Virtual Gourmet

April 10, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

Carey Lowell in "Licence to Kill" (1989)

This Week

Israel: Savoring the Holy Land
by John Mariani

  New York Corner: Junoon
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Savor Dallas
by Christopher Mariani


ISRAEL: Savoring the Holy Land
by John Mariani

Photos by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

"O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. 
Peace be within thy walls: and plenteousness with thy palaces."--
Psalm 122.

     So saith the Bible of the holiest city in the western world and the one most embattled for more than two millennia.
    As the omphalo point  of so many religions and pilgrims’ ultimate goal, Jerusalem can send waves of emotion through even the most agnostic of visitors.  Its historical importance is at least as geographic as it is religious, and the situation of the old city within a valley of green mountains is breathtaking as one realizes that here, in the Garden of Gethsemane above the city's walls, Christ awaited his doom; here the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac; here the Jews exalted the construction of and lamented the  Romans' destruction of the Temple.
          It is a city that has been captured and recaptured 44 times. King Richard the Lionhearted wept over his failure to conquer the city, and successive Arab countries have tried and been defeated in trying to occupy it. Ironic, then,  that the name Jerusalem translates as "the Abode of Peace." And despite the many agonies inflicted by and upon both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the city has attracted large numbers of Palestinians, who come for jobs, health care, social security, schools and a remarkably safe haven.
         In the time I spent in Jerusalem and other cities of Israel, the one thing I saw forcefully was the way Palestinians, Christians and Jews move throughout the city freely, buying wares from each other, selling bread and spices. As a guide told me, “Where there is education, commerce and profit, there is not going to be any strife.”  Mingling socially among the groups, however, has not yet risen to the point of true embrace.
         Everyone who goes to Jerusalem visits the Old City first, the Wailing Wall and the New Testament sites that include the sepulcher where tradition has it that Christ was buried—a visit that can take hours on a line that curls and curls within yards from Golgotha, the hill where Christ was crucified.
         The Jewish Quarter, with its series of lovely squares, gives a fascinating glimpse into a way of life unchanged for centuries, and in the Muslim Quarter, you can walk through the historic Damascus and Herod’s Gates, visit the Central Souk, and stroll through Haram esh-Sharif, the “Noble Sanctuary” that was traditionally the site of Solomon’s Temple and which still contains the exquisite Islamic Dome of the Rock.  The Quarter also is home to several other sites devoted to the Passion of Christ—most based on little more than a leap of faith—including the Monastery of the Flagellation and the bustling Via Dolorosa, both easily visited within minutes of one another.
   Jerusalem’s modern cultural institutions include the Israel Museum, which contains The Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in the mid-20th century in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea. The Rockefeller Museum was built in 1938, and Yad Vashem is Israel's national memorial to the victims of The Holocaust. The Islamic Museum on the Temple Mount is a repository of artifacts and manuscripts. The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra is world renowned, as is the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

         Increasingly there is a growing modern restaurant scene, though navigating the kosher laws—particularly strict in Jerusalem--takes some doing.  The food is largely Middle Eastern, rich in tahini, stuffed vegetables, bean soup, kebabs, and honeyed desserts, and there are now excellent wines to be savored (see article below). Tipping 10 to 15 percent is expected.
Ask any sophisticated Israeli where the best modern cuisine is to be found and the answer is likely to be the 20-year-old Eucalyptus (
14 Hativat Yerushalaim St. Hutzot Hayotzer; 
Phone: 02-624433), run by the effusively congenial chef Moshe Basson (left), who is fascinated by Middle Eastern spices, which he blends for a dazzling array of fascinating flavors best appreciated in his various tasting menus he calls “King David Feast” (seven courses), “Kings and Prophets Feast” (eleven), and “Shir Ha’Shrim Feast” (fifteen).  Here, in a bright, colorful dining room in the arts district, flanked by galleries and boutiques, you may start with three different soups served in espresso cups, each dependent on the season, including “Jacob and Esau’s biblical red lentil stew,” and another of Jerusalem artichoke soup with almond milk. (A digression: Jerusalem artichokes actually came from the Americas and got their name in Italy as “girasole”—a sun choke—which in English got warped into “Jerusalem artichoke.”)
The mezes (right) are both traditional and imaginative--charcoal-smoked, sweet eggplant with pomegranate syrup; highly spiced chickpea salad; fresh minty hyssop with spring onions; seven-herb potato salad; baba ghanoosh; pickles and purslane pour from the kitchen and you can’t stop noshing on everything.  One of the signature dishes, rightly so, is Bosson’s stuffed figs with chicken in a sweet-sour tamarind sauce. Nahaphoch-hou is a delicious casserole of chicken, rice, and vegetables, while veal kofta comes with okra and tomato sauce; and no feast in the Middle East is complete without a lamb dish, here baked with vegetables in a clay pot overnight in a tabu oven.

