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  June 29 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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"Madame Y Not?" by Galina Dargery (2013)



By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Wines of Crete
By Mort Hochstein


By John Mariani


         The title of this article may be a bit inaccurate, especially if your relatives were immigrants from this southern region of Italy extending from Campania to the Adriatic and down Italy’s heel. There are certainly millennia of history to attest to Apulia’s importance to Italy, dating to when the Romans used the ports of Brindisi and Taranto as major trade cities to the Middle East.
         Still, even frequent visitors to Italy rarely put Apulia--Puglia in Italian--on their itinerary, and it remains one of the country’s poorest provinces, still largely dependent on an agricultural economy, though with increasing industrialization in steel, furniture, and tech software.
         Apulia is, like most of Italy, a very beautiful province, with an array of small cities--hill towns, seaside villages, major ports--that differ from one another in remarkable ways, the result of a thousand years of foreign occupation, including by the Hohenstauffen emperor Frederick II, who built castles throughout the area.  Baroque architecture 
in Italy is nowhere more exuberant than in Apulia, and the cuisine, which resembles that of the other southern provinces like Campania, Basilicata, Abruzzo and Molise, has its own distinctive elements that make the inexpensive trattorias in small and large towns very inviting indeed.
         I visited the area this spring, driving both on well-paved autostrade, narrow roads, and a good number of country roads, one of which, in the seaside town of Fasano, led us to a remarkable resort called Borgo Egnazia.  Our rented car’s GPS seemed frustrated by the exact location of the resort, but, after rumbling down a long and very bumpy road that seemed more rocks than dirt, we saw the Borgo in the distance, almost like a mirage of an Italian Xanadu, spread out across the dry land (below).
         Opened only two years ago by the Melpignano hotel group, the low-lying resort was modeled by Apulian architect Pino Brescia to look centuries old; its beige-colored Ostuni stone appears medieval, even Moorish.  Yet, inside, everything about the 167-room resort is as modern as any in Italy, including a shimmering spa, marble bathrooms, LCD televisions, Wi-Fi and Blue Tooth, a 27-meter pool and furnishings throughout all ecologically tied to the land around the resort. There is a very serious commitment to sustainability in every fiber, stone and tile, most of it locally sourced.
         There are three styles of rooms, including 29 villas--all with colorful Italian names like Casetta Splendida, Casetta Magnifica (below), and Casetta Bella. One style is found in the large main building called Il Corte, another in the smaller Il Borgo, and another in an enchanting village called Le Ville, which is best for long stays, especially with families. (There is a children’s program that includes a Cooking School at the Borgo). Tennis and golf are also available.

        The resort garnered a great deal of publicity in 2012 when Justin Timberlake married Jessica Biel here and took over the entire place for the wedding and reception. When I visited in April, the resort was largely occupied by Porsche, which was introducing a new car model to the media, who were encouraged to tear around Apulia for several days on every type of road surface.
         There are also two restaurants here; the smaller, called La Frasca (below), is a veritable country trattoria in the village, very casual with a simple Puglian menu to match.  The larger, main dining room, Due Camini, (below, left), where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, is brightened during the day by the Apulian sun, especially on the patio; during the evenings, the room turns into a romantic, shadowy, candlelighted space with white tablecloths, vases of local flora, and a glowing fireplace set into a column. The service is impeccable (English is spoken by just about everyone on the staff) and the cuisine proudly derives from the ingredients from the Valley of Itria and the bounty of the Eastern Mediterranean.
         With friends, we dined all over the menu, not surprised that it offered Italian sushi--crudi--selected each day from what’s freshest in the nearby markets. The signature pasta of Apulia is the ear-shaped macaroni called orecchiette, which we had with turnip tops and fried breadcrumbs, precisely the kind of dish that would once have been considered fit for peasants, now raised by refinement and the recognition of its basic goodness to fine dining. Cavatelli with sweet little mussels, peppers and chickpeas had a similar pedigree.  Also reflecting the farmland location, there was a delicious whole wheat pasta with cherry tomatoes and fresh ricotta cheese, and a risotto was made with the season’s finest asparagus, wonderfully accompanied with beef tartare and a red wine cooked down into a rich, dark sauce.
         Though dominated by seafood, the menu also features local meats, as in a dish of stewed lamb with apples and the scent of rosemary, and veal cheeks with beets and saffron-flavored shallots.
         Desserts are more colorfully presented than in most restaurants in Italy, with some superb gelati and sorbetti, a first-rate tiramisù and even an unexpected hazelnut brownie with a cream mousse and pear sorbet.

