Virtual Gourmet

February 27,  2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

                                                   Restaurant Totem, Lisbon, Portugal (2007) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

This Week

A Very Proud Announcement! by John Mariani

Cheyenne Frontier Days
by Robert Mariani

New York Corner: Veritas
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Cola's
by Christopher Mariani

Quick Bytes


My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history of the food and wine culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace by the entire world in the 21st century. From ancient Rome to Il Boom of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style, full of savory anecdotes about Tony May, Mario Batali,  Giada de Laurentiis, Danny Meyer,  Sirio Maccioni, Lidia Bastianich, Michael Chiarello, Marcella Hazan, Giuseppe Cipriani, and Ernest Hemingway (below), Nigella Lawson, Tony Vallone, Piero Antinori, Angelo Gaia, Mario Puzo, Frank Sinatra, and many more, along with restaurants like Delmonico's, G. Lombardi's Pizzeria, Mamma Leone's, Patsy's, Perino's, Romeo Salta, Bice, Al Moro, Bagutta, Il Cantinori, Le Cirque, Barbetta, San Domenico, Valentino's, Marea, Spiaggia, Cecconi, Zafferano, and hundreds more.
    This is a story of how desperately poor Southern Italians emigrated to the New World and changed its gastronomy, creating an Italian-American cuisine based on "red sauce," and of the entrepreneurs who elevated the image and reputation of Italian cuisine and made it chic at trattorias in Milan, Florence, New York, Los Angeles, and London. It chronicles how the food media itself so disgracefully associated Italian food with gangsterism and how Hollywood bolstered that image in its mob movies. At the same time, it considers how Hollywood movies of the 1950s like "Roman Holiday" and "Three Coins in the Fountain," along with Italian movies like "La Dolce Vita," showed the world another side of Italian sensuality, intimately tied to its  food and wine.  The book also details how Italian wines went from being called "dago red" to "Super Tuscans." There are also twelve iconic Italian recipes that have become part of global gastronomy in this century. I hope you enjoy what was, for me, a true labor of love.
                                                                                                                    John Mariani

“John Mariani’s tale of Italian food and its culture is a revealing and very informative one.  Beneath its covers, within its pages, lies a story of a people who, century after century, have sought to share a love of their food and culture and marry the two so effortlessly that the end result has not only captivated but `conquered the world.”—Lidia Bastianich, host of PBS-TV’s “Lidia’s Italy.”

“John Mariani’s superb writing has captured perfectly the rise of Italian food throughout history, unraveling the evolution of a cuisine that confused the world before conquering it!”—Tony May, owner of SD26 restaurant in NYC.

"A fact-filled, entertaining history that substantiates its title with hundreds of facts in this meaty history of the rise of Italian food culture around the globe. From Charles Dickens's journey through Italy in 1844 to 20th-century immigrants to America selling ice cream on the streets of New Orleans, Mariani constantly surprises the reader with little-known culinary anecdotes about Italy and its people, who have made pasta and pizza household dishes in the U.S. and beyond."--Publishers Weekly

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern,  and Maialino.
                                                                                "La Dolce Vita" (1960)


                by Robert Mariani


"Wyoming is a land of great open spaces with plenty of elbow room. . . . There are sections of the State where it is said you can look farther and see less than any other place in the world."--Federal Writers' Project, Wyoming: A Guide to Its History, Highways, and People (1941).

