and guindillas de ibarra (pickled small green peppers); bocadillos (sandwiches about four to six inches long) with tuna and anchovies or chorizo, and the classic pintxos,  the tortilla egg omelet with potatoes cooked in olive oil, which most pintxos bars make large size and serve a slice of; at Donostiarra they make personal sized ones in six-inch pans. If your time is limited  in San Sebastián and can’t frequent all the pintxos bars that the city has to offer, then make sure  Donostiarra is on your list.

         The dining scene throughout  Spain is extremely relaxed and casual. That’s not to say that strolling the streets at dusk or under the street lights of the night dressed well with a beautiful woman on your arm won’t  create an indelible memory I highly recommend,  but as far as dress codes and requirements go, there really aren’t any. The normal dress for men is casual slacks or jeans with a nice polo or button down shirt in most establishments. But don’t think the food or service is going to match the lax attitude; quite the opposite. Here in the Basque country, the people pride themselves on their local ingredients, traditional dishes, attention to quality, and generous hospitality.

     As addictive and satisfying as pintxos bar hopping can be, there are restaurants worth saving a little room and euros for. Right outside of San Sebastián, about a 30-minute drive, is an exceptional restaurant called Etxebarri.  This quaint little restaurant (right)  in the tiny village of Axpe, with little else in it but  the lovely Basque countryside as backdrop, rests in a building constructed in the 18th century and renovated in 1989 by Victor Arguinzoniz, who is both the chef and owner. He took this restaurant and applied  purity and focus on the highest quality ingredients. But he didn’t stop there. Many chefs claim to do the same thing, but I don’t know any others who build numerous grills just so that each grill will house a specific type of wood to cook with.  Every dish served at Etxebarri is cooked on a wood-burning grill, including the desserts.  It’s not just Arguinzoniz’s attention to details, quality, and extreme talent that separate him from everyone else, it’s his adamant dedication to cooking in the oldest and purest way.

      We walked into the restaurant a little early, so we decided to have a drink at the bar to buy some time. More txakoli! A young woman led us upstairs to the dining room, asking if we preferred smoking or non-smoking, and showed us to our table in a open room with cathedral ceilings, hanging light fixtures of red glass, stone masonry, and barn house décor. The tables are simply set with white tablecloths, fine glassware, and beautiful silverware.

       After looking at the menu and being given the option of the chef cooking for us, we all chose to have the tasting menu. We ordered a bottle of Itsas Mendi Bizkaiko Txakolina No. 7, a wine local to the region, with floral notes, well-balanced acidity, and a slight fruitiness.
    At Etxebarri, the bread, baked in the wood-burning ovens, is a good base on which to eat perhaps the finest chorizo (above) I have ever had, made in house, with a fat marbling that made it practically melt in your mouth and a pork flavor wholly unlike the lean fat free pork we have here in the States. After the chorizo, came a slice of country bread, lightly toasted with smoked fresh goat’s butter, thinly shaved local mushrooms and raw baby vegetables, something you might find in New York  at a locovore haven like Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

     At this point we moved on expectantly to seafood, given the Basque country’s emphasis on the sea. Now, with our appetites just getting going, out came red prawns (below), so very lightly grilled, the flesh just warmed through, and drizzled with fine olive oil, sea salt, and a little chickweed. Until you’ve had one of these, you don’t know what a sweet shrimp tastes like, and to not waste the slightest bit, we picked up the heads to make sure we sucked out all the last bits of flavor. Do not, I repeat, do not be shy; this is one of the best parts of the shrimp.

   Following the prawn was another crustacean, a giant specimen, locally called a “Royal Prawn,” but universally named the “Slipper Lobster” (below). Once again, it was simply grilled till perfectly cooked, tender and succulent, with a natural sweetness that far surpassed any Maine lobster I’ve ever had. There is no glitz or manipulation in these dishes, they are just pure, great ingredients cooked with a respect for what they are.

