Virtual Gourmet

 November 10 2013                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    BOOKS    |    ABOUT US    |    CONTACT

"Alsatian Girls," by Jean-Jacques Waltz also known as " Oncle Hansi", or simply "Hansi"




by Christopher Mariani

Café Centro
by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by Christopher Mariani


    I spent a fair number of weekends in Atlantic City when I was young, partying at nightclubs, gambling and attending a handful of the city’s posh pool parties. Then I stayed exclusively at either the Borgata or Harrah’s, because, well, let’s be honest, the other AC hotels are not exactly that fashionable, with the exception of the new Revel Hotel, which I am personally not a fan of due to a poor layout and almost sinister atmosphere. I’ve always felt the Borgata, with the addition of their new Water Club tower, was the closest thing to the “new” Vegas in Atlantic City. In my former view, Atlantic City was always a poor imitation of the west’s Las Vegas.
    It was not until a recent trip to Atlantic City that I realized the city had something to offer that Las Vegas physically never could: a wonderful seaside experience with an endless array of not-so-sinful options. Unless you consider a deep-fried snickers bar sinful.
    It was the end of the summer, and for the first time, I visited Atlantic City’s famous boardwalk and saw a completely different side of this boisterous city. My girlfriend and I checked into the Resorts Casino Hotel, located directly on the water, fitted out with spacious rooms and gorgeous views of the ocean and beach below. That afternoon, we left the casino, without gambling, and set foot on the city’s legendary wooden boardwalk, which, contrary to assumptions, was not badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, as were resort areas south of AC.
     There were funky clothing stores, Atlantic City memorabilia shops, competing ice cream vendors and storefront after storefront of delicious, casual eateries, all serving pizza, gyros packed with savory sliced beef and oozing with tzatziki sauce, hearty sandwiches, saltwater taffy, and tantalizing deep-fried zeppoles coated with sweet powdered sugar. We had a blast, strolling down the boardwalk, popping into stores, people watching and just soaking up the sun’s rays. The boardwalk was buzzing with young families as children begged to go on rides and eat cotton candy. I was so pleased to see this joyful slice of Atlantic City that I never knew existed.
    That evening, before the Beyoncé concert at the City Center, we dined at one of the city’s oldest culinary establishments, Knife & Fork (left) whose doors opened in 1912 as a men’s drinking and dining club, continuing through the roaring 1920’s, even serving alcohol during Prohibition. With recent renovations in 2005 (below), the space looks better than ever and offers massive cuts of grilled steak, plenty of seafood options and lots of rich side dishes, not much different than you would have found on the menu decades ago.  Indeed, Knife & Fork is both a throwback and something of a nostalgic trip at a time when the casino hotels are hiring celeb chefs by the dozen to replicate their menus from elsewhere.
    After filling up at Knife & Fork, we were chauffeured by limousine to the Beyoncé concert where we spent the night star-struck, as Beyoncé dazzled the audience, proving herself one of the greatest live performers of my generation.
n the following sunny day, we had a great lunch at the new Landshark Bar & Grill,  the first restaurant in AC to sit directly on the beach, looking out onto the ocean. Landshark operates under the Margaritaville brand and draws a laidback crowd of casual diners looking for good seafood, a burger and a few cold beers. The menu is extensive and revolves around fish sandwiches, chili cheese dogs, oysters and fried shrimp. The space is mostly all outdoors, centered around a bustling bar and fixed with large yellow Landshark umbrellas and long wooden tables. The place is simply fun to be at and worth a visit when staying along the boardwalk.
    After an afternoon at leisure, we got dressed and headed to the Taj Mahal Resort Casino where we dined at Robert’s Steakhouse, (left) led by executive chef Will Savarese, who has an impressive résumé, having cooked at NYC’s La Côte Basque, Aureole and Le Cirque in NYC, along with Westchester County’s La Crèmaillére and The Tap House in Tuckahoe before being asked to run the kitchen at Robert’s. I had few moments to chat with chef Savarese, who told me the hotel owners spared no expense and insisted he only use the most excellent ingredients. He was informed that the cost for the best products were not to be a concern, a conversation I’m sure most chef’s would love to be part of when food costs are ever rising and the ability for restaurants to make a profit is getting more and more difficult.
    The space is truly impressive, one of the few restaurants in the city I could say matches in quality and design those of Las Vegas’ finest. The room is extremely masculine, dimly lighted with amber light, dressed with wooden floors, large dark wood tables and comfy black leather banquets. Upon entry, there is a sexy bar and lounge, staffed with beautiful women dressed all in black, serving martinis and Champagne to well-dressed guests sitting or waiting for their table. Once seated, we started with two glasses of Champagne and a dozen east and west coast oysters served with horseradish and a mignonette sauce.
    Then, Japanese yellowtail sashimi with chili oil, ruby red grapefruit and jalapeños, along with Kobe beef carpaccio sided by arugula salad dressed with truffle oil and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  For entrees, Robert’s offers USDA Prime house dry-aged cuts of beef, including a delicious porterhouse for two, costing $110, before sides like potato gratin with bacon; creamed spinach; beer- battered onion rings with malt vinegar, and rich and creamy macaroni and cheese. If you still have room, try the chocolate hazelnut “bomb” or the apple crumb cobbler, two desserts you will not soon forget.
    Robert’s wine list is a bit inflated in price and could use some more reasonably tariffed wines. The list itself is very impressive, but for the average AC diner, the price point is not at all modest.
    I’ve dined around Atlantic City and had some very good meals, but not until visiting Robert’s did I experience a truly great meal. As far as I’m concerned, Robert’s Steakhouse sets the bar for the Atlantic City dining scene.


