Virtual Gourmet

  May 6, 20012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    BOOKS    |    ABOUT US    |    CONTACT

White Rock Ad, 1946


On Monday, May 21, John Mariani will be appear as part of  a Celebrity Author Wine Dinner Series at Davio's Philadelphia, 111 South 17th Street, to talk about his book How Italian Food Conquered the World.  The wine dinner series will feature wine pairings presented by Davio’s Sommelier Kevin McCann and will feature a menu by Executive Chef David Boyle. Each guest will leave with a signed copy of the author’s book as part of the $85.00 per person (tax and gratuity not included). Call 215-563-4810.



by Christopher Mariani

Bristol, RI: Persimmon
by John Mariani

The Four Seasons
by John Mariani


                                  NEW ENGLAND SOJOURNS:                  PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
                                                                            by Christopher Mariani


    I’ve lived in the Northeast my entire life and have enjoyed all four seasons as they come and go, sometimes abruptly, year after year.  The New Year always beckons frigid temperatures and more often than not, unforgiving snowfalls. I am now calloused to these conditions, spending many days and nights shoveling mountains of snow from my driveway. As the snow falls, life goes on with little hesitation. The crushing hum of a steal snowplow grinding against the street’s concrete is an almost comforting sound. The massive chains wrapped loosely around the treaded tires tinkle as they pass you by. The air is chilly and unforgiving.
    A few months go by and the temperature slowly rises and the snow begins to melt. Spring has arrived. The trees awaken, flowers bud, and millions of soft green leaves sprout. The smell of burning charcoal fills the air as BBQs bellow clouds of smoke high into the sky. The constant sound of birds chirping is everywhere as they rip through the air on strong wings. Then, the warmth of spring turns to a boil. Summer has arrived. The heat is overwhelming and the air becomes heavy. The cicadas are constantly buzzing in waves that only damper down when the sun begins to set. The hot, thick air then starts to cool. The fall has arrived. The air smells crisp and is no longer damp. The flowers are gone, as will soon be the trees’ leaves. The beauty of fall is abundant and the temperature, well, perfect.
            This past fall my girlfriend and I took a short road trip from the suburbs of Westchester County, NY, to Providence, RI. I had the luxury of driving a brand new, 2012, cherry red, Mercedes Benz convertible SLK350 Roadster as we weaved around other cars with ease.  She was a demo and gorgeous. With the top down, we cruised north on I-95. Once beyond New Haven, we slowed down and savored the scenery of this magnificent season.
            When we arrived in Providence, the city was lively, full of casually dressed locals strolling the streets of Federal Hill, a highly eclectic neighborhood filled with boutique cupcake shops, Middle Eastern specialty gourmet markets, Italian restaurants and many pubs. The sun was shining bright and everyone was savoring this lovely Friday afternoon. After driving up and down Broadway, we found the Hotel Dolce Vita, our placid retreat for the extended weekend. We entered our white-walled two-bedroom suite, overlooking La Salle Square, a charming, pedestrian-only passage filled with cozy restaurants and live music at nighttime. That afternoon, we stopped by Lili Marlene’s (422 Atwells Avenue), a terrific hangout, where Bob, the bartender, put together some well-made Negronis. We stuck around for an encore of drinks and then walked a few blocks up Atwells Avenue to Pane E Vino (below), one of Federal Hill’s finest Italian restaurants, open now for ten years and thriving.
            Sitting on the street side of the restaurant, we stared out onto the busy avenue through open windows as cars slowly crept up and down the street. We started with a wonderful bottle of Nebbiolo, reminding me of a recent trip to Langhe, Italy, as we flipped through Chef-owner Joe DeQuattro's lengthy dinner menu.  Appetizers included Narragansett Creamery mozzarella, served with sweet cherry tomatoes and a basil pesto along with an order of crispy calamari fritti from Point Judith, topped by a white balsamic vinegar and tomato aioli. Next came the pastas: one in particular, the risotto ai frutti mare, made with Canaroli rice, tomato sea broth, Prince Edward Island mussels and loads of local seafood. The menu also offers seasonal game birds, veal scaloppine and three cuts of meat, all cooked on a wood-burning grill. The service is young and attentive, well trained and extremely friendly. After dinner, we wandered back to the Dolce Vita Hotel where we sat outside for an espresso in the plaza.
            The following day, we headed to historic Newport for a day of leisure. Although largely tourist driven, Newport is still enchanting, sometimes showing signs of pretentiousness as many day-trippers spend carelessly and happily wait on long lines for overpriced seafood. The great mansions of the early 20th century, the Cliff Walk, and the docks remind you of a very, very different time.  Best place to stay at Newport is the beautiful Castle Hill Inn (below),  just outside of town. You can stay in the 19th century mansion itself, the Harbor House Rooms, the Beach House Rooms, the Chalet or one of the Beach Cottages. The Inn also has a fine dining restaurant on property. 
    After touring the area and sipping a lemonade slushy from Del’s, we sat underneath an umbrella by the harbor and dug through a big wooden bowl of spicy, steamed mussels and a dozen raw oysters served over a bed of shaved ice, accompanied by two frosty Samuel Adams Lagers. The sun was shining and the air was filled with the taste of sea salt. It was tough leaving such a charming city of 18th century houses, maritime memorabilia, and rich New England history, but we had to get back to Providence. We were heading to The Red Fez (49 Peck Street) that evening for dinner.
idden away in downtown Providence, The Red Fez (right) is a real local joint, signless, that even our local cab driver could not find after passing by it three times. The façade is dark, barely allowing a glimpse inside. Once through the front door, you will be rushed to a table (no reservations here!) and handed a menu.  We sat at the bar, where we were finally greeted by a pleasant bartender. The menu is simple and offers dishes like macaroni and cheese with cheddar, swiss and smoked gouda, smoked pork shoulder with cornbread and collard greens, and General Tso's pigtails. 
            Before heading back to our hotel, we stopped by the city’s famous WaterFire, a chain of 100 bonfires hovering above the river for almost a full mile. Performers play music and viewers huddle close together to watch the mesmerizing glow, lighting up the entire river.
            The following morning, we jumped back in our car, put the top down and hit the gas. I would have to assume Providence is joyful at anytime of the year but I’m sure you will enjoy it, as I did, most in the fall.


