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  April 20, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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BIG D Throws a Texas-Sized
Food and Wine Party

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


BIG D Throws a Texas-Sized
Food and Wine Party
By John Mariani

Pegasus at the Old Red Museum. Photo by John Mariani

         After decades of dismissing the idea of taking a guided city tour, I have now come around to believe that, with the proper guide, I can learn a whole lot more in a shorter period of time than if I did my own expeditions, guidebook in hand, around a vast city like Dallas.
        I had not just a proper guide but a fellow whose exuberance and intimate knowledge of the city opened my eyes not only to what was historical about Dallas but what is new and exciting, all against a background of how this wheeling, dealing Texas town grew into what it is today.
        His name was John Estes and he works for Discover Dallas Tours,  and over a period of three hours I learned more than I ever had, despite my having visited the city a score of times since the 1970s.  His detailed knowledge of the Kennedy assassination, delivered at the spot where it happened, gave me insights I’d never considered before, and his anecdotes about everything from the great red neon horse that stands in the Old Red Museum  (it became the mascot symbol of Mobil Oil) to the development of newly gentrifying neighborhoods and the quirky grandeur of the ultra-opulent Highland Park showed me just how diverse the city has become.  The information about the 70 bronze statues of a cattle herd in Pioneer Park (above) by Texas artist Robert Summers and the myriad museums by some of the biggest international names in architecture was fascinating, right down to how the unexpectedly harsh sunlight reflected from a new condo is compromising the exteriors of sculptures in the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Museum.
  The newest is the Perot Museum of Science and Nature (right), designed as a big floating chunk of recycled materials by architect Thom Mayne.
        I was in Dallas, for the second time, to attend one of this country’s premier wine, food and art events, Savor Dallas, founded a decade ago by Jim White and Vicki Briley-White, who have moved the increasingly popular event from the Irving Convention Center in Las Collinas to the new Dallas Convention Center, which is attached with an umbilical walkway to the huge, new Omni Dallas Hotel.
        An enchanting part of the weekend’s events was the Arts District Wine Stroll, featuring wines from 23 different wineries, with food stops along the way at Nasher Sculpture Center and Meyerson Symphony Center, including many colorful food trucks.
        The kick-off was at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (left), an extraordinary 66 acres of impeccably tended landscape and flower sculptures.  Here, local chefs served up hors d’ oeuvres and vintners poured wines, the strolling attendees serenaded by a fine jazz band.  It’s a good way to get familiar with the vibrant Texas wine industry, including labels Fall Creek Vineyards, Becker Vineyards, Messina Hof and Kiepersol Estate.
        Wine and serious eno-talk took place the next day at the “Winemaker’s Tasting Panel” in the hotel’s steak house. where participants listened to panelists from various global wine regions, including Chile, Germany, Texas and California, followed that evening by a truly impressive wine tasting of reserve wines, including several I’ve never seen poured with such generosity, like Château Cos d’ Éstournel 2008 and Ruffino Greppone Mazzi Brunello di Montalcino 2007.

    The Saturday evening highlight of the oversubscribed weekend was the International Grand Tasting (right) that featured scores of chefs’ tables and wines rarely if ever brought together in one huge convention hall.  But then, Texas never does anything small.



    I’ve been heartbroken to see what’s become of Sonny Bryan’s BBQ--once among America's best, certainly once the greatest in Dallas.  Bought by a company that sought quick expansion, not even the original Sonny’s on Inwood Boulevard retains the no-frills goodness it once had, and the other units should be ashamed to call themselves Texas BBQ at all.
        To my rescue come two places new to me: Off the Bone and Sammy’s, which are as good as Sonny’s ever was but go their own way too.
        Off the Bone   (1734 S Lamar Street; 214-565-9551) is a small spot just outside of downtown where you order from a cramped counter then sit and salivate for a few moments before your lightly smoked brisket and ribs, prepared by owner Dwight Harvey (left), arrive.  You can have the brisket chopped or sliced in generous proportions, and they go well with combo platters of smoked beef sausage and pulled pork onto which you shake the sauce.  The baked beans and cole slaw are O.K., but I hadn't the appetite for triple chocolate pecan cake.
        Sammy’s (2126 Leonard Street; 214-880-9064), just behind the Federal Building, is my new favorite barbecue place, though. It's bigger than Off the Bone, more user friendly--you go up and get your own food and then sit down to big tables, affix your bib, shake your head wondering where to start, then dig in.
    Owner Marshall Prichard is likely to be around asking you how you like his food.     The ribs are very good, very meaty and well-fatted, the sausage has a snap to it, and the chicken’s a diversion.  Pop one of the fried okra in your mouth and you’ll pop ten more, fast.  Aunt Glenda’s potato and cheese casserole is the soul of the South.  But Sammy’s is like no other BBQ in town for the deep, rich, very juicy flavor of its beef brisket (right), which might be a dead ringer for the pastrami at Katz’s Deli in NYC.  I was really amazed how delicious Sammy’s brisket was, and, though the place is known for his lean brisket, don’t even think of not ordering the fatty version.  If you die that day, you’ll already have had a taste of paradise.
         The pecan pie, not tioo sweet, is a good way to end.
      Only problem is that Sammy’s is only open from 11 AM till 3 PM Monday through Saturday.  They have one customer who comes every day Sammy’s is open, and I suspect he takes leftovers home for dinner.  That borders on the fanatical, but it’s pretty rare to find ‘que this good anywhere.

