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By Dotty Griffith

By Mort Hochstein

`21' CLUB
By John Mariani

By John Mariani



"Such is a winter eve. Now for a merry fire, some old poet's pages, or else serene philosophy, or even a healthy book of travels to last far into the night, eked out perhaps with the walnuts which we gathered in November."--Henry David Thoreau, 1906.

By Dotty Griffith


        Island-hopping in the fall that includes a hop to Nantucket might seem counterintuitive--especially if you are among those who flock to the fashionable Atlantic vacation destination during the summer, wearing properly faded Nantucket reds. In fact, there’s not a lot going on during the lull between Columbus Day and Christmas Stroll weekend in early December. That’s the beauty of a hop to Nantucket in the off-season.
         And that’s when veteran all-seasons Nantucket vacationers Janet and Phil Cobb, also of Dallas, and I went to the island.
        In early November, there’s perfect weather…sort of. Great restaurants…the ones that are open. Best of all, lots of time to chat up the islanders who make it their home year round. Also opportune time to encounter summer residents there for fall “scolloping” and to close their beach homes for the winter. More on that later.
        Our mission was simple: eat our way around the island, relax and soak up Nantucket.  One of our really fun adventures was a visit to Bartlett’s Farm (above). This time of year there’s not much growing going on, but there’s plenty happening at Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery, also parts of the farm. A visit to the brew pub--open year round--was a cozy stop on a chilly day. Most afternoons there’s live entertainment of some sort.
        We tasted local beers, including the seasonal pumpkin ale called Pumple Drumkin, a spiced ale that tastes malty and pumpkin pie-ish with notes of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. And it’s made from Nantucket pumpkins. Cisco also makes the widely available Whale’s Tale Pale Ale, a light, any-occasion beer that we enjoyed with lobster rolls and burgers at several island eating venues.
Gavin, our brew pub bartender, was a great entertainer, mixologist and ambassador-at-large for Nantucket. His Dark and Stormy, made with Triple Eight Hurricane dark rum, fresh ginger puree and soda, made me ready to set sail. It was a beautiful drink with just the right blend of mellow caramel from the rum, emboldened by a pinch of fresh ginger. A cocktail made with Triple Eight cranberry vodka, flavored with a dash of honey ginger liqueur, was another lovely, cosseting libation for a drizzly afternoon.
Since I’ve mentioned lobster rolls, I’ll expound. We ate our first lobster roll, not on Nantucket, but at The Black Cat Tavern (now closed until Feb. 27) while awaiting the ferry to take us from Hyannis to the island. This was a lobster roll of epic proportions (right), a marvelous, pristine blend of big chunks of lobster bound by creamy mayonnaise on a beautiful split roll. Likewise, the fried belly clams--crisp, juicy and succulent--were a great start to our Nantucket adventure. Just the first of our 5 days of seafood indulgence.
        Located across from the Hy-Line ferry, this Hyannis landmark is about as New England as New England gets. A great spot wherein to sip a Bloody Mary and wait for the late morning ferry. Steamship Authority is the other sea-going option for accessing Nantucket.
        Once on the island, we checked into a charming vacation rental home called Splishy Splash, which offered convenient access to town as well as the historic cemetery.
        During cocktails and dinner one evening at the sleek sushi and seafood restaurant Lola 41 (left) we met Marny and John Conforti of Brooklyn, who were in for a few days, mainly to close up their beach house for the winter. Coincidentally, they are the owners of Brooklyn’s well respected and lively Tuscany Grill.  Chatting over cocktails at the packed (even in off-season) bar at Lola 41, Marny mentioned that they planned to go “scolloping” the next day. I wanted to go. Really wanted to go. So badly wanted to go, in fact, that I asked these perfectly nice strangers if I could be part of their adventure.
        Having been put on the spot, they said “sure,” probably not expecting this Texan to meet them on the beach. Wrong! After all, I’d learned the proper way to pronounce the activity. One “scollops” -- o-sound -- for scallops, ah-sound. So-o-o New England.
        At the beach, John graciously let me use his waders, above-the-elbow waterproof gloves, rake (actually a net), and basket for collecting what I dredged up from the bottom of the shallow waters of the bay. Marny did her best to show me the way. Push the long-handed shallow net along the bottom. Lift it up. See what you got. Toss the legal-size scallops in the basket. Repeat. And repeat. Until your arms and legs are really tired from pushing and lifting. And you’ve got (as we say in Texas) “a big ol’ mess of scallops.”
        Marny also taught me how to clean a scallop using a thin, thumb-shaped blade to separate the lovely white meat from its shell.  Popping a scallop just out of its shell into my mouth was like eating sea candy. The almost effervescent brine of the scallop enhanced the natural sweetness of the delicate meat. Perfection!
        I did save enough fresh scallops, however, to take back  to cook that night with Janet and Phil. We hit Sayles Seafood Market, ordered broiled swordfish and fluke to go. Sayles, another Nantucket landmark that is open year round, sells fresh and cooked-to-order seafood to go. Just what we wanted to frame the “scolloping” success. We very lightly sautéed the scallops in butter with a touch of white wine. Divine over the broiled fish.
        Some other great off-season eating adventures in Nantucket:

