Virtual Gourmet

December 12,  2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER


                          Coca-Cola Ad by Haddon Sundblom, circa 1939



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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



MAN ABOUT TOWN:  Los Cabos, Mexico by Christopher Mariani



by John Mariani

Here are a few wonderful new books that should delight any food and wine lover this season. For a recent round-up of other wine books this fall, click here.

GRANDI VINI: An Opinionated Tour of Italy's 89 Finest Wines
by Joseph Bastianich ($24.99)--As co-owner of illustrious restaurants like Del Posto and Babbo, Bastianich is well versed in wine--and makes his own in Friuli--and here, rather than a mere recitation of tasting notes, he really digs into what makes his favorite wines so distinctive.  Along the way, you find out a great deal about modern Italian viniculture and meet winemakers with whom Bastianich is very familiar. Gracefully written with information packed into every sentence.

PUNCH: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl
by David Wondrich ($23.95)--Esquire Magazine's award-winning wine and spirits writer turns his scholarly attention and wit on a neglected genre of imbibing, giving you plenty of history of punch along with 40 terrific recipes according to the "Four Pillars of Punch." There's even Charles Dickens' own recipe for punch here.

: An Illustrated History by William Woys Weaver ($39.95)--One of America's finest and most engaging food scholars digs into all sorts of arcana--fully illustrated--from almanacs and match covers to sheet music and trade cards, not as mere nostalgia but as an indication of just how canny marketers were in getting Americans to love their products. Every page has at least two or three stories you'll want to repeat over a good meal.

LA CUISINE: Everyday French Home Cooking
by Françoise Bernard ($45)--This and the next two recommended books come at a time when some fools think that French cuisine is dying.  These splendid volumes show that it is in fact having a renaissance--at least at home, where the true repository of French cooking has never lagged. La Cuisine has 1,000 "simple" recipes, from white bean stew with sausage, lamb and goose confit to morels in cream and fault-free ways to turn out everything from true tartar sauce to béchamel.

THE ENTREES: Remembered Favorites from the Past
by Gail Monaghan ($45)--For the recipes alone--not many are all that simple to reproduce--this makes a wonderful gift for a cook, but for the stories behind legendary dishes  is all the more reason to curl up with it in the kitchen or bedroom. Here you'll find the sole Marguery that so delighted Diamond Jim Brady, the Brown Derby's seafood pot pie, Craig Claiborne's chicken Tetrazzini, and Alice B. Toklas' duck à l'orange. So many of these dishes have disappeared from restaurant menus, so this book is a reliable guide on how to bring them back.

FRENCH COOKING: Classic Recipes and Techniques  by Vincent Boué and Hubert Delorme ($49.95)--A big powerhouse of a book, weighing five pounds of 512 thick pages, this tome leads you through more than 200 culinary techniques, not least how to wield a knife in the kitchen, with 125 recipes and stars (the French love the star system!) for degree of difficulty for the home cook. Beautifully illustrated, with a DVD enclosed, its foreword by master chef Paul Bocuse is a ringing endorsement of the world's love of true cooking as a buffer against technology that  he says "would reduce cuisine to little more than mechanized `ready meals,' dealing a fatal blow to flavorsome food."

: Japan's Ultimate Dining Experience by Kunio Tokuoka
($45)--This book is not for the novice or even for anyone thinking of taking a crack at Japanese cookery.  This is a master class of kaiseki from a restaurant considered one of the finest and most exquisite in Japan, and it is as much about the traditions of food--tea ceremony, for instance--as it is about techniques.  Profusely and gorgeously illustrated by photographer Kenji Miura, , this is a book for a professional chef or burgeoning cook whose interest in Japanese cuisine is more than passing.

edited by Kevin Zraly
($24.95)--Twenty-five bucks could not be better spent by a wine lover than on this marvelous compendium of informational essays by some of the world's best wine writers, including the ever-ebullient Zraly himself, along with Jancis Robinson on "Capturing the Flavor," Frank Prial on "The Day California Shook the World," James Halliday on "Climate," and Hugh Johnson on "The Power to Banish Care." It's a book to savor, to read with a glass of wine in your hand, and it has both heft and an old-fashioned look that makes it one you will always keep handy on the bookshelf.