Lovely desserts include “Ice from Paradise,” made from almond milk and a hibiscus sauce; “Land of milk and honey,” with sesame ice cream and honeyed dates; a delightful “basbusa” semolina cake; and pears soaked in red wine with almond ice cream.

    You will not escape Bosson's ebullient presence, which imbues this darling restaurant with his big personality, very much in the spirit of Ecclesiastes (9:7): "Go they way, eat they bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart."

Appetizers run $9.50-$13, main courses $25-$32, with Tasting Feast menus at $48, $54, and $65.

          In contrast to the historic splendor and richness of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is a far more modern and forward-looking city, not without its share of cultural attractions, including the Carmel Market, the Eretz Israel Museum, the three Etzel Museums and the Haganah Museum. Tel Aviv is really a cobbling together of old neighborhoods into a more-or-less cohesive seaside city, with five miles of beaches and its citizenry is not nearly as observant of Judaic laws and traditions as Jerusalem is.  It is a hardworking business citadel during the day and a party town at night.  Modern hotels and resorts abound, but one can visit ancient sites, in various states of repair, not far from the city. The true draw is the beautiful old town of Jaffa, located above the sea, sand-washed and picturesque, quiet and relaxing after the hub-bub of Tel Aviv.
         There are thousand of restaurants, many just casual cafés, located along Kikkar Yitzhal Rabin and Dizengoff, as well as in Jaffa .  The choice of international cuisines is as varied as any major world city, from French bistros and Italian trattorias to a place appropriately called Houmous Ashkara on Yirmiyahu Street where everything does indeed include hummus (which would make a good Monty Python routine).
         We ate at a superb, non-kosher restaurant in the Nave Tzadek business district, across from the new Microsoft building. Segev (
16 Shenkar Herzliya; 972-(0)9-9580410; right) serves what it calls “Fresh Festive Chef’s Cuisine,” the chef in question being  Zegev Moshe, who is as adept at modern European cooking as he is in interpreting the flavors of the Middle East, evident in dishes like a spicy sprout salad with nuts, kohlrabi, and a zap of aïoli chili. (below). He fills fresh ravioli with goat’s cheese, zucchini and leeks and serves it in a tomato cream with balady eggplant.  Extremely good gnocchi with truffles and crabmeat comes with a cherry tomato salad, and the very best appetizer I tried was fresh shrimp cooked in Dutch butter and green garlic, enoki mushrooms and chili—the tender shrimp tiny and sweet and addictive.
         For main courses I recommend the filet of salmon in teriyaki style, with creamed potatoes, the scent of lemongrass, and the salt marsh green called salicornia.  Grilled drum fish comes with a spicy tapenade with baked potato and a light aromatic curry sauce. One of the best duck dishes I’ve ever had anywhere is Zegev’s grilled mallard fillet, well fatted and succulent, served with asparagus., roasted potatoes, sunflower seeds and ground sesame—a perfect example of modern Israeli cuisine.
         For dessert I very much enjoyed a chocolate cake with milk chocolate and dark chocolate ice cream, and little meringue kisses with figs and mascarpone cream.
        The place is very lively, wholly unpretentious, rustic, with a fool-the-eye balcony, with chef's jackets hanging from hangers. an open kitchen, and columns wrapped in Hollywood movie posters of Woody Allen, Dean Martin, and Charlie Chaplin. English is well spoken here.

There is an excellent business lunch at $33


by John Mariani
Photos courtesy of Junoon Hospitality.

