Virtual Gourmet

February 13,  2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

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Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in "The Seven-Year Itch" (1955)


This Week

Dining Out In Dallas, Part One
by Christopher Mariani

New York Corner: Aureole Gets a New Chef
by John Mariani

Man About Town: The Best Steak in Florence
by Christopher Mariani

Quick Bytes

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.
  How to Make  a Reservation Stick

by Christopher Mariani

Fearings at the Ritz Carlton Dallas
2121 Mckinney Avenue

    First and foremost, Fearings is the fine restaurant it is because of gifted chef-owner Dean Fearing (right). Dean is ultra-passionate, makes all guests feel welcome and couldn’t be happier to feed first-time diners. He spends the evening  with his customers, walking from table to table, introducing himself, offering southern hospitality and sharing his vision behind the restaurant and his food. Dean shows no bias towards big spenders or those just stopping by for cocktails and appetizers; he greets everyone with a genuine smile and a sense of excitement.
    Dean is the type of chef who is eager for you to taste his food because he stands behind it and knows it’s damn good, and rightfully so.  His dishes are full of gusto, bold flavors, and best of all, it is elegant comfort food.  The best way to describe Dean’s  talent is to take a mouthful of his famous tortilla soup, served straight from his well-designed open kitchen, presented beautifully in a white bowl, filled with cubes of freshly cut green avocado, shredded white cheddar cheese and strips of crunchy house-made tortilla chips. Then the bowl is slowly filled by a steaming hot, light brown soup poured from above, filled with black beans with a subtle spiciness and hearty flavors that all come together to showcase Fearing’s fervor.
Fearings opened in August of 2007 and has become one of Dallas’ most prominent restaurants in the gastronomy of the city.  Prior to Fearings, Dean spent a large chunk of his career in Dallas cooking at The Mansion on Turtle Creek where he acquired the title, “Father of Southwestern Cuisine.”  He has only improved since his move into a grand space at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. 
    Upon entering the restaurant, you must pass by the swank Rattlesnake Bar,  packed from six pm on with men wearing suits and ties, along with many of Dallas’ most beautiful women, all tall and always dressed to impress.  Beyond the dark brown leather couches and the casual outside patio lies the glamorous main dining room, decorated with amber tones, cream-colored chairs, attractive wood trim, and rawhide chandeliers.
The restaurant is full of energy and there is an common interest among guests as to what course will come out next. The service staff is attentive, knowledgeable on all menu items, and portrays the same thrill as Fearing when guiding guests through the dining experience.   There are other, smaller rooms, one quite posh, others intimate, some al fresco.
The menu is highly eclectic, starting with flavors of smokiness and sweet in the apricot barbecue-glazed white quail appetizer, served on a wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce, topped with blue cheese and cider-braised bacon.  There’s also a trio of griddles--jumbo lump crabcakes, barbecued duck tamale, and lobster tacos served with an avocado relish. And of course, Dean’s famous barbecued shrimp taco, topped with diced mango, pickled red onions and a smoky citrus vinaigrette.  For entrees, Dean is all high notes: try the maple and black peppercorn-soaked buffalo tenderloin served over a bed of jalapeño grits and sided by a butternut squash
taquito. Nantucket sea scallops share a plate with a mound of shredded beef short ribs served over foie gras and a sweet potato puree with ragoût mushrooms, Brussels sprouts leaves and fennel confit.  The menu goes on to cuts of antelope with elk sausage, roasted pheasant stuffed with sweet corn and sage, and a generous portion of prime cut ribeye grilled over mesquite, accompanied by a rich creamy corn bread pudding.
         Fearings is a true Dallas restaurant, bringing Texas cuisine to an elevated level while refining the use of ingredients found south of the border.  And Dean Fearing is an adoring chef who welcomes all guests with open arms and will always ask, “Are y’all ready to eat?”

Open for breakfast and lunch Mon.-Sat.,  Dinner nightly; Appetizers range $12-$26 and entrees $34-$50.

