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  September 9, 2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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Rimini poster by Marcello Dudovich, 1922



Sailing the Queen Elizabeth
Part Two
by Brian Freedman

by John Mariani

Greek Wines Soar as Greek Economy Sours
by John Mariani


Sailing the Queen Elizabeth
Part Two: Into the Fjords

by Brian Freedman

Skjolden, Norway

         Readjusting to normal life after a particularly enjoyable journey is always difficult. The first day home, all those quotidian annoyances that we had managed to avoid while away--the bills, the laundry, the loud neighbors--seem particularly onerous. And, indeed, the morning after our flight landed in Philadelphia, after a week-long cruise of Norway on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, my wife and I struggled to internalize the fact that there would be no smoked salmon at breakfast, no choice of two types of bacon, no excursions to look forward to beyond heading to the post office and collecting the stacks of mail we’d missed.
         But most surprising of all was how deeply we missed the air in Norway. Over the course of four days of shore excursions that ran the gamut from wandering city streets to relatively strenuous kayaking trips, one constant ran throughout it all: some of the best air I’d ever breathed.
         This first dawned on me as we awoke after our second night onboard, navigating the fjords and eventually pulling into port in the utterly gorgeous city of Bergen, Norway’s second largest. Remarkably, however, despite its size (the greater Bergen metro area is home to more than 390,000 people), the city retains a sense of quaintness, what we came to understand as a uniquely Nordic balance of order, friendliness, and respect. And the air--whether tinged with the heady aroma of salmon and shrimp in the fish market or the fresh dampness along the trails winding up the hills on the city’s outskirts--spoke of the kind of clear, ocean-touched cleanliness that seemed to be the complete opposite of what I usually breathe in Philadelphia.
         The city itself offers any number of experiences, depending on what sort of adventure you aim for. Fortunately, as with all the days when the Queen Elizabeth was docked at our various ports of call, there was ample time to experience a significant swath of them.
         We began by finding our way to the funicular for the ride up Mount Fløyen, at the top of which, we’d heard, was supposed to be one of the best views of the city. The line, however, stretched on for longer than we cared to wait, and knowing that there’d be plenty of food and leisure time back on board the ship, we decided to climb most of the way up ourselves.
         It was a steep walk, but the surroundings lessened the difficulty: The path wound its way through collections of homes perched on hillsides that made San Francisco look like rolling prairie, and alongside forests as green and regal as any in Europe. Every time we thought we couldn’t climb any more, another local would come jogging by, sometimes in full workout gear, sometimes pushing a stroller. So we continued: Guilt is a powerful motivator in the fitness realm.
         Just under an hour later, winded and hungry but glad to have made the trek--the view really was spectacular, the port spread out below us, the city stretching out beyond, all of it twinkling in the light from the sun off the water--we decided to fuel up at the fish market, the fisketorget i Bergen. Turns out you can spend hours there alone: As far as the eye could see, bright salmon glistened on display, the sellers offering muslin-thin slices of it to taste, whether raw or cured or smoked. Caviar of every size and shape and price, from startlingly fresh wild orbs to tubes of caviar squeezed out like a paste. Crab legs splayed and tangled atop their ice, as if they were dancing. Shrimp, either raw and luxuriating on the ice or cooked and curled up atop bread for the famous open-faced smørbrød sandwiches of the country. Berries and other fruits neatly displayed and ready to burst. All of it could be prepared while you waited: A deliriously fresh lunch, taken at picnic-style tables, right there in the market with the water lapping before us.
         Sometimes, if you’re lucky, travel presents you with opportunities to experience dishes that you’ve never tasted before. When you have the chance, it’s a shame to pass it up. Which is why I had a whale sandwich for lunch that day.
         Norway is one of only two commercial whaling countries in the world. Iceland is the other. Japan, which is associated with whaling, ostensibly does so primarily for scientific reasons, and only allows the meat to reach the market after research on the animals is complete. Tucking into the unexpectedly delicious whale meat is perfectly legal in Norway, so when I saw the rows of whale sausages, and the sandwiches of whale meat almost black in the early-afternoon sun, I knew it’s what I’d be eating.
         Good thing I tried it: It was easily one of the most interesting sandwiches of my life. The flesh itself was almost beefy, ringing with a distinct minerality, and toothsome without being tough. Dragged through a splash of local mustard, almost fruity alongside its aromatics, this was a sandwich both hearty and exotic, and thoroughly unlike anything I’d tasted. It was also as evocative of that specific part of the planet as anything I could have eaten that day: A fantastic introduction to Norway.
         We also enjoyed a platter of just-caught salmon, grilled up with potatoes, vegetables, and mushrooms. Hundreds of others joined us. The Babel of languages, the fish-sellers hawking their meat, the fruit vendors off to the side with their neat rows of produce: What a perfect welcome this was.