    Waking up just at sunrise back here on the East Coast after a week in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one of the things I miss is the early morning sound of the train whistle, that plaintive, Johnny-Mercer-like note that’s been such a part of the mood and feel of this small, unassuming capital city on the prairie since the mid-1800’s. Indeed, were it not for that sound, Cheyenne would never have become one of the three largest and most prosperous railroad hubs in America in its day.
         I visited Cheyenne to experience “Frontier Days Celebration,” their once-a-year, all-out tribute to their wild and free ranging “Cowboy Culture.” It’s an event that began in 1897 and has become known as “the daddy of ‘em all.” What I also encountered in Cheyenne was a very genuine American way of life— one that seems somehow to have lovingly retained much of its early to mid-19th century, hard-working optimism and charm. Back then, cattle ranchers from all over the West drove their herds to Cheyenne, where the Union Pacific Railroad transported the cattle to stockyards for slaughter and distribution. And when gold was discovered in Wyoming’s Black Hills, Cheyenne’s economy really started to gallop and a lot of people got pretty rich.
         Thanks to a strong commitment to maintaining its “old west” pioneer character, I was happy to see that the City of Cheyenne still has no sterile glass-and-steel skyscrapers. And except for the tastefully opulent State House, I don’t believe I saw a single building over 6 or 7 stories high. Much of the architecture is  Western Victorian, with ornate sand-colored stone mansions and neighborhoods of smaller, well-kept homes that still reflect a sense of mannerly elegance. And to add to its visitor/business-friendly attitude, there are no parking meters in the entire town of Cheyenne; instead, there's a big free municipal parking garage right in the heart of the City.
         The downtown train depot, now a handsome museum devoted to the City’s fortuitous relationship with the Union Pacific RR, is a Victorian masterpiece of wheat-colored stone. For railroad buffs, the museum is a treasure trove of historic memorabilia.
         During the annual Cheyenne Frontier Days Celebration (this year to be held July 19 to 31), the city is bustling with visitors and residents alike. There’s an artisans’ market in the center of town, and trolley or free horse-and-buggy tours of the various historic locations.

Welcome to Horse Country--Judging from the parade that kicks off the 10-day-long Frontier Days event, Cheyenne has an unusually large population of equestrians. If you’re not on a parade float or in a marching band here, you’re on horseback or driving a horse-drawn carriage. The mayor, the governor, the local politicians all walk-trot along the parade route on beautifully kept steeds and it’s clear this is definitely not their first time in the saddle. Even the 9 or 10-year-old kids here are as at ease on horseback as “Hoppy,” and Gene, and Roy and Dale. Wrangler® jeans seem to be Cheyenne’s trouser-of-choice, and of course, just about everyone’s wearing a cowboy hat and boots. There’s a big Wrangler clothing and equipment store right downtown, too, where just about every version of cowboy and cowgirl attire is available.

Backstage at the Rodeo—Located in the Northeast corner of the sprawling Frontier Park Rodeo Grounds is Cheyenne’s Old West Museum. Open year-round, the museum features one of the country’s largest collections of beautifully restored horse-drawn carriages along with an extensive array of Western art, saddles, rodeo belt buckles and photos of world champion riders and ropers.
         The slide show about “the world’s most dangerous sport,” bull-riding, will give you an even greater appreciation for the skill and courage it takes to straddle a two-thousand-pound bull who’s main objective is to trounce you into prairie dust.
The Museum also offers a detailed photographic history of the “Cheyenne Frontier Days Celebration” from its humble beginnings in 1897 to the world renowned pageantry of today’s “Daddy of 'em All ®.”
    Before the day’s full schedule of rodeo events begins, you can take a free "Behind the Chutes” guided tour for a close-up look at the bucking stock and an explanation of the rules of the various rodeo events. All the animals look healthy and well-cared for. A bucking bull’s or bronco’s career can last for 7 or 8 years as they’re trailer-ed around the country on the rodeo circuit. It’s not such a bad life when you realize that it only takes them a mere 8 seconds to do their “job.” That’s the amount of time a bull or bronc has to dislodge their rider once they leave the chute.
    During the “Frontier Days Celebration,” the rodeo grounds also feature plenty of arts and craft tents, and an Indian village where Native Americans demonstrate native dances and tell stories. While you’re there, be sure to sample one of the made-to-order Indian tacos,  with chopped lettuce, shredded cheese, ground bison meat, and served on a tasty soft taco that reminded me of grilled pizza crust.

