Virtual Gourmet

  March 22,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in "Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)


By John Mariani  


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

ANNOUNCMENT: There will be no edition of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week because Mariani will be on vacation. The next edition will be April 5.



By John Mariani 

Photo by Andrew Cebulka

    For ten years now Charleston has been holding an annual Wine + Food Festival that has become one of the stellar events of the springtime and one that brings a great number of visitors and millions of dollars to the city. I’ve been delighted to have attended most years’ celebrations and hosted a few events, seminars and book signings along the way.
  The "Heart of the Festival" is the tented Culinary Village at Marion Square, where back-to-back demos, Low Country excursions, signature dinners, fish fry (right), book signings, storytelling, gospel brunch (above) and music jams are held throughout each day. Testament to the success and popularity of the Festival is not just that it's grown steadily but that its various events sell out weeks in advance.
        What I like best about this Festival, as opposed to those in cities like Aspen and Miami, is that the latter depend on glitz and the same tired TV food and travel show celebrities, while Charleston celebrates new people each year, largely local but also working chefs of regional fame that they well deserve.                  Photo by Andrew Cebulka

    This year the line-up of chefs included local notables like Michelle Weaver (Charleston Grill), Sean Brock (Husk), Mike Iata (Fig), Frank McMahon (Hank’s), Craig Deihl (Cypress) and Frank Lee (Slightly North of Broad), along with national figures like Jonathan Benno (Lincoln Ristorante, NY), Chris Shepherd (Underbelly, Houston), Lincoln Hopkins (Eugene, Atlanta), and Andrew Zimmerman (Sepia, Chicago).
    The wine component—not to mention beer, booze and cider—this year involved seminars and tastings of Harlan Estates, Michael Mondavi,  Veuve Clicquot, Quntessa, and others.  Add to all this the beauty of Charleston itself—its byways, Battery, markets, and water—and three days go by very fast and beg for you to return.  I certainly intend to, if only to keep up with what’s new.

   New, to me at least, was the Meeting Street Inn (left)--one of three run by Historic Charleston Inns--where I stayed, a quiet bed-and-breakfast operating for the past 50 years located  just shy of the City Market. There are nine rooms with very comfortable poster beds, a wading pool and garden, and they put on quite a spread for breakfast, including biscuits and gravy, along with afternoon tea and sherry in the evening. Bathroom facilities, as is so often the case in B&B’s, are drab and outdated.  Wi-Fi is free.


33 Spring Street

    Very new indeed is Artisan Meat Share, a sandwich and charcuterie shop on Spring Street that grew out of Chef Craig Deihl’s charcuterie program at the superb  downtown restaurant Cypress.  Deihl (above) is a founding member of the Butcher’s Guild, and in any given season makes an array of 80 varieties of meat products that are among the finest I’ve tasted anywhere in this country.
       At Artisan Meat Share, which is a slip of a room with a butcher counter on one side and a very few wooden chairs and booths on the other, sandwiches are as big a draw as the  myriad sausages, salumi, and breads people come by to purchase.  (They also do corporate boxed lunches.)  
I just left myself in Deihl’s hands and out came rafter after rafter of exquisite meats and cheeses—liverwurst, provolone, mortadella, coppa, pepper rings, potato bread, bean salad, cheese grits and gravy, pastrami, bratwurst, crostini, chicken wings (right) and more. His bun mi ($10) of pâté,  smoked ham, kimchi mayo, carrots, soy pickles, cilantro on a steamed bun was a wonder in a Low Country spot like this, as was the porchetta ($11) with spicy ‘nduja condiment, pork cracklins’, watercress, caramelized onions and mayo on ciabatta bread.
       There are beer and wine and artisanal sodas, and on Wednesdays they offer three pieces of fried chicken for $10 and a wine and meat tasting on the first Thursday of every month. So much goodness in such profusion; this is a very generous eatery with a big heart.

Artisan Meat Share is open daily from 11 AM to 7 PM. 

