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  July 7,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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San Francisco Kitchen Workers, circa 1900



by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by Mort Hochstein


                          SEATTLE IS MORE SAVORY THAN EVER

                                                                                                            by John Mariani


Pike Place Market


      Were Seattle only the home of Pike Place Market, it would have legitimate claim to being one of America's great food cities.  Stretching over nine acres, cobbled together in warrens of nooks and crannies, up and down stairways, Pike Place seems like a market designed by Jorge Luis Borges.

    It all began in 1907 when a spike in onion prices led to a market within the city, where producers could come and sell their goods cheaply to the people of Seattle. There has been more than one unconscionable attempt to raze this valuable piece of downtown real estate, but the citizenry has always fought back to prevent it--you'll see 46,000 names in tiles underfoot for which donors paid $35 each--and in 1971 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.              Today it is home to more than 200 year-round commercial businesses, 190 craftspeople and approximately 100 farmers who rent table space by the day, while 240 street performers and musicians ply their own craft.  The Athenian Inn was only one of several scenes shot in the Market for the 1993 movie “Sleepless in Seattle.”

    There’s very little you won’t find at the Market—the first Starbucks opened here and people line up to visit it as a tourist stop—so you walk by everything from superb fish and meat markets to Beecher’s Handmade Cheese; Britt’s Pickles; the quaint little Crumpet Shop; El Mercado Latino; Grandview Mushroom Farm; Mick’s Pappadum; Totem Smokehouse; and the irresistible Piroshky-Piroshky.

    Seattle’s food scene is, in fact, very textured, with well-established restaurants like Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge and a slew of newcomers every season that spice neighborhoods like Fremont, where there is a lot of new restaurant action.  Some of the most enticing are run by the redoubtable Maria Hines, whose restaurants Tilth and Golden Beetle have now been joined by Agrodolce, an Italian place specializing in coastal cuisine, which seems a natural for a Pacific-bound city like Seattle.

    Agrodolce, with just 43 seats inside—and right now it would be nice to go al fresco if the infamous Seattle rainfall doesn’t interfere--is a very West Coast-amiable place with soft banquettes you can lean back and sink into, lighted trees, and abstract artwork by Eric Kolbe that evokes vegetation.  There are some fine vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu as well, from spring onion soup with pickled garlic and a shot of pecorino; a Pugliese-style burrata cheese with baby beets and a sweet-sour honey gastrique; and cavatelli pasta with morels, peas, and sweet-sour gremolata.  (“Agrodolce” means sour-sweet, so it’s a leitmotif here.) Every pasta I tried, like the tagliarini (right) were perfectly cooked and impeccably sauced.

    Hines, with exec chef Jason Brzozowy, offers fine seafood, too, like meaty St. Jude’s albacore tuna with garbanzo beans, bitter red radicchio, and tangy capers, while rabbit is slowly cooked with Marsala wine, farro grain and fava beans on the side, and leg of lamb is accompanied by lentils, artichoke and fresh oregano to perfume the dish and make that coastal connection plain.

You do not want to miss desserts here, which are as homey as they are delicious—steamed chocolate cake with mint, almond, and black currant; and a fat ricotta-stuffed cannoli with candied orange.

Agrodolce is open for lunch, brunch and dinner.  Dinner appetizers runs $3-$15, entrees $17-$26.

    Also out in Fremont is the new Joule, actually a relocation and upsizing of the original, opened in 2007 by husband and wife Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, whose style combines Korean and American flavors to wonderful effect, so you know the beef is going to be very good.

    It’s a modestly sized room with clean sharp lines, open kitchen, blue filigreed tiles, concrete floor, and bare wooden tables. The menu is precisely the length that a small operation like this can handle, and prices, with apps $9-$11 and main courses $16-$19 make sharing a capital idea.  You might begin with a spicy rice cake with spicier still chorizo and pickled mustard greens; or the silky duck pastrami with fried rice, pickled currants, and the hot Thai relish called nam prik.  Manila clams glisten over fennel-flavored pappardelle and an edge of salted black beans in a rich marine broth, while the beef dishes stand out both for their quality of meat itself and for the way they are deftly marinated and assertively seasoned: Korean-style short ribs come with hot, sour grilled kimchi, while beef royale comes with spicy pickled pearl onions.  

    Non-meat dishes include a fleshy mackerel with a delightful green curry cilantro crust and sweet black currants. This being the Pacific Northwest, salmon has to be on the menu, here a lustrous sockeye with a spicy corn chow chow and a rich basil coconut cream.

The wine list is of considerable size for a small restaurant, with plenty of Pacific Northwest and California bottlings at very fair prices, with plenty of whites and reds under $50.

