Virtual Gourmet

  December 4,  2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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During the Holidays, Remember the Neediest



by John Mariani

by John Mariani



By John Mariani

Aspen Meadows Resort

    I’d have a hard time deciding whether Wyoming, Montana or Colorado is the most beautiful state in the West, but when it comes to good restaurants, the latter has more fine ones in Denver alone than those other two states combined. Then add in the glam factor of Aspen and Vail, where people will spend big money for everything from Nobu Matsuhisa’s sushi to magnums of D.P., and college-dominated places like Boulder (which Bon Appetit calls “America’s Foodiest Town”), and you’ve got a whole lot of good eats and drinks to choose from.  Here are some of the newest spots around the state where you’ll get a distinct feeling for contemporary  Rocky Mountain fare.


1555 Blake Street

  If you like Morimoto in DC or Buddakan in Philadelphia, you should love ChoLon in downtown Denver, where Chef Lon Symensma, an Iowa boy, is working the same vein.  In fact, he’d been chef at the NYC branch of Buddakan as well as at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market.  He calls ChoLon a “Modern Asian Bistro,” but while I’m not at all sure what makes this huge, sexy restaurant a bistro, I do know Symensma’s doing some creative and personalized turns on Asian eats, like pork belly potstickers with ginger mustard; soup dumplings with sweet onion and Gruyère (a canny take on French onion soup); chili crab rolls with charred corn salad; yellow curry mussels with French fries;  and spiced donuts with Vietnamese coffee ice cream. There is a heavy hand with the salt in the kitchen, though. The place certainly does not discourage a bar crowd, so things can get loud but not so much in the dining room that you can't converse. It's shadowy, evoking Oriental imagery, and the best route is with little tastes of this and that, family style.


Lou’s Food Bar
1851 W 38th Ave

     Frank Bonanno is Denver’s premier restaurateur, already with Luca, Mizuna, Bones, and Osteria Marco notched on his belt, and now he goes still more casual with Lou’s Food Bar in the Highlands. Crafted from an old biker bar, the simplicity of the décor is outweighed by some serious cooking, from housemade charcuterie and cheeses and Thai pork and duck on curried potatoes to lobster and shrimp sausage cassoulet and fried chicken with whipped potatoes. The menu is really a mix of French and American classics done with considerable flair, from a Lyonnaise fried egg with duck confit legs to lobster and shrimp sausage cassoulet.  Curiously enough, the frites aren't wonderful.  But all the desserts, from Oreo pie to apple caramel pie, are.


Green Russell

1422 Larimer Street

    Another of Frank Bonanno’s enterprises, Green Russell is the city’s hottest new bar and lounge, which he calls a “chef-driven cocktail joint.” Named after a Colorado gold miner and set under Larimer Street, it has a subterranean urban hipness to it, with leather bar stools and banquettes, a speakeasy’s sense of retreat, and, especially after midnight, it’s a place to satisfy the munchies with small plates. The measures and ingredients of the cocktails are taken very seriously.







BB’s Kitchen

525 East Cooper Avenue
    Despite its affluence and need-to-be-seen in the right ski outfit and  at the hottest new table in town, Aspen has a homegrown number of serious eateries the locals love in and out of season.  The newest is a happy, unpretentious, second-floor place named BB’s Kitchen (the owner is Bruce Berger), serving breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, aprés-ski, and lounge food, along with the town’s best-priced wine list.  You can get a hearty matzo ball soup with plenty of chunks of roast chicken and vegetables; an “Aspen croque” of griddled toast, smoked turkey and melted Gruyère; A terrific burger with Cheddar and onion; a pulled pork Benedict with poached eggs, poblano hollandaise and housemade English muffin.  A 12-ounce ribeye with potatoes goes for $29. Good food for the slopes. And Berger recently added a sleek new adjacent lounge.


Casa Tua

403 South Galena Street

An offshoot of the private club of the same name in Miami, Casa Tua has a club upstairs (right) and a public dining room downstairs that adds considerable refinement to Aspen’s rustic Italian dining scene. Opened by developer Michele “Miky” Grendene and his model wife Leticia, Casa Tua is where Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse used to be, a 1920s Mediterranean-style house now stylishly decorated with changing artwork by major Italian artists. The menu features regional dishes like smoked bacon from Alto-Adige wrapped around prawns and serves with a white bean puree; Piemontese ravioli called agnolotti del plin, with truffle butter and fresh thyme; and Colorado rack of lamb with eggplant-tomato caponata and a celery root puree. Good place to wear the new suede jacket.