698 King Street

    Also new in the city is Leon’s,  on the West Side of town, about which I heard much for being the new hit in town. Opened last May, it’s a very casual, ear-splitting eatery with a focus on oysters and a dogged emphasis on fried food in the Southern tradition.  It’s a first-come-first-served kind of place, so it’s usually jammed with people who come to chow down rather than dine at a leisurely pace.  You’ll probably get food or beer on your clothes.
    I had a couple of good items: a charred radicchio salad with yogurt dressing, hazelnuts, golden raisins and mint ($10), and Leon’s vanilla soft serve ice cream for dessert ($3).  Most other dishes I found, first of all, extremely salty, and second, extremely fried.  This ruined a made-to-order serving of fried chicken ($8-$10 for two pieces, half a chicken $16 and whole chicken dinner $39), whose spices were more intense than Popeye’s, obliterating whatever flavor the chicken itself had; its grease-absorbed dark brown, burnt breading fell from the meat.  Lettuce wraps had equally salty fried clams, along with mayo, slaw and butter pickles ($12).  The fish sandwich ($13) may be ordered grilled or fried.  A whole fish of the day--grilled beeline snapper with seaweed butter, artichokes and lemon ($32)--would have been better had it not been undercooked that day. 
    My friends who gobbled up a selection of oysters seemed perfectly happy with their choice, so I would say that, if you go to Leon’s, stay clear of the fried food.  And bring noise-canceling earphones.  The loud, bombastic music is rough.

Leon's is open daily for lunch and dinner.

The MacIntosh
479B King Street

        I was very much looking forward to getting back to one of Charleston’s finest restaurants, The MacIntosh, which opened two years ago on two levels on King Street, where Jeremiah Bacon has proven himself one of the city’s most inventive chefs at a time when others are playing the farm-to-table game more for publicity than out of true religion.
    Upstairs at The MacIntosh there’s a loud bar and lounge scene, but downstairs is a long, brick-walled dining room that casts the right balance of casualness with the seriousness of fine food. (You may want to ask them to turn the music down.)
    Bacon is a hearty cook with unexpected finesse, as evident in his oxtail ravioli with onion soubise and rich bordelaise sauce ($14). And his signature use of beef deckle ($40), a dish of great largess involving an underutilized cut of meat with marvelous results, served with enriching bone marrow bread pudding, carrots, baby onions, Brussels sprouts and a deep reduction of red wine (below) is a magnificent dish that takes a lot of talent to bring off so successfully. But then even a seemingly simple plate of peas and carrots with gnudi pasta, lamb neck, onions and mint ($16) is an education in the cooking timing of individual ingredients. His sweetbreads ($15) have real flavor on their own, coaxed to another level by the addition of green garlic, benne seeds, maitakes, a caramel made from fish sauce, and shiso.  The tender texture and sweetness of pea ragoȗt enhances a thick cut of succulent pork shoulder, with a fennel marinade and bacon sorghum glaze ($27).
       Every bit as sumptuous are Kelly Kleisner’s desserts, like double chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet and coca nib tuile ($8) and banana bread pudding with malted chocolate ice cream and butterscotch, toffee-cocoa crumble ($8).
    The MacIntosh has as fine a wine list as it has one of spirits, and it would be difficult not to have a good time here, both for its conviviality and for the surprise of how, dish by dish, everything is so amazingly good. 

 The MacIntosh is open for dinner nightly.

207 Rutledge Street

    Rare is the year I go to Charleston without eating at The Hominy Grill, which since 1966 has been a bellwether of Southern downhome cooking without the slightest pretense or hype—although the food media have long acknowledged just how outstanding chef-owner Robert Stehling is as a proud son of the South.
    The white shotgun house dates to 1897, recently appended with another dining room, and it is always bright, with antique tin ceilings and slow-moving fans, wooden floors, captain’s chairs, and windows that let in the Low Country sun.  Added sound-proofing has tamped down the once harsh decibel level. You could not wish for a more amiable, friendly staff, which is crucial to keep the long lines of waiting guests at bay in the hot South Carolina sun.
    Stehling knows his clientele well, and I suspect as many are locals as visitors, all of whom will wait a while for a table in peak hours.  I’ve never had better soft shell crabs with baked cheese grits; scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes and country ham for breakfast; and lovely, pale yellow buttermilk pie tinged with lemon and lavished with whipped cream.
    In contrast to the many versions of disappointing fried chicken found around Charleston, Hominy Grill’s is nonpareil: lightly floured, very carefully fried to achieve an even, golden color, the meat inside very juicy; it is everything that Southerners exalt but so rarely make this well.  And the breading never crumbles off the chicken here; it stays intact, so every bite has crunch.
    Long before the food media discovered that Charleston was a first-rate restaurant town, Hominy Grill was here, and it is as good as ever, if not better. If practice does indeed make perfect, then the cooks at Hominy Grill must practice very hard and with a lot of care in what they do.   

