Virtual Gourmet

July 24, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    CURRENT ISSUE    |    ARCHIVES    |    QUICK BYTES    |    SUBSCRIBE    |    ABOUT US    |    BOOKS    |    CONTACT    |    ADVERTISE

Old King Cole by Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)


This Week

Palm Beach, Part Two
by Edward Brivio and John Mariani

New York Corner: What's Not So New Under the NYC Sun
by John Mariani

Man About Town:
by Christopher Mariani

Wine: Great Burgundies Do Not Have to Cost a Fortune
by John Mariani


Mariani's Quick Bytes
If you would like to be featured in Quick Bytes please visit our media page at

*Paid Advertisements*

Australian Perigord Truffles
AUSTRALIAN PERIGORD TRUFFLES, The Trufferie in Manijump is unearthing some of the most potent Perigord aroma that eclipses most of what is found in the European winter. The Chefs Diamond Company suppliers to this Countries most renowned Chefs, has just recently started selling Fresh Truffles to the retail market, Private Chefs and Foodies please visit our online store for what's sure to leave you captivated... These Perigord Truffles are not to be misinterpreted, Yes they are available fresh and YES they are The True Perigord Spore... For more info visit the Farm Down Under Chefs please call King Truff at 219-798-5662 or email
City Harvest
City Harvest, the world's first food rescue organization which feeds over 300,000 hungry New Yorkers each week, is announcing a brand new event: The Brooklyn Local. On Saturday, September 17th, over 75 artisinal vendors will converge at Brooklyn Park to showcase the best of Brooklyn food and to help City Harvest feed more hungry New Yorkers. For more details visit
The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa
Set in Miami, Gonzalo Barr's "The Last Flight of Jose Luis Balboa" vividly captures a city defined by the blur of cultures. The L.A. Times Book Review wrote that the "stories sparkle." And the Times Literary Supplement (London) called it a "brilliant short story collection." "It is a great read for the summer, even if you can't make it to South Beach." To purchase, visit

Place your Quick Byte Here




by Edward Brivio   
Photos by Robert Pirillo

And the Hottest New Spot in Town
by John Mariani


    If The Breakers is a tad too grand for your taste or budget, the Chesterfield Hotel built in 1925, is a change of pace, yet  another excellent example of the Mediterranean Revival style architecture that provides Palm Beach with much of its visual appeal. Now owned by the British, Red Carnation hotel group, which recently finished a major renovation of the property, the Chesterfield brings a bit of merry old England to Florida‘s Gold Coast, from its reception area awash in paisley chintz, and paneled walls to the complementary glass of sherry offered at check-in to our room that appeared to come straight out of a posh English country-house hotel, complete with wainscoting, and white walls covered with framed architectural prints.

    With a quite large and comfortable king-sized bed, and good-sized seating area with love seat and coffee table, and a workspace with desk, our mini-suite surrounded one in luxury, and had a window, providing light and air, overlooking the lovely pool area. The building may be a landmarked period piece, but everything about the room felt fresh, bright, and new, especially the marble-clad bathroom, complete with luxury toiletries and the best-looking bathrobes--red-and-white striped--I’ve yet to find in a hotel.

        Only two blocks from Worth Street and three from the ocean, with its small courtyard café, vivid British-racing green marquée and deep awnings of crisp canvas and a lovely, palm-fringed, heated pool, the Chesterfield is an oasis of tranquility smack in the middle of town. All too easy it was, then,  to while away the sunlight hours stretched out in the shade of a large market-umbrella, on one of the chaises-longues surrounding the pool, lulled by the murmur of the water falling from the small, stone fountain at one end. An affable, eager staff see to it that, even poolside, no guests’ needs are overlooked. The hotel is also pet-friendly. Indeed, as we checked in, the local Animal Rescue League was holding a benefit lunch in the dining room, and the lobby was filled with well-bred, well-mannered dogs with their owners.

    Its supper club/restaurant, known as the Leopard Lounge (below), has become a nightly haunt, for locals and visitors alike. I can’t quite pin down from which  decade came the inspiration for the vintage décor, but this quirky, slightly louche and theatrical look  (and rather good live-music) is what makes the Lounge such a popular supper club. Doubtless, this out-of-the-past impression was deepened the night we were there by the large birthday party of at least 60 filling a good part of the dining room.

