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  February 19,   2012                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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Is Houston Bound for Glory?
by John Mariani

by John Mariani 


by Ed Schoenfeld

Is Drinking Old Wines a Gamble or Just Old Hat?
 by John Mariani


Is Houston Bound for Glory?
by John Mariani

    The new issue of My Table, a magazine that has since 1994 chronicled the growth and variety of Houston's dining scene, poses the question "Is Houston the Next Great American Food City?" in an article by Misha Govsteyn, who pointedly shows how diverse the offerings are, from Tex-Mex to Vietnamese, from Gulf seafood to Texas game, from Little India to one of the largest Chinatowns in America.  He goes on to say that Houston does not currently have a restaurant to rise to the Olympian heights of The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Le Bernardin and Jean Georges in New York (curiously enough, a Jean Georges restaurant in Houston named Bank flopped badly after one year).  Indeed, if French restaurants are the measure of Michelin-star excellence, Houston is seriously deficient in that department, though, with the exception of the great Tony's--whose menu superbly straddles French, American, and Italian cuisine, the city has few Italian restaurants of any note. 
    Govsteyn correctly feels that the national media have largely ignored Houston's culinary progress but insists that just in the past year and following throughout 2012, a new generation of young chefs will truly transform the staid image of the city.  "Expect a sudden renaissance across the entire spectrum of restaurants high and low," he writes.
    I have always been a big booster of Houston's restaurants, because for the last decade the evolution towards more and more serious (I did not say "formal") dining has been steady and sure, which includes the re-configuring of longtime standard bearers like Tony's and Robert Del Grande's RDG Bar Annie, along with exciting Mexican restaurants like Hugo's, civilized steakhouses like Pappas Bros., and ethnic eateries of every stripe. Oddly, Houston is not awash with terrific barbecue, with the large, expansive Goode Co. leading a small pack.
    On occasion, when asked what are America's best restaurant cities, I have sometimes surprised people by putting Houston just behind New York, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, and L.A., and ahead of Boston, DC, Miami, and its rival Dallas. I, too, am looking forward to my annual trip in 2012, anxious to see if Govsteyn's predictions pan out.  I expect they will, and I can't wait to tell you about them. For now, here are three places that opened in 2011 that give evidence of continuing excellence.

1201 Westheimer

    Houstonians will argue endlessly about which hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex place is the best in their city— Teotihuacan Cafes for the $4.99 Breakfast Grande, the original Ninfa’s on Navigation for the signature tacos al carbon, or Mission Burritos for their overstuffed namesake item.  None, however, has the breadth and depth, not to mention Texas white guy swagger, that El Real does.  Award-winning Chef Bryan Caswell, restaurant developer Bill Floyd, and Rob Walsh, author of The Tex-Mex Cookbook, didn’t want to upgrade Tex-Mex food, they just wanted to do it better than anyone in Houston and, with a lot of decorous respect, they succeeded admirably and with plenty of fun.
    Located in the restored Tower Theater (above) in the Montrose neighborhood, done up in Texas and Mexican kitsch, and playing Clint Eastwood movies against the wall, El Real is the real deal, with a menu way too long, but I ripped through as many dishes as possible and would return any time for the queso flameado with chorizo; green chile posole; the San Antonio Puffy Taco Plate; the Enchiladas #10, with cheese, chile con carne and chili con queso; and Chingo Bing, a smoked chicken relleno, chicken enchilada with salsa verde, and a pork tamale.
  Caswell's rep, after a stint with Jean Georges Vongerichten, was made at the seafood restaurant REEF, which Floyd ran, and Walsh had been food critic for the Houston Press
before going over to the restaurant biz.
    The menu casts a very wide net, with 15 side dishes alone, including a fried egg.  There are some very well-priced lunch specials, like the #4--tacos al carbon, fajita, green chile posole, tamale, rice and refried beans for thirteen bucks.
    Tacos here are puffy "San Antonio style," which means nice and chewy. You can go for an appetizer or two, but, as usual in Tex-Mex, so many flavors and preparations overlap, like chile and guacamole, it's better to move right to the heftier courses.  The five-label wine list is not worth mentioning, and I'm a little surprised there aren't more beers offered.  The margaritas, by the way, are first rate. A pitcher of them is $29.50--about what two cocktails would cost at some swanky Houston bar.