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch  Sat. & Sun., and for dinner Mon.-Sat.


By John Mariani


887 Ninth Avenue

212-315-2888 (near 57th Street) 

        The two-month old Masseria dei Vini is a restaurant whose neighbors keep telling owners Giuseppe "Peppe" Iuele, Enzo Ruggiero and chef-partner Giuseppe Coladonato how glad they are finally to have a fine Italian restaurant because there’s nothing else like it in its neck of the woods, near Carnegie Hall. It’s true. The neighborhood has been devoid of an Italian restaurant of Masseria dei Vini’s caliber—only Patsy’s and Circo to the east and Lincoln Ristorante to the north are true competitors, just as the owners’ first restaurant, La Masseria, has only Barbetta and Orso as competition in the Theater District of the West 40s.
    What Iuele, Ruggiero and Coladonato did at La Masseria upon opening eleven years ago was to build a ristorante with staying power, based on excellent Italian cuisine with a Southern accent and on a commitment to highly cordial service, even when dealing with the fretting pre-theater crowd.  The moment you step through the door at their new place, you’ll find that same warmth of conviviality from the welcome and seating to the attention paid to your table throughout the evening.
    Masseria dei Vini is a very smart looking place, by interior designer Libby Langdon, far more than I expected from what was originally intended to be a casual wine bar (the name means “farmhouse of wines”). But, as Iuele explained to me, “Once we got near opening, we said why don’t we also do some pizzas, more pastas and main courses, and before we knew it, we had a full-fledged ristorante.”  The menu listings at both restaurants are quite similar, though the older La Masseria does not do crudi (raw fish) or pizzas, and its prices are somewhat higher pretty much across the board.
    The trick in Italian cookery is to intensify flavors that, without just the right amount of seasoning, might be bland or taste just like everyone else’s version.  Thus, at Masseria dei Vini, Chef Colodonato, who is from Bari, takes the idea of polpettine and instead of using meat he makes eggplant balls to be dipped into a vibrant tomato and basil sauce ($14.50).  But he also does do meatballs the same way ($17.50), so you have a delectable choice to make, or order both. Another turn on tradition are the panzerotti (“little fat bellies”) pumped up like a zeppole, with a golden-brown crust and a filling of oozing cheese and tomato ($14.50).
    The pizzas are expertly made in the Neapolitan style, with a slightly puffy, nicely scorched and bubbly crust. I loved the Calabrese-style version topped with mozzarella fior di latte with sausage, spicy-hot ‘nduja condiment, and tomato sauce ($19), which will feed four as an appetizer.

        Ravioli di Angelina ($19.50 for a full portion) is made not with ricotta but with caciotta cheese in a light Caprese tomato sauce, while orecchiette alla Barese with broccoli di rabe and sausage ($18.50) was perfectly cooked so that the ear-shaped pasta had the right texture to stand with the chewy vegetable and the crumbly sausage.  This careful attention to texture also distinguishes housemade squid ink spaghetti with baby clams in a white wine sauce ($21.50), and a triangular ravioli stuffed with shrimp and avocado in a shrimp-tomato sauce ($21.50).
    Bocconcini di pollo ($21.50) is a large platter of boneless chicken with mushrooms and shallots in a red wine reduction, while a pork chop comes with slices of black truffles at a very reasonable $29.50—a terrific dish.  For those who rave about the big $50 veal parm at Carbone in Greenwich Village, I invite you to try to finish the marvelous, crisp, full-flavored pounded veal chop with arugula and tomato salad at Masseria dei Vini at just $38.50.  And if you go for seafood, the oven-roasted orata ($28.50) absorbs just the right amount of flavor and piquancy from cherry tomato sauce, olives and capers.
     Desserts are traditional and well rendered, from a light Italian cheesecake to a torta Masseria scented with limoncello.
    Since Vini figures in the restaurant’s name, you can be assured of a stellar group of wines, many displayed on a lighted wall in the dining room.
    So the Carnegie Hall neighborhood has what it’s long lacked—a  first-rate, welcoming Italian restaurant that is likely to flourish for decades to come.

Masseria dei Vini is open for lunch and dinner daily.