by John Mariani

31 State Street, Bristol

    Head southeast out of Providence, down past Barrington and Warren, along Narragansett Bay, and you'll slip across a bridge and into Bristol, one of the finest, best preserved 17th century colonial towns in New England. Here the first battle of King Philip's War took place in 1675, and it was long a prime boat building town, which included crafting five consecutive America's Cup defenders. It is also home to Roger Williams University.   Restaurants are not a part of the town's allure, but just a block up from the Bay, on State Street, behind an unassuming little storefront façade, is one of New England's very finest restaurants,  the 38-seat Persimmon.
        The place is the labor of love of  Chef Champe Speidel and his wife Lisa (right), who are very focused on doing the big and small things right. Needless to say, he draws from a cornucopia of New England provender, so his menus are highly seasonal, created each day.
    The intimate dining room is cozy, done in taupe pastels, with crisp white tablecloths and perfect, soft lighting. For a place this size, Persimmon has a formidable winelist and it's very fairly priced in every category.    Since I have not dined at Persimmon since last summer, I would hesitate to rave about the dishes I had, so I will instead refer you to their current  menu, which is wholly expressive of the style Champe works in. It's a place not to miss, one of those "worth a detour" spots that, while not at all remote, has the the effect of slowing you down to appreciate what true  excellence exists in wonderful small American towns.

