Virtual Gourmet

  January 10, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Sean Connery as James Bond in "Goldfinger" (1964)


Part Two
By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Part Two
By John Mariani


    The photo above is not a model of the current city of Dubai.  It is a model of the new city the ruling Al Maktoum family—with numerous investors—plans to build right next door, complete with the world’s largest air-conditioned arcade and theme parks, all of it to be ready before the 2020 Expo here.
    Gigantism has become the norm in this sprawling city, which ten years ago was barely an encroachment on the desert that surrounds it.  Driven by international banking and commerce, and increasing tourism largely from Asia, Dubai brags about size, whether it’s the gargantuan Dubai Mall (after London, having the largest collection of retail brands), or the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (right), at 160 floors and 2,716 feet (NYC’s Empire State Building is a mere 1,250 feet and Taipei’s 101 Building a paltry 1,671).
    The breathtaking observation floor—which is called The Top of the Burj Khalifa—is actually on the 124th floor, only three-quarters of the way to the pinnacle.  Of course, Emiratis (the name used for natives of Dubai) make curious boasts for the skyscraper, noting the total amount of concrete used equals the weight of 100,000 elephants, which Dubai has none of, and enough steel used for the frame to build five Airbus 380s, of which Emirates Airlines has 65. 
    The Dubai Fountain (below)—world’s largest—shoots water up to 500 feet from Burj Dubai Lake, with shows every 30 minutes.  Dubai even proclaims its Burj al-Aran to be the world’s only “seven-star hotel,” though there is no such international ranking.  Then there are the Palm Islands, the world’s largest man-made islands, connected to the mainland by bridge and monorail.        All this boasting smacks of Las Vegas-style ballyhoo, but, unlike that other city in a desert, Dubai started from scratch and hired the world’s top architects, engineers and designers to fabricate everything from the city’s buildings—
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed both the Burj Khalifa and the Rolex Tower—to street plans, always with a focus on state-of-the-art energy savings; of course, Dubai has the world’s largest collection of wind towers.
     As for hotels, nearly every international brand has a unit in Dubai, with dozens more coming on line before the 2020 Expo, including three Hilton Worldwide hotels, Melia Hotels International, Park Inn by Radisson, and Starwood due to open soon.  When I visited last year I stayed at The Address, a very luxurious and very well-run hotel near the mall and Burj Khalifa, but, as everyone’s heard, it had a massive fire on New Year’s Eve, so I withhold my recommendation for the time being.
    Dubai is well aware that high culture is crucial for a city to earn an international reputation for modernity and as a tourist draw, but progress has been slow.  The Dubai Museum offers a good look at the area’s history, and music and cinema festivals are now held throughout the year.  One of the most interesting developments I saw is Alserkal Avenue (right), a series of warehouses with more than 20 art galleries featuring largely contemporary artists from both in and outside the Emirates.
    Dubai’s thrusting itself into the 21st century with such a high gloss has, unfortunately, removed most of what once constituted a historic culture, with old neighborhoods razed to make way for the new.  The little that remains is in the Bastakiya District, which, though not very extensive and largely a reconstruction, shows how the town looked in the 19th century, when it was a merchants’ neighborhood, now lined with galleries and boutiques.  Your first stop here should be at the beautiful Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (below)—the view from the rooftop is requisite—then go on to the white gypsum mosque, then just stroll through the section along the Old City Wall, perhaps stopping at the Arabian Tea House for refreshment.

    The saltwater Dubai Creek, along which the Al Maktoum dynasty was first established, divides the modern city from the older, and crossing the Creek by rickety water taxi brings you to the madly bustling souks, which are known by their specialties: the Gold Souk, Spice Souk, Perfume Souk, and the Old Souk, particularly well known for its textiles. Haggling—for some visitors a challenge, but for most people agony—is encouraged at the souks, but the seller will always win, no matter how glum he appears after he’s dropped the price.  Continue down the creek and you’ll come to the peaceful Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, a wetlands preserve for migratory birds.
    If you truly wish to see what the Emirates were like a century ago, you can take a wildlife drive into the desert, and have breakfast at a Bedouin’s home, sitting on carpets under a thatched roof and enjoying an array of mezzes while drinking tea or soda, as your white-robed host speaks (by translator) with a candid lack of nostalgia of how, in the new Dubai that grants him his own farm and all modern amenities life has become so much easier that he and his tribal members have no desire to return to a nomadic way of life.  “I now have everything I need,” my host said, “even people to take care of my farm and animals.  There was no romance in being a nomad. It was a very difficult life.” 
    Civilization—the very word derives from the Latin word for city—has throughout history been a double-edged sword that cuts away the old ways while bringing new vitality to a region.  In Dubai time does fly, and time will tell, as, in Shelley's poem "Ozymandias":   "Boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away."

IF YOU GO . . .  

● Tickets to The Top of the Burj Khalifa are timed and may be bought in advance, for about $34.  

● A good way—though not cheap—to see the breadth of Dubai is to fly over it on a tour from Seawings Seaplane.  Two different 40-minute tours are offered at $461 and $516 per person. 