    Don’t be misled by the heavy swag valances of deeply ruched and tasseled burgundy fabric on all the windows, the leopard-print carpet and fabrics featured throughout the room or the hand-painted ceiling of female nudes emerging from what looks like nothing so much as raspberry swirl ice cream. There was nothing stale or offhand about the dishes coming out of the kitchen, all obviously prepared à la minute. Executive Chef Gerard Coughlin and his équipé know their business and take pleasing their diners seriously. And you can dance between courses.

    Oysters Rockefeller and Maryland style lump crab cakes were superb, the oysters plump and hot from the oven, with a crusty, browned top, as were the  pure crustacean crabcakes, only held together long enough to be conveyable by fork from plate to mouth. A classic Caesar salad preceded the entrees, and here again the kitchen could do no wrong. Gerard’s roast duckling with an orange glaze and almond/fennel stuffing was just about perfect: well-roasted without being dry, deep mahogany in color, with crisp skin, hardly any fat, and delicious juicy flesh. And the enormous grilled veal chop was as good as it gets,  and I couldn’t have wished for anything better alongside it than creamy mashed potatoes and a well-dressed, chopped salad.

    Somehow, we found room for desserts: Strawberry Eaton Mess, and English sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. Any dessert with both “sticky” and “toffee” in its name is for me, and why pass up fragrant strawberries and whipped cream?

    The maître’d, after we’d given him a good idea of our preferences and price-point, suggested a 2008 Dutton Goldfield, Dutton Ranch, Russian River Valley, Pinot noir ($65). Not only just about perfect with what we were eating, but also a pinot noir more Burgundian than New World, medium-bodied, with lively, fresh fruit, a hint of spice, and the supple tannins and acidic structure to back it up.

Starters: $15 to $18, soups/salads: $7 to $13, entrees: $17 to $38, desserts: $7 to $10.


    Another must on any visit to Palm Beach is Café Boulud , a branch of restaurateur Daniel Boulud's NYC original.  For starters there’s its location, right off one of the lush courtyards, in the glorious, beautifully restored Brazilian Court Hotel, another 1920‘s gem, straight out of the LA of a 40’s Hollywood movie, long neglected but recently brought back to glowing good health. Then there’s the dining room itself, a suite of long, low rooms, in serene earth tones, pictures on the walls to interest the eye, warm lighting in the evening, and inviting tables, impeccably set.

    There’s dining outdoors on a palm-fringed patio overlooking a large fountain as well, but we’ve never been able to pass-up that comfortable, elegant, contemporary interior. The unruffled, faultless service staff and the warm greeting of General Manager Laurent Chevalier, who never fails to make one feel like an old, loyal friend, help as well. Finally, of course, there’s fabulous food, always fresh, always inventive, and always delicious. For Palm Beach,  Boulud chose just the right, Executive chef, highly-talented Zach Bell from the NYC Cafe. And if Le Patron himself is in town and in the dining room, passing from table to table, greeting his guests with that Gallic warmth, charm, and ease of manner, that make Daniel so engaging,  then a great meal becomes even more memorable.

    Menu items are listed under four headings: La Tradition, La Saison, Le Voyage, and Le Plus simple. I should know better than ever to equate simple with uninteresting, especially here, but I must admit to a bit of hesitation before ordering the tomato risotto with olive oil confit heirloom tomatoes, Grana Padano and basil. What arrived was one of those deceptively uncomplicated, understated, as well as unexpected dishes, with such clean, unadulterated, captivating flavors: ripe, fresh tomatoes, perfectly cooked rice, fresh basil and yummy shards of Grana, and such economy of means, as only the best of chefs can create.

    On Le Voyage  we found Octopus à la plancha, nicely grilled and tender,  served atop a wonderful “salad” containing chick peas, potatoes, red onions, piquillo peppers, in a smoked paprika aïoli,  all of it sparked by the addition of Spanish chorizo. Grilled local mahi with a fricassée of haricots verts, fingerling potatoes, and a fresh dill/horseradish soubise  was a perfect piece of fish, all but swimming with freshness, in the  setting it deserved. Saddle of rabbit was also rewarding, stuffed with a paste made from its innards, on a bed of fava beans in a pool of creamy grits with brown gravy. Only a side dish of chickpea fries was disappointing, the big thick fries without much of a crunchy crust.

