Virtual Gourmet

  September 27,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Un Soirée aux Pré-Catalan" (1909) by Henri Gervex


NEVIS, Part One 
By John Mariani

                                             WILLIE MAE SEATON:
                                                A REMEMBRANCE
By John Mariani


By John Mariani


Part One 
By John Mariani

    It goes without saying that, short of adventure travel for those who like rappelling down a waterfall, the Caribbean has been so homogenized as a tourist destination that it’s easy to wake up in any bed and have to remind yourself whether you’re in Aruba, Antigua, Jamaica or the Bahamas.  Not that you can’t find deluxe chain resorts dotting the region, or family destinations built on the Disney model, but to get a true sense of an individual island as a unique place that has not undergone either gentrification or overdevelopment is increasingly rare.
    So a recent trip to Nevis, in the Leeward Island chain, showed me that very little of the island’s charms have changed in the twenty-five years since I last set foot there.  Back then the big news was the opening of a posh Four Seasons Resort, which I took as the opening shot for rampant development of an island whose natural beauty had lain untouched beyond a few small inns and guesthouses built into the woodlands and rocks of a landscape that looks across the channel to St. Kitts.  In contrast to the dry and overdeveloped territory of the latter, Nevis is lush with forests and tropical growth, an oval-shaped island where goats, sheep and monkeys run wild, and a place of quiet relaxation.  Little interrupts the pace of life on Nevis, and for that it is at once a step back in time and an admonishment that something so fragile can be lost at the first sound of an earthmover.
    You must fly into St. Kitts--not the Caribbean’s most efficient airport--to get to Nevis, then it's ferry or water taxi to Charlestown, Cades Bay or Oualie Beach; from there taxis will bring you to your final destination along the few semi-paved roads on the island, with the volcano named Nevis Peak always visible, past a mix of local people’s modest but brightly colored chattel houses and windswept villas in the hills.  Inevitably you’ll stop for a strolling flock of goats and sheep, and you’ll careen around jutting rocks and slow down for SUVs vying for space on the narrow passageways.  (If in some ways Nevis can be considered a Caribbean paradise, surely paradise cannot have so many abandoned cars on 36 square miles of ground.)
    The capital city of Charlestown (right), itself a riot of Crayon colors, seems always bustling, with a food market open to the trade winds, boutiques, eateries, and a tourist office that you will find very helpful.  Along the perimeter are beaches of white coral sand flecked with volcanic brown and black, while the basin-like interior forms a plain watered by natural springs.  No wonder the first natives here, the Caribs, called it the “Land of Beautiful Waters,” and to this day the island’s anthem is titled “Oh Land of Beauty.”
    Columbus sighted the island in 1493, and it became a key port for East-West trade among many countries. The name Nevis is derived from Spanish for Our Lady of the Snows, which seems odd for a tropical island; it was Anglicized to Nevis when the British took possession.  In fact, Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis and has his own museum (below), while Lord Horatio Nelson was stationed here and married a local girl named Frances Nisbet, and that, too, has been memorialized. Captain John Smith stopped here on his way to the founding of Jamestown in 1607, and the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited.  
     The remains of British colonial days can be seen in the
18th century Hermitage Plantation, the oldest surviving wooden house still in use in the Caribbean, and the Caribbean’s first hotel, Bath Hotel, built in 1778. As Nevis developed into prime territory for sugar plantings, slavery came quickly to the island and the native people died out, so that by 1780 ninety percent of the islanders were black. Its subsequent history is as full of grand and notorious events and schemes as any in the Caribbean, figuring in various European wars, until in 1882 it united with St. Kitts and Anguilla. Those islands became independent in 1983, though still showing fidelity to the British crown.
    It took a while for civilization to make incursions into the island’s life: electricity was introduced in 1954, telephones in 1967.  International banks followed. Today, although wi-fi can be tricky, the modernization of the island is as complete as any of its neighbors, and Nevis has found its footing as a tourist destination, not least because it is so remote and largely unspoiled. 
    As so often happens, a natural disaster can force improvements long needed on an island like Nevis, and 1999’s Hurricane Lenny shut everything down, including The Four Seasons, for two years.  This had the effect of spurring new construction while maintaining the island’s unique biodiversity.  The Four Seasons remains the island’s largest hotel, and there are far more guest houses and inns than hotels.
    My wife and I stayed at the enchanting Montpelier Plantation (right), which has its own private beach (reached by shuttle), where we enjoyed a mid-week barbecue lunch accompanied by plenty of planter’s punch.  The 1687 inn has been owned and run by John and Helen “Muffin” Hoffman since 2002, and it has 19 air-conditioned rooms, a fine restaurant (I shall write about in my next installment), and an old sugar mill now used for party dining.  There is an open spa and bicycles are provided for exploring the island. Highly colored modern art, including textile wall hangings, are everywhere, and the setting itself amidst swaying palms is conducive to staying put for days.  Which is not a bad idea since the inn is six miles from Charlestown.
 Right down the road is Lord Nelson’s house and beyond that an exceptionally beautiful botanical garden of tropical flowers and plants, along with 100 species of palms and a Rainforest Conservatory.
    I also managed to visit, though not stay at, the very new Paradise Beach Resort (left) near Charlestown, the only boutique  hotel located right on the beach.  The individually designed thatch-roofed villas have three and four bedrooms, a huge Indonesian-style living room with vaulted ceilings and state-of-the art house kitchen.  Spacious bathrooms are tiled with marble--some with outdoor shower--and guests in need of anything have only to call one of the certified butlers or a private chef.