Warm Powder Point oysters with wakame seaweed butter and ginger oil.
Pan seared Hudson Valley foie gras with poached and pickled rhubarb, braised duck neck and caramelized hazelnuts.
Massachusetts sea scallop and fluke ceviche with Meyer lemon, ginger, cucumber, celery, radish, avocado, fresh chilies, basil and cilantro flowers.
Creamy soup of carrots and caraway seed with glazed and slow roasted carrots, carrot greens, butter-poached lobster.
Crispy tempura Maryland soft-shell crab with native sorrel and Jonah crab butter.  
Slow poached Zephyr Farm egg with goat’s milk ricotta agnolotti, grilled ramp leaves, native asparagus, speck and goat’s milk whey emulsion.
New Hampshire pork head terrine with native radishes, pickled apples, ramps, cornichons, petite greens, coppa and Ravigote sauce.
Warm salad of early spring vegetables, herbs and flowers with vegetable crisps and herbed buttermilk vinaigrette.
Grilled New Hampshire pork sirloin with braised native greens, cabbage and collard buds, persimmon provisions pork sausage, light jus with herbs and native rhubarb.
Braised Vermont lamb breast and shoulder with lamb sausage, hand-rolled potato gnocchi, artichokes, fresh legumes, asparagus and greens, light lamb braising jus.
Point Judith John Dory filet with jumbo sea scallops, lobster, octopus, glazed fennel, potatoes and pearl onions, bouillabaisse sauce with saffron and tomato.
Pan seared Rhode Island tautog filet with littleneck clams and rock shrimp, native Swiss chard and endive, light butter sauce with fresh tarragon and oregano.
Pan roasted Pacific halibut filet with native asparagus, mustard greens, creamy leeks, crispy potato galette and a red wine sea sauce.
Crispy skin Long Island duck breast and confit leg with glazed carrots, baby turnips and radishes, rosemary-infused sauce reduction.
Pan roasted beef ribeye steak with king trumpet mushrooms, scallions,  glazed cippolini onions, potato purée, and Sauce Bordelaise.
The Persimmon spring vegetable tasting: four different presentations

Persimmon is open for dinner Tues.-Sat. January to June, and Tues.-Sun. July to December. Dinner appetizers are $9-$17, main courses $21-$31.

Chef’s five-course tasting menu available   $65    Additional wine pairings    $35; Seven-course menu    $80     Additional wine pairings   $50




by John Mariani

99 East 52nd Street
212- 754-9494

    Fifty three years. Six decades. The Four Seasons, opened in 1959 in the revolutionary architectural marvel named The Seagram Building (left), has seen the beginning of the Mad Men era.  The Vietnam War.  The tenures of eleven U.S. Presidents, many of whom have dined here. The fads and fancies of nouvelle cuisine, New American cuisine, molecular cuisine, locavorism, and many more. It has kept its doors open after so many other famous restaurants closed theirs--Lutèce, The Quilted Giraffe, Maxwell's Plum, Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Tavern on the Green, the Rainbow Room, Café des Artistes, Lever House, Terrace in the Sky, Top of the Sixes, and dozens of others have passed into NYC restaurant history.
    Designed by Philip Johnson and William Pahlmann to look like no other restaurant in the world, its interior was eventually landmarked; its famous dining room pool is always bubbling, its beaded metal curtains always rippling, its 30-foot trees changed each season.  Under three different managements, Restaurant Associates, Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi, and today, owners Alex von Bidder and Julian Niccolini (right), it did not always thrive--indeed for its two three decades profits were slim or non-existent. Only in the 1970s, when what Esquire Magazine dubbed the "power lunch" did business in the Grill Room become something as critical to understanding NYC's tycoons and politicians, fashionistas and media, as reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
    The Four Seasons pioneered the acceptance of California wines and created the trademarked Spa Cuisine.  It was where John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe came for dinner after his famous Madison Square Garden birthday party and where actress Maureen Stapleton serenaded Stephen Sondheim in the hope of getting into his new show. Jimmy Carter's brother Billy was refused entrance because he did not wear a jacket.Mark Rothko painted a series for the private dining room, then refused to hang them (they are now in London's Tate), and artwork has included paintings by James Rosenquist and Frank Stella.
And, over the years, more than one woman has stripped down and plunged into the pool.
    I know all this because I wrote, with Alex von Bidder, a social history of The Four Seasons (1999), which won a James Beard Foundation award. And since then I've kept up with the changes, which to the outside world all seem very minor or wholly unnoticed.  In all that time the restaurant has only had a handful of executive chefs, since 2009 Pecko Zantilaveevan, Thailand-born, who had been sous-chef for 13 years. During those years he used to make kitchen snacks from his Thai-Chinese background and many were adapted for service in the dining rooms.  Von Bidder and Niccolini still run the place as they always have, the former in a wry, genteel manner, the latter with a puckish glee in puncturing the pretensions of even his most powerful guests.

