Virtual Gourmet

  June 23,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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"The Portrait" by René Magritte (1935)



                                                    DRIVING THE CALIFORNIA COAST,

                                                                            Part Two
                                                                                           by Christopher Mariani


By John Mariani

Gotham Bar and Grill
by John Mariani

Chilean Wine and Cuisine
by Mort Hochstein



                                    DRIVING THE CALIFORNIA COAST
                                                       Part Two

                                                                by Christopher Mariani

Big Sur, California

    With San Diego and La Jolla in our rear view mirrors, we drove north and officially began our California road trip, a drive I’ve been looking forward to for most of my life. Driving up Highway 1 in a Mustang convertible, weaving up and down the mountain pass, alongside the great Pacific, hugging the road’s corners with a frightful drop to the sandy beaches just inches away is a breathtaking experience. But, before our journey began, we had to stop in for a quick lunch at  L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills.
    There is nothing more posh than pulling up to the valet at L’Ermitage then being whisked away, through the front doors, knowing you are in the cordial hands of one of LA’s finest deluxe hotels. After being shown through the lobby, we found our dining table at Livello restaurant (right) awaiting us. We began a relaxing afternoon with two glasses of crisp Champagne, wondering if we should check-in for the night or continue on to Santa Barbara. The stay was tempting but we knew our next destination would be just as impressive.
    At Livello, we eased into the meal with thin slices of velvety tuna tataki, topped with green onions, ginger, garlic and a delicate ponzu sauce. Salmon sashimi  (below) was lightly seared with garlic oil and served with sundried tomatoes, ginger, garlic chips and soy sauce. For entrees, we enjoyed an authentic spaghetti alla bolognese, sprinkled with sharp pecorino cheese and fresh green basil--an odd encore to the two Japanese-inspired appetizers yet all the more notable for
showing Chef Benjamin Dayag's mastery of two polar cuisines. The menu also offers 28-day aged beef burgers and a pulled duck confit salad and offers top tier desserts, including a decedent warm chocolate cake with marshmallows. My  only criticism was a bland pizza alla margherita; as a New Yorker, I am admittedly jaded about pizzas, but this was one component of the meal I know can improve.
    After two short espressos, we reluctantly left the L’Ermitage and drove north to Santa Barbara, where we checked into the Four Seasons (below), which sits  directly on the coastline, overlooking the powerful blue ocean. The hotel is an extravagance of the brand’s elite hospitality and service. We pulled into the property and were immediately awed by the botanical diversity  surrounding the driveway leading to the main entrance. Tall palm trees swayed back and forth as guests moseyed along quaint pathways that help you navigate the estate.
    The resort is scattered with private cottages, tennis courts and amazing views of the ocean. That afternoon, we visited the hotel’s Cabana club where we lounged, sandwiched between an Olympic size swimming pool and the glistening ocean. A few cocktails later, we were fully submerged in the Four Seasons experience.
    That evening we dined by candlelight at Bella Vista (below), a short walk from our lovely cottage. We sat outdoors, mesmerized by a large fire pit as we clinked glasses and exchanged smiles. Thick cuts of grilled octopus were mixed with a green olive potato salad and dressed with a warm pancetta and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. The first wave of food also included crispy lump crab meat croquettes, thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma and warm focaccia bread spread with fresh ricotta cheese and silky olive oil, all washed down with a dry bubbly Prosecco. For a mid-course, chef spoiled us with spaghetti, coated in butter and  topped with delicate shavings of black truffles, a dish flawless in both execution and flavor. Next came tender sweetbreads, moist halibut with honey red onions, and my favorite dish of the night, chef Alessandro Cartumini’s veal scaloppine, set in a shallow pool of white wine, butter, lemon and capers. Desserts included a warm chocolate soufflé, a refreshing pineapple meringue, and coffee-chocolate mousse donuts.
As we finished the remains our California pinot noir, our night ended blissfully in our suite (below), decorated with a real feel for the Pacific coastline, airy, open to the ocean, smelling of the salt air.  We slept very, very well.
    In the morning, we walked the pristine streets of Santa Barbara before embarking on our six-hour drive north on Highway 1, the most gorgeous 240 miles I have ever driven anywhere.  The road quickly began to narrow as we ascended up the cliffs, overlooking the vast ocean below. The road was winding through the mountains with sharp curves, placing a strain on our convertible’s brakes. Looking ahead, it appeared as though the golden beach stretched for endless miles. Up and down and around we drove, stopping frequently to take pictures of the stunning view below. A few hours into our drive we approached Big Sur, one of California’s most magnificent natural attractions. Walking along a dirt trail we snapped pictures of the cove, eyes drawn to the tiny waterfall that spit out from the side of a gigantic rock formation. We sat and stared out into the sea for about an hour before we said goodbye and proceeded to the charming town of Carmel.
    Stay tuned. 




