Virtual Gourmet

February 6,  2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

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                                                  Menu for La Boca Restaurant, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2009)

This Week

Dining Out in Houston
by John Mariani

New York Corner: Le Cirque
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Tulsi
by Christopher Mariani

Wine: A New Winemaker at Stags' Leap Winery Tilts Towards Bordeaux
by John Mariani

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: Eating at The Super Bowl


The  Rice Hotel  opened in 1913  on the site of the former Capitol building of the Republic of Texas and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The lavish Empire Room opened in  1938.  Its Cafeteria (as of 1922, the first air-conditioned space in town) was appropriately famous for its rice pudding. Closed in 1977, the hotel became an apartment building now called the Rice Lofts.

of Houston

3300 Smith Street

The severe damage caused by a fire three years ago put the future of Brennan's of Houston in doubt after forty-three years of reigning as one of the city's finest, most personably hospitable upscale restaurants in the city. But owner Alex Brennan Martin, a scion of the branch of the Brennan family of New Orleans that owns Commander's Palace, Mr. B's Bistro, Café Adelaide, and other restaurants (the New Orleans Brennan's is run by another side of the family), couldn't imagine Houston without Brennan's or vice-versa.  It was approriate, then, that it was here that Jack Nicholson wooed Shirley MacLaine in the  1983 movie "Terms of Endearment" (below).
    After months of hard work and re-design, performed without in any way diminishing the decorous charms of the original premises, Brennan's is open again, set where it's always been set in midtown on Smith Street, and, although there were in fact major renovations, even old timers and semi-regulars like myself feel like its history and gracious look has been maintained throughout.  The trees have been replanted in the indoor courtyard, and rehab turned up some beautiful arched windows that had been lost behind brick walls.  There is a new revamped Kitchen Table in a semi-glassed off area, offering up to 12 people a 7-course  $155 tasting menu with wines, as prepared by new exec chef Danny Trace.
    You are still greeted with the same mix of gentility and gregariousness, and Alex will in all likelihood be there to remember you or make you a new friend.  From the service of bread and cocktails to the last spooning out of dessert sauce, the staff is unflaggingly good-natured and professional, a Brennan's hallmark.
    I had the good fortune to dine with Alex himself, who filled me in on all the details of the refurbishing and how everything was now state of the art in and out of the kitchen.  His motto continues to be, "Life is short--eat well," which just happens to be mine, too.
    The famous sherried turtle soup is as good as ever, and I indulged in an array of dishes, some old, some new. Honey butternut squash soup with cayenne pepitas and crème fraîche stood out among the appetizers, along with a rich blue crab and leek bread pudding with Mississippi paddlefish caviar.  This, and wild shrimp remoulade with preserved lemon, were typical of how Chef Trace combines the food cultures of the Gulf states so admirably, also shown in dishes like the redfish "haute Creole" topped with big chunks of crabmeat, some fire-roasted shrimp, crispy oysters and crushed potatoes meunière--for $35 it's a helluva big deal.  The "Louisiana boucherie" includes pork tenderloin spiced with chicory coffee, boudin crêpinette, andouille sausage, caramelized onion empanada, hog's head cheese and marinated beans with a three-mustard syrup.  Just as hefty is the beef short rib Sardou with agnolotti, hedgehog mushrooms, caramelized baby onions, and a Madeira and oxtail jus.  No one goes hungry at Brennan's and even the spiced three apple salad is a good hearty portion, with Tabasco pecan brittle and blue cheese.
    You just can't turn down dessert here, not with signature items like the good old lemon meringue pie  (right), the Rosas "Black Out" chocolate cake or the bourbon pecan pie sundae or the white chocolate bread pudding or the Creole cream cheese cake.  So share.
    Brennan's winelist is one of the best in the city, and reasonably priced in all categories.
    So it's great having Brennan's back up and running more smoothly than ever and to see Alex Brennan-Martin keeping the flame brighter now than before.

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch Sat. & Sun., dinner nightly.

