Virtual Gourmet

  October 28,  2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    BOOKS    |    ABOUT US    |    CONTACT





This Tuesday, Oct. 30, the French Institute Alliance Française,
John Mariani, and a special culinary guest will be hosting
 the French food film "Entre les Bras" (2010),  about Master Chef
Michel Bras and his family. Guest host will be
 chef Jean-Louis Gérin of Restaurant Jean-Louis in
 Greenwich, CT. All screenings will be held

 at Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street at 7:30 PM,
followed by Q&A with host. Tickets $10.  For info click here.


If, owing to the arrival of Hurricane Sandy this weekend,
 you do not receive next weekend's Virtual Gourmet (Nov. 4),
it will be because I have either been swept away by Sandy
 or the power in my neighborhood is down.  Wish me luck!
                                                                        --John Mariani





by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by John Mariani

Morellino di Scanscano
by Mort Hochstein


Photo by Galina Dargery


    English poet John Keats did not have Connecticut in mind when he wrote of autumn, "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,/Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun," but had he ever visited the region he might well have done so. It's a beautiful state at any time of year but shows off its greatest colors after Indian summer fades. The ash trees turn purple, the hickories and maples yellow, the oak bright red. It's a great time for a vacation from anywhere or a drive from New York, and you can eat well all over the state, especially in the southern region, where nationally heralded restaurants like Jean-Louis and Thomas Henkelmann at The Homestead Inn, both in Greenwich, The Elms Inn in Ridgefield,  and The Dressing Room in Westport have long been distinguished.  This past year a new crop has grown up in the Nutmeg State, well deserving that direction, worth a journey.


73 Elm Street


         Not everyone will go anywhere for a great meal, and most people would not think that New Canaan, Connecticut, eighth wealthiest suburb in the U.S., would be where to find one. Yet there in the ‘burbs is Elm, which chef-owner, Brian Lewis, calls, correctly, “a world-class restaurant with small town charm.”
         In 2009 Esquire honored Lewis (below) when he was chef at Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn; now at his own place, which I honored in Esquire for 2012, Lewis is working at the top of his form with elegant dishes like griddled langoustines with pearly white garlic soup, uni butter, prosciutto lardo, and togarashi chile pepper.  He invigorates black bass with chorizo and an eggplant aïoli, sweet pepper oil, black olive and golden saffron, and brings back the luster to good old carrot cake with a carrot pudding, walnut brittle, and caramel ice cream.
Lewis was born in the suburbs, and, after leaving the Inn to find his own “stage,” he decided against California and New York. Sounding like Dorothy back from Oz, he says, “I realized I had never been so inspired as I was right here in the country. I decided that the stage is where you make it, you know, wherever you go, there you are.  I’d become highly involved with a terrific network of talented chefs, passionate farmers and artisan craftsman, all that any urban hot spot would need as fuel for their fire, only it was right here in my backyard. So we just put our heads down and cook from our hearts for our neighbors and those up from Manhattan who are looking for a bit of the country and finding a taste of New York."
     His commitment becomes obvious in dishes like "crunchy" big-eye tuna with sunchokes, soy and brown butter caramel and his English pea sacchetti with lemon brown butter and pecorino--simplicity itself, delicious on every level.  A duo of veal with hazelnut crumble, Mangalica ham, artichokes, farro, and hay ash was the exact opposite--too much going on on one plate. But his confit of pork with grits, stone fruit mostarda and a soft egg blended beautifully. For the Parker House rolls (left) alone, Elm deserves a special trip.
    There is a selection of artisanal cheeses well worth ordering, but you don't want to miss pastry chef Caryn Stabinsky's excellent toffee pudding with crème fraîche of her dark chocolate pot de creme with ruby beet sorbet.

Elm is open  nightly. Lunch service, Sunday brunch and supper to follow; Appetizers: $11-$21,  Pastas: $15-$23, Entrees: $20-$36;  Four-Course Chef’s Farm Tour: $75/ $120 with wine pairings.


Delamar Hotel
275 Old Post Road
Southport, CT

    I have been happily tracking Parisian-born Chef Frederic Kieffer since he was at Gaia in Greenwich after working his way through esteemed Paris restaurants like Taillevent, Le Chiberta, and the Lutetia Hotel. He was part of the  re-opening of  Windows of the World, then at Water’s Edge and Man Ray in NYC.  Now he is back in Connecticut running two kitchens, Artisan and L'Escale (see below), which are quite different in style and menu.     

 Artisan's name says a good deal: the design melds Connecticut rustic with 19th century Scandinavian furniture, oxidized mirror panels, copper string chandeliers, a pewter-top bar, and a charming  kakelugn, a Swedish tile stove that serves as a fireplace where you can sit and sip a Cognac or Single Malt.

