Virtual Gourmet

  June 30,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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by Carey Sweet

by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by John Mariani


Mexico All-Inclusives
by Carey Sweet


The Four Seasons Resort Nayarit

    They’ve always been two of the worst words I can hear when considering a hotel: "All inclusive."
    Just a few years ago, by mistake, I stayed at one of those depressing tourist traps in downtown Puerto Vallarta, where the drinks were rotgut, the food was cheap buffet, and the rooms were built primarily to withstand abuse from rowdy spring break crowds.

    Just as awkward, many all-inclusives cater to hoards of families with young children. That right there is enough to strike fear in my heart, since I am a happily childless traveler who much prefers the gentle lapping of ocean waves to the high-pitched screech of a cranky baby in water-wings.  And those awful plastic ID wristbands that all-inclusives make you wear? Itchy, tacky, shame.
    Yet during a recent visit to the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, I heard those exact words. “All-inclusive.” The luxury property on 9.5 miles of Pacific Coast white-sand beaches and turquoise waters now offers a package that includes three meals and unlimited beverages daily. In Riviera Nayarit nearby, other high-end properties have stepped into the all-inclusive arena too, and the trend is spreading across Mexico, to Mazatlán, Cancun and beyond. Finally, it seems, more hotels and resorts are wising up to what an all-inclusive experience could and should be: a delightful way to enjoy a top-notch vacation for a flat fee, with no “what have I done!” feeling in the pit of your stomach when the time comes to pay the bill for all those morning Bloody Marias and late night antojitos.
    Some of the newer all-inclusives are surprisingly upscale, layering on the luxury while maintaining good value. At the finer places, that horrible plastic wristband has been done away with, too, replaced by elegant leather or bead bracelets that are so nice, I’ve proudly worn them home. Ultimately, this style of all-inclusive is the perfect combination of classy accommodations, gorgeous settings, and near-endless top quality cuisine and cocktails. Yes, I definitely leave a few pounds heavier, but on the other hand, my wallet isn’t much lighter.

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, Nuevo Vallarta

    Debuted in 2003, Grand Velas is a bit corporate feeling in its massive lobby and nine-floor tower structure, yet is blessed with stunning ocean front views of Banderas Bay. It’s a bit larger than I generally enjoy, coming in at 267 suites accessed off long hallways, but then, the door opens, and that suite is unveiled (below).
    Spanning a minimum of 1,000 square feet, these are mini palaces, offering a sitting area with sofa, a balcony with more seating, sculptural accents and details down to a pillow menu of eight options (hard to choose, but may I recommend the soft, 100 percent imported cotton feather proof fabric model with cord finished double stitching and imported goose feather stuffing?).
    Breakfast and lunch are served poolside or at the casual Azul off the lobby, for excellent panko-crusted stuffed crab, sushi, and banana-leaf grilled mahi mahi over plantains, mango and coconut. At dinner, I alternated nights at Frida (below) for fine Mexican specialties such as sea bass in yellow mole, or Lucca for Italian-Mediterranean cuisine like a superb lobster risotto dressed in Cognac essence and pancetta.
    For an even fancier evening, there is the classic French restaurant Piaf, where my meals began with a personalized menu silk-screened atop terrine jelly on my plate. Some of my favorite dishes here included caramelized peach and foie gras mousse, and puff pastry lobster swathed in caper butter. I am, however, a bit on the fence with the distinctive Mexican flair here, as this is where I tasted my first (and last) tomato stuffed with an actual Altoid mint, plus langostino dressed in garlic-pickled chocolate, olive oil, vanilla and thyme.   
    The in-suite mini bar is stocked daily with beer, chips and candy, and there’s 24-hour suite service (life is good, nibbling on spinach leaf and seared salmon salad or a Kobe burger at 2 a.m.). At the resort bars, meanwhile, drink choices include premium liquors, creative cocktails, and an impressive selection of wines from around the globe, including notably, Mexico. We can bob with our beverages at the swim-up bar, call for waiter service on our private beach bed, and summon kayaks and boogie boards at the same time.
    The Velas team also has put thought into its included activities. I wore myself out with guided bicycle tours, scuba clinics, dance lessons, and Spanish lessons, so I could more politely say, “más que todo por favor.” One afternoon, I participated in cooking class, and for my efforts, got a personalized diploma signed by the resort’s actual executive chefs who had taught us. And here’s another priceless touch: kids are corralled into activities clubs, set afloat in their own private pool, and restricted from adult areas, including Piaf.

