Virtual Gourmet

  February 1, 2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

Cruise Poster, 1929


By Brian Freedman


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By Brian Freedman

    The Swann Fountain, Philadelphia

    The first time an editor instructed me to visit the Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia to write a review, I was absolutely terrified. It was only a few years into my career as a writer, and, as a 20-something kid still shocked to have the opportunity to pay even some of my bills doing what amounted to a dream job, I was overcome with nerves. This was the Fountain, named after the beautiful Swann Fountain (above) outside its windows, one of precious few fine-dining destinations in my hometown, and a restaurant cloaked in legend.

        What business did I have passing judgment on the place?   
    To this day, I distinctly remember my hands shaking ever so slightly as I knotted my tie that night in the mirror. Since 1983, it had been among the standard-setters for what a restaurant could be not just in Philadelphia but far beyond. I
d been hearing about it my entire life.
    We drove up to the Four Seasons Hotel from our place on Washington Square, found parking down the street because we couldn’t afford the valet fee on a young writer’s pay, and walked through the shimmering lobby, past the Swann Lounge with its fireplace and bar scene like something out of a Fitzgerald novel, and toward the Fountain, where we were immediately put not just at ease, but at leisure.
    I’d always imagined that the room would be stuffy, a pressure-cooker of dining protocol and etiquette obscure enough to put Emily Post on her guard. What I found instead was the telltale hum of people thoroughly at ease while in the care of one of the finest, most professional staffs in America. That was the first of what would be many lessons that night: Fine dining isn’t just about the food and the beauty of the room; it’s also predicated on the kind of service that allows those fortunate enough to experience it to shed pretense and stress and simply, thoroughly, sink into the moment and enjoy themselves.
    That dinner took place eight years ago, and since then, I’ve had the great good fortune to dine there many times, under the care of multiple executive chefs, sommeliers, maȋtre d’s, and more. And throughout it all, the Fountain has maintained its place as one of a fraternity of restaurants that, though we don’t have Michelin Guide rankings in Philadelphia, embody the perfectly concise definition of a coveted three-star spot: one worth a special journey to get there, no matter where you’re coming from.
    In the years since that first dinner, I have been lucky enough to develop a professional relationship with The Fountain in particular and the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia in general, hosting occasional tastings over the years, running seminars, covering special wine dinners and menus, and more. All of which meant that I could no longer review them—my objectivity would of course be questioned if I did—but the experience of having had the privilege of working with such a stellar team, within such hallowed halls, was worth that minor price. The Fountain’s staff, both front and back of the house, was among the most dedicated I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.
    It’s been fascinating and deeply rewarding to follow the evolution of the Fountain over the years. Under the leadership of world-class chefs like Jean-Marie Lacroix and
William DiStefano (right), Martin Hamann, Rafael Gonzalez, David Jansen and , the cuisine here has changed, yes, but it’s never sacrificed quality throughout its  evolution. The kitchen staff is among the best in the business, executing dish after dish with impeccable precision night after night. Actually, more than precision: What’s always struck me over the years is the pure joy embodied in the food, the unexpected flourishes and generous touches that have infused preparations both familiar and surprising with an electric sense of joy, of life.
    These meals were always accompanied by service as well-choreographed as the Ballets Russes yet always with a smile and a personal touch that kept it more than accessible. And wines, regardless of what you wanted to spend, were impeccably paired. Whether it was Scott Turnbull, Philip Clough, Kyle Trebilcock, Denis Espina, Stephen Flis, or any of the other top-notch sommeliers, beverage directors, managers or servers taking care of you, your glass was always full in every sense of the phrase.