Joule is open for dinner only.

    Located on the third floor of Pike Place Market’s Corner Building and newly expanded, Matt’s in the Market is a place you don’t notice from the street level but that everyone in Seattle will happily point you to. The restaurant fits in so perfectly with the atmosphere of the Market it feels like a cherished old institution and a template for many others that have grown up since in the city. Matt’s does have lovely views of Elliottt Bay and the teeming dash of the Market itself, with its iconic big neon clock and sign across the street. The Matt in question is Matt Janke, who opened here in 1996; today the owner of the restaurant is Dan Bugge, who has increased its size, comfort and wine cellar; the chef is Shane Ryan.

    I ate at Matt’s at lunchtime, but the dinner menu isn't radically different in scope. So you want to begin with the freshly made potato chips, seasoned with salt and pepper and served with a hot bacon-caramelized onion dip—the elevating of prole food to the sublime. There’s a refreshing stone fruit salad and a chopped Cobb salad with butter lettuce, poached chicken, deviled egg, avocado, bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, and bleu cheese dressing, generous enough as a meal all on its own.

    Certain dishes have led long lives on the menu, so you’ll always find steamed mussels and clams with chorizo, piquillo peppers, corona beans, charmoula, cava sparkling wine and fresh croutons. At lunch there’s an array of sandwiches to gorge on, like the pan-fried cornmeal-crusted catfish with sambal mayonnaise and shredded lettuce, on potato bread, and few people can resist not ordering the pork belly confit bánh mì (left) with pickled daikon radish & carrot, Fresno chilies, hoisin sauce, cilantro and sambal mayonnaise on a properly crisp baguette, once they've tried it.  There’s also a “porkstrami,” decked out on rye with Gruyère, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing.   By the way, the sandwiches come with soup or salad.

    The sixteen dollars for Don & Joe’s lamb burger, piled high with goat’s cheese, bacon, herb aïoli and onion jam, on brioche with chickpea-sultana salad is worth every penny—one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

For dessert, maybe the  chocolate lime torte  or the vanilla panna cotta?  Then going shopping in the Market for dinner?

Matt’s is open for lunch and dinner, Mon.-Sat. Dinner appetizers $14-$21, main courses $28-$48.

    One of the most delightful surprises of my recent trip was not the object of my morning’s visit--the astounding Chihuly Garden and Glass
collection, which is unique and uniquely beautiful. After touring, I dropped into the Collections Café within the walls of this stunning homage to glass in every form.

    After wandering through the exhibition halls, with room after room of lighted glass and collections of photographs and crafts collected by global artist Dale Chihuly, you may need to sit down and let your mind settle.  To do so in the Collections Café (below), which is itself done up in expanses of glass, with more collections of antique carnival chalkware, vintage accordions, radios, cameras, shaving brushes, and tin toys, is to increase your wonder.

    You hope the food will be good: museum cafés in America have not heretofore been known for their cuisine, though the restaurants at MOMA in NYC and LACMA in Los Angeles are testaments to how good they can and should be. The Café here in Seattle more than exceeds expectations under Chefs Jeff Maxfield and Ivan Szilak, whose carte blanche to buy the best Washington and Pacific ingredients underpins all their dishes, which are simple, fresh and finely flavored.  

    The wine list, a paltry three dozen bottlings, focuses on Washington and Oregon, and there is a good selection of craft beers, with dude names like Kaleidoscope Kolsch Ale, Chuckanut Pilsner, Whistling Pig Hefeweizen, Men’s Room Red Ale, and Scuttlebutt Blonde.   As at Matt’s, the burger here is first rate, topped with red onion jam, bacon, Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese and garlicky aïoli.  There is a tasty strawberry and goat’s cheese polenta cake with rainbow chard salad and bacon vinaigrette, and a pressed pork sandwich on ciabatta bread.  

I kind of liked the meatballs here, served without pasta but with a charred tomato sauce on sourdough bread. The pasta dish to try is ravioli stuffed with red onions in an onion pistou with watercress salad and hazelnut vinaigrette.  Plates can be ordered small or large, and I recommend sharing large plates of the seared prawns with smoky paprika, garlic, chili flakes, and a dash of Sherry on grilled sourdough. The grilled spare ribs here are terrific, too.  


Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly, brunch Sat. & Sun. Starters $5-$15, main courses $11-$19.

    Of course, one of the main tourist attractions in Seattle is the Space Needle, built in 1962—for a mere $4.5 million!--for that year’s World’s Fair. Of course, it revolves—the world’s second restaurant to do so--giving visitors an Observation Deck view of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains and the Olympics to the west.