For an all-inclusive rate starting at $518 per night, this is a property that’s worth every penny.



Azul Beach Hotel,
Quintana Roo

    At this Riviera Maya property 20 minutes from the Cancun International Airport, the theme is family-friendly (from $241 per adult). Except, in a brilliant move, the wee ones are clustered in a group of rooms and suites to one side of the property, while grown-ups gravitate to another, private section of the hotel. The 148 rooms are split into separate buildings, connected by a series of swimming pools including swim-up suites with nifty walk-into-the-water decks.
    Billed as a “Gourmet Inclusive” concept by its parent company, El Dorado Spa Resorts & Hotels Karisma, Azul offers five restaurants, spanning the cuisines of global (at Blue restaurant), Asian (Tainan), Northern Italian (Roma), Latin American (Latino), and Mexican-Caribbean (Chil). A La Mancha “Energy Bar” serves fruit smoothies, coffees, Caribbean sandwiches, brownies and homemade ice cream, while four traditional bars pour premium tequilas in a high-end cantina (Agavero), margaritas on hanging beds (Aquanox), beach beds next to the ocean, or mai tais at the swim-up counters.
    Eating and drinking is a primary activity at the isolated property. Immediately, I found my groove: breakfast of chilaquiles at Blue, a jumbo cookie at the energy bar, a cocktail on the hanging bed, lunch of shrimp-green tomato-mint ceviche at Chil, a cocktail on the beach bed served by a butler, dinner of tempura fish and sushi at Tainan, then more cocktails and karaoke at Aquanox.
    To switch things up, sometimes I got room service prettily presented on a white tablecloth cart set with silver, or indulged in the chef’s lobster menu at Blue, bringing signatures like crispy lobster ravioli in sweet-and-sour sauce, lobster bisque, and lobster risotto.
    Gentle activities include theater performances that are offered most nights off the lobby (you haven’t seen art until you’ve seen hotel staff doing double duty in an admittedly painful looking Cirque du Soleil-style ballet). You can pay extra for a spa treatment or scuba diving trip, or take a shuttle into town for shopping. Yet I stayed put, swimming, sunning, and lounging in my oversized and recently renovated suite, enjoying the chic mood of dark woods, a free standing Jacuzzi tub, and private terrace. My room featured a separate living area and multiple TVs, which did come in handy when needing to block the noise of the sometimes rowdy adult parties at the swim-up bar in the pool directly outside.
    The beach beds are another over-the-top indulgence, as I lay sprawled under a breeze-fluttered canopy mere steps from the water, and a butler ferried everything from sunscreen to novels, ice cold Tecate beer and a picnic lunch of grilled steak and Oaxacan cheese wrap.
    Should I ever find myself with a child, by the way, this is where I would go (and not just because some of the suites include liquor on-tap dispensers). The reason I never heard an unhappy toddler is because here, kids might just be the true stars of the show. The property has co-branded with Fisher-Price and Gerber to roll out the stops.
    Upon check-in, each child gets to choose a Fisher-Price toy to borrow throughout the stay, with more toys stocked in the room. Kids get adorable Little People bathrobes that look just like the adult versions, and custom Little People décor for their semi-private rooms. They can play in the Azulitos Play House that looks like a mini FAO Schwartz, enjoy “character” breakfasts with costumed staff, and use cribs, strollers, changing tables, baby bath tubs, baby monitors, bottle warmers and more, free of charge. A parent need never lift a finger, actually, as complimentary Gerber foods are handed out at the Energy Bar, and room service includes movie snacks like popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, and strawberry milk.
    El Dorado has another property on the beach nearby, the equally family-friendly Azul Sensatori Hotel, and it offers many of the same amenities as Azul, in a bit more grand format (from $231 per adult).  Yet, with 438-suites and plenty of events like weddings plus activities for the teen set, it’s not as cozy for adults seeking a quiet escape.

