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  AUGUST 31, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Part Two
By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Part Two
By John Mariani

Nantucket Ferry

      I was recently on Nantucket for its annual Book Festival, as a speaker, staying at The White Elephant (left), which is just enough removed from but proximate enough to walk into town. 

        The main building, with 67 rooms, stretches over a considerable piece of island turf, and its room decor has that balance of New England tradition with modern amenities--fireplaces opposite well-made king-sized beds--and it is idle pleasure to curl up onto a sofa in the Library or lounge on the Harborside Lawn. 

         The rooms are actually a collection of cottages, all with the island's requisite gray shingles, and it was opened in the 1920s by a local socialite named  Elizabeth T. Ludwig, who believed a fine hotel had a future on the island, although her critics dubbed the place "Mrs. Ludwig's white elephant" (which explains why it's not called The White Whale, which was in itself Captain Ahab's own folly). The original structure was demolished in the 1960s and in 1999 everything was updated.

    The Brant Point Grill at the hotel has had its ups and downs, and currently its menu reads "LOBSTER STEAK SPIRITS," along with listings of the usual hamburgers and roasted chicken breast.  I did not have time to dine at the Grill except as a banquet guest for the Writers Weekend, and I wouldn't judge the full à la carte menu by the lackluster food that night.

   For the grand splurge at The White Elephant, book the three bedroom Loft in town, with its own dining room and kitchen, and you even get the use of your own BMW X5.
    That was well beyond my expectations, for I was booked in a suite at the White Elephant's new Village  (right) adjunct, a short walk away. 
Beautifully decorated suites, a mix of modern and traditional motifs, coupled with a superb staff, bicycles and a driver to take you into town, this is a highly civilized place to stay and zone out if you wish.  My suite had  a bedroom, separate sitting area, and bathroom. The bedroom features a king-size bed and HD flat-screen TV, while the sitting area comes furnished with a full-size sleeper sofa, refrigerator.


     I had the pleasure of hosting a lunch at the bright and sunny Italian restaurant Ventuno, owned by Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon, who also run Straight Wharf Restaurant and Provisions. The name Ventuno is the number twenty-one in Italian, for the premises were for a long time home of the 21 Federal Restaurant and it's also the address.  Once low-lighted and somewhat formal, the premises are now lightened up (left),  with simple colonial colors and furniture,  black and white photography on the walls  and vases of herbs on the tables.
      The menu is divided into five sections: morsels, appetizers, pastas, entrées and desserts. And since this was an arranged event, the dishes kept coming fast, starting with various Italian charcuterie and cheeses, a very savory antipasto of pork and beef meatballs in a tomato sugo  ($14), and frittelle chickpea fries ($5) with tomato and a touch of  yogurt for brightness and creaminess.
        I could have gone on noshing, but there was a plate of light ricotta tortelli (right) with green garlic, asparagus, fava beans and chanterelles ($17) to be gobbled up, and pappardelle with suckling pig, cracklings and the scent of marjoram ($17).
   For dessert have the honey mousse ($10) with a walnut dacquoise crumble and a roasted blood orange granita, or the chocolate bombolini donuts with coffee gelato ($11).
    The all-Italian wine list is remarkably well chosen, if top heavy with very pricy bottlings, though those prices are reasonable at that level of quality.
      As much as I ate at Ventuno, I wanted more of everything, which, given my dining regimen, is a very high compliment indeed.

 Ventuno is located at 21 Federal St; 508-228-4242. Open for dinner nightly.


  I was glad I had a chance to pay a quick visit to what is widely considered the best pizzeria on the island, and I’ll throw in all of New England, too. Evan and Maria Marley’s Pi Pizzeria (right), about ten minutes from downtown, has been turning out very credible Neapolitan-style pizza since 2006, baked in minutes in a wood-fired oven. True to Neapolitan style, the pizza ($12 to $16) is a little soft in the middle, with the right charred bubbling on top.  It’s a very simple formula--crushed tomatoes, good mozzarella, first-rate olive oil and a little basil to make the admirable margherita.

    The Marleys opened the place in 2001 as a wine and cheese shop, but pizza mania took hold of Evan, and by 2006 the crafted oven was turning out pies to a grateful public seemingly starved for the real McCoy.    Depending on their size and ingredients, the pizzas     run $10-$22,  the latter for the "Gambella," topped with shrimp, garlic, tomato, basil, and mozzarella.
    The bar room is fun and the bartenders love their handiwork. 
The rest of the menu is stocked with the usual Italian-American items: Spaghetti or penne with meatballs ($18-$26), chicken parmesan ($20), cod puttanesca ($24).  I let Evan talk me into trying his strip steak ($29), which comes with gnocchi, and I suspect it’s the best on the island; seared and seasoned impeccably, with meat that has a good mineral and fat content.
    Pi is always jammed, but eating at the bar, as I did, is a whole lot of fun.

