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  August 14, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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Label for Friel's apple cider, Cheltenham, UK (2010)



Sunlight and Santorini
by John Mariani

New York Corner: Donatella
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Hearth
by Christopher Mariani

Notes From the Wine Cellar: A Rose by Other Names
by Mort Hochstein



by John Mariani
Photos by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

    The image of Santorini is built entirely on romantic notions that its beauty is ancient, its history entwined with the Greek gods, and its attraction for very wealthy people who arrive on yachts and stay for two or three days before hauling anchor for the next Greek island. The fact is, while Santorini has an ancient history, its current attractions have more to do with the canny invention of spanking whitewashed, blue-trimmed structures and a pretty main street thronged with souvenir shops selling everything from Greek statuary  and dolls to key rings and diamonds. You've seen those cascading hillsides on numerous covers of travel magazines, and  there's little to indicate their colors are of recent origin.  A 1984 edition of the authoritative, highly archaeological Les Guides Bleus to Greece doesn't even mention the island.
    Homer, who wrote about northern Greece, said nothing about shrimp-shaped Santorini in the south, where traces of human settlements date to 4,000 B.C. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have always been part of the island's history and changing landscape, but it was a devastating 1956 quake that ironically led to the expansion of tourism, owing to the need to rebuild so many of the island's villages, and in the process, homes and  new hotels (many illegally constructed).  This allowed the neighborhoods to be developed with extensions (hypóskapha) into the palisades-like hillsides, looking out over not Homer's "wine dark sea" but the deep blue southern Aegean.
    If you sail into Santorini on a calm August morning, the mountaintops of the island glow like copper in the sun; the gods would look small on these heights of creamy pomace strata. Once on the island,
called Thira by the Greeks but named by the Romans after Saint Elena, it is best to hire a guide for a morning tour of the major sites, which are in fact few, and it's well worth a visit to one of the 13 wineries now on Santorini, including the well-known Boutari in Megalochori, which makes about 900,000 bottles a year, most of it sold on the island, much of it made from imported grapes.  The indigenous grapes are all pre-phylloxera, never affected by the bug that killed off most of Europe's vineyards in the 19th century. 
Most of the food and water on the island is also brought in from Greece and Crete, which adds to the cost of just about everything.
    Santorini is therefore very expensive, especially during the season, and, unlike in the rest of Greece, you do not bargain with shopkeepers on their quoted price.  There are hotels and lodgings, restaurants and nightclubs--Koo and Tithora are still popular--around the island and each year new ones become the hot new thing for the tourist crowd, whose average stay is only two to five days.  Otherwise, there's not much to do here.  Most activity centers around Fira, the capital, centered by the town square,
Plateia Theotokopoulou, intersected by the main shopping street, 25 Martiou (25th March), from which other smaller boutique-crammed streets and alleys weave. Jewelry is one of the big draws here, and I tried to dissuade my wife from lingering too long after I found the price of an orange juice at a local cafe was $12.
    You can spend plenty on cocktails--at least ten euros--and restaurants take full advantage of the tourist season, which, despite Greek's current shambles of an economy, does not seem to flag, thanks especially to the cruise ships that dock here  daily.  I asked my very well-informed tour guide where we might find a really good taverna without paying a fortune, and she looked over her shoulder and said, "Right there: Ouzeri, it's where all we guides eat and it is the best."  Tour guides are not always the best barometers in such matters--many get paid by the restaurants or shopkeepers--but I knew, after several hours together, that she would point us directly to what I sought, and it proved to be wonderfully the case.
    Ouzeri (left) is a delight, with indoor and outdoor tables, just in back of the charming Cathedral (above).  The owner and most of the waiters speak good English, and the menu is a screed of Greek taverna favorites, with particular emphasis on fish.  (Note well: After millennia when Greeks tended to overcook their fish on the grill, the contemporary chefs seem to have lightened up so the seafood has more succulence, and less olive oil than it used to.)  Our full meal of appetizers, main courses, dessert, wine and water came to 69.50 euros (about $100) for the two of us, and we ate lavishly, beginning with the fresh bitter greens called horta, sweet white eggplant with tomato sauce and feta, favas with capers and chopped onions, and cheese with sesame, sweetened with a cherry sauce.  For the main course we choose two different grilled fish,  with an white assyrtiko wine, and ended off with sweet Greek coffee.
    (By the way, the three ways to order coffee are sketo, without sugar; metrio, medium sweet, and glyro, very sweet.)
    In the afternoon the dry northern August wind called the metelmi blows hard across the choppy waters and over the hillsides of Santorini, which for some is a good reason to take a long nap, especially since, like most Greeks, the Santorinians dine late.  Sunsets here are as glorious as any in the Aegean, and if you have sailed to Santorini and then must sail away, you may recall the words of the 5th century B.C. Greek poet Praxilla when he wrote, "Finest of all the things I have left is the sun,/Next to that the brilliant stars and the face of the moon."


