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  January 25, 2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Helen Mirren in "The Hundred-Foot Journey" (2014)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Wiener Schnitzel at Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper 
Photo by Galina Dargery, 2014


    As noted in my article on Vienna two weeks ago, it is one of the most civilized cities in Europe, and that goes for its hotel and restaurant hospitality, which is in turn repaid by guests who know how to act in an adult manner when being served.  Even in its newer cafés, people accord the same degree of manners to staff as staff does to guests.
      A few words about dining out in Vienna. Just about every restaurant has a menu provided in English.  Dress, as everywhere in Europe these days, is casual, but at the more traditional restaurants and cafés you will want to dress a bit conservatively, although bluejeans are everywhere. There is no smoking allowed inside. Service is unfailingly courteous, and in the cafés very efficient; you won't wait more than a minute or two for your order.

As for tipping, I received various answers from various Austrian friends:  Many restaurants list a service charge--usually about 10.5 percent--on the bill, along with a 10 percent value added tax (VAT); there may also be an old-fashioned cover charge, which can be a hefty €2-4.  The best bet is to ask if service is included and, if it is, just leave another few Euros; if not, a 10-15 percent gratuity is acceptable.


Burgasse 2
43-1-522 25 20

    Even when something off-putting occurs at Sans Souci, a mid-level hotel in the Bohemian quarter near the Kunsthistorisches Museum, it is handled with graciousness, as when my wife and I arrived in Vienna after an overnight flight to be told at check-in that our room would not be ready until 1 p.m., because the hotel had been full the night before.  (This is hardly the first time I’ve been greeted with such grim news at hotels in Europe or the U.S., and I think that hotels everywhere should have a better sense of guests’ arrival and leaving, knowing that flights from the U.S. are likely to land at 7 or 8 a.m.)
    But the inconvenience was handled with aplomb by the management, who offered coffee, breakfast, anything short of a room, so we had a lavish buffet breakfast at the hotel, wandered the city in deep jet lag, returned to San Souci to have a fine lunch at La Veranda (right), then collapsed into bed at one p.m. for a long nap.
    The hotel, which in 2010 took over the site of an old historic inn, is very modern.  Its circular reception room (above) is done in shades of gray and lavender,  and in parts of the hotel there is work by Roy Lichtenstein and other contemporary artists. The spacious, well lighted rooms  are all done  in white, each with good views over the city.  A subway is just a block away; the tram three blocks away.  The service staff, all of whom speak perfect English, could not have been more helpful with travel plans around the city.  Wi-Fi is complimentary.    
La Veranda is a small dining room in white, dark brown and purple, where chef de cuisine Simone Jäger shows her affinity for a contemporary take on Austrian cuisine, with a feminine eye for beautiful presentations. We began with three types of bread and excellent olive oil, an immediate restorative to our weariness, followed by an equally inspiriting beef consommé with noodles and a hearty dish of goat’s cheese on baked potatoes with a lush hollandaise.  Dumplings (left) were treated to herbs, greens and mustard, while veal with morels came with the unexpected aromatics of lemongrass, which went very well with a bottle of  Pichler Grüner-Veltliner. 

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.



Palais Hansen Kempinski Hotel

     With one Michelin star, Edvard is a highly sophisticated, bright fine dining room within the Kempinski Hotel, where Chef Philipp Vogel works with cunning simplicity to create dishes that are well focused on a main ingredient that is buoyed and enhanced by all others on the plate.           
      The creamy colors, folk art, and roomy dark brown chairs in the long dining room make this an exceptionally comfortable place to dine, the linens thick, the glassware thin, the wine list deep,  especially in Austrian bottlings, and the hospitality amiably deferential.
    We began with a dish of small bits of oxtail, celery and truffle enriched with bone marrow and sourdough bread  (€19), then enjoyed grilled eel with sushi rice, pickles and yuzu  (€20.50), a dish that shows Mr. Vogel’s fusionary reach, also evident in the delicious, succulent lamb with eggplant, miso, gyoza and kombu kelp ( €39). He does a more traditional take on local seafood, with pike perch in simple brown butter with spinach, hazelnuts, lemon and a little smoked eel (€38.50).  Dry-aged beef--unusual in Europe--is seared tandoori-style, with beef tendon and cabbage (€39.50). Such lovely food manages to be both sumptuous and delicate at the same time.
        Whoever said French toast is just for breakfast has not had Edvard’s version, with bacon and maple syrup ( €13.50) as a wonderful dessert, while a soft nougat comes with citrus, crunchy granola and marzipan (€12.50).
    Although not all men wore jackets, most gentlemen would, especially since the staff is so well dressed and mannerly.

