Virtual Gourmet

  AUGUST 24, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Charles Laughton, Clark Gable and Franchot Tone in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935)



Owing to Technical Difficulties the Virtual Gourmet is one day Late.  My apologies


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

Two Nights Only: The "Best" Restaurant in the
World Goes On a World Tour
by Andrew Chalk



By John Mariani

        It’s been said that dining out for a large segment of Washingtonians means subsisting on canapés and white wine at receptions, and that the city’s restaurants slow way down during those long and frequent Congressional recesses--like right now.   Money, lobbyists and lawyers fuel the capital’s dining scene, even if our stalwart legislators can no longer accept more than a $25 meal from BP, the NRA, the AMA or the NFL.  (The way lobbyists get around it is to have the congressman order the cheapest thing on the menu, then switch it with the more expensive dishes and wines the lobbyists order.)

       D.C. restaurants, then, are highly dependent on the flow of powerful people to keep them in the spotlight, and pols and celebs do their best to oblige.  Indeed, after eight years when George and Laura Bush rarely ventured out of the White House to dine, the Obamas have made their presence felt consistently, celebrating their anniversary at the Blue Duck Tavern (left) in the Park Hyatt Hotel, Mother’s Day at the Italian Ristorante Tosca, and the First Lady’s birthday at Equinox, this last also a favorite of Jill Biden and Hillary Clinton.

        Indeed, Michelle Obama eats out often with friends and official visitors, frequenting the Indian restaurant Rasika, José Andres’ Mexican  restaurant Oyamel, and the Creole/Cajun restaurant Acadiana, which has also proven a magnet for show biz celebs like Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Sean Combs, who come here to dig into the fried green tomatoes, jambalaya and fried catfish with grits.         

    Of course, there is always a political element to entertaining dignitaries in Washington, so when German  Prime Minister Andrea Merkle came to town, Obama took her to the historic 1789 Restaurant  (below) in Georgetown, which has strüdel on the menu and gets it ducks from Hamburg, Pennsylvania.  Condoleezza Rice said her favorite restaurant was the urbane (recently refurbished) Oval Room, especially because it was just steps from the Oval Office, where her boss, George W. Bush, stayed in, eating creamed cheese sandwiches.

                 Before Bill Clinton got to the White House, Presidents and their wives chose restaurants that tended to be high-end French and exclusive, with names like Le Pavillon and the Polo Club--both Nancy Reagan’s favorites--while media honchos like Larry King claimed their special tables at steakhouses like Duke Ziebert’s and The Palm.   In those days reporters like Woodward and Bernstein ate at their desks.

        There are still some old-line restaurants near the Capitol and Union Station that draw legislators between debates and votes, like The Monocle, which opened in 1960 and has served every President since Kennedy and almost every Senator and Congressman.  Owner Nick Valanos estimates that three-quarters of his customers “are people coming to the Hill to do business or to show friends or family what Washington is all about. They stop to see the photos on the wall, to experience some of the history that makes us unique. We’re usually booked six weeks out when Congress is in session.”

        The Old Ebbitt Grill, which dates back to 1856 and was once home to William McKinley before he became president, is just two blocks from the White House, and is still a place local media hie to for oysters, beer and gossip for tomorrow’s columns.
         But these days, restaurant entertaining in Washington is geared to and driven by a far more inclusive, global crowd.  Italian-Americans like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano go for pasta to Al Dente, whose location in the neighborhood called Ambassadors Row draws a cross section of internationals, along with media stars like “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, ABC’s Gordon Peterson, CBS’s Rita Braver and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

         Young Washington interns and lobbyists take up the community tables at the Middle Eastern restaurant Zatinya, a big space with 200 seats and 50 at the bar, and the hot new Del Campo (left), serving Peruvian grilled food, which has drawn Mrs. Obama, comedian Chelsea Handler, and Bob and Elizabeth Dole.