El Real is open daily for lunch and dinner.

The Four Seasons Hotel
1300 Lamar Street

    For decades now The Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston has tried to find a winning formula for its upstairs dining room, and I think I've tried all the incarnations over the years. Its newest, Quattro, strikes me as its best and certainly most lively, rescuing this space from neglect by giving it sunshine, Mondrian-like colors, Murano glass and an Italian chef who knows well the Four Seasons style, having worked with the group since 2000 in hotels from Hawaii to Budapest.
    Maurizio Ferrarese was born in Vercelli, Italy, arriving in Houston two years ago, imprinting his own stamp indelibly on a menu that had long been a mishmash of Tex-Mex and continental cooking with no personality. There is also a wine bar here that works well especially after 5 PM, with a long list of wines by the glass.
    His menu, which even includes pizzas, hits many expected notes but he marks little chef's hats next to those dishes he calls "Chef Maurizio's Toque Top Pick," and he offers guests a chance to have him cook a tasting menu, too. 
    You might begin with buffalo mozzarella with glazed shallots and tomato confit, or a very good, creamy vitello tonnato that is all about subtlety.  There is always a risotto among the pastas, and the one I tried, with four cheeses and black truffles, would easily slip onto any menu in Ferrara.  I was not in love with the bland duck ravioli in a murky lentil ragôut.
    It's always hard not to order cotoletta of veal alla milanese when I see it on a menu, and Quattro's is first rate, the breading crisp and buttery, the veal full of flavor, with bright salad and tomatoes on top. Nothing could improve on an impeccably cooked branzino alla piastra, grilled, with mixed vegetables.
    I very much like it when a substantive wine list is written on the back of a menu, as is Quattro's, and, while understandably rich in Italian bottlings, there are global offerings too, and at least 30 wines by the glass.
Quattro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Antipasti run $10-$18, pastas (half/full portions) $13/$22 to $15/$26, main courses $28-$49.  There is also a new children's menu.

1800 Post Oak Boulevard

    When Roanne-born Philippe Schmit (below) became chef in 2004 at Bistro Moderne in Houston, the kudos went flying. He came from starry NYC restaurants like Le Bernardin, Orsay, and La Goulue, and before that at Paris restaurants
Le Carré des Feuillants, Pavillon Élysée Lenôtre and Jacques CagnaWith plenty of Gallic joie de vivre, he adapted quickly to being what he calls a "French Cowboy," a style that he demonstrates throughout his lengthy menu with a little something for everyone.    
    The two-level space is enormous, with an industrial look that begins downstairs with a 75-seat lounge where movies are projected against the wall. Up a huge stairway you come to a 120-seat dining room with a beautiful stenciled mirror,  glass-walled kitchen and 16-seat chef's table that blends a Texas mesquite table and goat's hide chairs with Marie-Antoinette lithograph wallpaper. There's a private dining room upstairs to seat up to 60 more people. Philippe's press release says the restaurant is located "on Houston's Champs Élysée," whose comparison will, I suspect, come as quite a surprise to anyone who has strolled that boulevard from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe (even if the Champs Élysée has become so commercialized as to bear some faint similarity to Houston's snazzy Post Oak Boulevard).
    So this is a big, full-blown operation, with a menu whose categories are called way too cutely "Flirtations," "Sumptuous," "Au Naturel," "Contained Decadence," "Hot & Round," "Satisfaction," "Main Attraction," and "Unrestrained,"   with 47 items (including nine desserts).  No kitchens I know of can pull all that off with aplomb, so you have to choose wisely at Philippe's to get the best out of it. And the best are his French dishes, ranging from a lobster bisque with poached cod quenelles of a blissful lightness that would please any Parisian gourmand to rich "drunken foie gras," powerfully marinated in Sauternes and Armagnac.  So, too, a simply baked lemon sole with a savory compound butter, polenta and truffle Port sauce had real authority behind it. As in all restaurants with a demanding French chef, desserts are excellent, especially the updated traditional caramel chocolate mousse with caramel ice cream and salty cashews.
    By trying to play the French Cowboy, however, Chef Philippe hasn't quite grasped the nuances of a dishes like spicy duck confit tamales with sun-dried tomatoes, whose amalgamation didn't really seem to derive from France or Texas. Pork ravioli came with a chorizo "smoothie" that seemed nothing more than playful. And a Jack Daniel's-laced veal stock clashed with the delicacy of baked scallops.
    Next time I go to Philippe's, I'll go early, sit down and order any of the French dishes, knowing that a chef of his background--soon to be awarded the illustrious title of Maître de Cuisiniers de France--will deliver all I crave of that kind of cooking.  For the Texas side, I'd go to some old favorites around Houston.