    Back in November, it was announced that The Fountain would serve its final dinner on December 27th last year. (It remains open for breakfast and lunch, and is available in the evenings for private events; all of this will remain the case until Sage Hospitality takes over the hotel in June. At some point after that, the space where the Fountain is now will turn into a new restaurant, Urban Farmer.)
     The reservation book immediately began to fill up with guests from Philadelphia and far beyond. With the help of the amazing team there, my wife and I secured a reservation for December 17th. It was among the most memorable meals of my life, a tour of everything that has always made The Fountain such a standout: technically impeccable yet deeply heartfelt preparations, stunning service, amazing wine, and a sense of coming home.
    That’s a feeling I never could have imagined having as I knotted my tie with shaky hands all those years ago, but there it was: what had, back then, seemed like a dizzyingly high level of the dining firmament had, from the moment we walked into the room that night, disarmed me with its sheer friendliness and comfort. And now, eight years later for me and 31 years later for its most devoted guests, it has served it final dinner service.
    So The Fountain restaurant is gone, though the Swann Fountain remains. But its impact on the city will continue to live on: No restaurant that has existed at the top of its own lofty game for three decades is ever forgotten. And so many of the people that have worked there over years have and continue to shape Philadelphia’s dining life. That dining life is, of course, an always-changing thing. And whereas many of the classic fine-dining establishments of the past have taken their collective place in the annals of the culinary life of Philadelphia, their influence is still felt. Many of our current constellation of star chefs worked in the kitchens of these legends, as did countless restaurateurs, beverage professionals, servers, and more. So while establishments like the Fountain Restaurant, Le Bec-Fin, Déjà-Vu, Deux Cheminées, La Truffe and Il Gallo Nero,  are gone, they still, in a very real way, exert an influence on our dining life here, despite the more casual—yet elegant—nature that so many of our top restaurants embody.
    Much has been made of the demise of that style of fine dining in Philadelphia. (Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel remains but nothing else joins it in the genre as of now and none on the horizon.) Theories abound as to why—it’s not how we tend to eat anymore, the younger generation tends to shy away from longer meals, and more—but the truth is that no one really knows with certainty the reason for the change. I feel that many chefs feel as if they can craft food at a dazzlingly high level without all the accouterments of classic fine dining. Our best restaurants certainly prove that point—there are countless ones here, no doubt—but I’ve always believed that a major city can support both: they need not be mutually exclusive.  That is certainly still the case in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, New Orleans and the major cities in the west.
    Regardless, food of stunning complexity and bracing originality is available all over Philadelphia,  from chefs who have worked in the fabled fine-dining kitchens of the past as well as those who have come up through other roads. Philly is genuinely one of the most exciting restaurant cities in the country right now. Everyone, however, seems to agree that the final dinner service at The Fountain has marked the end of an era. Which, indeed, it does.
    As for me, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone at the Fountain Restaurant that I’ve been fortunate enough to know and work with, and alongside whom I have had the chance to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, and more over the years. So much of my own understanding of what fine dining can achieve, and why it’s so important to a city, is thanks to them. I have a feeling that that’s the case for everyone that’s been lucky enough to dine there.


By John Mariani

Caffè dei Fiori
973 Lexington Avenue (near 71st Street) 212-327-3400

     Those downtowners and Brooklynites who enjoy dissing the restaurants on the Upper East Side of Manhattan have obviously never dined at Le Cirque, Daniel, Café Boulud, JoJo, The Mark, Orsay and other first-rate restaurants in that stretch of territory—and those are just the French brigade. Fine Italian restaurants also abound—Sandro’s, Sistina, Caravaggio, Saint Ambroeus, Petaluma, and, now, Caffé dei Fiori, recently opened by Daliso Gulmini and Andrea Nanni in a former three-level antiques store.
     It’s a quirky lay-out, with a main dining room down a few steps, a wrought iron banister that leads to a tiny landing, and an intimate third level for a few tables, all with intensely colorful flowers and tablecloths, overlooking the Avenue.  The chairs are beautifully upholstered. The façade’s window has a gaiety about it that draws you in from the street, where the owners graciously receive you and welcome you to their little labor of love.
     Chef Giovanni Tenace is from Puglia, with long experience in Italy, London and Sydney, before he came to NYC to run his own pasta manufacturing company, and his knowledge of the process shows in some of the most delicate pastas around town.
     Indeed, the pastas are where you’ll find dishes you will not elsewhere.  Most of the rest of the menu toes a fairly standard line of New York-Italian favorites, including several dishes with salmon, which Italians rarely eat but which every chef in the city must have on the menu.  The carpaccio of salmon with orange and fennel ($22) is, however, delicious, the flavor of the salmon light.  Beef carpaccio ($22) is equally finessed, with a touch of Dijon mustard, Parmigiano, greens and the nice touch of almonds.

