Virtual Gourmet

  October 16, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    ARCHIVES    |    ABOUT US    |    BOOKS    |    CONTACT

The November issue of Esquire Magazine contains my annual (27th year) article on the Best New Restaurants in America for 2011, along with a dozen  "Not to Be Missed," Hostess of the Year Hanna Mary Marshall (left), Best Cookbooks, and much more. And see the report below on the Esquire party!


Ai Fiori, NYC
Boulud Sud, NYC
Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Chicago
Congress, Austin
Cotogna, San Francisco
Dominique’s, New Orleans
1500˚, Miami Beach
Fiola, Washington DC
Playa, Los Angeles--John Sedlar-Chef of the Year
Towne Stove & Spirits--Boston
Legal Harborside, Boston
Lincoln Ristorante, NYC
Michael Mina, San Francisco--Restaurant of the year
Millesime, NYC
The Pullman, Glenwood Springs, CO
Ray’s & Stark Bar, Los Angeles
Salinas, NYC
Tico, Boston
25 Lusk—San Francisco
Sotto, Los Angeles

Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton, NJ
Tyler Brown, The Capitol Grille, The Hermitage, Nashville, TN
Sachin Chopra, All Spice, San Mateo, CA
Todd Richards, Café at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, GA

Bondir, Cambridge, MA 
El Real, Houston
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
, Charleston, SC 
Lucia, Dallas
Lyon Bouchon, NYC
itizen Public House, Scottsdale, AZ 
Manzo, NYC 
-by-Michel Richard, Tyson’s Corner, VA 
aris Club, Chicago 
Public Kitchen & Bar, Los Angeles 
Virtue Food & Grain
, Alexandria, VA.

 Also this week on
Where to Eat in South Florida Right Now

Why You Can't Get That Dinner Reservation


 DAY TRIPPER: First of a Series

    Big cities demand a traveler's commitment to stay put for several days, or, as has been said of great cities like New York, Rome, London and Paris, if you spend a week there you'll know the city well; if you spend a lifetime, you'll realize how much you don't know. Smaller cities, however, can be visited with pleasure for a day or two, to take in the principal sights and determine if you want to return for a longer stay.  In fact, I find such visits extremely enjoyable and, more often than not, make me hunger for more. This article is the first in a continuing, occasional series I call "Day Trippers," intended to give the reader a quick, broad overview of a city where I was delighted for just a day or two. --John Mariani


by John Mariani

Old Market Square

    "Antwerp," reads Wikipedia's citation, "is a major destination of Belgium in the region of Flanders. The overwhelming friendliness of the people of Antwerp and their innate penchant for good food and good living, combined with their low stress lifestyle, makes it a desirable and relaxing place to visit."
     Now doesn't that sound like the most boring place on earth? Wikipedia goes on: "Renowned for being the world's leading diamond city." Now there's a nifty reason to visit!
    In fact, Antwerp is a city of great beauty, medieval and baroque grandeur, and a modernity that would dwarf such notions in cities like Florence, Lisbon, and everywhere in France outside Paris. It is a city of young people on sensible bicycles, who love their hometown and glide through its every byway, crisscrossing the grand plazas, along the river, through warrens of boutique-lined streets, and not wearing bike helmets.  It is a city where the natives love and take their time with the good life, which includes a deep-seated beer culture and an embrace of both traditional and contemporary cuisines. They love their Belgian chocolates--arguably the best in the world--and their history reflects a solid grounding in business and commerce, along with some empire building.

