Virtual Gourmet

March 13, 2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

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                "Irish Garden Potatoes," Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer for The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews (2010)

        Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

This Week

Puerta Vallarta
by Carey Sweet

New York Corner: Caravaggio
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Rare Bar and Grill
Christopher Mariani

Quick Bytes


On March 1,  owners Tony and Marisa May of  NYC's SD26 hosted John Mariani’s  book launch luncheon for his How Italian Food Conquered the World.  Media guests included  Owen Dugan of Wine Spectator, Manuela Hoelterhoff of Bloomberg News, Colman Andrews of The Daily Meal, Genevieve Ko of Good Housekeeping, Michael Wilson of La Cucina Italiana, Francesca Leoni of RAI-TV, Everett Potter of Everett Potter's Travel Report, Ryan D'Agostino of Esquire, Jocelyn McClurg of USA Today, David Lincoln Ross of The Daily Beast, and
President of the Gruppo Esponenti Italiani Lucio Caputo.  John Mariani paid tribute to an array of attending chefs and restaurateurs who, he said, were crucially important to the evolution of Italian food in America,  including Marco Maccioni of Le Cirque,  Pino Luongo of Centolire, David Greco of Mike's Deli, Danny Meyer of USHG, and SD26’s Tony May. A superb meal of classic and modern SD26 dishes was prepared by Chef Matteo Bergamini.
Left to right, Marco Maccioni, John Mariani, Tony May, Pino Luongo, David Greco.

