Virtual Gourmet

  March 20, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"The Dinner Horn" by Winslow Homer (circa 1870).


ALSACE, Part Two

By John A. Curtas

By John Mariani


By Geoff Kalish


AN ANNOUNCEMENT: On April 13 at 7 PM at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center in Tuckahoe, NY, John Mariani will give a convivial talk on "The Enduring Presence of Mamma in the Italian Kitchen." A light reception is offered prior to the beginning of the presentation from 6:30-7 PM. Members: $25, non-members $25. For details click here:


ALSACE, Part Two

By John A. Curtas

    A few days in Strasbourg is the perfect introduction to the glories of Alsatian food and culture. But to properly immerse yourself in the wonders of this Franco-German region, you need to head to the wine country, where, within an hour's drive of the big city, a steady succession of postcard-perfect villages await you with open arms, hearty cuisine, and more delicious white wines than you can count.
    There are more than a hundred wine villages stretched out along the 100-mile "route des vins" that meanders along the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, and choosing where to stop and sip is a problem every wine lover should have.  I like to begin in Ribeauville, for both its Medieval charm and a location right in the thick of things. A short, steep drive up the slopes from Ribeauville's main street puts you in Le Clos Saint Vincent (below)--a four-star hotel located smack dab in the middle of the Trimbach vineyards with a gorgeous view of rows of vines and the valley below. Stretch out on your patio and you will, quite literally, feel that all of Alsace is at you feet, which, in a sense, it is.
    The hotel may be a bit removed from the hubbub of Ribeauville's retail area -- full of history, tasting rooms, pastry shops and restaurants -- but walking up and down those slopes is the perfect way to work up an appetite for dinner at L'Auberge de l'Ill —-  the grande dame of Alsatian restaurants (below).
    There is something magical about crossing the small bridge over the River Ill that leads to the restaurant’s front door.  The dining room is strategically framed with bay windows that maximize the splendor of the grounds; giant willows punctuate your view and sway along the river. A renovation nine years ago modernized the room (not to our taste; we liked the old look and feel) and brightened it -- some might say too much, so the main dining room is dominated by a giant light fixture with roughly the wattage of the sun. Thankfully, none of these cosmetic changes has affected Marc Haeberlin's cuisine, which remains as solidly classical as ever, with a few lighter tweaks to keep the modernists happy. A remarkably young and friendly staff served our meal effortlessly — from tiny frogs’ legs "dim sum” style, through lobster served in a coral foam, to obligatory slabs of silky, rose-pink foie gras d'oie the size of English muffins.
    You can get foie d'oie all over Alsace, but this terrine was a revelation in the sweetness and subtlety that makes these goose livers so compelling. Paired with an '05 Trimbach Gewürtztraminer Vendange Tardive, the terrine was as ethereal a food-wine match as can be achieved on Earth.  It would have been easy enough to make a meal out of those amuses bouche and the entrees, but that would have caused us to miss out on the best chicken in the business: the famed poulet de Bresse. Here, the bird is shown to you first and then served three different ways. First, the breast is carved tableside (with a hideously intense reduction sauce), accompanied by a baeckeoffe of truffled parsnips en crôute -- the layer of which is peeled away to reveal a vegetable stew whose fungal perfume fills the room, vivid with the aromas of black truffle, chicken stock and root vegetable. But the piéce de resistance was the further-roasted leg and thigh, the leg presented on a sterling silver handle to make your munching on, or carving of, that leg much more effortless.
    From there, everything continues down the Michelin 3-star path that grand-père Paul Haeberlin secured in 1967 and has remained a constant since then. Only Paul Bocuse has had his 3-star status longer (by only a year) and there's a sense here that luxurious service and haute cuisine are part of the DNA of every employee. The French consider fine dining an essential mark of their civilization, and chef Haeberlin and staff do their utmost to preserve these traditions and convert you to the joys of the Alsatian table.
    After such a big deal meal, there's really only one thing to do the next day: go wine tasting. The good news is you don't have to go very far to find a tasting room, no matter what humble burg you find yourself in. And the best place to taste the most wines is in the village of Riquewihr (right). Of the 67 communes criss-crossing the wine route, it provides the most bang for your walking and wine-sipping buck.Along its sloped and cobbled streets you will find tasting rooms of the larger producers (Pierre Sparr, Hügel, et al) along with dozens of rooms featuring labels that never make it out of the region. Unlike Burgundy -- where all those reds and whites are just different iterations of the same two grapes: pinot noir and chardonnay -- here, you get a bonanza of white grapes: racy, herbal Sylvaner, grapey Muscat, floral Gewürtztraminer, rich, elegant Rieslings, and unctuous Pinot Gris that will open up your palate to a whole new world of vin blanc. Oak is rarely used, so the clean, direct flavor of the grape and terroir always comes through. And, if those aren't enough, there's always a citrus-y Pinot Blanc or sparkling Crémant d'Alsace offered to whet your whistle. Put it all together and Riquewihr is the closest thing to white wine Disneyland I can think of.