     One of New Orleans' grand ambassadors of cuisine and the good life died this week in his beloved hometown.  Richard "Dick" Brennan, along with his sister Ella and extended family, were largely responsible for restoring and refining the reputation of Creole food back in the 1970s, at a time when its traditions had become stultified and the city's restaurants beyond complacent.  At Commander's Palace, he was in the vanguard of those who believed the city's gastronomy lay in bringing in smart, energetic young chefs like Frank Brigtsen, Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse, Jamie Shannon and Tory McPhail with whom he could work to improve everything in the kitchen while he and his family brought a new spirit of hospitality to the dining room. 
    I knew Dick pretty well, but I could not write anything better about him than his children Dickie and Laurie have in this obituary they were kind enough to send me:

    This past Saturday evening, our father, Richard J. Brennan, Sr. (better  known as Dick) passed away after 83 years of living his life to the fullest. We couldn't be prouder to have called him Dad, and we'd like to  take a moment to share his story. It is definitely one that deserves to  be told.
    Our Dad was kind, gentle and giving. A mentor, visionary, leader and  statesman. He loved his family, staff, city, state and country. His  motto was "leave it better than you found it." He was the ultimate New  Orleanian and a true Irishman.  He was born on Third Street in the Irish Channel in November of 1931.
Dad was the second youngest of six children, in what would become a  family known for fine dining Creole in New Orleans. His life reads like  a storybook, in which good fortune, hard work and ingenuity led to many  successes.
    In high school at St. Aloysius, he was a star basketball
  player. He was all-district and all-state for his high school career and  State MVP for three years (all except his freshman year). Coach Rupp  from the University of Kentucky recruited him for their championship  team. However, his mother fell ill prior to the start of school, so he  opted to stay close and attend college at Tulane University in New  Orleans. For his successes on the basketball court, he was inducted into the Tulane Hall of Fame in 1991.  During college he began dating mom, who would become his wife of nearly  sixty years, Lynne Trist Brennan. Dad completed two years of Law School before he enlisted in the Army.
      When he returned to New Orleans, he intended to finish Law school but his brother, Owen, and both parents passed away within a year of one another, he instead went to work at the family's restaurant, Brennan's
  on Royal Street. With his siblings, he was instrumental in opening  Brennan's in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, as well as Chez Francis in Metairie, Louisiana, Mr. B's Bistro and the Friendship House on the Gulf in Mississippi. In 1973 the Brennan's split their restaurant interests, and Dad along with his siblings John, Adelaide, Ella and Dottie took control of Commander's Palace in the Garden District 100-year-old landmark that the siblings were tasked with reviving. 
    Dad was passionate about New Orleans and America. He recognized the sheer bounty of our region, including ingredients and talent. Instead of European chefs, he hired from the area. Chef Paul Prudhomme and Dad collaborated on dishes that today have become synonymous with New Orleans cuisine.
    He walked to work each day from our home on Third St., and each day he passed a pecan tree. He wondered why almonds were used to coat fish and not pecans that were grown locally? From this simple question posed to Chef Prudhomme, pecan crusted fish was born.
    The same could be said about his taste in spirits. He featured California wine on the list at Commander's Palace years before this was commonplace. Dan Duckhorn from Duckhorn Wine said that Dad believed in him and his product and that he was the first to put it on a wine list. He was well known for saying "If you're going to drink whiskey, drink American, drink bourbon!" Growing up with this mantra, helped inspire the concept for our restaurant, Bourbon House.
When Dad and his siblings first bought Commander's, their goal was to bring guests in the door.
     Breakfast at Brennan's had been very popular and they wanted to create a similar environment filled with celebration for brunch. It was Dad who thought that two of New Orleans most valued cultural possessions-- food and Jazz--would make a fantastic marriage as "Jazz Brunch." On Saturday, my sister and I, along with our cousins headed downtown on the streetcar
with paper flyers. We handed them out on Canal and throughout the Quarter. Not sure what to expect the next day for brunch he staffed a  little more than usual. The turnout beat all expectations, and the next weekend he called in reinforcements in the form of us, our cousins and our friends. That was the beginning of what today is celebrated around New Orleans and throughout the country--Jazz Brunch.
Friend, Chef, and New Orleans restaurant owner Frank Brigtsen (right with Paul Prudhomme and Dick Brennan) recalled,  "I learned to sauté under the watchful eyes of Mr. Dick Brennan, who monitored every single plate that left the kitchen for Sunday Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace. Not all of my omelets passed muster. `Can we do a little better than that?’ he would gently ask. His generous spirit, innate brilliance, and warm heart touched me throughout the  years, whether it was a touch of Pernod at his home on Fat Tuesday morning, his winning smile at a special event, or his gracious charm  when dining at Brigtsen's with his lovely wife Lynne. His mark is felt throughout the city of New Orleans, a testament to a life well lived. I  am grateful for his friendship."
    Passionate about all things New Orleans, and wanting to share his city's unique culture with visitors, he was instrumental in creating what today is the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. He was also the first of his family to be President of the Louisiana Restaurant Association  and later served many terms on the National Restaurant Association's  board.  
    Hand in hand with his desire to share his love of New Orleans with visitors, he co-founded the Krewe of Bacchus with his nephew, Pip  Brennan. At the time Bacchus was founded, the norm for most Mardi Gras krewes was to invest the majority of member's dues into the social balls and related krewe activities. Dad and Pip ensured that the majority of the Krewe of Bacchus' dues would be used toward creating better floats and throws (beginning what is now commonplace of having dues include a bag of custom throws). This, in turn, meant a better Mardi Gras for visitors and locals along the parade route and helped improve the
world's best "free party!"
    Above all, Dad was a mentor--a mentor to us, his grandchildren, his chefs  and countless individuals who proudly donned their black and whites. In  an interview with Times Picayune, Emeril Lagasse once said, "You could  have no better mentors that Ella and Dick. They are absolutely the best. They are legends. They are masters of the restaurant business." As much as New Orleans and Dad are one in the same, so can be said for  him and hospitality. His restaurants were an extension of his home, a place where guests came for the complete experience; from food to  service, it was a place where everyone felt special. He leaves this legacy, along with so much more, through us and our restaurants, as well  as the several restaurants operated by his extended family--all of his  former employees.
He'll be deeply missed, but he leaves behind a legacy so profound that  his spirit will live on through the beautiful city he called home. It's  only natural to raise a glass and toast in his honor to a life well  lived.