Philippe is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, Mon.-Sat. for dinner. Appetizers $6-$16, main courses $17-$64.


by John Mariani 

529 Hudson Street (near West 10th Street)


    First, a few words about Ed Schoenfeld: Back in the late 1960s, when most Chinese restaurants in America were still serving egg foo yung and chow mein, Ed Schoenfeld, a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn, developed a passion for authentic Chinese food that went far beyond Neil Simon’s contention that “All Jews know two things: guilt and where to find a Chinese restaurant open on Sunday.”
         And with his help and guidance, an odd thing happened: Starting around the mid-‘70s, NYC’s far east side, near the U.N., saw one, then two, then more very upscale Chinese restaurants that featured the cooking of Sichuan and Hunan, known for their fiery chile-spiced dishes—the best known being General Tso’s chicken.  Milder Cantonese cuisine faded fast, even in Chinatown, and by the end of the decade you were as likely to find dishes (which Ed Schoenfeld helped pioneer as a consultant) like hot-and-sour soup,  lobster soong, Hunan honeyed ham on white bread, cold noodles with sesame sauce, crispy walnuts and others became totemic overnight in Chinese restaurants around the U.S., most, for some reason, located in strip shopping malls.
    Schoenfeld was involved with famous restaurants like Uncle Tai’s, David Keh, Pig Heaven, and
Auntie Yuan, and, throughout the next two decades always seemed to be the consultant to new Chinese restaurants everywhere. Still, this newly popular cooking style developed a sameness on menus that did nothing help the cuisine to evolve. So, when Schoenfeld and Chef Joe Ng (left), with restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow, decided to open RedFarm, there was no attempt to be authoritative; instead, they’ve composed a menu that is fascinating for its global reach, if always with Asian and Chinese underpinnings.  Thus, you’ll find a pastrami egg roll on the menu, alongside mushroom spring rolls crafted to look like a chanterelle. 
    The small dining room is set in an 1828 West Village townhouse, with white brick walls, exposed wooden beams, five booths and two communal tables, totaling 42 seats.  It’s bright and colorful, kind of like a Cracker Barrel done with urban cool. Owing to its size, the drawback here is that RedFarm doesn’t take reservations, but if you show up, they’ll give you an estimated waiting time, take your cell phone number, and text you 20 minutes before they expect a table to turn.  Show up at  5 PM or after 10 PM and you have an even better shot.
    The menu changes frequently, so I asked Schoenfeld, who has more than once been likened to Rob Reiner with big glasses, to send out whatever he wished that night. We began with those crunchy mushroom and vegetable springs rolls and the pastrami egg rolls—both delicious—along with lightly smoked salmon and eggplant bruschetta, and Kowloon-style filet mignon tarts (above). The food is fun and not to be taken too seriously, with none of the pretensions of “modernist” chefs who think they are creating artwork.
    Steamed lobster dumplings came with a lush mushroom ragôut (and Schoenfeld is an authority on Chinese dumplings; see his guide below) from a dim sum section of the menu (enlarged at brunch). Main courses followed: amazingly juicy grilled, marinated Prime ribeye (left) with baby bok choy; okra and Thai eggplant yellow curry; Dungeness crabmeat and rock crab with “long life” noodles; and soft and crunchy vegetable fried rice—better than any version of that dish I’ve ever had.  We finished off with a singularly New York style chocolate pudding with whipped cream.
    We were happy as clams feasting on this family-style array of novel dishes, and it was doubly enjoyable because I got to renew my acquaintance with Schoenfeld, whose tales of the history of Chinese food in America could fill a book—one I hope he writes some day.

RedFarm is open for dinner nightly and for brunch Sat. & Sun.  Starters and dim sum $7.25-$19, main courses $14-$39.


     I'm delighted to include here Ed Schoenfeld's guide on how to find and eat the best dim sum.--J.M.