urban taco
3411 McKinney Avenue

    located uptown on McKinney Avenue lies one of the most creative and soulful Mexican restaurants I have dined at outside of Mexico itself.  Urban Taco is a breath of fresh air for Mexican cuisine and a blessing to the city of Dallas, which has too many bland Tex-Mex eateries.  The first Urban Taco was opened in March of 2007 by owner Markus Pinevro, and was then re-invented this past summer at its new vibrant location, where I dined. (There are also a few Urban Taco Express outlets.)
Urban Taco offers indoor and outdoor seating, but if the weather permits, enjoy the casual outside setup, order a Pacifico beer, start with one of six different guacamoles, then order everything else. The tables are spread out, some covered by giant umbrellas, surrounded by wicker chairs, with two flat screen TV’s for the city’s sports lovers.  The restaurant claims to be a
taqueria, serving the kind of food you'd find at street vendors in Mexico City, and rightfully so, since the tacos are the highlight of the menu.  There are thirteen different taco options, all unique in flavor and ingredients. The al pastor taco is a house favorite and highly recommended, filled with a rotisserie spit chile rubbed pork, roasted pineapple, guajillo piquin salsa, onions and cilantro.  The taco list goes on and on, some made  with red snapper, some with ahi tuna, most filled with subtle hints of orange, cilantro, and fresh lime.  Urban Taco offers three tacos for a mere $9.75, so have fun and try a bunch for the table.
But there is much more.  Among other starters there's the trio of ceviches, your pick from five different selections, but do not miss the crudo, made with ahi tuna mixed with mango, pineapple, avocado, garlic chips, and finished with strong chili oil.  Another is the ceviche verde, a combination of sweet and spicy flavors, prepared with red snapper, shrimp, bell peppers, diced carrots, and a coconut passion fruit jalapeño sauce, sided by deep fried plantain chips. Besides the entrees and platters, all starters are great for sharing, especially the braised beef tostados and the chicharron quesos, both under $10 a plate.
    Main courses of savory interest include a dry rub steak covered with orange-glazed onions, garlic chips and chorizo rice
. The chef’s spin on a very traditional Mexican dish is the pollo con mole, tender juicy chicken smothered by a dark thick mole sauce, pickled red onions, and chopped roasted peanuts.
dishes are relatively light--which is truer of Mexican than Tex-Mex fare--made with fresh ingredients, and showcase a clear use of interesting textures and a terrific combination of acidity, sweet, and tangy.

Open daily from 10 AM-11 PM; Appetizers range $6-$14, tacos $2.75-$3.25, and entrees and platters $9-$28.




1530 Main Street

    After a Monday night Cowboys versus Giants game this season and a few stops along McKinney Avenue, I had breakfast at Charlie Palmer’s, and what an ideal spot to recharge and straighten out with a nice hearty breakfast. Charlie Palmer’s is located downtown, in The Joule hotel, and it's  quickly becoming one of Dallas’ power breakfast restaurants, great for business meetings.  Most of the tables are filled by money movers from Dallas’ financial district, wearing dark suits, eating, talking business and swigging down coffee. The tables are well staggered for privacy and the room is kept at a quiet tone,  no music as far as I recall. (Who would ever want music at 8 AM?) The service staff is well accustomed to this ritual of formal atmosphere and does a terrific job of tending to tables' needs while never acting intrusive, or even being noticed, always standing at a distance, but always keeping a close eye on the guests for any service cues.
     The main dining room is magnificent, with an elegant décor, large wind-themed pictures, cream-colored leather chairs, dark wood columns, trim and tables, and giant wind energy turbines that slowly turn above you.  The turbines aren’t real but they do serve as an interesting and pleasant decoration.  There is also a private dining space that seats twelve, an outside patio that overlooks Main Street, and the hotel bar that is separate from the main dining room.
    Executive chef Scott Romano (left) has put together a straightforward breakfast menu with dishes that are simply done right.  There is no dish all that  much out of the ordinary, but without question, the best is Romano’s marinated skirt steak and two sunny side up eggs, served with crispy thick home fries and a red wine reduction (below).  The meat is tender, presented medium-rare unless requested otherwise, the eggs light and cooked at a low heat, and the home fries are more than addictive. For  peanut butter lovers, the peanut butter French toast is as good as it gets, thick slices of French toast sautéed in butter and sandwiched together, warming the peanut butter into a hot creamy ooze that pairs wonderfully with a side of bourbon maple syrup.  Another must--and this  of course if you are dining with those who don’t mind sharing, because the portions are extremely generous--are the migas tortillas, filled with buttery scrambled eggs, shredded beef, chopped chorizo sausage, topped with melted cheese.  The house-made biscuits are worth a try, steaming hot as they are cut open, sided by house-made sausage and a thick country gravy.  By the way, all the meats are cured in house, hanging in a giant meat locker visible from the dining room.
Of course there are plates of fresh fruit and granola, but if you want to enjoy Charlie Palmer’s, order one of the entrée dishes.   Whether it’s to cure the effects of a long night out or to sit down and talk business, Charlie Palmer’s at the Joule will cater accordingly.

Breakfast daily, weekend brunch Saturday and Sunday 11am- 2pm, lunch and dinner daily.  Fruit, bagels, toast, and granola $3-$10, entrees $11-$17, sides $4-$6.


by John Mariani

One Bryant Park
135 West 42nd Street
(near Sixth Ave.)