    The restaurant space sprawls over several rooms, including the 50-seat Tavern, and in good weather there are outside tables. The place has been very popular since opening and on crush nights, service is well meaning but can be slow.

    Kieffer’s menu is full of hearty dishes, especially now that cooler weather is here.  When I dined in warmer weather, richness of taste abounded in a wonderful lobster bisque that really tasted of lobster, not always a given elsewhere.  The same goes for a textbook perfect chowder, teeming with chunks of seafood and served wit a fennel crackers.  Griddled crabcake was bound with too much breading, but Kieffer’s pastas are very well wrought, including a wild mushrooms and farro risotto with Fossa cheese from Emilia Romagna, and delicious goat’s cheese gnocchi with a lamb meat sauce and arugula.

    I liked the generous meat dishes, especially the beef pot roast with whipped potatoes and roasted baby vegetables and the finely grained Berkshire pork chop, juicy throughout, with fingerling potatoes, apple, bacon, sweet prune and a hard cider sauce, which is a totem of autumn cookery.  On the night we dined, the seafood didn't quite come up to that standard, a dorade too strong in taste and scallops overcooked.

    It would be tough to pass up desserts like creamy chocolate pudding with hazelnut crunch, sour cherry-whipped cream or an outstanding cheesecake with caramel and shake of sea salt. Silly in an over-the-top way but irresistible nonetheless is the lavish banana split of caramelized bananas, Nutella, ice creams, fudge and almonds.
Photos by Jane Beiles


Artisan Restaurant is  is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Brunch on Sun. Appetizers run $11-$17, entrees $27-$43.


Delamar Greenwich Harbor Hotel
500 Steamboat Road
Greenwich, CT

    L’Escale opened earlier than Artisan but has been re-conceived since Kieffer came aboard in summer, 2011, and it’s now a much better focused restaurant than it used to be.

    In warm weather everyone likes to grab an outdoor table on the harbor, which has its summery charms galore.  Men dress in lockstep—tennis shirts, khakis, loafers, but the affluent ladies of the Gold Coast put on the summer finery here, as they do inside now that autumn is here, when their male counterparts switch to cable-knit sweaters and blue blazers.

    The interior is a kind of marriage between suburban rustic and boathouse chic, with lots of distressed old wood and bistro chairs. The bar here gets a tony early and late-night crowd.

   The menu at L’Escale--the name means "port of call"--is quite distinct from Artisan’s.  It’s long and offers more for everyone, and though the dishes have French titles with French, Italian, and American flavors throughout, beginning with imported (“from Italie”) burrata with pickled eggplants.  Very good are the broiled prawns with lemon and peppers, as are the grilled, not fried, calamari with avocado, tomato and basil, which you’d find on the French and Italian Rivieras.  Also go for one or two of the daily tartares or carpaccios, each glistening fresh and refreshing with preserved lemon, olive oil, and herbs.  I can't say the price of $150 for Chinese farmed caviar is advisable.

    The lamb chops are big, rich, well-fatted and served Provençale style with tomatoes, fingerlings, and a touch of rosemary in the jus, while those craving an authentic bouillabaisse, based on the day’s best seafood selection, will be rewarded at L’Escale with the traditional ruddy saffron broth and the garlic-rich rouille and croutons.  You’ll be just as happy with the way French fried potatoes are done to a golden turn.
    You'd expect perfect soufflés--here chocolate and vanilla with pistachio sauce--and my favorite dessert, profieroles, are stuffed with ice cream and lavished with warm milk chocolate sauce.  There are also banana beignets and a warm apple tart.

    So, if you're feeling nostalgic for those nights in Nice or San Remo and miss the taste of bouillabaisse, don your blue blazer or  new Ralph Lauren ensemble, and head for L'Escale.  You''ll get lost in a reverie.

L'Escale is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.   Appetizers run $11-$22, entrees $14-$28.