800 West Sam Houston Parkway North
713- 827-3545

    As if Alex Brennan-Martin didn't have enough on his hands with the renovation of Brennan's, he also took on the opening of Bistro Alex and Café Rosé, set on two levels in an out-of-town mall.
    The ground floor Café seats
35, featuring coffee, breakfasts, sandwiches, and charcuterie. The upper level is Bistro Alex, which doesn't look anything like any Parisian bistro you've ever seen, but then it's not in any way French. It's very big--160 seats spread over 4,000 square feet--sleek, with lots of  shiny, hard surfaces, along with slatted wooden ceiling and walls. (I went for lunch so I can't  gauge the decibel level at night.)
     Executive Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez's menu is far from the French model for a bistro, too. With long experience at the  Brennan family of restaurants, he knows what they want to see on the plate, and that means no skimping on portion or flavor.  The menu is printed on brown paper, and small plates consumption is encouraged with a wide range of dishes, from shredded roast duck on a buttermilk waffle with cranberry jam, a sunny side up quail egg and chicory and foie gras fondue to a hearty salad of shrimp remoulade with winter greens (same as at Brennan's above), a selection of cheeses and charcuterie, and flatbreads (right) topped with andouille sausage and tasso ham.
    Large plates--the term means what it says--include a crispy whole red snapper with sautéed saffron fennel,  charred corn, citrus and chimichurri sauce, as well as boudin blanc-crusted black grouper with Texas shrimp, and a caramelized corn macque choux with five-mustard syrup. There's also a tasso brined pork porterhouse  and a  shortrib “Osso Bucco”  with oysters.
    Desserts share the menu from Brennan's, too, with the white chocolate pudding and bistro sweets like classic crème brûlée with orange jam, and a café au lait cheesecake with Nocello syrup.

Open for lunch daily, brunch on Sun., and dinner nightly. Dinner starters range $7.50-$14, large courses $12-$36.

Hotel Derek
2525 West Loop South

    Anyone familiar with the original Valentino in Santa Monica, CA, know that master restaurateur Piero Selvaggio (right) was among the first to bring modern cucina italiana to the American consumer back in the 1970s, and he followed up with a branch in Las Vegas and now at the Derek Hotel in Houston, along with executive chef Luciano Pellegrini and chef de cuisine Cunninghame West (below),  a big Virginian turned Hawaiian surfer turned California cook, then sous-chef at Valentino in Vegas.  He then ran his own restaurant in Virginia before being tapped by Selvaggio to man the stoves in Houston.
    The year-old restaurant has a very popular wine bar up front, which opens onto a broad, shadowy dining room done in deep colors of red wine and black; chairs and banquettes could not be more comfortable.  There is also an emphasis on crudi with a good array of raw seafood each night. Ingredients are always top flight, guaranteed by Selvaggio's longstanding relationships with suppliers here and in Italy. Indeed, the crudi, charcuterie (affetatti) and cheese selections available at the bar and in the dining room represent some of the tastiest items and at very reasonable prices, with crudi $4.50-$7, including
blood orange ahí tuna and lemon aïoli Scottish salmon. Of the meats there are mortadella, Speck, and culatello. The cheeses include pecorino fresco, robiola bosina, and Abbaye de Belloc.
    Hitting all bases, Valentino also offers a terrific choice of Italian tapas, from fried mozzarella with marinara, and baby back rib, to steak fries with parmesan and herbs, and pistachio-crusted lamb chops with braised onions, none more than $9.   
     Start off with some of those crudi or the marvelous refashioning of old-fashioned eggplant parmigiana, with baby greens--a terrific dish. Texas quail are smoked and served with arugula. (below).  No one neglects to order a pasta here, which ranges from tender risotto with funghi porcini and egg-and-cheese-rich penne alla carbonara, to rigatoni with a simple but lustrous tomato, basil and mozzarella, and half-moon shaped ravioli with lobster in a spicy vodka sauce.
    For cooked seafood, the seared sea scallops with asparagus and lemon caper sauce is a good way to go; otherwise the simply grilled fish of the day is a wise choice.
    True to its Texas location, Valentino serves a buffalo tenderloin with a vincotto reduction and roasted onions, along with an Italian-style tagliata of strip steak, with arugula. The vitello  alla valdostana is a thick veal chop with prosciutto and asiago cheese in a rich demi-glace.
    Desserts go considerably beyond the usual Italian clichés.
   The Houston branch of Valentino is not doing the kind of evolutionary cuisine the Santa Monica original has for years, but the same attention to quality is evident in both cooking and presentation at all three Valentinos. 
    The wine list is modestly split between Italian and California offerings.