27 West 24th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    The increase in recent years of upscale Indian restaurants in  NYC, like Devi,  Vermilion, and Tulsi, as well as around the country, like Rasika in DC and Neela’s in Napa, CA, gives strong evidence that Indian cuisine has finally moved well beyond the curry house ethnic eatery level of acceptance in the U.S., while in London, the Indian dining scene is much farther developed.  Of course, for 30 years now NYC has had some first-rate Indian restaurants, dating back to when Nirvana sat overlooking Central Park from the top floor of a skyscraper.  The neighborhood around Lexington Avenue and the mid-20’s is referred to as Little Delhi, while Queens stakes its even broader claim to be a Little India.
I’m not, however, certain NYC needs a whole lot more fine Indian restaurants because it is still a cuisine many people simply don’t care for very much.  The newer upscale places are trying hard to make converts by serving more refined and far more varied food than the usual kebabs and tandoori items that have a wide appeal and do so within beautifully designed dining rooms, of which Junoon is the latest example.

Opened in mid-December last year, Junoon--the word means "passion"--is a very large, airy, spacious 145-seat restaurant with a seductively lighted 50-seat bar separated from the rest. The lounge area has two antique jhoola swings made from Burmese teak wood.  The facade has a wonderful basket weave of black limestone.  "Tree of Life" sculptures line the entry to the main dining. With is roomy booths, large dining tables in good napery, with fine glassware—and probably the best wine list of any Indian restaurant in the city—Junoon rings with sophistication.  The problem, at least at night, is that management keeps the lights so low that it’s impossible to see the colors, textures, and décor of the room, especially some large abstract paintings on the walls. (the photo above must have been taken with the roof off.) The only real light comes from the kitchen, where, amid gleaming stainless and silver, the cooks work their magic with a menu full of classics and surprises, within categories of tandoor clay pot cookery, open fire pit sigri style, cast iron tawa, handi curries, and the stone cooking called patthar.  I recommend you choose among as many as you like, which may be sampled under the “five elements menu” at $75.

My wife and I left ourselves in the hands and imagination of Chef de cuisine Walter d’Rozario and exec chef Vikas Khanna, with long experience in the Taj Group, Oberoi and Leela Hotels, then worked in NYC, where he met entrepreneur Rajesh Bhardwaj, owner of Junoon.  Nicely paced, and accompanied by an outstanding 300-label wine list put together by Scott Carney, the meal was revelatory of modern Indian cuisine, with both delicate and strong flavors, subtle and hot seasonings.  There is a peanut-crusted paneer with sweet chili jam, coriander pesto and date chutney and spicy piri-piri Goan shrimp  (left) with ripe avocado, jicama for texture, and a tangy lemon vinaigrette. Til-wala sea scallops has the Asian scent of star anise with crunchy black sesame seeds, roasted red pepper chutney and arugula-a, a subtle indication of the global influences on Indian food culture. The "gold plate" of chef's appetizers at $20 is a very good way to begin.
    Putting lobster in the fierce heat of a tandoori is tricky business, but Zunoon does it impeccably (below), keeping the shellfish juicy and the cumin, cayenne, lemon, fennel glaze distinct yl flavorful. There is also Dover sole with a sweet-sour veloute and cherry tomatoes that might be found on a good nouvelle cuisine menu in France, while duck with tellicherry peppercorns, garlic,m curry leaves and tamarind is more strictly Indian. The lamb chops are cooked in the tandoor too, with yogurt, white pepper green cardamon  and fresh ginger, though I would like a bit ,ore searing on them. There is also lamb shoulder with papaya juice and garam masala, and juicy venison tikka with coriander, mint, nutmeg and mango powder.
    One could easily order vegetarian here and be happy with dishes like paneer with cashews and cream; Yukon gold potatoes with sundried lentil dumpling and Kashmir chilies, and vegetables cooked in buttermilk with asafedita and mustard.
    All the usual, irresistible Indian breads are prepared here, though oddly, a basket came to the table less than piping hot one evening. The specialty here is naan with prune and walnut paneer, onion, and garlic. There is also a five grain roti.        

    Pastry Chef Angie Lee goes well beyond the three  cliches of Indian sweets--kulfi, kheer, and ras malai--with delicacies like  a passion fruit bombe with katafi nest, coriander-infused basil seeds, and date pudding with caramel and orange-buttermilk ice cream, cranberry reduction and streusel.