    A beautifully presented assiette de fromages included Casatica di bufala, an unusual washed-rind cheese made from water-buffalo's milk  in Northern Italy, near Bergamo; Cacio di Roma, a classic Italian table cheese, semi-soft, and made from pasteurized ewe's milk in Lazio; Brebis des Pyrenées, a French, hard-rind cheese, made in the Basque country and the region of Béarn;  and finally, a Fairbault blue cheese, Amablu, needing no italics since it comes from a dairy in Minnesota.

    OMG, dessert too! An upside-down chocolate soufflé, warm and gooey inside, and a scoop each of vanilla gelato, and passion-fruit sorbet, both richly flavored and well worth the caloric intake.  And, after all this, came the not-to-be-passed-over-lightly petits-fours, a lovely passion-fruit gelée, one of those wonderful, crunchy, thin-crusted Parisian macaroons, an exquisite miniature financière, and similarly scaled quatre quarts (pound cake),  a rich, dense, chocolate truffle, and, for me, the pièce de resistance, a beautiful, blushing pink, raspberry-flavored marshmallow. I’m always pleasantly surprised, as well as impressed, when a pastry chef, here Arnaud Chavigny, takes the time to make something sublime out of that humblest, and, so often, awful, of childhood indulgences, the marshmallow.

Starters: $14 to $24, main courses: $33 to $48, desserts: $11 to $15.

    For a complete change of pace, a visit to the Omphoy Ocean Resort  is in order. Mention the Omphoy in town, and the first thing you’ll hear is “South Beach in Palm Beach.” Certainly, the boutique hotel brings an entirely new and unexpected resort experience and design esthetic to Palm Beach, but you don’t have to be among the young, or ultra-hip to appreciate its up-to-the-minute décor.

    After the bright sunlight outdoors, entering its dark interior leaves you momentarily “blinded.” But this juxtaposition of darkness and light is, of course, the whole point. With a good stretch of the gorgeous, sun-drenched, Atlantic right out back, the designers wanted to provide guests with a shady retreat once inside. One goes from the bright, shining sun and shimmering sea of  eternal “high-noon” outside, directly to dusky evening, verging on nightfall, within, and to the welcome shade of a cavern-like lair, or den.

    Once inside, on the ground floor, you feel you’ve entered a rather roomy, rather posh cave, one that surrounds you with towering, dark brown walls, dark wood flooring, soaring ebony pillars, a “floating” stairway to the first floor, and, from underneath it, the gentle sound of falling water, and at the very back, small expanses (that, after a moment, reveal themselves as windows) bright with sunlight.

    The rear elevation, facing the beach, is especially beautiful, in its purity and economy: large, deep cobalt blue, oblongs of glass, are framed by a simple, slender, bright-white, horizontal grid. Hallways shroud you in darkness, their walls, either large sheets of steel, oxidized so they have a gorgeous prismatic sheen, like that left by a gasoline-slick, or long expanses of soft, deep brown suede. The guestroom floors, of bronze-infused, porcelain tiles, are cool to the foot, virtually indestructible, and give the room a clean, carefree feel.

    Our room was a large, dusky rectangle, with a dazzling wall of sunshine at one end, where French doors opened onto a private terrace  large enough for two beach chairs and a small table and its unobstructed view of the ocean close by. A big, comfortable king-sized bed of dark wood sat in the center of the room with furniture of the same hue all around.     The Omphoy’s stretch of the Atlantic, right out back, was gorgeous, but charging guests $20 a day to rent the beach umbrellas was a little much.

    The signature restaurant here is called, simply, Michelle Bernstein’s at the Omphoy (left). The highly acclaimed  Bernstein did exceedingly well in her choice of Chef de cuisine for the space, Chef Lindsay Autry. Lovely, petite, and looking younger than her 28 years, Autry joins an iron will with a determination twice her size. Jpeg photos of a particularly good catch--many a good bit larger than she is--are routinely e-mailed to her by local fishermen.