    Many of the smaller wineries offer tastings by appointment only, and it's worth it to seek out one or two when you're in the area. An oenophile friend put us on to Domaine Jean Becker —- tucked away in the tiny village of Zellenberg -- and we were treated with a tour and a tasting and a chance to chew the fat (slurp the Gewürtz?) with Martine Becker.
    Martine is not only one of the great ladies of Alsatian wine, but the perfect guide for sipping your way through her single-vineyard, Grand Cru wines. Her tasting room doubles as a reception center and gift shop, and there's even a children's area where the kiddies can amuse themselves while mom and dad parse the finer points of her Sélection de Grain Nobles and eau de vie.
        Martine is a wealth of information, both on viticulture and Alsace history, but she will really amuse you (in multiple languages) with the local gossip, as well as a mini-symposium on the differences between the way the French and Germans treat the Riesling grape. When asked, she at first purports to know nothing about German wine, but then proceeds to eviscerate their obsession with sugar levels and science with the deft hand of grape-fermenting surgeon. Like most Alsatian winemakers, she sees German wines as precise but passion-less -- lacking the "heart and soul" that gives this land its distinctiveness. Hard to argue with her on that score, considering that she sells an awful lot of wine to Germans. Whether you know nothing or everything about Alsatian wines, a private tour with Martine Becker is a must in any wine lover's education.
    We could have spent all day with Becker but, at her encouragement, we traveled up the road (and we mean up) to the tiny town called Trois Épis -- where you’ll find probably the best confiture (jelly and jam) you have ever tasted. Known as the "Queen of Confitures" and the "Jam Fairy" by those in the know, Christine Ferber runs Maison Ferber (below), a small, nondescript patîsserie (inside a grocery store that says "Au Relais des Trois Épis,” which does nothing to make it easier to find). The shop looks like a thousand others in France, until you notice an entire wall stocked floor to ceiling with small pots of hand-made fruit preserves. Calling them luscious, intense and sublime doesn't do them justice.
        It is as if she infuses her bases with superfruit, or has learned to coax every last bit of flavor from every berry. Ferber is an artisan in the truest sense, which is why her products are so proudly featured by Pierre Hermés, the Connaught in London and the Crillon in Paris. Don't even think about trying to decide between her griottes d'Alsace (sour cherries), pear and vanilla, or fraises d'Alsace (strawberry), just point and pick a dozen varieties and try to resist the urge to devour them directly out of the jar as you wind your way back to the route des vins.
    If you can bear the thought, put your spoons down for a walking tour of Eguisheim, one of the most picturesque villages in all of France, which is really saying something.
    You'll only need a couple of hours to drink in the history of the place. Tasting rooms are fewer and farther between than you find in Riquewihr, but it's the perfect strolling venue to work up an appetite for dinner at the delightful Le Moréote, owned by Catherine Klein  and Pascal Settia. We wouldn't have known about it but for the entreaties of Eric Klein -- Executive Chef at Spago Las Vegas -- to visit his sister while we were in the region. Described by one reviewer as "a tiny gem in a town full of tourist traps," Le Moreote feels like you're dining in someone's home, which in a sense you are, since Catherine and Pascal live upstairs. The best way to enjoy it is to pull up a chair and let Pascal cook for you. In between treating us like long lost relatives (replete with tales of little brother Eric and the family farm) Pascal turned out one drop-your-fork-delicious plate after another, ranging from a fricassée d'escargots with fresh cèpes to a delicate filet of barbue (brill) with an olive oil sauce and a saffron risotto that brought a bit of Provence to a chilly evening in late autumn.
    La Moreote is just the sort of homey restaurant you need after a day of wine tasting and sightseeing, and it features just the sort of simple, well-executed food that the Alsacienne take for granted. Spend a couple of hours there and you too will feel like one of the family.
    Finally, no trip to Alsace is complete without a visit to Colmar, its second largest city. And no trip to Colmar is complete without a stroll through the Petit Venise, a vest pocket of a neighborhood with a canal flowing by all sorts of good places to eat and drink. On previous visits, we've always enjoyed a meal at JY's (above and right)-- Jean-Yves Schillinger's Michelin-starred temple of contemporary dining, housed in a 1750 building boasting quite the trompe l'oeil façade.
    Schillinger's menu is a marvel of Alsatian ingredients, French technique and an almost Japanese sensibility when it comes to presentation, but on this trip, for our final meal, we opted for a more traditional restaurant: Winstub de la Petite Venise, where a plate of liver dumplings and a giant pork knuckle seemed like just the souvenir to conclude our sipping, sightseeing and supping in one of the tastiest places on the planet.