Valentino is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Three-course tasting menu at $55. À la carte antipasti $8-$16, pastas (full portions) $13-$20, main courses $26-$40.

To Read Part One of this article, click here.


Le Cirque
One Beacon Court (151 E. 58th St.)
212- 644-0202

    Seven years into its fourth decade, Le Cirque has seen the American dining landscape change, shake,  rock, roll, slide, soar, and come back to the need for a sense of refinement that the restaurant has always represented under the Maccioni family (below), which includes paterfamilias Sirio, his wife Egi, and their sons  Mario (far left, who runs the Maccioni restaurants in Las Vegas), Marco, and Mauro, whom I have literally watched grow up and become various reflections of their parents while having each his own style and distinct degree of savoir-faire. Le Cirque--the circus--is still a daily draw for international celebrities, winemakers, Hollywood stars, even royalty, as it has been from the start.
    The list of chefs Le Cirque has employed to mold and maintain the Maccioni vision of impeccable but creative taste has included Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Alain Sailhac, Rick Moonen, Jacques Torres, Sottha Khun, Sylvain Portay, Christophe Bellanca, Michael Lomonaco, Alain Allegretti, Pierre Schaedelin, Bill Telepan, Alex Stratta and Geoffrey Zakarian to name a few--many of them shown in the photo below.  Indeed, such a list suggests that as a graduate school Le Cirque has exerted the most influence on fine dining of any restaurant in America. The closing of similar haute cuisine French restaurants in NYC alone--for many diverse reasons--like Lutèce, La Côte Basque, and La Caravelle only hints at Le Cirque's ability to evolve rather than remain staid over three locations, from East 65th Street (Restaurant Daniel is now there) to The Palace Hotel (presently Gilt) and now to the plaza of the Bloomberg Building, this last a winsome, arched dining room with high ceilings and windows and a popular bar and lounge set off to the side.
    Australian-born chef  Craig Hopson (second from the left in the photo) has very much come into his own over the last two years while never betraying the Le Cirque style, which is basically French in the classic manner, with new American and global accents, and a good deal more Italian cucina moderna on the menus, owing to the Maccionis' proud Tuscan heritage.
    Hopson's résumé is thick with illustrious names--stints at the Hôtel d'Angleterre in Geneva,  Troisgros in Roanne, Guy Savoy and Lucas Carton in Paris, Circa in Brisbane, and, more recently,  as chef de cuisine at Picholine  and executive chef at One If by Land, Two If by Sea in NYC.
    On my recent visit I leapt at the chance to have bay scallops--a very seasonal item--here done as crudi with a Granny Smith gelée and mustard seeds.  I always think consommé, once a staple in fine dining restaurants, a good way to judge a kitchen's strengths, and Hopson's was textbook perfect, a beautiful mahogany color, clear as glass, richly flavorful with mushrooms and little ravioli stuffed with mascarpone cheese. 

