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  May 5,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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                                                                                                             Buenos Aires, Part One
                                                                           By John Mariani

by John Mariani

by John Mariani



Part One
by John Mariani


       As the residents of Buenos Aires, who call themselves Porteños (port people), will be the first to tell you, theirs is a city closest in spirit and look to the great capitals of Europe, especially Paris, whose grand designer, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussman, rebuilt both cities.  Broad avenues, glorious fountains and a long beach along the river have made Buenos Aires a highly civilized city with its own South American sway. Grills, called parrillas, dominate the city’s gastronomy, but there are some new restaurants now breaking the mold that I shall be reporting on next week.
    If there really is such a thing as a “hot” new city, Buenos Aires holds a top spot right now, not only for its classic beauty, its vibrant waterfront teeming with restaurants and bars, and  its amazing, youthful vitality, but for the fact that, after a critical devaluation of the peso, it is one of the cheapest cities on Earth for a foreigner to enjoy: the  US dollar now buys you at least 5 pesos and you can (ahem) get even more in some quarters. By the same token, prices rose during the boom years that preceded the current downturn, so that the buys on leather goods are not what they once were.  Nevertheless, even the top stores, like Rossi & Caruso (left),  are very happy to take U.S. dollars and give up to a 30 percent discount for them.
    And you'll need a good pair of shoes, because BA is very much a walking city, from the fashionable streets of Recoleta to the increasingly cool--and now expensive--neighborhood unofficially called "Hollywood" within the Palermo District.  The name has stuck because this is where in the last decade, many of Argentina's movie and theater crowd have chosen to live, so it is packed with boutiques, bistros, cafés, and nightclubs called boliches.  La Boca is the old port district; Puerto Madero the docklands now developed with skyscrapers and condos; Retiro is famous for its Art Nouveau architecture; and San Telmo (below), a very old, fairly well-preserved neighborhood with a large Italian population. 
        The city, founded by the Spanish, dates to 1580, and it proudly regards itself as righteously autonomous, now with about 3 million people, and despite a boom and bust Argentine economy that waxes and wanes every nine years or so, the quality of life among Porteños is among the highest in South America, whose citizens have always regarded the Argentinians, whose population is enriched with Italians, Germans, and other Europeans, who arrived between 1900 and 1946,  as an annoying uppity people. And, now that the residents of the city can claim a new Pope, Francis I, who was one of them, so the bragging rights have increased accordingly. You will also find that the Porteños look more like those Europeans than people anywhere else in Latin America; and you have to get into the poorer districts or outskirts before you see the features and complexions of native Americans in the people. There are very few blacks in BA.
    This is not the place to get into a discussion of Argentina's and Buenos Aires' political history, which has had its share of brutalities, numerous military dictatorships, plenty of bombings, and the embarrassing defeat in the Falklands War. But it should be mentioned that the far right supporters' fevered affection for Eva Perón, is still palpable in BA, and her image still stands out on the sides of buildings (left). Indeed, one of the city's most popular tourists spots is her tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery.
    Broad avenues like the Plaza de la República,  stretch through the center of the city, lined with historic and new buildings of note, including the Cathedral and the gorgeous Teatro Colón opera house (right).  In fact, BA has one of the largest concentration of theaters of all types in the western world.  Each April the Buenos Aires International Book Fair draws visitors, publishers, and authors to what is considered one of the finest events of its kind.
   The city's diverse museums run the gamut from
the Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina  to the Automóvil Club Argentino; there is a Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum,  the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art, the Faena Arts Center, Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano Isaac Fernández Blanco,  and even a Museum of Foreign Debt. And, of course, there is a museum devoted to Argentina's national dance--the Academia Nacional del Tango de la República Argentina.  The tango dates back to the 1890s among the lower classes, but by the 1920s it was all the rage on both side of the Atlantic, and the city teems with tango clubs and places where you can learn the dance.  I once took a lesson and became instantly enthralled with the sensuous movement and relative ease with which I got started.  Refinement, however, is a lifetime commitment.  One of the best known clubs, with a show, is Esquina Carlos Gardel, open since the 1940s, but you can walk through San Telmo district and see tango dancers right on the streets and plazas (left), some dancing for tips, others for the sheer pleasure of it, as Al Pacino did in the 1992 movie "Scent of a Woman," as a blind man leading a young woman across the dance floor of NYC's Plaza Hotel.
    BA's population takes full advantage, at any hour of the day or night, at the hundreds of cafés throughout the city, many of them historic. The most famous is the Café Tortoni, founded in 1858 by a Frenchman and in its present location since 1880. The place
bustles throughout the day, largely with tourists who come mainly for the special coffees and desserts, from a menu that is vast, serving everything from steaks to seafood out of a dimly lighted, rather grim back kitchen.  You find a table, or stand at the bar, order a postre sweet, sip the coffee, and take in the atmosphere, including walls hung with ancient photographs of the kings and queens, actors and musicians who have been coming here for more than a century and a half.
    BA has a very good selection of hotels in every price category.  At the high end, the Alvear Palace is one of the most famous, oldest, and newly renovated. The Faena Hotel BA in the Puerto Maduro is one of the newest, carved out of a grain depository.  The Four Seasons Hotel provides all the comforts and exceptional service you'll find throughout that international chain, and the new restauante here, Elena, is one of the best new spots in town (I'll be writing about it in next week's issue). 
    The new Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt (left), where I stayed on my last visit, is stunning in its architecture, which is thoroughly modern but has as its backdrop a true Palacio. There is a pool and spa, as well as a fine art gallery.  One sour note when I arrived: my bags took 45 minutes to reach me, despite several phone calls to the front desk and, finally, the manager's office.  Even in a hotel of this elegance, it's always a good idea to bring your own carry-up luggage. Otherwise, I found the staff throughout--all fluent in English--exceptionally helpful throughout my stay.  By the way, the hotel even offers tango lesson.