by Carey Sweet

It might have been: “Take your clothes off. You’re going to jump.”  Perhaps it was: “The bats may skim your face, but they won’t eat your dinner.
          Then again, a strong contender for one of the most memorable things said to me while in Puerto Vallarta could be “Ma’am? You need a boyfriend rental? I’m a good buy."
    Whatever had been my expectations for this coastal city known as the Mexican Riviera, I wasn’t prepared for its offbeat charms. Any town that features an area called Hotel Zone generally isn’t my cup of tequila, and indeed, big, boxy, all-inclusive hotels greet travelers directly after they’ve passed the gauntlet of hawkers lining the airport arrival lobby. There’s a Romantic Zone just past downtown, too, brimming with cheap curio stands and throbbing nightclubs cranking out expensive, watered down drinks.
    Yet then, as I stood at the top of a waterfall, a gregarious young man named César directed me to shed my jeans for my swimsuit underneath, and to leap into the icy cold swirls below. It was a surprisingly risky suggestion, considering the touristy-sounding Vallarta Adventures Sea Safari package I’d signed up for. He laughed as I emerged seconds later, choking water – I should have risked looking un-cool and held my nose like he had recommended – and said, “I want you out of your comfort zone.”
    It’s easy enough to do “safe” Puerto Vallarta, with its endless shops, art galleries, and massive hotels that encourage you to never leave the property with their package drinks, dinners and poolside discos. But if visitors never get past the city, it’s a mistake. Puerto Vallarta blooms with beauty in its quieter nooks and crannies off the southern waters of Banderas, the second largest natural bay in the world. To get to the waterfall, César and I had just ridden horses through the Sierra Madre rain forest atop a tiny village (below), where he had pointed out colorful tropical plants - sour guanabana “ugly fruit,” green almonds, pomegranate, mango, yellow cherry, avocado, papaya, agave, and a brilliant stand of what was exquisitely marijuana.
    Next, we would go snorkeling in a serene cove off the Los Arcos marine reserve, up close and personal in the clear water with puffer fish, jellyfish, and clown fish, and not far from Devil’s Canyon, one of the most dangerous scuba diving drops in the world. Later, the wind and sun would dry my salty hair, as our inflatable boat soared 40 mph past towering rock monuments, to deposit us at a private beach in Pizota for lunch and cocktails and kayaking. A barbecue was prepared by chefs in white jackets and toques under a palapa, and after a minute sitting cross-legged on a bamboo mat on the beach, my meal crunched wonderfully with windblown sand.
    For many, Puerto Vallarta is best associated with massive cruise ships flocking the Pacific Ocean, and indeed, the boats do dock there, sized to block out the sun, and with people on the decks looking like ants. But a more exciting side of this former fishing town in Jalisco can found in the food, where ants – real ants – are on the menu. As I ducked over my plate to avoid another flitting bat swooping past my patio table at Café des Artistes (below) in the city’s downtown, I took my first forkful of escamoles, or giant black ant eggs.  They look like barley, taste like nutty, buttery sweetbreads (the restaurant is owned by French chef Thierry Blouet), and are surprisingly appealing scooped with warm, pliant bits of tortilla and nibbled with a wheel of roast corn.
    It’s easy enough to avoid the bats by sitting inside, of course, but then I might as well have been in a big city lounge, complete with a piano bar and sleek furniture. Something about eating outside, by candlelight beneath ivy-draped trees in a hillside jungle garden with knobby, terraced pathways moodily up-lit like fog, made it seem entirely natural to dine on delicacies such as an appetizer of blue corn chips and guacamole rounded out by orange slices sprinkled with worm salt, which is indeed, dried worm mixed with salt. That it was a full moon the night I dined made the meal nearly surreal.
    There are more approachable, non-insect dishes at this elegant French-Mexican eatery in a 100-year-old building – luscious duck confit chilaquiles melt in oodles of cream and a splash of Port reduction, while prawns are some of the best to be found, inventively accented with warm avocado custard, crispy pork rind and what the chef calls “cauliflower delightful.” Blouet is a master with seafood, searing a ruby red hunk of tuna, ladling it with a smoky tomato-red chile sauce, and adding a sweet-tart statement of spinach braised with mescal and raisins alongside a pumpkin flower buñuelo. He also puts a twist on short rib, the fall-apart-tender meat glazed in mole, accented with aromatic hoja santa herb for a licorice-mint note, and served with truffle potato puree.
    “They’re grasshoppers,” shrugged Carmen Porras, owner of El Arrayán, (below) another excellent downtown destination for its regional Mexican food. “They come in a jar from Oaxaca.” But her version of traditional chapulines is different from the typical, since the bugs are roasted in lime, not fried, and caught by net in organic sesame fields – the sesame may or may not add a bit to the crunchy critters’ flavor. Which, by the way, is a bit like crisp, moldy cardboard, so the chef wisely disguises the tiny bugs in a sauté of red onion and cilantro, wrapped in mini tacos and smothered in tomatillo and avocado salsas.