Info: AzulBeachHotel


Four Seasons Punta Mita

    As I wandered through the lavishly landscaped grounds directly off the Bahia de Banderas beach, I sipped my margarita, savoring the fresh mango and habanero, and convincing myself it was even more delicious since it was free. I’d been told by my reservationist that this is the only Four Seasons in the world to offer an on-going all-inclusive option, though other properties sometimes put together special inclusive packages for limited times.
    Free? Hardly. Yet from $515 per night, the deal includes three meals and unlimited (select) alcoholic drinks for two in any of the restaurants. Margarita numero dos was already on my mind.
    The convenience puts the cherry on top for this oasis behind a guard-gated entry on some 3,000 acres about 10 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. Intimate groupings of 141 casita-style rooms and 32 suites overlook two private beaches, the grounds are dotted with tennis courts and swimming pools, and the resort edges up to two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses.
    And what’s not to appreciate about a resort that has its own 55-foot yacht for charter, complete with bedrooms, a living room and kitchen with dining area, a separate shaded relaxation lounge on the upper deck, and sunning decks on the bow, stern and rear upper level, plus a Wave Runner for guests to ride the sparkling blue waters?
    Yes, the yacht is extra. But consider the value of the Four Seasons food alone. When I’ve dined independently at Aramara, the resort’s elegant Asian restaurant, I’ve pumped up an impressive tab quickly, savoring seven-spice rib-eye with kimchee butter, sweet potato fries, lemongrass sauce, or spicy Thai lobster tossed with rice noodles, coconut, Thai basil, lemongrass, cashews, tomatoes and oyster mushrooms. Add in wine pairings.
    Bahía, the chic Richard Sandoval grill and bar, can get pricey, too, set on Las Cuevas beach and tempting with amberjack decorated in apple, mint, radish, chile de arbol and ponzu sauce, or whole pink snapper marinated in achiote and citrus with avocado, chayote slaw and flour tortillas.
    My room had a private plunge pool and a hammock, and the quiet was mesmerizing. In fact, kids are sequestered within their own resort-within-a-resort, in the Oasis complex, a family-oriented building that houses 23 rooms and suites and is encircled by an extravagant Lazy River that meanders for inner tube rides on a gentle current.  He or she also receives free dining from the children's menu if under the age of five, and 50 percent off for ages 5 to 12.
    There are a few caveats to the savings, such as a minimum stay of three nights. You are not allowed to get in-room dining, caviar, lobster, wine by the bottle, champagne, or premium liquor brands. Yet, that’s hardly a complaint. There’s no wristband of any kind.



El Cid Marina Beach, Mazatlán

    The location is delightful, perched above the Golden Zone Marina overlooking Isla de Venados in the Pacific Ocean. It’s part of a busy hotel community five minutes from golf at El Cid Country Club, and a 15-minute shuttle ride from Mazatlán's downtown shops, restaurants, and nightclubs.  Iguanas are everywhere, standing sentry on cliff sides over pathways between the hotel buildings, and there are two swimming pools complete with underwater caves, plus complimentary equipment available for windsurfing, sailing, boogie boarding and kayaking.
    The distractions are a good thing, because, although satisfactory, the cuisine at this property isn’t a focus (from $345 per night). All meals are included at the four restaurants, as are alcoholic beverages, yet this property could learn from the newer, other all-inclusives. I found myself feeling quite limited in what’s presented.
    Built in 1995 but renovated in 2008, the property still feels dated. With 204 suites spread across several buildings in the large compound side-to-side with other hotels, the property isn’t beachfront (you need to take a water taxi to see sand).  And there’s actually only one real restaurant on-site – the other spots are snack bars with limited hours.
    First strike: cheap wristbands. Second strike: after showing my bracelet, I had to also provide my room number, even for a simple glass of wine. Third strike: When I asked to see a wine bottle at Las Iguanas Snack Bar, the bartender lugged a gallon jug out from a mini fridge.
    Dining at the flagship restaurant, La Marina, covers the basics, but that’s all. Yawners bring a buffet breakfast, then lunch and dinner of an avocado stuffed with shrimp salad, chicken nachos, New York steak and such.
    To be fair, had I left the property, I’d have found more choice: the all-inclusive plan includes dining at seven neighboring restaurants and three sister hotels, with options of Mexican, Italian, Argentinean and sushi. Yet leaving requires a shuttle, longish walk, or water taxi, and for someone looking to be lazy like me,  that seemed like work.
    There’s lots to love about the Marina, with its coveted cove that attracts crazy opulent boats from around the world (a helicopter is a common nautical accessory). The El Cid suites are lovely, spanning terra cotta floors, marble baths, separate living areas and pretty views of the water and swimming pools. Yet suites also include full kitchens, and if that’s convenient, it’s also telling.



by John Mariani

    Just three months ago I wrote in this newsletter, "Pay no attention to recent rumors of Brennan's demise. It's still a family business, the wine cellar is still one of the best in the South,  and Chef Lazone Randolph, who began here in 1965, is a demanding steward of Brennan's culinary traditions.”