    If Indian cuisine is going to break through into the firmament now occupied by French, Italian, and American restaurants in NYC, Junoon will be in the vanguard.

Junoon is open nightly for dinner. Appetizers run $10-$15, main courses $16-$36. A "Five Elements" dinner of five courses is $65.



by Christopher Mariani

Savor Dallas 2011


    Just recently, after an early a.m. flight into Dallas, I exited DFW Airport, jumped in my good friend John Tiller's silver Cadillac SUV and drove east on I-635 towards the city. With the windows down and my sunglasses on, I asked, “Hey, John, you hungry?” He replied, “Sure am. How 'bout some 'que?” With a big smile I said, “Sonny Bryan's it is.”
    There is only one Sonny Bryan's that any respectable barbeque lover should eat at, and that’s the original on Inwood Road (opened in 1958). Sad to say, but the other namesake replicas are merely poor imitations. The original  Sonny 's is not glamorous by any means, it is actually quite dreary and run down, but the barbeque is some of the best in all of Texas. John and I walked in and without hesitation placed our order for a plate of smoky ribs, a juicy pulled pork sandwich dripping with a sweet and tangy sauce, French fries, cole slaw, crispy onion rings and two cold Lone Star longnecks. You give your initials to the girl behind the counter, then you wait, hungry as hell,  inhaling the smoky fumes. Once our initials were yelled out, we grabbed our grub and headed outside to eat at one of the few wooden picnic tables underneath the hot sun. The alternative is to sit in a cramped inside room in children's school chairs with arms. After filling up with another round of beers we dropped off our empty food trays and headed for the Mansion on Turtle Creek, without doubt Dallas’ premier hotel. Upon walking into the lobby I was immediately approached with a smile and asked, “Mr. Mariani, pleasure to see you again, how was your flight?” There is a level of hospitality and elegance that is difficult to find anywhere else, even in some of America’s finest hotels.   
    My visit to Dallas was twofold. First, to check out the city’s annual Savor Dallas weekend, filled with over 600 different wine and spirit producers, along with the food of 60 local chefs. Second, to dine around at some of the new restaurant openings in the city. The Savor Dallas events began on Friday afternoon as hordes of wine and food lovers filled the city’s grand Art District. Well-dressed guests walked in and out of the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House (right), the outdoor Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Museum of Art with glasses of wine in hand.  Within each building stations were set up for sampling wine and food while one could easily drift off and stroll the district and view much of the beautiful artwork. The sky was clear and the sun in abundance, a close-to-perfect day a for such a wonderfully charming event. Some of the notable wineries in attendance were sunny California’s Sonoma-Cutrer Wines and Concannan Vineyards, along with one of Australia’s finest, Penfolds.
    The following day, wine seminars were held throughout the afternoon leading up to the Reserve Tasting, which notably included Beaulieu Vineyards’ Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 2007 and Hall’s “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2007. Following the Reserve Tasting was an International Grand Tasting held within the Sheraton Hotel’s massive ballroom where over 3,500 guests were present. The gala event was full of energy as visitors walked from table to table tasting different wines while also eating specialty dishes prepared by some of Dallas’ best chefs, including Stephen Pyles of Stephen Pyles and Samar, Bruno Davaillon, from The Mansion on Turtle Creek,  and Dunia Borga, from La Duni. The event went late into the night as party-goers began to sway and set off to after parties throughout the city. The weekend was lovely, very Texan in its spirit and hospitality, and offered wine and food enthusiasts and chance to educate themselves while simply having a splendid time and possibly eating and drinking a bit too much.

I will be reporting on the restaurants I dined at in Dallas in a future issue.        