         As we moved on, the dishes started to become a little bit more composed. First was a dish of local cockles, grilled till just  opened,  with a light smokiness and finished with grapefruit segments and candied orange. Not being a fan of clams in the past, I had to reconsider when I tasted these.  Following these was baby octopus, pulpito, quickly grilled and served with a red onion compote, wilted spinach, pickled red onion and squid ink sauce. As well as teardrop peas, barely blanched, with a just  farmed egg yolk, crisps of jamon, purple potato puree, and a garniture of pea flowers, this was a dish well thought out but a little too heavy on the puree, which  overpowered and drowned out the delicate flavor of the young peas.

         After the few composed dishes we had, we went right back to basics, first with a whole grilled turbot, in Spain called rodaballo,  served with an emulsion of its own gelatinous juices, olive oil and lemon juice.  (Turbot  is perhaps my favorite fish, and the hardest to find made well in the States,  but if you want  the best in NYC,  look no farther then Marea, Michael White’s Italian seafood restaurant on Central Park South, where he serves it—and I used to cook it when I worked there!-- in almost  the same manner.)

     And last but not least, was the steak. Perhaps a little background on Spanish meat:  The Spanish don’t have the same meat or methods of raising cattle as we do here in the States. The idea of corn-fed cattle doesn’t cross their minds. Everything there is grass fed and aged--but  not post-slaughter; instead, they like their cattle older in years than ours, which helps them develop a distinct flavor and tender texture, and to top it off, they serve it rare. Myself, I love good American beef, but the Spanish steak is nothing to be balked at, unique, flavorful, and extremely tender, and Etxebarri does it well.

     To finish our meal, we had a palate cleanser a floral granita with a hint of anise liqueur,  followed by a smoked fresh cheese ice cream with a mixed red berry soup. Remember, I said everything was smoked over coals,  but it’s always done subtly, so as not to overpower the ingredients.  Last was a dessert of milk ice cream and pain perdu (grilled and caramelized French toast) with fire-roasted strawberries.

         Etxebarri was by far one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve ever had, one filled with wonderful company, calming ambiance, and phenomenal food. If you’re in the area, do not hesitate to rent a car, take a cab, or find some other way to visit this stand-alone restaurant in the hills of Spain. You will be greatly rewarded.
      Our meal, with wine, tax, and service, came to about 165 € per person.

     At the other end of the spectrum, Spain has new  restaurants that dabble in what many have called “molecular gastronomy,” a  genre pioneered by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli in Roses--who calls his cuisine cocina de vanguardia--and a far cry from the simplicity and purity of restaurants such as Etxebarri. Just as in more  puritan restaurants, there are good and bad specimens, and in a genre of cuisine that sets itself up for a lot of criticism, risk and potential for shortcomings, there are few places that  can compete with  Arzak.

     Prior to walking into Arzak (above), I had read a lot of different reviews on the restaurant that made me believe that I was going to see things I had never seen before, things that were going to blow my mind, dishes that I couldn’t recognize.  I was expecting it to be a science show, and when I arrived, yes, there were concoctions  I had never seen before,  and, yes,  things that blew my mind, but was it the kind of lab experiments people make of molecular gastronomy? No.  In the States, molecular cooks’  main purpose is to wow first, not to satisfy,  and  very, very few have the experience and the extensive experimental background that Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena (below) have acquired. They keep true to their Basque cuisine and  respect and focus on every ingredient,  maintaining  classic cooking techniques highlighted by some manipulative effects, not the other way around. This, for me, is what makes Arzak unique and one of the best at what they do.

         Arzak was opened in 1887 by Juan’s grandparents, José Maria Arzak Etxabe and Escolástica Lete, with the intention of becoming a distinct presence in the city of Alza, which later became San Sebastián. With those intentions came great success. As generations passed, Arzak was transformed into one of the innovators and creators of a new, modern, and contemporary cuisine, changing the world of gastronomy as people new it, acquiring accolades that include three Michelin stars and, in 2009,  Spain's Premio Vedrá.