    When restaurateur Charlie Palmer (see his Dallas place at Joule above) relocated his long-running hit Aureole from the upper east side to 42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas a year and a half ago, it was a signal that that once derelict stretch of NYC was again reclaiming its glamor.  Palmer was obviously betting that the clean-up of the Times Square and 42nd Street area would attract a more sophisticated business crowd from new banks and office buildings, as well as a theater and movie crowd.
    That gamble has paid off well, and the new Aureole, itself in the Bank of America Tower, is much larger and decorously different from the previous townhouse setting,  serving as a tasteful anchor for the neighborhood, which is also home to the majestic NY Public Library and the now beautiful (and safe!) Bryant Park. Fine restaurants lift the cast of a neighborhood, not least by throwing light and activity onto the street, and the after-work beehive activity of young professionals at the 64-seat bar room (above) at Aureole brightens everything. Even the cacophony of the bar seems a sign of vitality.
    The 54-seat dining room (below), designed by Adam Tihany,  is of course more sedate and very comfortable, done in warm tones of beige and brown, with oak frames, golden acrylic chandeliers, a swirling motif carpet, broad tables set with good linens, and flowers on those tables--all those delightful appointments some in the food media have said good riddance to, but believe me, long after the trendiest downtown tapas bar and banh mi shop is shuttered, restaurants like Aureole in NYC will still be representing the true face of modern American dining.  There is also a 56-seat private dining room.

    When Aureole opened, it had the well-regarded Christopher Lee as chef, but at the turn of this year Christophe Bellanca (right), previously at Le Cirque and before that at L'Orangerie in Los Angeles, took the helm, and on the basis of my dinner last week, I think I can say that he emerges here as one of the most exciting chefs of the moment.  Bellanca's cooking is grounded in French precision but exemplary in its use of global ingredients, not least a slew of Asian foods.  Thus, his hamachi, with buttery avocado and guava and a sprinkling of mint and cilantro, is some of the best I've had in a long while.
    His seared sea scallops come with  tangy citrus and honest potatoes, with a velvety and lavish lemon beurre blanc, a terrifically rich and wonderful dish. Veal sweetbreads, with their own fine flavor, are enhanced by turnips, pine nuts for texture, and a rich hollandaise studded with bacon.  I could only wish for  a bigger foie gras-stuffed raviolo in black truffle sauce, with a marmalade of Savoy cabbage; it was absolutely delicious; it's a generous raviolo as a starter but I could eat two or three as a main course.
    An entree of poached striped bass became too complicated with the additions of a pear-vodka sauce, Kumamoto oyster, lemon-leek fondue and osietra caviar, so that the bass got a little lost. Spiced duck breast suffered that night from saltiness, so the  creamed daikon, brandied cherries and sweet praline were flavors out of balance.
    Desserts are quite beautiful and imaginative, though I had hoped a dish called "chocolate pudding" would be a nice bowl of just that, instead materializing as mere filling within a pencil-thin chocolate tube.  It was, however, good to see baked Alaska done with real flair.          
    The service staff at Aureole is impeccably amiable and attentive to whatever guests desire. A captain asked if we wanted to change tables if we found the bar too loud. A matching of wines to courses  by the sommelier was exceptionally savvy from one of the most carefully chosen wine lists in NYC, listed by body weight, although there's not much on it below $60 among red wines.  (The Aureole in Las Vegas is famous for its tower of wine serviced by personnel swinging on wires, but not here.) And, having sighed over the untouched petits-fours and chocolates, I was sent home with a bag of the treats.
    Even on  a rotten, sleety evening, Aureole was doing good business, which just shows that in NYC, there is always a draw for cuisine and wine and civilized dining at this level, and the $89 fixed price menu is a little below several of Aureole's competitors in the haute cuisine league.

Aureole is open for Lunch Mon.-Sat., Dinner nightly; Fixed price dining room dinner, $89; "Bubbles after Broadway" Menu Mon.-Sat. 10 PM-11:30 PM.; Sunday's "Butcher's Table," $49.