Arno’s Breakfast and Seafood Restaurant, where we had yet another version of the lobster roll, this one with chopped celery blended with the lobster filling. Great for adding some crunch. Here we also tried a stuffed quahog, clam on the half shell baked with a spicy stuffing on top, a Nantucket specialty also known as a “stuffie.”
    Fusaro’s Homemade Italian was offering to-die-for pizzas with freshly caught scallops, yet another benefit of a fall visit to Nantucket.
    Brotherhood of Thieves in a basement whaling bar serves up a burger that rivals any burger in Texas. Big and juicy. And the Reuben sandwich was a two-handed masterpiece of corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on griddle-toasted rye.

    The best thing about Nantucket off-season: no lines. Fewer options, granted, but no lines!!   True, weather can be a challenge. We spent a night in Hyannis waiting for the winds to calm enough for the ferry trip across. Winds stayed high, so we ended up taking Cape Air.  Really not a huge deal.  Sure the weather was cool and rainy part of the time; even better for holing up with a good book before and after a “scolloping” adventure.


Dotty Griffith is a Dallas-based food writer and cookbook author. Her website is

                                                            By Mort Hochstein

     Newburyport is a seacoast community north of Boston and resembles in many ways better-known hamlets on Cape Cod, such as Hyannis and Provincetown. Its attractive harbor, flanked by green parks,is dotted with sails, and the town is well served by a commuter rail line and express buses to Boston.
     As might be expected in New England, the area is rich in historical and culinary attractions from pre-revolutionary days to the mid-1800s. Its boatyards, using lumber from rich nearby forests, launched hundreds of ships to serve the bustling three-way trade between the United States, the Caribbean and England. Most interesting for me was the Custom House Museum (right), a unique treasure trove of nautical history, designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument and the U.S. Treasury building in Washington.
     Many of the great houses erected by prosperous shipping magnates and merchants still exist in the town and on hills overlooking the sea and the port.
     One of those Newburyport magnates dispatched his own fleet of 140 armed vessels into the North Atlantic to serve as privateers during the Revolution, and they contributed heavily to the sea war against England. That story and the history of other ocean voyagers comes alive in the halls of the Custom House Museum, teeming with historical portraits, documents, maps, scrimshaw, original figureheads and models of the Newburyport vessels that traversed the Atlantic and all the way into the Pacific.
     The city is the birthplace of the Coast Guard, whose history is told in exhibits at this museum and on the waterfront, where a historic twin-beaconed lighthouse, built in 1849 and one of very few of its type in this country, stands guard over the harbor.
      A small network of well-constructed tunnels, variously believed to be part of the Underground Railway or built by smugglers evading customs tariffs, runs into the city from the harbor. Above ground, a boardwalk begins behind the museum and runs along the Merrimac River, leading visitors to a waterfront park, one of many green spaces in the community and home to many concerts during the summer.
       With its mixture of colonial and post-colonial culture, Newburyport is noted for its red brick Federalist architecture, like the Cushing House (left), which sprang up after a fire that destroyed many colonial wooden buildings in its downtown.  A short stroll from downtown brings a visitor to High Street, where ship captains once flaunted their fortunes by building huge, beautifully designed homes, many topped with widow’s walks or cupolas that wives could look out to sea for a returning husband.
     The harbor is crisscrossed throughout the summer by tour boats that ply the Merrimac River, allowing visitors to see the town and nearby Plum Island from the water.  That island, a resort and residential area, is a getaway for locals and tourists and is dotted with small, informal restaurants specializing in seafood and locally made beer.  Bootleggers are believed to have abounded here in Prohibition days and several of those restaurants may have originated as speakeasies.
     The barrier island extends over more than 4,000 acres of sandy beach and dune, cranberry bog, shrub land and freshwater marsh.  The prime attraction on Plum Island is the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (below).From boardwalk viewing points, visitors can observe some 300 types of resident and migratory birds as well as odd mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians.     
Tendercrop Farms, just outside the city, is a mall-sized resource for locally produced vegetables and meat, serving many of the city’s restaurateurs and homemakers. We toured this huge farm, showplace and learning center, even taking in a butchering demonstration. A huge operation with a branch in Vermont, Tendercrop is a tourist attraction as well as a shopping destination. It offers classes for adults and a farm zoo for children, who can pet its ‘llamas without pajamas’ and learn about food that does not come out of a can.
     Our guide at Tendercrop Farm was Nancy Batista-Caswell, who just happened to be sourcing a few necessities when we visited. As an operator of class restaurants, Ms. Caswell might be compared in local stature to NYC’s Danny Meyer or Drew Nieporent, or Michael Mina in San Francisco. Trained in food service from her teens onward, she managed restaurants in the Boston suburbs while still too young to drink legally. She now owns a pair of celebrated restaurants here and is planning to open a Boston beachhead in late 2015.
     “It‘s our response to regular clientele who come a distance from the city to enjoy our food in the suburbs,” she says. 


    Ceia, meaning dinner or feast in Portuguese, is her flagship, a three-floor canteen overlooking State Street in the heart of downtown Newburyport.  Chef Brandon Baltzley, whose resume includes a stint with Ferran Adria in Spain as well as the kitchens of Restaurant Nora in Washington and CRUX in Pittsburgh, makes his own cheeses from locally produced goat’s milk.  His innovative repertoire includes a lamb shoulder roulade with black truffle, black kale and black radish; savory pies with salt cod, snails, potatoes and cardamon;  and octopus with sweet potato and celery in chili soup.   The menu changes almost every evening and reflects Ms. Caswell’s Portuguese and Mediterranean upbringing.
     We started off with a charcuterie selection, chorizo from Spain, a rosette de Lyon and mangalista lardo from Salumeria Belise in New York, and a sharp and tangy landaff cheese, made in New Hampshire from cow’s milk. The octopus, done crisply and tender, came next and we followed up with potato gnocchi stuffed with oxtail, paired with whelks, San Marzano tomatoes and parmigiano-reggiano.  We also enjoyed a spicy short rib, embellished generously with foie gras and plated with broccoli. On another occasion, we feasted on duck breast and deep dark porridge, aromatic with cranberries, cooked to the point where that layer of fat and crispness blend ever so tastefully.  Favorite desserts included a Bolo de Chocolate, chocolate cake with an espresso mousse, vanilla creme and mascarpone gelato, and nectarines with a lemon olive oil pound cake, mated with homemade ice cream.
      In addition to a menu that changes almost daily with what’s fresh from local vendors, Ceia also offers a Taste of Tuesday focusing on a European wine region each week.     