    As she visits tables, Porras’ personality is as low-key as the ambiance of this café done in saltillo tile, rafter ceilings and exposed brick columns, anchored by an exposition kitchen so casual that looks like it should have a takeout window. Yet there is plenty of flair to the menu, which dresses a quesadilla with hibiscus flowers, turns duck into taquitos glazed in sweet-spicy tamarind, (above) and presents rustic Yucatán style pigs' feet on the same table as a lavish, 18-ingredient mole poblano over chicken. The rest of the pig leg ends up as cochinita pibil, a mild stew slow cooked in banana leaves then spiked with habanero salsa.
    Her carrot cake doesn’t taste like carrots, dense with nuts and chocolate chips under Grand Marnier frosting, but there is suave sophistication to a plantain empanada with chipotle garlic salsa that beguiles like a soft, sweet fritter pancake. More culinary surprises were waiting at the waterfall. In Quimixto, a village of perhaps 400 residents at the base of the jungle, the main economy is raising horses, and these animals trek tourists up and down rain forest canyons which aren’t steep but narrow. The horses themselves are crazily small and skinny, more like Twiggy-esque dogs than equines, and still, my knees brushed against the rock walls.
    At the top of the trek, as it has been for 35 years, sits a tiny restaurant. Visitors walk across a rope-plank bridge to a deck directly next to the waterfall, and for a tariff of 50 pesos per table, can order snacks like fish filet, tacos, or octopus cocktail. You eat your nachos, the water thunders just feet away, and your waiter finally breaks into a smile when you offer him an ample tip for balancing your plates across that rickety bridge. It’s nearly mandatory to slam a raicilla here, which is strong, green agave tequila with a smoky, astringent character, sort of like wood furniture polish crossed with Listerine. The spirit goes well with churritos, small sacks of soggy pork skin nuggets doused in chile and lemon. Still, it’s better to hold out for a margarita made with a higher quality liquor, perhaps El Retiro, which is one of the most widely drunk brands in Puerto Vallarta.
    And for the best margarita, few can compete with the cocktail served at Trio (below) downtown. The two-story building brims with colorful paintings, al fresco painted walls, Tiffany-style windows, and elaborate tile floors around an open courtyard and a sandstone fountain. The bartenders keep their margaritas tart and honest, not cloyingly sweet. Yet the Mexican accented Spanish-Italian fare from chefs Bernhard Güth and Ulf Henriksson steals the show. There’s little pretension on the plates, just delightful good cooking and pure flavors, such as oven roasted rabbit in robust garlic-parsley sauce, an excellent garlic glazed grilled sea bass fillet over spinach-watercress salad with pecans, and an inventive Caesar salad topped in barbecue boneless quail with mushroom crostini. This is also where vegetarians are treated like royalty, for indulgent dishes like Parmesan baked cauliflower crepes studded with mushrooms under savory roasted vegetables and tomato Provençal.
    After dinner, I stopped at La Bodeguita del Medio (below), an enormously popular offshoot of the original Bodeguita in Havana (reputedly Hemingway's favorite restaurant there). It would have broken my anti-tourist trap rule, except most of the guests seemed like locals, sipping mojitos, smoking Cuban cigars, and dirty salsa dancing to a live group headed by a gorgeously decorated singer who might or might not have been a woman. The two-story concrete bunker with New Orleans style windows was impossibly loud, and I pulled out a pen to carve my name into the wood table alongside every other autographed surface from floor to ceiling.
    Over the years, Puerto Vallarta has developed into an ex-pat Mecca for U.S. and Canadian citizens, and homesick tourists can get a taste at the farmer’s market which sprang up in Old Town near Los Muertos beach in the fall of 2009. It’s still a work in progress – I was hoping for more regional flavor rather than the Guinness beef potpie offered by the Leek & Thistle booth, and the Xocodiva artisan chocolates come from a resident Canadian – but I still enjoyed the homemade tamales, flan, and café de olla, which is a traditional coffee brightened with cinnamon and piloncillo brown sugar. Ponche is another local specialty, served at the market as a hot tea fragrant with crab apple, hibiscus, prune, guava, sugar cane and cinnamon.
    As I wandered the bustling river-stone streets on my way back to my hotel that afternoon, I pressed tight on the skinny sidewalks against roaring buses and chugging cars, and munched fresh roasted corn I had bought from one of the many street food vendors that line the Malecón. It comes in a plastic cup, tossed in a busy blend of mayonnaise, chile powder, queso, lemon, and cream.
    I saw the ample historic – and planned – beauty to Puerto Vallarta. By actual city law, downtown must look folkloric, and so plein air painters craft their art on the boardwalk, while architecture remains a tribute to the 1800s, anchored by a church with a spectacular gold crown paying homage to Mexico’s empress of the late 1860’s. Hired marching bands parade up and down, and there is a Papantla Flyers trapeze act that performs from a 100-foot tall flagpole. Yet earlier that weekend, and just minutes away, I had lounged on the boat at Los Arcos, watching magnificent frigate birds descend like pterodactyls on the dark rocks. Black mask seagulls, turkey vultures, brown pelicans and blue foot boobies clustered the skies and among dense trees clinging to outcroppings.
    At the edge of the bay, where craggy boulders meet the saltwater, I had seen a large spider spinning a web that glittered like gold. It was as strong as steel, César had explained, and the silk was stronger than Kevlar. As I neared my hotel now, a grinning gentleman popped out of a nightclub, waving a brochure, and cheerfully offered to be my lover for the evening. Memorable, indeed.


