Virtual Gourmet

September 22, 2013                                                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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Alberto Sordi in "Un Americano a Roma" (1954)


In This Issue

by Misha Mariani

by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by Misha Mariani

Il Borgo, Castello Banfi, Montalcinoa

       In all the years and trips past, I have visited Italy a handful of times,  scouring the canals of Venice, the rolling hills of Tuscany, the beaches and  islands of Amalfi, and the great cities of Rome and Naples but the  one region that has evaded me until this summer that I’ve had the burning desire  to see is the Island of Sicily. An Island referred to in Homer’s "Odyssey"  and the subject of the iconic Lampedusa novel Il Gattopardo, Sicily has a long history and overlapping cultures of the many other civilizations that have conquered it, from Greece to France. It has some of the most beautiful beaches, expansive  fields of gold wheat and a still very active volcano making up some of the  most gorgeous landscapes to be captured. This is a diverse and glorious land!
      As our flight neared the coast of Sicily, we looked out our window and saw the flat farm land with the backdrop of a Mt. Etna (left), the tallest active  volcano in Europe, towering over 3,300 meters--a truly captivating sight. We landed in the bustling city of Catania, where we had no intention  of staying, but were off to Taormina, the small coastal city perched 204  meters above the sea on a hilltop supposedly inhabited by native tribes over 2,600 years ago.
     We rented a Fiat Panda, packed our luggage into the backseat, because it  definitely would not all fit in the boot, and sped off, windows down, wind in our hair, and the salty coastal air filling our lungs. After a quick 40-minute drive from Catania, we hopped off the highway onto a winding road hugging the  coast and made our way to the Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay.   The hotel isn’t located in the perched town of Taormina (below), but actually  down on the coast, nestled in a seaside cove of the Ionian Sea and its crystal  clear deep blue waters. Just three-minute walk from a gondola will bring  you to the town's epicenter.
Photo by Jeanne Bolyn   