    Ceia Kitchen, 38 State Street, Newburyport, Ma. 01950. Phone: 978-358-8112. Large plates $16 for a signature burger to short ribs, $36, lobster at market price. Open daily.


     Following up on the success of Ceia in 2011, Ms.  Caswell opened Brine, just across the street, a place she characterizes as the only oyster, crudo and chop bar in the greater Boston area. It’s a smaller operation, with just sixty seats in a slender, brick-walled dining room. 
     I’m often left bewildered by waiters who quickly recite the various oysters on my plate in a sequence which I hope to memorize but am unable to identify once they’ve departed. Brine happily puts a name card next to each variety, a practice I wish more restaurants would follow. On a recent visit, Brine focused on the East Coast, offering plump, meaty Katamas from Martha’s Vineyard, and equally pump but more briny Pemaquids and Wileys from Maine’s central coast, all of them enlivened by a pungent horse radish sauce and habanero crème fraîche, contrasting flavors to play against the clams.
        While I could easily have feasted on those and other crustacean offerings and the oyster po’ boy, which I hated to pass up, I wanted to explore chef Justin Shoults’s wide-ranging menu.  We had to sample his signature smoked clam and pork belly chowder.  Intensely flavored, it was a match of yin and yang. Swimming in a pungent broth, the tangy slivers of pork competed with the restrained sweetness of the clams.
      The crudo appetizers on the menu were appealing. Faced with a difficult choice of sea scallop pear and shitake mushroom or yellow fin tuna with Adirondack potato, seabeans and seaweed (right), I went for the flavorful tuna, lightly seasoned with a moist meaty center and the seaweed accenting the strong flavor of the sea.     
Seaside restaurants are usually careful not to neglect the carnivores, and Brine’s eight-ounce filet mignon with mushroom, celery root and kale could stand proudly with the finest from a far more expensive steakhouse. We shared a salad of charred endive with smoked egg, tarted up with bits of apple, currants and walnuts and went light and heavy on the drinks side, opting for a spicy Bantam Cider and a Bar Harbor Stout, both from Maine.
     To celebrate its first anniversary last year, Brine extended its Thursday night Buck a Shuck oyster special to a week long run in February.

Brine, 29 State Street, Newburyport, Ma., 978 358 8479. Open daily.



      Michael's, set along the Merrimac River about a half mile from center city, is a favorite of locals and boaters docking at nearby marinas, as well as a tourist destination.  A local recommended Michael's as a great place to dine on the water. The rambling outdoor deck, often jam-packed on sunny days and warm nights, is a pleasant place to sip wine or beer while watching ships and sailboats pass along the river. The service is fine and the food is standard seafood, with enough meat and chicken to satisfy those who do not like fish, the sort of menu you might find almost anywhere along the New England coast.
      Our salmon came crisp on the outside, moist and flavorful, and we did enjoy a lobster roll, though it was heavy on the mayonnaise. Tables are decently spaced, the waitresses are pleasant and knowledgeable and the music is not too loud. It’s a good place to take the children.

One Tournament Wharf •  978.462.7785; Open daily.