by John Mariani


23 East 74th Street (near Madison Ave.)

A little over a year ago Caravaggio opened in the former premises of Cocopazzo on the upper east side—a neighborhood sorely in need of a good, modern Italian restaurant.  Expectations were high, especially since the new owners were the Bruno brothers—Cosimo, Gerardo and Giuseppe, Antonio—who also run the excellent San Pietro on East 54th Street and Sistina on Second Avenue and 81st Street.  Caravaggio’s location is in the heart of Manhattan affluence, and the new décor is stunning—a long hall and well-lighted bar leads to a large dining room (below) done with spindly trees, finely set tables, and a wall of open-mouthed cartoons that dash any whiff of pretense. Cosimo is the Bruno always on duty here, and he knows how to treat his clientele with both deference and good humor.
    The problem with Caravaggio at the beginning was that the Brunos said they were going to have an Italian menu like no no other in NYC, an avant-garde approach that meant small portions of ultra-designed plates of food with extraneous ingredients and more than a little gimmickry.  None of that clicked, especially with the conservative crowd in that neck of the woods whose taste for Italian food was based on models that dated to the 1970s—the usual spaghetti with tomato and basil, an overcooked veal chop, and a shared tiramisù.  Without going that retro, the Brunos have instead brought those and other classic Italian dishes into the 21st century while adding a great deal more in the way of bright innovations that now make Caravaggio one of the most enticing Italian restaurants in NYC and certainly the best on the upper east side.
    Much of its excellence has to do with the quality of ingredients, colorfully evident in the antipasto platter of prosciutto, Speck, hot and sweet sausage, marinated artichokes, cipolline onions, buffalo mozzarella and Parmigiano—enough to satisfy two or more people as a starter. Other options include a carpaccio of tuna with citrus, pickled onions and red pepper sauce, and braised and stuffed octopus with baby artichokes and roasted fingerling potatoes in a lemon-artichoke broth.
Chef Massimo Bebber, who hails from Trentino, makes an array of superb pastas, like pappardelle with a lamb Bolognese ragù (left) the tender egg noodles incorporating just enough of the rich sauce to enhance, not smother them.  Tortelloni are  stuffed with veal and porcini and dressed with veal-onion-white wine reduction alla Genovese, and the risotto here is cooked with consummate skill.  I loved the hearty risotto trevisano, the radicchio, green peas and rich Gorgonzola finished with a goat’s cheese crumble and veal reduction—so full of good, irresistible flavors that are true to form.
    The fish and meat dishes are just right in  number—four each (with nightly specials), and the the striped bass with a ragù of oven-dried tomatoes, pickled onions and arugula is redolent of the Bruno Brothers’ origins in Campania.  Indeed, their way with southern Italian seafood is nonpareil in the city.
    For meat they do indeed have a veal chop, a generous cut of great tenderness, roasted with new potatoes, chiodini mushrooms and a parsnip puree in an intense veal reduction.  Roasted chicken breast comes with tender farro grain, a cranberry bean stew, roasted golden delicious apples, cranberries and Swiss chard—a showy dish but one in which all the various ingredients really do complement one another to savory effect. 
    Caravaggio boasts its serves “the best Italian desserts,” and that is not hollow boasting. They are very, very good, especially the ricotta bombolini with caramel saucer and cinnamon pastry cream and the napoleon with strawberries.  You’ll love their cheesecake with fruit compote, and for something different try their version of floating island here called isola galleggiante of poached meringues in a rich sea of vanilla custard.
I had my doubts that Caravaggio would survive its first few months with its overreaching menu, but now the balance, and most of all, the taste of the food seems to have guaranteed a long run and a very faithful crowd who know what they want to eat but are happily guided by the Brunos to move up to modern cucina Italiana done with marvelous brio.

Caravaggios is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., and dinner nightly.  Antipasti at dinner run $18-36, pasta full portions $22-$28, main courses $26-$42.