A foie gras torchon
 with a salad of winter greens and citrus was creamy and finely textured, while foie gras ravioli were  plump and delicious.  Risotto with black winter truffles--you can see the vivid Italian cast throughout--was a triumph of impeccably cooked rice with the unique flavor of the truffles shaved over it.
     Desserts are not quite so fanciful as they were in the days when Jacques Torres was chef here, but patîssier  Pierre Poulin has in fact brought back the famous chocolate kitchen stove (right)  a toy-like confection that also happens to taste wonderful.
 Le Cirque's winelist has been winnowed some but it is very well selected, with   at least 20 percent of the bottles under $50, some as low as $28, which is very much part of the Maccionis' plan to make Le Cirque far more approachable than people think it might be.  Check out the wines, which are stored in a spectacular glass column near the entrance.
    By the way, there is now also a jazz quartet in the lounge, starring Marco Maccioni's beautiful wife, Sabrina Wender-Maccioni (left).
    If you have never been to Le Cirque or not in quite a while, you will find all of its best virtues  intact while Hopson's wonderful cuisine adds measurably to the idea that this is  a timeless place that has had enormous influence on NYC fine dining.

Le Cirque is open for lunch Mon.- Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat. Dinner at Le Cirque is fixed priced at $92 for three courses, or $125 for a tasting menu (with wines, add $75); at lunch the Café menu is $28.


by Christopher Mariani

211 East 46th Street
(near Third Avenue)

    One of the last times in NYC I had terrific Indian food, it was prepared by chef Hemant Mathur at Devi, located in the Flatiron District. This past Thursday night, in Midtown, I had an equally wonderful if not better meal at chef Mathur’s newer restaurant, Tulsi, which means “holy basil.” The restaurant is brand new, opening just last month,  yet is already producing consistently fine and novel dishes, offering excellent service, and has trained a confident staff.
    Much of Tulsi’s quick success is due to chef Mathur, who can be found walking throughout the dining room, stopping by tables to introduce himself and discussing his theme behind the restaurant. Also strolling the main room and lounge area is general manager Sandeep Solomon, formerly of Devi, a tall gentleman with an abundance of food and wine knowledge, a great reference for any culinary question whatsoever. Running the kitchen alongside Mathur is chef de cuisine Dhandu Ram who recently cooked at Yuva 
on East 58th Street.
The restaurant is gorgeous, done in refreshing, soft cream tones, with good lighting that allows you to see the beautiful food, hints of green found throughout the dining room,
with a low noise level, a rare quality in new NYC restaurants these days, and four shamiana-tented alcoves draped by gauzy linens offering an intimate privacy. The main room holds around 55 people,  the lounge 15, and all tables are comfortably staggered. 
         Tulsi’s starters are highly addictive and reasonably priced, a good reason to order an extra appetizer or two for sharing.  The
galauati lamb kebabs come out shaped like silver dollar pancakes, soft and moist, spiced with cardamon and sided by a big bowl of light green basil yogurt dip.  The shrimp and crab are placed inside a flaky pappadum-flavored with hints of coconut, green chile and raw onions.  For a lighter starter, try the masala ceviche, full of citrus flavors, a subtle spiciness and a refreshing mixture of cilantro.  For entrees, the menu is dominated by meat and vegetable dishes, but do not miss the fish of the day, halibut the night I dined, steamed inside banana leaves, covered by a coconut and sesame paste.  For meats, chef Hemant’s signature tandoor-grilled lamb chops are tender, four to a plate, served with South Indian potatoes and sweet apple chutney. All main dishes come with a starch, and the  dal lentils are rich and savory, along with the crispy garlic naan bread and the trio of rice; individual mounds of rice seasoned with coconut, mint, and vegetable mixture.
For desserts, Mathur’s wife, executive pastry chef Surbhi Sahni serves piping hot fried banana fritters glazed with a caramel sauce with salty pecans and a creamy butter-crunch ice cream.  And then there's her light ginger-flavored
panna cotta topped with poached pears, Campari orange gelée and a candied orange zest.
         With little if any need for improvement at Tulsi, it appears chef Mathur has yet again created another of NYC's best Indian restaurants.  I might add that anyone coming or going from Grand Central Terminal will find Tulsi a great place to stop for a meal or a snack or take-home.