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Israeli Wines Among the Best from the Middle East
by John Mariani

      A decade ago I would never have written a sentence like, “On a recent trip to Israel I was very enthusiastic to order Israeli wines with my meals.” For despite the biblical claim (Psalms 104:15) that wine was a gift of God “to gladden the heart of man,” two millennial went by before truly good wine came out of Israel. Indeed, when the 4th edition of The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia appeared in 2005, Israeli wines received only one skimpy paragraph.
     One of my favorite stories in rte New Testament is in John, Chapter two, the Marriage Feast at Cana (right), when Mary asks her son Jesus to help out when the host has run out of wine.  Christ at first demurs, then touches his fingers to an urn of water and changes  into wine.  The wondrous thing about the story is that the wine steward goes to his master and says, "
Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now." Christ as connoisseur.
      But there I was this past September dining on “Jacob & Esau’s biblical red lentil stew” and a wild mallow herb called hubeiza “eaten during the ’48 siege on Jerusalem” as part of the kosher menu for “King David’s Feast” at one of Jerusalem’s finest restaurant, At Eucalyptus (see story above on Israel) I was happily drinking a delicious 2009 merlot from the Samson Hills made by the Efrat Winery, which started making wines in a Jerusalem alleyway back in 1870, now a leading wine company making more than 100 wines and grape juices.
      A day later at the very modern non-kosher restaurant Segev, located in Tel Aviv’s business district, I feasted on grilled duck breast with sunflower seeds and ground sesame, and fresh shrimp cooked in butter and green garlic, along with a wonderful bottle of Yarden 2007 Katzrin Chardonnay that I’d swear was right out of Napa Valley; it’s actually from the volcanic soil of the Golan Heights.
      Viticulture has a rocky history in Israel: in 636 A.D. the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and ripped out the vineyards, restored by the Crusaders in the 12th century. During the Diaspora the vineyards were abandoned, but upon the Jews’ return to the Holy Land in the 19th century, Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France replanted vineyards with European varietals and founded Carmel Winery. Ever since, Jewish vintners have continued to make wine, both kosher and non-kosher.  Today Israel has more than 120 wineries producing cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, semillon, grenache and other varietals.
      Overwhelmingly, Israeli wines are made by cooperatives, with 50 percent made by Carmel; the other big players are Barkan Wine Cellars and Golan Heights Winery. The U.S. is the biggest export market.
      Kosher wines must meet stringent requirements, e.g., vines must be at least four years old; vineyards within biblical lands must be left fallow every seven years; only vines may be planted in vineyard land; and the grapes, after arrival at the winery, may only be handled by certified “Sabbath-observant Jews”; non-Jews may not even handle bottled kosher wines unless they’ve been flash pasteurized (a process called yayin mevushal).
      Few kosher wines, however, taste anything like the cloyingly sweet Manischewitz that some American Jews still serve on holidays. The wines I tasted in Israel and many more for the purposes of this report were all clean, well-made, and dry; many can compete with the better wines now coming out of Lebanon, Eastern Europe, Spain and Portugal.
       In my tastings back home I concentrated on red wines, which seemed to offer more distinctive varietal character.  Some of the cabernet sauvignons had an assembly line style about them, with no suggestion of terroir beyond being heavy and dense. I preferred the regular cab made by Recanati 2009 ($16), in Upper Galilee, to their intensely inky Special Reserve 2006 ($45). The former was an excellent young cab, with a high 14.5 percent alcohol but none of the burn of similar California examples.
      I did enjoy the 2007 Reserve from Bazelet HaGolan ($40), unfiltered and aged for 20 months, which seemed to ameliorate its high 14.9 percent alcohol level, making this a creamy cab. The more modest 13.8 percent of a 2007 Barkan Altitude Series “+720” ($33) brought out its lush fruit, and its medium body goes very well with lamb chops. A very pricey 2006 cab and petit verdot blend by Yatir ($56), a highly regarded vintner in the Judaen Hills, had a peppery component that would enhance Middle Eastern-style mezes. The surprisingly named Domaine de Castel Grand Vin 2007 Haute Judee ($76) was a Bordeaux-style blend I found had a rubbery nose and little pleasure about it.  (Its cellars are shown at left.)
      Tishibi is also among Israel’s star boutique wineries, dating back to 1882, run since 1984 by Jonathan Tishibi. Their wines show careful attention to terroir, blending and aging, and I was impressed by their 2006 Estate Merlot, with 5 percent cabernet franc ($17). I would hardly identify Tishibi’s 2006 Estate Pinot Noir ($20) as a pinot noir in a blind tasting, for that fickle grape has many expressions. Theirs is pleasant, well-fruited example, easy enough to drink with any kind of meat.
      Of all the varietals I tasted, I think syrah/shiraz has the brightest future in Israel, especially a 2009 Domaine Netofa ($21) from Lower Galilee, a well-wrought Rhone-style red with some mourvedre in it. And if you like your wines plummy, the 2005 Yarden Syrah ($25) with 14.5 percent alcohol is a dead ringer for some of the bolder Australian Shirazes.