    The strictly touristic pleasures are many and very varied, beginning with the impressive Cathedral of Our Lady (right), finished in 1351.  Still in the process of being impeccably restored, it is an edifice of soft light, with the usual internal extravagance driven by the  Catholic Church's embrace of those wealthy enough to demand it. In fact, I learned from our guide--a beautiful woman named Carolien Krijnen, whose knowledge and personality seemed to sum up the proud spirit of the city--that because rich people were buried in graves under the marble floors of the cathedral, their relatives' eventual burial in the same site required digging up the slabs, which was quite a malodorous experience for the grave diggers, leading the rest of the population, buried in outdoor graveyards, to call the dead people in the church the "stinking rich." The cathedral is decked out with some very impressive Rubens paintings, too.
or those who cannot get enough of the artist's flamboyantly fleshy style, there is also Rubenshuis, Rubens's house.  I also recommend a stop at the Plantin Moretus Museum, the beautifully secluded home of a 16th century bookbinder and printer Christoffel Plantin, now dedicated to a the history of printing.
    Antwerp's historic center and City Hall is Old Market Square (above), built around the famous Gothic and early Renaissance guild houses of merchants, artisans, and city leaders who helped make Belgium exceedingly rich in their day. The buildings' stateliness may reflect the sober-sided business soul of the city, but it is softened by their decorous touches, and in the center is the tall, curious statue of a legend about a terrible giant who repeatedly attached the city, finally vanquished by an improbable Italia
n hero who tore off the giant's huge hands and to this day  holds them up for everyone to see. 
    Ms. Krijnen calls her city of 500,000 inhabitants and 165 nationalities  "a village with an attitude," and you'll connect to that in the main shopping area called the Meir, not far from the train station, where the international designers are located, but the cooler, more stylish and indigenous boutiques are to be found in the artists' district in the south end of the city,
especially along Kammenstraat, where several of those boutiques  even hold wine tastings.  These are hip spots, like Hospital Clothing and Clinic Clothing (it has a dentist's chair inside the door), promoting Belgian designers. Noë by Your (left), which sells "Sex in the City" TV series videos, is known for its signature women's pumps--in 65 colors! There is even a notable Fashion Museum, with shows constantly changing. And don't forget, the impish Smurfs were created in Belgium.
    If you're in town for the weekend, head for the Theaterplein Square market, where you can buy most anything at all.
    Belgians revel in their food and drink with good reason, not least their exquisite chocolates--Günther Watte is a superb shop at 30 Steenhouwersvest--and their crisp, yeasty waffles (created in Ghent) that you find in stalls throughout the city, along with Belgian fried potatoes, doused with any number of toppings, from vinegar to mayonnaise and curry.
    At lunch you might want to nosh on a smos sandwich, whose name means a "mess," the expected outcome of eating multilayers of bread and garnishes. Belgians love their beer and gin (I will have an upcoming story on Belgian beers in a November issue of the Virtual Gourmet), so cafés dot every street. Some of the best known include the old  Den Engel at Grote Market;  Kulminator, with 700+ beers listed; and De Vagant, which carries 300 kinds of jenever, the gin-based spirit of the Benelux countries.
    The city teems with eateries, snack shops, beer halls, cafés, and restaurants of every ethnic stripe (there's even a small Chinatown), many along De Keyserlei near the station.  The oldest restaurant in the city (1750) is the seafood-centric Rooden Hoed, whose six mussel dishes are ranked among the best in this mussel-mad city. In the South End, Famosi Italian restaurant justifies its boast, and it's a pretty hip spot, with a Vespa out front painted with Italian movie stars painted all over it (right).
    We ate that evening at De Groote Witte Arend, another very old spot, dating to 1488 and once a convent, but since 1976 a beer hall and restaurant, now owned by  Tim and Ronald Ferket, who serve up very hearty Belgian fare along with 280 beers. We enjoyed a beer-dark beef stew with potato croquettes, sautéed plaice with mashed potatoes, a loin of pork, and some delicious eel baked in cream.  For dessert there was a crêpe filled with vanilla cream sabayon whipped with Belgian beer.
    And that put a nightcap on our Day Trip to Antwerp. We returned to Hotel O (right),  which is very new and very conveniently located across from the tram stops.  Its owner, however, seems to have decided to be the most modern hotel in Europe, which means he's installed all card keys that must be waved in front of doors and elevators but don't always work, light switches that are very tricky to use, and, at least in our case, a room completely painted black, which might have amused Mick Jagger, but was tough to navigate because the light switches were also in black and the bathroom, too. There was also no closet we could find or hooks on which to hang our clothes.  We did, however, look into our friends' all white room, complete with closet space and a big white bathtub.  That was a very splendid room and if you book at the hotel, ask for one of these brighter rooms.  The staff--all of whom, like everyone in Belgium--speaks perfect English to help you along, and there is a casual brasserie at ground floor offering a good breakfast, included in the room price.
    Were I to return to Antwerp another day--and I must happily would--I'd wile away my time at a slow pace.  It is a great walking city, a city to nosh in, take in a gallery show, sit in a café on a plaza and nibble fried potatoes.   And, since city bicycles may be rented for the day, I'd hop on one and ride down every street and get to know this beautiful city just the way the people of Antwerp know it.