     Juan, who had trained under many of the greats such as Bocuse, Troisgros, Senderens, Boyer and Arrambide, has now created his own notch on the totem of Basque gastronomic history. Elena has degrees from Cambridge and Oxford, as well as training with  at La Gavroche,  Troisgros, Carrá de Feuillants, and Vivarois. With these two highly decorated individuals, you can imagine what is possible.

         To start off our tasting menu, we began with an array of tasty amuse bouches, ranging from a simple bean soup and tart apple, perfectly ripe strawberries with cured anchovies, and a tempura of blood sausage, all delicious one- or two-bite morsels to get the palate going.  Successive dishes became more creative and playful, like gently cooked lobster in a boat of crisp potato and served with a sauce made from copaiba, a resin obtained from a legume tree native to South America, followed by a poached fresh farm egg  con temblor de tierra,” a play on words meaning earthquake, with a crumble of toasted panko  breadcrumbs and dehydrated mushrooms with a touch of sweetness that balanced out the whole dish.

     We then moved onto our fish course, a dish called Rape Marea Baja (above), meaning "low tide," roasted Monkfish and a spread of almond puree mimicking sand and clams molded into the shape of a seashell, so that the dish visually resembled the seashore scattered with shells, coral and starfish. And to finish off our savory courses, ossobuco de Cordero,  a perfectly roasted loin of lamb served with a natural jus and garniture of potato transformed into the appearance of a bone.

   To finish our meal, we sampled a selection of the desserts ranging from Sopa y Chocolate “entre viñedos,” a strawberry soup, basil sorbet, and molten spheres of chocolate;  Bizcocho Esponjoso de Yogurt, a yogurt sponge cake with a tart of passion fruit, and white chocolate with a filling of lemon curd.

   Arzak also has a phenomenal wine cellar (right), spanning the globe but with a great focus on Spanish varietals and regions. The list could take a half hour to read through, so do not be shy to ask the sommelier for a few recommendations. We enjoyed a 2007 Allende Rioja and 2006 Ceres from Ribera Del Duero, which  went perfectly with our meal.
    An average meal at Arzak runs about 155 €.


by John Mariani

47-30 Vernon Boulevard
Long Island City

It is assumed that you can get anything you want in NYC's Italian restaurants, but in fact, few actually commit to a menu of food from a specific region, instead offering a pan-Italian menu with a few special dishes from Campania or Liguria or Tuscany.  So the emergence of Testaccio, named after the eighth hill of Rome, which is really a mound of ancient broken wine amphoras (testae), as the only true Roman trattoria in NYC is absolutely wonderful news.

     Owned by Chef-partner  Ivan Beacco, general manager Adriana Crescenzi, and partners  Carlo and Paul Bordone, seen below with NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (a fourth partner not in the photo is Alviero Pirani), Testaccio is  in Long Island City, which is not on Long Island but in Queens, just minutes' drive from the 59th Street, Triborough, or Whitestone Bridges (the No. 7 subway takes you to Vernon and Jackson Avenue).  It's a long, handsome room with a bar upfront, ample use of red brick and good lighting, and an open pizza oven.  Beacco will probably bound over to your table to say hello and make suggestions, but you can pretty much choose from anywhere on the menu and you'll be amazed at the fidelity of his cooking to Roman tradition.  Only Danny Meyer's new Maialino in Manhattan  comes as close.
     The antipasti include one of the best, crispiest renditions of carciofi alla giudea--fried baby artichokes--you'll ever taste, and there is a selection of Roman starters, including cheeses, salumi, bruschetta with anchovies, and mozzarella, and scrumptious fried croquettes called suppli with various stuffings.
     All the pastas I tasted were outstanding, from the simplest, tagliolini cacio e pepe (below), graced with nothing more than cheese and black pepper, to bucatini all'amatriciana, sweet with tomato, onions, and guanciale;
matagliata comes with a rich, heady ragù and wild mushrooms, and if you love polenta, Testaccio's will make you blissful--a hefty hill of golden cornmeal with taleggio cheese and sweet pork sausage--a triumph of good eating. Butternut squash ravioli in goat's cheese sauce is as good as any pasta in NYC, or Rome for that matter.