    If I were a resident, this basic pub just off State Street would be my local. Even in the heart of tourist country, hometown familiars predominated during our visits, and that’s always a good sign. Food and drink prices are reasonable and the beer flows freely from 32 taps, which has to be a high mark of some sort.
    Food choices are as rambling as the seating, available on three floors, many booths, lots of dark wood, and good space between tables. The menu is big on meat and seafood, as well as Mexican and Italian, and there is a surprising variety of non-gluten offerings.
     East coast oysters come at a dollar apiece. We downed them raw and doubled down on a plate of oysters Rockefeller baked with watercress, buttered onion and bread crumbs, flavored with a dash of Pernod.  Chowder, white New England style of course, followed, and it was rich and creamy with a good smattering of clams, although there was a bit too much thickener. We tried and enjoyed a sweet potato bisque with crème fraîche.
     Grog makes a first-class Angus sirloin burger, large, and grilled as ordered, with a moderate, that is, rational, accompaniment of steak fries. The burger’s served open-faced and you can build on it with toppings served at the table. We also opted for a half portion of butternut squash ravioli in an apple cider sauce, plated with poached apples and cranberries. Dessert offerings did not seem exciting and we shared a rather ordinary cappuccino cake with layers of espresso infused chocolate sponge, something that obviously did not originate in the kitchen of The Grog.  The restaurant tries to offer something for all appetites, but haute cuisine is not on the table here.  Comfort is, along with music three nights a week, strong on jazz. 

The Grog Restaurant • 13 Middle Street • 978 465-8008 Full menu from 11:30 a.m. 'till 9 p.m. Open daily.