by John Mariani

         The website announcement sounds pretty final: “Locke-Ober is currently closed for business pending the sale of our building.  From all of our employees and proprietors, past and present, we thank you for your support and the opportunity to respectfully serve the community of Boston for the last 137 years.”
    It is always unfortunate when an historical restaurant closes, but Locke-Ober is a special case.  It is famous for several reasons beyond its longevity, not all of them admirable.  Alsatian-born Luis Ober took over the premises in 1875 on Winter Place, with money from the owner of Jordan Marsh, who ever afterwards had a table at the restaurant, decorated in the Parisian style, with expanses of mahogany, etched gold wallpaper, an L-shaped bar, and six silver tureens lifted by pulleys, designed by Reed and Barton.  An early tradition among diners was to touch the toe of a bronze statue of “Gloria Victus,” and a nude portrait of “Mademoiselle Yvonne” (right) by Tomaso Juglaris (covered with a black sash whenever Harvard lost to Yale) has been a symbol of the restaurant’s genteel hospitality.
    Frank Locke, a saloonkeeper, joined Ober to open a café, and after 1894 various owners kept the restaurant thriving well into the 20th century.  The cuisine was in the French style of the time and didn't change much over the decades—the current menu still lists Dover sole, crab Louis salad, escargots bourguignon, and its lobster stew (said to be JFK’s favorite dish).
    The place always drew Boston’s Brahmins and important figures visiting Boston, but Locke-Ober’s banning of women from the downstairs Men’s Grill (left)
until 1970 when invaded by a protest group was a smudge mark upon the place, long after such discrimination had disappeared in American restaurants elsewhere.
    My few visits over the years have been hit and miss.  Back in the late 1970s, shunted upstairs by a frowning maître d’ well known for his lack of tact, I found an ugly, ill-lighted room with walls stained by rusty water.  The food was lackluster and served without the slightest degree of civility. Later visits at renovated premises showed Locke-Ober to be a much more gregarious, democratic place, but the food, with pretty much the same menu, improved in quality.  But by the 1990s the luster had worn off what had become a tourist restaurant, not much improved by late owners and chefs.
    And so, although this is not the first time Locke-Ober has closed its doors, this may the last call for a place rich in Boston tradition.  Like Galatoire’s and Antoine’s in New Orleans and Delmonico’s and `21’ Club in NYC, Locke-Ober is a reminder of any earlier style of dining, one too often based on preferential treatment for some and snobbish dismissal for others. But for the beauty of its design, now irreplaceable, the cast of its menu, and a place in American history, it’s a sorry thing if Locke-Ober is gone forever.


by John Mariani

24 Minetta Lane

    Remember Billy Joel’s song “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”--“A bottle of red, a bottle of white/It all depends upon your appetite/I'll meet you any time you want/In our Italian Restaurant.”?  That’s Perla, a place you’d go at the drop of hat, the perfect little Greenwich Village Italian restaurant, where you call ahead to owner Gabe Stulman and ask, “Hey, is the fazzoletti bolognese on the menu tonight?” and Gabe says, “Yeah, I’ll save you a portion,” and you say, “Be there in twenty,” and you get caught in traffic and there’s a ten-minute wait, so you nurse a negroni, and see a plate of braised octopus with oven-dried tomatoes pass by, and you are really, deeply starving, and so happy you’re at your favorite Italian restaurant.d, a bottle of white/It all depends upon your appetite/I'll meet you any time you want/In our Italian Restaurant.”?  That’s Perla, a place you’d go at the  drop of hat, the perfect little Greenwich Village Italian restaurant, where you call ahead to owner Gabe Stulman and ask, “Hey, is the fazzoletti bolognese on the menu tonight?” and Gabe says, “Yeah, I’ll save you a portion,” and you say, “Be there in twenty,” and you get caught in traffic and there’s a ten-minute wait, so you nurse a negroni, and see a plate of braised octopus with oven-dried tomatoes pass by, and you are really, deeply starving, and so happy you’re at your favorite Italian restaurant.
    My editor and I went to Perla for a leisurely working lunch and found we stayed later and ate more than we'd planned, but everything on the menu sounded so good, the aromas coming from the kitchen were so enticing, and the wine working their way early on, that we kept pointing to items on the menu and kept eating.  It was past three when we left, full and smiling broadly.
    What we ate, via exec chef Michael Toscano,  included irresistible foie gras pancakes with peach and maple syrup--a dish that veers from the basic Italian cast of the menu--and some shrimp alla piastra, with a fregola salad. The pizzas here are first rate and have out-of-the-ordinary toppings, besides a fine one in the margherita style.  There's one with "clams casino," topped with Littlenecks, sweet peppers, and pancetta that's a must-try.
    For pastas I can heartily recommend cavatelli with squash, arugula and pancetta, and the black tagliatelle with corn and Scotch bonnet peppers.  There is so much more, but it changes so often, so just go, check out the blackboard items for the day, order anything. You won't go away hungry.

Perla is open for lunch Fri.-Sun., for dinner nightly. At dinner antipasti run $12-$15, pastas $18-$26 and main courses $24-$32.