● Beaches are free, and there is a 9-mile seaside corniche ideal for walking and jogging.  

● Best time to shop the malls is right when they open. The prices at the downtown malls are often lower than at the duty-free shops at the Dubai Airport.  

● Tipping is not expected but appreciated.  Five dirhams ($1.35) for a bellboy is fair; in restaurants there is a service charge added to the bill.  

● Cheapest way to get around is to buy a Nol card at 14 dirhams ($3.80) for a day pass, for the metro, buses, water buses and parking. 

● If you become ill while in Dubai, the city’s medical facilities, both public and private, are considered to be of a very high standard.  Services are not free to foreigners, however, so you may want to consider international health insurance or check with your provider.

● Breakfast and wildlife safari (left) can be booked through Platinum Heritage Luxury Tours.



By John Mariani

Ristorante Italiano 

890 2nd Avenue (near 48th Street)

    Back in the ‘70s a style of Italian restaurant emerged in NYC that set itself apart from the dated “red sauce” restaurants with checkered tablecloths and Chianti bottle candle holders. Not that stellar Italian restaurants hadn’t existed—the elegant Piemontese ristorante Barbetta opened in 1906—but these new, so-called “Northern Italian” restaurants, like Il Nido, Il Menestrello and Gianmarino, most of them on the East Side, prepared pastas tableside by captains in tuxedos. They had décor familiar to a clientele familiar with the best restaurants in Rome, Florence and Venice. None served pizza, which was considered a trattoria item, not one found in a true ristorante.
    Sadly, many of those ristoranti disappeared; some closed while others, like Il Mulino, were corporatized and lost their individuality—just as a new wave of downtown trattorias serving “gourmet” pizzas began attracting an arts and fashion crowd with their casual atmosphere, brick walls, loud music, cramped quarters and witless waiters in t-shirts with the restaurant’s name on the front. On the West Side elegant new places like Marea, A Voce and Lincoln Ristorante opened, but were in a different style from those of the 1970s and 1980s.
    Now, thanks to actor-director Chazz Palminteri—in partnership with the Sinanaj brothers, who also run Empire Steakhouse and Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse—the brand new 140-seat Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano near Grand Central Terminal restores much of the classic look, food and service that has been missing for the past decade. 
    The premises used to be a pizzeria, but you’d never know it now. The décor is sumptuous, graceful, in rich fabrics and colors of Parma gold, with antique brown leather chairs, red tiles, and of course thick tablecloths and linens, with mirrors that open up the space still more. The wine list is 250-label strong, along with Chazz’s own brand of Sicilian BIVI vodka. The maître d’ wears a well-cut tuxedo. 
And Chazz Palminteri is regularly on premises, greeting old friends and new guests who know his work from “A Bronx Tale” (which he wrote and starred in) so well that they quote lines from it.
    Abundance is a virtue here, from large antipasti platters and pasta to a true rack of baby lamb and massive venison chop. And the most expensive item on the menu (besides chateaubriand for two at $84.95) is a USDA Prime ribeye at $44.95; that’s almost a bargain these days.
    We began with antipasti of roasted asparagus splashed with sherry and generously topped with a gratin of Parmigiano ($12.95) and jumbo shrimp alla romana ($15.95) sautéed with chopped spicy peppers in a light and very creamy Gorgonzola sauce served over garlic bread. You could make a meal out of these. 
    All the pastas we tried were very good, including ravioli with funghi porcini glossed with a rich black truffle sauce ($26.95). Potato gnocchi were excellent, just the right plumpness, in a rich veal ragù with shavings of Parmigiano ($23.95), and tender housemade bucatini alla carbonara with sweet onions and pancetta, and mixed with an egg yolk, so it didn’t really need the touch of cream ($20.95).  Pastas may be ordered as appetizer portions.
    There is always a temptation to go easy on the main courses after such rich pastas, but you would be missing wonderful dishes like Dover sole baked with fresh herbs and served with a lemon caper sauce (market price).  A hearty, country-style dish is the chicken alla scarpariello with sweet garlic, hot cherry peppers, sprinkled with rosemary and cooked in a white wine sauce, a lavish dish for just $26.95.
    You will find a veal chop on every Italian menu in NYC but not a rack of veal (market price), as served here, topped with sautéed onions, mushrooms, peppers, fresh herbs and served with roasted potatoes.  Unless you share this dish, you’ll probably take a lot home. The same goes for a juicy rack of American lamb (market price) served in a well-reduced mint sauce. And the special the night I dined there was the first good venison chop I’ve had this winter, meaty, mildly gamey, in a well-seasoned wine-dark sauce.
        If you feel you need to, share a slice of good cheesecake at the end.
       Celebrity-partnered restaurants rarely have little more than a name on the door, with very little input from the celeb, who may or may not know anything about the food served.  At Chazz Palminteri you are guaranteed two things: that the Sinanaj brothers are the pros behind the restaurant, purchasing high-quality ingredients and maintaining an Old World service style, and that Chazz Palminteri has his own vision of what a restaurant with his name on it should be and he’s not about to let that change.

