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  June 16,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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"Cheaper by the Dozen" (2003)





                                                                                                        by John Mariani

By Geoff Kalish

The Ryland Inn
by John Mariani

by John Mariani

♦ ♦ ♦

by John Mariani

Stony Brook, NY


    My father Al was a man of great gusto. 
    His father and mother came from Italy in 1905 and afterwards they never went hungry.  When Al asked my mother, Renee Sofia, to marry him, his mother demanded the prospective wife learn how to make all Al’s favorite dishes, which were all Italian: lobster fra diavolo, polenta, lasagna with tiny meatballs, gnocchi, and many others.  And because my mother, also of Italian background, knew many more American dishes, it was not unusual for our Sunday dinners to begin with prosciutto and melon, then ziti with meat sauce, then roast prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and chocolate sundaes for dessert.
    My parents loved going to to dinner, at least once a week by themselves, at least once a week with my brother and me. Usually it was to go to a superb Italian restaurant in the Bronx named Amerigo’s, sometimes into Manhattan to places like Vesuvio’s and Mamma Leone’s, which back then was not yet the tourist trap it later became.
    My father knew and urged my mother always to buy the best ingredients, but one day a week—Thursday, when he took off from his podiatry practice early—he brought his lunch home.
    Although my family lived several miles from Fordham, my father would go there on Thursdays, and for him it was a return to his old neighborhood, for he'd grown up on Cambrelling Avenue, just off Arthur Avenue, and, though his people had come from the province Abruzzi on the Adriatic, he understood and enjoyed hearing the Neapolitan melodies as he shopped among the vendors.  He'd double park the Chevy, signal the most proximate vendor where he'd be in case anyone had to get out, then go into the salumeria to buy some prosciutto, which he demanded be sliced thin enough "so I could read Il Progresso through it."  Then next door to Madonia Brothers for an enormous round loaf of crusty Italian bread straight out of the oven.
    While the girl wrapped the bread in white paper and tied it with a string, he'd point to the light, wafer-like biscuits called savoiardi (right) and say he'd take a dozen.
   Last stop was the cheese shop to buy a fresh mozzarella in water.  Heavy, creamy and glistening, with the heft and shape of a woman's breast, the mozz were kept in salted water to keep them fresh. My father would specify which one he wanted, and the woman would ladle it out into a piece of waxed paper, then place it in a paper carton.
   By the time my father arrived home, I'd already had lunch. If it was during the school year, the bread, prosciutto and mozz would be my snack at three o'clock.  But in summer, I waited for my father to arrive back at our apartment at around two o'clock, and I'd always ask, "Did you bring some mozz home?" and he'd kid around, scrunch up his face like he was going to say he'd forgotten, then bring out the bag from behind his back.
    He'd take off his jacket and hat and lay them on the living room couch. Then he'd turn on the Victrola and put a 78 RPM record on the turntable. It would be Toscanini, conducting "Capriccio Italienne" or Carmen Cavallaro playing the Toselli Serenade on the piano. Carefully my father would then unwrap the mozz in water, and, with the same surgical precision and gentleness he used in treating his patients, he'd slice the bread thin enough to absorb the flavors of the meat and cheese but thick enough not to turn soggy. He'd unwrap the rosy, salty slices of prosciutto that had been laid out in impeccably neat layers between sheets of paper so that the slices didn't stick to one another. With a fork, he would then deftly curl back a single slice of prosciutto. The light would shine through it. He cut into the yellow-white mozz that oozed milk and beaded up. It was still a little warm when you bit into it, and the flavors were the same week after week.
    My father would sit there in his shirt and tie, drinking a beer with his meal. I ate slowly, stretching out the time, and we talked about nothing in particular. But I always felt closer to him on those days than at any other time in my life. He would sit at the kitchen table, bite off a morsel of his sandwich, take a sip of beer, then close his eyes and raise his hand. "Listen," he said very softly, as Toscanini lulled the orchestra into a slow, sad movement. "That's very. . . very Italian."