Dick and his wife Lynn




By John Mariani


    One of the many tastings at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (see above) was held by Michael Mondavi Family Winery and hosted by Michael’s son, Rob Jr.  Though the style of the winery’s labels may differ, the family commitment to quality over quantity is part of the lessons learned in the saga of the Mondavi family.  For those not familiar with the byzantine ins and outs of the Mondavi name in wine, here’s a thumbnail history.
    In 1943 Cesare Mondavi and his sons Robert and Peter bought the old Charles Krug winery in St. Helena, CA. Decades later a feud drove Robert from the family business and into opening his own Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966, which became one of the most innovative in America at the time, known for its Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, and Chardonnays.  In 1978 Robert entered into a business partnership with the owners of Bordeaux’s Château Mouton-Rothschild to make Opus One.
Meanwhile, Peter Mondavi (who turned 100 this year) continued to make wines under the Krug label. Robert sold his namesake winery to Constellation Brands in 2004, then partnered with his son Tim and daughter Marcia to create Continuum Estates.  Robert died in 2008.         
        Robert’s other son, Michael, went on to create his own Michael Mondavi Family Winery (right), with his wife, Isabel, son Rob and daughter Dina (above),   and in 1999 produced a very high-end Cabernet named M, beginning with the 2005 vintage. Today the family produces four different labels, each overseen by an individual family member. These were the wines in the Charleston tasting.
    Isabel Mondavi Wines reflect her delight in hospitality, meaning the bottlings have an easy elegance without the blockbuster mentality of so many Napa Valley wines.  At the tasting her 2012 Carneros Chardonnay ($30) was shown (she also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Rosé), which exemplified that style by avoiding the over-oaked, caramel-flavored taste so many of her colleagues—and a lot of American wine drinkers--still prefer.  At 13.7% alcohol it has just enough California sun without overripe fruit. Its color is quite pale for a Napa Chardonnay but there is the clear taste of vanilla and a slightly sweet finish.
      The Emblem label is Rob and Dina’s baby, and represents the “passing of the torch” to the next generation of Mondavis. The Cabernet Sauvignon at the tasting was 2011 Oso ($60). A single-vineyard (above) bottling, it is a blend with Petit Verdot to round out the evident tannins in the wine, now beginning to loosen.  There’s a distinct oak component, a moderate alcohol level of 14.4%, and the wine currently is somewhat syrupy with dark cherry flavors, so I would definitely wait to see how the wine knots together in a few years.
    We also tasted 2012 Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), blended with Petit Verdot and Petite Syrah, which gives it plenty of forward fruitiness, as well as old-vines Zinfandel from the Lake Country.  The wine is therefore lush with spices, but with a snappy acid component, and a pleasant 13.9% alcohol that makes it easy to drink right now.
    Upon finding a particularly appealing and promising parcel of land high on Atlas Peak, southeast of Napa, Dina Mondavi exclaimed,
"Dad, this place has animo,” which is Italian for spirit.  Her father thereupon planted just 15 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in rocky, volcanic soil on slopes up to 1,350 feet, assuring the grapes a nice, long growing season that allows for later harvesting.  The 2010 Animo ($85) is very fruited, with a long finish, almost plummy at this stage, but at a moderate 14.3% alcohol that should help that overripe flavor ameliorate over time.
    Michael’s M ($200) comes from the same site, and, with Rob and
winemaker Tony Coltrin, he very carefully picks the best grapes after 20 treks through the vineyard over a month, first hand harvesting at the higher elevations, then the lower ones. A post-fermentation maceration lasts 18-22 days, followed by 22 months in French oak barrels, then 12 months in bottle.    
      So taken was Michael with the quality of the fruit picked, he decided M would be 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this at a time when almost all other Napa vintners now blend in other Bordeaux varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  M, therefore, evokes the big, massive Cabs of the 1970s, which could win awards but did so through power rather than finesse. Since then, viticulture has provided California vintners with better and better grapes and healthier clones, so that the intense tannins and inkiness of Cabs have in many cases, like M, given way to refinement and complexity. Indeed, Michael contends the most recent vintages can be enjoyed immediately or laid down for decades.  With fewer than 300 cases produced, it’s going to be difficult for fans of the label to wait that long, especially since the wine is on allocation. 




