Virtual Gourmet

  September 8, 2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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Menu from the Surf room, Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, circa 1960.









Photos by Robert Pirillo

The Parthenon, Athens

    Our first landfall on a seven-day cruise of the Greek Islands and the Turkish "Riviera" aboard the Azamara Journey was Mykonos island, where we went on a four-hour bus trip guided by a savvy native who was also beautiful enough to be a model. First stop was in the center of the island, at the village of Ano Mera, where we visited the sleepy, bright white and bougainvillea-draped monastery of Panagia Tourliani (below), dedicated to the Virgin Mary and erected in the 16th century. Opulent chandeliers and pierced hanging lamps filled the exquisite, jewel-box interior of its church, with a fresco of Christ Pantocrator painted on the small central dome. The glorious polychrome altar screen, almost churrigueresque in its flamboyance, was emblazoned with large icons. The central one, of the Virgin and Child, the paint of their faces barely recognizable on its smoke-blackened, driftwood panel, washed up from the sea and is considered miraculous.
    A quick stop at a beach for a refreshing swim in the clear blue sea was next. Finally, a walk in the town of Mykonos itself, through its quiet, winding residential back lanes, so narrow that the second floor balconies almost touch. Old women in black sat relaxing in front of their cubical white houses, their doors, staircases and shutters all painted the same vivid color, whether blue, red or green.
    As luck would have it, we even got to meet the waterfront's official mascot, Petros (or Peter) the Pelican, enjoying his siesta on top of a low wall. A quite large, almost pure white bird, with his long beak turned back under his wings, he brought to mind an enormous egg. There he sat, not ruffling a feather, so still you could mistake him for a large sculpture, completely at ease, very poised and dignified in his own avian way. If only the same could be said about the noisy, gawking, camera-toting tourists, milling around him like ill-bred school children who just can't resist seeing how close they can get to him for a snapshot.
    Next was a visit to picturesque "Little Venice," the oldest part of town (below), where there are colorful fisherman's -- or pirates' -- houses, whose walls rise up straight out of the sea and have plain wooden balconies overhanging the water on their upper floors.
    The next morning, we anchored in the harbor at Kusadaşi, Turkey. The town itself is a large open-air souk where t-shirts, table linens, and other factory-produced souvenirs were offered side by side with magnificent carpets and artisan-made 22 carat gold jewelry. There were numerous, narrow alleyways, actually long flights of steps, that we were told led up to an atmospheric, picturesquely crumbling Old Town, but it was so hot and the stairs far too numerous and steep for us to bother.