By John Mariani

'21' CLUB

    Of all the historic restaurants in New York City--like Delmonico’s, which was the first fine dining restaurant to open in America, back in 1831, Barbetta, still in the same Italian family since 1906, and The Four Seasons, a design masterpiece from 1959--none has had the storied past of `21’ Club, more familiarly known to regulars as `21’ and referred to by old-timers as “The Numbers.”
    As everyone knows, it started out as a speakeasy (right), with a secret subterranean wine vault and trap doors in the bar room that sent bottles of booze crashing down a shaft, never to be discovered by the Feds or NYC police.  After Prohibition ended, its owners, Peter and Jack Kriendler, with Charles Berns, turned it into a lavish, legit, very expensive restaurant that catered to a much larger crowd of swells than before, and it remained a clubbish, if not private, place for decades to follow.
        A celebrated clientele strutted their power within its stucco walls, including al
most every U.S. President, along with stars like Marilyn Monroe (below), Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, Lauren Bacall, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.  Several of them still have bronze plaques on the wall above “their” tables.  Still, though favoritism ran rampant, `21’ never showed guests the kind of haute snobbishness once found at French restaurants around town.  It was always more like a raffish party that never seemed to end.
    Its legendary status has long made it the obvious choice for movies in which power is a driving theme, including “Sweet Smell of Success” and “Wall Street.”  It was also one of James Bond’s favorite NYC restaurants.
    True, by the 1970s `21’ was wheezing but kept up its exclusive image—a doorman was quoted in New York magazine as saying about newcomers: “Why should I be nice to them? I don’t know these people.”  The premises and kitchen needed total renovation, the dust in the wine cellar was no longer quaint,  and the food seemed as if no one had thought to upgrade the menu in 40 years.
      Then,  in 1986, the place was purchased for $21 million by a carpet manufacturer who poured a lot more money into it and hired a succession of chefs, including Alain  Sailhac, Anne Rosenzweig, and Michael Lomonaco, who tried to balance cherished items on the menu with new ideas.  Ten years after that, Orient-Express Hotels (now Belmond Ltd.) bought `21,’ and since then it has gone through a number of major and minor tweaks, chefs and managers, all of whom have worked hard to bring in a younger crowd as the older one sadly dies off.
    I have been going, off and on, to `21’ since the 1970s and have seen it dip and bounce back, now flourishing grandly.  Where white hair—now mine—once seemed to fill the Bar Room (the bar itself has been relocated to the front [right]), now every shade of full heads of hair dot the room, and the staff seems composed of an equal of veteran waiters and younger ones.  The current manager, for a year now, is the affable Teddy Suric, whose credentials extend from Le Cirque to David Burke’s restaurants, and he is intent on bringing an egalitarian bonhomie to every aspect of `21’ while putting a skip in everyone’s step.  Phil Pratt is still Wine Director, now assisted by the young Christopher Smith, who chose some stellar wines for me when I recently visited. (You can take a tour of the astonishing hidden wine cellar, unless there’s a party booked there.)
    Upon entering I found the evergreen gentleman Shaker Naini (left) greeting everyone, as he has for 37 years.  The lighting is a little darker in the foyer and they’ve gotten rid of the `21’ mementos case there.  To the right, the bar is fitted out with handsome woodwork and tufted leather chairs; the walls are hung with brass sconces and a collection of American artwork any museum will kill to have (including Remington sculptures and commercial art from the 1940s and 1950s upstairs in the banquet rooms); and in the Bar Room, the same stucco walls, rathskeller woodwork, and corporate toys hanging from the ceiling give it a timeless appeal.  (Look for