The Borgo is well within easy driving distance of large Apulian cities like Bari and Brindisi, and the nearby town of Savelletri is a charming maritime community.  Here we ate at an appropriately named seafood trattoria called Osteria del Porto, run by an ebullient redhead named Maria Di Bari. The nautical décor and blue-and-white colors mirror the trattoria’s location on the sea, and dining al fresco is a wonderful option.
         The menu’s seafood comes direct from the market and fishing boats, so the shellfish wriggle in their wooden crates, and Maria brings around the day’s catch for you to choose from.  Take her advice on everything, including wine, and you really won’t even need to pick up the menu. 
    We had linguine con vongole, those tender little clams in their shells tossed with the pasta, plenty of garlic, and green-gold olive oil (right). We had grilled orata and big gambas shrimp, both impeccably cooked and glossed with nothing more than olive oil and lemon, and we finished off with espresso and the last of the wine, lingering later than we’d expected, content to watch the clouds move slowly across the quiet blue sea as the sun slowly arced downward to meet it.


Part Two of this article will appear in coming weeks.




By John Mariani


8 West 58th Street (between 5th & 6th Avenue)


         I’ve long admired the work of Chef Craig Hopson (below), first at One If By Land, then at Le Cirque, so I was happy to hear he was back in front of  the stoves, this time at a swanky new 125-seat restaurant with a too-cutesy name, set in the belly of a building across from the Plaza Hotel and next to the venerable Paris movie theater.
         Hopson’s food has always been elegant, creative without the slightest excrescence of gimmickry, beautifully presented and focused on the main  ingredients, as is the work of pastry chef Jiho Kim.
         The dining areas at Beautique--bar, main dining room, rear room and really rear party room--supposedly “channel the spirit of Coco Chanel's house in Paris,” with a chiaroscuro décor by Valerie Pasquiou Interiors & Design Inc and Mark Dizon.  Having Googled images of Coco Chanel’s house, I can see a resemblance in tone--grays and creams, beige and white--though Beautique is far less ornate.
        You enter through a curtained foyer, then go down a dark, mirror-lined staircase, coming into a front bar whose stools are covered in Jean Paul Gaultier tattoo-patterned fabric.  The walls are papered with a rose petal motif, and the lighting is low, but not enough to keep you from ogling the flow of remarkably beautiful, willowy young women--some straight from both sides of the counters at Bergdorf Goodman, at the end of the block--and a passel of less-well-dressed males, some of whom insist on sporting backward baseball caps.  As the evening wears on, the music gets louder and more throbbing.
           The oval-shaped middle room (below) glows with a gold ceiling set with a glittering chandelier, while the back lounge is done with a smoked-mirror ceiling, golden silk wallpaper and a Champagne bar.  The staff, led by the exceptionally amiable and very chic Nikki Wong, is dressed in Elie Tahari; the table china is by Vera Wang.
           If all this seems more than a touch chi-chi and its subterranean location reminiscent of the private club it used to be, you might consider that few places of this shadowy opulence still exist uptown, so you get the glamor without paying an entrance fee.   Yet, menu prices (appetizers $14-$23, main courses $29-$39), while high, are not out of whack with any of the fine dining rooms in the area.
        First courses feature the rage veggie of the moment, carrots (below), here roasted and glazed atop a delectable mélange of kale, peppery hot harissa, beluga lentils, and cool sheep's milk yogurt.  Generous morsels of velvety rabbit meat lie in a fava and grape salad with fennel and a verjus vinaigrette, made all the more wonderful with the addition of foie gras.  For something essentially, wholly summer, have the pea soup with little Comté cheese dumplings, and mint oil.  And, since soft shell crabs are now in season and nice and fat, the tempura-fried crustaceans with a pea salad and carrot ginger dressing make for a superb appetizer, large enough to make a main course.
       Halibut is delicately steamed to perfect juiciness, scented with a lemon balm and accompanied by pretty pink radishes, fennel, tangy green tomato and summer sorrel.   For meat dishes, I’m positive you’ll love the fatted duck breast with rhubarb, bulgur, foraged “miner’s lettuce,” and sunchokes--a dish that belies the idea that duck is not a summer meat.  So, too, the mixed grill of lamb (below) is a sumptuous dinner item, with a chop, breast, and sausage, bone marrow flan, red onion toast and a ramp jus.  Again, the serving is amazingly large for a place this soigné. You might also try the side dishes of seasoned potato fries and the mushrooms à la barigoule with cilantro parsley.
        There is, at the moment, also an Australian (Hobson’s from Down Under) black winter truffle menu ($135), from which I sampled a couple of good items--truffled potato gnocchi with morels and peas, and big sea scallops, perfectly al dente, with truffles in a roast chicken consommé with radishes, though the cultivated truffles had very little flavor of their own.
      Pastry chef Kim offers two truly excellent desserts--an Earl Grey financier with lemon verbena and apricot confit, whipped caramel and fizzy butter beer ice cream, and a new take on Black Forest cake with molasses coated cherries, German chocolate cake crumbs and cherry blossom ice cream. Almost as good is his gianduja chocolate and caramelized white chocolate crémeux, with brioche cake and milk sorbet, and a ricotta cheese cannoli with vanilla infused strawberries, Linzer torte and anise hyssop ice cream.  I know that in the restaurant industry desserts always make money, but these are such complex and lavish ideas, beautifully realized with so many very fine ingredients and components, I wonder how it’s possible at $12 a plate.
        Beautique’s wine list is 200 well-chosen selections strong.
       Hopson’s talents and style are a very fine fit for Beautique, which is currently drawing a tony crowd that seems to come as much for the cocktails and snacks as for sit-down dining.  I hope that the latter outweighs the former in the near future and that the pretty people come back as regulars rather than gawkers.