    Later we took in our complimentary Azamara Evening event at Ephesus (left). A fleet of buses took most of our ship’s passengers for a two-hour ride to hear an outdoor classical concert in the ancient theater right at the entrance to the extensive Roman ruins at Ephesus. After getting over the initially profound disappointment at not being able to visit any other parts of the ruins (guards were there to stop us), we enjoyed an evening of popular classical selections: Bach's “Air on the G string,” Mozart's “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” Borodin's “Polovtsian Dances,” Handel's “Harp Concerto” and more, played by a chamber orchestra of gifted young musicians. Cushions were provided to mitigate the hardness of the ancient stone seats. As the evening cooled down and darkness obscured all but the candlelit semicircle of listeners, a crescent moon like the one on the Turkish flag rose over the hillside to the east.
Our next stop was the island of Kos. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see any of Kos town, surrounded by walls erected in the Middle Ages. Rather, we were whisked away by bus to the massive ruins of Asclepion, built on several marble terraces, where Hippocrates, the “father of Western medicine," had his treatment center. Highlights were the remains of the 3rd Century Temple of Apollo and its baths.
    Then, off to a village, Zia, way up the forested slope of Mount Dikeos, with traditional stone houses and a main street lined with shops selling souvenirs, as well as local honey and sponges. Its many rooftop restaurants had beautiful views of the mountains and the sea. Where our guide took us the standard Greek menu was offered, including superb mezes and main courses from the grill, along with great pilsner-style national beers, Alpha and Mythos, all very reasonably priced.
    At noon the next day, we docked at Rhodes. No tour was planned, so we just strolled around the beautiful walled Old Town  (right) and its sun-baked main drag, Socratous Street, filled with shops, restaurants, and sightseers. The back streets, however, where daily life continued away from the tourist crush, were lovely, cool and shady under the enormous green canopies of wide-trunk trees, a single canopy often large enough to cover an entire square.
    We had a wonderful lunch at the popular, aptly named Socratous Garden, a few steps and the swing of a gate off of sultry Socratous Street, but a world away. Delicious mezes: tzatziki, taramosalata and a small Greek salad, followed by small portions of half a dozen mainstays of Greek cuisine, moussaka, pastitsio (lasagna), keftidie (meatballs, sausages, broiled stuffed-tomato), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and some beef and onion fricassee that we couldn't stop eating, all in one order big enough for the two of us. (Lunch for two, with shared entree, 32 Euros, or $44.) The roomy patio could tempt you to idle away the whole afternoon in the cool, leafy shade of its trees.
    But don't miss the Palace of the Grand Masters (left), a citadel of the medieval Knights Hospitaller, with its outstanding collection of about two dozen superb, completely intact Late Roman and Early Christian mosaic stone pavements, some brilliantly geometric, some touchingly figurative. All were removed from Kos by the Italians during their 1912 occupation of the Dodecanese Islands.  Another must-see is the Street of the Knights, lined with the Inns of the Tongues, where the knights from different countries were segregated in their own national establishments. Its narrow, cobbled streets and arched bridges between substantial stone houses date from the 14th century, one of the most extensive and best preserved examples of Gothic city building in the world. Oh, but what a torment to walk on those tiny stone cobbles, even with rubber soles. How do the women of Rhodes manage it in today's high heels?
    At night, we had dinner at La Barka (below) with tables right out on Sophokleous Street in the Old Town. The usual great mezes was followed by simply grilled sea bass that we drizzled with lemon juice. The chef came out and presented us with a platter of whole fish, so glistening and fresh I expected them to jump off the plate. "This is sea bream,” he pointed out, “this is sea bass; the bass is better." It certainly was good. Our waiter and waitress were delightful, as was the red table wine. The taverna had changed ownership the day before, so everyone was new and enthusiastic but still wholly competent. Dinner for two with wine was about 72 Euros, or $94.
    Marmaris, Turkey, is a harbor town with a large, open-air bazaar offering the usual trash and treasures for sale. Energetic, but not aggressive, street vendors were hawking their wares out front of every shop. When looking at jewelry, or carpets, we were always offered something to drink, according to rules of Turkish hospitality, but prices, as usual, were much too high.
    Here, a six-hour bus tour took us to the small town of Dalyan, on the edge of one of the world's most important wetland areas. A boat then took us down the Dalyan River and through the reed-lined channels of its delta, past the spectacular weathered facades of Lycian rock tombs (below) ca. 400 BC, sculpted halfway up the sheer hillsides and mimicking the porticoes of small Ionic temples. Then on to the still impressive Roman ruins of the trading city of Caunos, where the remains of temples, baths and even a theater from the 2nd Century BC can be visited. Here our guide explained its mythical founding, and the silting up of its harbor responsible for the city's decline in antiquity.
    Then back to the boat for a short ride to the long, sandy beach of Iztuzu, filled, but not crowded, with Russian tourists, and famous for its protected turtle breeding grounds. Wire pyramids on the beach indicate the turtle nesting sights, and the beach is closed at night during the period that the loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs. The tour concluded with lunch -- great mezes, passable main courses, nice cold Alpha beer -- in one of the outdoor tavernas in Dalyan.
      We caught the Azamara Journey at Piraeus after spending two enjoyable days in Athens in comfortable and reasonable (95 Euros, $126 a night) accommodations at the Melia Athens (below) a very new, well-maintained hotel.  Our large room had a queen-size bed, plenty of closet space and a marble bathroom, big enough for a bathtub with hydromassage shower.
     The surrounding neighborhood was quite run-down, with empty high-rises above graffiti-covered storefronts. Run-down but not dangerous or in the least unsettling. From the Melia, it was an easy walk to Syntagma Square and Plaka, or Old Town, which is not run-down at all and as lively and as much fun as ever. We ate very well, both at Spilia on Thrassilou Street  halfway up the hill to the Acropolis, with a view of its Eastern terrace (dinner for two with wine, 42 Euros, $56), and at Daphne's (below) on Lyssikratous Street, back down on      street level, with more refined versions of taverna cuisine in an equally more refined space, with cloth tablecloths and napkins, served outside in the courtyard  (dinner with cocktails and wine, 64 Euros,  $83).
     What a pleasure to wander aimlessly around the Plaka (below), where streets filled with outdoor tavernas soon give way to narrow, sloping lanes dressed up with potted plants. The streets climb steeply up the hill below the Acropolis. Here in cozy white houses draped with masses of color-saturated bougainvillea, daily life goes on undisturbed. We almost found ourselves guests at a christening.
     We made the hot, sun-baked climb up the hill to the magnificent Parthenon and the Erechtheion, with its equally splendid Caryatids (below, left), even if these last are replicas. (For the real Caryatids, visit the Archaeological Museum near the foot of the Acropolis.) Delicious, ice-cold orange slushies helped take the edge off the sweltering walk down.
      Among other reasons to stay at the Melia is its rooftop pool and cafe on the 18th floor. So nice for lunch, or a dip and cool drink after a hot, gritty day of walking, mostly uphill, and just about perfect late at night, after the pool has closed, for a well-made cocktail (the bartender made perfect mojitos ) while lounging on one of its comfortable sofas with a picture postcard view of the illuminated Parthenon in all its incomparable glory.
    Finally, a note on shopping in the region: in the Old Town of Rhodes, hidden among the chachka shops on Socratous Street, at the corner of Aristotelous Street, was a tiny, shoebox of a shop, Kalimera Art Gallery, very narrow and deep, with a very well-dressed, attractive proprietor standing at the back. Filled with such a treasure trove of remarkable, luxurious, hand-embroidered silk fabrics, the already tight space could scarcely be entered single-file. No cheap junk anywhere. When we noticed the icons hanging on the wall, the proprietor said, "Lovely, aren't they? Not old, but all hand-painted." Telling us right off the bat that they weren't antiques, or really not old at all, was just what I'd been waiting to hear. Guide books all stress that the icons for sale to tourists are all usually mass-produced in factories.
    The genuine antiques are all in churches or museums, or very high-end antique shops. These, however, were new, original works of art. And so, after looking in the afternoon, then some gentle bargaining in the evening -- and after being introduced to the proprietor's husband and son -- we left with an icon, not only beautiful in itself, but the perfect souvenir of our wanderings. 