By John Mariani

13-15 West 54th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    There is rarely an evening when Il Gattopardo, named after the great Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel of Sicilian life, when owners Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino (below with Chef Gnazzo) do not know most of their guests as long-time regulars going back fourteen years, when this refined ristorante was located a few doors away from its present location. The couple, who also own The Leopard at Des Artistes near Lincoln Center, have cultivated their clientele with charm, consistency and style. 

    The new premises, now three years old, in Nelson Rockefeller’s former Beaux Arts townhouse, evoke the modernity of MOMA across the street, with strong, clean lines and subtle lighting that create expanses of soft shadow and a natural glow within its subterranean setting. Classic wicker chairs and double tablecloths maintain the elegance, along with fine stemware and china. The noise level is very good for conversation.
     The bar up front has the feeling of the best in Milan, and the wine list  is among the best Italian in NYC, with each of 255 labels of the 5,500 bottles selected by Gianfranco himself, focusing on small Campanian producers, so that you’ll find good bottles for under $40, along with a daunting number of magnums and jeroboams ideal for a celebrity party.

     As you’d expect from its location, Il Gattopardo gets a well-heeled, well-dressed clientele, which includes the museum and gallery crowd, the fashionistas of Fifth Avenue, and musicians Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart. Key to their fidelity is knowing that the menu is a delicate balance of  favorite dishes perfected over the years by Chef Vito Gnazzo and the introduction of new ones that both mirror the seasons and acknowledge changes in Italian cuisine, as in his superb crudo of branzino, marinated in lemon and olive oil (below) and formed in a pretty little cake colored with fennel, mache and nubbins of tomato ($24).
    Gnazzo, from Salerno, had worked at the renowned Antica Osteria del Ponte outside Milan, then at the equally esteemed Rex in Los Angeles before becoming Executive Chef at Sette MOMA across the street, so he’s very much at home on West 54th, which has become part of a nexus for alta cucina served at nearby Armani Ristorante and San Pietro.   Owner Gianfranco is proudly Neapolitan, so the menu has a decided Southern slant, obvious in an earthy dish like an antipasto of a parmigiana of zucchini with smoked scamorza mozzarella, tomato and herbs ($16). Baby octopus is po
ached till tender in a fresh tomato, capers and red onions sauce, set over creamy polenta ($19), while small beef and veal meatballs cuddle in cabbage leaves with thyme sauce, served over mixed greens ($17).  Most wonderful of the starters was a timballo of porcini mushroom and potato ($18).
    Many of the dishes I had on a recent evening were fondly recalled from previous ones, but I found them all made better than ever, which shows how Gnazzo is always refining his touch in pastas like mezze maniche with spicy hot 'nduja sausage ragù and a mass of sweet onions scented with rosemary ($28 for a full portion, but half-portions are very generous).  A plate of fat
paccheri pasta tubes was the epitome of casalinga (home-style) cooking, lavished with a “Genovese” sauce (below) of  melted sweet onions, carrots, celery and pork ribs cooked for hours in white wine ($26). The name comes from the practice of visiting Genovese sailors in Naples who kept drinking wine while cooking their meal.  Somewhat more contemporary is the spaghetti with grey mullet bottarga roe, garlic, parsley and extra virgin olive oil ($26) and the lasagna “di Carnevale” with mini meatballs, ricotta and smoked mozzarella ($25).