♦ ♦ ♦

IN SOUTH AFRICA  By Geoff Kalish

                                                    KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
    High on the list of the many pleasures my wife and I found on a recent three-week stint in South Africa were the many opportunities for outstanding, extremely well-priced upscale wining and dining.  In fact, measured against numerous upper echelon dining experiences in the gastronomic meccas of France, Italy and the United States, meals at South Africa’s top-tier restaurants were a phenomenal bargain. Moreover, visiting even the highest-rated wineries is far less an undertaking than touring the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy and less a Disneyland-like experience than Napa Valley.
    So, for those into food and wine considering a trip to this diverse country -- boasting one of the oldest wine industries outside Europe and newest culinary innovations anywhere -- the following is provided as a brief guide. (Restaurants are discussed by location following our recent itinerary, starting in the north, in Kruger National Park, and concluding in Cape Town. Wineries are discussed separately, also by location, from west to east, starting in Hermanus and concluding in Constantia.) Of note, our hotel and dining arrangements were made flawlessly by Samantha Myburgh of Rhino Africa Tours.

Sabi Sands
Kruger National Park
(021) 683-3424

    While the twice-daily guided game drives providing up-close observation of animals in the wild are the main draw here, this facility has from its inception touted its spacious accommodations and superior food and wine offerings as part of the pampering. And, during a three-day stay we found that the excellent wine choices and generally above average fare (both provided on an all-inclusive price basis) definitely added to the overall experience. In fact, in addition to our sightings of the lions, tigers, elephants, hippos and buffalo in their natural habitat, the private tasting of Syrah-based wines conducted by sommelier Francois Rautenbach was one of our most memorable experiences at the lodge.
    Breakfast and lunches were a combination of buffet and à la carte ordering, highlighting local produce. Dinners ranged from an outdoor barbecue buffet, offering a variety of salads, local vegetables and grilled game (which we found severely overcooked), to a luxurious private dining experience in the lodge’s library, with choices running the gamut from a zesty dish of tender calamari Asian stir fry with coriander and a sweet chili sauce to a bursting-with-flavor char-grilled springbok loin with a cinnamon espresso glaze. A juicy sesame-crusted salmon was doused with a soy buerre blanc,  while a decadent malva pudding came with amarula ice cream.
    As to the wine choices here, guests can chose to accompany meals with  unlimited quantities of whatever they want from a wide selection of many of the top South African brands, like elegant chardonnays from Hamilton Russell, complex cabernet sauvignons from Jordan and syrahs from Boekenhoutskloof, which even in their youth show layer upon layer of well integrated fruit, spice and herbs.

The price, including lodging, game drives, wine and food, starts at $1,250 per person per night.


Intercontinental Hotel Sun, OR Tambo Airport
(011) 961-5400

     One of the many unexpectedly pleasant dining experiences on our trip, several cuts above average for the genre, was dinner at this restaurant located on the ground floor of an airport hotel,  where we stayed one night en route from Zambia to the Western Cape. The space housing the restaurant is rather cavernous, featuring an eye-catching sixty-foot long mobile of porcupine quills surrounded by tall round columns and walls with deep square recesses containing huge earthenware pots. And, as to be expected, patrons ranged from suited businesspeople to casually dressed tourists.
    Some of the items sampled from a frequently changing seasonal menu included: a picturesque salad of fresh local greens, edible flowers, sun-dried tomatoes and marinated mushrooms drizzled with a light vinaigrette; a salad of cooked-to-a-turn prawns with ripe, juicy tomatoes and a flavorful tomato confit; thick slabs of dewy kingclip (a very popular mild-flavored fish) from Cape Town, served over creamy spinach and fluffy mashed potatoes; baked rack of Karoo lamb served with minted vegetables. And for dessert, try the chocolate torte, served with chocolate ice cream and a poached glazed pear.
    Of note, service was prompt and professional, with menu items carefully explained on request. Also, a wide selection of sensibly priced South African wines, many by the glass, is available. Expect dinner for two, including wine, tax and tip to cost about $100 to $120.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The Crags
(044) 534 8082