    A more unusual place to stay on Nevis is the remote and well isolated 11-room Golden Rock Inn (right), built over 100 acres by artists Helen and Bruce Marden, who use it as much to entertain friends as guests.  The appropriately named architect Raymond Jungles has created masses of tropical vegetation, winding pathways, and pools of water, all dotted with scarlet-colored gates, benches, shutters and fabrics.  One caveat: Golden Rock has no air-conditioning, and Nevis has a humid, tropical climate year round. And you should like monkeys, for they are very much at home here among the palm trees and mangoes.  

    Nevis may not be for those who need widescreen TVs in every room, duty-free shopping malls, and waterslides.  But for those who seek a sense of history, tradition, and a Caribbean culture untrammeled by rampant development, Nevis should be a priority destination.  For when you sit eating sweet mango at breakfast, the little birds waiting for crumbs from your table and the tradewinds waving the palm leaves like a whisper of the sea gods, a distinct calm will descend upon you and you may well imagine how Christopher Columbus must have held his breath in sight of the beauty if this green island more than four hundred years ago.




   The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Willie Mae Seaton, owner  of the beloved New Orleans restaurant Willie Mae's Scotch House, died  last week at the age of 99.
    Her story has the charm of folklore:  She began as a beautician who in 1957 tuned her beauty shop into a bar, then a restaurant serving southern soul food that included a nonpareil fried chicken. In 2005 Willie Mae’s was  named an America's Classic by the James Beard Foundation. So beloved and indelible was her imprint that after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her business the Southern Foodways Alliance organized a rebuilding effort.
    She and her family were rightly proprietary about their cooking.  I was once ushered out of the kitchen when I tried to take a photo.  Some things should stay secret.
    I think I can do no better in remembering Willie Mae Seaton than to re-print my son Christopher Mariani’s account of his first time eating at the restaurant back in 2011.--John Mariani

ecently, a group of close friends heading down to New Orleans called upon me for some advice as to where to eat. One of them asked, “Where can we grab some good bbq?” I gave him a puzzled look and responded, “Why the hell would you go to New Orleans for bbq?” Not to say that the city doesn’t have good ‘que, but that’s definitely not what a first-timer should go to New Orleans for. I proceeded to offer them a list of personal favorites, including restaurants and eateries where they can taste some of the city’s best crawfish, soft shell crab, gumbo, turtle soup, fried chicken, red beans, oysters served every way possible, Louisiana Creole classics, po’ boy sandwiches and, of course, for dessert, beignets, pecan pie and bananas Foster. One place in particular came to mind, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, my introduction to city’s soul flavors.
      Willie Mae’s, located just outside of the Quarter in the 6th Ward devastated by Hurricane Katrina,  is not exactly in the best of areas, but don’t let the run-down neighborhood dissuade you from walking in. Besides a hanging white sign that reads, “Willie Mae’s Restaurant” and a standing chalkboard menu that lists daily specials, you probably wouldn’t know there was a restaurant inside. Once within, you'll find there’s an extremely casual dining room filled with small wooden tables topped by bottles of Louisiana Hot Sauce, “One drop does it,” Tabasco sauce, ketchup, salt and pepper shakers and a sugar cannister. The walls are blanketed with newspaper reviews, murals of bluegrass bands and a piece of artwork that reads, “Be Nice or Leave!” surrounded by a colorful frame decorated with beer caps.