models of JFK’s PT-109 and Bill Clinton’s Air Force One, a baseball bat from Willie Mays, tennis racquets from Chris Evert and John McEnroe and golf clubs from Jack Nicklaus.)   Of course, the red-and-white signature tablecloths are the same.
    For a year now French chef
Sylvain Delpique (below) has been massaging the menu, keeping and improving those dishes whose removal would cause cardiac arrest in many patrons, while adding his own modern ideas each night, like the octopus carpaccio with blood orange, purple cress, kalamata olives and za’atar vinaigrette  ($26).  His background includes several Michelin star restaurants in France, Restaurant Jean-Louis and L’Éscale in Greenwich, CT, and Artisanal and David Burke’s restaurants in NYC. Pastry chef Ikuma Motoki is Tokyo born, but through long experience has mastered American and French desserts.
    On my visit with friends, Mr. Delpique sent out that lustrous carpaccio, along with crisp, roasted quail stuffed with lentils. This was followed by an amuse of caviar and crème fraîche on tender little blini, accompanied by Gossett “Excellence” Champagne. Our table shared a lavish seafood tower of unstintingly high quality shrimp, lobster, crab meat, and other shellfish with their own dipping sauces  ($95).  A crabcake itself was entirely meat, lightly bound with apple, celery, grapefruit butter and black mustard seed with a tangy mustard sauce ($22).  Tuna tartare ($22) had a nice twist to it—creamy avocado, citrus dressing and gaufrette potatoes. Chef Delpique’s foie gras terrine with pistachio ginger-pear marmalade and toasted brioche  ($28) is as fine as any in NYC.  With these was paired  a 2010 Paul Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert of medium body.
    We tried to balance out the old with some new in the main courses. Of the latter were excellent, creamy sea scallops with Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, vanouvan spice, and tomato marmalade ($44).  There was also a pink snapper with leek fondue, fingerling potatoes and lemon-caper butter ($44), but it was gone from the evening’s menu by the time we sat down. (I suspect Mr. Delpique was simply not satisfied with the market’s pink snapper that morning.)  Mr. Smith chose a 2008 Bitouzet- Prieur Volnay Caillerets from the Côte d’Or.
    Plump Dover sole ($68) was impeccable, rich with butter, slightly sautéed, served with tender asparagus and a tangy beurre blanc.  My friend, who had never had the `21’ signature hamburger, claimed it right away and was rewarded with a massive ball of meat, perfectly ground, in a challah bun, with tomatoes, sautéed onions and superlative French fries.  (I recall some years ago when this item cost $21--to many people’s shock; now it costs $34--and no one’s blinking.)
    There are five items “Off the Grill,” so I ordered a 28-day dry-aged ribeye steak ($68), which was cut a little thin by comparison with others around town and the taste, while very good, did not rank with the best in the top steakhouses.  Creamed spinach ($10) was delicious, but damnit! I forgot to order the nonpareil pommes soufflé ($17).  I always do!
    I asked Mr. Motoki to send out four desserts and we were very happy with all of them, from a New York-style cheesecake with blood orange coulis ($14) to a generous plate of profiteroles ($14) and a nougat glacé  with pomegranate seeds and tropical fruit coulis ($14).
    I should add that, while `21' is very expensive, unless you order caviar, a three-course dinner here will run you about $80 (without wine)--even with $68 Dover sole the bill will run about $100--which is  what you'd pay at fine competitors like Gotham Bar & Grill,  The Four Seasons,  and Gramercy Tavern, and less than you would at La Grenouille, Del Posto and The River Café.

