Virtual Gourmet

  October 25,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter will not be published next week, November 1because Mariani will be sailing on Canada's Saint Lawrence River Valley. Publication will
resume on Nov. 8.


By John Mariani

    There are arguments both pro and con about where one finds the best food in Paris.  Is it at the classic bistro/brasserie level? The three-star Michelin firmament?  Or the places no one will tell you about (which don’t actually exist)?
    As a frequent visitor to Paris I take no sides, for I am just as happy to dig into a pig’s trotter at an old bistro or a helping of cassoulet at a brasserie as I am to dine on haute cuisine.  Still, to those who do not wish to spend half their budget on one meal, I often recommend the pleasures of those one-star restaurants verging on getting a second one. In this category I always recommend Pur' at the Park Hyatt Paris, just off the glorious Place Vendȏme.
    Opened about five years ago—when it was first dubbed Pur Grill, which emphasized items from that piece of kitchen equipment and introduced Paris to Japanese wagyu beef—Pur’ has evolved in step with modern French cuisine under the consistent presence of Chef Jean-François Rouquette (right, with pastry chef Fabien Berteau), whom I once called “one of the brightest young lights in Paris” but who has become one of the city’s finest.  His very exuberance is evident  in and out of the kitchen, which is sleek, brightly lighted space facing the dining room, whose elegant colonnade is
built around a rotunda; the room is done is shades of chocolate brown and cream, with excellent lighting. There is also a Table du Chef, a four-seat counter they call the "Aquarium" smack up against the open kitchen. 
    Rouquette's résumé includes stints at the Crillon, Le Grand Véfour, and six years at Taillevent, and his guiding philosophy, based on wide travels and procurement of ingredients from small producers, is, “I love starting from contradictory elements and achieving a moving and powerful result."  His command of technique is bred into every member of the kitchen brigade and, since the hotel gets a large international clientele, the service staff is as fluent in various languages as it is in catering to particular requests.  “No” does not seem to be part of their vocabulary.
    Sommelier Lionel Schneider has refined the excellent cellar at Pur’, admirably focusing on more affordable young French regional wines along with the big labels.
    Among so many marvelous dishes I enjoyed on my last meal with friends was a starter of Dublin Bay prawns carpaccio with osetra caviar, a creamy panna cotta made with fennel, cucumber jelly and dill oil (left)—every ingredient adding a new way to show off classic pairings.   Sweet, fat white asparagus had just come into season (this was May), and they were matched with tuna and smoked anchovies in a preserved lemon broth, a mélange whose seafood I feared would overpower the vegetable but they were very, very subtle flavors. Beautifully seasoned.
    Glistening seabass was served with tender cuttlefish, spring’s zucchini flowers, parsley juice, and a reduction of razor clams and cockles with celery.  One—and only one—crispy veal sweetbread was perfumed with sorrel, wild garlic, morel mushrooms and green asparagus; I only wish there had been more. The grilled wagyu beef, the real thing from a Japanese Prefecture, was beautifully fatted, almost a mosaic of rich marbling, with soft grilled eggplant, scallions and buttery soufflé potatoes, and, to gild the lily, oxcheek ravioli in a buckwheat broth.
    There is a splendid cheese trolley, as you’d expect in a restaurant of this caliber, selected from a fourth-generation fromagerie named Marie Quatrehomme, which has been among the city’s finest since 1953.
    Desserts, by Fabien Berteau, who was awarded 'Pastry Chef of the Year' for 2015 by Gault Millau, are happily extravagant without being silly in design. Wild strawberries are so difficult to find outside of Europe, so the soufflé (right) made from them along with Damascus rose water, white cheese and iced hibiscus was an enchantment. The Grand Cru Croc’ chocolate dessert comes with crunchy caramel pieces and a dark chocolate sorbet. I’ve yet to figure out what exactly made up a delicious sweet of “jasmine flower velvet almond kazoo” with macerated wild blackberries, but it was very good.
    Pur’ is not inexpensive, even with a stronger U.S. dollar, but there is a reasonable six-course tasting menu at 135€ (with wine 195€) or eight courses at 175€  (with wine 255€).  Otherwise current first courses run from 37€ to 89€  and main courses 42€ to 105€.
    This is, after all, a Park Hyatt, the brand’s highest claim to competing with the finest in Paris (the soon-to-be-opened Ritz is right around the corner), so everything in terms of design, décor and service is of the highest quality but at a somewhat lower price than at its competitors.  The a la carte first courses at the three-star restaurant at the Meurice, for example, begin at 85€ and go up to 130€, and main courses run 110€ to 130€; the six-course menu there is a whopping 380€.
    The latter prices are rough on the average tourist’s budget, but for a true taste of a very personalized haute cuisine, Pur’ is as fine a restaurant as the city has to offer.


Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme
5 Rue de la Paix


By John Mariani

72 Madison Avenue (near 27th Streets)


    I liked Rocco.  I liked Rocco a lot. 
   My friends and I had what men like to call a rollicking good time, in large part due to the warm welcome from general manager Pete Pjetrovic
(previously GM at Wolfgangs for ten years) and the entire staff.  Our waiter could not have been more helpful, paying close attention to our specific requests, and delivering the goods at just the right pace. 
    This new steakhouse in the Flatiron District, which is curiously devoid of such restaurants, is the work of Rocco Trotta,  co-founder and chairman of the board of The LiRo Group, a big name construction management and engineering firm.  In choosing his staff, the rubric was that everyone had to have worked at a top NYC steakhouse for at least a decade,
including Exec Chef Johnny Jevric and head waiter and sommelier Henry Doda, both also Wolfgang  alumni.
    Theres a comfortable U-shaped bar up front, with the requisite TV screen, and during the day light pours in through floor-to-ceiling windows, and the ceiling lighting falls from large picture frames. The evening lighting is a bit flat and there isnt much color in the main dining room, but you can readily see everyone coming and going, which adds vibrancy to the evening.  Tablecloths absorb the sound, which is a bonus because the floors are wood.
    Roccos is not a trophy wine list, though there are some major bottles on it, including California cult wines like Shafer Hillside Select 2012 ($675), Screaming Eagle Second Flight 2012 ($1495), and Harlan Estate 2011 ($1,995), with mark-ups of about 125 percent.  Others, like Nickel & Nickel 2012, at $185 have a whopping mark-up, more like 400 percent.
    The menu doesnt stray far from the NYC steakhouse template, but in a fiercely competitive and satiated market Rocco belongs among the top ranks for the impeccable quality of ingredients and the care with which they are prepared. There is a seafood tower available at market price, while jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail ($22.95) is a very generous portion of the whitest, fattest crab lumps I've had in  a while. So, too, the lobster cocktail ($21.95) and jumbo shrimp ($19.95) are of top-notch quality.  The now ubiquitous Canadian bacon slab ($5.95 per slice) has a fine exterior and good, chewy interior, not too salty;  one slice will serve two.
    The beef here is said to be USDA Prime and dry-aged in Roccos own aging box, so you get that ideal balance of marbling and minerality in the porterhouse for two or more ($49.95 per person); I asked for it to be cooked well charred on the outside and medium-rare within, and it came to our table perfectly rendered and still sizzling.  The sirloin ($49.95) and ribeye ($52.95) were as impressive, and, in line with all the other largess here, the American lamb chops numbered a hefty six (below).  The goodness is in the details here: They take your order seriously.
    The usual sides were good, from mashed potatoes ($7.95) and creamed spinach ($10.95) to Rocco's Signature Fries ($8.95).
    Its tough to assess dessert when you're so full, but youll very much enjoy sharing the cheesecake, a fine crème brȗlée, or the delicious, moist carrot cake, everything lavished with a mountain of whipped cream. Ask for four forks.
    If you like any of the other upscale steakhouses in NYC, you probably have your favorites and stick with them. But for the size of the crowd at Rocco when I dined there, this new kid on the block is making friends quickly and with good reason. The food is excellent and the servicenot always a given in Roccos brash competitors’—is out to win you over. Its location also makes it an easy taxi ride from Madison Square Garden, Grand Central, or Greenwich Village.
No one's going to wait ten minutes for his confirmed reservation, no one's going to find a hostess, captain or waiter who is not happy to listen to you, and no one's going to leave hungry.  You'll be back.

Hours of operation: Mon.‑Sat. daily for lunch and dinner. Sunday for private parties only.







Yokohama's Cup Noodles Museum has introduced  two flavors of ramen-inspired soft serves: soy sauce and curry, with ramen ice-cream parlor toppings like potatoes, carrots, and shrimp.



"Scandal’s Katie Lowes Eats Fish Tacos at Least Once a Week"--Sierra Tishgart, NY Grub Street (10/11/15)


 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: SAN FRANCISCO'S INN AT THE PRESIDIO

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2015