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  January 11, 2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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"Gulliver's Dream" (2013) by Galina Dargery


Part One
By John Mariani

Asian Overtures:
By John Mariani
      Shabu Shabu
     By Mort Hochstein 



By John Mariani

Vienna State Opera

    Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in Vienna on his way to annex lands along the Danube, falling ill in the city then called Vindobona, but the philosopher could have had today's Vienna in mind when he observed: “Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.”
    For Vienna in its present form is so systematically arranged as to make investigation of its culture—science, art, history, cuisine—far easier to access than in any other city in Europe; only Washington DC compares as city planning goes. 
Vienna was for centuries a royal city and capital of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, after World War I reduced in size and power.  Modern Vienna is largely the result of the building in the 19th century of the Ringstrasse (left), a boulevard circling the historic center of Vienna on which runs a tram by whose on-time performance you can set your watch.  This year celebrates the Ring's 150th anniversary.
The location of the major arts and municipal institutions within the Ring makes walking among them a leisurely joy; once 27  cafés were carefully situated along the Ring’s route.  Few of those original cafes remain but there are more than enough to
provide added incentive to take your time, enjoy some coffee and pastry, then to visit the next nearby museum or garden or palace.  Justifiably, the city center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
    One can readily tour three or four major attractions in a day, whether it’s to see the Hofburg Palace, the Rathaus Town Hall, Parliament or the University, or to wander for hours within the extraordinary riches of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (right), which currently has an exhibition of the works of Spanish master Velázquez,  or the Naturhistoriches Museum, saving for another day the newer Museumsquartier, converted from the former Imperial Stalls in the 1990s, that includes the Museum of Modern Art; the
Leopold Museum, with its comprehensive collection of the works of eccentric painter Egon Schiele;  and the AzW (museum of architecture). With more than 100 museums, Vienna has rewarded favorite sons Mozart and Freud with their own. The Silberkammer is devoted to silverware; another to globes; another to crime; there is even a Museum of Fakes.
      Renovation is always ongoing—after the war the city sold off the lots  of damaged buildings with the proviso that the new owners rebuild and invest in them with respect for the historic center’s architecture. I therefore  think it requisite to watch the 1949 movie “The Third Man” (of course there’s a “Third Man Museum" (left), and you can tour most of the film’s locations) just to see how devastating the damage to the city had been and how Vienna’s dissection, in September 1945, among the four occupying Allied powers affected the spirit of a defeated citizenry.  It took a decade for Austria to regain autonomy and for the re-opening of arts institutions like the State Opera and Burgtheatre.
    Today the city looks much like it did before the war, with an exceptional variety of architectural styles, dating from the Romanesque to the Baroque and Neo-Classical, with some superb art nouveau and the finest examples of the Secessionist Style, born in Vienna, including Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station and the Kirche am Steinhof, with troves of  Gustav Klimt's paintings to be found in the city’s museums.  High rises—some elegant, some brutish--are now evident on the city’s skyline, but allowed only beyond the Ring.
    On a recent trip to Vienna with my wife, I found the city fresher and more bustling than ever. I’m not surprised that it’s been ranked among the world’s five most livable cities. We landed at the efficiently modern airport and, after customs, we arrived via City Train 20 minutes later in the town center, Wien-Mitte.  (For
€21.90 you can buy a 72 Hours Vienna Ticket that allows three days' travel on the tram, buses and subway.)
    After checking into our hotel (I’ll be reporting on hotels and restaurants in Vienna in an upcoming article), we kept our jet lag at bay at the always bustling Café Central (above), known for its delicious breakfast cake called Gugelhopf.  We then took a very leisurely stroll along  Kärntner Strasse, a broad commercial avenue lined with designer boutiques, cafés, chocolate shops, restaurants, and street performers, to arrive at the glorious
St. Stephen's Cathedral (right), whose site as a church dates to 1147. But its true Gothic grandeur took shape two centuries later, and its status as a cathedral came in 1469.  The structure was saved from deliberate destruction in World War II only because a German captain refused his superior’s orders to reduce it to rubble, though fires in the city later caused the roof to collapse.  Thus, the cathedral was not fully open until 1952, and it is always undergoing renovation. 
    As anyone who watched PBS's New Year's show of Zubin Mehta conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the city's Musikverein, it is clear that in nothing is Vienna richer than in its musical heritage, via its native sons as well as those who enriched the culture after being irresistibly drawn to it. Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss (whose Viennese waltzes captivated Europe) and Arnold Schoenberg were born in Vienna; Mozart, Salieri,  Beethoven, Haydn, Mahler, Liszt, Bruckner and Brahms all came to work there. 
      Of all those masters, Mozart’s stamp is the strongest, and it’s a rare day in Vienna when his music is not being played in some concert hall.
The Vienna Mozart Orchestra, together with internationally renowned singers and soloists dressed in historical costumes and wigs, performs at the State Opera, Musikverein Golden Hall and Konzerthaus.  The Volksopera performs 25 German musical works during the September-through-June season.   Sound of Vienna offers concert and dinner packages at the Kursalon concert hall, where Strauss used to conduct.
    Also in the heart of Vienna is a museum (
formerly the imperial pharmacy) devoted to the prancing Lipizzaner horses, where you can also watch the white equines' morning training session.  Nearby are antiques auction houses, which include the vast neo-Baroque Dorotheum (once a convent), spread over several floors.  Gumpendorferstrasse has emerged as the hip street with the most contemporary fashion boutiques and a slew of young people's cafés.  And if you are intent on bringing back vintage Austrian items lederhosen and dirndl skirts, head for Bootik 54 on Neubaugasse.
    All these attractions lie within the Ring, but no one should visit the city without taking the tram to the southeast district, to Belvedere Palace
, built under Prinz Eugen as his summer home, within a vast Baroque graded garden stretching between the lower and upper palaces. (Wear very comfortable shoes.) In the former, opened in 1718, is the Baroque Museum, splendidly displayed in impeccably restored mirrored rooms;  the upper palace (1723) is repository to a deep and broad history of art, particularly rich in the work of fin-de-siècle masters Schiele, Kokoschka and Klimt, whose famous paintings “The Kiss”  and “Judith” are here.
    An added attraction to visiting Vienna is its modest size—160 square miles, compared with Berlin’s 344—with more than  5.5 million tourists per year, more than enough to keep all the hotels and restaurants very busy but not enough to cause impenetrable crowds or immovable traffic of a kind you find in Venice, London and Paris.  You need not wait on a line for an hour to get into the major museums.
        It is a city where you mix with and walk among the citizens, and, since almost everyone speaks English, you will never be at a loss for guidance.  The tram and subway are easily mastered after one trip, the streets are cleaner than most in Europe, and the city is largely free of labor union strikes that plague Italy and France.
    If you factor all these virtues together, Vienna epitomizes everything  the word civilization should mean—a place where people feel not only safe but very comfortable, with civic services and the maintenance of an extraordinary artistic culture that is always proudly on display. 
    I forgot to mention Vienna's sheer beauty from every angle,  But then I forgot to mention that Hedy Lamarr was born there.