    Cobia, a regional fish, was impeccable, with firm, sweet flesh, all but jumping off the plate with freshness. Ditto the wild striped bass, again with a satisfying, firm, meaty texture. With the first  course came ethereal gnocchi alla carbonara, light, airy, and so good they could have been an entrée by themselves, with slivers of delicious jamon Serrano, and shitake mushrooms;  the bass came atop a farro “risotto,”  studded with good-sized chunks of lobster and tasty chorizo. Autry puts her reputation squarely on the line by offering fresh Sardines, and comes out a winner. Their clean, briny taste and texture are irresistible, and have nothing to do with those oily things that come in a tin. Chef Autry has them Fed-exed from Spain or Portugal.  These were perfect, nicely grilled,  and served --one big one-- on bruschetta along with local heirloom tomatoes in a vinaigrette with just the right, clean acidic bite to enhance their flavor, and a little crunch to round out the dish.

    A thousand olés as well for her Florida tomato gazpacho. Someone’s been to Spain: here was true gazpacho,  a light to medium-bodied liquid, smooth as silk and as refreshing as a cool drink of water. In torrid Seville where I first had it, it’s served cold, with an ice cube floating in the middle to keep it that way. You taste each fresh vegetable--tomato, bell pepper,  and cucumber,  yet the flavors all mesh easily one into the other, and what emerges is a seamless, supple whole. I had to stop myself from adding an ice cube.
    Tender calamari à la plancha came with scampi-style risotto--an inspired idea--and crispy garlic, but the calamari part was either tiny bits of the body or small bunches of tentacles, and, either way, not particularly tasty. Sweetbreads are also on my shortlist of dishes to order whenever they appear on a menu. Not a bad gauge of the kitchen’s commitment, they must undergo a long pre-preparation;  only then are they ready for grilling or sautéing. Once again, the crispy sweetbreads here hit the mark, wonderfully tender, and served with braised beef cheeks, certainly the most tender part of the cow there is.

    It may be an uphill battle in such an elegant venue, but Autry keeps Michy’s fried chicken on the menu, much to her guests’ delight. The buttermilk-marinated Southern-fried chicken was super-crunchy from the cornmeal in its coating and juicy within. What could be more appropriate with it than mac-and-cheese and coleslaw?
    For dessert? Hot chocolate-filled doughnuts with a caramel pot de crème and chocolate crunchies, three perfectly spherical, sugared beignets enclosing small pools of thickened, high-quality hot chocolate. As good, and as beautiful on the plate, were a Meyer lemon tartlet with pistachio ice cream, citrus and pomegranate syrup, as well as a light-as-a-feather Angel food cake atop honey roasted pineapple--certainly a case of gilding the lily--with sweetened crème fraîche.

    A Vincent Girardin, Chassagne.-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes, $99, was a good, satisfying red Burgundy, while the Numanthia Termes: $65, shows why the International Style, done right, is so attractive, when some kind of structure, whether from acids, tannins, or both, balances opulent, upfront fruit, as do lovely, secondary notes of cedar, smoke, and spice.

Starters: $12 to $20, mains: $30 to $38, desserts: $8 to $10.


by John Mariani

350 South County Road

    For all its conservative traditions, Palm Beach residents are as eager as visitors  to hit the newest restaurants and bars in town, and the brand new 160-seat Būccan has been packing them in since opening in January, at the start of the high season.  Yet even now, well past the spring and into the sweltering Florida summer, the place is still jammed every night, as I found out on a recent Friday visit.

    I made a special trip up from Miami just to eat at Būkkan principally because I have so admired chef-partner Clay Conley's cooking in the past when he was at Azul in Miami, where he was doing some of the most refined cuisine in the city. Here at Būccan (a word that refers to a Caribbean grill-like apparatus, a progenitor of a barbecue) he is going far more casual with what he calls a "Progressive American Grill."

         The room is done up in sandy colors, with lots of soft pillows, couches and banquettes, muted but consistent lighting that allows you to see everyone coming and going, the whole of it done with accents of copper, stone, and mercury glass. Tables are polished copper and wood.  It all fits nicely into contemporary Palm Beach with a distinctly casual feel that draws people from the area, the oldtimers  in Lily Pulitzer and Ralph Lauren, the younger generation in Versace and Tommy Hilfiger, with scads of women who dress to the nines here. Deep tans, from beach,  booth, spray, or bottle, seem de rigueur.