132 West 44th Street (between 6th Ave and Broadway)

     The Lambs Club has nothing to do with shepherding or dietary preferences.  It was founded at Delmonico's restaurant in 1874 by people in the performing arts and named after English essayist and drama critic Charles Lamb. For decades, since 1905,  it was located on West 44th Street, regularly visited by members that included Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, the Barrymores, John Wayne, and W.C. Fields.  The Club still exists, now on West 36th Street, but in its place is the brand new Chatwal Hotel and a restaurant that pays homage to the premises legendary fame. Upon gaining membership, Fred Astaire is said to have exclaimed, "I felt I had been knighted."     
    Stanford White's design was part of what was called 
the "American Renaissance," favored by NYC's wealthiest citizens, so he did it up as a six-story, neo-Georgian brick building with a façade of ram heads. In 1974, the building was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks and Preservation Commission.  So, kudos to the Chatwal Hotels for respecting the lineage and architecture while modernizing and turning it into a swank restaurant and lounge.
       The chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, is himself a class act, as is his partner and wife Margaret. Geoffrey (right) has been cooking in NYC since his days at Le Cirque back to 1982, then gained individual notice as chef at restaurant "44" in 1988, moving on to Miami, then back to Manhattan to Patroon and two fine dining restaurants of the past decade, Town and Country, out of which came a 2006 cookbook; now he is back on West 44th Street with menus that reflect a balance of the new and the traditional, with a fine pre- and post-theater 3-course dinner at $44.  He is not shooting off fireworks, he is creating dishes that just work.
       My recent meal began with a foie gras terrine of impeccable creaminess and texture, with the surprise of chilled quince marmalade and sweet Concord grapes.  Delicate sweetbreads took on flavor from a peppery veal jus, with grilled radicchio for a bitter/salty component, while his pork ravioli with Swiss chard and fiore sardo cheese was magnificent: for all the pasta dishes I have on a weekly basis, this was one of the stand-outs of the year--and it's been a long year.
      Wild striped bass with fresh carrot, ginger and lemon was a pretty tame dish, but the Heritage pork chop with endive and sage was as juicy as I could wish for, well fatted, tasting of autumn.  Chatham cod, never a full-flavored fish, was coaxed towards it with slow-roasted pork belly, wilted buttered leeks and clams.
      Pastry chef Elishia V. Richards matches the Zakarian style in desserts like her double chocolate ginger cake with poached pears that could be a totem for fall sweetness; I loved the honey pistachio cake (left) with candied pistachios and creamy fromage blanc, a dessert with a touch of the Mediterranean in its succulence and texture.  Chocolate pot de creme with bittersweet chocolate and a sabayon splashed with brachetto sparkling wine made for a good, honest ending. There is also a cheese plate of three cheeses, honey and bread for $13.
      It would be easy enough to imagine any of the old Lambs Club members sitting in the commodious semi-circular banquettes here, regaling each other with show biz stories, but I can guarantee that the level of food back in those old days never rose anywhere near was Zakarian and exec chef Joel Dennis are serving all of us now.

Lambs Club is open for breakfast daily, brunch on Sat. & Sun., lunch Mon.-Fri., and dinner nightly. Appetizers run $12-$24, entrees $26-$46.