The Belvedere Palace


NEW YORK CORNER: Asian Overtures

99 3rd Avenue (near 12th Street)

By John Mariani
Photos by Noak Fecks

  Like so many Asian ethnic cuisines, Thai doesn’t readily get the respect it deserves, largely because it’s hoisted on a double-edged sword: on the one hand, people who love Thai cooking are very passionate about certain dishes; on the other, they have grown so used to Thai food being served in cheaply decorated storefronts in pocket neighborhoods that they balk when a restaurateur tries to create a more stylish ambiance and charge accordingly. Thai food lovers expect the menus to be long, the food offered in varying degrees of spiciness, generous, and year after year the same price. 
Ngamprom “Hong” Thaimee  (left) of Ngam has aimed higher in style without much increase in prices.  A former model in Thailand, she has a strong sense of personal style, here translated into high-ceilinged, shabby chic, as if a warehouse had been half demolished, then quickly fixed up, leaving exposed brick and broken plaster stenciled with culinary sayings.  Naked light bulbs hang amidst visible air ducts, while an electric sign beams “LOVE.” There’s an open kitchen and counter that is very popular.
    Ms. Thaimee has plenty of culinary cred, having trained under renowned Chef  
M.L. Sirichalerm Savsti  in Thailand, and worked at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi Hotel, Kittichai in NYC,  then at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market and Perry St.
    She calls her cooking “Modern Thai Comfort Food,” meaning that it is not all strictly traditional, but is more expressive of her own broad range of experience.  Thus, everybody’s favorite Thai dish, pad Thai,
is served to meet people’s expectations while advancing ideas like zucchini ($14) and even lobster ($26). Lobster also figures into dumplings kao soy with hand rolled egg noodles, kao soy curry, pickled mustard, shallots,  and cilantro ($18).   Finely textured Atlantic salmon  shows off Ms. Thaimee’s commitment to high quality ingredients comes with housemade noodles, basil and chili curry ($20).
    Trendy kale  finds its way onto an a
ppetizer platter for two ($20), with Chiang Mai Fries, Por Pia shiitake mushroom spring rolls,  and grilled calamari.  A main course also for two is the grilled Surf and Turf platter ($20) heaped with calamari, tiger shrimp, hanger steak, bacon wrapped pork, Siracha mayo, tamarind chili sauce, and spicy lime chili dip (left).
    Pretty much everything is a transformation of Thai ideas and American panache, so that Ghang Kiaw Wan Green Curry  ($15) with  eggplant and chicken is a tantalizing and colorful dish , while desserts include a coconut cheesecake made with goat’s milk, a Graham cracker crust, whipped cream, toasted coconut. Pears are poached in Thai tea, served with a chocolate ganache.   And panna cotta is scented with jasmine, with a raspberry coulis and lychee.  All are an improvement on traditional Thai sweets like cloying mango sticky rice pudding.
    I found few dishes at Ngam hit those incendiary chili highs you routinely find at Thai restaurants around NYC and on the West Coast—the ones with the chili pepper icons next to each dish--but I also tasted combinations I had never had before that balanced sweet, salty, and hot flavors carefully.  So, if you love poring over a traditional Thai menu of 125 dishes, too many of which taste the same, try out Ngam and taste fewer dishes with far more distinction.