Five Ways to Up Your Dim Sum IQ by Ed Schoenfeld

1. Go early: Most large Cantonese restaurants that feature dim sum have two teams of chefs: the ‘cooking’ chefs who work the woks, and whose day starts at 10 to 11 a.m., and the dim sum chefs, who arrive at sunrise and finish up by mid-afternoon. In cities like Hong Kong and Guangchou, where dim sum reigns, the locals think of dim sum as an early-in-the-day meal and many diners are enjoying ‘yum cha’ (literally ‘drink tea’) by 10 a.m. In the United States, the busy period for dim sum usually starts at 11 a.m. and begins to slow by 1 p.m. By 2 p.m., the chefs are packing up and getting ready to leave. So suggestion number one is this: dine on the early side. It should be less hectic, easier to get a table and the food will be at its freshest. And rule number one is this: if it’s close to 2 p.m., eat something other than dim sum; you don’t have to leave the restaurant, just order from the regular menu, say, some barbecue or a noodle or rice dish."
2. Look for the fresh stuff : One of the biggest dim sum dining challenges is determining which items are freshest. In particular, hot carts containing steamed items may keep your food warm and immediately available, but also continue to cook it. Dough and fillings can easily be past their prime after just a few minutes of dining room circulation. So here are a few tricks: 

 ● Look for kitchen runners (servers whose job it is to transport freshly made food from the kitchen to the dining room) carrying trays stacked high with steam baskets. Chances are they’ve been sent out to replenish diminishing supplies of whatever that particular cart is hawking. Feel free to take your check and walk over to the newly stocked cart to score a freshly cooked item.
• A related strategy is to pay attention to how many orders of a particular item are available on passing carts. If there is only one of something, chances are excellent that it is the last of a batch and therefore less fresh than one would like. Conversely, if there are many orders of something, chances are that it’s fresh.
• Look closely at the food. If it looks like the seams of a dumpling are detaching from one another or the item is broken in any way, it’s likely to be past its prime.
3. Choose your beverage: All dim sum restaurants charge for tea on a per-person basis. Basically, it’s a cover charge that everyone pays whether they drink tea or not. Certain customers who are known to the house may have their checks stamped with a red ink message that says, 'free tea,' a mark of a true VIP in that restaurant’s universe. Second, most restaurants have different kinds of tea, and if you’re a known regular they may (should) ask you what kind of tea you would like. Another thing to know is that many dim sum restaurants make delicious coffee that you can request instead of tea. It costs more than the tea, is often served in a paper cup, and if you don’t drink it black, you should direct the server to put in milk and sugar - and say how much of each. Dim sum restaurants with creamers are rare.
4. Holidays and weekends have more variety: There are traditional but unwritten rules about when the freshest and greatest variety of dim sum are available. It’s pretty straightforward.
The best variety is on weekends and holidays when there are frequently many more preparations available than at any other time - in some restaurants this may mean 100 percent more things. And between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. most dim sum restaurants produce the largest volume of food and the greatest variety of items. Go early and you get the standards: shrimp dumplings, filled rice noodle crêpe, shu mai (steamed dumplings) and rice porridge. By 11 a.m. the number of offerings is likely to double. The more uncommon dim sum are made in smaller quantities and when they run out, the kitchen reverts back to the basics - and a smaller number of items.
5. Don’t be afraid to order from a menu: Should you be lucky enough to be
enjoying dim sum in a high-end Hong Kong hotel, don’t be upset when you can’t find a rolling cart. In the best venues, where the chefs take great pride in their craft, all the dim sum is ordered off a menu, not chosen from a cart. Some of the fun and immediacy of a rolling cart is sacrificed, but the trade-off is that your food is cooked to order and should arrive in perfectly a point condition.

 Guide above from Ding Tai Feng restaurant, Taipei, Taiwan.