        Of course, Washington would not be a crucible of secrets and intrigue if it didn't have places the high and mighty meet with the understanding that the public will not be at the next table, where the Secret Service and bodyguards sit. For this reason, private dining rooms in D.C. hotels work well for complete discretion. When Obama wanted to raise funds for his re-election, he collected $8.5 million from financial backers at private lunches held down in the wine cellar at Plume at The Jefferson Hotel (right), whose clientele also includes Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers and Martha Stewart.

        Indeed, the management of the new Capella Hotel in Georgetown refuses comment on any politicians or celebrities who stay or dine there. Still, on any given night at Bourbon Steak on the lower level of the Four Seasons Georgetown, you’ll find a sure number of pols, foreign ambassadors, generals, and lobbyists who might well be on the front page of tomorrow’s papers.  Or CNN tonight. Of course, in Washington, what they all eat and drink is not nearly as important as with whom they eat and drink it, and who ends up paying the check.


                                                                                                                        Photo by Stirling Elmendorf


This article first appeared in the NY Post.




By John Mariani

          Walk up or down any avenue on the Upper West Side and you will be astonished at the number of small restaurants of every ethnic stripe right next to each other.  Indeed, it’s tough to find a dry cleaners or nail salon wedged in between them all, and, if I lived on the Upper West Side, I’d go crazy trying to choose what kind of food I wanted to eat.

         Two outstanding newcomers to the neighborhood prove yet again that many in the food media, who never seem to venture above the Bowery or beyond Greenpoint, have demeaned the UWS’s restaurant offerings by sheer omission.  Bustan (left), a Mediterranean restaurant with an Israeli chef, and Awadh, which features the cooking of that northeastern region of India, both diverge from other restaurants in significant ways. Both also show that, unlike so many of their competitors up and down the block, there is a sure degree of professional pride in the management of the places, instead of the lackadaisical and robotic rote you find far too often.

          Bustan, which means garden, is clearly a labor of love for proprietor Tuvia Feldman, executive chef/partner Efi Nahon and general manager/partner Guy Goldstein, who are committed to showing the extraordinary depth and breadth of the food cultures that hug the shores of the Mediterranean. So, you’ll taste the intertwined flavors of North Africa, Italy, Greece and the Middle East from a long menu, from mezes to flatbreads, and many dishes are cooked in a dome shaped, wood-fired taboon oven.  Goldstein has assembled a small estate wine list that is exceptional for small restaurants of this stripe.

         The 74-seat room and outdoor patio blend sea colors with earth tones, with a charcoal-colored faux stone wall backlit with portholes. At the moment, the garden out back is in full swing and highly desirable.

         Our table of four ate extensively from the menu, starting with an array of mezes ($6-$19), or mazettim, that included luscious hummus with lamb kebob and shredded beef cheeks.  Charred octopus ($18) with warm white bean masabaha, crushed tomatoes, green harissa and botargo roe was a lot of good food on one small plate, while Moroccan lentil soup ($9.95) was

riddled with delicious lamb merguez sausage and root vegetables, with a lacing of cool yogurt.

         Soft egg buttery, flaky burek pastry ($18) with creamed sunchokes, mushrooms and truffle oil is, I suspect, unique to New York, and the saganaki ($11.95) was well out of the ordinary, with efalograviera sheep’s milk cheese on fennel seeds with a roasted tomato compote.

         There was so much more I loved: tender flatbreads with cured tuna, zaatar, red onion, feta, spinach and fresh tomato ($15); spicy lamb terracotta (above), with grilled vegetables, tahini and pistachio baked in flaky top crust; and the Greek pastrami with parmesan and red peppers ($12) was sensationally good.  All these I would rush back for without hesitation, though I would not for the only real dud in the menu: tasteless roasted eggplant in coconut milk with a curry-like seasoning called vodouvan.   I might add that if Bustan served nothing more than its complimentary puffy bread (left), I would wait outside to collect the day’s leftover loaves.