Open daily for dinner, open Monday-Saturday for lunch.  Starters range $7-$14, Entrees $16-$34, and there is a chef’s tasting menu for $65 ($95 with wine.)

To read my article on Devi, click here.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to


A New Winemaker at Stags’ Leap Winery Tilts Towards Bordeaux

by John Mariani

        At a time when even once- allocated California cult wines are languishing in warehouses, things are humming along at Napa’s Stags’ Leap Winery. Despite the recession and a global wine glut, Stags’ Leap has managed to keep its customer base and in fact has a five year plan to increase production every year.
         “We have very faithful fans for Stags’ Leap,” says general manager and winemaker, Christophe Paubert, 49, who came aboard only 18 months ago. “We’ve seen no drop in our merlot sales and I’ve been asked to bottle more cabernet sauvignon. We’re really investing in our own ability to sell our wines in the future.”
         The 81-acre winery (left) takes its name from a native Wappo legend about a stag escaping hunters along the palisades, the name adopted by the winery’s founder Horace Chase in 1893. (Confusingly, another, wholly unassociated winery named Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was founded in 1970, and since 1989 the appellation Stags Leap District [below] has been an officially designated American Viticultural Area.)
         Part of Stags’ Leap’s five-year plan is to give Paubert more leeway in refining the winery’s style. Paubert says, “I love the chemistry of wine but am very traditional, so I’m always wary of new technologies.  The other day a guy showed me a plastic tank with wooden staves inside and said it was better than an oak barrel.  I said goodbye to him quickly.”
         Paubert’s ancestry underpins his traditionalism and expertise. His Bordelais grandfather was a cellar master, and Christophe studied enology, wine marketing, worked as a merchant, sold equipment, became cellar master at Château d’Yquem, went on to oversee a winery in Chile, and made wine in Spain, New Zealand, and Washington State before coming to Stags’ Leap.         Paubert abhors overripe fruit that makes for high alcohol wines beloved by so many Napa Valley winemakers and wine media, saying that “in California we get so much sun that even without letting the fruit overripen, the alcohol is higher than in Bordeaux.  To make great wine, the grapes have to undergo stress, and in Napa the weather is too perfect—hot in the daytime, cool at night. But a winemaker has to know the limits of the fruit.  I wasn’t hired to show off my personality; the fruit must express its own identity.”
         Since Paubert (below) has been at Stags’ Leap for only two harvests, his own style will only become apparent in the years to come, but I was able to discern his intentions in two white wines he made, which we enjoyed over a plate of fried calamari at Tutta Bella Trattoria in Scarsdale, NY. A 2009 viognier ($25) had very fresh, bright, floral flavors but none of the cloying spices and tropical notes that too often compromise California examples.  So, too, the 2009 (below) chardonnay ($28) lacked the domineering oakiness of the usual California style.  “Chardonnay’s liveliness and acid are key to its appeal,” says Paubert. “If you use the wrong kind or quality of oak, you taste more wood than fruit.”
         None of the red wines I sampled was of Paubert’s making, but we moved on to a plate of ziti with tomato and eggplant with the Stag’s Leap 2007 merlot ($32), its fruit forward but still quite tannic, with a fulsome 14.6 percent alcohol, and perhaps a year or two away from its prime.
         With a porterhouse steak, we tasted two cabernets, a 2007 ($49) blend with petite sirah, cabernet franc, and petit verdot in an amiably big, still tannic Napa Valley style, and a more complex, nicely balanced 2006 Estate Grown cab labeled The Leap ($75), which for being 100 percent cabernet and 14.5 percent alcohol showed more finesse than I would have expected.
         Stags’ Leap is best known for its petite sirah, and its 2008 vintage ($38) is the latest in a 30-year legacy working with a varietal now made by about 450 California wineries. I’ve had some inky vintages from Stags’ Leap in the past, but the 2008, blended with some syrah, grenache and mourvedre, at just 13.7 percent alcohol was brighter, lighter, and more fruit heavy.
    The petite sirah bottling called Ne Cede Malis ($75)-- “Do not give in to misfortune,” a Latin motto from Virgil given by Chase to its oldest vineyard—is the source of grapes that are hand chosen and picked, called a “field blend,” so the wine shows off the fruit-forward petite sirah and the subtleties of other blended Rhone varietals.
         Paubert did make the yet-unreleased petite sirah 2009 and he has great enthusiasm for the 2010 vintage. “It has huge color and tannin and will need time to age,” he said. “Its beauty is in the aromatic freshness of the fruit, and it obtains a fine floral character in our part of the Valley to go with the intense concentration.”
         Such enthusiasm can beget impatience, but Paubert is at Stags’ Leap not to prove himself quickly but to prove his ideas over the long run.