“Let ‘er Buck!”
Most of us have probably watched rodeos on TV, but there’s no substitute for seeing one live. The Cheyenne arena is the largest in the world, the sight lines are good and the action is non-stop. And there are two LED screens where you can see each ride re-played along with some witty commentary by the rodeo announcers. (Example: “He stuck on that bull like bubble gum on a bleacher seat.”)
         I was impressed by how seamlessly the entire day went with absolutely no dead spots between the bucking events and the roping, barrel racing and trick riding competitions.  I was also impressed with the caliber of the contestants, many ranked among the best riders and ropers in the country, including world champion bull rider J.W. Harris, who on this bright, breezy day, “made the whistle” and scored high.
    There are day and night rodeos scheduled daily.  Tickets range from $14 to $24, and I recommend getting seats as close to the chutes as possible, either directly across the stadium from them or behind the chutes as close to center as possible. In the bucking events, the action is almost always within 40 or 50 yards of the chutes. Roping, trick riding, and barrel racing take up much more of this king-size venue. The arena’s enormous, oblong shape allows riders to get going full speed, and there’s nothing quite like watching a beautiful young cowgirl in spangled chaps and glittering vest gallop her amazingly well-trained horse the length of the stadium while she stands up tall in the saddle.
    The mid-July weather for the week I was in Cheyenne could not have been nicer, with the daytime temperatures about 80 degrees and a constantly refreshing breeze. Evenings were cool and dry. I was told that this was unusual, however, and on previous years in Cheyenne the heat had been in the 90’s. (It should also be noted that outdoor rodeos are seldom canceled due to rain.)
         The Frontier Days’ events are always kicked off with an evening concert. This year, the opening night act was Kiss. The rest of the week’s roster included an array of the top stars in country music, including Brooks & Dun with The Band Perry; Aaron Tippin and Neal McCoy; Clay Walker; Dierks Bently and Miranda Lambert; Sugarland with Danny Gokey; and Alan Jackson with Josh Turner.

A Victorian B & B--One of the prettiest and most centrally located spots to stay in downtown Cheyenne is the tastefully plush B&B known as the Nagle Warren Mansion (left). It was built by Erasmus Nagle in 1888, when Cheyenne was the richest city of its size in the world. Mr. Nagle came to Cheyenne in 1867 to engage in the grocery trade and rapidly became a key player in the gold mining industry. His wealth is reflected in the mansion’s opulence. The current owner, Jim Osterfoss, took over the mansion in 1997, restored it and turned it into a bed & breakfast retaining many original features including the Moorish style tile on the vestibule floor; an original Moroccan chandelier; carved leather ceilings; original stained glass and crystal windows; and impressive oak woodwork throughout. Six of the individually decorated rooms, including the Barbara Sullivan Room (right) are located in the main house and six are in the carriage house, now connected to the main house.  The third floor tower room (in the main house), the “snuggery” and the balcony, are available for guest use, as is the workout room on the garden level. The grounds include a hot tub room, patio, fountain, and gardens.