 By John Mariani

     Coming off a delayed flight from Las Vegas to JFK last week, I was happy to learn I would be landing at the brand new Delta Terminal 4, which replaced the decrepit, warren-like terminal they had used for decades. I had heard so many appealing things about this $1.3 billion extravaganza, not least that it would have nine new gates, many more check-in kiosks and agents, 12 security lanes, "world-class shopping," and eateries from Danny Meyer, Marcus Samuelsson, and La Brea Bakery. What's not to love?
     I'll tell you what's not to love: unless you take off from the very first A gates (has anyone actually ever taken off at any time from Gate 1 at any airport?), you will have a trek that can be a half an hour or more to get out of Terminal 4. If you look at the configuration, you'll see that the B gates stretch way out and lead to the A gates; now look at the jets below, probably 737s and 757s, lined up at the gates.  Since a 757 measures 155 feet in length, if you laid 15-20 of them end to end, you could approximate the length of the entry and exit walk you maneuver-- I figure about two-thirds of a mile.  I came in at Gate 34, with carry-on bags. There were families with small children and people in wheel chairs; crowds waiting to get on a plane; crowds exiting planes.  I walk at a fast clip, yet after ten minutes I was still nowhere near the end of the B Gates.  Fortunately, the driver of a cart with elderly and disabled passengers stopped and asked if I wanted a lift.  I hopped on, but still, it was another five minutes to get to baggage claim and exit!
     These patently absurd but symptomatic designs of new airports have master planners, developers and airlines who believe that passengers should be discomforted in every way on their way past Brooks Bros., Radio Shack, Shake Shack, and Mandarin Express.  Were I ever to take another flight on Delta, not knowing in advance what gate I would be going to, I would have to factor in at least 30-45 minutes extra time after getting through security.
             Airports like Vegas, Atlanta, Denver, Orlando and others seem to revel in tram railways to get passengers to far-flung gates, as if longer and bigger is better.  International terminals have vast, long corridors like something out of a Kafka novel to dis-engorge you to passport control and beyond. Jet Blue's new JFK terminal is equally labyrinthine: if you park your car in the lot or take the monorail, you'd better add one hour to your expected time at check-in, and at certain times (like 6 AM), the security lines at Jet Blue can number in the several hundreds. (They charge you ten bucks in advance to leap the line.) Then consider the wholly human friendly older airports like LaGuardia and Kansas City, where you get off the plane, walk past maybe 10 gates and you are out the exit door of the terminal. That is good design, if an old, even outdated one.  Even London's Heathrow, which can be an endurance test to enter, is easily exited after passport control.
     The increase in air travel has made bigger terminals necessary but their designers seem far more interested in attracting retail shops than to make it easy for passengers to get to their planes.  One need not be nostalgic for the old days of JFK's Pan Am Terminal (built in 1960, long occupied by Delta, soon to be demolished), when a parent could bring a child flying alone right on the plane, and a wheelchair-bound passenger didn't need to arrive at 9 AM to make a 3 PM flight.  One need only wonder why, when air travel has become so egregiously torturous, Delta has chosen to make a titanic blunder like Terminal 4 and be proud of it. I, for one, will look into any alternative to Delta when booking my flights out of JFK in the future.  Life is too short to waste in an airport.