    With a combination of exquisite cuisine, right-on wine pairings of South African wines, luxurious setting and flawless, professional service, the fixed price Chef’s Table dinner prepared by Chef Leon Coetzee and his wife, as sous-chef, was the most outstanding meal of our trip.
    The setting: just the two of us in a spacious, well-appointed library at a table set with a lace cloth, fine china, silver and top-notch stemware, and adorned with a magnificent bouquet of freshly cut flowers. The food and wine: ethereal lobster cappuccino with Piere Jordan Brut sparkling wine; flavorful spinach ravioli topped with a buoyant mustard foam mated with a dry, lemony single vineyard chardonnay from Waterford Estate; beef tartare infused with Asian spices perfectly paired with the deep plum flavors of  the Chocolate Block blend of syrah, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, cinsault and viognier from Boekenhoutskloof;  pan-seared loin of  lamb drizzled with an earthy foie gras and truffle jus accompanied by a complex Haute Babrer pinot noir; delicate lemon-poached salmon, accompanied by organic vegetables and topped with an addictive white chocolate sauce matched with a crisp Waterford Sauvignon Blanc; a rich, vanilla crème brûlée served with a honeyed Delheim Edelspatz Late Harvest Riesling; and a South African cheese board with sherry.
    The service: Well spaced courses with explanation of each course by the waiter or the chef.

 The price: amazingly only $205 for two including, wine, tax and tip.


18 Thesen Harbour Town

    Named for the warm, dry breeze that originates in the Sahara and sweeps across the Mediterranean Sea, this casual restaurant is situated on the wharf of the Thesen Harbour Town development. Both outdoor and indoor seating are available, with a mesmerizing view of the sunset. Moreover, featuring a wide range of expertly prepared dishes, this is not your typical waterfront view-deep fried fish-and-chips spot.
    For starters, a prawn and mango salad had well integrated flavors of ripe fruit and briny sea, the seared calamari pristinely fresh and cooked to a perfect, silky-smooth consistency; and the heady South-African specialty,  peri-peri chicken livers that showed over-the-top intensely rich and piquant flavors. Two main courses sampled were the combination of cooked-to-a-turn calamari and local line-caught hake with a lemon-butter sauce, and Queen Prawns bathed in peri-peri sauce. Both went well with a soft, fruity, 2011 Protea Shiraz.
    And a dessert of Macadamia nut brownie served with rich, vanilla ice cream made a perfect finish.

Expect dinner for two to cost $60-$65, including wine, tax and tip.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.


119 11th Street
(028) 314-8000

    Dining here is limited to overnight guests of this small plush hotel, magically set on rugged cliffs high above the southern coast of the Western Cape. Guests can chose to dine in a spacious, glass-fronted sea-facing room from which, in season, you can see Right Whales splashing high above the surface;  or, in a flower-strewn suite (some of which also overlook the water) or, weather-permitting, outdoors on a precipice atop the cliff.
    The overall theme here is the fusion of local fare with French cooking techniques and strong influences of Asian and Italian cuisines, especially spicing. For example: a starter of fresh butter-sautéed Tiger Prawns (right) had subtle hints of garlic and Thai basil; and moist, pan-fried Cape Town kingclip was accompanied by perfectly cooked risotto primavera rich with Parmesan cheese; and a thick grilled beef fillet topped with Blue cheese was served with a roasted tomato and pommes gratin flavored with truffle oil.
    Following the same theme, a dessert of chocolate and almond spring rolls with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries showed a happy mélange of French, Asian and Italian influences. Of note, the fare, whether from the sea or land, mated quite well with a ripe fruity 2009 de Meye Stellenbosch Shiraz that was suggested by one of the friendly, highly professional servers.

The all inclusive price for two guests including room, meals, local wine, tax and gratuity ranges from $600 to $1400 depending on the season and size and location of the room.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