Welcome to The Plains--Across the street from the historic Union Pacific Depot stands The Plains Hotel. It’s a short ride from the rodeo arena and just 5 stories high. The Plains Hotel is an up-dated remnant evoking the hay day of Cheyenne’s prosperous “railroad days.” First opened in 1911, the Plains’ lobby and rooms have a definite mid-19th Century elegance. One can easily imagine tired, dusty cowpokes fresh off the trail sauntering into the Hotel’s classy tile-floored lobby and thinking they’ve fallen right into the lap of luxury. By today’s standards, The Plains may seem dated, which is its charm. The lighting is subdued and somewhat replicates the romantic mood that the Hotel’s original gaslights might have cast. The rooms are spacious and have all the amenities, but feel somewhat austere by 21st Century standards.
         Another feature that evokes The Plains’ storied past is its furnishings. In 1933, the hotel added some chairs and sofas and other details created by Cody, Wyoming’s world-renowned furniture designer, Thomas Molesworth. Many of his original museum-worthy pieces are still in use here in the Hotel. The Plain’s 1930’s style ground floor dining room, the Capital Grille, bills itself as “the coolest restaurant and bar in downtown Cheyenne.” The menu offers a little something for everyone including “the best prime rib in town,” and several seafood selections, all at reasonable prices.
    I ordered the quesadilla, which came in a heaping serving large enough for 2 or 3 of even the hungriest cowpokes. (The restaurant’s wine list was rather modest and it might be worth my mentioning that this was the first of three other restaurants in Cheyenne where I asked the wait person for a glass of chianti and received a totally confused look that seemed to be saying: “And where did you park your flying saucer, sir?”)
    Some of the celebrity guests through the years at The Plains Hotel have included President Harry S. Truman, and Presidential candidates Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy. There were also a number of movie stars who stayed at The Plains—Jimmy Stewart, Karl Malden, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo and Carroll Baker, among others.

    If you stay at The Plains, shopping, dining and museums are all in easy walking distance, and guided trolley and buckboard tours depart just across the street.
    All the rooms were booked at The Plains, so I spent my week at one of the Little America affiliate hotels, just a 10-minute drive from downtown Cheyenne. It’s a comfortable residence where you can drift off to sleep to the sad, romantic sounds of the train whistles,  as Union Pacific still runs numerous freight trains through this town throughout the day.

Where The Buffalo Roam--The day before the Frontier Days’ rodeo extravaganza began, I visited the nearby Terry Bison Ranch where you have a chance to get up-close-and-personal with their buffalo herd. You’re driven out onto the pasturelands in a wonderfully rickety little, hand-built train and supplied with a bag of “bison treats.” The moment the train stops, a big, shaggy herd of about a dozen buffalo surrounds you, eager for their goodies. You get a real sense of just how big and imposing these beasts are when you’re literally a few feet from them. They aren’t especially human-friendly, so you’re advised not to try to touch or pet them.
    The Ranch also offers RV sites, cabins and campsites. There are daily trail-rides, and animal attractions for kids. As a memento, you can have your photo taken dressed in old-fashioned cowboy garb and framed as a Wanted Poster.
    I had lunch at the Ranch’s Senator’s Steakhouse and Brass Buffalo Saloon where they offer both beef and buffalo meats. I tried the “buffalo bratwurst” and found it to be tender and juicy, but I could not notice any difference from most other bratwursts I’ve had. In general, I found buffalo meat to be flavorful but just slightly milder tasting than regular beef.

    Although there’s a predominance of funky old western type cowboy saloons in Cheyenne, there are some alternatives like the Suite 1901 Martini Bar which offers an interesting tapas menu along with an array of crazy cocktail concoctions in a more sophisticated, urban atmosphere.

Big Dinner at the Little Bear--One night I took a 20-minute drive out to The Little Bear Inn for dinner. This popular, unassuming roadside restaurant opened in the 1870's for people traveling north by stagecoach to the Black Hills to mine for gold. But the growth of the rail lines marked the end of the stagecoach route in 1887.
         The Little Bear Inn’s next life was as a gambling hall, saloon and restaurant. Legend has it that a tunnel once extended from under the saloon to the horse barn, 100 feet from the inn. When a posse seeking an outlaw arrived at the inn, the saloon’s trap door was opened, and the outlaw could escape at the other end, or stay in the tunnel until the posse left. How’s that for a hotel accommodation?   I sampled my first “Rocky Mountain Oyster” here but all I could taste was the overly salty breadcrumb batter it had been dredged in. Other offerings include Alaskan king crab; catfish; and walleye pike. All Little Bear’s beef entrees are aged and hand-cut in-house. All portions are hefty and side dishes more than filling.