  To read Part One of this article, click here.


by John Mariani


12 East 31st Street

        Juni made a late summer debut, but while I usually like to wait a few weeks to visit a restaurant, my admiration for Australian chef Shaun Hergatt caused me to rush right over to West 31st Street to see what he was doing since leaving his namesake restaurant at the Setai Hotel way downtown.  That restaurant, called Sho Shaun Hergatt, made my list of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants of 2009, a big, glittering space (soon to be a kosher steakhouse) where he was showing off what he could do, earning a Michelin star along the way.
        Now, with just 50 seats at his disposal, Hergatt, with ESquared Hospitality group (which runs the BLT Steakhouses), has streamlined his menu and his cuisine, now even more impressive than what he’d done in the past. By focusing in on ingredients’ essential flavors, without mutating them into something unrecognizable, he shows why the gimmickry of molecular cuisine is just so much misdirection.
        His career has risen smoothly, from being appointed at the age of 23 as chef de cuisine at The Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, which earned him an Australian Hotels Association “Best Young Chef” award in 2000. That year he moved to the U.S. to become chef de cuisine at the Ritz-Carlton in NYC, then heading to the Setai in the Financial District nine years later.

        Juni, adjacent to the Chandler Hotel, is composed of three congenial rooms (they may add a fourth this winter), and the name, Hergatt told me, derives from the Latin word Junius, for the month of June. The seasons are crucial to all chefs, but Hergatt is insistent he will never be cooking out of season, a stance that is quite evident as soon as you taste the first sip of his “warm pork soup,” whose reduction of kale and spinach has an intensity that is almost heady; in that soup are shreds of smoky pork and atop it is a lovely egg yolk just waiting to be broken up into an oozing mass of golden yellow. The excellence of the seasonal vegetables are what makes the dish sing; without that, the dish might merely hum.
        He purees creamy burrata cheese and serves it simply, with sweet cherry tomatoes and a tomato gelée. The skin of a roasted branzino is as crisp as parchment, served with three-colored carrots and a kiss of lemon essence, while his grilled hanger tenderloin comes with truffled pommes purée and delicate lamb’s quarter leaves.  For anyone going non-carnivore at Juni, the salad of golden corn, steel cut oats and lovage oil has amazing flavor and wondrous textures.
        Pastry chef Mina Pizarro matches Hergatt’s devotion to simple flavors with desserts like peaches and cream with cucumber and basil, and a witty take on caramel corn, scented with tarragon, lime and surprisingly good Cheddar cheese. Sommelier Jason Galang has gathered an impressive screed of wines that match up with Hergatt’s cooking, not least a good selection of international pinot noirs.
        The dining rooms are sedate but pretty, done in sandy colors under arched ceilings that give the space an airiness and intimacy at the same time. Harvest photos by artist Carol Dunn echo the theme of the food. This is a civilized restaurant, no high noise level, no crashing music, no hipster waiters in black t-shirts. Juni is proof that fine dining has not faded at all in NYC, an idea that restaurateurs around the country should take note of.