by John Mariani

3 East 52nd Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    An argument might be made that there is really no need to update an article on Le Grenouille. 
    Since opening its doors on December 19, 1962, during a snowstorm, little seems to have changed about all that made it so wonderful in the first place.  True, Charles Masson, the redoubtable French owner of this resolutely French restaurant, passed away in 1975, and his wife Gisele has retired, but their son Charles,
a fine painter whose work hangs here, is still the one to greet you, the one who makes sure the room is spectacularly beautiful and the kitchen willing to carry on the traditions of French classic cuisine. The famously grand flower display is still primped and changed constantly, the red banquettes are clean as candy apples, and the mirrors gleam and visually double the space.
    Still, while La Grenouille (which its society habitués call "the Frog Pond") seems always the same, under Charles the Younger all has evolved, almost imperceptibly, but the menu is more interesting that it ever had been, and there are two new chefs, Noah Metnick and Colin Whiddon, 
behind the swinging kitchen doors; then again, they'd been working here for some time before their elevation.  Thus, good enough reason for a return visit and an assessment of how everything's going.
    Masson the Elder had been on the staff of the original Le Pavillon restaurant at the 1939 World's Fair, and afterwards at the restaurant of the same name when manager Henri Soulé re-located it in Manhattan, where Le Pavillon set a mold--some would say a straitjacket--for haute French cuisine and haughtiness that affected all the others to follow, like 
La Chaumiére, La Chansonette, Laurent, Le Marmiton, Le Madrigal, and La Grenouille, all looking quite alike, all with the same rarely changing menu. Regulars were favored, the rich and famous fawned over, while many people merely interested to dine at such places were too often snubbed.
    Over the years the clientele aged, some died off, and  began to change, as did a more egalitarian approach to hospitality, with Charles the Younger insisting
long-entrenched, complacent captains and waiters adapt to new times, not least to attract a younger clientele who had no patience for Gallic hauteur.  The once brassy-green colors have been toned down by golden lighting and flattering tones in the dining room and they fall with soft benediction on everyone; the greeting is cordial, and Mr. Masson is clearly delighted you have chosen to dine at his family's restaurant. Upstairs (left) a 70-seat private dining room is one of the loveliest in the city, with fireplace and walls of wine, and at lunch offers a three-course $36 "ardoise" (written on a slate, as shown below, left) meal.

