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July 17, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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James Fox and Sophie Marceau in "Anna Karenina" (1997)


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by Edward Brivio

Photos by Robert Perillo

    The Town of Palm Beach may be celebrating the centennial of its incorporation this year, but the origins of the Breakers go back even further. Originally called the Palm Beach Inn,  built by Henry Morrison Flagler in 1896 in what was then still part of the town of Lake Worth. For  a very  long time thereafter, the history of Palm Beach was the history of Breakers, so that I can’t imagine a visit to the area without paying some attendance upon the Grande Dame of the town, still the unrivaled jewel in its crown.

Built when good taste was rampant amongst the “happy few,” The Breakers remains a masterpiece of Italian workmanship and one of the finest examples of that Mediterranean Revival style in architecture still found in so many of Palm Beach’s beautiful mansions.  But, make no mistake, family-held by the heirs of Flagler’s last wife, Mary Lily Kennan (for whom he built the mansion, Whitehall), the  Breakers is no lost-in-the-past Miss Havisham.  Beneficiary of an annual $25 million makeover to keep her youthful, the resort is as fresh as the day late in 1926 when this third, and final, attempt at getting a foothold on the Atlantic opened after only 11 months of construction.

    "Fare la bella figura" goes beyond skin deep at the Breakers. Not only has the façade been brought back to something like its original glory, but the latest round of guestroom renovations is now nearing its end.   I don’t know how many upgrades it’s seen since opening in 1981, but it’s hard to believe that the Flagler Club, a 27 room boutique-hotel on the resort’s top two floors, is already 30 years old. It always looks as though it had just opened, especially the lounge on six, whose loose, residential sprawl of comfortable armchairs and sofas look like they’d just been upholstered. On the Concierge Level, Chef Concierge Bernard Nicole, to me,  is the Flagler Club and an important part of it since day one. Bernard brings a bit of the posh, casual elegance of the sun-drenched Côte d’Azur to the Gold Coast of Florida. For three decades, the suave Mr. Nicole, with his charming Antibois accent is as much a part of the pleasure of staying here as the other amenities offered, including continental breakfast, late-morning refreshments, afternoon tea, pre-dinner hors-d’oeuvres and bar service, and, finally, desserts and after dinner drinks on  a large terrace facing Lake Worth,  in its center a colossal quatrefoil market umbrella surrounded with finely made patio furniture and tastefully decorated guestrooms facing either East or West, as crisp and bright as the daylight that floods them.

Our Flagler Club Island View Room, in restful pale green, contained two luxuriously appointed, very comfortable, queen-size beds, a sofa and coffee table, as well as a bathroom from out of a dream, spacious, marble-clad, with double sinks, a deep tub and glass-enclosed shower, fluffy bathrobes and bright white Turkish towels.

Everywhere you turn at the Breakers, you‘re met with good will. Smiling faces welcome you, eager hands ease you on your way, as a large, personable service staff strives to fulfill your every wish. Family-run, in this instance, means employees who are well taken care of so they can enjoy their work: well-rewarded, empowered employees, who are thus able to bring their own personal flair and confident grace to their daily tasks.

After a recent $15 million redevelopment of the beachfront here, the Beach Club, with its extensive, multi-leveled deck, just a few steps off the sand, is now a series of pathways leading to five pools and four whirlpools, with their attendant chaises-longues, cabanas, and beach bungalows right on the ocean, as well as the Ocean Grill restaurant. We head right for the Relaxation Pool--as far down the beach as you can go in one direction--where horseplay is banned and quiet expected. Here, too, are the luxurious beach bungalows, “the ultimate cabana," each with living room, bathroom,  indoor and outdoor showers, and private patio. How sweet it was to spend the day on the patio, sunscreen-swathed, and alternating dips in the pool, with sorties into the ocean, and serious down-time, reading and dozing off on one of the lounge chairs.  One afternoon we had an unexpected guest, a sleek, slender cormorant, young enough to mistake the pool for his usual fishing grounds, making the most graceful arabesques with his long, supple neck as he dived, before finally flying away to the real ocean nearby.