         Well-fed and ready to explore some more, we wandered our way through the city, alongside the multicolored Hanseatic buildings by the water, through carefully planted flower gardens lining residential streets, past homes as tidy and proud as you’d hope. The balance that Bergen strikes between major modern city and natural wonder is carefully calibrated and beautifully managed.
         Back on the ship and preparing to pull out of port, I noticed a phenomenon that followed the Queen Elizabeth everywhere she docked: Locals would line up alongside her, waving and snapping photos, memorializing their view of one of the most well-known liners in the world. As we pulled out and began the journey to Geiranger, our northernmost destination on the cruise, birds flew alongside the ship, escorting us as we sailed our way past islands and through the crystalline air.
         Geiranger offered a completely different experience. The town itself is home to fewer than 250 full-timers, but the constant flow of tourist ships makes it a far busier town than the numbers imply. We chose to experience it on the water, participating in a kayaking expedition that, we were told, ran to nearly six kilometers. Our group of approximately 20 kayaks--most of them outfitted for two--paddled past the ships dotting the port, through the cool waters, and out to the Seven Sisters Waterfall--yes, there are seven of them clustered together, the tallest of which plummets more than 800 feet. Between the sloshing of the water, the lung-clearing air, and the overwhelmingly beautiful scenery, I felt as if I were in some sort of postcard-of-Norway come to life.
         That afternoon, as the Queen was pulling out of her berth and navigating the fjords, the decks filled up with passengers, some keeping warm with the wool blankets provided by the ship, others using cocktails for similar ends, all of us transfixed by the mountainsides we sailed past that seemed close enough to grab hold of.
         This natural beauty is part of so much of the Norway experience, yet it never grows commonplace: The grandeur of it all prevents that, the sheer magnitude of it always stuns. The next day, we experienced Skjolden not from the water, but from the land. (It was the ship’s maiden call there, and the trips in and out, along the longest fjord in the country, the Sognefjord, were breathtaking.) This was our one rainy day--not a constant one, thankfully, just occasional showers--but the weather did nothing to dampen the experience of hiking from the ship and up one of the mountainsides, at the top of which was a view that, as much as any, clarified the sheer size and scope of Norway’s fjords. At one point on the hike we caught a glimpse of the Queen Elizabeth in the distance, and she was dwarfed by the land, her regal, iconic wedge framed by the almost incomprehensibly grand surroundings.
         On our way back to the ship, we came across a strawberry stand being helmed by two girls of less than 10 years old. The fruit was ripe and dense, stained our fingers a deep crimson, and provided just the energy we needed to make it back to the ship for a hearty lunch of fish and chips in the Golden Lion Pub.
         Our last port of call was Stavanger, a town whose title as oil and gas capital of Norway fails to do it justice. Indeed, in this oil-rich country (it’s a major reason for its continued wealth today), you’d assume that a town so reliant on this industry would be some kind of hardscrabble place, the streets dotted with the kind of faceless buildings that blight industrial cities all over the world.
         But that’s not the case at all. Rather, Stavanger has used its oil wealth--and, before that, its success in sardine-canning--to create a city of remarkable beauty. Sure, there are sections that are less aesthetically appealing, but on the whole Stavanger is a walking-friendly city of beguiling streets and museums, of lovely public spaces and quaint shops and cafes.
The only problem for visitors, really, is the cost of living, as it is throughout the country. Indeed, the strength of the kroner and the expense of everything from coffee to salads means that you’re probably best off simply doing what we did there: Avoid thinking about the expense (how much does that sandwich cost?) and just enjoy. Wander the cobblestone streets, marvel at the startlingly colorful buildings along Øvre Holmegate, stop for an espresso at one of the many cafes (Norwegian coffee, deeply acidic and comfortingly roasty, is wonderful). Head to the Canning Museum to learn about the city’s history in the sardine industry. Wander in and out of small, independently owned shops where the baby clothes are designed in-house and sewn by hand, along streets festooned with witty, well-considered art, up to the playground constructed of old buoys that the kids leap upon. This is an “oil city” unlike any you’ve ever seen.
         Most of the part of Norway that we explored, in fact, is unlike anything I’d seen. It’s a part of Europe that is too often missed by American tourists, but one that should be on the bucket list of every world traveler. And seeing it this way, as the Queen Elizabeth traversed the sea and the fjords, was the perfect way to do so. Not only were the ports of call themselves astounding, but the journeys between them were, too.
         My only complaint was the difficulty of the transition back to my normal life here in Philadelphia. Somehow, the view from my window in Old City, lovely as it is, pales in comparison to Norway from the QE. And I won’t even address the air quality here.