      The only disappointment among the starters was a too-thin pizza, tasty but without the corona of crust that would make it so much better, despite its being topped with Gorgonzola, mozzarella, and Italian ham.
      As you walk into the dining room you may see a whole suckling porchetta to your right.  Order a portion before it's all gone! Its skin cracks in your mouth, oozes just enough fat, and for $30 it's "all you can eat," with a side dish and a glass of Rome's Castelli Romani or Frascati.  If tripe is on your list of hearty offal, by all means go for the trippa in humido here, braised a long time with tomato and onions, shaved pecorino, and the typical Roman addition of mint. Equally good is the coda alla vaccinara, braised oxtail in red wine, with tomato sauce, roasted vegetables and sweet caramelized onions.  For something simpler but every bit as juicy, the roasted whole Cornish hen comes with vegetables, peppers, and potatoes.

     The service staff, which seems overworked, can also be lax, and you will find yourself hailing a waiter or busboy throughout the evening.  The winelist is just long and short enough for a trattoria cellar, and there are some very good buys on it well under $50.
     At this point you may wish to stop--and probably bag some items to take home--but the desserts are worthwhile if nothing outstanding, the best being the tortino of chocolate and coffee with caramel sauce.
     It is such a real treat to find an authentic Italian restaurant anywhere, but to find a rigorously true-to-form Roman restaurant is not just a novelty but an important addition to NYC's dining landscape.  Do not miss an opportunity to dine at Testaccio if you crave the kind of food you contend you never can get outside of Rome.

Testaccio is open daily from noon onward. Antipasti run  $8-$15, pastas $14-$19; main courses $18-$30.



by John Mariani

     Over the years I’ve spent very little time trolling through sales bins at wine stores, because 90 percent of the time the offerings are poor sellers or excess inventory of undistinguished, already cheap wines.

      But I am not so flush these days that I can snub a good bargain, and out of professional interest I thought it worthwhile to check out some recent discount sales at fine wine stores and see what was worthwhile to drink.  What I found was that, as never before, much better wines are now being offered at much better prices, owing to the huge wine glut on the market during these recessionary times.

      As recent auction prices have shown, the First Growth Bordeaux and the most illustrious Burgundies are going for record bids, but below that firmament very little is selling well, especially out of French wineries.

      France, more than Italy, Spain, and South America, has not been able to export enough interesting, full-flavored wines at moderate prices (under $15) to keep sales from flagging, aside from a few enormous successes like Gallo-owned Red Bicyclette at $8--even after a French court convicted 12 members of the Languedoc wine industry last February of illegally blending cheap merlot and syrah into 18 million bottles of pinot noir-based Red Bicyclette.

       So when I spotted an ad—among many these days—for deep discounts at the fine wine store Zachys (above) in Scarsdale, NY, that read “The $12 Sale Is Back!” I thought it worth a drive to see what’s going cheap these days.  I chose a dozen or so bottles based on what looked intriguing, hedging my bets by siding with Chile, Spain, and Italy, and, after tasting all of them, both alone and with summer food, I have to say I was really delighted with the majority.

      Some of the wines had been marked down from as high as $23, though most had been about $17. At $12 a bottle I would certainly drink the good ones any night of the week and happily even pay list price for some.  Most important, my tastings showed that producers are shipping quality matched to price in just about every kind of varietal, from barbera d’alba to shiraz.

      One of the most impressive was a full-bodied, fleshy Altos de Luzon 2006 from Jumilla in Spain, a blend of 50 percent monastrell, 25 cabernet sauvignon, and 25 tempranillo of a kind you usually find in more expensive bottlings. This one showed bold tannins and enough spice to go throughout a meal of roast chicken with white beans and tangy-hot salsa verde.