    The New York food critics have overall been very generous in their idolatry of La Grenouille, as much for the décor as for the food, even though there has never been a celebrated chef in the kitchen; indeed, the restaurant's chefs were barely ever known at all. The Times would rave about boiled shrimp in tomato dressing and "masterpieces" like poached chicken with champagne cream sauce. Ironically, the Michelin Guide has never seen fit to award La Grenouille even a single star, giving just three forks-and-spoons ("very comfortable"), calling it the "Judi Dench of French dining."    
    My own affection for the restaurant falls somewhere between the Michelin's cool regard and the  multi-star effusions of the NYC media who lavish praise on dishes that can easily be found just as impeccably prepared at dozens  of other NYC restaurants, French or not, many happily going by the name bistro, brasserie, even gastropub.  For instance, there is foie gras terrine with brioche; a poached egg with leeks; lobster and tarragon ravioli; Dover sole with mustard sauce; filet mignon; and lamb chops with thyme--nothing not on the menu at restaurants of lesser status, including Millesime, Benoit, Balthazar, Spotted Pig, and many others.   Compared to other deluxe French restaurants like Le Bernardin, Daniel,  and Le Cirque, the menu at La Grenouille has not tried particularly hard to keep up with the evolution--I did not say trends--of French or global cuisine.
    That said, it is still one of the most glorious experiences in NYC to dine at La Grenouille and I always look for excuses to do so. One presented itself the other night and I dined with four people, some of whom had never dined there before, duly impressed by the beauty of the surroundings. The place, as always, was packed, with an array of patrons that included white-haired regulars, a few foreigners, and an engaging number of young people obviously celebrating. Most guests were dressed appropriate to the ambiance. Jackets are still required downstairs for gentlemen but not neckties;  Mr. Masson told me that he once lost a table of six people because two of the men turned on their heels when asked to don a house tie or ascot. I cannot speak of all the women's outfits, though I did notice a disquieting pair of red jeans on a woman who should have known better.
    We were presented with a lovely little amuse of carrot and ginger soupo laced with chive oil, while looking over the $98 menu (with a few too many supplements), while the captain (now in suit and tie, no longer tuxedo) told us of the selection of oysters for the evening along with a single plat du jour,  a veal chop with pearl onions, chanterelles, thyme bay leaves and lardons.  As an appetizer, I ordered a silky terrine de foie gras edged in pale yellow fat, with two big slabs of toasted housemade brioche. (By the way, the five of us had to share just three pats of butter set on our table.) My friend had the fresh, seared foie gras dashed with Calvados apple brandy and served with slices of sweet autumn apples. A nicely al dente risotto came with wild mushrooms.
    In between courses the chef sent out an unexpected tartare of fluke (right) with thinly sliced cucumbers, radishes, a zing of lime juice, the crunch of pistachios,  and a small dollop of caviar--simple and perfect at that point in the meal, especially since it preceded my impeccably cooked Dover sole on the bone à la meunière, which the staff will happily de-bone, if you like, served with haricots verts.  And therein lies a modern urban tale: the busboys wear these odd white caddy's caps, the reason being that the NYC Health Department denotes anyone who prepares food a "food handler," who must wear hats and plastic gloves, which applies to those busboys because they might be called on to bone a fish or slice salmon.  Good reason to march on City Hall, I'd say.
     Oxtail was braised in Burgundy wine to a deep red-brown hue, caramelized with onions and vegetables, the kind of bistro-style dish you might not expect at La Grenouille but rendered with gusto. The special of the night veal chop was of fine flavor.   Other offerings on the menu include loup de mer with Swiss chard, barley risotto, onion soubise and lemon; veal kidney with a classic mustard sauce, flamed in cognac; and magret of duck with figs and turnips (years ago this last would have been roast duckling, carved tableside by a captain in a tux).
    La Grenouille has always been known for its perfect soufflés---and the captain will announce at the beginning of your evening that they are made to order and carry a supplement to the prix fixe.  Frankly, I find this a bit outdated on two counts: any trained cook knows how to prep soufflés so that they don't take a lot of time or effort to make, and, therefore, do not justify a supplement for a dish of flavored eggs and sugar.  Nevertheless, La Grenouille's are nonpareil--practice makes perfect and
I reckon since opening in 1962 they must have made several hundred thousand of them.  We chose chocolate and caramel, with crème anglaise. Individual tarte Tatins were stubby, little tightly-packed, caramelized apple cakes, succulent to the core.  The pastry chef is Matt Lambie.
    La Grenouille's wine list, overseen by sommelier Guillaume Chamot-Rook, is of good size, 220 labels, richest in French bottlings, of course, but not cheap, especially the whites.  We put ourselves in Mr. Masson's hands to choose for us--some of us having seafood, others meat or foie gras--and his choices were excellent, including a Sauternes for the foie gras, a Burgundy for the meats, and, graciously, Champagne for the desserts.
   It was drizzling that night in NYC outside La Grenouille, but if ever I needed a haven from the storm, this is a restaurant where it is the easiest thing in the world not to give a thought to anything else going on in the world.  Its beauty is undeniable, though I'm not sure whether  it is due to extravagant restraint or restrained extravagance.  The room positively glows, the service has great refinement, and, with Mr. Masson always there to greet you, the sense that all is well within the brocade, mirrored world of La Grenouille begins when you push through the doors till the moment you regretfully leave.  But you'll do so with a distinct feeling of great satisfaction, which these days in NYC is not often what it once was.  La Grenouille embraces and wins you over,  like the words in Edith Piaf's signature song "La Vie en Rose,"

        Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose.   

La Grenouille is open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat.;  Lunch fixed price $45 or $60; Bar menu $16-$28; 3-course ardoise men $36; Dinner $98.



by Christopher Mariani

Esquire Magazine Holds 27th Annual "Best New Restaurants in America"
 Party at Boulud Sud