Down-to-Earth Breakfast at The Luxury DinerPerhaps no place in Cheyenne embodies the unpretentious, keepin'’-it-real cowboy style quite like the Luxury Diner and Motel at 1401-A West Lincolnway. From 1896 to 1912, the Diner was an operating trolley car in the Capitol City. It’s been a working diner since 1926. Folks say you really should not leave Cheyenne without having one of their cheeseburgers.
     The Diner’s interior is full of kitschy railroad and trolley memorabilia. Tables are small and close together, and despite its self-proclaimed title of “luxury,” there’s nothing the least bit luxurious here. I enjoyed their sunnyside-up eggs and corned beef hash. They also offer an array of pancakes, omelets and breakfast burritos. Not surprisingly, the Luxury has no web site but they’re easy to find on-line.

Where to Go in Medicine BowThe term “Vedauwoo” means “land of the earthborn spirit” in the Arapaho language. It’s the name of a magical 250-acre park (right) made up of ancient rounded, rocky outcroppings located in the Medicine Bow area near the city of Laramie. Known as a great "wide crack climbing spot,” Vedauwoo offers a breathtaking, tranquil, high mountain setting where climbers and hikers can really “get vertical.” There are over 900 climbing routes currently here, for different experience levels. I watched in amazement as a quintet of climbers rappelled down the face of one of the shear rock faces. (No safety nets here. You’re on your own.)
    At night, owing to its high elevation and distance from cities, Vedauwoo is also a favorite of star-watching enthusiasts. Vedeauwoo has several day-use picnic sites and an overnight campground. This enchanting park is also popular with mountain bikers, anglers, cross-country skiers, and snow-shoers.

Dinner and a ShowIf you’d like to experience Cheyenne family style hospitality at its most endearing, wend your way up into the foothills to the Bit-O-Wyo Ranch just a short drive from town. Here Ranch owner Dennis Steele and his multi-generational family will treat you to an evening of song, laughter, Bar-B-Que and friendship.
         During the day you can come here for a guided trail ride aboard one of the Ranch’s beautiful (and beautifully behaved) horses. The mountain scenery is classic. Dismount and come on up to the horse barn around 6:30 pm and take your place in the “chuck wagon line" (left), where they’ll serve you a grilled, cowboy steak dinner accompanied by some BIT-O-WYO baked beans, applesauce and some “whistle wetter.” It’s all very informal dining at picnic tables right alongside the horse stalls where you can hear the mustangs munching their hay along with you. Around 7:30 “the cowboy show” begins. Three generations of the Steele family, loosely led by Dad/Head Wrangler/MC, Dennis, take the stage to sing cowboy songs, both traditional and original, tell jokes, and make you feel like you’re in their living room for an evening of family fun. Dinner and show is $40 per person and kids under 7 are free.
    A one-hour trail ride through the Ranch’s rolling acreage is $35 per rider and “saddle times” are 10 am and 2 pm. Reservations are required for dinner and for trail rides. 

“Leavin’ Cheyenne”After another nice barbecue dinner outside on the breezy Little America Hotel’s patio, I headed back to my room to pack for departure the next day. In the distance I heard the wail of another freight train as it pulled out of the downtown depot heading west across miles of moon-lit plains. I thought about the brief but exhilarating times that sound had once brought to Wyoming’s capital City, and how this annual “Frontier Days Celebration” has re-captured that euphoria and built it into a piece of the Old West’s History that everyone can experience and enjoy. It made me realize what a gift this event is to anyone who has ever watched a classic Western film and wondered what it felt like to ride the range and be a part of that unique and totally all-American Cowboy Culture.

