Virtual Gourmet

  January 24, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Medusa with Gummi Worms" (2014) by Galina Dargery



By Geoff Kalish

By John Mariani


By Geoff Kalish

    Those looking for dining options in now gentrified Delray Beach, Florida,  should strongly consider the Pineapple Grove area, especially if they want to avoid the cacophonous hustle-bustle and rather impersonal service of the many large restaurants along the “main drag” of East Atlantic Avenue. Stretching for a few blocks on NE 2nd Avenue, Pineapple Grove was originally envisioned as an outdoor showplace for eclectic sculpture. However, the concept of an open-air art museum never caught on, so the area has morphed into a rather tame haven of upscale gyms, chic spas, boutique clothing shops and generally small, owner-on-site eateries offering well above average, upscale fare.
    Based on a number of recent visits, the following are comments on four notable dining spots in Pineapple Grove. Also, if you’re in the area on a Saturday, there’s a small, but well-priced Farmer’s Market just a stone’s throw from the area on Swinton Avenue, just north of Atlantic, that’s open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

25 NE 2nd Avenue

    The fare here ranges from traditional Italian classics to creative Italian-inspired seasonal specialties. Dining is in three separate spaces—a casual front room with numerous large TV screens showing sporting events,  a small outdoor dining area with white tablecloths but picnic benches for seating, and a more formal room with a long bar along one side and white clothed tables well spaced for conversation. (I strongly recommend the more formal area, unless sitting outside is your thing or you need televised mayhem to enjoy a meal.)
    Service is professional yet friendly, and the wine list, as expected, is dominated by bottlings from Italy, with a good number under $60.
    Popular appetizers include “Old School Meatballs” served with a scoop of ricotta and toast to soak up the rich gravy; grilled octopus atop a bed of red onions, cucumbers, capers and dill doused in a red wine vinaigrette; thin-crusted pizzas, with or without tomato sauce, from a wood-fired oven; and our favorite, crispy Brussels sprouts flavored with lemon zest and red pepper flakes, which also makes a great main dish accompaniment.
      Main courses of note were a rosy-centered grilled pork chop accompanied by a mix of sweet and tangy vinegar peppers, and fresh catch of the day, served simply grilled or alla puttanesca, a sauce of tomatoes, capers and black olives, served with Gulf shrimp and vegetable of the day. And for a truly decadent dessert, try the “Ugly Cake,” a moist brownie topped with cheesecake, chocolate cake and rich chocolate mousse. 

Expect dinner for two to cost $90-$100, not including wine, tax or tip. Open for dinner nightly.

200 NE 2nd Avenue

    Don’t let the name, or the storefront appearance, of this establishment fool you. This is no typical wine bar, where glasses of middle-of-the-road products are offered at a premium and the food,  usually served in small portions, is an afterthought. The extensive wine list features a number of well priced gems like a 2006 Labouré-Roi Pouilly Fuissé ($36), a 2004 Pierre Matrot Meursault ($65), a concentrated 2004 Almaviva ($142) and an exceptional, cassis-scented, earthy Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon ($122); bottles of BV Georges de LaTour Cabernet Sauvignon are listed in four separate vintages, along with a good selection of half-bottles of white and red. And, if you’re not sure what to order, owner Joseph Boueri is usually around to offer sage advice.
    In addition to a cozy interior dining space that features a beautiful curved marble bar and a wall entirely covered by racked bottles of wine, there’s an al fresco eating area in front of the restaurant that’s perfect for quiet conversation. 
    As for the “Mediterranean-inspired” food, it ranges from classic starters such as Caprese salad (drizzled with superb olive oil), snails in beurre blanc enlivened with oregano, and grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs to innovative items such as a refreshing Fattoush salad, comprised of crisp romaine, green peppers, sumac, onions and cucumber with a light vinaigrette dressing and turnovers filled with spinach and pine nuts.
    Main courses of note include fresh, juicy wild cod (when available), baked sea bass served with a zesty Asian cucumber salsa and lamb chops accompanied by rosemary potatoes, fresh vegetables and a heady reduced Chianti sauce. End the meal with a light, flavorful tiramisù.  

Expect dinner for two to cost $90-$100, excluding wine, tax and tip. Open daily for lunch and dinner.