16 Huguenot Road
(021) 876 8442

    If you crave cutesy, deconstructed set-menu fare served in a rather stark, foliage-free ambiance, accompanied by pre-matched wine selections, this is the place for you to dine. The buzz here is about award-winning chef Margot Janse, and patrons ooh and ah about the offerings. We found the experience interesting, but somewhat lacking -- a combination of NYC’s “WD-50 Heavy” and “Blue Hill at Stone Barns Lite.” 
    After an amuse bouche of a cold foie gras wafer and a tiny squid ink brick, our dinner progressed to a small, smooth, deep red orb with intense beet flavor accompanied by cucumber granita mated with a very young chenin blanc – a pairing we found jarringly bitter. Next we were served a small portion of heady, curry-dusted dewy kingclip, accompanied by overly cumin-doused dal, kale and tomato confit -- a dish that ran over a  rather one-dimensional Semillon. This was followed by a juicy loin of Karoo springbok served with wild grains, rainbow carrots and celeriac with a  jammy 2010 Moreson Pinotage (the best wine-food match of the evening). 
    The repast concluded with some excellent local Gruyère cheese, its flavor enhanced by a very delicate South African port, and some gastronomic hocus pocus involving a puffy balloon-shaped coconut dessert that deflated with the addition of caramel sauce. The price of admission was $225 for two, including food, wine, tax and tip – a bargain and a half for those into this type of culinary adventure, especially when compared with other similarly themed establishments in the U.S. and France.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner only


Stellenbosch Kloof Road
(021) 881 3612

Set amidst the bucolically beautiful hillside vineyards of Jordan Winery, with distant views of False Bay and Table Mountain, this is a prime place to enjoy a leisurely, very reasonably priced, memorable lunch. From a daily changing menu of locally sourced items carefully selected by award-winning chef George Jardine, we chose creative starters that included a chilled Gorgonzola-infused cauliflower panna cotta and an Asian-spiced carpaccio of yellowfin tuna. For main courses we went with a steamed local Kabeljou fish accompanied by an aromatic bouillon of organic summer vegetables and herbs. A  roasted line-caught white stumpnose (sea bream) was accompanied by roasted potatoes and creamed spinach served with a creamy, decadent aïoli-like sauce. Of course, we accompanied the fare with glasses of current vintages of Jordan Chardonnay and Cabernet, and for dessert we delved into a gratin of fresh summer berries afloat in a strawberry soup, topped with a berry sorbet.

The cost of lunch for two, not including wine, tax or tip was $65. Open for lunch Tuesday –Sunday and dinner Thursday and Friday

Annandale Road
(021) 881 3000

    Meaning “rest and peace,” this restaurant housed in what was once a winery cellar, a few miles outside the center of Stellenbosch, is not your typical “little ole country eatery,” perennially placing in San Pellegrino’s list of top 100 restaurants in the world. Inside, tables are set with fine linens, Riedel stemware and dishware made by local master potter David Walters. The tables surround an open kitchen where chef John Shuttleworth and his staff use classic and modern French techniques to cook primarily locally sourced ingredients. Overseen by the chef’s wife, Andrea, service is prompt, friendly and professional, with brief sensible discourses on the menu choice.
    From the four-course menu we started with a combination of duck confit and foie gras garnished with red radish and rhubarb, and the ubiquitous kingclip cleverly served with perfectly matched accompaniments of cauliflower, pancetta and a Gruyère beignet. For a second course we chose a meaty roasted quail and a dewy monkfish tail paired with Parma ham, porcini and baby leeks.
    Next we both chose the medium-rare loin of lamb, its flavor enhanced by pickled morels and almond purée and served with mint pearl barley. As to wine, we paired each selection with two vintages (1996 and 2009) of the Rust en Vred Estate Red Blend (cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot). The1996 showed a memorable bouquet and taste of blackberries, anise and vanilla and the 2009 had a fruit forward, plummy taste. Of note, the older wine mated particularly well with the lamb, while the younger showed a bit more fruit, marrying surprisingly well with the duck confit and kingclip.
    We concluded with a selection of South African cheeses and a rich lemon thyme panna cotta.