    Sadly, I must report that the rumors have proven true.  Without getting into the details (you can read the Times-Picayune report here), I can only say that it is a family squabble irritated further by competitive real estate interests in a building at 417 Royal Street where Brennan’s has resided since 1946.

    An earlier family conflict four decades ago resulted in one branch of the family, headed by Ella and Dick Brennan, to break away and run Commander’s Palace in the Garden District, and various members of that side of the family have opened numerous other restaurants since, including Brennan’s of Houston.  Owen’s sons Pip, Teddy and Jimmy Brennan, seen in the photo below in happier times, continued to run Brennan’s, maintaining its eminence as one of the great New Orleans classic dining venues, in the tradition of places like Antoine’s, Galatoire’s, Broussard’s, and Arnaud’s.

    Over the years (Antoine’s opened in 1840), the city and its restaurants have had their ups and downs, none worse than Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed some restaurants and devastated others. Brennan’s lost its nonpareil wine cache, and not long afterwards, Jimmy, who oversaw the wine collection, passed away.  There were charges of mounting losses and recriminations of mismanagement.

    Pip has retained a financial interest but retired from on-site participation a while ago, leaving Ted and his daughter to carry on at the restaurant, while chef  Randolph kept the Creole menu up to date with signature dishes that included the famous bananas Foster.

    I’ve known just about every one of the Brennans on both sides of the family over the years, and I have enormous respect for them all, including the three brothers who ran Brennan’s.  I drank great Burgundy with Jimmy, rode the Bacchus float with Pip at Mardi Gras, and swapped stories over daiquiris with Teddy. 

                    Brennan’s was always a celebratory place, the restaurant that pioneered Breakfast at Brennan’s, where champagne flowed and rich egg dishes were followed by even richer desserts. Everyone went to Brennan’s--Vivian Leigh, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, Jane Russell and Tennessee Williams, whose legacy lives on in the annual Tennessee Williams Festival, when Brennan's fetes the celebrity participants at a gala dinner.

    The demise, or at least the current lock-up, of Brennan’s sends the same shiver down New Orleaneans' spines as when any of their historic restaurants close: Broussard’s, Christian’s, Bruning’s and Uglesich’s are all gone, and it’s been touch and go for Tujaques this past year.  Brennan's cuisine might be reproducible, but its spirit cannot, and without any Brennans actually running their namesake restaurant, it would be difficult to resurrect. 

    I’m hoping that somehow this struggle for ownership can be brought to a positive conclusion.  Brennan’s is a cherished place, part of the city’s soul, and without it, the heart of the French Quarter will murmur if Brennan’s is lost for good.



by John Mariani

60 East 65th Street (near Park Avenue)
Photos by Daniel Krieger, E. Laginel and T. Schauer. 

    As readers may have noticed, I’ve been on a lucky streak lately of dining at some of NYC’s very finest restaurants: Aureole, Gotham Bar and Grill, and, last week, Daniel, which, since opening in 1993 and in its present location since 1998, has been a graduate school for many of America’s finest young chefs.

    Daniel Boulud (to whom congratulations are in order for his recent wedding) has for more than twenty years ranked among the most inventive chefs who have also kept thriving the rigorous classic traditions of haute French cuisine.  And anyone who believes “no one wants to go to such places anymore,” just try to get a rez at Daniel on short notice. Good luck.

Boulud has also been a leader in showing how restaurants lower down in class can be exemplary. His restaurants Café Boulud, Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, DB Bistro Moderne, Épicierie Boulud, and DBGB, all in NYC, are each different in concept and design, and Boulud keeps a tight rein on all of them.  He has also had several non-New York ventures, often management contracts, with varying degrees of success and failure, but his track record is as solid as his commitment.  If you choose to dine at Daniel, his flagship, chances are good you’ll find Boulud there in his whites, back in the kitchen, coaxing perfection out of Executive Chef Jean François Bruel, chef de cuisine Eddy Leroux, pastry chef Sandro Micheli, and his other 130 staff.  

    General manager Pierre Siue keeps it all humming up front, along with maître d’ John Winterman, who keeps close tabs on all his guests, so that the next time you appear at Daniel, you will be remembered to a T.