 Pi Pizzeria  is located at 11 West Creek Road; 508-228-1130; Open daily for lunch and dinner




By John Mariani

1703 Second Avenue (near 88th Street)

         When Elaine Kaufmann, owner of the
Manhattan restaurant that bore her name, died three years ago, obituaries paid homage to a woman whose reputation as the maternal cosseter of two generations of writers made her place legendary. No one, however, ever said anything good about the food at her upper east side establishment.
        Once, authors like Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Woody Allen--who shot the opening of his 1979 film Manhattan there--were regulars. A young writer named Winston Groom ran up a bill of several thousand dollars before finally settling it after he hit big with the novel Forrest Gump. Mikhail Baryshnikov once danced a pas de deux with colleague Rudolf Nureyev in the dining room.
        So, when Elaine died, her partner, Diane Becker, told the press,  “The truth is, there is no Elaine’s without Elaine. The business is just not there without Elaine.”
        And she was right.  Which is why it took a leap of faith in themselves for Michael and Susy Glick (below), who own the Parlor Steakhouse around the corner, to re-open the premises and try to dispel the lingering ghosts of a legend.  And from the look of the packed house I saw the night I visited The Writing Room, the ghosts are gone.  Many people may still come out of curiosity, but you can tell that this is already a huge neighborhood success--with a fairly young crowd who probably never set foot in Elaine’s.
         It all looks deliberately different, the funereal decor of the past replaced with an open kitchen done with NYC subway tiles and a clubbish (loud) front dining room (above) with reclaimed oak floors, walnut tables and leather banquettes with textured red brick walls. An evocation of Elaine’s literary importance can be seen in the 150 framed photos of famous authors and vintage typewriters.  The rear room (above)  is called “The Study,” where a black-and-white tile floor, a large fireplace, and bookshelves holding more than a thousand books give it more intimacy and warmth than up front, and it is considerably quieter.
         One of the Glicks will be there to greet you, along with an extremely affable young service staff. Executive Chef Lucas Billheimer, also at at Parlor Steakhouse, and Pastry Chef Andrea Bucheli, who’s worked at Country, Town, Le Cirque and Parlor Steakhouse, provide a proudly American menu that starts off with irresistible salt-topped, yeasty Parker House rolls I only wish more restaurants would serve instead of the usual breads.  The flaky biscuits here are just as good.
        The menu is an ideal size, appended with specials, and I hope they can manage to keep the superb summery corn soup with baby shrimp, fava beans, basil and corn fritters ($14) on for a long while. So, too, the best heirloom tomatoes are now coming in to accompany the sliced mozzarella with a green tomato jam ($16), and the hummus is mixed from fava beans and served with housemade grilled bread ($13).
        There’s nothing wrong with the barbecued baby back ribs with apple butter ($15), though they’re unlikely to win “Best in the City” soon. I enjoyed them; I didn't love them.  But in a town that does not need another pasta alla bolognese, The Writing Room’s version ($18) deserves a place at the top, with a fine mélange of ground meat and vegetables whipped with ricotta and scented with mint.
        As for main courses, every one I sampled deserves applause, from a perfectly cooked medium-rare yellowfin tuna with good asparagus, arugula, and a zesty lemon-ginger vinaigrette ($32) to a generous bowl of steamed lobster and clams with red Bliss potatoes and plenty of drawn butter ($33).  As you’d expect from the owners of the Parlor Steakhouse, the 14-ounce bone-in ribeye ($42) is first rate, served with grilled broccoli (a very good idea), roasted shallots and garlic-herb butter.
        And, if the kitchen held back on the amount of salt used in the fried chicken ($24), this would be one of the best in the city, with a good crunchy crust, delicious seasonings, and juicy interior, served with fresh cole slaw and those marvelous biscuits (left).  To go with these mains, the smoked corn grits ($6) are excellent, as are the roasted carrots ($6) and French fries ($6), but the unattractive crispy sweet potato ($7) doesn't belong on the same menu.
        Bucheli’s desserts are every bit as cheery as they are good: caramelized rhubarb rice pudding with crème fraîche ice cream, a cast-iron skillet-baked apple pie, and delightfully childlike Creamsicle Pops (below) dipped in chocolate and served with a warm hazelnut brownie--exactly the kind of American desserts that curry favor with everyone.
         The wine list at The Writing Room includes about 150 well-chosen labels.
I really applaud the Glicks for pulling off this neat trick of managing to make The Writing Room wholly theirs while showing gracious homage to its predecessor. And, by not including a veal chop on the menu--said to be the only thing edible at Elaine’s--they are signaling that their food is now the star in the dining room.