Open for dinner Tues.-Sat.



Walfischgasse 57

     Everyone in Vienna has a favorite places to go for the classic Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, but few would disagree that the city’s six Plachutta restaurants have perfected the dish by serving tens of thousands of them over many years.  (The recipe is kindly printed with photos in their brochure.) Legend has it that the dish derives from costoletta alla milanese, which Count Joseph Radetzky fortunately brought back from Lombardy to Vienna in the mid-19th century.
    Having dined on my last trip at the cozy Plachutta on Wollzeile Street, this time, on a warm October day, we dined at the Plachuttas near the Opera House (right).  By one o’clock every table was taken and remained so throughout the afternoon, the guests all nicely dressed, with many families in attendance, so that watching the passing parade in the tented dining area and on the street is part of the allure here.  A friendly, fleet-footed server hands you a menu, knowing full well what you will order--a glorious, golden Wiener Schnitzel, which overlaps the plate, its pounded veal breaded and sautéed to achieve the look of a lunar landscape. A squirt of lemon is all that’s needed. It crunches on first bite, then gives way to very tender veal.
    The ranking alternative here is Tafelspitz (left), a boiled meat dish  in copper casseroles that begins with its own broth, followed by cuts of steamy, very juicy Austrian-raised beef shoulder, ox tongue, brisket and so on (the classic version is with Hüferschwanzel, from the rump).  The casserole is more than enough for two people, served with sour cream and horseradish, but you’ll probably want to order spinach and the crisp, buttery spätzle potatoes.
     Everyone at lunch that day looked very happy, whether because it was an unusually warm autumn afternoon or simply because a meal at Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper is some of the greatest comfort food in Europe. 

Open daily. Main courses run €20-25.


Am Hof 2
43-1-22740 1170

    The brand new Park Hyatt hotel in Vienna--in the skeleton of a century-old bank building in the  historic center and shopping district--is already setting a very high standard for modern luxury.  I did not have the opportunity to stay at the hotel this time, but could see in every detail of the public rooms just how luxurious the private rooms must be, all of them constructed to be larger than most in the city’s older deluxe hotels. Each of the 143 rooms has a sitting area, and the sixth floor is comprised of studios with walk-in closets, and all are equipped with modern bath facilities and technology.  Wi-Fi is free.
    The appropriately named main dining room is The Bank (the other, more casual room is named Pearl),  a vast space of white marble with widely separated tables, very comfortable blue chairs, and a stunning open kitchen (below) that must stretch 50 feet or more across an elevated stage that holds a chef's table.
        There is a very beautiful glass counter with Champagne on ice up front, and large spun glass balls fill in for shrubbery in elegant pots around the room.  I do wish they had put tablecloths on the table; in a room of this elegance, however fine bare tabletops may look, they still lend an off-note of cost-savings to an otherwise opulent restaurant.  Also, the room's romantic ambiance is not one that needs the piped-in music after 9 p.m.
    There were a few service lapses in course timing and wine pouring on a Sunday evening, but the professionalism of the young staff ran from manager through waiters and the sommelier, who oversees an extremely impressive list with every Austrian bottling you could ask for.
    The well-priced menu aims at pleasing the kinds of global guests the hotel attracts, so, while there are Austrian items on it, you will also find a very creamy burrata with Austrian ham, tomatoes and basil (€9) that makes for a terrific starter.  Choggia beet salad (right) comes with small balls of goat’s cheese, black walnuts and rowanberries (€12).  Calf’s liver “Berlin style” with crispy onions and braised Gala apple (€20) was deliciously appended with a chive puree and served in a huge portion.   For fall, there was a lusty pan-fried venison ragoût with potatoes (€32).
    A seven-cheese cart of unpasteurized Austrian regional artisanal offerings was a thing to applaud, showing the country’s diversity in dairy products.  Among the desserts, an unusual and very good poppyseed soufflé was lavished with vanilla ice cream and plums braised in Port, which we enjoyed with two different tröckenberenauslesen dessert wines from that superb list.
    It is obviously an excellent venue for a business lunch or romantic dinner, and it's satisfying to know you can eat this well on a Sunday night in Vienna. 

 Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 


Hotel Sacher
43-(1)-51456 840

    Founded in 1876 by Eduard Sacher, though appearing to have opened just yesterday, the Hotel Sacher  is a marvel of gleaming  Old World charm.  For decades it was run by Sacher’s wife, Anna, who declared herself "Master in the house” and also reigned over an entire kennel of pet dogs.  Since 1934 the hotel has been run by the Gürtler family, and their commitment has been to keep every detail and every square inch of the hotel in museum quality.
        Smack in the city center, the hotel is mere blocks from just about everything you want to see. It is opposite the Opera House, near  the marvelous pedestrian shopping area Kärntner Strasse and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and a stroll from the  Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Ringstrasse. For obvious reasons, the Sacher has been the first choice of visiting celebrities, royalty, and artists, including Indira Gandhi,  John F. Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan, and hundreds more whose photos line the walls of the Sacher's rooms and hallways. Joseph Cotton's character Holly Martins in the film "The Third Man" stayed at the Sacher.
      As antique as it looks, the Sacher is very much up to date—every room was renovated over the past decade—now with every modern amenity, from flat screen international TV and high-speed Internet access and Wi-Fi to individually controlled air-conditioning and free use of the fitness facilities and spa.
   There are two principal dining rooms at the Sacher. The baronial  Rote Bar (left) is handsomely decked out with deep red brocade walls, chandeliers,  banquette tables, and antique paintings, all with a view over the city,  Here the menu is definitely Viennese, including dishes like a good liver tart with elderberry chutney, quince, and the crunch of hazelnuts in golden, buttery brioche; Wiener Schnitzel, of course, with parslied potatoes, as well as the similar Wiener Backhander, made with pounded, battered chicken instead of veal, served with lamb's lettuce salad.
    The other dining room is named Anna Sacher (below), done in a velvety, deep forest green, with crystal chandeliers, exquisite mahogany woodwork, and fine culinary artwork.  The linens are thick, the signature silverware heavy. When my wife and I dined there, the room was full of a range of Viennese and guests from the U.S. and Great Britain, all feeling quite comfortable within the posh that surrounds them while never sensing an iota of pretense from the marvelously orchestrated staff, under manager Christian Fox and Chef Werner Piclmaier.
    There is a page on the menu of à la carte “Viennese Tales”--more traditional dishes--or four- to six-course menus. We began our meal with cold marinated goose liver with salsify and chestnuts that set the tone of the autumnal repast to follow.  There were two soups, a minestrone of suckling pig with eggplant, dusted with oregano, and a rich, creamy Jerusalem artichoke scented with orange and vanilla.
    The seafood courses were trout with yogurt, sweet potatoes, scallops, clams and cuttlefish along with poached codfish with luscious bone marrow, parsley and a more luscious poached egg. Sheatfish (a species of catfish) was accompanied by romana pepper and lemon tartar. Next came a loin of venison with cèpe mushrooms, hazelnuts and a ragoût of venison. With this we drank a superb 2011 by Wieninger, Stammersdorf Pinot Noir Select.
    There was a wonderful assortment of cheeses, including a young but ripe ewe`s milk from Kaernten as well as Époisse, Munster and Roquefort, followed by the inevitable Sacher Torte (left), truly one of the world's finest chocolate layered cakes, whose story dates to 1832, when Franz Sacher,  a 16-year-old apprentice at the court of Prince Metternich, was asked to create a special dessert for distinguished guests. (You can purchase the cake at the Sacher's restaurants or at one of the four Sacher shops or at the Confiserie in Vienna, Salzburg, Graz or Innsbruck. It may also be shipped to you by going to
    Anna Sacher is a place for those who know and truly love fine dining to bask in its radiance, and for those who need an introduction to that world, Anna Sacher is a three-hour education in elegant, increasingly rarefied, dining. 

Restaurant Anna Sacher is open for dinner Tues.-Sun. A four-course menu is €64, five courses €76 and six courses €86, with wine options additional
. The Sacher is holding a gala five-course dinner for €355 before the Opera Ball on February 12th.



Hotel Imperial
Karntner Ring 16

    “Magnificence” is not a word someone in my profession should throw around with abandon, for true magnificence is meaningful only on those rare occasions when expectations are not just met, not just exceeded but superseded by a totality of details that produce a kind of awe.
    That was what I felt when I walked into the lobby of the Hotel Imperial, built in 1863 as the Italian Neo-Renaissance residence of Duke Philip of Württemberg and Duchess Marie-Thérèse, whose portraits flank the lobby.  The Duke was notorious for his fiscal profligacy, however, so he sold the place five years later, and five years after that it was transformed for the city’s Universal Exhibition into the Hotel Imperial. Ever since, under various owners and through two world wars, the hotel (now under the Starwood aegis) has been, along with the Sacher, a haven for a clientele often of imperial stature, along with the usual slew of artists and actors who would never think to stay elsewhere.