John Mariani's wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.



After becoming enraged that the seven burritos he ordered had gone up in price--the Beefy Crunch Burrito had gone from 99 cents to $1.49 each--a San Antonio Taco Bell fired an air gun at an employee and later fired an assault rifle at officers after barricading himself into a hotel room, where he was forced out by tear gas after a three-hour stand-off. . . . MEANWHILE IN MONTREAL: A man deliberately drove his car through the front window of a Montreal cafe in order to injure three people with whom he had an argument he had argued with earlier. He also threatened them with a knife. The three men were not injured. Police say the cafe has been raided several times by police for drugs.


A Reuters story entitled, "If you've ever wanted to eat sweets disgorged from the chests of royalty, your time has come," reports that  PEZ  candy dispensers  has created a special pair in the likeness of Britain's Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton ain time for their royal wedding. Fans can submit offers on the eBay for Charity auction platform from April 7 to 17, with proceeds going to charity supported by the couple.
  Kate wears blue while William dresses in black with a red tie, and spokeswoman for PEZ said,  "The figure of Prince William has a lot more hair than in real life," the spokeswoman said.


MARIANI'S Quick Bytes

Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public. 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

Eleven at the Loews Hotel
On April 12, Eleven at the Loews Hotel in Atlanta, GA will host a "Corks of Burgundy" wine dinner with a focus on the wines from the house of Louis Latour. Guests will enjoy a five-course tasting menu paired with two burgundy wines for each course. The five-course dinner is $95 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity. Call 404-745-5745 or visit
Chens Chinese and Sushi
On April 12, Chens Chinese and Sushi in Chicago, IL, will celebrate its 17th anniversary with a benefit for Japan. Guests will enjoy an assortment of Chinese and sushi dishes and be entered into a raffle for prizes like gift certificates, hotel stays and theater tickets. All proceeds will benefit disaster relief in Japan. $50pp. Call 773-549-9100 or visit
ELWAY'S Downtown
On April 13 in Denver, CO The Ritz-Carlton's signature restaurant, ELWAY'S Downtown will host a Johnnie Walker five-course pairing dinner featuring a seasonal menu by ELWAY'S Chef Robert Bogart. Attendees will get to meet the House of Walker's Whiskey Master, Robert Sickler. Selected Scotch blends include Johnnie Walker Red Label, Green Label, Blue Label, Black Label and Gold Label. $75 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 303-312-3107 or visit
1300 Fillmore
On April 13 Rare opportunity to be a part of a collaboration dinner involving one of the wine world’s most renowned master sommeliers and the chef leading the soulful American cuisine movement. Sample Emmanuel Kemiji’s public and private wine library collections featuring Miura and Tejada Vineyards – featuring wines that have been out of circulation for over 10 years or never seen anywhere else - paired with Chef David Lawrence’s creative influence with the soul of southern cuisine. Wednesday, April 13, 6:00 pm reception, 7:00 pm dinner. $95 plus tax and gratuity for the reception and five-course wine pairing dinner. For reservations call (415) 771-7100 or visit  
Grotto Italian Steakhouse
On April 13, Grotto Italian Steakhouse in Oak Brook, IL, will host a Wine and Cheese Tasting featuring Estancia Pinot Noir and Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. The wines will be paired with an array of hand cut cheeses selected by Executive Chef Abraham Aguirre. Complimentary. Call 630-571-5700 or visit
Terzo Piano
On April 14, Chef Tony Mantuano will host Chef Jonathan Waxman for a seated dinner at Terzo Piano in Chicago in honor of Waxman's new cookbook, "Italian, My Way." Antipasti and cocktails followed by a family-style dinner with wine. Books will be available for purchase and signing with proceeds from all sales benefiting The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Illinois. $75 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 312-443-8650 for reservations or visit
On April 14 in Oakland, CA, Ozumo will host a Cherry Blossom Festival celebration with food and drink specials, live taiko drummers and a singer. No music cover charge, no reservations are required. Call 510-286-9866 or visit