by John Mariani

18 Greenwich Avenue (at West 10th Street)


     The biggest success story of the summer in terms of sheer buzz is Rosemary's, a wide-open big 74-seat room with room for 40 at the wine bar that could not be more packed to its pretty rafters than it was from Day One. Its location is prime; indeed the West Village is where a great deal of exciting restaurant action is happening these days, and, more important, has attracted a lot of veteran restaurateurs whose track record in drawing crowds is undeniable.

    In the case of Rosemary’s owners, led by Carlos Suarez, they also run the very popular Bobo in the same neck of the woods, and Rosemary’s big open room on one of the Village’s finest stretches of real estate acts as a beacon of light and the sound of people enjoying themselves. And while it can get louder as the night progresses, from about 7 PM to 9 PM, it’s more than tolerable. And if you need a breather, ask to see the rooftop garden that provides Chef Wade Moises with a constant supply of fresh herbs and vegetables.

It’s a very attractive crowd, the kind that makes its own scene, and in one sense, not taking reservations for less than parties of six makes it a more democratic venue than, say, Minetta Tavern; the wait can be long if you just drop by, so go on the early side or have a glass of wine or beer at the bar (they serve no booze).

For a room this size and with this crowd, the menu may be a tad long, but they keep the pastas down to half a dozen, allowing the kitchen to make them right and carefully to keep them al dente. You might order a plate of vegetables, including a fine eggplant caponata, $5 each, three for $12 or for a table of four, five for $20. There is also a selection of seafood appetizers, including a superb octopus salad (above) that is tender, briny, sweet and sour.  Calamari come with celery, almonds, raisins and a dash of chili oil.  Then there is a selection of good salumi, two of them housemade—the pork testa is really good--and cheeses, including freshly made ricotta. There are also four focacce, including Rosemary’s with, of course, rosemary and olive oil, and one with strips of lardo fat.  The chopped Siciliana salad is an excellent choice, with escarole, artichoke, olives, and much more.

We come to the pastas—priced at a remarkable $12-$14 at a time when most places are charging $20 and up--and every one we tried was a success and very correctly prepared, from a hearty chitarra alla carbonara to a very fine cavatelli with fresh mint, sweet peas, and ricotta (left)—two Roman dishes. Orechiette came with garlicky braised greens and housemade sausage, and the big winner of the evening was linguini with preserved lemon, pickled chile, and a dousing of Parmigiano.

Moises worked at Babbo and Lupa, so he’s very good at getting the lusty, rustic flavors of the trattoria right.  That means the porchettina with fennel and mostarda will be juicy and nicely seasoned, the skirt steak well textured, with crispy potatoes and balsamico, and the fish of the day expertly grilled, with radish tops,  snap peas, and cherry tomatoes.

The desserts are good if not out of the ordinary,  the usual hazelnut semifreddo and tiramisu.  The basic wine list is solid, with plenty of bottles under $50, but some of them are way too pricey.  The reserve list heads into the stratosphere.

Rosemary’s is the kind of trattoria NYC can never have enough of, despite the scene seemingly being sated with them.  If the no-rez policy is a problem (and it definitely can be), go for lunch or brunch, but do go and get into the swing of things.  You’ll have fun.


Rosemary’s is open for lunch, Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun., and for dinner nightly. Appetizers run $5-$14, pastas $12-$14, main courses $18-$24.