     Grilled octopus  ($20) took on added flavors of eggplant, basil, Parmigiano and tomato sauce, while an unusual tartare of ricciola (amberjack) took on the richness of a vegetable brunoise and a little soy sauce ($23).
     So, on to Mr. Tenace’s pastas, which include first-rate risotti, one done with baby artichoke hearts and prawns ($28), another with black or white truffles (market price).  Splendidly hearty for this winter is a dish of egg ravioli (below) with braised duck in a reduction of its juices ($26, full portion), as well as an egg-rich housemade tagliatelle with beef ragù ($27).  Plump tortelloni ($22) are stuffed with buffalo milk cheese ricotta and cavolo nero (kale).

     Though very pricey at $64, the Dover sole cooked in butter was wholly rewarding and so rich you might consider sharing one after the pastas. Branzino ($38) is poached gently with herbs and emerges delicately flavorful.  A veal chop alla Milanese ($40) is as good as others around town, but more out of the ordinary is a terrine of chicken  wrapped in prosciutto, leeks and fontina cheese  ($26).  The lamb chops listed are from New Zealand, therefore most probably frozen, which is off-putting from the quality of everything else.
    Desserts are well worth ordering, notably a satiny pear tart with sorbet ($12) and a mousse of bitter chocolate with whipped cream ($12).
    The wine list at Caffé dei Fiori is substantial and well priced in every category.
    By the way, though I have not tried it, the brunch menu offers a number of dishes not found everywhere else, including crêpes with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and prosciutto ($20), a frittata of zucchini with taleggio cheese ($18), and tiny meatballs of pork with grilled potato scones ($18).
     Caffé dei Fiori is a charming new addition to the Upper East Side, already winning the neighborhood crowd but deserving of a visit from all those who so rarely venture north of 42nd Street.

Caffé dei Fiori is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. dinner nightly, brunch on weekends


By John Mariani


    These are neither the best of times nor worst of times for the global wine and spirits markets, but it is a time of uncertainty about the economy, politics and societal changes that make predictions about the future more difficult than it’s been in a long time.
    For while the 1980s and 1990s were a period of soaring expectations—and not a little hype—it did seem the whole world was becoming more interested and could better afford to buy more wine and spirits than at any time in history.  Then came 9/11, the debacle of 2008, the economic collapse of Greece, Ireland and Spain, and increasing terrorism in major cities.
    To an extent, wine and spirits sales overall are still rising, but the future is anything but certain. Vodka still dominates spirits sales, and w
hiskies and bourbons are projected to rise 8.8% and 19.3%, respectively, over the next five years.  These and a great deal more data have just been released by the IWSR, a forty-year old marketing company that tracks brand performance in 125 countries across the world using local market input from distributors, importers, producers, retailers, duty-free and gray operators in each country.
    To find out the effects of all these data, I had a conversation by phone with Guillaume Deglise (right), CEO of Vinexpo, the trade show (above) to be held in the city of Bordeaux this June, which commissioned the IWSR report, to ask which and how forces will drive the market in 2015 and beyond.

Q. Your new report makes much of the impact of the Asian market on global sales, but there is also some caution in it.

A.  While 2013's growth in the region has been curtailed by the Chinese government’s anti-corruption legislation, five-year forecasts remain positive at about 3.5% growth. Cognac and Armagnac have found new markets in Asia, and sales rocketed by 19% from 2009-12  and are expected to grow annually at a 3% rate.  Right now Asia-Pacific accounts for 63% of the world’s total spirits consumption.  But there too the Chinese have been forced to cut back.   