Next Week: Where to Eat in Buenos Aires. 




by John Mariani


27 West 24th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    Now two years old, Junoon has had deservedly good press, not least a Michelin star, the only one awarded to an Indian restaurant in NYC (London has three).  The reasons are easy enough to discern: owner Rajesh Bhardwaj set out to show that Indian food need not be an array of 100 dishes with five sauces and to prove that the cuisine can be as refined as any.  It would not be true, however, to say that Junoon is NYC's first "upscale" Indian restaurant, for, right along with the cherished, casual storefronts in Murray Hill,  the East Village and Astoria, there have always been finely decorated midtown restaurants like Dawat, Chola, Bombay Palace, and Tulsi.
     Junoon does, however, offer a larger, grander concept of modern style--the name Junoon means "passion"--which begins with  a seductively lighted 50-seat bar separated from the large dining room. The lounge area has two antique jhoola swings made from Burmese teak wood; the façade has a wonderful basket weave of black limestone;  "Tree of Life" sculptures line the entry to the main dining area, where  roomy booths and large dining tables are set with good napery and fine glassware.  To the far wall is a brightly lighted glassed-in kitchen. (I should note that for some reason the seductively  low lighting of the dining room is lowered further around nine o'clock, which makes it no more seductive but actually decreases the pleasure in seeing the color and beauty of the food settings.)