      From Spain’s Ribera del Duero region came a solidly knit Creta Roble 2006, 100 percent tempranillo grown at 850 meters (2700 feet), whose coolness calms the grape and gives the finished wine a finesse and then a nice bite of acid at the finish.  I drank this with a very rare porterhouse and nothing but a shake of sea salt and black pepper.  Perfect!

      A third Spanish bottling, Borsao Crianza Selecçion 2006 is another example of how modestly priced wines need not be one-dimensional.  This is a blend of 50 percent grenache, 25 tempranillo, and 25 cabernet sauvignon, so that the violet notes of the grenache play off the softness and tannins of the other two varietals.  Curiously enough, though it began with good backbone, its power faded after two glasses.

     A 2008 barbera d'alba from Stefano Farina in Italy’s Piedmont showed just how good this workhorse grape can be, even this young, when handled carefully, revealing the ripe fruit, the lovely fragrance, and a peppery undertone that makes it excellent with red meats like lamb or veal.

      Mas du Fadan Les Fées 2007, from the Côtes du Ventoux in the southern Rhône region, had a characteristic purple color and big rustic smell, which partially derives from its not being filtered. It’s a bawdy beauty of a red wine, made for barbecued ribs on the grill and sweet corn on the cob.


      Not every wine I tasted was as good as these—a Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from Napa Valley was pale to the eye and palate, and a Lagone Aia Vecchia from Tuscany 2007 was all tannin and no taste.  But for a dozen wines chosen more or less at random, I thought I had found that level of quality that puts much more expensive wines into focus when asking the question, is a $50 bottle really all that much better than a $12 bottle?  More and more, I think, the answer is not quite so easy as it once seemed.

John Mariani's  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.



by Christopher Mariani

Emeril’s Red Marble Steaks--The Allen Brothers Company, with a longstanding reputation of offering high-quality steaks has teamed up with Chef Emeril Lagasse to release a new line of meats called Emeril’s Red Marble Steaks, currently being sold online strictly for US household consumers.  Emeril, who stands behind his product, claims the Emeril’s Red Marble Steaks are the same  served at his own Emeril’s Chop House in PA. At a recent event in Chelsea NY, showcasing the line’s best cuts of meat, tenderloin, ribeye, and strip, I was able to meet Chef Lagasse, who was extremely proud-- rightfully so--of his new venture.  I tasted the well-fatted 1 1/2 inch- thick juicy ribeye, seared and cooked by the man himself.  According to a spokesperson for the company, while not all of the steaks are USDA Prime, all of the steaks sold are hand-selected.  With authentic NYC butcher shops like Arthur Avenue’s Biancardi’s slowly becoming a rarity, it is nice to see the online market offering a new option for great steaks, considering we all know of the disappointment when sifting through local supermarket chain meat departments  filled with fully trimmed, extremely lean, tasteless cuts of meat.


The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English--On June 4, Chef Todd English opened The Plaza Food Hall, inside NYC's Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue at Central Park South,  offering New Yorkers and visitors both prepared and retail food items.  The hall, seating up to 80, is made up of eight unique food stations including the ocean grill and oyster bar, which sells whole fish, fresh oysters, Alaskan king crab and even prepared items like lobster rolls and grilled branzino to be brought home.  The grill, prepares amazing made-to-order burgers--my favorite is the prime rib slider topped with caramelized onions and fontina cheese--and also savory carved meat sandwiches, one filled with warm apple wood smoked turkey breast placed on  fresh Sullivan Street Bakery ciabatta bread.   I recommend no one leave the Food Hall without stopping by the alluring pizza station, which serves thin crust pizzas topped with interesting European ingredient combinations like fig jam, prosciutto, gorgonzola and rosemary; another tasty pie is topped with spicy chicken sausage, roasted tomato sauce, balsamic sweet onions, and ricotta cheese. The dumpling bar has an Asian menu with items like shrimp stir fry with udon noodles, prawns, ginger, chopped cashews, scallions and a touch of orange.  The Food Hall also has delightful items found at the other four stations: Cheese and Charcuterie, Salads and sides, Sushi, and Tapas.   English and executive chef Mike Suppa have obviously researched and picked the best ingredients for the Food Hall and have covered quite an extensive range of food for one single location.



