Virtual Gourmet

  April 3, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Misha Auer and Barbara Brewster in "Flame of New Orleans" (1941)


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


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: $20, non-members $25. For details click here:


Part One

By John Mariani

    After decades of development promises not kept and a lingering recession, Louisville has lagged behind Southern cities like Nashville, Greenville, and the Research Triangle in creating enough excitement to bring in the big tourist dollars.  But now the city seems poised for a boom built on booze.
    The city’s  movers and boosters are betting the bank on Louisville’s bourbon culture to drive tourism downtown, with several distillers and visitors stores opening along Main Street in the next two years.  It’s a bet not without ballast: According to
the Distilled Spirits Council, the combined U.S. revenues for bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey jumped 7.8 percent to $2.9 billion in 2015, and domestic volume rose 5.2 percent to 20.4 million cases, outpacing the overall distilled spirits sector. 
One third of the bourbon made now comes from Louisville.  A good deal of that
will be poured into 100,000 bourbon-based Mint Juleps during the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Derby next month. A lot more goes into the Old Fashioned cocktail, said to have been perfected at the city’s Pendennis Club.
    The idea for a new Whiskey Row (left) was preceded by a portion of Main Street dubbed the “Wall Street of Whiskey,” which once housed 50 bourbon-related businesses before Prohibition.  An added appeal for bourbon-related tourism is the Urban Bourbon Trail, a network of bars and restaurants and stores in the city that promote the whiskey by stocking at least 50 labels. It was  established in 2008, largely through the efforts of Stacey Yates, VP of marketing communications for the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, who saw that linking the restaurants like the Down One Bar (right) and distilleries to downtown’s nighttime activities would pull everything together, and, in Yates’s words, “move bourbon off the front porch.”

      The Trail began with eight stops; eight years later, there are 34. (The state has had its own Kentucky Bourbon Trail since 1999 that schedules visits to nine distilleries outside of Louisville.)     Time will tell if so much focus on bourbon will have a sustaining effect on tourism, but the city has a lot more going for it culturally, and, as seen over recent visits, the hotel and restaurant scene is picking up steam the way it has in other Southern cities like Nashville, Greenville, and Raleigh. (I’ll report on dining out in Louisville in my next article.)

One of the current and most dynamic of the city's craft distilleries is Copper & Kings (right) in the Butchertown neighborhood, which makes "
definitive American Brandy influenced by American Whiskey and American music. We do not make derivative brandy styled upon a European sensibility.  We use a low & slow distillation philosophy, by which a relatively low distillation temperature makes for a longer, slower distillation and maximum copper still contact to express concentrated flavors, aromas, and smoothness."  The distillations are made from brandy varietals-- French Colombard, Muscat de Alexandria and Chenin Blanc sourced largely in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions of California.


  For those interested in history and architecture, the Old Louisville neighborhood has the largest collection of Victorian homes in the U.S.  As a well-situated and prosperous river town during the Civil War, and having sided with the North, Louisville, though threatened, was never attacked and survived pretty much intact.

Downtown is home to the 12-year-old Frazier History Museum, with an outstanding collection of
armaments. There is also the Kentucky Science Center, while The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft  is devoted to arts, crafts and design.  Closed in 2013 for a total rebuilding, the Speed Art Museum, adjacent to the University of Louisville, is scheduled to re-open this year, with more than 12,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection.  Outside the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory there is a 120-foot replica of Babe Ruth's 34-inch Louisville Slugger bat (right), a huge piece of Pop Art that weighs 68,000 pounds.
Already one of the most popular visitor attractions is The Muhammad Ali Center devoted to Louisville’s native son.  And in the neighborhood dubbed “NuLu,” east of downtown, you’ll find a slew of new galleries, antique stores and restaurants within the historic district. The Kentucky Center features plays and concerts throughout the year, and hosts Louisville Ballet, Bourbon Baroque, Stage One Family Theatre, the Kentucky Opera, and the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, the country’s oldest. The Louisville Orchestra (founded in 1937) operates out of the magnificent Palace Theater.
   All around town there are other performing arts theaters, from the Savage Rose Classical Theatre and The Bard's Town Theatre Company, to the Louisville Repertory Theatre, Louisville Improvisors, and Squallis Puppeteers.
  In another couple of weeks, of course, Louisville will be packed when the Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs. Every stratum of Kentucky society as well as American visitors and foreign tourists attend this uniquely colorful weekend of horse racing, parties in historic houses and tailgate picnics.  The mint juleps are shaken cold and served in their traditional frosted silver mugs, and the city shows its brightest and most glamorous face, when everyone joins in singing the state anthem “My Old Kentucky Home.”