Follow one of the pretty garden paths here to the family-friendly Italian Restaurant (below), with terra cotta walls above exposed brick, durable hardwood floors, roomy tables and sturdy ladder-back chairs, with even a children's playroom, plainly visible from the dining room. Don’t confuse “family-friendly” with mediocre or slapdash, however; as with all the dining choices at the resort, whether the haute cuisine contemporaine of the elegant L’Escalier, the fresh catch of the day at the informal Seafood Bar, the refined fare at the newest venue, Top of the Point, or yummy breakfasts in the exquisite, truly magnificent Circular Dining Room, standards are everywhere consistently of the highest order.

    At the Italian Restaurant, pasta e fagioli  was delicious, prepared with care--both the ditalini and white beans, cooked  al dente, the tomato “broth” fresh and vibrant,  the bits of pancetta crisp and tasty. Insalata caprese, fresh bufala mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, and basil from the hotel’s own herb garden, was as well made in its own overly generous American way as any in Italy.  Likewise, the saltimbocca is huge by any standard. The prosciutto-lined veal scaloppine in a rich, deep-brown, Marsala-laced sauce, were so good, however, that I gobbled up every last, lovely bite.  Lobster and mascarpone agnolotti, three large “pockets” made in-house, were chock full of lobster meat in tender, fresh pasta, in a delicate, saffron cream sauce, while the risotto ai gamberi, three truly jumbo shrimp on a bed of radicchio-tinted rice, could have been served in a fine upscale trattoria along the Amalfi Coast. Generous glasses of the big, burly, luscious Tuscan  Marchesato degli Aleramici, Rosso di Montalcino, 2007 ($14) made it all the easier to mistake southern Florida for the western Mediterranean.

$9.25 to $19, pizze e paste: $18 to$ 28.50 ($41 for the Lobster Agnolotti),  Secondi: $29 to $45.


Opened late in 2008, Top of the Point, at the Phillips Point building in West Palm, serves as a private club for breakfast and lunch. At dinner, when it’s open to the public, this feeling of exclusivity lingers. The dining room brings more of  a sophisticated urban experience to The Breakers’ dining, with its massive columnar uprights, lots of dark, polished wood, and deep, brown-leather armchairs. Very comfortable chairs as well, so you can sit back, settle in, and enjoy the breathtaking 180-degree view through large expanses of clear floor-to-ceiling glass (right). Looking East, the panorama extends for miles North and South as well. Before you is a true bird’s-eye view across placid Lake Worth, over the long slender, strip of Palm Beach island, its lights just coming on for the night; further on is the smooth surface of the ocean below the pink, cloud-rimmed sky, and beyond, the tenuous line of the horizon.

    The food, I'm happy to report, more than lived up to the spectacle. Roasted royal trumpet mushrooms in a fonduta of fontina and Parmiggiano on crostini were something different and all together deeply satisfying. Corn and crab together make for heavenly dining, especially so when they’re the jumbo lump crab cakes with superb Florida corn succotash and spicy Low-Country tartar sauce, available as a starter here. Beautifully browned, creamy Oysters Rockefeller more than hit the mark, as did another variant of insalata Caprese, here made with creamy burrata, heirloom tomatoes and watermelon, a wonderful combination,  the burrata from a cheese maker living on the Loxahatchee river.

The waiter described one of the night’s specials, a Paradise Roll (left), in glowing terms: the sticky rice studded with avocado, wasabi mayonnaise, and crunchy shrimp tempura, sliced into neat, bite-sized pieces.  Grilled Colorado lamb chops with roast potatoes and a demi-glace  proved once again why it’s the best lamb available, beautifully marbled, well-flavored, and fork-tender. The broiled snapper,  served with deep-purple Okinawa potatoes in their own miniature casserole, broccolini and a Meyer lemon sauce --was even better for its lavish topping of crabmeat gratin.

For dessert, a warm bread pudding with rum raisin ice cream, and banana caramel, was  one of those sweet-on-sweet concoctions, that turn being over-the-top into an asset.