         Desserts are well worth ordering, from shredded halvah ($8.95) with milk gelato, rice brittle and caramelized nuts to semolina and coconut cake ($8.95) with strawberry compote and yogurt-chestnut gelato.

Bustan is located at 487 Amsterdam Avenue (between 83rd and 84th Streets); 212-595-5050. Open for dinner nightly; Fri., Sat. & Sun. for brunch.

          There are several Indian communities around New York, but the Upper West Side is not one of them.  What a wondrous surprise, then, to find that the best Indian restaurant in the city is up there, Awadh; indeed, along with the superb Rasika in Washington, I’d rank Awadh among the finest anywhere.

          I say that with one caveat: almost everything I ordered was a specialty of the region of Awadh in Uttar Pradesh, whose rich cuisine and slow cooking methods were heavily influenced by well-spiced Mughal cooking.  So, if you insist on ordering the Pan-Indian items on the menu, I’m sure you’ll be pleased but you would rob yourself of extraordinary dishes not found all over town.

          I should not have been surprised that Awadh was go good, for its owner and chef is Gaurav Anand, whose Moti Mahal Delux and Bhatti Indian Grill, both on the East Side, have justified reputations for their refined cooking.

          Awadh is a very smart-looking restaurant, unusual among the storefront eateries on the UWS.  It’s set on two floors, the first with a double-height glass façade, an 8-foot chrome and cascading bubble glass chandelier, dark wood paneling, gold pendant lights, exposed wood beams and gold foil wallpaper setting the tone for a cozy yet refined atmosphere. The second floor (right) is a bit more reserved and happily less noisy, with tufted banquettes and textured stone walls.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo by Maike Paul

        Sommelier John Slover shows that Indian food need not be distanced from the subtleties of good wine, and there are spiced and herbal cocktails offered, along with an impressive array of teas.

         Before even getting to the menu, I must comment on one of the most delicious breads I’ve ever had in my life.  It’s called ulta tawa parantha (left) and is thin, very flaky and cooked with ghee butter in a wok, resulting in a pattern of flattened bubbles that add texture.  I even broke Indian tradition to eat it before the man courses because I could not resist.

Photo by Michael Tulipan

     We began noshing on crispy okra called karari bhindi ($8), then, very hungry by then, a marinated and grilled chicken dish called murgh tikka with sweet-and-sour pomegranate ($10) and succulent galouti kebabs ($11) of spiced mint lamb patties.  Mustard-coated and marinated lamb chops called chaap ka barrah ($14) had decent flavor but the coating made the lamb steamy, which was not a problem with grilled sizzling jumbo prawns in a carom seed marinade, called ajwaini jheenga ($12).

         Our main courses included wonderfully aromatic nali ki nihari I (below), a hefty lamb shank ($18) simmered overnight to absorb tremendous flavor. The famous butter chicken called makhanwala was created at Moti Mahal ($16) and now everyone does it, but none better than Mr. Anand, who brought it cross town to Awahd.  Steamed basmati rice came with a savory lamb stew ($16).

        Indian cooks too often dry out their fish with cooking or, just as bad, overspice it. At Awadh, mahi musallam ($21) is a whole fish coated with spices like turmeric that pack their punch but give way to a juicy,flavorful whole fish that is an exemplar of what careful attention to detail can accomplish.

         Too few Indian kitchens pay much attention to desserts, often buying them elsewhere and bringing them in to sit in the refrigerator. Awadh’s are made fresh and have both subtly and fragrance, from the phirni rice pudding with cardamom ($7) to the kulfi creamy “Popsicle”($8) and some very intense flavorful sorbets of peach, raspberry and coconut ($8).