By John Mariani

         The ever-vigilant American food media are always poised to find a prominent person, preferably a politician, caught eating pizza “the wrong way!”  Latest is Republican presidential candidate John Kasich (left), excoriated in the press for using a knife and fork on a slice of pizza at Gino’s Pizzeria in Howard Beach in Queens, NY, causing him to explain on Good Morning America: “Look, look, the pizza came scalding hot, okay? And so I used a little fork. You know what? My wife, who is on spring break with my daughters, said, `I'm proud of you. You finally learned how to use a utensil properly.”
         To which New York magazine’s hipster Grub Street columnist sniffed, “
Oh, right, because the pizza was hot. Pizza is supposed to be hot. A slice of New York pizza should land in front of you radiating heat to an almost terrifying degree, blasted in an oven that burns with the fury of a thousand hellfires. You are supposed to know that if you eat it too quickly you will incinerate the roof of your mouth so thoroughly that it will tingle and feel kinda weird and numb for the rest of the afternoon.”
         Even New York's Italian-American Mayor Bill de Blasio was eviscerated for being seen using a knife and fork on his pizza -- once on Staten Island just after he took office, and another time in Italy while on vacation (right).
         O.K., here’s the low-down: Pizza, which was created in Naples in the 17th century as a streetside snack food served by the slice, was nicknamed a “libretto,” little book, because it was bought, folded and eaten with the fingers.  But as pizzas became more of an item ordered as an individual whole pie at pizzerias and trattorias, albeit smaller than American pizzas, it was eaten with a fork and knife.  Indeed, if you are anywhere in Italy eating inside, rather than grabbing a slice on the go, you will immediately be identified as an American if you fold up a slice and chomp on it.        
     So, while the way of pizza-eating in America may well be to fold and eat, it is not the Italian way, so de Blasio, in Italy, was doing as the Romans do, while Kasich was making his wife proud.
     Let’s lighten up, eh?
     Now, what's this about Trump eating his steak well done?