Southern Food and Beverage Museum
On April 15 the Southern Food and Beverage Museum will hold a party to celebrate the opening of Barbecue Nation, an exhibit that explores the roots and variations of barbecue in the American South. On April 16 the museum will host Troy Gilbert as he signs his newest venture, the Cafe Degas Cookbook. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information contact or 504-569-0405.
Alexander's Steakhouse
On April 18 in San Francisco, CA, Alexander’s Steakhouse hosts a Premium Champagne Paired Dinner beginning at 6:00 PM. The 8-course meal with pairings is $750 per person. Call 415-495-1111 or visit
Americano Restaurant
On April 17 in San Francisco, CA, Chef Kory Stewart of Americano Restaurant will host a “Wild Foods” dinner with guest Chef Michael Tuohy of Grange Restaurant (Sacramento, CA).  The two Joie de Vivre chefs will collaborate to create a five-course supper with dishes featuring wild ingredients such as nasturtium, wild mustard, spruce tip oil, and morel mushrooms.  The evening includes a special book signing by Connie Green, author of The Wild Table. $65pp or $90pp with paired wines. Reservations required. Call 415-278-3777 or visit
Chicago q
On April 18, Chicago q in Chicago will offer a tax day special featuring a decadent three-course prix-fixe menu for lunch ($15) and dinner ($18) including House Bacon Cheddar Hush Puppies, Smoked Dry-Rubbed Wings, Pulled Pork or Kobe Brisket Sandwiches for lunch, and Half Slab Baby Back or St. Louis Ribs for dinner.  Call 312-642-1160 or visit
Real Urban Barbeque
On April 18, Real Urban Barbecue in Highland Park, ILL, will celebrate Passover by offering Seder dinners for 12 guests.  Available for carryout, these meals will include your choice of 1 appetizer, 1 meat, and 2 sides from Chef/Owner Jeff Shapiro’s arsenal of smoked meats, including his famous beef brisket, and traditional Jewish delicacies.  $165/package.  Call 244-770-4227 or visit
Capsouto Freres
On April 18 and 19 in NYC, Capsouto Freres will host special Sephardic (non-Kosher) Seders for Passover.  A Cantor will conduct the Seders, and the dinner is a benefit for The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. 100% of the proceeds will go to charity. $150 pp donation. To reserve call 212-966-4900 or visit
On April 19 in NYC, Chef Mark Barrett will prepare a Seder Plate and a Three Course Traditional Passover Dinner at HENRY’s on the Upper West Side on the second night of Passover.  Call 212-866-0600 for reservations or visit
Brookline Booksmith
On April 19 at Brookline Booksmith in Boston, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. Brookline Booksmith 617-566-6660, or visit
Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto
On April 21 in Berkeley, CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto hosts a wine-paired dinner with a five-course prix fixe menu prepared by Chef Patrick Kehler. $50 pp. Call 510-845-7771 or visit
Corner Bookstore
On April 21 at Corner Bookstore in New York, NY, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. Corner Bookstore 212-831-3554, or visit
San Gabriel Mexican Cafe
On April 21, join San Gabriel Mexican Cafe in Bannockburn, IL, as they launch a new monthly cooking series. Executive Chef Dudley Nieto will teach guests how to prepare a Cinco de Mayo feast at home! Guests will sip on complimentary margaritas, chips and salsa as they watch Chef Nieto prepare five holiday specialties. Samples of the dishes will be provided along with the recipes. Priced at $25pp. Class begins at 6 p.m. and reservations are required. Call 847-940-0200 or visit
Grotto Italian Steakhouse
On April 21, Grotto Italian Steakhouse in Oak Brook, IL, will offer a special Deal of the Day. Guests will enjoy a complete meal for $14 featuring an 8 oz. Filet Mignon accompanied by a House Salad, available at both lunch and dinner. $14pp. Call 630-571-5700 or visit  
Cityscape Bar
On April 21, Cityscape Bar in Chicago, IL, will host a Vino with a View sampling. Led by a representative of Tenzing Wine and Spirits, guests will enjoy varietals like 2007 Naia Naiades and 2008 Clos de Los Siete. Complimentary. Call 312-836-5000 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 America 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  linked to 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: WHITE WATER RAFTING IN IDAHO.

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.

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© copyright John Mariani 2011