by John Mariani

200 Park Avenue

    There are two ways to tell if a person is an out-of-towner in New York: If he asks you directions to the Avenue of the Americas or the MetLife Building, he ain’t from around here. No New Yorker ever calls that street the Avenue of the Americas; it’s Sixth Avenue.  And no one would use the ugly name MetLife Building; it’s still the Pan Am Building.
    Even under its former jet age name, the latter—before Pan Am went belly up in 1991—was never actually beloved as a NYC landmark. The damn thing was set atop the Beaux Arts beauty of Grand Central Terminal like a wedge driven through the heart of New York.  In fact, that architectural rape of 1963 was what led to the city creating a Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.
    Nevertheless, in its heyday the Pan Am Building was home to some cherished eateries, all then run by Restaurant Associates.  There was Trattoria, one of the best contemporary Italian restaurants of its time, a German wurst place called Zum Zum, and the sexy Sky Club on the 56th floor. Today the restaurants in the skyscraper, now all run by the Patina Group, include Naples 45 (where Trattoria was), Cucina & Co., Fonda del Sol, and Café Centro.
    Café Centro is immensely popular for all sorts of reasons, convenience of location being but one of them. During warmer months the outdoor tables are packed at lunch and dinner, and even at breakfast, as a lot of meetings are conducted here by execs from the skyscraper above.  The website touts the restaurant as “a richly elegant Grand Café in the classic Parisian tradition,” which is quite true, right down to the big roomy booths, soigne art deco mural (below), white tablecloths, mirrors and brass railings (right).  The menu shies away from being in any way daring, instead focusing on French brasserie and Mediterranean classics that have been honed to perfection over the years. It gets a solid bar crowd—you can eat there—but the bartenders still need a few lessons in classic cocktail making.

    Over two recent dinners at Café Centro, I realized what I had missed by being away so long. You might begin with a shellfish platter, shimmering on its display tier.  The bread and butter are copious and excellent.  The onion soup gratinée, with its bubbly, caramelized Gruyère and Comté cheese lid, needs no improvement, but it’s time to retire the plate of mozzarella and tomatoes if better tomatoes can’t be found.

    Chicken bisteeya baked in buttery phyllo with toasted almonds, golden raisins, orange flower essence is much better than you might imagine—flaky, piping hot, crunchy and aromatic, while the terrine of foie gras with candied celery, rhubarb, and aged Sherry is the very soul of bistro cookery. The lobster chowder, laced with crème fraîche, is one of my favorite soups in NYC.

    Fillet of sole is expertly, carefully sautéed in butter with a tomato Fondue and wonderful lemon coulis, and if you love mussels, those shiny bivalves done here in white wine and garlic, or with andouille sausage, Belgian beer, and tomatoes Dijonaise, will make you very happy.
You certainly won't go wrong with the admirably priced steak frites ($36) or the hefty portion of coq au vin, steaming hot and riddled with lardons, its flavorful juices seeping into the egg-rich, buttered spaetzle and mushrooms. Seared Rib Eye Steak Au Poivre with spicy green peppercorn sauce is another old favorite you don’t see as much as you used to. Roast chicken (left) is equally as classic in its presentation as a bistro dish beloved for obvious reasons of good tasting comfort.
    Toeing the bistro line, there is, of course, apple tarte Tatin, here with maple ice cream and apple crisp, and crème brûlée together with a molten chocolate cake.

    The wine list is one of the most carefully selected in the city, with dozens of wines by the glass and an amazing number of bottles under $50, just as you’d find in a Parisian bistro—good country wines too.

    Grand Central Terminal is crammed full of restaurants, take-out shops, eateries, bakeries and food stores, so it is testament to Café Centro that, with so much to choose among, people return here again and again for just the right amount of cosseting, comfort and consistently good, always lovable food.

PARKING SPECIAL When you dine at Café Centro, One Parking at 200 Park Avenue offers a special rate of $25 for up to 4 hours of parking.

Open for breakfast and lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat. Appetizers $12.50-$16.50, main courses $19-$44.




Twin Stars diner in Moscow, only hires sets of identical twins (right) as its waitstaff. Owner Alexei Khodorkovsky told the BBC he was inspired by his favorite childhood movie, The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors, in which "a schoolgirl crosses into an alternate world and finds her twin."



Australian chef Michael Moore's new book Blood Sugar has been translated into Danish, as Blod Sukker.


 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." 

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.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2013