As another year passes, so does the success of yet another Esquire Best New Restaurants party, always hosted--for 27 years--by food and travel correspondent John Mariani. This year’s party was held at one of the 20 honorees, Daniel Boulud’s Boulud Sud in NYC, for a night of celebration among a group of highly talented chefs from around the country, including  Boulud (with yours truly and John  Mariani, left), Michael White of Ai Fiori, Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante, Lydia Shire of Towne Stove & Spirits, and many more. The annual gala rounds up some of the country’s finest chefs, all within the pages of the November issue of Esquire Magazine. Michael Mina’s namesake restaurant Michael Mina, in San Francisco took home the restaurant of the year award while John Sedlar of Playa in Los Angeles, won the award for chef of the year.
The night kicked off with a grand cocktail reception while Boulud’s handsome wait staff served up some terrific canapés—sea urchin and crab tartine over crunchy crackers, vitello tonnato served on a spoon, lamb kibbeh and an herb falafel. These delicate hors d’oeuvres were all washed down with wonderful Italian sparkling rosé from Castello Banfi, which also paired their wines with Boulud’s four-course meal throughout the evening, including their marvelous Cum Laude blend of sangiovese, Cabernet, merlot and syrah. 
Also in attendance was French actress and vigneron Carole Bouquet, who graciously brought her Sangue d'Oro wine, a sweet Passito di Pantelleria she had us try with the savory appetizers.
Once seated,
Esquire’s editor-in-chief, David Granger, began the evening with a short speech thanking and congratulating the participants before handing over the microphone to Mariani, who would spend part of the night awarding each chef from the 2011 best new restaurants list. As usual, Mariani made clear that he picks these restaurants primarily on chef-centered restaurants, the food and the distinctive flavors, along with a comical but true list of what Esquire frowns upon, like “Restaurants where any cast member from `Jersey Shore’ would be allowed to dine” and “Restaurants where there is a beets-and-goat’s-cheese salad on the menu 365 days a year.”

Carole Bouquet, Esquire editor Ryan D'Agostino, and John Mariani
         Boulud continued on with impressive dishes—seared Spanish mackerel with a piquillo vinaigrette; tabbouleh with cauliflower and figs, an appetizer of octopus cooked a la plancha, surrounded by Marcona almonds, arugula and a Jerez vinegar; a main course of spiced Niman Ranch lamb loin served over Algerian eggplant with yogurt and lavash; and finally, a Moroccan mint-chocolate pave with pine nuts and chocolate sorbet.
    Each chef spoke briefly, thanking Esquire and Mariani for the award, expressing their joy to be part of such an elite group of talent. The majority of chefs, unlike so many  “portrayed” on television, do not like socializing with their guests or showing their faces in the dining room. They’d rather speak through their food and stay within the comfort of their kitchens.  So, to have all these chefs come up and speak in front of such an audience of peers and media was a charming reflection of the kind of unpretentiousness that is the true spirit of their professionalism. There were old chefs, new chefs, established chefs, up-and-coming chefs, tall chefs, short chefs, chefs with accents and chefs without Southern drawls. The group chosen for this year’s best new restaurants proves that Esquire picks one of the most eclectic collections of any magazine or rating guide. The beauty of these awards is that you can be a Mom and Pop restaurant and receive the identical award as does someone like Daniel Boulud.
    At the end, Mariani praised French cooking as still the underpinning all modern cuisine, then, noting how Boulud Sud resembles Rick's Café Americaine in the movie "Casablanca," gathered the French chefs and attendees to lead a rendition of the French national anthem, "La Marsellaise." The evening finished across the street with a few bottles of prosecco at Lincoln Ristorante.

John Mariani and Michael White of Ai Fiori

    America is a diverse country with cities, towns, and suburbs that showcase all different types of cuisines and styles, and Mariani does a damn good job of giving them all proper recognition. Above is the official list of “Esquire’s Best New Restaurants for 2011.”


To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to


The Tears of Christ and Tail of the Fox
Now Distinguish Campania’s Wines

by John Mariani

     Nostalgia and pride of place always play a part in the love of regional wines, whether it’s the Loire Valley or the banks of the Rhine. It’s hard not to be in thrall to a local wine when you’re drinking it on the island of Capri overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. But until recently I would be hard put to defend the overall quality of the wines my ancestors drank in Campania, the region of Capri, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast.
        Indeed, prior to my great grandparents’ emigration to  America in 1888, they hadn’t a clue what kind of wines they were drinking back in the Old Country, where no one had ever tried to classify one grape from another. In those days, as in most of Italy, most grapes were self propagating, a condition called “promiscuous cultivation,” and the vines had to compete with other plants for water and nutrients, thereby producing wines of little character. Oxidation was considered characteristic; wine was sold almost exclusively from huge old oak barrels.   Even after Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture established its denomination of wine origins in 1963, it was a frustrating job to delineate the distinctions among dozens of Campanian grapes like greco, fiano, falanghina, biancolella and coda di volpe (tail of the fox).
The first Campanian winery of any real note was Mastroberardino in Avellina, which in the 1970s pioneered the red wines of taurasi and ancient near-defunct white varietals like fiano.  Now, as throughout Italy, modern viticulture and technology have allowed a young breed of Campanian winemakers to reveal the distinctiveness of their terroirs, from vineyards near Mount Vesuvius to the island of Capri and to the rocky hill towns of the Picentini Mountains.
     “What’s important about Campanian wines now,” says restaurateur and wine writer Joseph Bastianich, “is that they are showing the potential of true indigenous Italian varietals that are just beginning to express themselves.” He says they sell more of them at his mid-range restaurants like Esca and Lupa than the high-end Babbo and Del Posto, all co-owned with Mario Batali.
       Currently Campania has three D.O.C.G. appellations (guaranteed quality)—fiano di avellino, greco di tufo, and taurasi; 18 D.O.C. and nine I.G.T. wines.  Fiano is said to taste of the piney woods of its region of Irpinia; greco di tufo, imported from ancient Greece, was originally cultivated around Mount Vesuvius, where it later took the name Lacyrma Christi (“tears of Christ”). Taurasi is a big, robust, long-aging red made from aglianico, whose name derives from ellenico (Greek).
    I was able to purchase a good selection of Campanian wines from a new wine shop, San Pietro Wine & Spirits in Tuckahoe, NY, whose owners, the Bruno brothers (they run New York’s San Pietro and Caravaggio restaurants), are from Campania and therefore proudly promote the wines of the region.  