Sommelier Raj Vaidya, here since 2009, heads a wine cache of 2,000 selections of the very finest wines in the world; happily, you will find 100 excellent recommendations under $50.

    Daniel is composed of a series of dining rooms, including a swank bar and private room, with the main dining area a few steps below the rest.  The décor, changed a few years back to a more modern, art déco style, is not overly formal, though it is not a place a gentleman may come without a jacket. Happily, this is still New York.  Lighting, I’m sorry to say, is lower than it used to be, so you really can't see who’s coming and going or sitting in the mezzanine tier or to the rear of the room.

    The table amenities are of the highest quality, with flowers amid thin glassware and fine silver.  Breads are all made on the premises by Mark Fiorentino, and they are difficult to resist, piece by piece—especially since they arrived nearly an hour after we sat down, an unfortunate practice based on the errant belief that people will eat so much bread they won’t order appetizers.  Since Daniel serves a prix fixe three-course, $119 dinner, that doesn’t make much sense.

    We were treated to several amuses, some from the appetizer menu, like a satiny trio of hamachi,  beet-cured with olive oil (right); a tartare with wasabi and caviar; and a confit with sorrel coulis and yellow beet.  A chilled minted pea soup was just the thing for a summer’s evening, with nubbins of smoked sablefish, carrot confit and rosemary cream.

    In all of Daniel’s cooking there are a number of elements that add much more of the main ingredient, never smothering it with disparate or searing hot flavors.  A duck terrine with cured pepper-poached rhubarb, confit of fennel, almond cream and a little sorrel tasted of numerous subtle flavors, each dependent on the other to bring out the best in the creamy terrine.

    One of the favorite entrees here is the tasting of suckling pig, composed of a roasted chop with pea fricassée; braised belly with young turnips and savory jus; and the crispy skin of the pig with crunchy pistachio and a Port jus—a dish heartier than one might expect in summer but delicious in every morsel, or what is a/c for?

Two otherwise excellent main courses were surprisingly salty—monkfish wrapped in spicy chorizo and stuffed with lobster, accompanied by wild black riced, yogurt-braised eggplant and an artemesia salad; and a duo of octopus with stewed fava beans, Boston lettuce, spring onions.

    There is a splendid cheese cart at Daniel, and only the lateness of the hour prevented us from sampling it, instead giving ourselves over to an array of desserts that included marvels like raspberry-vanilla shortbread with yuzu curd, caramelized croustillant, limoncello-berry gelée, and raspberry sorbet; a coconut vacherin with guava gel, mango-vanilla swirl and meringue; and any of five chocolate desserts, including a Kenyan coffee ganache with dark chocolate crèmeux, rice krispy chocolate sable, and coffee ice cream. Pistachio dacquoise came with white chocolate crisp and pistachio ice cream. Of course, ending the meal was an array of fine mignardises and tiny, warm madeleines.

    Daniel is a restaurant in the grand tradition that is nevertheless as modern as any anywhere, constantly innovative without the need to sensationalize, consistently refined without pretension and glamorous without being flashy. You know what you get and pay for at Daniel—which is a whole lot more than three courses—and the experience of dining so well and so beautifully is what distinguishes this as one of the world’s great restaurants.

Daniel is open for dinner Mon-Sat.; Pix fixe dinner $116; Vegetarian menu $116; pre-dinner supper, 5:30-6:00 PM, with wines included $133. Eight course tasting menu $220, with wines $130 additional.




Colorado Distiller Goes Against the Grain—Makes Vodka with Taste
 by John Mariani


     “It takes 13 pounds of fresh potatoes to make a bottle of our vodka,” says Mark Kleckner (below), a former DC-based mergers and acquisitions expert in the defense business, now CFO and COO of Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt, Colorado. “Most of the other American distillers making potato-based vodka use the kind you find in the bin with wrinkles and sprouts. The ones you throw away.” 

       Woody Creek Distillers (WCD), which only began production last October, gets all its spuds from the  nearby 30-acre Scanlon Farm, owned by Kleckner’s partners, Mary Scanlon, CEO, and her husband Pat, President. She is a small business owner, overseeing design and marketing the distillery; Pat was a missile and space network engineer for Lockheed Martin and IBM; the distillery’s manager, David Matthews, WCD’s manager, had been a Wall Street trader before sailing around the world studying distilling and spirits production.