by Christopher Mariani

RARE Bar & Grill

152 West 26th Street (between 6th and 7th Aves.)

     The hamburger, with its endless ingredient combinations and its ever-growing list of tasty toppings, is easily one of the most versatile sandwiches imaginable. Not only are burgers delicious  when they are done right but now they can found almost anywhere in Manhattan, including bars and pubs, elegant restaurants that five years ago would have frowned on this American prole food classic (but simply add truffle shavings and ground up Kobe meat and suddenly they are acceptable), and even appear on the menus of ethnic restaurants that place their own personal spin on the ground meat patties. And yes, NYC has many trendy, high-end burger joints, some good, some not so good, so it is understandable that almost every New Yorker swears their burger spot is the best.
    I can’t validate their claims nor can I tell you where the best burger exists (even though 5 Napkin Burger, with three NYC locations, is pretty damn good), but I can tell you that if you are in Chelsea, Rare Bar and Grill is definitely serving up some terrific and innovative burgers. The key behind Rare’s juicy list of diverse burgers is using quality beef and placing that beef on a great bun.
    The restaurant sits inside the trendy Hilton New York Fashion District hotel and is an absolutely grand space. There is a long, chic bar on the hotel’s lobby level that bustles with a young well-dressed crowd drinking Rare’s jalepeño infused “Sexy sexy” tequila cocktail, a downstairs dining room that has a two-story high ceiling, and even a rooftop lounge that looks out on the Empire State building from the hotel's 22nd floor.
    After walking down the arched staircase to the main dining room, my date and I sat in the middle of the room and watched as hot plates filled with “frickles” (fried pickles) hit the surrounding tables, along with all different types of thick burgers that whizzed by, releasing whiffs of sautéed onions, bacon and a spiciness from a chipotle puree spread. For starters the lollipop wings are good, with all skin and meat frenched off the base of the bone (
an absolute sin), leaving your hands as clean as when you started. Quesadillas come filled with shredded beef brisket and are sided by a homemade sweet and slightly spicy salsa. The frickle is a generous portion of addictive fried sliced pickles, slightly overbattered but still delightful.
    Rare does offer four different steak selections, but it is clear that the burgers are the way to go, especially one of the steakhouse burgers. The Grand Canyon (left) is a cheese lover's favorite, topped with cheddar, mozzarella, crispy pancetta and served with a beefsteak tomato salad. My favorite was the T-bone, a blend of ground sirloin and strip cuts flambéed in tequila, wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and covered by cheddar cheese and thinly cut crispy onions. The meat was tender, juicy and had just the right amount of fat for a rich and hearty flavor. For sides, the beer-battered onion rings were a perfect proportion of sweet onion and fried batter, while the parmesan truffle fries were all parmesan and no truffle.
    Desserts are all high notes, starting with the warm chocolate bread pudding and finishing with the homemade apple pie. Both desserts are very large, either one sufficient for sharing.
    The service is attentive and very personal. Our waitress was a lovely young girl from out west who was confident in her menu recommendations and not shy about what items to stay away from, an honesty I value highly.
    After dinner, I ventured up to the 22nd floor to have an after-dinner drink at the restaurant’s rooftop bar and lounge (right). The space has been beautifully renovated and is now sectioned off by two open areas that look out on Manhattan and the Empire State Building, along with a enclosed wooden bar where one can order drinks or sit table side and order appetizers from Rare’s rooftop menu. The view is stunning and there is not a building within ten blocks, as if the city itself fell away to create such a stellar view. The rooftop is completely covered in the winter, but come spring and summer this is easily going to be one of Chelsea’s hippest hang outs for happy hours and posh parties.

 Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Appetizers range $7-$12.50, burgers $9-$23, and steaks $22-$28. The rooftop has a DJ Tuesday-Friday.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



McDonald's chains in Hong Kong now offers wedding packages, including 
a baked apple pie wedding cake, party balloon dresses, and Happy Meals.


Hester Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in Bray, UK,
who in the past has served customers snail porridge
and mustard ice cream, is also serving lunch at
Alder Hey Children's Hospital, with a pizza topped
with mealworms. Said Blumenthal,  ‘The kids loved it. '


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

* Launching this month, chef de cuisine Jean-Luc Mongodin will lead BLT Steak Atlanta’s premiere cooking class series offered through August. Each two-hour demonstration class is made complete with complementing wine pairings and a presentation by the sommelier. The six classes will guide guests through the intricacies of preparation, plating and wine pairing, embracing a different theme to reflect seasonal ingredients at their peak. All classes will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and cost $65 per person, incl. wine pairings and samples of the dishes prepared. Classes are limited to the first 30 reservations; call Alina at BLT Steak at 404-577-7601.

*On Mar. 13 in DC, COCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. Adam Sobel (Bourbon Steak), Tarver King (Ashby Inn), James Leeds (Hanks Oyster Bar), Bryan Voltaggio (Volt) and Scott Drewno (The Source by Wolfgang Puck) to prepare a menu created from 5 heritage breed pigs, nose to tail. Pig-loving epicureans will have a chance to sample these dishes along with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Alysian Winery, Copain Wine Cellars, Red Car Wine, Adelsheim Vineyard and Sokol Blosser, as well as the opportunity to help select the ³Prince or Princess of Porc.²  In addition, guests will be treated to whole pig breakdown demonstrations, followed by a whole roasted heritage breed pig and dessert.  General admission tickets start at $125pp and are available at

* 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

* From Mar. 16-18, in Brooklyn, NY, at 7:30 p.m., The Vanderbilt will hold offer a prix fixe St. Patrick's Day menu featuring classics such as crispy fried eggs with blood sausage and slow-roasted lamb shoulder by Executive Chef Saul Bolton. $35 pp; call 718-623-0571 or email

