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  September 23, 2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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"Blackbird Pie" by Galina Dargery (2012)



by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER: London Lennie's by John Mariani

With Indian Food, What Wines Can Take the Heat?
 by John Mariani


by John Mariani

         Like Turin, Bologna has been preserved by its lack of the kind of overwhelming tourism that quite literally plagues Rome, Venice, and Florence, which have become all but impenetrable.  Although Italy’s seventh largest city,  with about a million citizens, Bologna retains a Renaissance grandeur together with a graceful, even quiet, inner core, a city where the locals stroll and shop, buy food and sit down for lunch and dinner, and don’t depend on foreign traffic for their livelihood.
         Which is not to say Bologna is bereft of international travelers, but they are there as much for business as for pleasure, and the city has a rich panoply of excellent hotels, including the Grand Hotel Majestic “Giá Baglioni” right in the city center, where I stayed.  Its lobby and reception hall is expansive, larger than most in Italian deluxe properties, and my room (right) sumptuously decorated  and wonderfully quiet (until a street performer decided to settle in for the afternoon on the Via Indipendenza).  I wanted to throw  pear at him from my window but the pear was too good for that.
    There is a state-of-the-art spa, and the hotel also has one of Bologna’s finest and loveliest restaurants, i Carracci, of which I shall say more next week. And there may well be no finer, more genteel hotel general manager than Tiberio Biondi, who goes out of his way to greet and make guests happy, backed by a highly professional staff who are well aware they work in a deluxe property for a well-traveled clientele with high expectations.
         Bologna is an ancient Italian city, dating back 3,000 years, with a rich history that includes the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088.  There is a great deal of beautifully preserved medieval architecture, centered around the Piazza Maggiore (left), and a smattering of later styles; the city’s walls sre still evident and its many towers and archways give Bologna a vertical and horizontal balance.
         Like all Italian cities, Bologna has had its good, bad, and horrific times, but currently, as the capital of Emilia Romagna, with a good industrial base, the city is as prosperous as it looks, but the Bolognesi do not show it off; they are not ostentatious; they do not flaunt their affluence.  It is a city far more proud of its intellectual and educational heritage and of food so delicious and famous throughout Italy that the city has long been called “La Grassa,” the fat one.  I shall be saying more about Bologna’s gustatory splendor in next week’s newsletter, but for the moment let me mention that Emilia Romagna is home to Parmigiano-Reggiano, mascarpone, mortadella, cotechino, grana padana, Prosciutto di Parma, tortellini, tagliatelle, and, of course, lasagne all bolognese.
Florentine fabulist Giovanni Boccaccio tells a story in his Decameron (1353) of a land where there is a mountain made out of Parmigiano cheese on which people do nothing all day but eat macaroni; I'm sure he meant Emilia Romagna.  I have recently written about its principal wine, Lambrusco, which has a wholly undeserved reputation for being sweet, fizzy plonk.
         Of the scores of churches that dot Bologna, requisite visits include the vast San Petronio Basilica (right), begun in 1390 in the Gothic style of pink and white marble, with 22 chapels within. The Bologna Cathedral, while not as large as San Petronio, is, in the ecclesiastical sense, more important. Begun in 1028, it burned down in 1141 and was rebuilt, with additions along the centuries, with a new façade added in 1747.  The Bolognesi themselves favor the medieval architecture of San Petronio to the Baroque style of the Cathedral, which they find ostentatious.  There is also the somber, cloistered St. Stephen Basilica,  the deliberately plain Basilica of Saint Mary, founded as a church for the Servite Community, and the late Romanesque San Giacomo Maggiore, established by a community of hermits in 1247. 
         Given its long history of devotion to the musical arts, Bologna  initiated the project "Bologna dei Teatri" in 1998, a circuit of theaters offering cultural and theatrical events from the folkloric to the grand. The city’s opera house, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (left), is widely renowned, and its own heritage includes native son, conductor Arturo Toscanini.
         The city has its formidable lists of famous people from the arts and politics, sports and industry, and a short one, with a nod to the Emilia Romagna region, would include artists like
Correggio, Parmigianino, Reni,  and Morandi, opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, composer Giuseppe Verdi, author Umberto Eco,  race car driver and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari (whose superb new Ferrari museum is in nearby Modena).  The city nearly corners the market on great Italian film directors, claiming Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini (below) and Bernardo Bertolucci as their own.
         When I visited in June, the weather was hotter than usual for that time of year, but Bologna is a northern city, so it doesn’t get the constant searing heat of Rome, Naples, and cities to the south.  I therefore walked and walked and walked, under those shady arches and in the shadows thrown by the towers and churches around the Piazza Maggiore and the bronze Neptune Fountain. There are two colossal towers in the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana.
         Unfortunately, as too often is the case in Italy, important monuments are closed for any number of reasons at any time of day of the week, and this was the case with the National Museum of Art, which I wanted to see for its Bolognese paintings, as well as Perugino’s "Madonna in Glory" and Raphael’s "Ecstasy of St. Cecilia." But those must be for another time.
         Simply joining the throngs of Bolognesi who usher from work to eat at their favorite trattorias and ristoranti and the students noshing on panini and salume is as much a part of the city’s great charm as its monuments.  For its history, its size, and its tempo of life, civilization has no more appealing showcase than Bologna.