     The hotel's original portal was wide enough for a two-horse carriage to enter with ease. The Emperor of Japan has stayed here, as has Queen Elizabeth II (right), who brought her own bed to the royal suite so that no guest afterward could ever claim he’d slept in the queen’s bed.  Of course, just as the Sacher has its signature torte, so does the Imperial, whose confection is a chocolate truffle cake created back in 1873; the pastry chef will happily personalize it for you.
       After we checked in at the long marble-topped reception counter manned by veteran concierges, we were led up the Royal Staircase that leads to a series of extraordinary hallways of balustrades and parapets, thick embroidered carpets and tall mirrors with gilded frames, all illuminated by crystal chandeliers.  Guest rooms are furnished with modern bedding, sofas, and carpeting for which every thread count, every inch of velvet and brocade, every corner of bathroom marble is of the finest.  Butler service is available 24 hours a day; Wi-Fi is free.
        The public rooms downstairs are some of the most beautiful in Vienna, not least the bar at the spacious 1873 HalleNsalon  with its clef note motif and exquisite parquet floors. There are two restaurants in the hotel, a fine dining restaurant named Opus we hadn’t a chance to try, and the Café Imperial Wien (left), open for a lavish breakfast, lunch or  dinner, where we took our last meal in Vienna in a beautiful, sunny room of mirrors and maple wood,  with very comfortable Secessionist-style bentwood chairs, a room that has seen its share of artists, musicians and littérateurs over the past century. 
    Since it was our last meal in town, I ordered my last Wiener Schnitzel, wondering if I’d ever find its like again outside of Vienna.  And, dying for some pasta, I enjoyed fresh fettuccine with butter, cream and Austrian ham, along with a bottle of Austrian wine, a 2001 Zweigelt Weingut Pasler from Burgenland.
  My wife and I lingered over the last morsel of the  Imperial Torte and strong coffee, so well contented that the sadness in leaving Vienna was softened by the city’s sunlight in the café and by the distant clang of the tram outside our window.

The Cafe Imperial is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Appetizers  €8-€29, main courses €19-€29.