* On March 19 in San Francisco, CA, Chez Papa Resto hosts an Alsace-Languedoc Wine Dinner beginning at 7:30 PM. Winemakers Melanie Pfister and Genevieve Vidal will be in attendance. The 4-course meal with pairings is $80 pp. Call 415-546-4134 or visit

* On Mar. 20 in Chicago, COCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. Michael Fiorello (Mercat de Planxa), Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat), Chris Pandel (The Bristol), Mike Sheerin (3 Floyds Brewpub), and Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia) to prepare a menu created from 5 heritage breed pigs, nose to tail. Pig-loving epicureans will have a chance to sample these dishes along with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Alysian Winery, Chase Family Cellars, Copain Wines, Red Car Wine and Elk Cove Vineyards, as well as the opportunity to help select the ³Prince or Princess of Porc.²  In addition, guests will be treated to whole pig breakdown demonstrations, followed by a whole roasted heritage breed pig and dessert.  General admission tickets start at $125pp and are available at

*On March 22 Arturo's Uptown Italiano in Houston, Texas, will host A Tour of Italy. Dr. Francesco Visani, manager of Antinori Toscana, will guide guests through the wine selections pared with a five course dinner.  $75 per person  Please call 713-621-1180 for reservations or visit

* On Mar. 23, Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House in Naperville, IL will host a Louis M. Martini wine dinner. Sommelier Christopher Rowell will lead guests through each selection of wine paired with a 5-course menu by Executive Chef Jose Sosa. $95pp. Call 630-548-3764 or visit

*On Mar. 23 in Denver, The Ritz-Carlton's signature restaurant, ELWAY'S Downtown will host a Calera Wine Company four-course pairing dinner featuring a seasonal menu by Executive Chef Justin Fields and ELWAY'S Chef Robert Bogart . Attendees will get to meet the winemaker, Josh Jensen. Selected wines include Viognier -Central Coast, 2009, Pinot Noir - Central Coast, 2008, ³Ryan Vineyard² Pinot Noir - Mount Harlan, 2007 and ³Mills Vineyard² Pinot Noir -Mount Harlan, 2000. $100 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 303-312-3107;

* On March 23 in Larkspur, CA, Left Bank Brasserie hosts a Supper Club Dinner with a three-course “classic Americana” prix fixe menu and live music, $38.00 pp. Call 415-927-3331.

* On May 28 in New Orleans, COCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. Mike Lata (FIG), John Currence (City Grocery), Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon Restaurant), Adolf Garcia (Rio Mar) and Erick Loos (Besh Restaurant Group) to prepare a menu created from 5 heritage breed pigs, nose to tail. Pig-loving epicureans will have a chance to sample these dishes along with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Matthiasson, Elk Cove Vineyards, The Scholium Project, McCrea Cellars and Peay Vineyards, as well as the opportunity to help select the ³Prince or Princess of Porc.²  In addition, guests will be treated to whole pig breakdown demonstrations, followed by a whole roasted heritage breed pig and dessert.  General admission tickets start at $125pp and are available at

* On Apr. 3 in Denver, COCHON 555 continues its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja), Alex Seidel (Fruition), Kelly Liken (Restaurant Kelly Liken), Frank Bonanno (Osteria Marco) and Lachlan MacKinnon (Frasca Food and Wine) to prepare a menu created from 5 heritage breed pigs, nose to tail. Pig-loving epicureans will have a chance to sample these dishes along with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. The Scholium Project, Elk Cove Vineyards, Failla Wines, Chase Family Cellars and Domaine Serene, as well as the opportunity to help select the ³Prince or Princess of Porc.²  In addition, guests will be treated to whole pig breakdown demonstrations, followed by a whole roasted heritage breed pig and dessert.  General admission tickets start at $125pp and are available at

On Apr. 5, in San Francisco, "Devils Gulch Ranch Dinner" at Baker & Banker. Chefs/Owners Jeff Banker and Lori Baker have teamed up with Mark Pasternak to create a 5-course menu, to support Haiti charity. $75pp. Call 415-351-2500 or visit


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita 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.--John Mariani

" 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, gastornomy, 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 imnpact of Italian immigrants in Amerioca and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone iunterested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Espositio, hosty of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, min ds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.


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: Seeking the Sun in Sarasota; A Review of How Italian Food Conquered the World.


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.

© copyright John Mariani 2011