by John Mariani

12 EAST 12th STREET (off Fifth Avenue)

      Next year Gotham Bar and Grill will celebrate its 30th anniversary--and astonishment for any restaurant but for one of GB&G's extraordinary high standards of food and service, it is reason to rejoice that, when all the hipster holes-in-the-walls sink to oblivion, a few, rare places like GB&G will thrive.
        There are very few in that firmament, and it is wholly to the credit of chef/owner Alfred Portale and his partners, Jeff Bliss, Jerry Kretchmer, Richard and Robert Rathe, along with
Chef de cuisine Livio Velardo, pastry chef Ron Paprocki, g-m Bret Csencsitz, and sommelier Eric Zillier, all of whom work with the kind of interactive finesse that makes for a evening that will be as flawless as possible. Three decades in business makes practice near perfect.
    The design of the three-level room, with its high ceilings, serious bar, affable host station, and perfect lighting has endured--despite the removal of the beloved mini-Statue of Liberty that used to be here--and, with tweaking over the years, tells you more about the New York spirit than almost any other restaurant in town. And you'll spot a number of New York celebs here any night of the week, too, whether they are from the media, fashion or show business.
    Portale himself (left) has always served his own style of grownups’ food, never trendy, never given over to a fad for gourmet pizzas or meatballs. He created a style, now not much in evidence at GB&G,  famous for its “towering” dishes of lavishly layered ingredients that was Portale’s trademark early on and much copied everywhere.  What he  does do, as well or better than anyone else, is to build in layers of rich flavors based on woodsy mushrooms, bitter-salty greens, and impeccably reduced sauces. What he does not do is leave his kitchen very much; his only real foray outside of GB&G has been a steakhouse in Miami Beach's
Fontainebleau Resort.
    Zillier's wine list is one of the finest and best balanced in NYC, and in any category you wish, he will be a savvy and amenable guide.
    My wife and I sat on the little tier above the main part of the dining room, looking out on some foliage in this summery section of Greenwich Village. The place was packed, as it usually is, with tables of business people conducting business, TV network anchormen entertaining guests, and people you just know are regulars, who perceive this as a restaurant that suits their high degree of taste.  I wish I were a regular, but in lieu of that, I get to build up excitement about the rare occasion I do get to visit.
    We began with an impeccably rendered terrine of foie gras and chicken, the latter adding extra flavor to the duck liver, served with
morel mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts, baby chioggia beets and buttery brioche toast--the kind of dish a restaurant of this ilk must do well. Spring vegetable risotto, containing peas, rainbow carrots, spring onions, smoked bacon, parmesan and mint, while not rigorously Italian, had all the brightness of the season in it, the bacon giving the delicacy a saline balance. Goat's cheese agnolotti were equally savory, the plump fresh pasta pockets filled with morels,  fava beans, baby leeks, and parmesan. With these Zillier chose a 2010 Bourgogne Blanc Bernard Moreau.
    Our entrees showed the same expertise as similar dishes have over the decades, meaning that Portale's sense of classic technique is critical to presenting a pigeon roseate, pink inside and crisp on the outside, with tender gnocchi, seared foie gras, fennel orange compote and squab jus, each element aligned for equilibrium of taste and texture.  My wife enjoyed a Berkshire pork chop that might well be a model for what fine quality pork should be, nicely fatted, tender, full of flavor, with roasted fennel, braised radicchio, escarole, bacon, apple, marble potatoes and a sweet-sour balsamic reduction, all the better with a 2006 Nuits–Saint-Georges “Aux Boudots” Jérôme Chezeaux.
    Our desserts stayed at the same level of balanced sophistication--a vanilla semifreddo with passion fruit cream, palm seeds, coconut foam,  mango basil sorbet, and
Ron Paprocki's chocolate brownie with a crunch of pistachio, succulent cherries, buckwheat streusel,  chocolate crèmeux, and lemon thyme ice cream.
    When asked by friends from out of town where they should eat in NYC, I expect their interest to lie with new, much-talked-about restaurants.  But my tendency is to tell them that, if they truly wish to see and taste a restaurant that evokes all that is wonderful about New York, it is a place like Gotham Bar and Grill that will be a one of their best, most delectable memories for years to come.

Open for lunch Mon. - Fri.; dinner nightly. Dinner appetizers $18-$29,  entrees $35-$52. There is a remarkable $28 lunch.