        Downstairs the dining room décor balances a raw wood rusticity with Venetian blinds, signature china, thin stemware, and soft, thick linens. Large art photos on the walls will change throughout the year. Nice touch: Casa Tua does not neglect the children: a “Per ‘Piccoli’ Sciatori” (for the little skier) menu offers spaghetti alla bolognese, gnocchi with tomato sauce, and filet of chicken alla milanese with French fries.




1738 Pearl Street

    With no fear of contradiction-and with plenty of support from local and national press—I’ll declare Frasca one of the very best Italian restaurants in America, actually the very best, by default, of those featuring the food of the region of Friuli, which owner Bobby Stucky and his wife Dinette, along with partner-chef Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson, fell in love with and have committed their always jammed restaurant to serving.  Frasca is not brand new, but it keeps evolving, with dishes  you won’t find anywhere else, like gnocchi with green cabbage and Castelmagno cheese; fagotelli pasta with chicken livers and rhubarb; and sturgeon with leek, chanterelles and Italian smoked ham.  A master sommelier, Stucky stocks an exceptional wine list, also devoted to the region of Friuli.



Pizzeria Locale

1730 Pearl Street 

Frasca’s Stucky and Lachlan, along with Chef Jordan Wallace, this spring debuted their new labor of love—a Neapolitan-style pizzeria based around a huge, handcrafted oven where they turn out soft-centered, smoky pizzas based on research the owners happily did all over Naples. They offer a baker’s dozen of them, including classic margherita, along with one topped with corn and crème fraiche, cooked prosciutto and tomato, and another with buffalo milk mozzarella, pecorino, garlic, rapini, and sausage. There’s usually a line out the door, and you’ll have a raging appetite from the aromas coming through the door.



Cafe Aion
1235 Pennsylvania Ave # A 

    Smack in the middle of Boulder’s university area, the casual Café Aion is filled at any hour of the day and night with students, profs, and locals who come for everything from Chef Dakota Soifer’s inventive tapas to Colorado sweet potato fries, from a tagine of butternut squash with tomatoes, chickpeas and prunes to a harissa-laced half chicken with potatoes and greens. There’s a happy hour menu with five-dollar cocktails and fried pork  chiccarones with smoked paprika and pork sliders with spiced yogurt.



Glenwood Springs

The Pullman
330 7th Street 

    Despite Glenwood Springs' hot springs, white water rafting, and spelunking appeal, I’m not sure I agree with Rand McNally’s  naming the place “the most fun city in America.”  But if you’re headed for Vail on I-70 or up valley to Aspen on Route 82, I would brake hard at Glenwood Springs just to eat at The Pullman, a casual restaurant that sums up everything that is good about American omnivorism right now.

    Chef-owner Mark Fischer—the man who put Carbondale on the map with his restaurant Six89 a few years back—took over a 1900s railroad district brick building, once a Greyhound bus stop, stuck a huge bronze pig at the entrance, decked the place out with subway tiles, rafters and a communal table, and came up with a menu on which there is nothing you won’t want to try, from bacon beignets with a maple crema and pierogis with caramelized onions, truffled potato and scallion crème fraîche, to pan-roasted Rocky Mountain trout with artichoke and potato pan roast and mustard sauce, and Colorado lamb shoulder with lemon risotto and mint-almond gremolata. There’s even a chocolate Whoopie! Pie with cola ice cream.

Good people serving nice people good food.  That’s it.