The Pittsburgh Pirates fired Andrew Kurtz, one of the people who race around the field in pierogi costumes, because he criticized the contract extensions given to general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell  on his Facebook page. The minor league
Washington Wild Things
thereupon offered Kurtz a job as one of its racing hot dogs.


"Context is everything. Tacolicious, the new Marina bar and taco place that took over Laiola after a three-year run, is a huge hit. Though the tapas at Laiola were extraordinary, the check for them mounted fast, and the young, heterosexual Marina demographic didn’t seem to care all that much for esoteric Spanish food and wine. They wanted fun."--
Patricia Unterman, "Food: From tasty tapas to heaping tacos on Chestnut Street,"  The Examiner
 (June 25, 2010).



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 in format below, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

* For month of July,  Mélisse, in Santa Monica, CA offers its 11th anniversary 4-course menu by Chef Owner Josiah Citrin.  $65 pp.  Call 310-395-0881. . . . On July 26  Mélisse  presents Guest Chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig (NYC), a special menu at $65 pp with a portion of proceeds to benefit Special Olympics,  Visit or call (310) 395-0881.

* On  July 17,  in San Francisco join EPIC Roasthouse for its 2nd annual Pinot tasting and pig roast event, "High on the Hog."  $95 pp.VIP tix $160 incl. a private reception and demo with Chef Jan Birnbaum on how to make his signature barbeque sauce.  Call 415-369-9955;

* From July 19-25, in Washington D.C., Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar will celebrate its fourth birthday with Chef Alex Bollinger to serve a four-course $40 menu  incl. Prosecco, birthday cake, and glass of wine with dinner. Call 202-956-6650.

* Starting July 19, in NYC, El Porron offers “hora de alegria” where guests can enjoy a surprise selection of  chef/owner “Mr. G” Bermeo’s signature bites with the purchase of a porron of any wine of their choice, Call 212-207-8349.

* On July 20 in New Orleans, LA, the Southern Food and Beverage Museum will host Virginia Willis and Lisa Ekus-Saffer for a Cookbook Publishing 101 class. $199 pp. Call 504-569-0405 or visit . . . . On July 25  the  Museum will begin a "Dinner and Movie" series, showing food films by the Southern Foodways Alliance and offering a special discount to Zea's Grill on St. Charles. $10 pp for non-members. . . . On August 8 the  Museum will hold its 3rd annual fundraiser, "Eat! Drink! SoFAB! Tailgating party." Local chefs will prepare sophisticated riffs on tailgating foods and local athletes are invited. Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue will play. $75 pp.

* On July 20, in NYC, Henry’s hosts Transportation Alternatives Summer Benefit dinner by Chef Mark Barrett. $200 pp.  Visit . . . On July 22, Henry’s host its 2nd behind-the-scenes tour of the local 116th Street Greenmarket followed by a seasonally-inspired lunch menu by Chef Barrett. Proceeds to the Greenmarket’s Youth Education Program. $45 pp. . . . On Aug 2, Henry’s will hold “Sing for Your Supper,” a night of song on Broadway, with soprano Amy Burton and pianist/composer John Musto, paired with Chef Barrett’s 3-course,Spaghetti & Meatballs dinner for $19. All Italian-American varietal wines half-price.  . . . On Aug 19, Henry’s  launches its guest chef dinner series with "Hot Summer Nights -- A Taste of Brazil." Chef Barrett welcomes Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, author of The Brazilian Kitchen,  for a traditional Brazilian meal and music. $65 pp. Call 212- 866-0600 or visit

* On July 22 in San Francisco, CA, McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant will host a Lagunitas Brewing Company Brewmaster Dinner with a 5-course menu by Chef Liz Ozanich. $65 pp. Call 415-929-1730 or visit

* On July 24 in Oakville, CA, Music in the Vineyards presents "Roll Over Beethoven" from Napa Valley’s Star Vintners, incl. Bill Phelps, Violet Grgich, David Duncan and Jeff Gargiulo . $175 pp. Call 707-258-5559.