Four course dinners cost $100 for two, not including wine, tax or tip, with wine very sensibly priced. 
Open Tuesday – Saturday for dinner

Roundhouse Road, The Glen, Camps Bay
(021) 438 4347

    Originally a guardhouse built over 200 years ago by the Dutch East India Company, the Roundhouse offers sweeping views westward over historic Camps Bay. Inside, the décor is woodsy-chic, with fine china and silverware set on white linen-clothed tables set primarily in a long room with dark wood on one side and windows on the other, affording a view of the distant sunset.
    While a six-course fixed-price tasting menu, with optional wine pairing, is available, we went with a dinner consisting of four courses, with three to four choices for each course. To begin, we chose a very imaginative salad of supple globe artichoke leaves dressed with a nutty butter emulsion whipped with a garlic purée and almond juice, and a tender, slow-cooked beef tongue, enlivened by a dab of whole-grain mustard.
    For the next two courses we each chose anise-scented salmon trout poached in olive oil and tender, rosy fallow deer, its flavor enhanced by lingonberries and a marinade or rosemary and lavender. We accompanied the meal with two top-tier South African Bordeaux-like blends, a smooth 2006 Jordan Cobler’s Hill Red, similar in style to a Lynch-Bages, and a 2006 De Toren Z, with complex flavors of cassis and dried cherries. Both matched the fare quite well, with a slight edge to the Jordan, which paired perfectly with the salmon trout as well as the deer. A selection of rich South African cheeses and a refreshing passion fruit soufflé with toasted coconut sorbet provided an excellent ending.

The four course dinner, not including wine (which is modestly priced), tax and tip cost a very reasonable $110 for two.
Open for dinner Tuesday - Saturday and for lunch Wednesday – Sunday (May 1- September 30)


101 Hout Street
(021) 424 2626

    Diners here shouldn’t be put off by the no-frills environment of exposed brick walls, shiny, unadorned wooden tables set with simple white dishes, and straightback cushionless chairs. A welcome lack of piped-in music allows for quiet conversation. Taking its name from what many consider the prettiest and sweetest cabbage, this is “the” Cape Town spot for cutting-edge, eclectic fare. An interesting aside is that many locals, even those into food and wine, like our superb guide /driver during our trip, Caz Louw, consider this place quite off-beat.
    Starters of grilled asparagus with mustard mayonnaise, pickled quail’s egg and salad of beetroot, orange and fennel with homemade labnah were au courrant but not write-home-about avant-garde. However, main courses of moist grilled hake on dried apricot and almond pilaf with a fruity Malay butter sauce and Karoo Lamb two ways -- roast crumbed loin and braised shoulder with fondant potatoes and lamb thyme jus -- were exceptional and not your everyday fare. And these were some of the less “out there” choices, which included spiced Kudu filet served rare, pickled lamb filet, and fennel dusted Warthog on braised neeps.
    For dessert go with the day’s specials, like cape malva pudding with vanilla crème Anglaise or macerated strawberries on hazelnut shortbread with milk chocolate ice cream.

Dinner for two, including tax, tip and two glasses of wine each -- from a list of over two dozen sensibly-priced South African choices -- was $130. Open for dinner Monday – Saturday and Lunch Monday – Friday.


Also,  two restaurants highly touted in guidebooks --Nobu and Reubens -- located in the large and impersonal One & Only hotel were just that, large and impersonal, and not worthy of detailed mention. Suffice it to say that Nobu served creditable food, but unless you have a sushi addiction, why go all the way to South Africa to dine on Japanese fare? And Reuben’s, which offered all the charm of a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot in a large downtown hotel, served ho-hum fare at upscale prices.

Geoff Kalish, MD is a former wine columnist for Wine Spectator and the NY Times (Westchester Weekly Section) and co-author of The Best Wining & Dining in New Orleans and  Wining and Dining in Westchester. 