A few words with eager, knowledgeable sommelier Roxane Shafaee-Moghadam, and we were well rewarded with a 2009 Evening Land Vineyards Pinot Noir ($65) from Oregon’s Willamette valley, the Eola-Amity Hills sub-appellation, to be precise. Owner Mark Tarlov makes about 3900 cases, with organic fruit from his  Seven Springs Vineyard, and with the help of consultant Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon in Meursault, whose Burgundian approach is evident in the wine. Fruity, but without the jammy sweetness of some California pinots, and with just the right acidity for balance, it’s the winery’s entry-level bottling.

Starters: $ 11 to 18, entrees: 24 to 48, desserts: 6.50 to 7.50.


    Back at the Main building, The Seafood Bar is the place to go for flawless fish in the casual atmosphere of an old-Florida bungalow, with its vaulted, open-beam ceiling, plantation shutters and the ocean for a backyard. One dozen Kumamoto, oysters, medium-sized, with a subtle brininess and plump flesh, quickly disappeared as we looked over the menu. Appetizers proper were two jumbo stone crab claws at $20 each, with a mustard/mayonnaise dipping sauce, and shrimp and grits with andouille sausage.

    It’s easy to see why stone crabs are so popular, with big hunks of sweet meat, easily removed from the cracked claws, while the creamy, white cheddar grits and shrimp worked well together, especially with the occasional kick of spicy sausage. What followed were jumbo lump crab cakes with corn, tomato and haricots verts. Three medium-sized, almost pure crab cakes, with a nicely browned crust, and a spicy remoulade sauce. The seafood club sandwich with Maine lobster, and jumbo lump crab salad, on brioche with bacon and truffle fries is the restaurant’s signature dish; well deserving of its star status, it’s a big mound of lobster/crab salad, with crisp bacon, on a tender brioche roll. What’s not to like?

Appetizers: $7.50 to $45,   entrees: $21 to $63.


    L’Escalier, the resort’s flagship restaurant, is for fine dining with all its luxurious accouterments. Chef de cuisine, Greg Vassos, combines contemporary flair and technical wizardry, with the time-honored traditions of the French kitchen, as well as the very best of ingredients, and ends up with the perfect blend of ultra-sophistication and good taste.

Who could resist a peekytoe crab “Mai Tai?” Hidden demurely behind a green fan of sliced avocado, the bashful crab was served alongside hearts of palm, a pool of “carbonated” guava, garnished with coconut “powder,” bits of fresh fig, Meyer lemon wedges, and small cubes of  “compressed” fruits--resembling a fruit-jelly but made in a totally different way. Each was carefully placed in a composition with the formal beauty of an abstract painting, as well as the random look of a group of exquisite, brightly-hued, jewel-like objects that just happened to have fallen, or been dropped, where they lay.

Perhaps Chef Vassos’ most playful dish is his Garden Landscape salad. Served on a square slab of slate, it’s a miniature potager with granulated porcini standing in for soil (I needlessly kept expecting grit until the final, gritless mouthful), covered with baby turnips, carrots, radishes and ears of corn that looked like they had just pushed through the earth. It’s a bit of whimsy, complete with potato “rake,” that I devoured to the very last bit. I’m not especially interested in the science behind powdering, compressing or carbonating foodstuffs, but the results here were delicious and visually arresting, with fresh flavors, and vivid colors. Chef Vassos has a very good eye, so no matter how fanciful the caprice, there’s no question that it’s food. The joke never goes too far; nor is the jest ever tasteless.

The Foiewhopper, made with Wagyu beef, Hudson Valley foie gras, Maine lobster, and portabello mushroom confit on a brioche roll in a pool of sauce périgueux was another tongue-in-cheek delight,  combining three of the most extravagant ingredients,  the “slider” gone completely upscale.

Raspberry sorbet atop a slice of pineapple confit performed well as a palate cleanser, and the single, multi-hued viola blossom used as garnish, provided a beautiful splash of color.