169 NE 2nd Avenue

    While the ambiance at this “farm-to-fork” eatery is quite casual, the fare is elegant in presentation and refined in taste. Dining takes place in an outside umbrella-covered area in front of the establishment, or in a large room just inside the front door, where the walls are covered with large photos of farms and farmers; alternately, you may prefer the open-air garden patio at the rear of the restaurant. The daily-changing menu lists fare in categories (representative of the size of the portion): snacks, one, two and three, plus a separate category of vegetable items. Generally a choice of a “snack,” or a “one” or a “two” plus a “three” makes a more than adequate meal.
    Very toothsome items from the “snacks” section were the deviled hen eggs, flavored with truffles and sea salt, and the harvest meatballs, featuring flavorful fresh basil and heady pecorino romano. Other winners from the “one” and “two” sections included the kale salad composed of just picked leaves of the “au courant” green leaf cabbage, crispy sunchokes, tangy watermelon radish and goat’s cheese doused with a dressing featuring a fragrant vinegar from Banyuls-Sur-Mer.  A salad of Florida heirloom tomatoes, baby mustard greens, goat ricotta and strawberries came dressed with a walnut vinaigrette, and there are meaty spare ribs in a sorghum-sherry sauce, its flavor perfectly counterbalanced by celery root and horseradish.
    Notable choices from the “three” section included moist, pan-seared local snapper (left) served with an earthy wild mushroom ragout and an invigorating brandy-peppercorn sauce; a thick hamburger on a fresh brioche roll, accompanied by greaseless hand-cut fries; and an upscale version of the country favorite chicken and dumplings, accompanied by swank heirloom beans, Asian pear, shitake mushrooms and a piquant hot mustard sauce. And for dessert, try the doughnuts, rated by many as among the best in south Florida.
    Service is friendly and professional, with excellent explanations of the fare. The squares of light cornbread served with the meal are addictive and the wine list contains many bargain bottles, especially in reds from Italy. 

Expect dinner for two to cost  $90-$100, excluding wine, tax and tip. Open daily for dinner, Friday for lunch and Saturday and Sunday for brunch. 


165 NE 2nd Avenue
561- 330-0004

    This small, Italian newcomer to the area showcases upscale versions of Southern Italian classics and offers an extensive, sensibly priced wine list. Dining is in a rather small but pleasant room, with tan brick walls, a view of ferns through the large windows up front and a bar at the rear, above which are racks of wine and a large blackboard listing daily specials. And, while the choices sound very familiar, like appetizers of eggplant Napoleon and stuffed peppers and main courses such as chicken piccatafrutti di mare over linguine and shrimp scampi, all dishes are made to order with fresh, flavorful ingredients and portions are plentiful.
    Chef-owner Michael Menna tries to accommodate all palates, with daily changing specials like delicate pan-fried orata. And, if the accompaniments listed are not to your liking, he will offer alternatives and accommodate your changes or substitutions without any fuss. Service is attentive and friendly and, while there’s an excellent selection of wine in all price ranges, suggestions from the owner are perfect to accompany the fare. 

Expect dinner for two to cost $90-$100, excluding wine, tax and tip. Open daily for lunch and dinner.