         Clay (below) and his crew turn out food at a furious pace, starting with tapas-like pinchos of cheeses, hamachi sashimi with chilies, really delicious tuna poke with coconut, gingered carrot, and jalapeno, and a succulent, sweet petite lobster roll. Under the “Crispy Flour & Water” category, the menu offers whipped ricotta ravioli (too soft) with truffle butter, sweet peas, and a Port syrup, as well as spinach-tomato gnocchi with crispy prosciutto.  The Thai beef salad is better than most I've had in Thai storefronts.

         But the grill is clearly the centerpiece here, and the woodfire-roasted mushroom-Gruyère-onion pizza with a black truffle vinaigrette  comes forth from that fearsome oven just right, crisp and bubbly, everything well melded.  Popular grill items like tender octopus with creamy tabbouleh and black garlic, and barbecued quail with a delectable Cheddar biscuit and irresistible creamed corn with bacon are really good. The lamb scottaditti--which means
“finger burners”--were not as small as they are in Italy or Spain where you pick them up with your fingers; nevertheless the meat is  of excellent quality, served with a spicy harissa sauce. Shortrib empanadas are not to be missed, with a salsa criolla and aji amarillo chile.  For something different and of the season right now, try the bacon-wrapped local peaches with an orange-finger glaze, blue cheese and greens—the epitome of Floridian wholesomeness done with real flair.

         There are large plates too, about five of them, and I highly recommend them as well, including a yellowtail snapper with bok choy, green curry and white rice, a very juicy rendition with good flavor components.
    There are only five desserts, each likely to add a muffin top to a bikini, but they are worth the extravagance, especially the tangy-sweet Florida Key lime tart with yuzu and whipped cream, and the peach and blueberry crisp with almonds and ginger ice cream.
     Būkkan is clearly filling the summer season laziness with both an enticing nightlife and dinner, and Clay seems to have hit on a formula that will keep the place growing when it opens soon for lunch and brunch.


Būkkan is open nightly for dinner. Small plates $4.50-$15, large plates $15-$30.








by John Mariani


by John Mariani
The hand-cut pastrami on rye at Katz's

If you read the current foodie hipster columns and food dude blogs, you would think that we are in a Golden Age of food carts, pop-up eateries, hamburger stands, sandwich shops, diners, taco stands, and pizzerias.  In fact, the only thing that’s new about any of it is the media hype about well-known chefs and restaurateurs who have deserted or diverted their attention from upscale dining in order to run cheap eateries whose customers will line up for hours to get their hands on a bánh mi sandwich or an artisanal cupcake.

         One thing is clear: Those same types of eateries have always been part of American gastronomy, and in particular NYC’s food landscape, but they were rarely treated with much respect.  Indeed, twenty years ago you would not have found the New York Times or Gourmet Magazine or Bon Appetit singing the praises of a pop-up food truck in Astoria or a hamburger stand in Union Square.  Yet two years ago Travel & Leisure’s pick of 50 Best new restaurants in America included “a hipster BYO nook” called Urban Belly in Chicago, Co. pizzeria and a “barn wood-clad cubby hole” called Txikito in NYC, and a “breakfast and lunch joint” named Brenda’s French Soul Food in San Francisco.
         I am perfectly happy that such establishments get high attention, but the United States of arugula foodie hipsters have developed not just a mania for hole-in-the-wall eateries but have done so by disparaging upscale restaurants that dare to serve food on matched china, tablecloths and silverware in surroundings of stunning décor and menus that go way beyond six types of pork sandwich and eight pizza toppings.
         NYC has always been the crucible for such eateries—with the exception of the original pop-up eatery, the roll-in at night and roll-out in the morning Pioneer Lunch Wagon in Providence, RI, back in 1872.  The first pizzeria in America, and still one of the very best, is G. Lombardi’s, opened on Spring Street in 1905.  As of 1832 NYC’s had a Street Spa that dispensed eight flavors of soda, and Yorktown was lined with wurst-and-beer houses, prefiguring today’s gastropubs. The Automat began in Philadelphia, but flourished in NYC: by 1939 there were 40 of them around town.