359 Avenue of the Americas (near Waverly Place)

    Chef Seamus Mullen fell in love with the cooking of Spain's region of Asturias, its ingredients and its casual local cider houses called sidrerias, and Tertulia, his first solo effort, is the realization of a cherished dream. Vermont-born,
Mullen made his reputation at the Iberian restaurant Boqueria in the Flat Iron District, but Tertulia more approximates the less flashy menu style at Mario Batali's Casa Mono and Jamon.  Mullen's food here is not as imaginative as that at Luis Bollo's Salinas but is more traditional, specializing in tapas and small plates and a big wood oven for many of the dishes.
    Up front there's a bar (right), one which does indeed pour cider, along with Sherries, cavas, and Spanish wines, all assembled by affable sommelier 
Gil Avital.
    There are
a lot of brick walls, tiles, a skylighted open kitchen, wooden floors, and wooden tables, blackboard specials--none of which is good for the decibel level, which is among the very highest I've experienced in NYC or anywhere else. Coziness gets cancelled out by such intensity, conversation is next to impossible, hearing the night's specials is a strain, and consulting the sommelier is frustrating. Not for the first am I asking, What in God's name were they thinking?!? There are plenty of acoustical tricks to tamp down noise, but Tertulia is one of those restaurants whose owners believe that cacophony--not just the sound of people having a good time--further increased by piped-in music, creates excitement, when in fact all it creates is more noise.  Since more and more restaurant critics are carrying decibel level readers on them, maybe restaurants should realize that people truly do come to eat and chat, not nosh and screech at each other.  I've spent a good amount of time in tapas bars in Spain but never at these decibel levels.
    O.K., that said, the menu is tantalizing and it delivers with big flavors throughout, not least with the extraordinary Spanish hams offered here, including the jamon Iberico de bellota, whose silky richness is nonpareil and the reason it costs $23 for a few slices. There is also a selection of three cured meats as well as three artisanal cheeses you won't find easily on this side of the Atlantic.
    The tapas on any given evening number at least 14 items, including a wonderful dish of fried padron peppers tossed in plenty of sea salt, and it packs a heated wallop.  Nuestras patatas is nothing more or less than delectable crispy potatoes dusted with the smoky paprika called pimenton de la vera, dressed with garlicky olive oil and, again, plenty of salt.  This saline theme is carried throughout Mullen's cooking, sometimes too intensely; salt is certainly popular among the Spanish but in my travels to Spain I don't recall so much salt so consistently throughout a meal.
    Monkfish (suquet) comes with ruby red shrimp root vegetables, almond picada, and saffron all i oli, and a dish called grilled Iberian "secreto," which comes with scrumptious ribs, wild mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, figs, and cucumber, a mélange that really works and hits on several points on the palate.
     Family-style dishes include a paella (right) with cuttlefish, shrimp, clams and runner beans; a 40-day aged prime rib (I didn't have a chance to try this), and a pork belly stew called nuestra fabada with morcilla and chorizo, fava beans and cabbage--as wintry a dish as can be imagined, hearty and good but, again, salt overpowered other savory flavors.
     Desserts wisely toe the traditional line--crema catalana, rum sponge cake with roasted figs, crêpes with vanilla custard and apples--if you have room. Tertulia is the kind of place where you're likely to eat way too many small dishes before you get to dessert, so pace yourself.     Photo by Evan Sung
    My guests and I so enjoyed so much of the rustic country food at Tertulia, we would happily return for more and to see what next week's menus bring.  But if we did return, it would either be wearing noise-cancelling earphones or very early in the evening, before things build to a crescendo of noise. 

Tertulia is open for dinner nightly and for brunch Sat. & Sun. Small dishes, $5 to $20; family-style dishes, $19 to $72.



by Christopher Mariani

The Man About Town is on Assignment.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to




Sean Davidson and Bryan Sullivan, two managers of a Lake City, FL,  Domino's Pizza were charged with setting fire to a Papa John's Pizza, telling the police they were tired of Papa John's vehicles driving by their store, and that burning the place down would increase their business.


"For those of you possessed by the spirit of the stank, we give you the brand-new Arcadia branch of Tofu King. But this is not a masochist's stinky tofu. This is a subtle, carefully controlled, artful bit of fermented snackery. The stuff is almost delicate. If blue cheeses and stinky tofus are the foods that smell like feet, this stinky tofu smells like Natalie Portman's feet — at least in a fanboy's imagination."--C. Thi Nguyen, "Stinky tofu restaurant may find converts," Los Angeles Times (November 10, 2011).


 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.

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:

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


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

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

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO

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

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

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© copyright John Mariani 2011