    I find it ironic that so many new steakhouses in NYC, as well as the brand new Polo by Ralph Lauren, have the exact dishes on their menus that `21’ has posted for fifty years, and I suspect that restaurateurs pondering a restaurant in the mold of `21’ have done a lot of secret research at its tables.  For those who haven’t been back to `21’ in a while, it’s high time you see how well it has evolved, even within the past year; for those who have always wanted to go but shied away, I guarantee a warm welcome from the doorman and everyone else; and for those who never dined there, thinking `21’ not worth their time, I can tell you that you are missing one of the great and historic restaurant experiences in the city.
The fact that `21’ has survived and prospered is testament to a lot of hard work made to look effortless.  Now, more than ever, anyone who dines here becomes part of that continuing history.  Walking in off the street, seeing the famous iron gates and the jockey statues on the staircase, is still as heart warming as seeing the gilded Prometheus at Rockefeller Center and the spire of the Empire State Building.  If, as the song "New York New York" goes, you really want to “be a part of it," then dinner at `21’ is a good place to start.

`21’ Club is located at 21 West 52nd Street (off Fifth Avenue); 212-582-7200; Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.  There is a $41 fixed price lunch (and à la carte), and Pre-Theater dinner at $49. For a dinner reservation there is six hours of validated parking for $10 at Central Parking,  31 West 52nd Street.



By John Mariani


    The blasts of winter make the choice of full-bodied wines a little too easy, and, as always, I pick my wines to go with my food.  Here are a number I’ve been enjoying recently. 

Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve Amarone della Valpolicella 2007 ($75-$85)—If you want a really big red, amarones are bred to please. With 15% alcohol, they need equally big flavors as a complement—a beef stew does the job, great with curries—and this example, now seven years old, has tamed down its tannins and reveals an old-fashioned style that is leathery and raisiny.  Owners Gaetano Bertani and his sons ,Giovanni and Guglielmo, are keeping tradition alive and well at its estate in Veneto (left).

Caiarossa 2009 ($70)—Here’s a well-priced Tuscan wine that hikes the paltry-sounding designation indicazione geografica tipica (IGT) to the heights non-traditional wines can achieve there.  It is a cuvée, with a good deal of Bordeaux and other grape additions like merlot and cab franc, along with local sangiovese.  The wines are made biodynamically. The 2009 is a blend of 25% cab franc, 21% merlot, 19% sangiovese, 18% cab sauvignon, 8% petit verdot, 6% syrah and 3% Alicante, and it takes some time in the glass to reveal its full beauty.  

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Shiraz 2010 ($20-$26)—Another quarterback of a red wine, this Aussie shiraz is not to be drunk on its own, but with spicy dishes like smoked meats with horseradish and mustard, it more than holds its own. Winemaker Peter Fraser knows how to get maximum taste without too much bombast.  

Sassicaia 2010 ($165)—If I’m feeling in a very good mood, or want to celebrate just about anything--like roast baby lamb with roesti potatoes for New Year’s Day--the great cabernet sauvignon-based Tuscan wine Sassicaia is a no-brainer. Its boldness, its complexity, and its refinement is Italian wine at its grandest. Once a wine consumed only at the estate by family and friends, its arrival on the global wine scene in 1968 literally sparked the media term “Super Tuscan."  The 20120 will continue to ascend in maturity for the next five years.

Duckhorn Three Palm Vineyards Merlot 2011
($90)—If not singehandedly, Duckhorn was in the vanguard of showing that American merlot can be a wine to match its cabernet sauvignon counterparts.  Winemaker Renée Ary (left) has given us a velvety and very rich wine, with a reasonable 14.5% alcohol. This bottling, from a treasured estate, actually has 9% cab sauvignon and 4% cab franc that provide ballast in what had been a cool growing season.  It’s pricey, but rewarding with winter game dishes like goose or duck. 

