Virtual Gourmet

  March 9, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

HOME    |    BOOKS    |    ABOUT US    |    CONTACT

"Breakfast" by Juan Gris (1914)



By John Mariani

By John Mariani

Returning to Madeira
By Andrew Chalk


By John Mariani

         Make sure you arrive in Zurich on a sunny day.  I did not, and its charms eluded me under a nasty gray, drizzling sky.  The Linmat River was gray, the buildings were gray, the people were gray, and my mood was brightened only when I arrived at my hotel, the Bar au Lac, where everything was bright, cheery and as hospitable as the ever attentive Swiss can make it.
         The next day, however, Zurich was at its sunny finest--the same broad river was as blue as the sky, the buildings took on colors of tan, white, brown, and pink, and the people of the city were out and about, smiling with relief that the cold, wet winter of yesterday had changed into the kind of day that showed off the city at its most alluring.
         Zurich is, as everything else in Switzerland, a city that runs so efficiently that you don’t really need a watch.  The trains and trams I took in and out of the city left with the precision of an Olympic finish, within a split second of their posted schedule.  The streets were impeccably clean, winding up the boutique- and café-lined hillsides of the central historic district, bound by Lake Zurich itself, whose size has a magnificence rare in European inland waters.
         More than one survey ranks Zurich as a city with the best quality of life in the world--its current unemployment rate is only 3.2 percent--as well as being the wealthiest in Europe.  Believe me, the two go hand in hand. Zurich is very, very expensive.  A ten-minute taxi ride can easily cost 20 Euros (about $27), although it is so easy to walk around the city center that they are hardly necessary, and the trams are so dependable.
Bar au Lac (left), is considered Zurich’s grandest hotel, dating back to 1844 and still owned by the original family, so you can imagine the international celebrities--from Sophia Loren to Marc Chagall, from Alfred Hitchcock to Brigitte Bardot--who have stayed there, along with all those bankers and money men who provide the city with its enormous wealth. (Stores of gold bullion lie underneath the streets.)
        The 120-room hotel is just a block from the river, and its terrace rooms offer a glorious view of the city that shows how expansive it has grown over the past decade.  Rooms are wonderfully spacious, there is comfort in every bed, sofa, and bath, and, after a recent $50 million renovation, it is as ideally lighted and decorated as five-star hotels need to be in a highly competitive market for tourism and business clients.
    The concierges respond--in several languages--to whatever large or small request you can come up with, and it would be considered a serious transgression if a staff member failed to open a door or lead you to the restaurant. In-room WiFi leaves a lot to be desired, however.
         The hotel has three restaurants: the Pavillon, proudly sporting a new Michelin star; the Terrasse for outdoor dining; and a casual, seductively lighted spot named Rive Gauche.  I dined exceptionally well at the elegantly appointed Pavillon (below), including the lavish breakfast set out for guests each morning.  At dinner I enjoyed the restrained modernity of a menu balanced between European tradition and novel ideas like the caramelized langoustine with salsify, honey, lemon and vanilla, and a foie gras terrine with a cherry “Pop Tart” pastry.  The desserts are made with the hotel’s own chocolate, including its signature Chocolat 1844--a crunchy pie with chocolate mousse, plum spirit and chocolate chips--and chocolates are placed in your room at all hours of the day.  The wine list is solid, though I was surprised at the meager number of Swiss wines in its pages.
        The menu at the shadowy Rive Gauche runs from a “Smashing Pumpkins” pumpkin cream soup to “Stingy lamb” chops (the name must refer to the British rock star, not the size of the portion). And the bartenders take cocktail culture very seriously indeed.
         Over two days in Zurich I crisscrossed the Linmat to visit the monuments and museums, which include the hodgepodge Romanesque-Gothic-Baroque St. Peter, with the largest clock face in Europe; the Zürich Museum of Art, whose collections are principally modern; and the Uhrenmuseum Beyer, which aptly documents the history of timekeeping and timekeepers. Spires and steeples abound, giving the skyline a pretty punctuation.
         Seeking a traditional Swiss restaurant, I was told more than a few times that it is essential to eat at  Kronenhalle (below), which dates back to 1924, when Hulda and Gottlieb Zumsteg took over the premises. Today, with an astonishing amount of modern art--including works by Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, Bonnard, and many others hung nonchalantly on the walls--Kronenhalle looks very much like a chic pre-war brasserie, with shiny brass, glowing crystal chandeliers, polished mahogany, and crisp napery. That Kronenhalle has been fashionable for nearly a century is evidenced by a guest book with the names of
Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent; James Joyce lived and died in Zurich and dined here as well. John Irving set scenes in the restaurant in his novel Until I Find You.
     I joined a friend for a late lunch and we were seated in the main downstairs dining room at a table beneath a Georges Braque Cubist painting.  As is the tradition in Swiss restaurants, a waitress pulled up a serving table next to ours, took our order and brought us steins of Swiss beer.  And then we enjoyed the very best Wiener Schnitzel I’ve ever had--huge and overlapping the plate, buttery, crisp as a potato chip, with tender, browned roesti potatoes. Also superb was a lavish portion of pink calf’s liver on a bed of sweet, caramelized onions.  It was one of those perfect meals that met every expectation, and the atmosphere had a timelessness I just sank into. It is unimaginable to me not to dine at Kronehalle when I return to the city.
      That day the sun still shone and the city’s vitality was visible everywhere along the riverside.  And though Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city, it has the cast of a much smaller one that bears walking through very old streets, circling back and around, always back to the river and the lake.  Just pray for sunshine.