   One main course that never leaves the menu is the very popular Neapolitan meatloaf ($29), suffused with flavors of long-cooked vegetables and seasonings, served with chive-dotted mashed potato and garlic-rich spinach. Rolled v
eal braciola has the scent of fennel pollen, a splendidly conceived dish stuffed with baby artichoke and provola cheese, served with celery root purée and sautéed spinach ($46).  You won’t find a better codfish dish than Gnazzo’s, cooked in a casserole with Gaeta olives, capers, cherry tomatoes and organic potatoes ($39), and the nicely fatted Colorado lamb is crusted subtly with herbs, served with cheese-rich potato croquettes and sautéed spinach, garnished with spicy fruit mustard ($50).
    Even at Il Gattopardo’s level, Italian desserts often falter, but pastry chef Austin Torsiello makes splendid ones (all $13), including the Ne
apolitan cheese cake called pastiera ; cassata Sicilian style garnished with dark chocolate sauce; a nice tangy lemon and mascarpone delizia with berry sauce (right); and a deeply flavorful chestnut mousse with chestnut sauce, accompanied by a small glass of Meroi Picolit 2009.
    Il Gattopardo’s longevity is clearly due to the high quality and variety of its traditional and contemporary cuisine, but the restaurant—which is now serving a few tables al fresco—has set such a tone of amiable sophistication and service, which seems effortless but which requires tremendous precision teamwork, that, after one visit, it becomes hard to resist ever after. 

Open for lunch, Mon – Fri.; brunch Sat & Sun; dinner nightly




  By Geoff Kalish

   My first encounter with Peju Province occurred in the late 1980s on a visit to Napa Valley, when the winery was holding tastings in a garage and going through an expansion of their facility. At the time, I met with the owner, Tony Peju, and thought the wines were good but not exceptional.  But over the past 20 years I’ve tasted a number of the winery’s reds and whites and noted a definite trend for many of their wines to achieve the top tier status.  In fact, I found a bottle of 2008 Peju Province Merlot memorable, with well integrated fruit and oak, with soft tannin on the finish and long lasting flavors of plums, raspberries and anise. And just recently I tasted six of their newest releases (at Decanted wine shop in Naples, FL) and afterwards chatted about the wines with Lisa Peju (the owner’s daughter, now worldwide ambassador for the brand). My notes follow. 
    Grapes for the 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($24) were sourced from the Persophone Vineyard, located in northern Napa’s Pope Valley, just east of the town of Calistoga. Following harvest the grapes were fermented and aged in stainless-steel tanks. It shows a bouquet and taste of grapefruit, lychee and citrus, with hints of apricot and a crisp finish, perfect to pair with shrimp, oysters and grilled seafare.
         The 2012 Merlot (97% Merlot, 3% Malbec) ($43) was made using grapes from Peju’s Rutherford Estate and Persephone Vineyard in Pope Valley. Following fermentation the wine was aged for 18 months in a combination of American and French oak. It has a fruity bouquet and taste of cassis and vanilla with a smooth, soft finish that mates well with veal and grilled chicken.
Made from a blend of  Cabernet Franc (83%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Peju’s Rutherford Estate and Persephone Vineyard, the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($65) has a fragrant bouquet of ripe raspberries and black currants and a taste of plums with hints of chocolate and a soft, long-lasting memorable finish. Mate this elegant wine with grilled salmon, rack of lamb and blue-veined cheeses.
The 2012 Zinfandel, 95% Zinfandel, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon ($42), with grapes from Persephone Vineyard, was aged for 16 months in American oak (25% new). It shows a bouquet of ripe cherries and exotic herbs, with a jammy taste of raspberries and blackberries and a bit of tannin in the finish. This wine makes a good match for pasta with red sauce, lamb ragout and beef stew.
My favorite of the half-dozen wines tasted, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) was a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Syrah, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec from the Rutherford Estate, Persephone Vineyard and Wappo Vineyard near Calistoga. It had a complex bouquet and taste of cassis, ripe raspberries, anise and oak with hints of caramel and cherries in the slightly tannic finish. Ready to drink now, it should even improve over the next 5 years. Try it with prime rib, grilled steak or roasted duck.
The NV Tess Red Blend ($18) a mix of f red and white varietals, served chilled, tasted somewhere between a dry rosé and a sangria with a fruity taste of strawberries and raspberries and a dry finish. Not a wine to my taste but I’m told it’s popular with barbecue or pizza and as an afternoon sipping wine. 




A yakitori restaurant manager in Japan was arrested for attempting to rob the restaurant he managed. Restaurant employees say he burst into the back of the restaurant as they were closing for the night, wearing a mask and sunglasses.  He waved a kitchen knife at the staff and demanded they hand over all the money. When asked by one of his employees, “Aren’t you our manager?" the man took off his mask and advised his staff to  "Watch out for robbers,” pretending it had all been a training exercise, then exited the restaurant with $2,600.

GOOD THING HE DIDN'T GO TO CHEESECAKE FACTORY LA senior editor Farley Elliot ate and reported on every dish on the menu of Rao's new LA restaurant for a video called “Eating Every Damn Dish at an Italian-American Classic.” The menu lists 42 dishes plus desserts.


 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."

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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