By John Mariani


221 WEST BROADWAY (near White Street)
212-WHITE-ST (212-944-8378)               

      There are a few chefs in New York with talents equal to those of Floyd Cardoz (below), but none cooks quite the way he does.  He uses a wide-ranging flavor palette to tantalize the physical palate, and the results can be stunning. Trained in Mumbai back when it was Bombay, Cardoz apprenticed at the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel, then furthered his global studies in Switzerland before moving to NYC, where he worked under Chef Gray Kunz at Lespinasse, then, with restaurateur Danny Meyer, opened the widely admired Tabla in 1998.
        A cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice, was inevitable, marrying Indian spices and flavors to global dishes, and when Tabla closed after a long run, Meyer appointed him chef at the downtown North End Grill, where, by  giving so much of his time to charities, he won the 2007 “Humanitarian of the Year” award from Share Our Strength, a charity that fights hunger in children.
        Cardoz’s cuisine has always been his alone, but at his new place, White Street in Tribeca, everything seems refined by his long tenure as this country’s leading Indian-American chef.  The subtleties of his cooking make perfect sense within the context of his experience and background, while appearing thoroughly modern without ever struggling to be Modernist.
This grand space used to be a Brazilian steakhouse, and the new design retains its stately columns, with gorgeous crystal chandeliers that throw just the right amount of light on white tablecloths and tufted banquettes; some fine artwork and mirrors open up the room even more. The sound level when I visited on a midweek night was just fine, though I suspect that may not be so on weekends.
        Along with chef de cuisine Justin Lawless, Mr. Cardoz offers a  rationally  sized menu of a dozen appetizers ($14-$29) and ten entrees ($26-$56, this  last price for roast chicken for two).  Our table began with roasted cauliflower,
broccoli and pumpkin salad with cider vinegar and maple syrup whose sour-sweet flavors buoyed the vegetables. Sashimi of fluke took on added interest from hackleback caviar and mild uni, with nori seaweed, citrus and  wasabi, though the strength of last did nothing for the delicacy  of the fish roe and vice versa. 
       The last of the season’s Peconic Bay scallops  were lightly seared and served with orange, fennel and coriander, while tuna 
poke came with briny sea vegetables, toasted coriander, tamari and the  sensuous melting of the yolk of a quail’s egg.  Still among the appetizers, there was grilled duck breast with a lovely confit of endive, crisp pecans, orange and sauce gribiche, a small marvel of crisp textures and citric tang.  Bucatini noodles were lavished with fresh squid ink and mixed with crabmeat and the surprise of coconut milk.  But  the very  best of all was a silky cauliflower soup with a dollop of swirled  lemon-flavored yogurt and crunchy cashews (below).
         It should be obvious by now that these East-West marriages of flavors  and textures are quite new, always subtle, never clashing.  They are savory  and aromatic, dependent on a deft balance that other Indian food around town so often lacks. The same is true of main courses like the rice-crusted sea bream with kimchi, shrimp flakes, and a basmati rice  cake in lentil broth; and a duo of lamb with root vegetables, pine nuts, and apricot-mustard sauce—each with such distinctive nuances.  Already Mr. Cardoz’s glazed short ribs of beef ribeye with oat risotto, horseradish and  shoe string potatoes has become a dish much raved about, and I’ll add my  kudos.
       Alexander Zecena’s desserts ($12) stay the course, from a sticky  toffee pudding with crème fraîche sorbet to lighten the sweetness, pecan macaroons and a coconut tuile, to a malted milk chocolate and vanilla sundae that becomes something wholly contemporary with the addition of a chocolate almond cake, roasted white chocolate and caramel sauce.
    The wine list at White Street, overseen by the very knowledgeable and affable Rebekah Kennedy, is striking for its comprehensive breadth and depth, though it’s overloaded with bottles well above $100 and little  much under $80.  Wines by the glass are high mark-ups:
Au Bon Climat 2011 is $14 per glass, but a whole bottle will run you $20 in a wine shop.
    There are so many reasons to be excited by White Street, most of all for what Mr. Cardoz is cooking but also for an atmosphere in this neighborhood that awards the guest with spaciousness, color, and hospitality more in the mold of Tribeca Grill than the brash noisiness of Locanda Verde.
  Word is Mr. Cardoz is opening a restaurant in India and one day another, more traditional one in NYC, enterprises I hope don’t take him away from White Street too much.  For now, his is a unique restaurant in the city and sure to be copied by lesser hands.

White Street is open for brunch of weekends and nightly for dinner.