    As tender as a cheek, the 48-Hour Prime beef, short-rib--so-called because it’s cooked sous-vide  for two days--was bathed in a rich, brown, textbook sauce bordelaise worthy of Escoffier or Pellaprat. Alongside, on the square of white porcelain, were primeurs, Yukon potatoes confit, parsnip pudding, and mushrooms, all aligned in a beautiful burgundy swath, with once again just the right dosage of formal logic and random playfulness. Another beautifully wrought classic French staple turned on its head was the bouillabaisse sauce: bouillabaisse usually refers to the complete dish, the fish “stew,” and not to a free-standing  sauce-- served alongside superb, wild Alaskan Halibut, with a squid ink risotto,  compressed tomatoes, and perfectly-turned, Yukon potato cylinders used as receptacles for a trio of aïolis.

    Our Assiette de fromages finale deserves an article all its own. Époisses de Bourgogne, from the Côte-d’Or, is soft, creamy and pungent.  Langa Rochetta is a fresh Italian cheese, cured no more than 8 to 10 days  from the Piedmontese cheesemakers Caseificio dell‘Alta Langa.  Ossau-Iraty, (unpasteurized) made in the Pyrenées in two neighboring provinces, the Ossau Valley in the Béarn, and the wooded hills of Iraty in the French Basque country, and a delicious complex of flavors, and Valdeon (cow, goat) a semi-soft, blue-veined, from Posada de Valdeón, in the Northeast province of Léon, a very good, tangy semi-soft blue, well worth searching out, that‘s assertive but not as strong as Cabrales because the Valdeón caves are a little drier.

    Master Sommelier, Juan Gomèz, led us through a “flight” of delicious wines, well-matched with the food: a fresh, tasty 2009 Louis Latour Santenay; a deeper, darker, richer  2005 Jean-Luc Colombo, Cornas;  a voluptuous Château 2008 La Gardine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and a textbook red Burgundy, a step or two above the Santenay, made by Alex Gambal, a 2007 Cuvée les deux Papis, made mainly with grapes from his own vineyard in Volnay.

First courses: $17 to $26, $45 for the “Foiewhopper,” main courses: $39 to $59.







by Edward Brivio

    Finally, someone has succeeded in luring Chef Heinz Beck away from his kitchen in the Michelin three-star La Pergola restaurant (below) in Rome's Cavalieri hotel, bringing him to New York to cook, if only for a lunch and a dinner. Late June's gala dinner, held in the magnificent dix-huitième-style Conrad Suite on the fourth floor of the Waldorf-Astoria, clearly demonstrated why he is considered among the best and most interesting of contemporary chefs, and why even his second restaurant, Apsley's in London's Lanesborough hotel was so quick to gain its first Michelin star.

    Beck's cooking is all about freshness, conceptual simplicity, and nutritional correctness, allied to an enormous respect for the ingredients. Painstakingly  prepared, high quality, organic when possible components are made to yield up deep, precise, yet delicate flavors, while a wonderfully amiable desire, on the part of the chef to surprise adds a touch of the unexpected or unusual to beautiful, carefully thought out, yet unpretentious presentations. The food on the plate still looks like food. For Beck, the visual impact "is only the third part to a dish. The first is its creation, the second is how it tastes, and the third part is how it looks. If the taste of the dish isn't working, you're lost." 

    Chef Beck (right) is not the first Northern European to be drawn to the warmth and charms of Italy, where he emigrated from Germany in 1994, and to fall under the spell of its Mediterranean cuisine. Our meal that New York summer's evening was built along the lines of a classic Italian menu, with antipasti, followed by pasta, and then a piece of fish or meat, only here they doubled up on each course, i.e., two antipasti, two primi, and three secondi.

    Amberjack tartare with avocado and peach was a good introduction to his style: fresh, clean flavors, delicate as a pastel, with the peaches giving an unexpected, yet welcome twist.    Scallop "veil" and green asparagus, with a tomato and basil vinaigrette came as a perfectly seared sea scallop and still slightly crisp, bright green, asparagus,was paired with a classic tomato and basil salad, and dressed with the most delicate, delicious, and precisely acidic vinaigrette I've ever tasted.  The sheer "veil" laying over the spears of asparagus was cut with a very sharp knife from another sea scallop, inspired, perhaps, by the white marble sculptures of women, wrapped in gossamer-like veils that one occasionally runs into in an Italian church or gallery.