Robert Mariani, the author of this article and co-author with his brother John Mariani of Almost Golden, was a finalist in The New Yorker Magazine's Halekulani Travel Tales Short Story Contest for his article "A Trip to the Birthplace of Whiskey," which first appeared here in the  April 15, 2007 issue of Virtual Gourmet.




by John Mariani


43 East 20th Street (near Park Ave.)



    Back in 1998, when enophilia was raging in the land, Park B. Smith and Gino Diaferia pooled their considerable resources, which included the former's spectacular personal wine collection of nearly 200,000 bottles, to open Veritas (from the Latin motto "in vino veritas").  The intent was to have a modestly sized restaurant built around that collection and to match the food to it in the French-American style then coming into focus. It was no surprise that Veritas soon was winning awards for its wine cellar and the kitchen raves for its cuisine under Chef Scott Bryan, who was succeeded in 2008 by Frenchman Grégory Pugin, an eight-year protégé of Joël Robuchon.
    Then, quite suddenly, Veritas closed its doors, and everyone assumed it was another fine dining victim of the recession.
  So when Veritas re-opened three months ago, gourmets were both surprised and elated, not least because the chef is now also the owner, the redoubtable Sam Hazen, backed by investors that still include Smith as well as defense attorney Arthur Aidala. The wine list is smaller now, though with sommelier Rubén Sanz Romero (formerly at Public and The Fat Duck) overseeing 3,000 labels, it is still probably the largest in the city. Its terroir-driven "Market List" of wines at $40-$145, with 46 half-bottles, also makes Veritas far more appealing to those who are not necessarily damn-the-expense connoisseurs.
    Hazen (below), whose lengthy résumé includes La Côte Basque, The Quilted Giraffe, Tavern on the Green, and Tao, along with
Chef de Cuisine Alexander Williamson (formerly at Compass, Morimoto, and Gramercy Tavern), has fashioned their menu around wine, with Sanchez joining in to make matches of food and bottles; up front at the bar there is a selection of wine-friendly small plates and snacks that include chicken liver mousse, potatoes fried in duck fact,  Kobe bresaola with blue cheese walnuts,  and  steak tartare.
    You pass by the gray slate bar, with its ten-seat communal table, and enter the dining room (above) through floor-to-ceiling wine racks. The room hasn't the posh of its former days; instead it's more casual, with 
dark wood floors, white painted brick, Ultrasuede® banquettes, hanging pendant lamps, and chalkboard-black walls accented with mirrors and cork artwork by artist Julien Gardair. The wooden tables have white placemats.  The sound level is graciously civilized.  This is a place to dine with people who like to enjoy their friends' company.
    Our party of four began with a black lentil soup enriched with a scrumptious profiterole of Jamón Ibérico. Light and delicate crab salad is tangy-sweet with lemon jam, black olives, and arugula, while beets come with the predictable accompaniment of goat's cheese, pistachios, and the bite of horseradish.  The "market crudo" of fish is, obviously, based on what's best that day, served with citrus and pomegranate for both sweetness and textural crunch.

     Every entree scored high, from seared sea scallops  with roasted cèpes, sunchoke puree, and lush foie gras to a maple-brined "wooly pig" with charred tomato and wilted butter lettuce. Niman Ranch loin of lamb is good, with tarbais beans and a lustrous minestrone broth but best of all is the short rib raviolo--one big raviolo--with oyster mushroom and pickled red onions. This is a good-sized raviolo, but however big it might be, it is so delicious that you'll want another. 
     Note well how every dish is composed of very few ingredients (master chef Joël Robuchon always said more than three is too many), and nothing is extraneous on the plate. This is well-focused cuisine refined to its sharpest flavors.
    You could have a fine array of cheeses at Veritas, but you won't want to miss  Pastry Chef Emily Wallendjack's desserts, chosen, like all else here, according to the seasons, so right now she's doing  an heirloom apple crisp with cinnamon and crème fraîche ice cream (left), and a goat’s milk panna cotta with Port-glazed figs and local honey.
        The truth of the matter about Veritas is that it has been wholly transformed in décor and cuisine, and even those who cherished the original cannot help to be but impressed by all that Hazen has brought to the table here.