By John Mariani


    Back in 1975 only 800,000 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino were produced by 25 estates; in 1995 more than 3.5 million bottles were made by 120 estates. Today there are more than 220 estates producing more than 7 million bottles of this once rare Tuscan wine. About 60% of Brunello is exported, with 25% going to the U.S. market since the mid-1990s. Only about 20 percent is consumed locally around the town of Montalcino in Tuscany.
    Traditionally, Brunellos were wines made to be saved for decades before coming into full maturity. Legendary bottlings like those of Biondi-Santi, which created the wine’s reputation in the 19th century, tasted better at 50 years of age than at 20.   But Brunello’s fame and demand have caused so many newcomers to plant estates in and around Montalcino that that old style has been transformed into several styles, most lighter, some with more alcohol.
    By far the largest investor in Brunello has been Castello Banfi,owned by the Mariani family (for the hundredth time: no relation to this writer), which in 1978 began developing vineyards around Montalcino—-now with 7,100 acres--financing ampelographic research to choose the 15 best, healthiest clones out of 650, information they shared freely with their competitors.
    Castello Banfi last week held a fascinating seminar in New York at Armani Ristorante, a tasting that showed how the components of wines made from grapes grown in different vineyards on the Banfi property (below) are knit together by winemaker general manager Enrico Viglierchio into a number of different wines made from the sangiovese grape.
     As was pointed out at the tasting, led by Banfi CEO Cristina Mariani, Montalcino is a very hot region during the day but the temperature drops at night, encouraging good acids in the grapes. Also on hand was wine authority James Suckling, who commented on the structure of well-blended Brunellos that have a true elegance owing to the sangiovese, a grape that grows nowhere else with any distinction.
    Banfi has been very much in the vanguard of modern viniculture, including hybrid fermentation by which the fresh juice is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel with oak staves and the oak helps keep a more constant temperature during the process. The wines are not filtered and they are bottled under nitrogen.  Meanwhile, the estate’s carbon footprint has been reduced by plantings of forests and maintaining natural meadows, while a modern, drip irrigation system has reduced water consumption by 80%.
    At the seminar we tasted 15 wines (below), the first, from 2013, being barrel samples that will be blended to make a wine to be released in 2018.  The vintage is expected to be an excellent one, based on dry weather in April, cooler, dry temperatures in June, average temperatures through summer, then a sudden mid-August heat wave that mellowed in September for a good harvest.  Each sample showed subtle differences in flavor and body: the wine from the Mandrielle Vineyard was fruity but very tight, while a Sorrena Vineyard was tighter still and distinctly tannic. Far more ripe and very fruity was the wine from Baidaioli Vineyard, while that from the Poggioni Vineyard was very rich with an underlying taste of straw and fennel.
    We then turned to the 2010 vintage--said to resemble the highly vaunted 1997--which had mild temperatures in spring and early summer, followed by heat, then cooling August nights, culminating in a fairly dry early autumn.  The alcohol level is 13.9%.  It would not be considered infanticide to drink the Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2010 ($65-$75) right now, for it’s a forward wine with fast-mellowing tannins.
    Poggio alle Mura 2010 ($70-$75) was more luscious, voluptuous, spicy and peppery, still coming together in the bottle and promising a long life of maturity ahead. The same wine’s Riserva, which is still aging in wood right now, was very similar to its sister wine but seemed a little light, with more finesse at this point. Poggio all’Oro Riserva 2010, another barrel sample, had very little bouquet at first but was syrupy on the palate, lingering long, showing complexity and an elegant balance of fruit, acid and tannins. 
    We then moved on to the 2007 vintage, which had an early growing season, heavy May rainfall and a mid-June heat wave, followed by ideal fall weather, with harvesting a week ahead of the usual time.  Banfi says that 2007 marked a year of innovations by a new micro-winery called “Horizon,” taking advantage of continuing clonal research and artisan vineyard management, with separate vinification of each Brunello on the property.
    The Brunello di Montalcino 2007 ($50-$60), released in 2012, was wonderfully ripe with plum fruit flavors but, at 14% alcohol, not at all cloying.  Brunellos on first whiff may seem slightly oxidized, but that usually blows off, as it did with this wine, revealing a very well rounded style.  Poggio alle Mura 2007 ($55-$80) is still very tannic, but it has a fine backbone of dark and cherry-like fruits that should emerge within a year or two.
    The 2007 vintage was a debut for Poggio alle Mura Riserva  (which I've found in a range from $85-$150), one of my favorites of the finished wines, with a resilience of fruit and acid and a deep complexity with tannins softening in harmony.  The Poggio all’Oro 2007 ($130-$170), at 15.2% alcohol, is a very big wine for an Italian red, and, while I did not find it particularly tannic at this point, it did not seem knitted just yet, leaving a mild bitterness to be resolved.  The riservas were released in 2013.
    We then had a chance to taste how these wines stacked up next to the much heralded 1997 vintage, about which I first had doubts. My early tastings of 1997s did not impress me then as one of those oft-claimed “wines of the century,” but after ten years of aging, I found several of them superb wines on all counts. Indeed the Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino ($80-$120) was delicious, nice and loose, the acids in impeccable trim and the whole of it very fresh on the palate, with 13% alcohol.
    Our table might well have had an off bottle, because the bouquet of the 1997 Poggio alle Mura ($80-$120) was unpleasantly funky aroma did not blow off after 30 minutes, though the flavor was sound if not stunning.  The difficult to find Poggio all’Oro Riserva ($115-$125) was still tight but indicated at every level that its nutty, violet, spicy flavors will come together beautifully at 13.2% alcohol.
    These distinctions are all part of the crafting of a wine of Brunello’s eminence, whose storied past has been respectfully added to at the Banfi estate.  In matters of wine, time will always tell, but the care taken in blending makes the odds tilt strongly towards consistent excellence.




A Korean restaurant in Zhengzou, China, posted a sign reading "free meal for good-looking people" as judged by a panel of plastic surgeons whose practice is advertised on another restaurant sign.


Icelandic brewery Steðji's Hvalur 2 is now making a whale testicle beer. Co-owner Dagbjartur Ariliusson says  that they lightly salt and smoke them "according to an old Icelandic tradition.  We put a lot of effort into this and it's a long process." The beer is meant to be drunk during the centuries-old festival of eating cured whale.


 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: THE REAL MARDI GRAS; TELLURIDE, BEAVER CREEK.

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