By John Mariani

696 Madison Avenue (near East 62nd Street)

    Let’s speak right off the bat about Nello’s longstanding reputation for being the most expensive Italian restaurant in NYC, perhaps the world for that matter.  True, Carbone in Greenwich Village charges $65 for veal parmigiana and the five-course fixed price menu at Del Posto in Chelsea is $149, but no one else in the city is serving pappardelle alla bolognese for $45  (that’s without white truffles, which cost a small fortune more); prosciutto and melon for $42; and grilled halibut with spinach for $52.
    The question becomes, then, what justifies such prices, and the answer is not that the ingredients are better than at other top-notch Italian restaurants around town, nor is there a celebrity chef like Mario Batali pretending to be in the kitchen at Nello.  The décor, after 25 years, shows no sign of extravagance or the hand of an eminent designer, yet it is one of the prettiest and most comfortable dining rooms on Upper Madison Avenue.  In summer it is also one of the most inviting when they open up the sidewalk tables. (Try to book one early!)  Inside it is a long, cream-colored room with wildlife photos by Peter Beard, sturdy wooden chairs, white tablecloths and flowers on the table.  Sophisticated, yes, pretentious, no.
    One answer to the price question becomes simple: Given Nello’s very affluent and often very famous clientele (the NY Post keeps track of them all), price becomes no object and people are willing to pay to go people-watching or the locals don't given price another thought. I haven’t heard the archaic term “jet setter” used in decades, but twenty-five years ago, when Nello opened, it attracted them in droves, and they’re still here, sometimes with their children in tow.  At its core, Nello is really a neighborhood restaurant that happens to be in a neighborhood where apartments routinely sell for $10 million and up, and a place where Jennifer Lopez, Giorgio Armani and Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be disturbed when they dine.  Still, it’s not impossible to get a reservation, unless someone’s booked the whole restaurant. 
    So, let me put the price issue aside and just report on the quality of the food and service at Nello, which was bought last year by Thomas Makkos from longtime partner Nello Balan (who last month opened a Nello Alpine in Aspen).
    Of course, as anywhere else, regulars are shown deference, but the greeting and fleet-footed service staff are cordial to everyone, making recommendations and telling you the specials of the day, which these days often employ white truffles. The night I visited we had a taste of buttered trenette with shavings from a two-pounder—certainly the largest truffle I’ve ever laid eyes on, and it had tremendous aromatic quality and richness of  flavor (below). Carpaccio Palmito of thinly sliced filet mignon, avocado, hearts of palm and white truffle oil ($36) makes for a good, light starter, but fried artichokes alla giudea  ($26) should have been super crisp like wafers but were instead limp and oily. 
    Overall, the pastas were very good, and to avoid the sticker shock, order them in half portions, which are actually quite generous as a first course.  A properly cooked spaghetti alla carbonara substituted the usual guanciale or pancetta bacon with San Daniele prosciutto along with sweet sautéed Vidalia onions ($43).  Housemade ricotta ravioli with spinach and a bright tomato-basil sauce ($44) was a good dish for a cold night, and rigatoni all’amatriciana ($42) had the right heat and spicing for this hearty Roman dish.  In deference to its name, we dutifully smiled while eating the light potato gnocchi Mona Lisa with buffalo ricotta and more tomato-basil ($43).
    If not among the best osso buco of veal in NYC, Nello’s was tender and succulent, garnished with wild mushrooms ($57). Veal scaloppine was carefully cooked in white wine and lemon ($50) though fairly bland, but a Chilean sea bass cooked “osso buco-style” ($58) retained its own delicate flavor and texture, enhanced with a rich saffron-scented lobster velouté  and rice pilaf ($58).  I ordered fegato alla veneziana ($52), a very large portion indeed, of tasty calf’s liver cut into morsel-like pieces as they do in Venice, cooked pink, and sweetened with a good amount of caramelized onions.  Polenta would have been a better choice than the soupy puree of potatoes that came with this dish and the veal scaloppine.
    You really need not go further into your bank account for the desserts here.
    So. What to say when prices at Nello are what they are and its clientele think nothing of it to have a good, consistent, dependable meal the way it’s been for a generation?  I suppose that, if you go to Nello knowing all this and order carefully but not lavishly, you may soak up what the regulars love about the place, and then you can tell your friends all about it. 

Nello is open for lunch and dinner daily.



According to AP, in a continuing effort to make their food sounds trendier and deter anyone from thinking of it as the fatty fast food it's always been, America's restaurant chain companies have come up with new slogans:

McDonald's: A "modern, progressive burger company."

Chipotle, Panera Bread, Five Guys: "Fast casual."

Del Taco: "QSR-plus." (for "quick-service restaurant.")

Dairy Queen: "Fan food."

Shake Shack: "Fine casual."

In-N-Out Burger: "Quality you can taste."

Arby's: "Fast crafted."



 “This is an impressive restaurant from an even more impressive chef in the city's most impressive space. Suffice it to say: we're impressed.” 

"Stephane Bombet . . . is  going a bit out-of-the-box. As in Korean BBQ in the heart of Culver City with a $120 tomahawk steak that's topped with foie gras butter out-of-the-box."

 "Baroo's menu is full of funky fermented ingredients, heirloom grains you've never heard of, and some of the most mind-blowing flavor bombs in L.A."

--From Joe Sherer, “Otium: Where-to-eat-now-hot-n-fresh-l-a-restaurants,” Los Angeles Magazine (1/16)



 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:

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.


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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