Juni is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.; Lunch $30-$35, dinner four courses for $90, six for $120, and ten for $180, with a la carte appetizers $20, main courses $40.




by John Mariani

    Being the fifth largest wine grape and wine producing state in the U.S. might be worth boasting about, but Texas is not a state that takes fifth place lightly.  With 275 bonded wineries producing 3 billion gallons annually, with $1.8 billion in sales, Texas’s wine industry is still expanding. But both climate and sales marketing has made it a struggle to compete with California, Oregon, and other states for bragging rights.
         “Our state’s top vignerons are among the bravest, most intrepid and most tortured farmers on the planet,” Houston Chronicle wine columnist Dale Robertson wrote last month. “Late freezes, hailstorms and drought wreak constant havoc.” In fact, a spring freeze in 2013 killed off most of the grapes in the High Plains appellation vineyards, leaving some growers with no grapes at all.
         Ironically, while drought is a disaster for most crops, wine grapes make the best wines if they are stressed for lack of water, and Texas growers have shied away from Bordeaux varietals in favor of more hot weather grapes like tempranillo and shiraz. But better grapes mean fewer grapes, so many wineries are forced to source grapes from California to fill their bottles.
         By federal law, if a wine has 75 percent or more of its contents from out-of-state grapes, it must be labeled “For Sale in Texas Only,” with no further designation. So, wines with 74 percent California juice may be labeled Texas wines.  (The state of Texas has no such laws of its own.) 
“Quality has increased significantly but not the number of wineries making that quality,” said Jessica Dupuy, Austin-based wine writer for Texas Monthly Magazine. “The best, like McPherson Cellars, Duchman Family Winery and Pedernales Cellars are strictly focusing on Texas fruit.  But there isn’t enough acreage available for them to produce as wine fruit as they could sell.”
         Most of the wines are sold on winery premises, and better restaurants can’t get the best wines to put on their wine lists and those are very expensive, so that a restaurant mark-up make the wines prohibitive to most guests, who can buy excellent Spanish, Rhone or Italian wines for less.
         Over a week spent in Austin, Dallas and Houston, I sought to drink Texas wines exclusively but found only a handful on restaurant lists. Only the Four Seasons Hotel chain, with branches in those three cities, has made a real commitment to carrying Texas wines. The chain’s resort restaurant, Trio, in Irving, TX, (left) features 12 on a separate page of the wine list. According to resort’s sommelier, James Tidwell, “The problem is distribution. I ask to put a wine on our list and I’m told they sold out everything at the winery.”
         Other wine directors at other top restaurants I visited told me that there really wasn’t enough interest among guests to bother stocking Texas bottlings.
         Still, I tasted as many as I could, as recommended by the restaurant sommeliers and found many to be very fine wines indeed. Given the amount of sun and heat the grapes receive, some wines’ alcohol levels were very high.
         At the new restaurant Stampede 66 in Dallas, I very much enjoyed a 2008 Llano Estacado “1836” Blend. The winery began in Lubbock in 1976 and is now the largest selling premium winery in the state. (The 1836 on the label refers to The Battle of San Jacinto when Sam Houston beat the Mexican Army in a 30-minute battle.) A complex blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite verdot, sangiovese and malbec, sourced from Mont Sec vineyard in the Chihuahuan Desert, it is a big, bold wine of a kind you'd expect from a Texas vineyard, full of sunny fruit and loosening tannins.
         At Fearing’s restaurant in the Dallas Ritz-Carlton Hotel, I was delighted by a 2011 Becker Vineyards Moscato, a varietal often made in a sweet style but here pleasingly dry with the characteristic floral aromatics of the Muscat Canelli grape.                                                                          
    I also tasted a 2010 Inwood Estates Vineyards Tempranillo-Cabernet, at 14.5 percent alcohol.  The wine showed that the tempranillo has a good future in Texas all on its own, but even though the wine was only three years old, I sensed a bit of oxidation. I’d drink this now but not a year from now.
         The wine I liked most that week was a 2010 Duchman Family Vineyards Vermentino, a late-ripening varietal most associated with Italy’s Liguria and Sardinia. It was a clean, well-made wine—no hint of oxidation here—tangy with acid, a faint sweet undertone and far better than a lot of mass-produced Italian vermentinos I’ve tried.
         The same winery’s 2010 Sangiovese, with an admirably balanced 13.5 percent alcohol, was not complex but deliciously fruity, suggesting a terroir well adapted to the Texas climate, in this case Driftwood in the Texas High Plains.
Becker Vineyards;  Skeens Photography
         I hesitate to give prices on these wines because they are largely sold only at the wineries themselves. But Texas has its own wine tourism, so you can taste at wineries set in some of the prettiest countryside north of the Rio Grande.

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News.



Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago said in an interview with podcast "Food Is the New Rock," "I feel — and I think a lot of my team feels — that the thing that to me defines art is emotion. . . .  We've actually done courses that we knew that people were going to be intimidated by. And people will shove that food away. They will refuse it. They won't eat it. But if I serve them that same bite of food, the exact same bite, on a fork or a spoon, they would proclaim it delicious. For me, that means that we're charging emotional triggers within people. And for me that means that it could be art."


At Dim Sum King in Seattle, a 52-year-old woman burst into the restaurant and began yelling ethnic slurs, including "Go Back to China!" . knocked over plates,  and  poured chocolate milk and soy sauce over a father and his infant son. The woman was arrested. . .


 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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