Veritas is open for dinner only nightly.  Appetizers run $11-$19, main courses $24-$39. Bar menu $5-$16.




by Christopher Mariani


148 8th Avenue


    The dictionary definition of "old fashioned"  is "a style or method formerly in vogue, outdated; describing someone or something attached to or favoring methods or ideas." In that case, Cola’s in Chelsea is definitely an old fashion restaurant, opening its doors in 1988 and today still holding onto those so-called
outdated methods. The shelf life of most restaurants in NYC is a mere couple of years, so for Cola’s not only to survive but thrive for over two decades is a true accomplishment. Twenty-two years later, original owner and chef Nick Accardi still walks the petite dining room, seating around 40 guests at max, chats with local customers, rolls up his sleeves to cook nightly and even heads back to Sicily every year to pick up his olive oil (made from Nocellera olives) used in the restaurant. Cola’s is one of few old remaining neighborhood restaurants left in Chelsea, which has become so expensive for small-time restaurants to operate and larger ones flair up then cool down quickly.  Yet Accardi has found a way to stay open and prosper.

         There’s only one main room at Cola’s, with a blue-and-white tiled floor, white marble tables, wooden chairs and a small waiter’s station topped with tall pepper mills, a few bottles of wine, and an espresso/cappuccino maker. Like the restaurant, the wine list is very small, comprised of a handful of red and white wines, just one label for each listed varietal, an area that Cola’s might easily improve on.

         The food is a blend of regional Italian and Italian-American dishes with a Sicilian touch, and like many NYC Italian restaurants, the pasta dishes trump all. Homemade pappardelle comes to the table steaming, topped with a hearty wild mushroom veal ragù while the marble-sized potato gnocchi are coated by a creamy spinach and gorgonzola dolce sauce. The pasta portions are generous, easily enough for an entire meal, but also perfect as a starter when shared. Other notable appetizers are the grilled Portuguese octopus served with roasted potatoes in a wild fennel vinaigrette, drizzled with olive oil and the cremini mushrooms stuffed with chopped prosciutto and roasted pine nuts. Meat and fish dishes include a veal saltimbocca, braised short ribs, filet of sole Pantelleria (named after an island off Sicily, famous for its capers) and a local market fish cooked to your liking. There are also nightly specials, one dish for each night of the week.
        Desserts are very traditional, all made in house; the moist tiramisù and lemon ricotta cheesecake are among the best.

        There is a personal and, given its size, cozy intimacy  to Cola’s that is fading from Manhattan restaurants, a rare quality and style that may be considered old fashioned but is certainly much enjoyed at a time of raucous restaurants and impersonal service.  The secret to Cola's success may well be in its being true to itself.

Open daily for dinner, lunch Mon-Fri. Antipasti $6.95-$9.75, pasta $11.95-$14.95, and meat and fish dishes $15.95-$18.95.


To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is suing several companies affiliated with a House office building cafeteria for $150,000 for negligence over an "unfit and unwholesome" sandwich wrap he bought in April 2008 that contained an olive pit that caused him "sustained serious and permanent dental and oral injuries requiring multiple surgical and dental procedures, and has sustained other damages as well, including significant pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment."


"The restaurant uses one of the most awkward slogans I have ever heard: `Something hot coming to your mouth.' Mind you, the restaurant’s name is Pho 69. Is that improper syntax or a deliberate, but ill-advised, attempt at a double entendre? I think I’ll just leave it there." Stett Holbrook, "
First Street Pho," San  (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

* The Virtual Gourmet's John Mariani will be appearing at an author's dinner at Trattoria Lucca in Charleston, SC,  next Wed., March 2, hosted by chef-owner Ken Vedrinski. Call 843-973-3323; . . . .John Mariani will also be giving a cooking demo at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival on Friday, March 4, and an author's signing on Sat. March 5.  For info click here

* Throughout March, Roof Terrace Restaurant in Washington, DC will offer prix-fixe, three course authentic Indian menus as part of the Kennedy Center’s maximum INDIA festival.  Twelve chefs from India, led by Chef Hemant Oberoi, Executive Grand Chef of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai, will fly in for a culinary collaboration with Roof Terrace’s Executive Chef Joe Gurner.  $65 pp. Call 202-416-8555 or visit