Q. Which categories are showing the most growth in spirits?

A. Premium whiskies and Kentucky bourbons are back in vogue, with Russia, Brazil, Mexico, India and Poland driving forces outside of the U.S.  Vodka is still number one in sales but that’s leveling out now.  Baiju, a spirit like vodka made and mostly consumed in China, is the number one best seller of all. 

Q. Are the current sanctions against Russia and falling oil prices going to hurt the Russian market?

A. Russia is difficult to predict. Vodka is still the best-selling spirit there, but the younger generation does not want to pursue the same habits of their elders. They are much more open to spirits from outside Russia.

Q. What about the weakening of the euro? How will that affect global sales of European wines and spirits?

A.  The industry has, as a result of the stronger dollar, become much more  competitive than in the past. A strong dollar translates to lower prices for French, Italian and Spanish wines and spirits, which offers clear advantages on the international scene. I don’t think export will be much affected through 2016 but that depends on the future value of the euro.

Q. Do you think some producers in Europe will try to make up for the falling price of the euro by hiking their own prices?

A.  It will depend on the price category of each wine and on the stocks available. If there is a lot of stock, they won’t push prices up; they’ll look to improve their margins instead. Remember, the U.S. is still the largest consumer of wines and spirits in the world. Some producers of very high-end, rare wines and spirits may raise their prices. 

Q. What about sparkling wines?

A. Sparkling wines (excluding Champagne) accounted for 8% of the world’s wine consumption – and are expected to rise to 8.9% by 2018.  Spanish cava sales,  spurred by growth in imports to Belgium, Nigeria and France, escalated by more than 100,000 cases in 2013.  In that same year  Italian prosecco sales doubled. 

Q. Has this hurt Champagne sales?

A. I used to work for Champagne, so I know it well, and consumption has dipped—1.4% globally in 2013-- as consumers everywhere look to cheaper alternatives like prosecco and cava.   Outside of France, Champagne is perceived as very high priced, only for special occasions, but I believe it still has a quality that cannot be matched, and grape prices in Champagne are very high.  Even though French consumption is down, they continue to drink Champagne because they have access to many more inexpensive labels.  Champagne sales are increasing, however, in the U.K, U.S, Australia and Japan. 

Q. What about wine consumption?

A. Red wine continues to dominate, representing 54.8% of all still wine consumed in 2013. Reduced demand, primarily in China—where more than 90% of wine consumed is red--drove worldwide consumption down by 19.8 million cases.  Rosé sales are going up nicely, by about 9%.

Q. Recent reports indicate that the business lunch has not only declined in importance because have so little time and are forced to eat at their desk, but that when they do dine out they order less and cheaper wines.  Do you see that in France, too?

A. Oh, yes, there is a big change in consumption patterns everywhere. Business people don’t take as much time to enjoy lunch, and they drink less, though they drink better wines.  Not the high-end labels, however, because the executives cannot be seen showing off to their clients the way they once did. Expense accounts have been cut and, as you know, we are still in a deep economic crisis in Europe.

Q. Is there a bright spot somewhere in that?

A. Yes, the younger generation, especially in France, is spending more time in wine bars and bistros. The sales are now being driven by them.







two Phoenix police officers responded to a call from a restaurant about a non-paying customer, the officers  "concluded the man had some type of mental health issue" and paid the check on his behalf so he would avoid arrest and jail time. They then took suspect Mykel Cantrel Cooper to a mental health facility, where he allegedly hinted that he "did something bad" to his roommate. Police followed up and discovered the dead body of Cooper's roommate in their apartment.  Cooper was thereupon charged with first-degree murder.


A judge in Valencienne, France, denied a couple the right to name their daughter "Nutella" because it would invite "mockery or disobliging remarks."


 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: Walking Tour of Austria; Philadelphia by the Book; Skiing Utah/

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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