Morellino Di Scansion
by Mort Hochstein

 When I’m asked to suggest an inexpensive red wine, I normally recommend   Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which hovers in price around  the very sweet spot   of  $12.   Friends  have been praising   Grifone Primitivo, from Roccadero in Puglia, which has been roaring off the shelves at   an incredible  $3.99 from Trader Joe in Manhattan, reminding me of the fuss a few years ago  over Two-Buck Chuck,  aka  Charles Shaw, notorious at that  ridiculously low    price  in California and  for a buck or two  more in  New York and other regions.
   Recently I found a new family of wines which are  also in  the  Montepulciano price  range,    depending on  quality and where you shop. Like   those from Abruzzo, they  are light, fruity and easy drinking.  These are the wines of Morellino Di Scansano,  coming from the Tuscany Maremma, a region known for its fine horses and Tuscan cowboys, where wild boar is often featured on the dinner plate along with seafood from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The nearby seacoast is a favorite of Italians and Scandinavian refugees from long cold winters.
    Morellino wines   have  been available,  though often overlooked,  in the American market for years.  Wine merchants  tell me customers today  have become more aware and   are moving toward  them   because of their price  and value.     Knowledgeable restaurateurs  attracted by   low cost  and   their easy drinking characteristics, have long  favored them, particularly for wine by the glass options.. More Morellinos of higher quality are increasingly available as  several  of Italy’s major producers have entered the arena, drawn by  inexpensive land with good potential .Those heavyweights include Jacopo Biondi-Santi  of Montalcino, who’s been producing a high-end Scansano listing  at $45, and others  such as Castello di Romitorio of Chianti and Fattoria  dei Barbi of Montalcino.
  The region’s winemaking provenance flows back to the time of the Etruscans, that strange yet rich civilization which preceded the Roman era.  Researchers  unearthing Etruscan tombs  and deserted fields have found  earthenware jars  holding grape seeds, vineyard tools,   kilns and other wine-related artifacts dating back to the fifth century.  Romans conquered the Scansano territory circa 280 BC and produced wine destined for the empire’s  western  provinces.    When Rome fell, the region declined and the  population shrank as people abandoned the region to escape  flooding and swamps in  coastal areas.   Until relatively recently, only  a handful of growers  remained, producing  primarily for their own and  local consumption.   Morellino (right), one of the many clones  of Sangiovese, takes its name from horses named Morelli,  used to pull the carriages of locals fleeing the malaria-infested swampy coastal region for higher ground at Grosetto.
    The number of vineyards and producers  increased dramatically after 2007 when the region’s wines were elevated to DOCG status. Morellino could be called a ‘new-old’ vineyard region,   since nearly 80% of its fields were  given over to grapes  vines   only  in the last two decades.  At a recent  count, there were 520 growers producing  more than two million gallons and close to 11 million bottles of wine  annually. Very little Morellino is sold in bulk.
    We tasted a batch of Morellino wines in early October  at the Cork Buzz winebar  in New York City.  Though  they came from different  vineyards , some hilly, some low lying, some coastal, they were uniformly fruit  forward, velvety, and   extremely approachable  Under DOCG regulations, 85% of grapes must be Sangiovese,  and most are blends using Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and, occasionally, Alicante. These are not wines for laying down and   should not be held more than five years. We tasted just one 100% Sangiovese, Terre di Fiori Ventaio 2009 ,   with a distinctive floral aroma. It is  a supple, elegant  wine from a single vineyard benefiting  from partial aging in oak
  Moris Farms 20ll,  Sangiovese with a helping  of Cabernet and Syrah, boasting  blueberry, blackberry spicy qualities   was our opener and it set  a pattern of easy approachability for the  wines that followed. Our favorite was the oldest wine we sampled, Poggio Valente Riserva 2008 from Fattoria Le Pupille, Sangiovese   given added power,  spice and body from  Syrah and Alicante. It was delightfully smooth on the palate, with gin-like hints of juniper. For the wine fan seeking a broader spectrum, Scansano would be worth a detour  on the wines shelves and on the roads of Italy.     





Southern Comfort has announced the release of a special military-only package "to pay tribute to our servicemen and women protecting our country." “We’re extremely proud to release these special camouflage Southern Comfort bottles in honor of our servicemen and women,” said John Tichenor, VP, Group Brand Director, Southern Comfort. “May it remind us all of the sacrifices our troops make every day to preserve our freedom.” Bottles will sell for $16.99, only on military bases.



“Shish kebab and sunshine are hot right now.”
—Cal Foster, “Pleasanton on the Mediterranean,”
Diablo Magazine (Sept. 2012).





N Squared Productions Public Relations Campaign

 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: A NEW PARIS RESTAURANT FIND; VIENNA.

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