By John Mariani
Photos by Anthony Jackson


1167 MADISON AVENUE  (near 86th Street

         It would be easy enough to say that, like Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa and a dozen other culinary celebrities, Michael White long ago left his kitchen stoves behind in exchange for global entrepreneurship.  But, in fact, at least with his New York Italian operations--Marea, Osteria Morini, Ai Fiori, Costata and now Ristorante Morini--you’ve still got a good chance of finding White in his chef’s coat, bounding from the kitchen and making sure everyone in the dining room is enjoying himself.

         Ristorante Morini, named after the Italian banker who in 1970 opened the great ristorante San Domenico in Imola, Italy, where White learned his craft, is a far more upscale version of his decidedly rustic Osteria Morini downtown, with its brick walls, wooden tables and copper utensils.  The Upper East Side demanded a more soigné style:  the restaurant is located on two levels done in soft colors of mahogany and beige; downstairs is the bar (above) and small dining room, upstairs a larger one, with well-set tables, fine glassware and crisp tablecloths (right). The whipped cream-like chandeliers throw a flat light, and the rooms could use some color, but the lighting itself makes it easy to see the well-heeled and well-dressed clientele that has packed the place since it opened two months ago.
         As at his Italian seafood restaurant Marea, White is offering crudi--Italian sushi--as well as pricey caviar, though the menu does not say where the caviar is from.  There is also a slew of appetizers that include Nantucket bay scallops (in season) with pistachios and Sicilian herbs, as well as carpaccio sliced from Piemontese beef and dressed with squaquerone cheese and lemon.
         Pastas ($22-$29 for full portions) have always been one of White’s strongest talents, from a simply sauced rigatoni with tomato pulp and basil to flat paccheri noodles (below) with a spicy amatriciana sauce and morsels of buffalo mozzarella.  Tortelloni are fattened with robiola and mascarpone cheeses, then simply drizzled with butter and sage.  Ribbons of fresh tagliatelle are treated to wild mushroom sautéed in garlic and olive oil with parsley, while the ridged garganelli pick up a hefty long-cooked bolognese doused with sangiovese wine and a good dose of Parmigiano cheese.  There is also risotto with lobster and prawns in a coral butter shot through with cognac.
         Tasting these pastas you are reminded that the best Italian cooks never elaborate when simplicity if far more appealing, and that pasta must be treated with an eye to the shape and texture of the noodles and stuffed wrappings as much as to the appropriate sauce.  Nothing at Morini seems out of place. The only disappointment was a classic ferratini alla carbonara, with warmed egg yolks, guanciale bacon and pecorino cheese that all together lacked flavor and was somewhat gummy.
         Many people might stop after the pasta dishes, but there are several excellent “secondi” main courses ($35-$59) that I recommend, not least the impeccably grilled duck breast with lusty cotechino pork sausage, tender lentils, and a huckleberry sauce.  Lamb chops were top quality, dusted and crusted with pecorino and served with broccoli di rabe and chickpea polenta scented with rosemary.
   Short ribs are luxuriously cooked for hours in red wine, served with polenta, black cabbage and a tangy gremolata of hazelnuts for added texture.   A special one evening that raised some eyebrows about the price was a veal alla milanese at $59.  Even with some black truffles shaved on top of the dish, that’s a very high figure for breaded, fried veal cutlet--even more than the now infamous $54 veal parmigiana at Carbone in Greenwich Village.  Even on the Upper East Side, people with money sometimes do balk.
         Desserts, by patîssier Rowan Johnson and Robert Truitt ($13-$16), are not easily split for two, but you might try with the cheesecake with gingerbread and a grapefruit sorbet or the pine nut tartlet with rosemary meringue and a honey ricotta gelato (right)
         It is not just to White’s credit that he tries to visit his restaurants on a regular basis and do some cooking when he’s there, but also to what is largely an unerring sense of what people have come to expect in modern Italian cuisine--something White has been teaching them to appreciate in various forms for several years now.  

Ristorante Morini is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner nightly.