San Salvatore Paestum Fiano 2009 ($19.99)—Made near the sea around Salerno, this fiano has a characteristic flinty crispness, and a little brininess that makes it ideal with Neapolitan seafood like branzino and orata.

Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Fiorduva 2008 ($62.99—The price is astonishing for a white Campanian wine, but Marisa Cuomo is one of the stars of the region, and this blend of falanghina and biancolella, planted 500 meters above the sea, is enormous and very rich. To appreciate fully its character, I’d serve it with the simplest of seafood on the grill. If the price puts you off, her Furore Blanco 2009—“white fury”—at $22.99 is still a big mouthful, almost a little fizzy upon being opened, and with 13.5 percent alcohol, excellent for a dish of spaghetti with clam sauce. The same estate’s red, Fuore Rosso 2009 ($22.99) has the same bountiful release of fruit and a balance of softened tannins. I loved this wine with a meal of grilled porterhouse steak done over a charcoal fire.

Luigi Maffini Kratos 2010 ($21.99)—Another of Campania’s bright young lights, Luigi Maffini modernized his father’s winery of four cultivated hectares, which now produces about 40,000 bottles of reds and whites. His Kratos vineyard produces a very pretty white wine in the sense of it light and well balanced between fruit and acid, citrus and apple flavors, making it a wonderful wine with linguine with garlic and oil or shellfish in a spicy tomato sauce.  

Villa Matilde Falanghina 2010 ($14.99)—Usually this quite simple wine lacks body and texture, but I found Villa Matilde’s—with a big 14 percent alcohol--to have a the perfume of the Mediterranean in its nose, sun-rich fruit and a clean, acidic finish. The wine is so good on its own, I’d serve it as an aperitif with slices of Prosciutto or with a Caprese salad of mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and basil.

Campi Flegrei Piedrosso 2008 ($17.99)—A dominant red varietal in Campania, piedrosso has weight and heft, and Campi Flegrei, near Naples, respects that. Its aromatic aroma lasts and lasts, and fruit and tannin flow easily on the palate. This is an $18 wine I’d gladly pay double for.

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.



Hooters sued the partner of a rival in Georgia federal court,  accusing the La Cima company developing a Twin Peaks chain, with 15 restaurants on five states,  and a former Hooters executive of stealing trade secrets.
Twin Peaks restaurants motto would be : “Eats, Drinks, Scenic Views.” Please note that Hooters waitresses wear trademark white tank tops and orange short shorts (left), Twin Peaks s wear a flannel bikini-like tops and hiker shorts (right). In the lawsuit, Hooters contends the Hooters Girls are the “cornerstone of the [Hooters] concept,” and that “Twin Peaks directly competes with [Hooters] in the market of casual dining restaurants with an all female waitstaff.”


"If it hadn't been for the first omelette, I wouldn't have been able
to do the other thousand omelettes. Now I need a girl or a
 woman in a miniskirt." --Ferran Adria.

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

My latest book, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their cofee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.


“Restaurateurs, take note: A resurgence in thoughtful, artistic menus is past due.”—Bon Appetit Magazine

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

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"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: Sleeping Bear Dunes; 5 Fabulous Fall Fitness Getaways

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).

The Family Travel Forum
 - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2011