         The little place was opened by Miss Willie Mae out of her own home, a true Fat City chicken shack, declared an "American Classic" by the James Beard Association. Put out of business by Katrina, the restaurant was re-opened through a coming together of volunteers and other restaurateurs who knew enough not to let such a link to the city's heritage, not to mention nonpareil fried chicken, go under for good. Today Willie Mae's great-granddaughter now runs things and she''ll shoo anyone out of the kitchen who wants to take a photo of what's going on back there.  Rightly so.
Bolstered by an ice cold Abita beer, we shared an order of crispy fried chicken, a thinly pounded, fried pork chop, a big bowl of traditional Louisiana red beans and a mound of white rice and two orders of buttery, golden brown corn bread. The food was rich, well-salted and left a trace of grease on our lips when finished. Not all food of the city’s fare is as heavy as found at Willie Mae’s, but as a whole, the food is hearty and filling. There’s not much in terms of service besides waitresses who rush your order and may be difficult to hail down when your Abita runs out, but the food is on point. I doubt the standard menu has changed in years, if ever, but why should it, since everything on it tastes damn good.
      So, if you are a virgin tourist to the city of New Orleans, save the barbeque for the next time you visit Texas or the Carolinas and stop by Willie Mae’s for some authentic “South of the south” New Orleans cooking. –Christopher Mariani