by Christopher Mariani

The Best Bistecca alla fiorentina in Florence

ristorante IL LATINI
via dei Palchetti 6/r (Palazzo Rucellai)
+39) 055 210916

    On a recent trip through Northern Italy, after spending three days in the beautiful city of Rome, wine tasting throughout Tuscany and dining in some terrific restaurants in Montecatini, I finally arrived in Florence, one of my favorite Italian cities. Along with visiting the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Galleria dell’Accademia where the statue of David stands and of course getting slightly lost in search of the best gelato and espresso cafés, I always make sure to sit down and have a nice long lunch  with lots of food and wine, the only way truly to embrace an Italian city.  So, it was off to Il Latini for a bistecca alla fiorentina,  the best in all of Italy.
         The restaurant sits on a narrow cobblestone road and is easy to miss, the entrance blending into the surrounding walls with only a small green painted sign above the arched doorway that reads da “IL LATINI.” Once inside, I saw a dining room packed with guests eating and drinking, with legs of aged prosciutto  hung from the ceiling, the walls blanketed with Italian artwork, quaint little archways that jut off to separate dining rooms, and the tantalizing aroma of fresh bread, extra virgin olive oil and steaming plates of spaghetti topped with a fresh tomato sauce. Most tables are set for communal dining, so do expect to sit among other guests. I was dining by myself that afternoon and was immediately told to follow the host and was then placed at a table of seven Italians, all enjoying their afternoon at leisure.
    There were three married couples at the long rectangular table and an older gentleman sitting to my right. My Italian is not what it should be and their English was fragmented, but somehow we all communicated and had a wonderful meal, maybe the excessive wine helped. As soon as I sat down, my plate was picked up by the women across from me who filled it with slices of prosciutto, salami, thick cuts of creamy mozzarella and crostini di fegatini di pollo, little crunchy crostinis topped with a spread of chicken liver, an absolute must when dining at Il Latini. Then my glass was filled to the top with a table Chianti poured from an old-fashioned straw-covered fiasco. I had ordered nothing and been sitting for no longer than 30 seconds yet already had a mound of food and a full glass of vino rossi. After saying “grazie” to everyone at the table, our meal began. While we ate, the antipasti plate was passed from one side of the table to the other, the bread basket replenished twice and the wine glasses filled without question.   
    The conversation quickly turned to politics as the men of the table took their stances and began to talk louder and faster while the ladies rolled their eyes and told me to ignore the conversation. I sat back with a smile, took a sip of wine and enjoyed the experience.
    For my main course I ordered the famous bistecca,  a cut called the lombata, from steers raised in the region, enough for four people. The gentleman to my right explained the width of the steak is measured and cut to the width of a man’s four fingers, then cooked rare and seasoned only with salt. The meat was tender and full of flavor, like nothing I’d ever tasted in the States. I shared steak with the table as bowls of pasta alla pomodoro were passed and traded with one another. The amount of food was abundant and exactly what I was hoping for that afternoon.
    Once the food was cleared, a good two hours later, we all enjoyed a few glasses of limoncello, many espressos and three of four plates of biscotti cookies that we dipped inside snifter glasses filled with vin santo. When we finally rose and left the table, we all said “arriverderci” and went our separate ways. It was not my first time in Firenze, but it was at Il Latini that I finally captured the feeling of the beautiful city.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Nuvo Sparkling Liqueur's ad campaign promotes its product as
“the ultimate accessory,” with ads that take cues visually from the beauty and fashion world.” According to a spokesman quoted in the NY Times, “So much liquor advertising is testosterone-driven or macho or overtly sexual, but it was important to us to create ads that were sexy but not sexist, and that women could look to and admire. Eva Longoria is a beautiful woman, and sexy — but we didn’t feature her on a bed with a come-hither look.”



"The star of the show is pizza. While it's not an epoch-altering pizza -- remember when Punch's wet, stretchy, Neapolitan-style pies materialized and the world momentarily stopped spinning on its axis? "-- Rick Nelson, "
Pizza in Edina? At Mozza Mia, si," Minneapolis Tribune (1/12/11).


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.

* On Feb. 20 in SeattleCOCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. John Sundstrom of Lark, Holly Smith of Café Juanita, Rachel Yang of Joule / Revel, Jason Stratton of Spinasse, Ethan Stowell of Staple & Fancy Mercantile / Ethan Stowell Restaurants to prepare a menu  from 5 heritage breed pigs, with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Syncline Wine Cellars, Elk Cove Vineyards, K Vintners, Scott Paul Wines, and Domaine Serene, as well as the opportunity to help select the “Prince or Princess of Porc.”  $125pp. . .On Mar. 6 in NapaCOCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity, with 5 chefs, incl. Duskie Estes & John Stewart of Zazu (Sonoma), Dave Cruz of ad hoc (Yountville), Curtis de Fede & Tyler Rodde of Oenotri (Napa), Charlie Parker of Plum (Oakland), and Brandon Sharp Solbar (Calistoga) to prepare a menu (see above), with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Pey-Marin Vineyards, Ladera Vineyards, Scholium Project, Domaine Serene, and K Vintners.  $125pp;

* On Feb. 27  LUXBAR and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) will host second annual JDRF Red Carpet Party.  Partygoers will bid on upscale items in the silent auction with food by Corporate Chef Randy Waidner and sip on Stella Artois beers, Cocktails from Moet Hennessy, and enjoy decadent cupcakes from Crumbs Bakery.  $65 pp in advance, $80 pp at door.  Call 312.642.3400 or visit

* On March 3 City Winery in NYC hosts Chiara Lungarotti, CEO of the Italy's Lungarotti winery of Umbria, who will  conduct a guided tasting of her award winning wines followed by dinner. $65 pp. Call 212-608-0555.

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."


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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