A Report on Dallas' New Restaurants will be published in an upcoming issue of the Virtual Gourmet.


By John Mariani


22 East 13th Street

    When the word was out that veteran restaurateur Chris Cannon and Chef Chris Jaeckle were going to open a Venetian-Japanese restaurant, not a few, including myself, arched an eyebrow.  Not because there aren’t correlations between the seafood cookery of Venice and that of Japan, but because fusion cuisine, though more rife than ever, seems a tad passé at a time when all the media hype is being spilled on molecular and modernist gimmickry.
    Were all’Onda (“of the wave”) opened by anyone else, suspicions of intent would have been aroused, but the two Chrises have a lot of background in this kind of cuisine: both had been part of the Altamarea Group headed by Michael White, which gave New York the great Italian seafood restaurant Marea, which had its own sushi (or crudi) bar.  Cannon and Jaeckle split from that group three years ago and restless foodies were waiting to see what they would do. It took a while.
    All’Onda is a two-tier affair, with a barn-like use of old wood and brass, and windows overlooking the street.  Downstairs is the bar (serving exotic cocktails), upstairs a dark dining room, both crashingly loud, so you need to shout to be heard by anyone at your table.
    Cannon strides genially through the restaurant in a quilted jacket, and he is certainly familiar with many of his customers. Jaeckle, when chef de cuisine, was more in the background at Marea, but he makes his appearances at all’Onda when things aren’t too hectic. 
    Despite Jaeckle’s having worked with these kinds of culinary ideas before, it’s not easy to pull off everything with aplomb if just about every dish is a novelty.  This is not a place to have a hearty bowl of risotto with cuttlefish ink or slabs of calf’s liver alla veneziana.  Each dish is cannily transformed in some way, so that razor clams come with sopressata and miso ($11), while a scallop couples with anchovy, cauliflower and lardo fat ($17).
    Tuna is paired with Cerignola olives and preserved tomato but given a shot of mild wasabi ($16), while sweetbreads are tossed in with celeriac, a balsamic sugo and bonito ($17). There are, of course, crudo items available ($13-$18).
    The pastas  ($17-$19) mostly succeed admirably. The risotto with cuttlefish is enhanced with some radicchio and slivers of saline bottarga, probably the closest thing to a Venetian rendering on the menu, and it works.  Spaghetti with Manila clams and Calabrian chile is a traditional trope, and a shot of bittersweet Ramazzotti doesn’t really add anything. But the addition of chocolate does give a noticeable boost to rigatoni with a duck ragù and Treviso radicchio. Tortellini in a “parmesan dashi,” with tomato oil and mushroom doesn’t quite connect the Venetian-Japanese dots.
    Excellent indeed was guinea hen with parsnip, shio kombu (dried kelp), and a foie gras sugo ($27), as was dorade with a Mediterranean tapenade, pickled chilies and salsa verde ($28), while monkfish with sea urchin (Jaeckle uses a lot of sea urchin) and polenta with squid ink and arugula was about two ingredients too much ($25). Jerusalem artichokes with brown butter and soy sauce were delicious ($7), and Brussels sprouts took well to a bracing cinder vinegar, honey, curry and pistachios ($7).
    I wish for more enticing desserts than olive oil cake (at an absurd $13)--a trendy idea among chefs--with lemon and basil, or a panna cotta ($12) with fennel and the gag-causing Fernet-Branca digestive most people drink as a punishment for overindulgence.  Let’s just forget the soy sauce gelato.
    It’s not easy to match wine with this kind of food, so ask sommelier Nathan Rawlinson for help. He’s got plenty of interesting wines, especially whites, that marry well.
    All’Onda has thus far drawn a surging crowd of adventurous foodies, but it will be interesting to see if many will return again and again for this particular style of cuisine.  I suspect it will evolve, tame down some of its odder components, like Ramazotti and Fernet-Branca, and become one of those places fans will bring out-of-towners for something they’re not likely to find back home.

Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. ; Dinner: Sun.-Thur., 5:30-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-midnight



A French court ruled that cold poultry constitutes a weapon, after a 35-year-old man launched a frozen chicken attach on his girlfriend after showed up at her house in Luxeuil-les-Bains while intoxicated. An argument ensued and  man grabbed a frozen chicken from the  freezer and hit her with the bird. The assailant was sentenced to 24 months in prison. The man had reportedly been convicted of violence against the same woman twice before.


Travel and Leisure Magazine listed 15 "Best New Restaurants" in its current issue, even though more than half have not yet opened.


 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,  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. Editor: Walter Bagley. 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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