    Beck also prepared one of his signature dishes, faggotelli alla carbonara (below)--fresh pasta pockets with a rich, creamy pecorino cheese filling,  lightly glazed with a subtle veal stock --in place of the usual egg yolks-- along with bits of guanciale, grated pecorino, and freshly cracked Tellicherry pepper. It was easy to see why our First Lady, Michele Obama, considers  this her favorite pasta dish. Maccheroncini al ferretto integrali  (below, left), pasta shaped around a wire, ferretto, did nothing to further the cause of wholemeal pasta, being rather heavy and leaden, but the smoked eggplant coulis and gamberi rossi that accompanied it were excellent.

    For Beck, the contemporary bias in favor of "scientific" haute cuisine has more to do with the real science of nutrition, and the relationship between what we eat and how healthy we are than it does with using cutting-edge technology and esoteric, expensive gadgets to work wonders, transforming baccalà into "snow," for example. His cooking is more about nutritional validity, than about alchemical wizardry. The Black cod with celery sauce was a prime example, visually, nutritionally, and in terms of flavor. An utterly simple, completely transparent dish showcased the perfectly grilled piece of cod, sitting in a shallow pool of limpid, deeply-flavored, broth. How does he coax so much flavor out of celery?

    As an interlude between the fish, and the meat, course, we had a little of each: lobster and duck foie gras on a bed of topinambour, or turnip, puree. Here the Chef's whimsy combined two extravagant, big-ticket items with turnips, probably the most "earthy"of the root vegetables--both in the sense of tasting of the soil in which it grew, and that of something basic, down-to-earth (terre-à-terre), and dirt-cheap.

    Bread-crusted lamb with artichokes finished off the savory dishes with a quiet, yet resonant bang, the round of tasty, lean lamb,  studded with a dice of artichoke, in a crisp breadcrumb coating.

   Dessert--apricot jelly with bergamot ice cream--however, was disappointing. Whereas the dish was lovely to look at, and the bergamot ice cream delicious, the pool of apricot "jelly," while intensely flavored, was rather unexciting, apricot being one of the flavors that even commercially produced jellies get right. Perhaps, it was simply the lack of textural contrast.

    Not that any intelligent person needs a reason other than Rome itself, to visit the city, but certainly a dinner at La Pergola--the dining room looks exquisite in pictures, and the views breathtaking--would be worth the trip all on its own. (Reservations must be made well in advance.) Thanks again to whoever was responsible for bringing Chef Beck to New York. Beck is also the author of several books on food, some of them translated into English from the original Italian.



by Christopher Mariani

Loudoun County, Virginia

 Goodstone Inn & Estate Property


    It was not until the morning that I realized how beautiful the Goodstone property truly was. I had arrived at the estate the night before when darkness blanketed the landscape as we drove towards the Manor House (below). The following day,  after I filled my lungs with air so crisp and so clean, I walked gently down the squeaky wooden stairs so as not to wake the others in the house. Entering the living room I looked out towards the back of the house and I saw the brightest green grass imaginable, scattered with black cows grazing while the morning sun glistened off their shiny damp backs. I stepped out onto the dew-moist stone patio and took another deep breath of the cool crisp air. The landscape was gentle, divided by a small stone wall that looked like an arched spine that started at the base of the hill and curved over the top. Each of the  estate's six houses had only a handful of rooms, each house connected by a skinny gravel road. All roads led to the Main House where breakfast was being cooked by chef William Waldon.

         After arriving at the Main House I grabbed a small table in the corner and was immediately poured a steaming hot cup of dark brown coffee and offered either fresh squeezed orange juice or grapefruit juice. The sun was shining through the windows and the chandelier above reflected light all throughout the room. The dining room (below) was lovely, covered from head to toe in dark wood and each table elegantly draped by a white cloth.  I ordered an omelet filled with chopped ham, onions, peppers and cheese. Chef also insisted I try his famous blueberry pancakes. They were stacked high, about a quarter inch thick, made with fresh blueberries that oozed into the cornmeal pancakes when broken and each bite had a rich buttery flavor. After one more cup of coffee I was off to the charming little town of Leesburg.