      Scott Carney's 750-label wine list--with one Indian selection--would be extraordinary in an haute cuisine French restaurant, but in an Indian restaurant it is unique.  Whether ,all 750 of those wines actually are a good match for the high spicings in Indian food is a matter of taste, but we enjoyed a Sancerre at $65 that had enough spice and minerality of its own to go with our meal. I'm not sure, though, that a Château Cheval Blanc 2000 ($2500) or a Joseph Phelps Insignia magnum  2008 ($800) on the list meets Carney's criterion as a "supple, fruity red."
As I did on my last visit, my wife and friends put ourselves in the hands and imagination of Executive Chef Vikas Khanna and  Chef Aliya Lee Kong (below)They had just begun the spring menu, which is offered à la carte and as both a $75 and a $65 vegetable dinner.
    I must report that on the night I visited, midweek, the dining room was pretty full by eight o'clock, but that could hardly have been the cause for the distressing delays in getting our food out of the kitchen. Since no Indian bread nor pappadum crisps are presented to the table, we nursed cocktails and a bottle of wine for 45 minutes before the appetizers arrived (and not taking time  to choose our meal).  Then it was another 45 minutes before a middle course arrived, followed minutes later by the main courses, and more wine.  We kept on ordering more bread--the garlic naan with prunes is outstanding--just to keep our appetite at bay. Whatever the mix-up was, it was never explained. I like to assume it was an off night for service.
    We began with a shooter  of pretty,  light green spiced spinach puree, then an array of appetizers that included lahsooni gobi, crispy soft-centered cauliflower with chili flakes and a garlic tomato chutney; delicious eggplant chaat with yogurt, sweet-sour tamarind and red onion for texture and sweetness; murg tikka hasnu, which are tender chicken thighs with assertive garam masala spices and the surprise of cheddar cheese, served with a tomato-cucumber salad.  The really outstanding first course was salmon tikka, a dish difficult to get right because the salmon--which must be of the finest quality to begin with--can so easily cook through and become dried out in the fierce heat of the tandoor oven.  Here, it was a superbly rendered fine fish, juicy throughout its flesh,  served with greens. We shared these appetizers, but portions were not particularly generous.
    When our entrees arrived, we hungry few leapt on them.  Kari patta shrimp (rather small in size) were cooked in the tandoor with curry leaves, green chilies, coriander and pickled vegetables. Excellent wild striped bass malvan (above), a dish cooked on the cast iron tawa, was simply done with a sauce of fresh coconut, green chilies and kodampulli, a dried smoked fruit. Another tawa dish, murg labadar, was creamy chicken tikka simmered with cashews and white poppy seeds.  A handi dish--basically a curry---was patiala shai goat, slowly cooked but keeping all the succulence, along with with green chilies in a subtle, smoky peanut-tamarind sauce.  Punjabi kadi was a dish of chickpeas  and vegetable pakoras fritters with yogurt, dry red chili and garam masala.
  The food at Junoon aims for subtlety, not mere heat, so if you prefer the latter style, make sure you ask for it.
    Pastry Chef Angie Lee goes well beyond the clichés of Indian sweets with desserts that might well find their way onto a French or American dining table anywhere in NYC: coconut rice pudding with brûléed bananas, dates, a rum hazelnut candied almonds and lovely ginger ice cream; a spice chocolate cake with chocolate sable, chocolate cream, white chocolate powder, and nutty torrone ice cream;  best of all,  a moist date and fig cake with a salty caramel sauce, clementines for a tangy edge, black sesame crumble, and nougat cinnamon ice cream--a perfect amalgam of flavors that bridges East and West sweets.
    In many respects that is the signature of Junoon, keeping long, refined culinary traditions alive in a modern style not opposed to Western influence.  It clicks right into in a melting pot city like New York. 

Junoon is open for lunch and dinner daily.  Appetizers run $12-$15, main courses $16-$38.


Rye Coming Through as the Hot New Whiskey
by John Mariani

                                                                                                                Rye grain

     Ask most people to name a rye whiskey label, and they’ll probably squint and mumble, “Uh, Canadian Club?” Which is a blended whiskey, not a rye, as defined by the U.S. Standards of Identity as a spirit containing at least 51 percent rye. Yet over the past couple of years, rye has become the hottest “new” whiskey around, despite its being America’s first colonial spirit, long before bourbon was ever distilled.
    “When we first came back on the market with our Michter’s Rye in the 1990s, we were turned down by distributors,” says Joseph J. Magliocco, President of Michter’s Distillery LLC in Louisville, KY, which had gone bankrupt in 1989. “Now, we’re completely sold out of our 10 and 25 year old ryes, and our Chinese importer tells us it’s selling in Hong Kong bars for $150 per ounce!”
    This new fame was a long time coming. After Prohibition rye competed well enough with bourbon, but by the late 1970s all “brown goods,” including bourbon, Scotch, and brandy, were in free fall, replaced by more popular “white goods” like vodka and rum. “The word `rye’ on a bottle was a negative for years,” says Magliocco.
    But the renewed interest in bourbon in the 1990s, with a flood of new small batch and signature bourbons spilling into the market, spurred others to try to fill a niche market for smoother, small-batch, aged ryes, now being made in Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana.
According to Fred Minnick, a spirits expert who writes for Whiskey Advocate and Whiskey magazine,  “What happened was that back in 2000 Seagram folded their whiskey operations,
and its Lawrenceburg, Indiana, distillery was acquired by Pernod Ricard, which announced it would close it in 2006. (CL Financial purchased it but sold it five years later.) The distillery had a couple thousand barrels of rye whiskey leftover with nowhere to go. Then, small brands started popping up, buying the Indiana juice. Bartenders got hold of it and loved it for making whiskey sours, old fashioneds, and Manhattans, because rye is a good mixer. Then the Japanese and English, who love American whiskies, started bringing cases back with them on the plane, so now there’s incredible interest in the international market for rye. In fact, a lot of rye grain is now coming out of Europe.”
    When the Sazerac label introduced its “small batch” rye ten years ago, it was “a real gamble,” according to Kris Comstock, marketing director of Buffalo Trace. “Now there’s such a proliferation of info through social media and online that American whiskies are booming. Sazerac piqued people’s curiosity, and we now makes five different ryes, released annually and extremely allocated. The interest feeds on itself.”
    The new ryes are largely distinguished by their barrel finishing. Angel’s Envy, made by master distiller, Lincoln Anderson, 74, with his son Wes, 47, and grandson Kyle, 23 (left), is finished in Caribbean rum whiskey casks. “We had to come up with cool ideas,” says Lincoln. “So I tasted hundreds of different rums, then sought out the barrels that the ones I liked were aged in. So we take a 95% rye whiskey and age it in those barrels. The natural spiciness of rye collides in a beautiful way with the molasses and rum flavors.” Angel's Envy will be released this month and by 2014 will be distributed in 27 states.
    Wes Anderson explains Angel’s Envy’s name: “The 20 to 30 percent of whiskey that evaporates from the barrel into the air is called the `angel’s share.’ But we don't let them have all of it. They don’t deserve it, so we call it Angel’s Envy.”
    I tasted a wide array of ryes—with a splash of water—and found them a far cry from the raw, stinging stuff of the past.  Here are some of my favorites.