* On July 26 in NYC,  A Voce Madison presents a 4-course dinner with speaker Maurizio DeRosa of Feudi di San Gregorio.  Chef Missy Robbins’ menu will be paired with exceptional selections from this progressive winery. 1$40 pp.  Call 212-545-8555.

* On July 30 in Chicago, IL, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar features Grgich Hills Estate Wines with a special 5-course wine dinner. $90 pp. Call 312-329-9463.

* On July 30, Jean-Louis in  Greenwich CT will host Margareth Hendriquez, new president of KRUG Champagne, who will present the Krug collection. $195 pp 5 course dinner by Jean-Louis Gerin.  Call 203-622-8450.

* On July 31 in Oakland, CA, the East Bay Vintner's Alliance will host its 5th annual "Urban Wine Xperience." Nineteen urban wineries will pour a variety of  sparklings, whites, roses and reds alongside 19 local restaurant and food purveyors. $45 in advance, $60 at the door. Visit

* From July 31-Aug. 1 in Atlantic City, Harrah’s Entertainment Atlantic City will host the "Food Network Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival" at Harrah’s Resort, Caesars, Showboat & Bally’s.  Chefs incl. Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, Ted Allen, and Pat & Gina Neely. Tix start at  $30  and may be purchased at or call 800-745-3000.

* On July 31, Mimosa Grill, in Charlotte, NC, will host a 5-course dinner featuring the wines of Domaine Serene Vineyards  by Executive Chef Jon Fortes.  $75 pp.  Call 704-343-0700; .

* From Jul. 31 – Aug. 30 in Worcestershire, England, the Pershore Plum Festival, celebrates locally sourced plums and related recipes including main courses, desserts, jams and preserves, sauces, chutneys, pickles as well as juices and wines, ending  on England’s August Bank Holiday.  Tix prices vary based on event.  Call 44-0138-656-5373.

*From Aug. 1 – Sept. 30, in Miami, FL, the Miami Spice Restaurant program returns for its 9th consecutive year featuring top fine dining restaurants offering 3-course menus at $22 pp. for lunch; $35 pp. for dinner. For more info visit

* From Aug. 3 – 7 in London, England, the Great British Beer Festival, Britain’s biggest beer festival ,will showcase international brands as well as small, local brewers of real ales, ciders and perries at London’s Earls Court.  The Champion Beer of Britain competition will also be judged.  Tickets in advance are £6 for CAMRA members and £8 for non-members or £8 for CAMRA members and £10 for non-members at the door.  Call 44-0844-412-4640.

* On August 2 in Beachwood, OH, Moxie the Restaurant Executive Chef Jonathan Bennett partners with NYC’s Sip Sak owner Orhan Yegen in the preparation of a 5-course Turkish dinner.  $99 pp plus tax and gratuity.  Call 216-831-5599.

From Aug. 4 – Oct. 31, in South Beach, FL, The Setai’s The Restaurant will feature “Flavors of India," every Wednesday night. Every two months, a renowned Indian Chef will host the dinner to present an authentic 4-course menu. Three choices will be offered per course and the menu will conclude with a glass of homemade Chai Tea and Petit Fours. $60 pp.  Visit . . . .   From Aug. 5 – Oct.  31, The Setai’s The Bar & Courtyard is will feature perfect for a Jazz Night under the stars.  Specials on Taittinger Champagne by the glass and bottle.


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: Martha's Vineyard; The Dead Sea; St. Anton, Austria.


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: 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