♦ ♦ ♦

 (Suburban Division)
by John Mariani

THE Ryland INN
115 Old Highway 28
Whitehouse Station, NJ

    From 1991 through 2007, The Ryland Inn was known as one of New Jersey’s finest restaurants, with an award-winning chef, Craig Shelton, whose classic and nouvelle cuisine was both highly personalized and highfalutin.  The Inn’s wine list was astoundingly rich, and, at the time, when spending freely was part of the ethos, hugely expensive wines were sold regularly.
    The Inn itself was very beautiful, set well off the road on ten-and-a-half acres of rural New Jersey land in Whitehouse, albeit proximate to suburban sprawl. It was a place to celebrate, to hold weddings and to enjoy a kind of cuisine that by 2005 was just beginning to fade in popularity.  Everything was stylized to reek luxury, and pretentious presentations were part of Shelton’s mission to impress.
        Oddly enough, a water main break led to disastrous management disputes and eventual foreclosure in 2007, and the Inn lay empty until construction industry exec Frank Cretella and his wife, Jeanne, took it over last year, poured in money and hard work, and, without transforming the bucolic charms of the original décor of this former stagecoach station, brought a much-needed modernity to 13,000 square feet of space, with 130 seats inside and out. With five dining rooms, polished dark woods, cathedral ceilings and Victorian Gothic arched windows, white tablecloths, and equestrian artwork, the Inn retains the look of a place that might easily be the home of landed gentry, if New Jersey had landed gentry.
    It’s a more casual place now, less hushed, less reverential, and chef Anthony Bucco, most recently at Uproot in Warren, has replaced Shelton’s mannerisms with a more ebullient personality. Still, some of his food can be overly complex and plated as much for looks as for taste, appearing to take more time to compose than to cook.  But, largely, taste trumps pomp here, beginning with a dish of shrimp with watermelon radish and sunomono pickled vegetables.
    There is a healthy dose of Asian flavors in his kitchen, including uni custard with cauliflower mousse, tempura and kombu (kelp), and he serves lush, silky kindai madai (sea bream) crudo (I’m not sure why he uses the Italian word instead of sashimi) with crispy rice, pickled vegetables, and a smoked cashew puree. Deep red yellowfin tuna comes with pork belly, green lentils, and black garlic, while mackerel is wrapped in thin sheets of Italian lard, served with apple, rosemary, cabbage in a pork broth.
I was happy to see skate wings on the menu, here made into a roulade, with fingerling potato, grilled spinach, and buttered almonds.  And the smoked squab breast with a rich accompaniment of foie gras, the crunch of pistachios, and sweet parsnip and pear was a triumph of perfectly incorporated ingredients and textures. Similarly, the delicacy of hare and rabbit crêpinette with cauliflower and golden raisins showed Bucco’s persuasive talent for classic technique. Thickly cut filet mignon was enriched with braised short rib, winter vegetables, and a reduction of Bordeaux wine.  Venison (it was early spring when I dined there) came with chestnuts and a sweet potato pave that made for an honorably traditional marriage.
    For dessert, the Inn’s panna cotta made with sheep’s milk came wrapped within a passion fruit gel sprinkled with ginger granola. I am not much of a peanut butter fan, but I admit that pastry chef Jon Boot’s PB mousse coated with chocolate accompanied by banana-Nutella ice cream was pretty darn good.
    The wine list, not as top heavy with exorbitant bottlings as it used to be, is now very well budgeted and has depth and breadth.  The service staff is well meaning but slightly behind the kitchen and ambiance in sophistication.
    It’s wonderful to see such a beautiful and revered place rescued and restored to a contemporary refinement that shows in the decorous details—this, obviously due to Mr. Cretella’s expertise in construction—and it is now a better restaurant than most people might remember it.  It’s a difficult thing to pull off, and the vision the Cretellas have for the Ryland Inn’s future seems assured.

The Ryland Inn is open Tues.-Sun.  for dinner. Appetizers run $12-$17, main courses $29-$42, with a seven-course tasting menu at $99.