    NYC didn’t invent the hot dog but Nathan’s in Coney Island perfected it, and theirs is still the most delicious frank in town.  Jewish immigrants gave the city its delicatessens like Katz’s on Houston Street where sandwiches are piled high with hand-cut pastrami that has never been improved on.  Dim sum parlors have been part of Chinatown’s ethos for a hundred years, and in the 1950s, immigrant Puerto Ricans opened coffee shops and eateries on the West Side, sometimes combing their offerings with Chinese items, a sub-genre called Chino-Latino. Harlem storefronts have been dishing up fried chicken since the 1920s, and Russians really did run tea rooms.

         One magazine that has, almost from the start, covered all such places is New York, whose current issue’s cover story is “Eat Cheap” by Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, which includes a story called “Devouring Queens: One Couple’s Search for the Best Sichuan, Thai, Korean, Indian, Mexican, [etc.] in the City’s Ethnic-Food Mecca.”   This shouldn’t be surprising since from the magazine’s inception in 1968, Milton Glaser and Jerome Snyder continued their “Underground Gourmet” column in its pages, writing, when the driving force behind it was that the restaurants were cheap—at first two dollars or less, as low as fifty cents.
        There were 101 restaurants in the columnists’ collection in book form (below), including Focacceria on the Lower East Side, Gefen’s Dairy on 7th Avenue, Tel Aviv on East Broadway, and the Belmore Cafeteria on Park Avenue South.

      Glaser and Snyder wrote, “No city equals New York in its fantastic assortment of good, cheap restaurants. . . . Ethnic restaurants are knowledgeable about their national cuisine and establish the standards of their indigenous eating places.  A Hungarian restaurant run by a Hungarian and frequented by the residents of a Hungarian community will in variably serve a food bowl of goulash at the right price.  . . . The cheap, good restaurant, ethnic or not, is an indispensable part of the character of New York and, like other treasured landmarks, should be preserved.”
         Explicit in those statements is the answer to contemporary food writers who insist chefs and cooks trained in high-end kitchens will invariably turn out food better than those ethnic cooks who learned their craft from decades, even centuries of culinary tradition. Most of the places Glaser and Snyder wrote about are long gone, though some, like Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery and the Pink Tea Cup are still around.
         The problem these days is that the restaurants so ecstatically hyped by the food media can be anything but cheap.  A curry lobster roll at Miss Lily’s on Houston Street will run you $18,  a diavola pizza at 900 Degrees in the West Village on goes for $18, and a pulled pork platter at Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg is $14.95. Have an appetizer, dessert, and drinks for two, and you’re looking at a $70 bill.
         I’m glad all these places exist and I’d eat at any of them when I’m in the mood for food I can’t get at Le Bernardin or Del Posto.  But NYC has always has been blessed with hundreds of out-of-the-way or smack in-the-way restaurants that exemplify not a melting pot but a stew pot of world cultures.  And it has been that way since the Gilded Age when NYC welcomed millions of immigrants with open arms and plenty of opportunities.


by Christopher Mariani

Spain's Rail Sytem

Las Ramblas, Barcelona

     I recently returned from Spain where I visited Madrid, went on to the lively city of Barcelona, made my way south to Valencia and finally back north to Madrid before flying home to New York. This destination triangle is a terrific way to experience three distinctly unique cities.

    Madrid, the capital, is packed with beautiful architecture, a newly constructed over-the-highway lush green park and charming little neighborhoods where you can sit outside, enjoy a glass of wine and grab a bite to eat. Barcelona, a shopper’s paradise, is a dynamic city  right on the Eastern coastline of Spain, fueled by the city’s youth, full of tasty little tapas restaurants and chic outdoor cafés. Valencia is a culturally rich city known for its stunning cathedrals, magnificent museums and a traditional dish called paella, slightly disappointing. If only the cuisine of Spain embraced garlic and spiciness, oh what a difference it would make. 

    All three cities are worth a visit but they are not exactly close to one another. Madrid sits almost directly in the middle of Spain, Barcelona on the Northeastern corner of the vast country and Valencia, a good 200 plus miles south of Barcelona, also directly on the coastline. The question is, how does one get from city to city with luggage, without paying astronomical fees and in a very short period of time.