 Greek Wines Soar as Greek Economy Sours

                                                                     by John Mariani
                                           Photo above by Galina Dargery                                           

    There are worse ways to spend your euros than sitting at a taverna on the Greek island of Santorini (above) when the dry northern meltemi wind blows though the Aegean in August.
    Feasting on white eggplant and feta cheese and grilled barbouni (red mullet) while sipping a white assyrtiko wine made on the island (where a glass of orange juice can cost $12) and looking down at the yachts in the harbor below, I found it difficult to imagine the Greek economy is in a shambles. But as the economy worsens here, the wines only get better. Maybe drinking wine helps.

    On Santorini alone, which is only 28 square miles in size, there are 13 core wineries, most notably Boutari in Megalochori, which produces about 900,000 bottles a year there, mostly from imported grapes. The indigenous grape vines were never affected by the phylloxera plague that ruined European vineyards, but there are not enough even to satisfy local consumption.

The story of Greek wine is ancient but, until recently, not very illustrious—one reason the ancient Greeks were delirious to make settlements in Italy, which they called Enotria, ”wine land.” Once known primarily for its resinous wines and ouzo, Greece has now put a great deal of effort and capital into capturing some of the global market, as well as planting international varietals like chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon aimed at Greece’s young winedrinkers.

    According to George Athanas, manager of the All About Greek Wine promotional campaign on behalf of the Greek government’s New Wines of Greece bureau, between 3.5 and 4 million hectoliters of wine are now made annually, 60 percent consumed in bulk domestically. Although total exports have slipped by almost half from a high point of 787 hectoliters in 2002, exports to the U.S. brought in 6.3 Euros last year, an increase of a million Euros over the last decade.

The reason, says Athanas, is that “Greece is making a major effort in the U.S. market for younger wine drinkers more willing to try new things. Greece is promoting its best wines and aren't sending the kind of oxidized schlock they did in the past.”

    It is increasingly easy to find a wide range of modern Greek wines in U.S. stores, especially in Greek and Middle Eastern neighborhoods like Queens, NY, where Grand Wine & Liquor stocks dozens of Greek bottlings from grapes like moschofilero, muscat, xinomavro, agiorgitiko, roditis, and limnio, along with new blends or chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, and syrah. 

    Of these last I am not much impressed: the international varietals don’t taste much like the grape, and if blended with Greek grapes, tend to mask the character of the indigenous grapes.

    Sampling an array of whites and reds I bought at Grand Wine and Liquor, I found all of them clean and well made, none showing the slightest oxidation.  I expected the whites to be good but was really delighted with the new reds. Of the former, the Tareti 2010 from Ktima Biblia Chora ($30) had the characteristics of modern assyrtiko, a varietal that originated on Santorini, showing its brisk minerality and acid that allows it to age beyond most white wines’ peak.

    For something more floral, and aromatic, try the Alpha Estate Axia 2011 ($18) made from malagouzia grapes, an ancient varietal now enjoying renewed interest for its full body and richness.

True to form, the moschofilero varietal shows its brassy-pink color and complexity in Domaine Spiropoulos 2010 ($15), made from organic grapes, an excellent wine with all seafood or Greek mezes appetizers.

Two reds were outstanding: Saint George Aghiorghitiko 2010, which Homer might have had in mind when he wrote of the “wine dark sea” and Zorba the Greek meant when he said, “You drink the big red wine and, lo and behold your soul grows big . . . and challenges God to a fight.” It comes from southern mountain vineyards and has the tannins and complexity you rarely get in $15 red wines.

As for the curiously named Red Stag 2009 ($15) from the producer Spiropoulas, Cary Grant might exclaim, “Juicy! Juicy! Juicy!” At just 13 percent alcohol it manages to carry both power and voluptuous fruit in an ideal balance based on the agiorgitiko grapes grown in Nemea.



True Blood: Eats Drinks, and Bites From Bon Temps
by Gianna Sobol, Alan Ball and Karen Shalett
 has just been published, with dishes like

"Stake and Eggs" and "Another Dead Chick-en Sandwich."


To cut his labor costs,  Chinese restaurateur Cui Runguan is selling robots
called the Chef Cui. that can hand slice noodles into a pot of boiling water, costing  $2,000 each, as compared to a chef, who would cost $4,700 a year.  Watch the video:



 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--Now in Paperback, too--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: BRUSSELS

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.

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