Nickel & Nickel Suscol Ranch Merlot ($38-$45)—Another example of a California merlot that shows many levels of depth and far-reaching palate pleasure.  Named for the Suscol Indians in Napa Valley, it has a lustiness you don’t always get in merlot, along with a nice toasty oak, at just 14.2% alcohol.  The nine-acre vineyard (left) south of the city of Napa is cooler than elsewhere in the valley, and it gets dense fog and wine that maintain those soft temperatures, with no real spikes of heat or cold.  If it weren’t so hard to make great wines, Nickel & Nickel would make it seem easy. 

Dry Creek Vineyard The Mariner Meritage 2011
($30-$35)—If anyone needs proof that California cabernet sauvignon only achieves excellence when blended in a Bordeaux style at a sensible alcohol level of 13.5%, this marriage of 51% cab sauvignon, 30% merlot, 10% cab franc, 5% petit verdot and 4% malbec should finish the argument.  This is a splendid red wine, similar to a Second Growth Bordeaux, but proudly expressing California brawn.

Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($80-$86)—I won’t take back what I just said about California cabs, but if Paul Hobbs (below) were to eliminate the small percentages of petit verdot (3%), malbec (1%) and cab franc (1%), this would be a candidate showing just how well the main varietal can be on its own.  But those small additions, from various estates, smooth out the cab’s fleshiness and its 14.8% alcohol level.  The richer the food, the creamier the sauce, the more char the surface of red meat will only enhance the pleasure of this wine. 

Les Portes de Bordeaux Haut Médoc 2012 ($10-$15)—Remember the James Thurber New Yorker cartoon about a wine being “a naive domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you'll be amused by its presumption”? Well, though not a domestic Burgundy, this Haut Médoc Bordeaux at 13% shows exactly the consistent flavor and flair that a fresh French wine does at a good price.  Aside from seafood and dessert, it’s hard to think of any food this would not go well with tonight. It is indeed a wine that induces happiness.  

Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2010 ($15-$17)—Four years of age has given this blend of 70% sangiovese, 15% sagrantino, and 15% merlot both density and finesse, though the alcohol is a little high for an Umbrian wine. Arnaldo-Caprai is one of the most dependable estates in the region, and a very good buy.  A very good wine with a ribeye or bistecca alla fiorentina.  

La Pointe Pomerol 2011  ($28-$30)—The wines of Pomerol are among those that I kick myself for not drinking more of.  When I do I’m almost always enchanted with wines made from vines planted in clay-rich soils. This second wine from La Pointe (they also make a Grand Vin), whose vines average 35 years of age, is made from merlot with 15% cabernet franc, and can be kept in the wine cellar for a decade, but it’s hard not to love the 2011 that is blossoming so beautifully right now.  

Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano 2011 ($11-$15)—Carmignano, usually a blend of sangiovese,  cab sauvignon, cab franc, and canaiolo,  has not yet achieved the familiarity of other northern Italian varietals, but well-priced examples like Capezzana, grown on an estate that dates back  to the Medicis,  should go a long way to change that. Its equilibrium of fruit, acid and tannins, with 13.5% alcohol, make for a textbook example of what wine is supposed to taste like.  If you can’t obtain partridge or pheasant, a plump chicken will do.









Ryan Roche (left) of Utah engaged in an eggnog drinking contest at which he downed a quart carton in 12 seconds, 10 faster than the previous record. Later that evening, Roche went to the hospital, nauseous and unable to breathe. Eggnog had entered his lungs, causing an infection, forcing him onto IV antibiotics for three days.


"Fusion cuisine is the food world’s hair metal."--Josh Sens, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” San Francisco Magazine (Dec 12, 2014).


 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 just 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: ESTONIA

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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© copyright John Mariani 2014