Is Drinking Old Wines a Gamble or Just Old Hat?
 by John Mariani

    Maestro pianist Arthur Rubinstein was fond of telling the story of how a great wine connoisseur once invited the composer Brahms to dinner: “'This is the Brahms of my cellar,' he said to his guests, producing a dust-covered bottle and pouring some into the master's glass. Brahms looked first at the color of the wine, then sniffed its bouquet, finally took a sip, and put the glass down without saying a word. 'Hmmm,' Brahms muttered. 'Better bring your Beethoven!’”
     And that’s the trouble with old wines, dust-covered or not, even if kept in temperature- and humidity-controlled conditions within a million-dollar cellar: they can go bad, oxidize or simply not taste very good after years of aging.
    As someone who has occasion to sample a lot of older wines, I have ceased being shocked that even a great vintage, kept under ideal conditions, can be a complete dud. Indeed, the older I get and the older those wines get, I am more convinced that keeping old wines for decades is very risky business.
     In some cases even the greatest wines can begin to evaporate in the bottle, causing an air space at the neck, called ullage, which is why some connoisseurs have their old bottles opened at intervals and topped off under the supervision of the estate owners. There is also the possibility of the wine being corked, with some estimates suggesting that up to 15 percent of all bottles may be so damaged. For this reason none of the most illustrious auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Hart Davis Hart ever guarantee the soundness of wines offered.
     Of course, many who buy rare old wines at auction are not connoisseurs at all and have no intention of ever opening the bottles. Instead, they wait to re-sell the wines at higher prices, a multiplier effect that has for the last few years been driven by the Chinese auction market.
     Restaurateurs get equally antsy about selling very old, very expensive wines on their list, which are sometimes there more for show than anything else. While policies differ from restaurant to restaurant, many will absorb the cost of a verifiable bad bottle on their list bought by a guest. “We can’t put warning labels on our wines,” says Charles Masson, owner of NYC’s La Grenouille (right), whose clientele tends to be very affluent and very faithful. “There is always a risk in storing very old wines. But if a bottle is truly bad, we will not make our guest pay for it.”
    And is a guest spurns a bottle because he simply doesn’t care for the taste or erroneously insists it’s gone bad? “It’s an awkward situation,” says Masson, “but then we do charge for the wine if we know it’s sound.”
    As La Grenouille replenishes its list, Masson is stocking less and less older vintages, because, he says, “the prices are now so high and there is a diminished demand from our clientele. We actually encourage them to try a younger less expensive wine more conducive to the meal rather than go for the 1998 Haut-Brion on our list that costs $2,250.”
     The tradition of drinking very old wines is actually more British than French, especially among those Brits who have for centuries been so involved in the French wine trade. But technology and contemporary preference have made the idea of drinking younger, fresher, dependable wines more reasonable than taking a risk on an old one whose best days may well be behind it.
     “An average vintage will age and pass its peak faster,” says Corinne Mentzelopoulos, owner of the First Growth Château Margaux (left and below) in Bordeaux. “But great vintages, such as 1953, 1959, and 1961 are today the best and the most moving experiences one can have and kept by the wine connoisseurs who know those wines might still get better with further aging.”
     By the same token Mentzelopoulos believes that modern viticulture allows her more leeway in how she makes her wines: “Thanks to the considerable improvements we have made in the vines, we can wait and pick the grapes when we believe them to have achieved maturity, which I find is one of the major changes at Margaux and in Bordeaux. In the past growers had to bring the grapes in more or less before the rot would settle in.
    “In great vintages and with a better climate we can now harvest at an optimum time, when the tannins are ripe and therefore softer, making our wines more pleasant to drink from the beginning. So, yes, they can be drunk earlier - although there are some vintages which remain very harsh when young, bearing in mind that in our case and in good to great vintages it is still better to wait.”
     Still, Mentzelopoulos cautions that “Our wines, together with some estates from Burgundy, are the only ones in the world to improve as they age. Wines of other regions and lesser vintages in Bordeaux and in Burgundy have indeed to be drunk earlier because they will pass their peak faster.”
     In other words, it seems that wines, like the people who drink them, will all age, but very few do it gracefully—a good thing to keep in mind when ordering any wine older than yourself. 
                                                                                                  Photo by Mike Coode

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.



Jack in the Box is now serving a Bacon Milkshake, which goes along with the fast food chain's grotesque new ad campaign that includes a video of a man who announces he is marrying bacon, and is married in a church where the cleric says, "You may now eat the bride."


"Think of Boar’s Head, finally, as a pushy New Yorker. A pushy New Yorker who, after years of attention-hogging, becomes perversely lovable. Boar’s Head is Donald Trump. It is Al Sharpton. What is Boar’s Head? It is the meat that will not go away."--Bryan Curtis, "Meat of the People," Slate Magazine (1/31/12).


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

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, 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 coffee 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) 
has just won top prize 2011 from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It 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 2012