by John Mariani

184 8th Avenue (near 19th Street)

    Donatella Arpaia came into the restaurant business on long coattails: her father is Lello Arpaia, one of the  master restaurateurs of NY-style Italian cuisine, on admirable display at Fiorini, on which I heaped high praise  a few weeks ago.
    After running high-end, highly-regarded restaurants like Dona and Anthos in midtown, and a trattoria also named Dona on the east side, Donatella (below) has now given her whole name to a Neapolitan restaurant that puts much focus on its oven and particularly its pizzas, but you should not stop at that category on the menu.

    She and Executive Chef Jarrett Appell spent three months in Naples training with master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia last summer before opening the restaurant, and the gold-tiled oven itself, made from volcanic salt, sand and rock from Mount Vesuvius, was commissioned from  Stefano Ferrara of Italy’s legendary oven-making Ferrara family.
    Donatella  says most people come for the pizzas, at least the first time, but the Chelsea locals come back for the full array of the menu.  To get those pizzas out of the way, let me say that they are requisite for a visit here--extremely crisp, perfectly textured pies, bubbly, just the right pliancy, with full flavored tomato and cheeses. They offer a classic margherita, along with one with smoked buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, sausage, and rapini; another with charred and marinated mushrooms, smoked buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, and basil; and her own favorite "Donatella" with  piennolo del Vesuvio variety tomatoes with stracciatella cheese, arugula and basil.
    For antipasti, do not miss one of the best eggplant alla parmigiana (left) renditions I've ever tasted--simply fabulous. Donatella might grow rich selling her braised veal meatballs, which she also serves at Dona uptown from a cart, and there are crostini with anchovies and other condiments to nibble on.  Then turn to the pastas--all in the Southern Italian style, like paccheri alla genovese with braised beef  and sweet onion sugo, and parmigiano reggiano; lasagne di carnevale; and  spaghettini with sea urchin, white wine, fennel, and cherry tomatoes.  There are main courses, too, from orata in "crazy water" with white wine and tomato, and a roast of the day.
    Pastry chef
Andrea Jarosh holds up her end with traditional desserts like the crispy, million-layered sfogliatelle riccia with semolina, and orange,  and torta pazza, a chocolate cake with  milk chocolate and hazelnut mousse, hazelnut praline and gelato.  Oh, and don't forget the cannoli!
    Donatella's wine list is a delight, since the Neapolitan/Campanian theme is carried straight through, with all bottlings indigenous to that sunny region.

       It's a chummy, wholly unpretentious place, one long room with a bar, simple chairs and tables, and the noise level, albeit it on a recent Monday night, was tolerable.  The ever ebullient Donatella is likely to be there, unless she has just delivered her baby--due in three weeks! With that Neapolitan blood in her veins, though, she might well be back at work within a week.

Donatella is open for lunch and dinner every day. Antipasti $8-$13, pizzas $10-$23, pastas and main courses $15-$24.