    The answer, I found, is easy: AVE, the high-speed rail that is part of Spain’s rail system, RENFE. I had always heard amazing testimonials regarding European railway systems, but it was not until this trip to Spain that I understood exactly why. Four words wrap up the railway experience: pleasant, comfortable, efficient and clean.  

    After touring Madrid, where I spent one night at the Intercontinental Madrid, my next stop was Barcelona. I woke up at 6 am for a 7 am departure and jumped in a cab heading towards the Atocha Madrid Train Station. Upon arrival I witnessed a bustling station filled with thousands of men and women getting ready for daily commutes to other cities around Spain. I found my way to the terminal and prior to boarding I grabbed a cup of coffee from the station’s café Ciao Restaurante. Twenty or so minutes before departure I was told I could board the RENFE train. Once onboard I took a look around and was delighted to see my quarters were extremely clean and well kept, all seats designed with ample leg room (keep in mind I’m 6'1") and giant windows to gaze out of once en route.

    Traveling first class, I was immediately offered a selection of newspapers and magazines, asked if I would like any water and given a genuine welcome from a very pretty young lady. Once out of the station, departing exactly on schedule,  unlike our wonderful train system here in the States, the sun’s light filled the train car and we picked up speed in a hurry. According to the onboard speedometer, once out of the city, we were cruising towards Barcelona at speeds upwards of 290 kilometers (approximately 172 mph) and you don’t feel a damn thing. The train seems to glide through the countryside of Spain as if floating above the steel rails below. There was almost no noise from the engine, just a peaceful hum in the background.

    Just a few minutes into our travel I was handed a breakfast menu followed shortly by a breakfast tray filled with coffee, orange juice, an omelet, a selection of bread and lots of jam. The food was no better than that found on a mediocre airline but it was still a nice touch. After a few chapters of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, I drifted off to sleep after reclining my chair, and two hours later I woke up in Barcelona as the train quietly pulled into the station.

    In Barcelona we checked into the Hotel Claris and had a very fine lunch at the Mandarin Oriental. That evening we walked until we found a cozy little tapas restaurant and ordered almost everything on the menu, twice. In the morning it was off to Valencia.

    Out of the three train rides taken while in Spain, the Barcelona to Valencia trip was by far my favorite. The view is magnificent. Imagine, for two hours straight, looking out onto the ocean on one side and a gorgeous green landscape on the other. I probably should have slept but instead I took tons of pictures and stared out at the coastline while drinking a double espresso inside the bar car. It was blissful and the natural beauty of Spain will never leave my memory.  

    When traveling through Spain, the AVE railway system is clean, quiet, efficient and best of all, nothing like the embarrassing railway systems found throughout America (although the Northeast does have nice trains). The beauty of traveling through Europe is that it is so easy. You are more than welcome to stand on long security lines at the airport, I’d rather take the train. Let’s see who gets there first.


Rail Europe Inc., the largest distributor of European rail products in North America, represents more than 35 railroads and provides train travel in most European countries, offering the widest range of passes and point-to-point rail tickets.  Rail Europe provides an efficient, cost and time-effective experience by letting customers purchase tickets and plan travel details in advance. Not only providing effortless access to the places you want to visit around your base country, but ease of travel to up to four of its neighbors.

    Choice of countries include: Austria, Benelux (includes Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands), Bulgaria, Croatia/Slovenia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro/Serbia, Norway,  Portugal, Republic of Ireland (includes Northern Ireland), Romania, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Great Burgundies Need Not Cost a Fortune
by John Mariani

The City of Beaune in Burgundy, France

        The oft-repeated, useless advice by many in the business and media to fledgling wine drinkers just to “drink what you like,” in the hopes they will at some point move away from five-dollar plonk to ten-dollar plonk and eventually start to appreciate much better wines. Such advice has about as much effectiveness as telling a kid who reads Harry Potter books that he will eventually graduate to Dostoevsky.

         My advice to the budding wine enthusiast is to go out and buy a very good wine that is typical of its type, thereby having a standard by which to measure other wines, or, to carry the literary metaphor further, give a person Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway and they’ll probably never go back to Barbara Cartland and Steig Larsson.