Ngam serves lunch Mon.-Fri., brunch on weekends, dinner nightly.



Shabu Shabu Kobe
3 West 46th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

By Mort Hochstein

  There is a Japanese restaurant around the corner from my house that specializes in ramen and pork dishes. I went once and will never return. I am in the minority. Long before it opens and for hours afterward, there is a line outside, young people primarily, and although cheap prices are obviously a factor, many rush to the lines directly from taxis.
     There is, however, a new Japanese restaurant here in NYC and the contrast is striking. No lines as yet, but it should rapidly become popular because of its attractive menu and equally attractive prices. The parent company in Japan, Kobe Bussan, operates 800 restaurants and 680 supermarkets, own farms on several continents, and commands a fleet of fishing vessels.
     The restaurant is called Shabu Shabu Kobe, and this unit, the first of three planned for NYC, is bright and spacious, with uncrowded accommodations for about 200 guests; it is also relatively free of the usual bric-a-brac that too often decorates the walls of Asian restaurants.
       We sat a table with an embedded electric grill. As I contemplated the traditional razor thin slivers of beef waiting to be plunged intro boiling broth, a waiter urged me to “shabu, shabu,” which I learned means mix, mix, stir, stir. And so I did and pulled the meat out with chopsticks after less than a minute. The beef was tender and tasty, accompanied by a variety of dips ranging from spicy to really hot. The staff proudly explained that other restaurants use frozen beef in order to cut thin slices, while Kobe Bussan’s gets its chilled Kobe-style beef from U.S. producers and has developed a unique machine to get the proper thinness to the beef.  I returned three times just to have this singular dish.
      The plate was accompanied by a variety of assorted vegetables, noodles and tofu—a very good dish if you're looking for healthy.  But if you're looking for the extra kick that comes with a little fat, there are several items, including buta yakiniku ($8) barbecued pork with crunchy Japanese fried noodles, yaki buta roasted pork ($9) and kara-age fried chicken. And there is chicken in other styles: in a tangy cream sauce spiced with grated white radish ($13); tempura with hot ponzu sauce ($15), each with either cabbage or celery trimmings.
    The individual pork and beef dishes top out at a very affordable $19 for an overflowing plate. The mushidori steamed chicken ($7) and a pork stew ($9) would be real attractions for those who crowd the ramen houses. Our beef Shabu Shabu set menu with dessert at $29, and a variety of beef and veggie combos in the low to mid-twenties were the main features in a very economical selection which included a battery of sides for under $10.
      The menu, in traditional Japanese style, has pictures of the food possibilities, including seafood bearing Japanese names, with a sometimes questionable English translation. For those whose Nipponese lexicon may be limited to sushi, ramen, tofu and yakitori, a visit to Shabu Shabu Kobe Midtown is like taking Menu Japanese 101. And if you have trouble with the menu terms, you can always point at the pictures. The visuals are helpful on another count, since many of the waiters are simultaneously undergoing basic training in Menu English 101.


Open for lunch and dinner daily.



According to a report by the Humane Resource Council, four our of five vegetarian revert to eating meat.  From a sampling of more than 11,000 U.S. adults, there are far more former vegetarians than  current ones, with two percent of Americans currently vegetarian or vegan, but 10 percent former vegetarians or vegans.  On average, former vegetarians began their diet at around age 34 for health reasons but kept on the diet for less than a year.


“Do you want a Miley Cyrus (fun, not complicated or serious, you can drink a lot of it) or do you want Adele (more nuanced, will evolve over the course of the bottle, you’ll think about it a little bit more)?”--Ashley Ragovin, wine pro at large, Los Angeles, Bon Appetit Magazine.



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

   I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has  been published through Amazon and Kindle. 
     It is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring back his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


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: TANZANIA; LITTLE ITALY AND CHINATOWN.

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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