       So, after a nearly two-year lapse when I hadn't dined at the restaurant, I returned the other night to see how things were faring, only to find the dining room completely packed on a Monday night.  Alex was at the host station, along with many of the staff I've known for years coming and going.  The pool still gave off its blue-green glow, lights brightened the trees' leaves, the tables were impeccably set, and the menu was still printed on a single broadsheet. (It was oddly revolutionary when some years ago the extensive winelist was taken from the back of the menu and made into a book of bottlings.)  The bread bowl (a design by Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable) is still heaped with small croissants. And men all wore jackets, most never thinking of showing up dressed any other way, some because the restaurant requires them.
    After enjoying an impeccably made daiquiri, I looked over the menu, its à la carte listings in bold face, and found that, as everywhere, prices have risen.  Dishes here are not inexpensive--and the sirloin steak, at $75, is high even by NYC steakhouse standards, though it comes with baby beets, radish, and carrots, which cost extra at steakhouses.  Still, if you added up an average of three courses here, the meal would run you about the same as it would at Le Bernardin, Daniel, or Eleven Madison Park, maybe less.  You also get free pink cotton candy at meal's end if you're celebrating your birthday. An amazing bargain right now is the "Spring Fever" Pool Room menu at $59, and a $35 two-course lunch in the Grill Room.
    There are several items on the menu that have been here almost since the beginning, but, given the place's name, there are significant seasonal changes. At the moment they're offering the finest spring asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, morels, shad and its roe,  crayfish, and softshell crabs  (left).  These last were perfectly sautéed, fat and crisp, as an evening's special, and the crayfish sweet and abundant, nestled in a vol-au-vent pastry shell with those asparagus and morels and cream sauce.  Extremely good was a risotto of spring's nettles, and sweet pea agnolotti with Iberico ham and mint came as close to a gambol on a Maytime hillside as food can get.
    The Four Seasons is as well known for the high quality of its Dover sole as any restaurant in the city, slightly crisp from a moment in flour, sauteéd in superb butter, then
deftly taken from the bone tableside.  The only misstep of the evening was that I ordered the sole à la meuniere, which should not have capers (which would denote à la grenobloise), as it did here.  But little matter: it was delicious.
    Dinner ended with pastry chef Chris Broberg's delightful rhubarb pie and moist, tangy-sweet lemon sponge pudding, They also still offer a Four Seasons classic, the famously dense and decadent chocolate velvet cake with crème fraîche.
    That evening the food was as superbly rendered as ever, testament to the consistency of dining at The Four Seasons, where everyone tries very very hard to make you feel that nothing has or will ever really change here, decade by decade.  Things do, of course, but if any restaurant can claim a timeless setting and ambiance, it is The Four Seasons.  Not to dine here is not to have a true sense of New York at its finest.  Leonardo Da Vinci once said that "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." And you know how hard he worked to prove that.

The Four Seasons is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.Sat. Dinner appetizers run $18-$42, main courses $38-$75. "Spring Fever" Pool Room menu $59; $35 two-course lunch in Grill Room.



The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook has just been published, with 50 recipes. and contains these tidbits of advice for entertaining at home:

- Keep in mind that it is humanly impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis, even if you’ve just eaten an entire birthday cake frosted with cannabis buttercream.

-Crank up some live Dead, get irie and start chopping your veggies.

-That artificially flavored processed cheese product is a tool of your own oppression, foisted on you by corporate overlords.

-The beloved cartoon character Popeye eats spinach because it makes him superstrong, but what exactly was he smoking in his little pipe?

-If the idea of getting baked in front of grandma fills you with dread, why risk it?

In Moorhead, Minnesota, waitress Stacy Knutson
filed a lawsuit in Clay County District Court saying a customer left a takeout box from another restaurant at her table at the Fryn' Pan.  Knutson insists she followed the customer to her car but that the customer told her to keep the box as a tip, which she found contained $12,000 in cash. Police told her to wait 90 days in case someone claimed the money and that because the money "smelled of marijuana" it was being held in a drug investigation. The Duluth Tribune News reported that Knutson was cut a check for $12,000 after police determined that the cash could not be tied to any criminal investigation.



 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: The Golden Gate Turns 75.

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).

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 2012