         Thus, were I to recommend an introduction to fine cabernet sauvignon, I’d recommend a third- or fourth cru bordeaux or a Napa Valley estate in the $30-$50 range. For a premium Italian wine, a barolo or barbaresco.  When it comes to chardonnay and pinot noir, however, I’d shy away from recommending big, flashy, oaky California examples and instead focus on French burgundies. 

The problem is, the very best burgundies are out of reach for most consumers—a bottle of Romanée-Conti is running about $10,000—and, unlike the wines of bordeaux, which come from single estates, a single vineyard burgundy may be owned by many negoçiants (merchants) who buy the grapes, must, or wine then make their own blends bottled under their own label.

Becoming familiar with obscure burgundy negoçiants is a lifelong project, but many well-established companies like Bouchard Pere & Fils, Louis Jadot, Domaine Leroy, and Joseph Drouhin are not just readily available in the global market but produce a wide range of consistently good wines, including many of the most illustrious and expensive.

So on Father’s Day this year, I celebrated by opening two Joseph Drouhin bottlings, a 2009 Meursault ($45.50) and a 2009 Morey-Saint-Denis ($50), the first with spaghetti with a basil pesto sauce, the latter with a grilled veal chop. These are wines of enormous refinement, not to be drunk without food, and they vividly reminded me what I how distinctive Burgundian chardonnay and pinot noir can be.

The Meursault’s chardonnay grapes are picked by hand in various selected vineyards from “trusted growers.” They are then gently pressed and aged nine to ten months, using only 30 percent new oak barrels, so that the subtlety of the wine remains and the complexity of the fruit itself is revealed both in the nose over the palate, with a creamy finish that is quintessential chardonnay.

Morey-Saint-Denis is located on the Côte de Nuits between Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny, and only garnered its own appellation in 1935.  Relative to its more famous neighbors, which have grand cru status, Morey-Saint-Denis wines are generally less expensive than them yet express the same lush virtues of the best pinot noir grapes. Again, Drouhin draws from its partner vineyards with very low yields in order to “reveal every nuance of the terroir,” as well as deep color and lilac-like bouquet.

Using 20 percent new oak, Drouhin’s bottling spends 14 to 18 months in barrel, blended after extensive tastings of each one. I might well let the wine age a year or more, but at this point, on a summer’s night, it could not have been a better expression of great but affordable pinot noir.

   Drouhin is also a fine representative of French vineyards’ 21st century attention to biological and biodynamic principles of cultivation to limit the amount of chemicals in the vineyards, using instead natural predators to control spiders and compost from organic matter instead of fertilizers. Under CEO Frederic Drouhin, the 131-year-old company, with 73 hectares (182.5 acres) in Burgundy, has also switched to bottles that are ten percent lighter, thereby reducing their carbon footprint.

         Those are applaudable commitments, especially since global warming is making it increasingly more difficult to grow the finicky pinot noir grape. But right now, wines like these, in this price category, will set a bar for a novice wine drinker by which to judge fine chardonnay and pinot noir.  And for those already converted long ago, we are reminded by such wines of what it was we loved about them in the first place.


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.



The Riverside Hotel in Evesham, England, is offering a complete meal for customers' dogs, including
a choice of a soup, chicken-liver parfait, crêpes or home-made fishcakes, rib-eye steak, salmon wellington, pizza or pan-fried chicken supreme, carrot cake, rice pudding and chocolate biscuits. for 9.95 pounds ($16), served in china bowls on a silver platter, both in the dining room or al fresco. “They really seem to enjoy it, although their taste is a bit bland and you really have to go easy on the sugar and salt,” chef Rico Pech told Bloomberg News. “The big dogs will eat anything but the smaller ones are very picky, especially when they’re old."


    In sports, the difference between being a superstar and just an average player is consistency. It's the same thing in the restaurant business. Great restaurants dazzle every day, every table.We're not saying Etna, the cozy new spot in Little Italy, is the Boobie Gibson of restaurants. More like the Mo Williams: very good, most of the time. Chef-owner Peppe Pilumeli's simply prepared Italian and Sicilian dishes are served in a warm atmosphere -- light-amber plastered walls, knickknack-cluttered windowsills and a small, inviting bar.--
Bob Migra, Cleveland Plain Dealer.

 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: THE HIGH LINE IN CHELSEA; BEST BEACH WALKS ON CAPE COD.

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