For tourist information about Bologna:

Next week: In Search of the Perfect Lasagne alla bolognese. . . and other Bologna delicacies.



63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard
Rego Park, NY

    To call London Lennie's delightfully old-fashioned is meant as high praise, especially since this year the place celebrates 50 years in business, with no signs of slowing down.  Indeed, LL (I shall call it) is booming most nights of the week, and weekends are packed, from its seafood counter to its well-set tables in an ambiance that might be considered American seafood house classic: polished wood, fine art prints, glowing sconces.  It’s just such a joy to be within that kind of warmth, added to by a well-trained service staff.
   Owned and operated by the Barnes Family (right) since 1959, London Lennie’s was founded by Leonard “Lennie” Barnes and his wife Joan Barnes after emigrating from London. Lennie was well respected in the seafood markets, heading down to the Fulton Fish Market before dawn, paying extra to get the best, and now his son Leslie--the little boy in the photo--is carrying on the tradition, built on five decades of knowing everyone in the seafood business.
         In fact, just sitting down with him for a half hour, I learned more about seafood—what to look for, when to buy, what never to buy, and what retail prices mean--than I could imagine.  From now on, if I have a question about seafood, I’m calling Leslie.  I could tell immediately how hard he works at what he does, and his legacy drives him that way to be the best. LL's mantra, “It won’t make it to your table if it doesn’t meet our high standards.”
         I happened to be there to meet wine importer and writer Gerry Dawes, who promised me LL would be worth the drive to Queens. He was certainly right about the wine list, overseen by Brad Haskel, with more than 200 labels, dozens of them under $40 and some fine whites under $25.
         The menu is large, too, but judiciously based on what’s best that day. So, if you order the crabcakes as an entree (only $28), you get crabmeat and nothing but crabmeat, with just enough binder to keep it together, a fat cake, gently sautéed.  Among the appetizers are, of course, raw bar offerings and chilled shellfish towers at very reasonable prices.  If they have Jonah crabs, grab for them.  Then there’s sushi and sashimi, not entirely surprising at a place that puts so much emphasis on freshness. There are a few pastas, like sautéed shrimp, scallops, and clams in a light tomato sauce over linguine (right).  Fried calamari will always be crisp and tender, and the fish tacos are highly recommended, made with grilled mahi and packed to its gills with pickled onion, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a spicy, hot coconut-habanero sauce.
         There is an array of salads—I liked the generous chopped version—and then you turn over the menu page to find all the market specials, including five lobster offerings, with some of the critters topping four pounds.  The fish can be ordered straightforward or with various sauces—not LL’s strong point—and then there is a section called “LL’s Classics,” which include excellent fish and chips made with day-boat cod, which makes quite a difference; sea scallops from New Bedford; fried Ipswich clams; and a Downeast lobster roll, truly stuffed, sided with crisp French fries. I'm pretty sure Leslie could show you the fish's birth certificates.
         Frankly, I don't recall if I had dessert—I had eaten my fill—which only gives me reason to go back and be a little more temperate in my ordering.  But when seafood is this good—and frankly, seafood in this country is rarely at this level—dessert gives me a good reason to return.

London Lennie’s is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, and for dinner nightly.