     When we arrived, we were greeted by a warm staff and escorted through  their cave-like hallways to our room,  with the décor of an elevated  beach home, with wooden floors, glass tables, wooden armor, and its very own  terrace decked with with lounge chairs, a breakfast table and dining chairs. Oh,  did I mention, this terrace sat overlooking those same blue waters?  Hands down, this is some  of the most beautiful scenery I have been ever  exposed to you in all the hotels and resorts I have stayed at. Our room was a  double, but the hotel also has  five more higher level suite options to spoil  you.
         Atlantis Bay (below) is not only a place to rest your head at night after a  long day of sight seeing and strolling through town Taormina. It offers some of the region's most sophisticated cuisine.  There is the Bar  Dioniso where you can sip a glass of sparkling rosato or an Aperol Spritz and  nibble on some of the chefs attentively created stuzzichini or sit down in the Ristorante Ippocampo for a proper meal, looking out onto  the lights that sparkle along the coast of the island cove while enjoying  carefully executed cuisine typical of the region and of the freshest sea  creatures caught that day off the coast. Outdoor dining is also available,  a luxury I would snatch up in a minute if the weather is cooperating.
         Grand Hotel Atlantis Bay also has a counterpart a few doors down  called Mazzaro Sea Palace. If Atlantis Bay is your quiet sea side beach house,  then Mazzaro Sea Palace is the more elaborate resort alternative. I’ll take  the beach house.
         So, after four days in Sicily, it was back to Tuscany again, landing in Florence. We rented  Fiat 500 this time, punched in our coordinates to Google Maps--an absolute and dependable necessity these days!--and sped off to our final  destination for the day, the Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. After what we thought  was the most luxurious 4 days we could have possibly had, the Four Seasons  makes everything else seem modest.
         The Four Seasons Hotel (left) resides within  in the Palazzo Della Gherardesca,  built in the mid to late 15th century. At the time, Palazzo Della Gherardesca was one of a kind, the prototype of much copied architectural designs that  consisted of numerous town houses surrounding a garden or park, which found  popularity in the 18th century. The Four Seasons took over in 2008, renovated  the space while adhering to the restrictions of the General Directorate of  Antiquities and Fine Arts and has managed to effect perhaps one of the most luxurious  resorts in Florence, let alone the world.     
Simply put, this hotel is heaven paired with culture. Decorations are  gorgeous throughout, fitted with the grandest, most luxurious materials available; and if not available, the hotel had them made to their period specifications--the finest marbles and wood specimens, the highest thread count linens you could  imagine. To match, there is a thoroughly and professionally trained staff, a superb wine collection, Richard Ginori china, crystal glassware, and so on to every detail.  English is spoken by nearly the entire staff.
         Inside the hotel are two restaurants, Il Palagio and The  Atrium Lounge. Il Palagio  (below) is headed by Executive Chef Vito Mollica, who along  with his team, has received a Michelin Star.  The restaurant itself is designed with checkerboard marble floors, soft dove grey walls, vaulted  ceilings, crystal chandeliers, artwork of the renaissance era, Sambonet  silver,  and crisp white linens, a design that expresses elegance,  beauty, simplicity and opulence all in one and the perfect setting to  complement Chef Mollica’s style of cooking. Dishes such as Tyrrhenian bonito  tartare with Sarconi beans and red onion; homemade pici pasta with guinea fowl ragout; and ‘Montespertoli’ pigeon cooked in pork bladder with vin santo all  show the use of local and typical ingredients in dishes produced with the  craftsmanship of a great talent. The menu can also be enjoyed in the form of a  tasting menu should you want to experience the most of Chef Mollica. You may also have your dinner  al  fresco on the outside terrace overlooking the landscape of the Four Seasons  very own eleven-acre Giardino della Gherardesca.
         After dinner, don’t hesitate to take a stroll through the garden (below) of perfectly manicured foliage.  Softly lit,  this garden is home to rare botanical varieties of evergreens that will  provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of the Firenze city life. Tranquility in the heart of Florence. After dinner the night we stayed in the  Four Seasons, we stopped into the Atrium Bar late night for an after dinner  cordial of grappa and Marsala, made our way to our sumptuous, slid into the exceptionally comfortable bed imaginable, and slipped into our dream worlds with smiles of total contentment on our faces.
         The next morning when we awoke, we were suppose to drive to Pisa, but because of the blissfulness of our Four Seasons accommodations, we looked at each other and  decided, “Eh, let’s enjoy every last second of this; this is too special," and so delayed our departure. 
         Our next destination was south of Florence, in the hills of Montalcino (below),  It's a small fortress town located just south of Siena, and its fame is  attributed to one of the greatest wines of the world, for this is where
where the famous wine Brunello is produced.   Back in the mid to late 19th century, the Biondi-Santi family had isolated a specific clone of sangiovese grape that they found thrived  and showcased their area and terroir like no other planted in the region. It  was a grape that showed great potential, balance, expression, depth,  complexity and age ability. Up until this point no Italian wines could rival the greatest  French wines, but this all changed when Biondi-Santi named this clone Sangiovese  Grosso, BBS11, which became the benchmark and, a century later, the  DOCG standard for all  Brunello production.
         Biondi-Santi was a leader in a movement in the area, but later down the road, another leader and trail blazer would make their way onto the scene.  This man, American none the less, was John Mariani, not related to my father of the same name.   The Mariani family had run an importing business in the U.S. out  of NY, and with the Italian cooperative Reunite  produced the  incredibly  popular Lambrusco in the 60’s, becoming the number one imported wine. In 1978, Banfi purchased vineyards in Montalcino and started producing their very own  Brunello.
         What has made Banfi such a prominent and important name in the region  and the wine world is not just that they make their own great wines, but that they have  been an integral part of maintaining and developing the region as a whole, all the  while preserving and upholding  the highest level of environmental  consciousness and dedication to the betterment of the DOCG by financing  ampelographic research to isolate the best and most ideal clones for  production, narrowing 650 clones down to 15, which they openly shared with  their neighbors. Banfi has won International Winery of the Year four times and  Italian Winery of the Year nine times.
         We  headed down SS2 and reached the entrance road to the estate. Navigating  our way through rows and vineyards and roads lined with cypress trees, we  pulled up to the wholly restored Castello, a sight so familiar,  since I  had been there before almost 12 years ago. Much has changed in this time but  much has remained the same. I remember seeing barren vineyards along the entrance road with soil being turned in preparation of new vines soon to be planted; now they were healthy, bountiful rows. Back then, when I had visited  the estate, we had stayed in their farm house, isolated in the vineyards, with  a corral in the back that harbored donkeys; one, Aristotle, is still there to  this day. Now, Castello Banfi has built a full-blown resort called Il Borgo of  luxury suites and accommodations. Rooms dressed in a modern and elevated farm  house motif provide the ultimate Tuscan Wine getaway.
         When we arrived, there is a small gated parking area to park your car  for guests of Il Borgo. We pulled in, and as I crept into the parking lot, I  noticed that there happened to be a Club of Ferrari owners staying the night. So, with no choice, I parked my Fiat 500 between million dollar vintage Ferraris.  Of course I was excited to see these cars, but all of a sudden, my super cool  101 hp Fiat wasn’t as much fun. Nonetheless, when I was greeted by the concierge  and hotel managers, I was treated just as if one of those Ferraris were mine.  The hospitality was genuine and abundant.
         We were walked to our room (left), and as we stepped out from a covered  staircase, we entered into a white rose garden with vineyards in the background that sat at the footstep of our room’s door. Here was the ideal country gentleman's room--decorated with exquisite, restrained taste that had the hand of an American in its comfort and amenities, which included a gorgeous bathroom that begged you to soak in the marble tub for hours. After settling in and  getting our second wind, we started getting ready for dinner and headed to the  restaurant just set off of the castle for a enjoyable evening of food and wine.    The Taverna trattoria, much frequented by visitors to the area, is a delight, just rustic enough to relax in, but with a menu of sophisticated Tuscan cooking that is a textbook example of the form.
The following day, we had the luxury of taking a wine tour of the  estate, an amenity offered to all guests of Banfi. To kick off the tour, we  started in the tasting room with lineups such as the Rosso di Montalcino,  Poggio alle Mure (their single vineyard production), and their top bottling  Poggio all’Oro. All are top-notch examples in their own right, showcasing Banfi’s  commitment to constant development and increased used of modern wine making techniques. Wines with balance, persistence, power and identity all the while  having finesse.
         Castello Banfi is not just a place to visit while driving through this  prominent wine rich region, but a place where you can splurge, be taken care  of and indulge yourself within the world of vino. There aren’t many places  that can offer the extensive experience Castello has to offer. Or as many Ferraris to check out in  case you're in the market.
     No one who has gone to Tuscany has resisted its romantic appeal, and with my new fiancee, Priscilla (right), alone in Il Borgo's white rose garden, everything came into wonderful focus for our life ahead.