    Also here from the beginning is the Skycity Restaurant (below), which gives you a historic sense of a post-war period when such ideas were rampant, leading to other icons like Windows on the World in the original NYC World Trade Center.

    Skycity has not for a long while been regarded as one of Seattle’s finer restaurants, but there has been a good deal of work put into the public dining room (it, too, revolves) and the menu to bring it up to date.  When I dined there this spring, the food was sumptuous, focused on local ingredients, and very, very expensive, with main course $39-$59, making it it among the priciest menus in the U.S.

    As has been said, you can’t eat the view, but, if you regard an evening in Skycity as something of a culinary and visual divertissement, you’ll have a pleasant enough evening, even if the service staff seems out of step. You’ll dine well if you choose simply, dishes like Dungeness crab cakes; ahi tuna crudo with wasabi dust, rose petal limeade, baby spinach and raspberries; and wild king salmon with spring onion nage, roasted sunchokes, and shaved asparagus-Dungeness crab salad.

Skycity is open form Lunch Mon.-Fri, brunch Sat. & Sun., and Dinner nightly.



NEW YORK CORNER (Suburban Division)
by John Mariani 

Bedford Post Inn
954 Old Post Road
Bedford, NY


    The Old Post Road winds through upper Westchester County through pretty towns like Bedford, and on a little knoll alongside a bucolic stretch sits the Bedford Post Inn and Restaurant. This is a labor of love for actors Richard Gere and his wife, Carey Lowell (below), with partner Russell Hernandez, complete with eight rooms and spa within an historic 19th century property about an hour's drive from Manhattan. The Geres live nearby and drop by the inn often, which has given the enterprise a glamorous buzz.

    There are two places to dine here--the casual Barn and the more upscale Farmhouse; the former has 50 seats in a room with wood beam ceilings, tile floors, bare wooden tables, and an open kitchen and fireplace; upstairs, the Farmhouse has 75 seats, with bar (there is also outdoor seating now), and there is a Chef’s Table off to the side, seating twelve. The dining room is done in soft colors on wainscoting, with buffed wooden floors and well-spaced antique tables, set with breadbaskets, soft linens, fine stemware and good silverware.  The lighting seems a bit lower than it used to be.  

    The wine list, under director Men Chang, has more than 2,500 bottles. The wine cellar can accommodate 24 guests.

     Chef Jeremy McMillan (below), now here almost three years, has a fine kitchen pedigree, having come from A Voce Madison in NYC and before that Redd in Napa Valley.  He’s a big guy and he likes big flavors, proud of his talent for smoking ingredients.  Even his breads—mixed crostini, bone marrow pizza, and ricotta-stuffed calzone—have a wonderful smoky aroma.  

     He also does what he calls “farmhouse tapas,” from hamachi crudo with apricot, vadouvan Indian spices and almond yogurt to oven-dried strawberries with whipped lardo and lovage.  Even carrots get a char, served with Puglian mozzarella.

 Pastas have become as American as any dish by now, and all I’ve tasted of McMillan’s have been outstanding, particularly the pappardelle with rabbit sausage and fava beans, and fagotelli with a richly satisfying parmigiano fonduta and a generous amount of chopped truffles.

     I highly recommend the pork chop with sweet grilled cherries and a dash of balsamico vinegar for balance, while branzino with salsa verde and lemon is the best, simplest way to go for seafood.  There’s much more to the menu and it’s all highly seasonal, so the vegetables and fruits will change on various dishes as befits a menu that now bespeaks the bounty of summer.

    That goes for the desserts, which are rich in berries and cream, with little touches of summery herbs.

     Samuel Johnson once observed that “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”  That is still true today when an inn of the grace and hospitality of the Bedford Post contrives to please its guests in every possible way.

    The Barn is open for breakfast Mon.-Fri., for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon. and Tues., for brunch Sat. & Sun.; The bakery is open daily. The Farmhouse is open for dinner Wed.-Sun.  Dinner appetizers run $10-$17, pastas and main courses $16-$35. There is a $75 tasting menu.






by Mort Hochstein

    European winemakers entering  the American market come up against an off-putting  forest of 52 states, each with differing and often conflicting regulations and demands. They can also be shocked by the markups they see as their product progresses from importer to wholesaler to retailer or restaurant.  The price of, say, a $12 bottle at the winery often ends up on store shelves at about $40, better than three times original cost. Those price hikes are built into what is familiarly known as the three-tier system and everybody along the line takes a cut. In restaurants that might be hiked up two or three times more.

  That’s the basic route for imported wines.  There are brokers, however, who keep prices at a lower level by arranging for wineries to sell directly to the distributor, eliminating one middle man, and the saving is usually reflected in the final selling price. In this instance, that $12 bottle might sell for about $30 on a retail shelf.