         Leesburg is centered around one main drag and a few streets that jut off on either side. There are some decent spots to grab lunch but nothing worth a detour and a slew of antique shops placed around almost every corner.   That afternoon we stopped by the Sunset Hills Vineyard for a wine tasting. Like most Virginia wineries, all wine produced on property is sold on property during tastings and tours. Very few vineyards in Virginia actually mass-produce and sell to outside vendors. Though wine connoisseur Thomas Jefferson toyed with the idea of grape plantings, in the 18th century,  the state's wine scene is young and needs much improvement, but I did taste some wines that proved to have much potential. Like any new art form, wine making takes time to perfect and I foresee Virginia wines coming around in the next five to ten years. Where California wines were in the 1970s, Virginia's are now, and that's impressive.

         That evening we dined at Goodstone, where chef Waldon prepared a wonderful meal. The dining room at night time is as romantic as one could wish for, a dim cast, tables topped with burning candles, beautiful stemware and Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By” playing softly in the background. I started with a wild mushroom crêpe stuffed with an array of different mushrooms; shiitake, Hedgehog, Oyster and Hen of the Woods, covered by a creamy truffle sauce. There is also foie gras sushi, a combination of sashimi grade tuna and seared duck foie gras, a unique dish but the fatted liver and fish would have tasted much better on their own. Main courses included a traditional order of Maryland crab cakes, top selections of beef and seasonal birds. Desserts all looked good but I couldn’t resist chef’s chocolate soufflé sided by a hot crème anglaise sauce.

         The following day I visited one the most stunning vineyards I’ve ever seen, Blumont Vineyards, perched 1,000 feet high above the Virginia countryside. To get to the vineyard you must drive up a steep windy slope before arriving at the house where live music plays and picnic tables are set up for guests to enjoy wine and a quick bite. The wine is nothing to write home about but the overall experience is blissful. The sun shines down as a cool breeze wisps by while locals sit around drinking and tasting different wines, laughing and enjoying such a magnificent view. Blumont Vineyards, like many Long Island vineyards are typical party wineries that only sell on property and are perfectly content doing so. The parking lot had at least three or four limos present, dropping off bachelorette parties.

     Civil War history bursts through in every town and restored plantations are a must visit if not for their history at least for their sheer splendor. There also a great pie shop in Leesburg called the Mom’s Apple Pie (above) that serves up a cherry pie easily worth an hour drive.
Loudoun County sure surprised the hell out of me as one of the most gorgeous rural counties in America. Only a one-hour drive from DC and a one-hour flight from NYC, Loudoun County is sure to be a weekend destination for those who appreciate beauty. 


Live music at Blumont Vineyards

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to


by Mort Hochstein

    Back in the seventies, food journalist Roy Andries De Groot suggested that Hennessy should insure the nose of Maurice Fillioux for five million dollars, since his olfactory skills were so vital to the success of the Cognac firm.   Fillioux was the sixth generation member of a family of   master blenders who have created fine Cognacs for the Hennessy family from the firm’s earliest days, more than two centuries ago.

   I was with De Groot when he interviewed Fillioux at Bagnolet, Hennessy’s guest house, and I recalled that extravagant proposal as I talked to Yann Fillioux, seventh generation master blender for Hennessy.  Things were somewhat different in his uncle’s times, when blending depended more on the skill of one man.    Yann Fillioux in he 21st century  sounds more like the coach or captain of a football team as he describes the teamwork   required for the selection of the spirits –eau de vie is the correct term—that are melded into the final blend.

        Fillioux (below) and his group must produce Cognac indistinguishable from a blend produced half a century ago or another half century into the future. “Continuity is essential.   Those who follow me, “   Fillioux emphasizes, “will judge the success  of our efforts, just as we evaluate and work with Cognacs blended by those who preceded us.”