         I’ve every reason to believe that the rest of Awadh’s menu lives up to its Uttar Pradesh specialties, but if you go, promise me you will focus on the latter. And tell me how the rest is. I’m dying to go back and find out.                                                             Photo by Maike Paul

Awadh  is located at 2588 Broadway (between97th and 98th Streets); 646-861-3604. Dinner daily; Lunch Monday-Friday;Brunch Saturday & Sunday 12-3 p.m.




By Dotty Griffith

In my experience, “tilapia” has always been the English translation of the Piscean word for “flaccid fish.” Mushy, tasteless, not even a particularly able canvass for flavors and techniques that other fish – red snapper, sole, cod, sea bass even catfish – showcase so much better.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself loving tilapia at Galei Gil restaurant (left) in Tiberias, Israel, an ancient town on the shore of the Sea (understand it’s a freshwater lake) of Galilee.

Every bistro menu on the lakeside promenade overlooking the storied body of water touts its specialty: St. Peter’s fish. So does my Frommer’s Guide, explaining that the fish, also known locally as musht, was in St. Peter’s net when he was tapped by Jesus to change jobs and become a fisher of men instead of musht.  I adore the irony of the pronunciation: “mush-ty.” Don’t tell me otherwise and spoil it.

          Whole, butterflied with head on, then grilled, St. Peter’s fish at Galei Gil, served with roast potatoes and lemon sauce, was delightful, full of flavor. Yes, with bones, but that’s where the flavor comes from. And from the skin and the head. Of course, the legend and the setting also enhanced the plate. When I ate it, of course, I had no idea I was eating tilapia.

         I also found out that St. Peter’s Fish, also dubbed Saint-Pierre, poule de mer and dorée (France , John Dory Britain), Christópsaros (Greece), hout sidi Tunisia), dülger (Turkish), gall (Catalonia) and kovaç (Serbia),  was introduced to the Sea of Galilee in the 1930s by a kibbutz. Seemed to me this was more than an editing oversight or a theological dispute. So I turned to the ultimate authority: Google. Imagine my surprise when I learned that St. Peter’s fish aka musht is tilapia, the most insipid fish on American menus!  (Though the average American eats only a pound and a half of it each year.)

The disparities can be reconciled. After all, musht, aka St. Peter’s fish aka tilapia, has been a food fish in the Nile and the Near East for thousands of years, way BC. And the species has been released into the Sea of Galilee many times to remedy overfishing.  Clarify your text and call the Sea of Galilee specialty a St. Peter’s fish, a musht, and a tilapia.

And will somebody please sell me a whole tilapia instead of a twice or thrice frozen fillet that thaws to mush? I can’t believe I had to go to Israel to find meaty, toothsome and full-flavored tilapia.



Two Nights Only: The "Best" Restaurant in the
World Goes On a World Tour
by Andrew Chalk

El Celler de Can Roca
has three Michelin stars and the title of 2013 Best Restaurant in the World from Restaurant Magazine (it slipped to second in 2014, but nobody is declaring statistical significance behind that). Normally, the restaurant is the pride of Girona, in Spain’s beautiful Catalonia region. However, last month it was closed, and its three owners--Joan and Josep Roca and Monserrat Fontané,  and 24 of their staff have become the world’s most famous pop-up restaurant, appearing in Houston, Dallas, Monterrey, Mexico City, Bogota and Lima. Supplies are being sourced locally at each stop.