by Christopher Mariani

403 East 12th St. (corner of 1st Ave)



    After spending the last few months dining around major cities throughout the United States, it is obvious to me that NYC has a great deal of culinary competition. Cities like San Francisco, Dallas, and Chicago are no pushovers when it comes to their restaurant scenes, but NYC still reigns as the champion owing to its enormous number of excellent restaurants run by some of the country’s best  and most influential chefs like masters Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, along with an abundance of gastronomic innovations fueled by some of the city’s most talented, including Michael White, Alfred Portale, Daniel Humm and Marco Canora.
     This past week I dined with a few new friends at Hearth on the Lower East Side and had the opportunity to try almost the entire menu, which is small and to the point, offering guests house-made charcuteire, a handful of tasty salads, three meats, three fish, three pastas and the option for a pre-fixed menu named “Honoring the Pig” for $48 (an additional $22 with wine pairings).
            The restaurant sits right on the corner of Twelfth Street and First Avenue, in a section of Manhattan packed with first-rate ethnic eateries ranging from Thai to Lebanese to Indian and much more. Look closely when walking by because you may miss Hearth. The restaurant is small with large glass windows that look directly into the bar. To the left, upon entering, sits a small dining room elegantly designed, showing no signs of its nine-year existence, with polished wooden tables, rustic brick walls and a warm rosy tone throughout the entire space. Assessing service based on one visit is not ideal but our waiter was an awful reflection of an otherwise outstanding dining experience. Thankfully Canora’s cooking was so well executed that the poor service was somewhat overlooked.
            For starters, especially if dining with a big group, order the charcuterie platter (above), a nice bottle of wine and enjoy. The wooden platter comes to the table topped with thick cuts of cured duck breast, thinly sliced smoked ham, mortadella, a creamy chicken liver pate, coppa, chopped smoked rabbit sausage, gorgeous carvings of glistening slices of lardo slowly melting on top of warm, thick-cut Italian bread sautéed in olive oil and a side of beer mustard to be spread on everything.
        For salads, tiny white anchovies are laid on top of a tall mound of arugula and fennel mixed together with bread crumbs and pickled onions in a light dressing, easily one of the best starters on the menu. There is also a soft burrata cheese plate and a surprisingly good warm vegetable salad filled with beans, summer squash, red onion and chopped potato coated with olive oil, salt and pepper. Most appetizers at Hearth can be found at a number of restaurants around town,  but very few use such fine ingredients to start with. And when simplicity is your kitchen’s theme, you’d better use only the best ingredients available, which Canora (left) does.
            For main courses, order any one of the three pastas, especially the newest edition, the canestri alla norma and you will be tasting one the top pasta dishes currently being served in the city. The canestri alla norma mixes together San Marzano tomatoes, eggplant, a touch of fresh ricotta cheese and olive oil. There’s also the maccheroni, served with a tender pork ragù, fresh peas and ricotta, a huge favorite among our table of established food writers and successful restaurant owners. The gnocchi, a dish that changes in preparation throughout the year like the rest of the menu, depending on what is in season, though slightly overcooked, was that night topped with Australian  black truffles. Canora’s famous veal and riccota meatballs are as good as any in NYC--moist, tender and lighter than what you would typically find at most Italian restaurants.
            The dessert menu is six options large and offers a rich mascarpone cheesecake that sits on a buttery almond crunch, a blueberry cobbler topped with crème fraiche and a very addictive, velvety yogurt sorbet.
            Any restaurant in NYC that is still successful after nine years of operation has accomplished what most others have not. Hearth owes all of its praise to chef Marco Canora, who can still be found cooking nightly, a practice rare these days with other chefs of his elite caliber. Canora, among many other prominent chefs, is why NYC is one of the greatest food cities in the world, a title I challenge anyone to dispute.