by John Mariani

    The controversy that swirls around what contemporary Spanish cuisine really is may have more to do with hype than the reality of what is really going on in 99 percent of the restaurants in Iberia today, for the influence on a few young Spanish chefs of the avant-garde techniques of Ferran Adrìa has sadly veered away from what makes traditional Spanish cuisine so good, so varied in region and so fascinating.
    Andanada, a new restaurant on the Upper West Side, strikes a very happy medium by being on the one hand respectful of Spanish tradition while presenting its food with flair, esthetics and a few modernist  twists that makes it one of the most interesting new restaurants in America.  Owner and partner Alvaro Rainoso, the son of the owner of the Rioja winery Tobelos, studied in the U.S. to be a software engineer but longed for good Spanish cooking in NYC.  He thereupon founded The Spaniards NYC company that organizes events; then, drawn to the restaurant business, Reinoso sought to open his own, bringing in Chef Manuel Berganza, who had worked at the Michelin-starred restaurant La Broche ion Madrid, then as exec chef at Sergi Arola, also with a Michelin star.
    So one expects innovation in the cooking here but he and Reinosos have very wisely chosen to show with pride the true flavors of Spanish cuisine without ever over-complicating anything.  The name Andanada refers to the highest seating area in the bullfighting arena, considered the best view, and there is a fine mural of bullfighter Enrique Ponce in this, one of the handsomest new dining rooms in NYC.  There is color everywhere, excellent lighting, modern furniture and a real evocation of Spanish motifs, along with a glass-roofed garden atrium with trompe l'oeuil painted vines and white benches. Chipirones (calamari) with squid ink were delicious fried
    The principal part of the menu is devoted to tapas, with a nightly list appended with specials that either will soon or will not go onto the regular menu.  We ordered several, started with patatas Andanada, their version of the classic, spicy patatas bravas, here rendered as boiled potatoes set in a "soil" of dehydrated olives, with aïoli and salsa brava dipping sauces--an example of just about how far the food goes in the Modernist style.
    Berenjenas asadas come as a pretty platter of roasted, smoky eggplant, with red wine vinegar reduction and chives, a dish I found a little bitter but which my table guests adored for just that reason.  Very traditional was a dish of plump shrimp cooked in a fiery garlic sauce, brought to the table in a ceramic dish.  Croquettas de jamon, widely found in tapas bars, are as always completely addictive--hot ham croquettes lavished with a rich béchamel that spurts out onto the palate.  Fabulous. Calamari with aioli were delicious, as was fried artichokes with Manchego cheese.
    There are several intriguing seafood dishes here, and we thoroughly enjoyed plancha-seared, seasoned cod over a carpaccio of portobello mushrooms with pine nut emulsion and vegetables.
    I highly recommend the stuffed suckling pig, with burnished , very crispy skin and a salad of Romain lettuce, pickled onion, cherry tomatoes and pepper puree, a dish where everything was in perfect equilibrium to bring out the best in the pig.  Andanada now has a paella menu and we choose the meat version, cooked with chewy rice and vegetables in broth.  I went back for second helpings--though I did miss the crackling crusty rice called soccarat sought out by paella fans.
   Desserts are where the chef has some fun: arroz con leche is cinnamon flavored pudding, but beneath lies crispy flash-fried rice paper that looks like quickly folded handkerchiefs.  Chocolate mousse comes with wonderful spiced bread and berries macerated in olive oil and vanilla with a goat's cheese tart lashed with orange juice and a poof of almond powder.
    The wine list is resolutely Spanish, with sever good reds under $50 and quirkily named cocktails like The Beet Goes On.
    The word has gotten out on the Upper West Side about Andanada, but it's safe to say that people from Lincoln Center and anyone who loves modern Spanish cuisine will soon find this one of the best newcomers in that neck of the Manhattan woods.