       The sponsor and underwriter of this spectacle is BBVA, the Spanish bank that has a major presence in these markets. They operate as BBVA Compass in the U.S. and are the fourth largest bank, by deposits, in Texas. These dinners are being offered to BBVA clients, and will contribute a deeper understanding of the finest examples of the culture of Spain. Additionally, BBVA Compass will fund a four-month scholarship for two culinary students attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas in the kitchens of El Celler de Can Roca next year in what has to be one of the most outstanding staging opportunities available to a trainee chef today.
     The Dallas dinner also gave Dallas diners a chance to decide whether to make reservations at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. I will jump ahead and say that the answer is a categorical ‘yes’. Act now. It was my meal of the year (thus far) and it was also refreshing to see the perimeter of culinary accomplishment after being neck-deep in the interior for 99% of the time.
      The setting cannot have been more appropriate. The starkly dramatic Rachofky House in Dallas’ Preston Hollow, belonging to Dallas art patrons Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, stands as a museum of contemporary art in its own right. It even has its own web site. The 100 guests were truly eating art, amid art.
      The meal started with a visual stunner. ‘El Mundo’, an upturned log serving as the base for five morsels each representing stops on the tour. There was a piccolo-sized corn taquito with mole representing Mexico City. These bite-sized tacos will catch on if someone can figure out how to make them without involving the culinary dexterity of a three-star chef. Monterrey got green tomato with guacamole and coriander. Lima got its causa, replete with the black olives in powdered form sprinkled over the potato mash. Bogota got a Colombian basket of peanuts, nougat-like guirlache, coconut cream, lime gel, coffee, jelly, peanuts, nutty caramel and cider.
      Dallas and Houston got a riff on barbecue.  A sweet corn fritter filled with barbecue spicy sauce. Each one was but a mouthful but a memorable appetizer to start the meal. How should chicken tinga taste look and taste? How about like an orb, based on modernist techniques of spherification caviar, ready to burst in the mouth with flavors of chicken, chilies and smoke. A single example was served on a dessert spoon, to much audience appreciation.
It was a balmy 102
outside, so gazpacho really hit the spot. The refreshing soup was dotted with contrasting chunks of watermelon. In the center an island of refried beans supported a succulent panko-fried oyster. Great flavors and textures for a hot summer’s day. A Leonor 12-year old Palo Cortado, Sherry served as refined liquid accompaniment.
     I must have had suckling pig a dozen times in Spain alone. But never have I found such an exact harmony between the crisp, roasted skin and the limpid, oozing meat inside than this preparation by El Celler de Can Roca. The skin submitted like a fresh wafer to the bite and every fiber of the enclosed meat exuded earthy flavors as if by command.

      I should say that the 1987 Torres Mas la Plana was the perfect partner. It was! But that would detract from the singular joy of these two great foodstuffs of the western world being revered in solitary isolation. The Mas la Plana was a wine at its peak. Ripe fruit embraced in cedar effusing cigar box aromas all framed with fully resolved tannins.

     Another highlight was veal shank which, I suspect, was cooked sous vide. It was cut-with-a-fork tender and rivetingly exciting with all those African and Asian spices in the mix. In an apparent nod to the idea of exceeding one’s own best efforts, the 2006 Vega Sicilia ‘Valbuena,’ a Tempranillo Merlot blend from the Ribera del Duero, the second wine of the Spain’s most famous winery, was an excellent match, and a young eight years old.
     Jordi Roca (right) is in charge of the desserts at El Celler de Can Roca. He excelled with two desserts on this occasion. The dulce de leche was rich, but light enough to be completely finished, despite thirteen preceding courses.
      El Celler de can Roca is a very special restaurant and very special restaurants tend to fill up early. This world tour will only burnish their three Michelin stars still more so I urge all serious gourmands to reserve now if they plan to visit Spain 
in the next year.



"For years, East 6th Street has gotten a particularly bad rap
, pigeonholed like some Bollywood Joe Pesci as a culinary minefield of sporadic Desi Treats."-- Zachary Feldman, "The Eddy in the East Village Focuses on Small Plates and Gussied-Up Booze,"  Village Voice (7/9/14)


After a Decatur, IL, woman consumed three Chips Ahoy cookies belonging to her roommate, Allen Hall, thereupon allegedly tried to kill her  for devouring his treat, police said. The victim apparently thought Hall was joking when he pounded on the bathroom door and threatened to kill her.


 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: EDINBURGH AND THE KINGDOM OF FIFE; CHARLESTON, SC.

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,  Misha Mariani,  John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk, Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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