Redemption ($30)—a 92° proof beauty, made from 95 percent rye sourced from Indiana.  The nose bolts out of the glass before you even sniff it. It’s very smooth, broadens on the palate, with a mild finish but little bite. 

Rittenhouse 100 proof Bottle in Bond Straight Rye ($24)—Though made in Kentucky, this is a “Pennsylvania-style” rye named after David Rittenhouse, first director of the U.S. Mint. Despite its proof, this is a silky, creamy whiskey with a seductive, slow burn. Not meant for diluting in a cocktail. 

Sazerac Rye ($30)—One of five Sazerac ryes, this 90° proof crisp style has lots of flavor components and hints of molasses and cinnamon, and it goes down very easily. An ideal base for rye cocktails. 

Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye ($70)—Another Sazerac rye, it’s pricey but shows off breeding through a mating of rye and malted barley, so, while light in color, it has a briary cut to it that may remind you of a single malt Scotch.

Michter’s 10-Year-Old ($70)—Michter’s US 1 Straight Rye is impressive enough for its depth and layers of true rye flavors, but the 10-Year-Old shows just how strikingly American whiskey can compete with the finest Scotches and Cognacs out there. You want complexity, a nip of oak and smoke, this is well worth seeking out and worth every penny it costs.

Knob Creek Rye  ($41)—Another blockbuster at 100° proof, this has plenty of spice notes and gets vanilla from its charred oak barrels. 

WhistlePig ($70)—Aged ten years and 100° proof from 100 percent rye, WhistlePig is currently made from Canadian rye finished in bourbon barrels in Vermont, where the producers hope to have their own distillery up and running this summer. It’s got plenty of spice, some anise and caramel, and it’s gaining favor and distribution beyond the New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. 

Willett 4 Year Old Single Barrel Rare Release ($36)—Ready for a 110° proof rye? This is a surprisingly very smooth whiskey indeed, with little burn, and has a lush, sweet element to it. The company has a Franco-American colonial history and opened its distillery in 1935.

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News.



 After Antonius Hart Sr. and Antonius Hart Jr. got their order at the drive-through window at  Jack Pirtle's Fried Chicken in Memphis, TN, they realized "several pieces of chicken were missing from their order," so they returned top get the mistake fixed. But  Hart Sr. was still so upset by the error that he pulled out an AK-47 rifle and brandished it in front of the manager. Police recovered the gun and 24 rounds of ammunition, and the Harts were arrested.


"The ME hotel is a temple to self-love situated on a roundabout between the
Delaunay and Somerset House. It is the first temple to self-love that, to my knowledge,
 comes disguised as a motorway feature — and at the bottom of this hotel-slash-roundabout
is a restaurant, STK, the weirdest, sluttiest, muckiest, silliest, shiniest, stupidest, tackiest,
 gruntiest restaurant in all of Londons, as an oligarch’s wife might say. It is so 2008 —
a place of lip gloss and Lenny Kravitz furniture, of lilac uplighting and apricot liqueur,
 of truffles and man-shirts, of jewels, sebum, sadness, drool and disco, and absolutely
the gayest cocktails ever. For a good part of a Wednesday night,
I think I am in Usher’s underpants."
--Camilla Long, "Table Talk," Sunday Times Magazine.


 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 won top prize  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: South Dakota, Where the West Begins

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 2013