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.


The Granny Purps dispensary in Soquel, CA, offered a complimentary marijuana cigarette for every four cans of food a patient brought in for the Second Harvest Food Bank.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that the dispensary took in 11,000 pounds of food and handed out 2,000 marijuana cigarettes between November and Christmas Eve, when the promotion ended. The food was donated to the Second Harvest, and spokesman Danny Keith says Granny Purps contributed the amount of food that would normally come from a business with 30 to 40 workers.


"One of the many dilemmas of pizza criticism is comparing the full-size pizza you eat for dinner with the little pizza you order for an appetizer in a fancy restaurant. The two serve different purposes and must be judged accordingly. One gets high marks for filling you up and the other gets praise for leaving room for more–although ironically they tend to run about the same price. If your criteria is belly-filling satisfaction, then the Caffe Bello pizza is going to disappoint. But for a thin and crispy-crusted appetizer pizza, it’s excellent. The Quattro pizza is big enough for a full meal, and a little dull in the crust department. So which one is better? I wouldn’t throw either one away. You just want to be sure you don’t get stuck with a crisp little appetizer when you’re dying of hunger like my friend the B.A. brain scientist."--Robb Walsh,


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

VALENTINE'S DAY ANNOUNCEMENT:  Because of the overwhelming number of events and announcements for Valentine's Day, Virtual Gourmet is unable to include any at this time.

* From now thru Feb.  26, in Newport Beach, CA, Palm Terrace restaurant at Island Hotel Newport Beach will offer the “Cocoa Lounge” Dessert Buffet.   Dinner guests who order two- or more-courses Tues-Sat will receive complimentary entrance into the heavenly Cocoa Lounge. $18 pp. Call 949-759-0808 or visit .

* From now thru Feb. 23 at China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, NV, José Andrés is offering a 7-course prix fixe menu of handmade jiao zi and twists on traditional Chinese New Year dishes including Ten Treasure Soup.  $81.88 for two. 702-698-7900 or visit

* Beginning Feb. 7 FIAF’s wine series A Wine Tour de France with New York’s Best Sommeliers will be led by a different sommelier from NYC’s most distinguished restaurants:  Raj Vaidya, Head Sommelier at Daniel, Michael Madrigale, Chef Sommelier at Bar Boulud, Kristie Petrullo, Chef Sommelier at Jean-Georges Restaurant, Belinda Chang, Wine Director at The Modern, Levi Dalton, Sommelier at Alto, Ryan Mills-Knapp, Sommelier at Tribeca Grill. $95pp FIAF Members/$115pp Non-members. Call 212-355-6160 or visit

* On Feb. 7 - 20 in NYC, Bill Telepan and Nancy Easton unveil "Eat For Kids," a partnership with top NYC chefs & restaurants to provide diners a  means of improving our city's public school lunch program.  Guests of participating restaurants (incl. Telepan, Mario Batali's, Tom Colicchio's, Zak Pelaccio's,  as well as Marc Forgione, Hearth, L'Artusi, Dovetail, The Harrison, et al) will be able to donate to Wellness in the Schools (WITS).   More details and a complete list of participating restaurants can be found at