By John Mariani

100 East 63rd Street (off Park Avenue)


    There were some raised eyebrows among the NYC food media when Michael White and his Altamarea Group opened a French restaurant named Vaucluse last summer—after launching fourteen Italian restaurants over the past few years, including Marea, which did for Italian seafood what Le Bernardin had done for French.  I have not dined at every one of Altamarea’s restaurants, which now stretch from New Jersey to Las Vegas, Washington DC, Hong Kong, Istanbul, and London, but those I have dined at in NYC have, for the most part, been stellar additions, despite a couple of flops along the way.
    It is certainly a legitimate question how White can properly oversee so many ventures on three continents, in the same way that entrepreneur chefs like Alain Ducasse, Gordon Ramsay, Charlie Palmer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and so many others do these days.  There is obviously a point at which the excellence of White’s original restaurants, where he was always on premises cooking, cannot be sustained with an absentee chef-leader, as if a conductor rarely sets food on the podium.
    Still, Vaucluse, on the Upper East Side premises of what had been Park Avenue Café, is very much a departure for White in that it is a straight-down-the-line French restaurant akin to some of those contemporary dining rooms of Paris like Benôit (owned by Ducasse), Atelier Maître Albert and Les Bookinistes (Guy Savoy), Lazare (Eric Fréchon) and  Le Quinzième (Cyril Lignac).  In each of these you’ll find a good deal of traditional and classic cooking always given a personal twist that redeems them from being predictable.  Little on Vaucluse’s menu can be exalted as wholly innovative, but almost every dish I tried showed the heightened attention of a kitchen not content to provide basic bistro/brasserie fare.
    The renovations to the bi-level dining rooms make Vaucluse as refined as any you’d find in NYC or Paris right now.  Downstairs is a loud buzz;  upstairs, which has been referred to in the press as “Siberia” (above), is actually a far more congenial and civilized room for conversation.  That I had no choice was due to a hostess who, noting I was the first in my party to arrive, sniffed, “You can wait at the bar.” Not “Would you care to wait at the bar?” I replied that I’d rather go to my table, causing her to turn to the sub-hostess and snap, “Thirty-three,” without so much as an “Enjoy your dinner.”  Nevertheless I preferred the quieter room of Siberia to the boisterous, if  “preferred,” downstairs dining room.
    The wine list, overseen by sommelier Leigh Weissman, is as admirably comprehensive as at other Altamarea restaurants but far more focused, as it should be, on French selections.  Curiously, prices by the bottle are quite fair, the markup often less than 100%, but by the glass you get gouged for wines like a $20 Christian Moreau Chablis 2014 that sells for $25 in the wine shop.  Cocktails run $17.
    The spring menu is now in effect, so aside from a selection of oysters with red wine mignonette (six for $21) and American caviar (a whopping $115 per ounce), there is a pretty salad with mesclun, mushrooms à la grecque and shavings of tête de moine cheese and black truffles ($22)—a salad it would be difficult not to love (right). Tartare of beef with capers, cornichons and toasted baguette ($21) was good, if not earth-shaking. A silky terrine of foie gras took on the added interest of guinea hen, with shaved asparagus and a dash of  sweet Sauternes, served with sourdough bread ($26).
    When I saw onion consommé on the menu ($19) I hesitated, knowing that this deceptively simple reduction was once a staple of menus everywhere but one now rarely seen.  The late restaurateur Joe Baum used to barrel through his kitchen and complain about the consommé without even tasting it, growling to his cooks, “I don’t have to. There’s always something wrong about the consommé.”  So I decided to see if White and his cooks could bring this classic soup back to eminence and was giddy upon finding they did. For not only was the broth deeply flavorful and of a perfect dark copper color, but the unexpected addition of bone marrow and a little tartine topped with melted Gruyère added measurably to the sweetness of the slowly reduced onions.
    Since everyone expects White to have pasta on his menus, and because there is hardly a French restaurant anywhere that does not these days, he’s added four. The lobster raviolo with fines herbes and a rich shellfish bisque (left) was very good, very creamy and did actually taste of lobster, but $26 for one large raviolo as a starter tilts towards exorbitance.
    Each day there is a specialty, such as boeuf bourguignnone on Wednesday and blanquette de veau on Thursday. Under “Viandes” you’ll find a beautifully cooked filet of veal done à la Rossini, with fresh sautéed foie gras, a caramelized onion tartine and a deliciously extracted black truffle jus ($46, which is actually a fairly moderate price).  Next to the consommé, I found the slow-cooked rabbit leg with barley and bacon superb, just kissed with enough Dijon mustard to bring up all the flavors ($35), and it was a surprisingly big leg for a rabbit.  I did not have a chance to try the duck à l’orange (another French item you don’t see much any more) because it is only served for two ($42 per person).

    There is a cheese selection of six French varieties ($17 for three, $23 for five) and an excellent list of dessert wines to go with them by the glass.
    Alina Martell, formerly at White’s deluxe Italian place Ai Fiori, is now going full-tilt French with very fine renderings of chocolate cake (right) with mocha crèmeux, genoise and caramel glaze ($15), and a tangy lemon tart with Meyer lemon cream, brown sugar breton cookie, and citron glaze ($13).  I’m always a sucker for Paris-Brest (named after a 1910 bicycle race), that way-too-much-of-a-good-thing made with a ring of pâte à choux pastry filled with caramelized white chocolate and a praline croquant ($13), though the crust was not as crisp as it should be and the interior cream tasted more like whipped Chantilly cream.
    I for one am happy White has tried his hand at a French restaurant—after all, he had extensive training in France as well as in Italy—one that does not try to compete with the more nouvelle examples at Jean-Georges.  Instead, for its sophistication and modernity of design, Vaucluse rises above the evergreen charms of bistros that perform by rote, and in its cuisine there is far more personal expression and attention to detail than you might have expected.  Then again, why would you not from someone of White’s stature?  Now, if he’d only alight more at his restaurants, all would be even better.