    Some of the very best Italian wines, leaders such as Vietti, Marco Felluga, and Marchese Di Greve, come to these shores via Della Terra, which practices what the trade calls direct import, the practice described above.   Brian Larkey, who created Dalla Terra Winery Direct, runs what I like to think of as a commune, but it’s a commune comparable to a gated neighborhood. He and the producers who comprise Della Terra vote on just who can join their community, and no one joins the group unless the members reach consensus. As agent for his commune, linking them directly to distributors, Dalla Terra charges a 15% fee, against the 40% traditionally charged by importers. “By cutting the importer’s fee,” Larky says, “we  can lower the prices of our Italian wines between 20 and 30 percent.”

     But there is really no easy way for the consumer to know that the wine passed through one fewer hand and should be cheaper, unless he is familiar with the producer.  You’re not likely to find a retailer explaining the ins and outs of the three-tier system  and the name of the importer or wine broker seldom appears on a wine label.

         It is, then, beneficial to know the wines and be able to appreciate the value in comparison to other quality wines from the same provenance. In addition to the wines named earlier, the Della Terra  roster includes  Tenuta Sant’ Antonio, specializing in Valpolicella and Amarone; Tascante from Mt. Etna in Sicily; Selvapiani, a classic Chianti house; Poliziano, with wines from Montepulciano, Cortona, the Maremma and Tuscany; Masseria Liveli in Puglia; La Valentina from Abruzzo on Italy’s Adriatic coast; Inama, a Soave specialist now producing a full range of European varietals; Chiarli 1860,  a historic Lambrusco producer; Boroli, known for  Barolo and Dolcetto; and Badia A Coltibuono (above), one of the great houses of Tuscany.  It is an assemblage of    Italy’s most elite producers, but those firms also turn out   a good number of wines under the $20 price mark.

     Knowing the provenance of domestic wines can also give buyers a bigger bang for their bucks.  So many of the California producers are relatively new to the field and start off with huge expenses. Even those who landed in Napa and Sonoma in the 1980s are still paying off mortgages based on expensive land purchases, as well as equipment and, in some cases, new regulations that add to the cost of production, which earlier arrivals may have escaped.

    Markham (right) is a case in point, a winery known for quality wines at a reasonable price. It has been around since the start of the Napa Valley wine boom, yet it somehow flies under the radar, not getting the attention often focused on highly promoted Johnny-come-lately’s. The winery originated under the name of Laurent in 1879 and passed through several owners before being acquired by Bruce Markham in 1977.   He snapped up vineyards in the early and mid-1970’s for about $5000 an acre, land now priced at about $350,000 an acre, and set out to produce reasonably priced wines. Markham's top-of-the-line Cabernets from estates in Yountville and Calistoga retail in the $50 range, but Markham also fields wines  priced in the mid teens to mid twenties, wines of distinction rivaling much more expensive bottlings.       

    And then there is Markham’s Greystone line, value priced at $11, with a fine ecological story attached. Greystone, a  historic stone winery which once belonged to the Christian Brothers, now houses the California branch of the Culinary Institute of America.  At inception, the CIA planners were told by St.  Helena officials that  the city wastewater facility   could not handle the volume of water the school would exude from its kitchens, dormitories, and restaurants.  Fortunately, the CIA engineer had also been involved with Markham at its nearby facility, and knew that its waste water system, which also services Freemark Abbey Winery and the Wine Country Inn, could accommodate effluent from  the culinary school.   

    Once processed, that clean water is used to drip dry irrigate nearby vineyards operated by Freemark Abbey and the Culinary Institute. Water for irrigation is a major expense for vineyards and recycling the wastewater has helped cut expenses for partners in the system and as an added bonus, notes Markham CEO Bryan Del Bondio, the school receives royalty payments on sales of Markham’s Greystone wines.




    A study by the University of Mississippi found that “light arm-touching” by waitresses earned them 36 per cent more in tips. Calling customers by their name meant a 10 per cent better gratuity and that "drawing a smiley face on the bill" may net  a 17 per cent windfall.




"If there is one point around which food snobbery coalesces, it is authenticity. If it doesn’t seem like it’s made by your mama from Chihuahua or your nana from Nanjing, some people just don’t want to eat it. And if there is a cuisine that draws maximum ire in this regard, at least locally, it is Mexican. Me, I’m not going to kick a crunchy-shelled, ground beef-containing creation out of bed for calling itself a taco.—Devra First, “Fenway Mexican restaurant Barrio Cantina lacks sizzle,” Boston Globe (6/13/13).


 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