  Open nightly for dinner; Mon.-Fri. for lunch; Sat. & Sun. for brunch.  There is a $38 fixed price menu at dinner.



By John Mariani


      In the Aeneid, the poet Virgil described a horrifying eruption of Sicily’s Mount Etna as “Shooting out globes of flame, with monster tongues that lick the stars . . . and the molten rock rolls screaming skyward; from the nether deep the fathomless abyss makes ebb and flow.”

         Most Sicilians would agree with that assessment, yet many others--the island’s winemakers--count the aftermath of an eruption as a gift of the gods, because the new volcanic soil layers in time become rich in limestone, granite and basalt that imbue wine grapes with complex flavors.  Indeed, the legend is that Bacchus himself brought wine to Sicily. There is now even an Etna appellation for wines grown in the shadows of the volcano.

         For centuries, however, Sicilian wine production was built for quantity, not quality, made on a mass scale and, under EU rules, subsidized by being turned into raw alcohol that never saw a wine bottle.  In the past two decades, however, young, forward-thinking Sicilian winemakers have made enormous strides, both by forming co-operatives of the best wineries or by building on tradition at small, family-owned estates.

         The island has 23 approved appellations, with many in the eastern region especially affected by Mount Etna, including Faro, Moscato di Noto, Moscato di Siracusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and Eloro, while western regions have enjoyed Etna’s dispersion of minerals blown hundreds of miles away, including Regaleali, Alcamo, Riesi, and Sambuca.

         There’s no question that there has been a great deal of global interest in these wines, made from once-neglected red grapes like Nero D’Avola (right), Nerello Mascalese, and Frappato, along with new red imports like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Shiraz.  White wines on the island, once oxidized and sulphurous tasting, are now cleanly made, full of sunny Mediterranean fruit, and fine acids, from grapes like Cataratto, Grecanico, Grillo, Inzolia, Zibibbo, and Moscato Bianco, with European varietals like Chardonnay and Viognier recently introduced.

        Today, wine producers like Planeta, Duca di Salaparuta (below), and Regaleali have had considerable success in the world market. Rapitala Hugonis ($35),  a blend of Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon, is a very well made, balanced wine, whose native grape has plenty of ripe fruit, tamed by the tannin of the Cabernet. I am also impressed by the depth and richness of Donnafugata Mille e Una Notte ($50), which is 90 percent Nero d’Avola and 10 percent other varietals, a deep purple, very tannic wine with real complexity from the edge of the palate to the finish. Its lovely name means “A Thousand and One Nights.” Two of  the most widely exported Sicilian wines  are Duca Enrico from the producer Duca di Salaparuta and the Tasca d'Almerita Regaleali Rosso del Conte, both selling above $50.

        Interest in the region's wines has grown so that there are now luxury wine tours of Etna and Taormina, available through Cellar Tours, which include your own driver in a Mercedes, accommodations and visits to local wineries and restaurants.

        The area is rich with fine restaurants and quaint trattorias where you can and should drink the local wines that go so well with Sicilian specialties like sweet-sour caponata of stewed eggplant and zucchini; spaghetti alla Norma, with tomato, eggplant and mozzarella; seafood cuscus; and cream-stuffed pastries called cannoli.

        In the city of Catania, don't miss eating right in the fish market itself at Trattoria La Paglia--said to be here since 1814. In Messina, Trattoria Piero is known for its stuffed, baked pastas.  In Taormina--of which the locals say, “If you want to know what Taormina is like, think of paradise, then think harder”--the maccheroni alla Norma is the specialty at Ristorante al Feudo, and La Torinese is a wineshop piled high with shelves of Sicilian wines to take home.
        Once home, you may well have been enthralled enough with Sicilian wines to want to ferret them out in the U.S., and fortunately you’ll find a good array of them in some of the best Italian restaurants here.  At the  New York restaurant L’Artusi, you can drink an Etna Rosso “Caldenara Sottana” ($30 retail) with your spaghetti with garlic and chile peppers or squid ink fettuccine “nero” with rock shrimp.