    Those high-quality potatoes, with lovely names like Colorado Rio Grande, Chepita and Lady Claire, are washed and peeled, with some skins kept for fermentation (below), which takes place in stainless steel tanks; it is then passed just once through custom-made copper stills that include 34-foot rectification columns (above), using Rocky Mountain spring water filtered by reverse osmosis and softening to de-mineralize it.

    The result, which I tasted at the distillery, is an un- flavored vodka with a remarkable depth of aroma and taste and a very round, warming effect on the palate without the eye-squinting bite lesser vodkas deliver. You taste a vanilla-like flavor, though no such flavors are added.

WCD is going against the grain in the vodka world, using artisanal methods and making small batches of its signature potato vodka (about 6,000 to 10,000 cases a year) and a reserve vodka, Stobrawa, made from a rare strain of Polish potatoes, the latter to be released at the end of July, with only a couple of thousand bottles available. 

    The company also makes a bourbon-style Colorado whiskey bourbon-style, a straight rye and a straight corn whiskey.

“Our goal by the end of next year is to get up 20,000 cases,” says Kleckner. “The farm still has a big capacity to produce more ingredients, but if we get to 100,000 cases, that’s the endgame for us to maintain quality.”

    To that end, WCD eschews the traditional marketing of vodkas, as being so pure that it has no taste whatsoever. Indeed, the U.S. standard of identity for vodka, first promulgated in 1949, dictates that vodka be a neutral spirits “distilled from any material at or above 190 proof, reduced to not more than 110 proof and not less than 80 proof and, after such reduction in proof, so treated as to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste.” Which, frankly, sounds pretty dull. 

         In fact, vodka distillers try so hard to make their products so “undistinctive” that at a blind tasting of vodkas I attended some years ago at the Wyborowa distillery outside of Posnan, Poland, the company’s own management couldn’t tell the difference between their own rye-based vodka and their competitors’ potato-based vodka.

     Many vodka makers now add flavorings, from chile peppers and lemon to bacon and buffalo grass, but the marketing of most vodkas, whether Russian, Polish, or American vodkas with names like Deep Eddy (Texas), Hangar One (California) and Orloff (Maine), is usually built around claims that the water used in the process is the purest anywhere.

    Exclusiv vodka’s water is “naturally filtered through the limestone mountains of Central Europe.” Grey Goose’s is “drawn from 500 feet beneath the limestone hills of the Grande Champagne region of Cognac.” AnestasiA vodka (Oregon) says it is gluten fee.

    Other producers try to distinguish themselves solely on creative advertising. Since the 1980s, Absolut has been putting its bottle’s shape into artwork, landscapes, swimming pools, even rodeo stalls. Belvedere links up with venues like New York Fashion Week and Bon Appetit Pub Crawl. Van Gogh vodka’s marketers insist that, “we are creators of Dutch vodkas with a broad palette of tastes and colors.” Chopin capitalizes on Polish composer’s name.

The Tasting Room at Woody Creek Distillers

  “In lieu of hype like that, we believe that the quality of our product will sell itself,” says Kleckner, who with his goatee and baseball cap looks a bit like Billy Joel. “People now want to know what’s this stuff made of, not what bottle it comes in.”

   All of which seems to be paying off: “Our plan was to be in the black by our third year, but we’re way ahead of that right now.”

    When asked if and former mergers-and-acquisitions guy like himself would consider a whopping take-over offer from a major spirits company, Kleckner answered quickly, “We would certainly listen to an offer but we didn't leave other careers and do this just to make a short-term buck. And if we did sell, we would insist on maintaining all we've worked so hard to build here.”

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News.


"We roared across the Wyoming-Utah border at sunset; windows down, stereo cranked, muffler cracked. Behind the wheel was a well-tattooed, pierced 24-year-old. Riding shotgun, a 44-year-old writer with three-day-old stubble (that would be me). And in the back, buried beneath coloring books and blankets, a cherubic boy. We were all three in search of goats."--Bruce Kirby, "In Utah, a 100-Mile Trek With a 4-Year-Old Boy," NYTimes (June 15).


The Italian government protested to Austria that a Vienna pub was naming its sandwiches after anti-Mafia prosecutors assassinated by mobsters,  a sandwich for Giovanni Falcone,  killed by a Mafia bombing in 1992, saying the dish was  "grilled" like a sausage, and one named after   Giuseppe ''Peppino" Impastato, blown up by dynamite, described a s a dish ''baked in a bomb attack like a chicken."


 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