 To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



by Mort Hochstein


    I knew the rosés I tasted would be better than good. Our hosts from Provence said they represented the best of the region and there were no disappointments among that   select group.  But I hardly perceived that I was moving into  a price range more normally inhabited by Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Then I   saw the suggested retail tabs, topping off at $99.99 and bottoming out at $24.
     Wow!  I tend to think of Provence and its hundreds of rosés as inexpensive, go-to, easy drinking summertime wines. I’ve  enjoyed  many bottles priced in that sweet area between $10 and $20 and ,  of course,  I’ve also found  many that were   disappointing. Not these, however.  The selection reflected developments in the vineyards and wineries of Provence. There are improved vineyard practices, more modern facilities and more skill in winemaking, something that is happening now in all the world’s vineyards.  It’s as if Provence     were    an emerging wine  region, not one whose  first vines went down with the arrival of  Greek traders who came to the Marseilles region in 600 BC.   The wine industry in those coastal vineyards has flourished for centuries, though it has never been as glorified as Bordeaux, Burgundy and    the Rhône.
       For years, we’ve   relied on the rosés of Provence on our summertime table, often to bring back memories of pleasant outdoor dining    in the sun drenched, weather-blessed     picturesque villages of southern France. But it is only in the past half dozen years that we have come to see rose’ as the French seem to see it, as a wine for more than one season.
     The French must know something. They consume more rosé than white and we on this side of the ocean are   starting to follow suit.    In a fast moving tend that started with the new century,    rosé started to become more  popular in United Sates, culminating   in 2010 when imports of  wine  from Provence, primarily rosé,   shot up 132% in value and 85% in volume, compared to the previous year.     Gone are the days,   French marketers  note happily, when  we lumped dry rosés with that misbegotten category, blush wines, which are characterized by high levels of residual sugar.
     True, rosé is made with red, or black, or purple grapes, but unlike blush wines, red and white varieties are not mixed. The dry rosé wines of Provence  are blends of the region’s traditional grapes, grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, cinsault and the lesser known tibouren and rolle.
      Citrus, which is not a common flavor in rosé, is prominent   in  Lampe de Méduse from Château Sainte Roseline,($28.00), taking its earthiness and   citrus tones from tibouren. Tibouren  is a difficult grape,  easily damaged  by   plant diseases, but desirable for the flavor and earthiness  it brings to a blend.  The Meduse is a light wine, with good length and works  well as an aperitif and as at our lunch with a tomato and cheese tarte tatin and a niçoise salad. Our second wine was Le Secret de Léoube from Château Léoube ($32.00). It is half and half  grenache and cinsault, with added muscle coming from a 20% dose of  cabernet sauvignon.  The de Leoube was a bit  heavy for the salad, but did work nicely with the tarte, which was bolstered by   bean and tapenade accompaniment.
         Before trying that wine, we sampled  one  I favored, Rosé et Ôr, from Château Minuty ($40.00) That’s hardly in my usual price range, but the Minuty pays off with intense fruit aromas and taste and a lingering  impression on the palate. It had to be strong to match up with crisp and cheesy gougeres, a traditional French meal teaser.
  The kitchen at Benoit  turns out a terrific duck breast. However, watching my diet,  I   chose  a simple but very fresh halibut, and stole  a lusty slice from my table mate. The halibut and the duck were paired with  the heavy hitter of the day , 2007  Château d’Ésclans Garrus  ($99.99) and also with a the least expensive wine of the day, Château Margui  ($24.00).  I’d like to say I preferred the Margui, a very fresh and lychee and lime tinted nose, but I really went for the d’Ésclans. It was light and lovely, highly aromatic, came from 80 year old vines and spent 10 months in barrels, aging beautifully. Still I am a long way from parting with $99 for a light rosé, when the region offers so many good wines at a more approachable price level.
     Most of the wines were light colored but the 2009 Mas Negrel de Cadanet, ($34.) was brick red, a shade darker than    the pink we associate with rosé. It is on the brute side with vanilla and crème brûlée, even candied fruit flavors, adding up to a complex wine mated well with a trio of excellent   cheeses.
  Tasting those choice wines was a venture into the upper levels of the rosé world. It will, however, take me a long while to move my sights beyond the more affordable price range where I have been, for the  most part,  well rewarded by  the rosés I bring home.



''I have to go to China.' I told people this in the way I might say, "` need to insulate my crawl space' or, `I've got to get these moles looked at.' That's the way it felt, though. Like a chore. What initially put me off was the food. I'll eat it if the alternative means starving, but I've never looked forward to it, not even when it seemed exotic to me. . . .On our first night in Chengdu, we joined a group of four for dinner . . .  `I've taken the liberty of ordering us some tofu, some mushrooms and some duck tongues,' said the western woman sitting across from me. "Do you trust me to keep ordering, or is there anything in particular you might like?" I looked at her thinking, "You whore!" Catherine was English and had lived in China for close to 20 years. I figured the duck tongues were a sort of test, so I made it a point to look unfazed. Excited even. When I was eventually forced to eat one, I found that it actually wasn't so bad. The only disconcerting part was the shape, particularly the base, from which dangled tentacle-like roots. This reminded one that the tongues had not been cut off but, rather, yanked out, possibly with pliers. Of course the duck was probably dead by then, wasn't it? It's not as if they'd jerk out the tongue and then let it go, traumatized and quackless but otherwise whole. It was while eating my second duck tongue that the man at the next table hacked up a loud wad of phlegm and spat it on to the floor.  `I think I'm done,' I said."--David Sedaris, The Guardian (July 15).



Sometimes chef and foulmouthed TV star Gordon Ramsay has launched a new line of kitchen dinnerware, cooking utensils and small kitchen appliances at Kmart.


 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: L.A. in Summer; Maine

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.

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