* On Feb. 8, in Washington D.C., Belga Cafe Chef/ Owner Bart Vandaele  teams up with  wine maker Jean Trimbach of Maison Trimbach-Grands Vins d’Alsace to co-host "Trimbach Wine Dinner 2011," a 6-course  dinner featuring contemporary Belgian fare.   $79 pp.  Call 202-544-0100 or visit

* From now thru Feb. 10 in Los Angeles, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck is celebrating Chinese New Year with a 7-course prix fixe menu that symbolizes the traditional dishes and blessings of luck, prosperity and long life. $150 pp. 213-743-8824 or visit

* On Feb. 12, 19 and 26, in San Diego, CA, The Grand Golf Club at The Grand Del Mar will offer the Couple’s Golf Clinic & Wine Tasting, incl. a  golf clinic and a  wine and cheese tasting. $60/couple. Call 858-314-1930 or visit

* On Feb. 16 Kathy Benziger of Benziger Family Winery will lead a wine event at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.  The 5-course dinner will be $200 pp.  Call 312-329-1800 or visit

* On Feb.17 in Chicago, Cafe Spiaggia’s Chef Tony Mantuano and Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg will host a five-course Piedmontese Beef and Beer dinner featuring the recent addition of Artisanal Italian Beers on tap. The beers will rotate seasonally and complement the  Italian artisanal bottled beer program at Spiaggia.  $85 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 312-280-2750;

* On Feb. 18 Porter House, at the Time Warner Center NYC, will host a Wine Maker’s Dinner “Three Glasses and Three Arias.” Featuring Primo Franco (Nino Franco ), Diego Cusumano (Cusumano Winery) and Stefano Capurso (Barone Ricasoli) and Tenor Don Catrone will sing. $155 pp. tax and tips included. Call Jennifer 212-823-9500.

* On Feb. 20, restaurant Aquavit in  NYC, will begin serving its  smorgasbord during Sun. dinner service, from 5:30 to 9:00 pm. Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark has created a calendar of monthly culinary themes to accompany the smorgasbord and a seasonal house-infused aquavit. $48 per adult, $24 for children under 12. Call 212-307-7311 or visit

* On Feb. 24, in Palm Springs, CA, La Quinta Resort & Club’s TWENTY6 hosts a “Triple Crown” Kentucky Bourbon Dinner. 4-course dinner + dessert accompanied by a  bourbons from Pacific Edge & Spirits. $49 pp. Call 760-564-5720 or visit . . . . On Feb. 25 La Quinta  will host the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour BBQ and Wine Tasting featuring Napa winemaker Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Winery, JB Award-winner Chef Stephan Pyles and La Quinta Resort’s  JB Award-winning Chef Jimmy Schmidt of Morgan’s in the desert. $75 pp ($50 for JBF members). Proceeds benefit the JB Foundation. Call 760-564-7600. . . .  On Feb. 26  La Quinta Resort & Club will host the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Wine Dinner. with  Mike Grgich, Stephan Pyles and Chef Jimmy Schmidt at a  5-course dinner. $175 pp ($120 for JBF members). Proceeds benefit the  JB Foundation. Call 760-564-7600.

* On Feb 25 & 26, April 8 & 9, Cap Maison in St. Lucia will be host a Guest Chef series. Drawing on its own member affiliation with Preferred Boutique™, with several top chefs from the kitchens of other Preferred member hotels to cook alongside Chef Craig Jones. A special 3-night Chef Series Weekend Package  rates starting at $1,595 PR, including the two chef dinners and more.  Call 1-888-765-4985 or visit

* On Feb. 25 & 26, 4th Annual New York Wine Expo, features tastings from over 150 wine makers from around the world and educational seminars with Gloria Maroti Frazee and Leslie Sbrocco that will turn any wine lover into a seasoned connoisseur.  $80-$90. Call 800-544-1660 or visit


FEATURED LINKS: 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: Flying Business Class Swiss-style; Hottest New Restaurants in Paris.


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).

The Family Travel Forum  - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED 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

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