Returning To Madeira
by Andrew Chalk

     It is time to drink more Madeira. That is my conclusion after Chris Blandy, CEO of Blandy’s, one of the best Madeira houses, took me through a tasting of his wines on his recent swing through town. We have to drink more because it is a one-of-a-kind wine that stands out in any tasting you put it in. It pairs well with countless foods, or can be quaffed unaccompanied. And its entry price is moderate, below $20.
       Madeira, you might surmise from a Google search, comes from several places around the world (including Texas
), which is because the name “Madeira” is not legally protected in the U.S., as it is in the E.U. The Madeira that I refer to here is the original wine from a tiny volcanic island in the North Atlantic Ocean named Madeira that is politically part of Portugal. Here, in sub-tropical conditions, wine is made mainly from four grapes that give the four varietal styles of Madeira wine their names. Sercial is the grape used to make the driest style. Verdelho is the grape used to make a style with a small but detectable amount of sweetness. Bual is sweeter still. Malmsey (also called Malvasia) is the sweetest style.  A fifth grape, Terrantez (below), slots between Verdelho and Bual on the sweetness scale and has much to commend it; for example, it is highly aromatic.  However, it is rare. Some consider it almost extinct, but Chris Blandy told me that it is having a slight revival, noting that “more work needs to be done to find a more resistant and higher yielding clone.”
     In the nineteenth century Madeira was the preferred wine with food in the U.S., owing to its ability to survive an arduous Atlantic voyage. So long was its gastronomic hegemony that the classic pairings food became fairly settled. Terrapin soup was thought to be in harmony with young dry (Blandy’s 3-year old “Duke of Sussex”) or medium dry (Blandy’s 3-year old  “Rainwater”) styles. If the budget stretched sufficiently, a 5-year old (Blandy’s 5-year old) Verdelho was another match. These are all “blended Madeiras,” meaning that the age is the volume-weighted average age of the grapes in the bottle.
      Blandy told me that it is best if the grapes’ ages all cluster close to the mean for fear of introducing incongruous taste notes. So a 5-year old, for example, is likely to be made entirely from four- to six-year old grapes, rather than having trace amounts of 20-year old fruit.
     In Portugal it is common to relax on summer afternoons with a glass of Sercial like Blandy’s 5-year old and salty foods like almonds or walnuts. Indeed, five year-old Madeira blends of Sercial and Verdelho may be the most versatile of all the Madeira variants (and with the right price too - around $22.
     Blandy’s pairing grid
recommends them with everything from mayonnaise-based appetizers, feathered game and fish, even Indian appetizers. I hazard that vegetable pakoras and samosas would be good candidates. Madeira, no matter how sweet, is characterized by a good acidity level, which prevents the wine seeming flabby when confronted with heavy batter. Think of Sercial with hard cheeses too, where its nuttiness can match nuttiness in the cheese. A noted fromagier, Max McCalman at New York’s Picholine, has extolled sheep’s milk cheese with Sercial.
    For East Asian cuisine, for example the Thai and Vietnamese food that I found at Malai, a wine has to handle some hot spice.  They will make the wine seem dryer, so I would pair a 5-year old Verdelho (around $20). Since Verdelho is slightly sweeter than Sercial it will offset the drying effect.
     Sweet desserts warrant Bual and Malmsey style Madeira, which should be chosen to be sweeter than the dessert. These also pair with chocolate (both dark and milk). In both cases, the aged effect of older Madeira (Blandy’s 10-year and 15-year) enhances the enjoyment.
     The most profound expression of Madeira is vintage Madeira, whose grapes come entirely from one vintage and which is aged in cask for at least 20 years.  Some people do pair these with dried fruit. In my view, they are such treasures that they are best sipped without accompanying food, ideally after a good meal. At over $100 per bottle I want to savor every last drop without any other flavors intervening.



Researchers at a U.S. military lab in are developing a pizza  recipe that doesn't require any refrigeration or freezing.
"You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it'd still be edible," said Michelle Richardson, a food scientist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center.



“`I go to the Hamptons, but I don’t participate in the Hamptons' is the sort of thing you’re likely to overhear at Betony. On a recent evening, a septuagenarian who could have walked out of an Al Hirschfeld drawing expressed unadulterated rage at the mere suggestion that his party of two might not be seated at the table he desired, because it was meant for four. His companion, an ash blonde wearing white stockings, white cowboy boots, and a white fur vest, stared dully into space as he sputtered. If you live for people-watching, and for floor-length mink coats, and for lines like `I don’t want to be on the family dole,' you’ll be in Heaven at Betony."—Hanna Goldfield, “Betony,” The New Yorker (3/3/14)


ANNOUNCEMENT: The 10th annual Savor Dallas, March 20-22, 2014, celebrates wine, food, spirits and the arts in downtown Dallas and nearby locations.  "Savor the Arboretum"at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden kicks off the festivities with wine and chef cuisine in the gardens on Thurs., followed by the popular "Arts District Wine Stroll" on Fri.  Sat. features include a Winemaker Tasting Panel, a modern mixology seminar, The Reserve Tasting, and "The International Grand Tasting"
offering cuisine from dozens of the area’s top chefs and more than 400 premium wines, spirits and craft beers.  Prices for individual events range from $20 to $150…$365 for a cost-saving weekend package.  For tickets and more information visit or call 888-728-6747.


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

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: National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada

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.  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 2014