Alfred Portale has written a new book,
Greenmarket to Gotham,
with Bret and Cassandra Czencsitz.



by Mort Hochstein

      I have never obsessed about matching wine and food.  My table has always been simple—red  with meat, white with fish and variations for chicken and lighter meats.  I have experienced sheer pleasure on occasions when  a great red or white perfectly complements a dish, but  I don’t work at it, being reminded of  the  Germans, who have happily paired their Rieslings with whatever the kitchen provides.
    That said, I am still savoring the memory of an informal lunch where the chef achieved a delightful marriage of the elements. The chef was Ruth Van Waerebeek (left), whose cooking arc began at the side of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother in Ghent, Belgium.  As a young adult, she  sailed a small two-person yacht across several oceans, stopping for learning forays at restaurant kitchens in Africa, South America and the Caribbean, returning to Belgium to become a chef at the trendy Dona Flor in Brussels.  She then went back to the Caribbean as head chef for the Hotel Mount Nevis in Nevis, and finally to New York as executive chef for Seagram, once the nation’s dominant wine and spirits importer.
    She  further polished her Southern Hemisphere  chops in the United States, taking cues from Nuevo Latino chefs such as Douglas Rodriguez and Norman  van Aiken of Miami and Guillermo Peron of Philadelphia.  From all her culinary exploration, chef Ruth has created  a dramatic, yet uncomplicated  marriage of many unfamiliar foods and exotic cuisines with the classic French cooking techniques she learned in her youth.
    I enjoyed an exciting demonstration of her cooking at a recent promotional tasting of the wines of Concha y Toro, where chef Ruth, based in Chile, consults on cuisine.  I’ve been a Concha Y Toro fan for half a century, since 1963, when the wines were first imported from Chile and my neighborhood wine merchant introduced me  to a new and inexpensive label.  I tried a couple, bought a case and have been hooked on them ever since.  They are, simply put, great wines for the price and have been awarded many honors for their quality and value.
    So, we were tasting everyday wines with a world class chef, and she made them shine. The  first was  Casillero del Diablo Coastal Blend, an entry level white with a touch of sweetness from Muscat ($12, though likely available for several dollars less), along with a Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc ($18) and a more elegant wine, Marques de Casa Concha  Chardonnay  ($23).  Chef Ruth matched them with  salmon seviche (right) in cucumber rolls with a spicy Asian dip  sauce, and a parmesan cheese budino, a cloud-light, nutmeg-tinged pudding served in a ramekin of lichis,  cubed and blended into an accompanying salad of chives, cilantro and chervil leaves and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.  Tang and spice lit up those pairings, but the ingredients were  acutely balanced and worked together ideally. Of the three whites, my nod went to the Sauvignon Blanc, which paired best with the mix of flavors.
  The Casillero del Diablo name originated in the 1890s, when founder Don Melchor Concha Y Toro took losses from thieves looting his wine cellar. He posted a frightening placard on his cave,  "Casillero del Diablo"--cellar of the devil--an ominous sounding title designed to ward off intruders. Concha, as in the Chardonnay and the founder’s name, is Spanish for seashell.
   In another appetizing combination, Chef Ruth prepared a savory tart: gouda cheese spiced with  chunks of gorgonzola, sliced figs and walnuts, embellished with arugula leaves. It was not the match I would have conceived for the Casillero del Diablo Privada ($14), but here she had an everyday red that could go with the cheese and the elements that surrounded it.
    For the heavy artillery, a Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon ($28), she reached into her South American cookbook to set out grilled lamb skewers in a smoked chili pepper marinade with yogurt, onion, garlic rosemary and olive oil. That package of flavors went to another level with its accompaniments, Chilean mint salsa and stir-fried quinoa. 
    I’ve  been privileged to enjoy many professional wine and food tastings, but none where the wines were so well matched, while still affordable.

Concha y Toro, Chile



"If you thought the first thing you'd see when you landed in Quebec City, Canada, was a mime in a black mock turtleneck playing `My Heart Will Go On' on an accordion, you'd be almost right. Almost, because the Blob promptly devoured him — chewy! — and went on to enjoy a brief culinary tour of one of the most charming, clean, and friendly cities she's visited."-- "The Blob eats Quebec," SFBG Online.


A judge in Kyoto has ruled that an unnamed 16-year-old, who borrowed his father's American Express Platinum card to run up a bill for 5.5 million yen, including a $3,700 bottle of Champagne to entertain some party girls, was not really at fault. His father had to pay $7,900, though the nightclubs and bars didn't check his son’s I.D.



 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: America's Cup; Paris Report.

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