In New Orleans, an argument in a parking lot between years-long friends 64-year-old Clarence Sturdivant and his 66-year-old neighbor Walter Merrick over which beer is better —Budweiser or Busch — escalated in a until Merrick said Sturdivant shot him with a shotgun and left.   Sturdivant insisted Merrick was actually the first person to pull a gun and he simply fired in self-defense. In the end, Sturdivant went to jail on "unrelated charges" and Merrick was issued a citation for aggravated assault.



"We are a vegetable-forward restaurant. This means your evening's menu will be vegetable-leaning with meat and/or fish playing alongside in a more supporting role. Ingredients are based solely on the best of what's available from our farmers, and change upon season and inspiration."--Semilla Restaurant, Brooklyn.



Wine Pairing Tips When Dining Italian

        Food and wine pairing is the simple process of identifying wines with flavors and body that complement or contrast a particular dish. Wine is a natural companion to food and the right pairing can elevate both the wine and the dish. Like food, wines have distinct qualities – some are sweet, some fruity, and some, like a great steak, are heavy and robust.
    The key principle to remember is there is NO one right or “perfect” choice when pairing food and wine. The main goal should be to enhance the dining experience, taking into account your likes and dislikes.

    Listed are some useful tips to help you understand food and wine pairing, especially in the context of Italian dining.


         The body of the wine should match the richness of the food.
         Wine pairings can be complementary to bring out similar flavors in the food OR contrasting to offer balance other flavors in the dish. E.g., chicken in a cream sauce with a buttery Chardonnay is complementary. Spicy sopressata with a semi-sweet Lambrusco is contrasting.
         Rich, oily foods pair best with wines that have full body and higher acidity.
         Salty or spicy food can be balanced by sweeter wines, such as Moscato or Riesling.
         Tannin in wine reacts with protein; therefore tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Brunello go well with beef and lamb.
         The traditional “rules” (e.g., red wine with red meat) are not absolute. Experiment!


To start, bubbles are always a great way to get the palate going:


Sparkling Rose

Dry Lambrusco

Lighter courses, such as salads, simply prepared fish and poultry, and vegetarian dishes:

Pinot Grigio





Richer courses, such as roasts, stews, grilled meats, and the like:



Super Tuscan

Cabernet Sauvignon

Nero d’Avola


For dessert, match sweet with sweet:


Late Harvest Moscadello


 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: Ireland; NYC's Ritz; Miami Art.

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.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2015