by Christopher Mariani


         Los Cabos well deserves its reputation as a place for Americans to fly into and chill out, even if that may seem a tad too touristy for the more adventurous travelers.  I found out on a recent trip that there is indeed a far more authentic experience to be had there rather than just soaking in the sun.
    Day one, after checking into the Playa Grande Resort (below), the adventure started immediately in the Sea of Cortez, where I kayaked for over an hour in search of the famous Arch (above) and Lover’s Beach, a small cove where the Pacific Ocean is said to meet the Sea of Cortez.  At the time of my visit to the Arch, the tide was too high to venture beneath it, even though I was very tempted to try, but I did have the delight of witnessing nearly 50 sea lions sun bathing on rock formations and, in the far distance, three-foot stingrays jumping many feet high into the air.
       Next it was off to Lover’s Beach where I just simply enjoyed lying on the shore listening to the powerful rage of the Pacific’s waves crash onto the sand.  After a few hours of pure relaxation, I got back into my kayak and found a wonderful, yet clustered, area for snorkeling, directly beside the Playa Solmar Ridge.  There was minimal coral to be seen, but an abundance of large schools of fish, including Jack and Pompano.
After such an exhausting day, I was in dire need of a good meal, so I headed to Mi Casa
restaurant (below), one of the few authentic Mexican dining experiences I found in Los Cabos, which is otherwise inundated with American chain restaurants.   The interior is filled with tiny religious relics, many different types of local tequila, artwork on almost every inch, along with  colorful tables and chairs painted light blue, purple and soft pink.  The restaurant has multiple rooms that jut off in every direction, some indoors, some outdoors, even a small wedding area.  This is the perfect type of place to go for great food and strong margaritas.  For starters, I highly recommend the los sopes de cochinita, dough patties topped with shredded pork, black beans, and cheese, also the chorizo quesadillas, filled with asadero cheese, and the ceviche costeno campechano, a delightful mixture of shrimp, octopus, Baja scallops, and lime juice.  Notable entrees include the concha de mariscos, sautéed fish, shrimp, octopus and scallops, flash broiled over sour cream, cilantro, and grated cheese, and of course the traditional el mole poblano, chicken smothered in dark mole sauce made with peppers and spices.  I tried only one dessert because I wanted to save room for another margarita, so I ordered the custard flan, topped with a rich caramel sauce, very good.
         That evening I dined at the Playa Grande’s premiere restaurant, Brigantine.  The restaurant has a beautiful design and offers beachfront dining for those who reserve far in advance.  The menu consists of a very modern, upscale interpretation of classic Mexican cuisine, and should be visited if staying at the Playa Grande Resort.
         The following morning after a hearty breakfast, while lying by the pool, I anxiously awaited to hear from the Sea Turtle Release Program as to when my turtles had hatched.  The program was put together to arouse awareness for the protection of sea turtles and an effort to end their decreasing population.  Once the turtles are hatched, the program has one hour to release them into the ocean, where at that point, it’s up to the turtles to survive.  I finally received the call, jumped into my car and drove to San José del Cabo.  Finally at the location, I parked my car and sprinted onto the beach, where I met with the program directors ,who held and entire plastic bin of the smallest turtles I had ever seen, just two-inches in length. We walked down to the beach, where I was handed my two surprisingly strong turtles, both struggling vigorously to get out of my hands.  After a brief introduction and goodbye, I softly placed them onto the sand and off they went, directly towards the ocean.  It's amazing, these tiny creatures, only an hour  old, somehow know, to sprint to the water, and remember exactly what beach they are on, returning over a decade later for breeding, absolutely mind blowing.
         That evening after a pleasant dinner at Arrecifes Restaurant, inside the Westin Los Cabos Hotel, I was need of a night out, so I headed to the legendary El Squid Roe bar and nightclub.  The evening was filled with shots of tequila, my favorite Mexican beer, Pacifico
, lots of dancing, and the friendly company of a breath-taking NYC journalist with whom I spent much of my remaining time in Los Cabos.
         One other gorgeous hotel property I visited, but did not stay at, was the Capella Pegregal
.  The hotel is magnificently focused around attractive rooms filled with tons of oak, terrific views of the ocean, and a heavenly spa where I spent the afternoon unwinding.  So, my trip to Los Cabos showed me that there was much more to do than just lie by the pool all day--not that that’s a bad thing, but too many people fly in for that and that alone, along with a few meals at the Harley-Davidson Cafe and Haägen-Dazs. It's a good thing to know that one can venture out and participate in some really amazing eco-adventure activities and maybe even help a few baby turtles on their way.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Head chef Kelly Hannaford of Three Dog Bakery franchise stores in Pasadena and Los Angeles, now offers a $19.95 "Feast for the Beast," incl. Lamb Wellington, bakery blend kibble, fresh carrots, a spinach dip and  pumpkin pie.



"There was a time when you could make a Gilman boy's lips quiver just by mentioning 'The Morgue.'"--

Richard Gorelick
, "Petit Louis," Baltimore Sun.





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


* From Dec. 14 through Jan. 14, in Atlanta, Pacci Ristorante <>  will offer guests a “No Peeking” promotion. During that time, diners will receive an envelope that contains an undisclosed prize and must remain sealed until the next time they dine at Pacci.   At the guests’ next meal, a Pacci server will open the envelope to reveal the prize he or she has won.  Prizes will include such deals as 50% off a meal at Pacci, a free entrée at Pacci, a cocktail party for eight people at AltoRex Rooftop Lounge or a weekend stay at Hotel Palomar.   Prizes must be redeemed by the end of February (excl. Valentine’s Day weekend).  Call 678-412-2402.

* On Dec. 15 in Washington, D.C., Occidental Grill & Seafood presents "Global Feast for the Senses", an exotic 5-course spice dinner with menu by Chef Rodney Scruggs and global spices provided by "The Saffron King" Behroush Sharifi. $110p p. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres reception at 6:30PM, and dinner begins at 7:00PM.  Call 202-783–1475 or visit

* On Dec. 15 in Berkeley, CA, Gather Restaurant celebrates their 1st anniversary with a complimentary glass of Iron Horse sparkling wine for every dinner guest. Call 510-525-4864.

* From Jan. – April 2011, Cap Maison and its Cliff at Cap restaurant in St. Lucia, will host a Guest Chef Series, incl. chefs from U.S. resorts. Rates start at $435, incl. full breakfast.  The 3-course dinner menu $75 pp. Call 1-888-765-4985 or visit

* From Jan.  5 - 9, Grand Velas Riviera Maya is hosting the 2011 Food Blogger Camp, incl. one-on-one "speed blogging" meetings, blog critiques, photography breakout sessions, culinary demos and tastings, a food styling workshop, and seminars on brand and business building. Rates start at $1200 for media and $1,340 for non-media. Call 1-866-230-7221 or visit


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: Best Travel and Food Books.


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.

 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