* From Feb. 28-March 4, authentic Sicilian cuisine comes to New York’s iconic '21' Club. Executive Chef Luca Orini and his team from the Grand Hotel Timeo & Villa Sant'Andrea in Sicily will take over '21' for one week only, offering a special menu in the '21' Bar Room, a Winemaker's Dinner Series featuring Cottanera wines and a cooking class with Chef Luca. 212-582-7200 or visit

* On Mar. 1, Stephan Pyles in Dallas, Tx, will host a Neal Vineyards wine dinner. Mark Neal will lead guests through each selection of wine paired with a 4-course menu created by Chef Pyles. $125pp. Call Lisa Moore 214-999-1229 x 102 or email

* On March 14 in NYC, the 9th Annual Taste of Greenwich House will welcome 40 of NY’s finest restaurants as they serve up tastes from the kitchen in support of the variety of urban social service and art programs offered through Greenwich House. Featured chefs from restaurants will be in attendance. General Admission $125pp., VIP $200pp. Call 212-991-0003 or visit

* In March, The Tangled Vine in NYC will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a series of events and specials devoted to different wine regions. The first week is devoted to wines from Spain, followed by France, Germany and Italy with wines from the selected region 20% off. As part of the celebration, on March 6, they host a Taste of the Mediterranean Wine Dinner featuring organic winemakers Flos de Pinoso from Spain and Domaine de la Patience from France. Wines will be complemented by dishes from Executive Chef David Seigal served family style. $49 p.p. Call 646-863-3896 or visit

* On March 12, The 3rd Annual NJ Food & Wine Festival at Crystal Springs in Hamburg NJ, holds a series of wine and spirits events, including a seminar on rare boutique and cult wines, tastings of wines from Italy, France and New Zealand, a scotch tasting and a cocktail pairing event. The evening's Grand Tasting brings together 30 wineries and 20 NYC and NJ restaurants including Tribeca Grill, Oceana, CulinAriane, Pluckemin Inn, Plein Sud, Restaurant Serenade, Strip House and more. Individual events from $30 - $95. Call 973-827-5996 ext 3 or visit .

* On Mar. 17, in Palm Springs, CA, La Quinta Resort & Club’s TWENTY6 restaurant Tips a Hat to St. Patrick’s Day with offerings of Irish Lamb Stew or Corned Beef & Cabbage with Bouillon Potatoes, and green beer. Both dinner specials are $21 pp. . . . On Mar. 31, TWENTY6 restaurant will host a California Craft Beer Dinner with beers from the award-winning North Coast Brewery.  A representative from the brewery and a distributor from Wine Warehouse will attend the dinner to discuss beer attributes. $49 pp. Call 760-564-5720 or visit

* On March 18 &19 The 7th Annual Savor Dallas, a celebration of wine, food, spirits and the arts returns to downtown Dallas and The Arts District.  Featuring over 60 of Dallas-Fort Worth’s top chefs serving samples of their cuisine and more than 400 premium wines, spirits and imported beers, new events this year incl. a cooking class with Chef Stephan Pyles, a wine and cheese pairing session with Mozzarella Company cheese czar Paula Lambert at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, and The Ultimate Friday Night pARTY featuring the work of area artists at Gables Park 17. Individual event ticket prices range from $35 to $125 and are available at   Call 888/728-6747.

* Chef-owner Riccardo Ullio of Sotto Sotto  is honoring his restaurant’s 12th anniversary by hosting four-course prix fixe wine dinners inspired by 12 different regions of Italy, one evening per month, complemented by wine pairings reflecting the specific region featured.   $65 pp and $85  with wines.  Call 404-523-6678 or

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:


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.; 
THIS WEEK: Panama City, Veneto.

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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