♦ ♦ ♦


by John Mariani

    While I was perusing the 1,800-selection wine list at New York’s Aureole restaurant, my wife nudged me at about number 785 and said, “Pssst. I’m still here.”
    I apologized for being so entranced in Aureole’s list, but I was in awe of its having so many bottlings of  particular wines, like 18 vintages of Domaine Leflaive and ten from the hard-to-get Harlan Estate, all within a stunning glass cache (right).
    The list teems with great rarities, including two vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a 2009 for $10,500 and a 2010 for $11,450 (which is actually something of a bargain, since those same wines sell in wine shops for even  more). Aureole also lists scores of wines even connoisseurs are unlikely to seek out, including a $50 Alsatian chasselas. I asked wine director Justin Lorenz, “When was the last time you actually served a chasselas?” “As a matter of fact,” he said, “just last weekend. A guest wanted to try something he’d never had before at around that price, so I recommended it. There are great values on our list from Alsace, Austria, and Switzerland, and I steer people to them when they tell me what they want to spend.”
    So who these days buys a $10,000 burgundy?  “I’ll sell four or five $300 to $500 bottles every night,” said Lorenz. “Above $500, a couple of bottles per month. For wines $1,000 and up, Americans don’t order many, but some of our South American and Chinese clientele do.”
    Many restaurants build huge “trophy” wine lists for prestige, hoping to join the 75 restaurants that currently hold Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for cellars that “generally offer 1,500 or more selections, with superior breadth and depth in many of the world’s classic wine-producing regions.” One winner, Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, FL, has a whopping 6,800 labels and 500,000 bottles.
    At the Plaza-Athenée Paris Hotel, whose Michelin three-star Alain Ducasse restaurant cellar (left) stocks 1,000 labels and 35,000 bottles, Laurent Roucayrol, just crowned Best Sommelier of the year by L’Académie Internationale de la Gastronomie, concurs that “the Russians and Chinese are the clients that seem less concerned by the price of the bottle. Most people are drinking less but better. For our business clients wine by the glass is becoming increasingly popular, with an average of two glasses per person. Sensitivity is the main concern for me. I do my best to please them by selecting a wine closest to their expectations.”
    These new economies for business meals are a far cry from the “Mad Men” days of three-martini lunches and First Growth bordeaux. Today, for many business people drinking at lunch is not encouraged; staying lucid is considered common sense.  “I entertain clients at lunch two or three times a week,” says Anthony J. Forgione, Assistant VP for Hudson Valley Bank in White Plains, NY, “and I’d say only about 20 percent of them order even a glass of wine at lunch.”
    Hosts are also increasingly on restrained expense accounts. “Presently my limit for a business meal, including wine, per guest is £80 ($120),” says Seema Arora, Global Head of Portfolio Trading Sales for Crédit Agricole Cheuvreux International Ltd, in London. “I can certainly go over that if necessary, but I don’t spend hundreds of pounds for wine at a business meal.”
    In such a business environment, how does a new  restaurant build a wine list from scratch to meet guests’ expectations? “Buying trophy wines is often done just to please the ego of the restaurateur or sommelier,” says Roberto Della Pietra (right), wine consultant for London’s four-week old Tartufo in Chelsea. “If you have a telephone and a checkbook anyone can build a huge list, and there is a thin line between being bright and being arrogant. My job is to have wines that elevate the cuisine of our chef Manuel Oliveri, with some little gems on it.”
    With an average wine bill of £15 at lunch and £25 at dinner, Della Pietra says, “We are testing what the customer wants. I’m not going to built the wine list on big expensive names.”   
    One of the few cities where wine is still enjoyed at lunch is New Orleans, where people always find something to celebrate at the drop of a hat. “It’s still show-off time in this city,” says Ti Martin, co-proprietor of Commander’s Palace, whose cellar, overseen by beverage director Dan Davis (left) stocks 2,500 labels, the rarest behind iron gates. “A lot of people fly in just because we have the Grand Award, and they order some big old wines. It’s an over-the-top, I’m-going-to-treat myself experience for them, and they don’t skimp.”
    Still, restaurants like Commander’s Palace must constantly come up with ways to sell more wine, especially older bottlings. “In our slowest months, August and September, we hold our `Grape Nuts’ sale, with 150 bottles at half price, which helps us to manage our inventory. And we brought back a silly thing from the past—the twenty-five cent martini (limit three per person). What  happens is that it primes people to have one, then say, what the hell, and they order a $20 glass of Meursault.”

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News.

♦ ♦ ♦


"I have nothing against hamburgers; a well-made one can be terrific, and often (or a couple of times a year, anyway) it’s just what I want. For the most part, though, I find sausages more interesting, and more fun to make at home."--David Tanis, "Lamb Sausage Edges Out the Hamburger," NY Times (6/7)


This month, Eastern State Penitentiary, now defunct, in Philadelphia served sample prison food from the 1830s and 1940s to visitors. The dishes include broiled salted beef with "Indian mush," hamburger with brown gravy and beets; Nutraloaf, a concoction of rice, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, oatmeal, chickpeas, and margarine, a dish that used to be served as punishment to prisoners, some of whom had in the past sued the prison for cruel and unusual punishment.




 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:

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