Beautique is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner; bar open until 2 a.m. with a bar menu.  


Wines of Crete
"Wine truly does moisten the soul and lull our griefs to sleep."--Socrates

By Mort Hochstein

      It seems as if every wine region in the Mediterranean claims to have been the birthplace of wine. 
    Crete is hardly shy in its own boast, citing some 4,000 years of viticultural history and an industry whose wines traveled o the farthest reaches of the Mediterranean.  The world's oldest known wine press, reputedly 3500 years old, was found on the island. The poet Homer tells us that Cretan wines were renowned throughout the world of his time.  Ancient  Minoan palaces  yield impressive amphorae, resting in  underground wine storage.  Drawings in ruins illustrate wine's role in the life of the   Cretan civilization. Cretan wines were a favorite of the Egyptian Pharaohs  and wall paintings show Cretan ships arriving at Egyptian ports. A shipwreck off the coast of Turkey contained a sealed amphora holding  wine  which archaeologists dated back some 3,000 years, a thousand years after the first cultivation on the island by the Minoans. 
      The Greek island  is home to 30 wineries and 11 indigenous varieties, most of them with tongue-twisting names like
Asyrtiko, Athiri, Roditis, Mavrodaphne, and Moschofilero. International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have  also developed roots in Crete.
Vilana (right) is the basic white grape of Crete--70 percent of all Greek wines are white--although many growers now favor Vidiano, a  native grape with a deep apricot scent,  lush body and creamy taste.    Assyrtiko, one of  the better known Greek grapes,  stands alone in Gold Cuvee from Mediterra,   one of the higher priced Cretan wines at  $18. Others that fit nicely into the summer whites category are  a Vidiano  from Alexakis  at $10.99 and another  from Diamantakis Winery (left) at $14.  Since these are relatively  new to American store shelves, the  best sources might be shops in ethnic neighborhood or  adventuresome  upscale wine stores.




The DIY website Instructables has published a recipe for solar cooking hot dogs in a Pringles potato chip can. The Cats Science Club heated the hot dog to 170 degrees.


"I’ll say this again: Don’t listen to me."—Michael Ruhlman, “Gluten-Free Malarkey.”


 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: JACKSONVILLE. FL; Kayaking in the Keys

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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