Open for Lunch Mon.-Fri.; Dinner nightly; Brunch Sun.




By John Mariani


Joseph Drouhin Domaine des Hospices de Belleville Fleurie 2014 ($26) and Morgon 2014 ($21.50)—Properly aged Beaujolais are starting to blunt the inane reputation of Beaujolais Nouveau, and these two examples from Joseph Drouhin show all the color, fruit and time-will-tell ripeness that is achieved after slow fermentation and six months of aging before bottling. The Morgon is lovely for springtime dishes like baby lamb, while the somewhat fleshier Fleurie, from the most southern terroir of Beaujolais, takes well to dishes like roast pork with prunes.

Nobilo Icon Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014 ($19)—New Zealand Pinot Noirs can be lighter than Australian examples among New World wines,  and can give a better bang for the buck.  In this case you get a solid, well-knit NZ-PN with plenty of cherry flavors of a kind the grape should deliver without the inky sweetness, and the 13.5% alcohol is just where it should be.

Matanzas Creek Winery Jackson Park Vineyard Merlot 2012 ($60)—While its price pushes the upper limits for American merlot, Matanzas Creek has been delivering excellent examples for three decades from the cooler Bennett Valley in Sonoma. Winemaker Marcia Monahan-Torres uses a clone from the illustrious Château Pétrus of Bordeaux and it shows this silky red wine.

Vistalba Corte A 2012 ($70)—The continuing evolution of impressive red wines from Mendoza, Argentina, is on full display with this massive, 15.5% alcohol blend of 67% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Bonarda from a vineyard dating back to 1948. Founder Carlos Pulenta wants his wines to age, and I think this will indeed be better when it is softer and more balanced.  Right now the first sip raises eyebrows for its fruit and density, but, were I on a hacienda in Mendoza with a side of beef on a spit, I’d drink this now. But better to wait.

I Veroni Chianti Rufina Riserva 2011 ($$25-$30)—Twenty-First century Chiantis differ so radically from what the wines once were that it’s impossible to say any are typical of the name.  Yet, while Chianti Classicos get most of the attention, there are excellent Chiantis from other Tuscan regions, including this D.O.C.G. Rufina, made from 100% Sangiovese (once the wine would have also contained Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, even Trebbiano).  This is a big, bold, meaty red with a hefty fruit component softened by 18 months in French oak and 10 months in bottle. 

Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marcheso di Gresy Langhe Martinenga Nebbiolo 2014 ($22)—The Nebbiolo (below) grape goes into Piedmont’s great Barolos and Barbarescos, but it is also a workhorse for wines of Langhe, and this example’s 13.5% alcohol shows a level of refinement you might not expect for $22.  The Martinenga vineyard actually lies within the environs of Barbaresco, so you’re getting much the same terroir and a much lower price. Excellent with tomato sauces and ones made with funghi porcini.

Montesodi del Castello di Nipozzano Frescobaldi 2011
($27-$35)—The aristocratic Frescobaldi family has 700 years of experience making Tuscan wines, and its Montesodi label shows just how impeccably a modern I.G.T. wine can be made, which is “only in exceptional years” from Sangiovese.  With bistecca alla fiorentina, this wine is perfect, easy to drink, yet formidable at every point on the palate.




A Waffle House waitress named Sonserea Dawn Evans was fired and arrested after she allegedly (on video tape) put methamphetamine in her co-worker's drink, leaving him comatose for four weeks and unable to walk afterwards. 



“Damn it, he had me at churros. Yeasty, Flintstone-esque femurs of barely sweetened fried dough arriving searing hot from the fryer, and dusting of cinnamon sugar making sexy-eyes at a ramekin of chocolate sauce. . . . His fattoush purrs vibrancy, tangling humble pita bread croutons with scallions, yellow peppers, and cucumbers along with snaps of lemon juice and Za’ata.  But it’s his octopus dish that stops traffic.”—“Where to Eat Now,” Cincinnati Magazine (April 2016).


 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: Hotel Adler Thermae in Tuscany

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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