Open for lunch and dinner daily; fixed price lunch at $25.95.




By John Mariani


    At one o’clock in the afternoon on a December day in Alghero, Sardinia, I was staving off jet lag in the most sensible way: eating tiny shrimp, mussels, razor clams, calamari and fried moray eel in La Boqueria, the city’s fish market, while drinking a sparkling Vermentino di Sardegna called Akènta.
    The fishmongers’ stalls were already being washed down, having sold all the seafood brought in early that morning.  But on the premises is a tiny trattoria with a blackboard menu of the day’s offerings, and by the end of this midday meal, I felt as happy and effervescent as the bubbles in the wine.
    I was there with representatives of Cantina Santa Maria La Palma, composed of 326 growers who contribute their grapes to Sardinia’s most modern winery, just outside of the seaside city of Alghero.  The Akènta sparkling wine is made by the Charmat method, aged six months on the yeasts, making for bracing freshness with plenty of fruit and flower flavors that went so perfectly with my extravagant, if humble, seafood lunch.
    Over the next two days I was to learn much more—and eat much more—that brought me up to speed on contemporary winemaking in Sardinia, now, as in Sicily, building its reputation on cantinas and co-operatives rather than individual wineries.   It is believed the Phoenicians brought wine grapes to the island and that the Spanish might have introduced the Vermentino grape, now planted all over the island.  (In France the varietal is called rolle.)
    Cantina Santa Maria La Palma prides itself on its rustic roots and its “humble winemakers, [who] rather than a silver spoon, had strong arms, straight backs, passion and commitment.”  Today the company produces an array of red and white wines that are remarkable for the vibrancy and depth they have, even when released so soon after they are made from the latest vintage.
    Founded in 1959, at a time when Sardinian wines had no reputation and little availability outside the island, Cantina Santa Maria La Palma realized that by central control of co-operative growers, the wines could be made better and with more consistency, fresher, less prone to oxidation, and at price points that have made them appealing in a global market flooded with bland varietals.
    Sardinia, south of France and west of Italy,  has a very hot, very dry land, so irrigation of the vineyards is allowed; you taste the flintiness of the soil and the brininess of the surrounding Tyrrhenian Sea.  One of Santa Maria's wines, Akènta Sub, is actually lowered into the sea for a while to age (below).
    Under the Aragosta (“lobster”) label Santa Maria produces a bright DOC  Vermentino di Sardegna ($11.99) intended to be drunk as soon after bottling as possible, so I was actually enjoying a 2015 in the middle of December, with a delightful 12 percent alcohol. It is in fact Italy’s most popular bottled DOC white wine, selling 1.5 million bottles out of Santa Maria’s total 4-million-bottle annual production of all wines. There is also a good rosé ($10.99) under the Aragosta line that I enjoyed with cured meats and pecorino cheeses.
     Vermentino Blu is made from the same grape,  a lovely, creamy wine, very silky, a perfect match with grilled prawns.  Papiri is their top-of-the-line Vermentino, made with handpicked grapes from specially selected old vines.  The 2014, with 13 percent alcohol, is a formidable white wine that I’d put up against the very best whites in Italy right now.
    The company’s red wines share the notion that youth, not long aging, has its own charms, depending on the grape.  In Sardinia, the most significant red grape is Cannonau di Sardegna, DOC produced near the towns of Maristella and Guardia Grande, where the sandy soil is calcium-rich, with ferrous clay, making for a very earthy wine, but also one with several layers of fruit, acid, and mineral flavors.   Santa Maria’s Riserva  2012 is a big red, though with only 13.5 percent alcohol, neither overbearing nor harsh.  Instead, it is velvety on the palate and an ideal wine to go with the Sardinian roast suckling pig called porceddu.
    Cagnulari 2014 is made from a native grape, which some believe was exported to Spain to be part of the blend of Rioja, while Le Bombarde 2014 ($13.99), made from Monica di Sardinia grapes, has the most pronounced fruit flavors, particularly of cherries. The label depicts old cannons, symbolizing the many times Sardinia had to defend itself from invaders.




An upstate New York schoolteacher got her DUI arrest dismissed because her body has a rare condition called gut fermentation syndrome, wherein high levels of yeast in her intestines ferment high-carbohydrate foods into booze.  The police  found that she had a blood-alcohol level four times the legal limit, despite her  having had  no more than three drinks in the six hours before being stopped.  Her lawyer  had three medical professionals monitor his client for a day, and despite not drinking an ounce of booze, she had a blood-alcohol content  four times NYS's legal limit.




“If you’ve spent any time in London lately, you’ve probably noticed that there’s something happening with the restaurant scene over there. Call it a re-birth, call it gentrification, or call it Brooklynization (actually don’t call it that), but there is definitely a new crop of interesting, youthful, excellent restaurants popping up around that city. A city, mind you, whose most significant recent contributions to the US food scene have been Gordon Ramsay and allowing Kate Middleton to be seen at a McDonald's once. Thanks, England.’—Chris Stang, “The Clocktower,” Infatuation (10/15)



 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: 5 Myths about Bed & Breakfasts.

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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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