       Team Fillioux 2011 has eight tasters, two in their sixties, two in their fifties, two in their forties and two in their thirties. They gather  each day in a room that could be called a library of spirits, its walls lined with shelves bearing several hundred apothecary vials, the spirits in them ascending from clear young distillates to the dark amber color  that signifies advancing maturity, many  first sampled and evaluated  by earlier generations of the Fillioux clan. “You must taste in the same room at the same time with the same people. Consistency is important,” the cellar master declares.  “Members of the tasting committee," he says, smiling broadly, “must be with us for ten years before they are allowed to speak.” In their daily meetings, each morning at 11:30, they sample dozens of  spirits, tasting, discussing and tasting again the eaux de vie, sampling from some 1,000 vials each   year,   Their task is twofold—to identify the qualities of each eau de vie and to create a memory toward the assemblage of a  perfect blend. One of the younger members in that group is yet another generation of the Fillioux clan, preparing for his time in the center chair.

      Seated behind a desk empty of paperwork, topped only by a crystal Baccarat decanter, Fillioux scoffed when I asked if he ever wore the bleu de travail, the traditional working uniform of French laborers.   “No, never,” he responded emphatically. “Our uniform here is a tie and suit, although," he added quickly, “I occasionally wear, what is it, a sport jacket? I wear   a blazer.” 

     The official grades of Cognac are VS (Very Special, where the youngest brandy rests at least two years in wood; VSOP (Very Special Old Pale, whose youngest spirit spends at least four years in a cask), and the top of the line X.O, Extra Old, which contains as many as 100 eau de vie, the youngest at least six years old.  Complex and elegant, X.O.  sells for abut $150.   And then there are the super premiums, dressed in designer decanters that add to their allure, such as Paradis, which retails for about $800 and Hennessy Richard, about $3500, honoring founder Richard Hennessey.  Prices vary wildly in the marketplace and shoppers often find themselves competing with collectors who snap up the latest spirit, since they are usually limited bottlings.  The market is now especially hot in China, which is Hennessy’s largest dollar volume outlet, although the United States buys in greater quantities.

   Paradis Imperial, ($2,200) like previous special blends, comes with a story.  In 1818, the well-traveled Dowager Empress of Russia, Maria Feodorovna, implored Hennessy to create “a cognac of   excellent, very old, gold colored” eau de vie as a gift for her son, Czar Alexander. The story of the spirit that Hennessy assembled for Russian nobility came down from Jean Fillioux in the 19th century to Yann Fillioux in the 21st and he decided to create a limited edition Cognac memorializing that earlier achievement.

      He was, fortunately, able to dig deep into the Hennessy Founders Cellar for treasured eaux de vie dating back to the 1800’s. In his words “This cognac is the fruit of generations of talents.  I inherited outstanding eaux de vie produced by previous generations of my family, who foresaw an exceptional future for them. This cognac is their creation.”

     Hennessy launched Paradis Imperial this spring in festivities at the fabled Hermitage Museum and the Marble Palace in St. Petersburg (left), once the capitol of Russian aristocracy. Opera singes and dancers from the Mariinsky Theater recreated the elegance of the Imperial Court before an  audience of  international notables.  The gathering included several Chinese celebrities, a tribute to the burgeoning importance of China as a market for upscale Cognac.  
Paradis Imperial will be launched  next summer in the U.S. and it will arrive bearing a $2,200 price tag. It is quite likely that the greater share of the limited bottling will go to China.



The Ohio General Assembly passed a law allowing
residents to carry concealed handguns into bars  and other licensed establishments in the state, including shopping malls and sporting venues. Businesses can continue to ban concealed weapons on their premises for safety reasons,  like the Cincinnati Bengals football team, which continues to bar firearms in their stadium. The law does prohibit gun owners from consuming alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs when toting their weapons into bars.


“New Yorkers are infinitely more social. In London, chaps demurely nod at each other across the room, while New Yorkers are hugging and slapping each other’s backs—they seem to enjoy themselves so much more.”
-- Jeremy King of NYC's Monkey Bar, in Travel & Leisure.


 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, 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 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: Food Day in Canada; 10 Reasons to Love the High Line

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,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

© copyright John Mariani 2011