With Indian Food, What Wines
Can Take the Heat?
 by John Mariani

    Dr. Samuel Johnson once famously said, "Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” Unfortunately, he neglected to say which one goes best with Indian food. Of course, back in the 18th century, London had no curry houses of the kind where in the 1960s I could pay one pound for a full meal with a bottle of Kingfisher beer for 50 pence.
    Years later, while visiting India, I never met anyone who recommended anything but beer or the yogurt drink lassi to go with the spicy, often incendiary food of New Delhi, Mumbai, and Calcutta. There were no wine lists in the restaurants, and, although India has made wine for at east two millennia, until recently, few Indians enjoyed it with their meals.  A prohibition against wine in the 1950s hurt the industry, which is only now recovering.
    This myopia is now changing among the more affluent generation India’s big cities, where wine and alcohol are becoming very much a part of dining out. “Even two years ago imported wines were astronomically priced in India,” says Rohini Dey, owner of  two Vermilion restaurants, Chicago and New York. “Today Mumbai is more progressive than other places, and they now have a pop culture, so the young people with money want to try Old World and California wines.”
    At New York’s Vermilion (right), the wine list is global and very pricey: a humdrum 2010 Vie Vite Rosé that sells in wine store for $15 costs a whopping $80 here, and a 2010 Nieto Malbec from Argentina, $10 at retail, is $$48 on the list.
    “My advice is to stay away from high alcohol wines that will accentuate the burn of the food,” said Dey, “and syrupy wines do a disservice to our food. The best choices are wines with low tannins and high acidity.”
    I agree with Dey. The wines I found went best with highly spiced dishes like duck vindaloo with pomegranate molasses and pindi butter chicken with a creamy tomato sauce were pleasant whites like chenin blanc and a white Rioja whose minerals and acidity did nothing to tamp down the fire but gave a good fruity edge to the food.
    I also spoke with Simon Stilwell (left), one of the rare sommeliers at an Indian restaurant in the U.S., in this case the excellent new Rasika West End in Washington, DC. He likes mineral-rich white Burgundies with rich, creamy dishes like the cheese-based paneer makhani.  As for food cooked in the fierce tandoor oven, Stilwell says, “The
high temperature and slight char effect on the food are similar to the results from grilling, like dishes from coastal Spain, where a lot of fish is grilled or Argentina, where they grill so much meat. So, the wines from those countries are well worth investigating.”
    Rasika West End carries no Indian wines on its list (“They are difficult to source in DC,” says Stilwell), but he does have some high-end Bordeaux, Burgundy and California cult wines that I thought would be ill-advised choices with Indian food because a dish like spicy hot dish like a vindaloo (right) would obliterate the subtleties of the wines. “Not at all!" said Stilwell, “It’s like asking if drinking a great chianti, barolo, or brunello with pizza or pasta is a bad idea.  I think people should eat and drink what makes them most happy – if that is high-end French wines or cult Cali’s, then please enjoy!”
    Stilwell also recommends Old World dessert wines with Indian desserts, which can be intensely sweet. “Dessert changes things a little because often the cold temperature of desserts subdues their aromas, so an intensely sweet Hungarian Tokaji, with its aromas of saffron, apricots, and honey are great for dishes like our mango and saffron kulfi or rice pudding. Our ras malai is made into Chocolate Ras Malai with layers of chocolate mousse, ganache, and chocolate cake work great with tawny ports or even sweet malbecs from Cahors, France.”
    I’m pretty sure I will not be serving my First Growth  Bordeaux with Indian food—I’ll save them for the simplest of flavors, like unadorned steak and lamb—but good, inexpensive white wines from Spain, Provence, and South America make a lot of sense, not least because they are thirst-quenching. And Stilwell is absolutely right about those dessert wines.
    Then again, if a beer has a sure degree of creaminess and sweetness to it, I think it makes a great match for Indian desserts.
    Until Indian wines get better and more available, the myriad global wine options make a lot of good sense with the kind of food once enjoyed only by Mughal royalty. 

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.


Muru Pops Down (left), a project that's part of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012, is a pop-up restaurant from a Helsinki restaurant that takes place 262 feet underground in the Tytyri Mine Museum.  The dinner cost $161 and was sold out during its run.

“By night, the place is packed with a stiffer clientele—think blazers and silk dresses—whose collective temperament is discordant with the atmosphere of mealtime relaxation. Even the food looks at ease—the breezy, colorful plating is ready for its country-cookbook close-up.”—Sylvia Killingsworth, “Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria,” The New Yorker (9/17/12).


 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 (  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: Amsterdam.

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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© copyright John Mariani 2012