By John Mariani

2342 Arthur Avenue (near Crescent Avenue)

    Mario’s is one of those restaurants I look for opportunities to write about, usually in round-ups of my favorite Italian restaurants in New York, best pizzerias, and best restaurants in the Belmont section of the Bronx.  So it’s about time I spend an entire article in praise of a place that has been such a part of Italian-American culinary history since opening in 1919.
    The Miglucci family has run Mario’s for five generations now, currently with head of family Joseph and his wife Barbara, his daughter Regina,  his son Michael, and the Italy-born Massimo Celso with him in the kitchen, all of whom would as soon commit a mortal sin as to compromise the traditions of their forebears who made this the quintessential Neapolitan ristorante in America.  And so says the James Beard Foundation, which gave Mario’s an illustrious award as one of America’s Classics.
    Like so many Italian immigrant restaurants, Mario’s began as a pizzeria, with a window on Arthur Avenue.  Little by little a dish was added, some pasta, some chicken, veal, and so on, until the restaurant dominated the pizzeria.  (Even today, after 6 p.m., pizza is served only if you order other courses; here's still a window in the back where you can watch Joe make the perfect pies.)  Still, I would put Mario’s pizza up against any in NYC.  After all, they’ve had ninety-six years to perfect it.  Its crust is perfection, the corona wonderfully crisp but chewy and charred, the mozzarella bubbles up, the sauce has subtle seasoning, and the scent of just enough basil is dreamy.
    But that’s only the beginning in judging Mario’s panoply of traditional items.  The menu has in fact been cut down a little in recent months, but there are always nightly specials based on what’s fresh in the markets that line the streets of Belmont. One of the best ways to test the range of starters is with the assortment of hot antipasti ($8.95 per person) that includes a
sparagus, fried calamari, stuffed Mushrooms, eggplant rollatine, clams oreganata, fresh mozzarella and sundried tomatoes; the cold antipasto ($8) is a platter of prosciutto, shrimp, salami, anchovies, vinegar Peppers, provolone, fresh mozzarella, tomato and olives.
    The octopus salad ($8)  is tender and has a perfect acidic bite from lemon and olive oil,  and I love a dish that was once on every Italian menu, now not so much--spiedini alla romana ($9)--skewered bread and mozzarella fried till golden brown and the cheese melts, served with an assertive anchovy sauce. They even have snails with garlic butter ($8).
    Frying is one of the techniques Mario’s does impeccably, whether it’s crispy and tender
calamari fritti ($11). And while so few restaurants serve soup at all any more, Mario’s offers half a dozen, including stracciatella alla romana with ribbons of egg yolk ($7); escarole in a rich broth ($7); minestrone chock full of vegetables ($7); and cheese tortellini in brodo ($8).  There are also four salads each night.
    All the classic Southern Italian pastas are here—and you get to choose whatever spaghetti or macaroni you like to go with fresh tomato sauce ($14.75), with lobster baked in the oven ($15.25), and one of my very favorites, the hearty
alla siciliana baked with eggplant. tomato,  and mozzarella ($15.75).  You can have a simple garlic and oil rendering ($14.75), red or white clam sauce ($15), lobster ravioli with vodka cream ($23.75), and more.  But I always listen carefully to the night’s specials, which might be rigatoni with broccoli di rabe and sausage, or, as I had just the other night, a fabulous dish of paccheri (right) with excellent funghi porcini  and crumbled sausage ($18.75).
    Among six chicken dishes I love the scarpariello, rich with garlic, mushrooms and lemon ($23), which—Grazie Dio!—you may have either on or off the bone (the former is better).  Also, the old standbys chicken parmigiana  ($20.50) and velvety chicken francese ($21.75) are not to be missed. Meat dishes run from simply broiled lamb chops you eat right off the bone ($34.50) to grilled veal chops ($34.50)—plural—of wondrous succulence.  They always have tripe alla livornese ($23) on the menu, and I just enjoyed an enormous portion of pink-inside calf’s liver truly smothered in sweet onions and a brisk balsamic sauce ($22).  The fish comes straight from the market, and you’ll also love the shrimp baked with seasoned bread crumbs ($21.25) and the lavish portion of  zuppa di pesce ($29.25) of mixed seafood over linguine pasta.
    You’ll be asked if you want a side dish—entrees offer complimentary  escarole or the old-fashioned, cheese-rich potato croquette—but you could order the baked eggplant with mozzarella and tomato sauce ($13.50) for a robust starter course.
    Aside from a good cannoli ($5) and a nice slice of cheesecake ($7),
the desserts here are mere afterthought.  But they do make an intense espresso of just the right consistency.
    There’s also a remarkable $29.95 fixed price dinner of four courses and many options on it.
    For years I’ve been begging the Migluccis to build a wine list commensurate with the quality and size of the food menu at Mario’s, but it remains a modest list of modest wines (several in half-bottles, by the way).
       The dining room décor is certainly dated, but in all the right ways, which helped Mario’s win that Classics award, with Neapolitan murals along the walls and celebrity photos of everyone from NY mayors to NY Yankees,  actors, and Muhammud Ali.   The lighting is just right and the only sounds in the room are of people having a whale of a time eating and drinking.  The only music you hear is when someone has a birthday.  Then everyone sings.
    Many of the waiters have been at Mario’s for decades and know half the people who walk in, generations of them, with strollers, girlfriends, grandparents, and out-of-town guests. You will never be treated better in a restaurant than you will be at Mario’s, whether you’re a regular or on your first visit through the door.  One or two or five of the Migluccis will always be there, too, and consider yourself lucky to be part of such a warm and wonderful example of Italian-American hospitality. 

Mario’s is open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Valet Parking.




Officials at Beijing Capital International Airport  stopped a woman named Zhao for trying to carry a bottle of Remy Martin XO Excellence cognac worth £120 on the plane. Faced with either having to discard the whole bottle or drinking it, she downed the entire bottle  and became very drunk, shouting incoherently and falling on the floor, where she remained until she was removed by a security officer whop said,  “She was so drunk… she couldn’t even stand up by herself. We took her to a room in a wheelchair so she could rest." She was given medical care, picked up by her family after being released by police some seven hours later.


“In the age of Uber, personally picking up and dropping off one's visitors at the airport might be considered quaint. But I still prefer to do it when possible. In fact, playing taxi driver for those flying into or out of San Francisco International Airport has become a favorite errand now that I've discovered Gintei -- a small Japanese restaurant no more than a mile west of the terminals.”—Jennifer Graue, “Gintei,” San Jose Mercury News (8/20/15).



 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: BOLIVIA; VERMONT; FIVE MYTHS ABOUT TRAVEL IN AFRICA.

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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