       In Houston, at one of America’s finest restaurants, Tony’s, owner Tony Vallone infuses dishes like lamb shank braised in Marsala with memories of his Sicilian grandmother’s cooking, to be enjoyed with a bottle of Planeta “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola ($30 retail)

        No one has been more of a cheerleader for Italian wines in general, and Sicilian wines in particular, than native son Piero Selvaggio, born in

Modica, who has owned Valentino in Santa Monica, CA, for four decades (with a younger branch in Las Vegas).  Among the 80,000 bottles in his cellar, Selvaggio offers a Regaleali Cygnus Sicilia ($15, retail) to marry perfectly with a pasta dish like fusilloro alla Norma.  “I am so proud of the progress of Sicilian wines in my lifetime,” says Selvaggio, whose customers include an array of Hollywood stars. “Not only are they now some of the best in Italy, but for the price they are amazing quality.”


Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

by Cristina Mariani-May         
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners America's leading wine importer

    Labor Day is here. Summer vacation is about to become a fleeting memory.  Back to school, back to work, back to the old routine… but who says we have to compromise on the convenience that summer afforded us? 

    With less time to linger over a meal and sporadic meal times in the house, it has to be all about convenience now.  Though we will never give up wine with our meals – after all, a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine – time and commitments may force us to have just a glass or two.  So what to do when life does not give us the luxury of finishing that bottle in one sitting?  It is time to give life a twist… and opt for wines with a twist off cap. 

    No, we are not talking about taking a step down in quality – that’s yesterday’s thinking.  Today, more winemakers have realized that wine lovers will accept, even demand, a good wine in a twist off bottle.  Maybe not for those golden oldies in the wine cellar, the Sunday night wine we’ve been saving for a special occasion, the six bottles put away from junior’s birth year, and so forth.  Keep the cork puller handy for those. 

But now we’re talking about good every day value table wine, great for just us (or just me) and nothing to be ashamed of if company drops by for a glass.  For a young fresh wine meant to be enjoyed within the year, a twist off cap is not only more convenient than a traditional cork, but keeps the wine fresher and eliminates the risk of a faulty cork. 

Now you can open a bottle of wine with dinner without having to finish it or trying to stuff the cork back in.  If it’s a matter of one or two glasses drawn from the bottle or one or two glasses left in it, put the cap back on, put it on the counter, or stash it in the fridge for tomorrow or the next day.  You could even bring the leftover chicken and bottle of wine for an impromptu picnic during soccer or football practice.  Now how convenient is that?

    Here are some of my favorite wines in twist-off capped bottles, for table or tailgate:

 Le Rime – A Pinot Grigio, unusually from Tuscany, which makes it fuller bodied and fruitier than the standard.  Fresh, aromatic, harmonious and fruity, this crisp beauty is perfect as an aperitif or with seafood, poultry or veal. 

Centine Rosé – A pink version of the Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Delightful rosé color with hints of woodland berries and a long, crisp finish.    

Centine Bianco – A white Super Tuscan blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Like many Italians, this wine wears its heart on its sleeve – its fragrant bouquet belies its Sauvignon aromatics, its lush mouthfeel is a clear representation of unoaked Tuscan Chardonnay, and its crisp, clean finish is what Pinot Grigio is all about. 

Feudo Sartanna “Zirito” – A white wine made from the native Sicilian grape called Grillo, this wine is bright and snappy, with notes of white flowers and citrus fruit.  

Feudo Sartanna “Kirkinti” – Also made from a Sicilian native varietal, this one being the red Nero d’Avola grape. Zesty and clean with bright cherry-like fruit, this is a red wine that you could drink with fish as soon as meats.

Novas Sauvignon Blanc – Made from organically grown grapes in the San Antonio Valley of Chile, this wine has mineral and citrus aromas with subtle hints of tropical fruit.  It is great with shellfish, sushi, and salad dishes that have citrus marinades or accents.

Novas Pinot Noir Also from organic vineyards, these in Chile’s coastal Casablanca Valley, this bright ruby red wine has lush aromas of berries with notes of spice and cocoa; bursts of fruit alternate with a pleasing earthiness that make this cheerful red ideal with white meats, light sauces, cured ham and even seafood.

Cristina Mariani is not related by family or through business with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter





"If we made Mexican food illegal, illegal aliens wouldn't be able to eat it in the United States and illegal border crossings would stop," Michelle Bachmann, on Fox News Aug, 4, 2014.



After being arrested for shoplifting, 29-year-old Michael Harp of Corbin, Kentucky, used his cell phone to order five pizzas in the arresting officer's name, to be delivered to the police station.



 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: TROUT FISHING IN NORTHERN MAINE

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, Andrew Chalk,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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