Andana  is opn for dinner nightly Tapas and apps run $6-$16, main courses $28-$32.


by John Mariani


    Wine making is a romantic obsession -- a good selling point for an agricultural product marketed as seductive, sophisticated and highly cultured. Truth is, most winemakers make money by following global trends, resulting in oceans of white wines all tasting pretty much the same. This is not generally true of riesling, whose archetypes lie in the valleys of Germany and Alsace. Unlike chardonnay, pinot blanc and other white varietals, the grape itself has a very particular flavor.

Penner-Ash Vineyards

    Rieslings are spicy, brisk, sometimes racy, often sweet, always aromatic and low in alcohol. And while many different regions make riesling, I think Oregon now can compete with the world’s best -- especially when the average price is under $20 a bottle. A cooler climate than California’s is key to riesling’s excellence in Oregon, where it has grown into a $2.7 billion industry, with 450 wineries, mostly small and artisanal, spread over 17 distinct American Viticultural Regions. Average winery yield is only 5,000 cases a year, and nearly 40 percent of the state’s vineyard acreage is certified sustainable. Fifty wineries now make riesling with 797 acres under cultivation, which is only about 5 percent of Oregon plantings, down from 23 percent 30 years ago, after vines were ripped out to make way for cabernet and chardonnay.
    Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder and winemaker of Chehalem winery, says rieslings are the world’s “best white wine” and insists the varietal will eventually be the most widely planted in the state. “New dense plantings with a full array of clones are the future,” he says, “as we investigate sites for epiphanies and stretch styles to palates and foods.” Back in the 1980s and into the 1990s, Oregon rieslings were not as elegantly knit as they are today. Some are still as flabby as fruit punch; others lack the acidity of New York State Finger Lake examples. German rieslings, with hundreds of years of development, are still the benchmark, including intensely sweet dessert wines. But drier styles are now justifiably getting attention.
    The International Riesling Foundation has produced a Riesling Taste Profile based on sugar-to-acid ratios, info that members may print on the label: “Dry,” “Medium Dry,” “Medium Sweet” and “Sweet.”
    Here are some of the Oregon rieslings I have been enjoying this summer, with just about everything except a steak on the grill.

Argyle Eola-Amity Hills 2011 ($18)
The 2011 vintage is considered one of the best of the past decade, a cool year with low sugars but good acids. Argyle, one of the pioneers in the Willamette Valley, is best known for its sparkling wines. But this medium-dry riesling is full of tropical fruit flavors and spice, which make it a good aperitif and a delight with an appetizer of honeydew melon and slices of prosciutto.

Penner-Ash 2012 ($20)
Bottled in March 2013, this lighter riesling, at 10.5 percent alcohol, is very drinkable right now. I’d love it to have a bit more acid, but I easily sipped this before dinner with nothing more than some walnuts and pistachios. It also pairs well with shellfish.

Anne Amie Estate Dry Riesling 2011 ($20)
The Yamhill-Carlton district vineyards, dating to 1979, show their terroir with plenty of spice and dry minerality. Better known for their pinot noir and pinot blanc, Anne Amie uses old vine riesling grapes and treats them with minimal processing, keeping yield low to produce a superb intensity in their riesling, along with a refreshing acidity to balance the sugars. This is the ideal wine for trout or any lake fish.

Foris Rogue Valley 2011 ($13.50) (right)
If you love a good, crisp, tangy apple, you might be forgiven for thinking this bottling was full of apple juice. It is absolutely delicious, a very deft balance of pale sweetness with edgy acids. Foris, which started producing under its own label in 1986, is the southernmost winery in Oregon, and its bottlings are clear expressions of the high elevation, cool Pacific terroir, allowing the wine’s components to knit together without complications from too much sun. They also sell a 2008 sweet late-harvest dessert riesling at $12 for a half-bottle.

Elk Cove Vineyards Willamette Valley Estate 2011 ($19) (left)
Elk Cove’s pinot noirs have an outstanding reputation, but I’m almost as impressed by their Estate riesling, which has plenty of aroma, fruit and spices, and at 12 percent alcohol is a wine I’d like to keep around for a couple of years to see if it develops into something even finer. Right now, if grilled salmon were on the plate, this riesling would be in the glass.

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News.


 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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