Virtual Gourmet

  April 24, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Still Life" (1848) by Robert Seldon Duncanson



By Brian Freedman


By John Mariani

By Geoff Kalish


: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week (May 1st) because Mariani will be eating his way around Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast so that he might write about it all in upcoming issues.


By Brian Freedman

    No matter how many times I clicked through the photos online before my first trip to South Africa, those images of jacaranda trees backlit by fiery sunsets, of thick-tusked elephants loping along the veld, of Table Mountain (above) in its regal repose, the water glistening so unexpectedly close to its base, I just hadn’t been prepared for the light when I actually got there. The clarity of that light, whether the explosive pinks and purples of the sunsets in the bush or the more subtly shimmering blues of morning in the Western Cape, the sun, and the way it shone, was a constant source of fascination for me during the time I have spent in South Africa.
    Among so many of the travel, wine, spirits, and food writers that I know and have journeyed with, South Africa, at some point, invariably comes up in the conversation. It’s one of those destinations that is at the top of seemingly all of my colleagues’ travel bucket lists. First in November 2014, and then again this past June, I had the good fortune to visit the country on trips hosted by South African Tourism.  Key parts of the trips were also run in conjunction with Roots Africa Tours.
    Over the course of a combined 16 days, I had the chance to not just see the sights but also to experience first-hand so much of what makes the country one of the top destinations on the planet—from the energy of Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct (left), with its streets bustling with stylish young people strolling along as music and the smell of fried food hovers in the air, to the sophistication of Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited, its office and hotel towers giving way to the lower-lying residential areas spread out beyond, the Technicolor houses of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood and the electric energy of Kloof Street, to the movie-set beauty of a safari up north in Huidspruit, out east beyond Port Elizabeth.
    Personally, with two very young children and therefore a distinct lack of sleep in my home life, I welcomed the nonstop South African Airways flight to South Africa.  At the time, I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon, so when I awoke a little after sunrise that first day,  I stretched out in my bed at the remarkable Le Petite Dauphine Guest Farm in Franschhoek, and felt better prior to my early-morning jog than I had back in Philadelphia. Out my front door, along the trails lining the expansive five-star property, through the front gate and up along the rolling roads stretching toward the horizon, I ran off what few cobwebs there were from the journey halfway around the world, breathed in air perfumed with a profusion of springtime flowers and trees bursting with blossoms, and watched the clouds roll over and down the flanks of the Drakenstein Mountains off in the distance as the sky lightened from a deep to a paler blue as the sun continued its climb.
    Showered, refreshed and by then ravenously hungry, I met up for breakfast with the rest of the group. I tucked into fresh eggs and fruit taken from a stone’s throw away. This, I would soon discover, was one of the many reasons to travel to South Africa: The range and expressiveness of the local culinary culture is stunning.
    My deep respect for what this storied land can produce was beautifully embodied in Babylonstoren (right), a massive 500-acre Cape Dutch farm in the Drakenstein Valley, with roots that stretch back to 1690. Today, with its endless fields of flowers and fruit trees, vegetables and ducks and more—there is even a maze of prickly pear—this is a breathtaking property replete with a hotel and a vineyard. Even if you’re not staying the night, a meal at the excellent Babel restaurant or in the Greenhouse, hydrated with a spot of herb-perfumed tea, is a phenomenal way to spend a day while you’re exploring the areas around Franschhoek and Paarl.
       In a similar vein is
Pierneef à la Motte (left), another restaurant connected to a grape-growing and farming operation. The sophisticated, rustic-chic restaurant cooks up some seriously accomplished dishes, among the most memorable a fermented mushroom that contextualized the fungus in a way I’d never before considered. The menu is wide-ranging, no matter how guests  choose to eat.  A vegan, gluten-free lemon and vanilla cashew tart finds a place on the menu alongside heartier fare like baked bone marrow with grilled potato and leek bread, pickled ox tongue and parsley salad.
    South Africa in general, and the Western Cape in particular, is home to a stunning range of artisanal food producers. World-class smoked salmon and trout from a hatchery at Franschhoek Three Streams Trout Farm were a revelation. Delicious sweets at Huguenot Fine Chocolates, also in downtown Franschhoek, are worth stocking up on. Outside the town is Terbodore Coffee Roasters, which brings in raw beans from around Africa and the rest of the world and roasts them in small batches.
        Noble Hill Estate, in Paarl, is helmed by Kathleen and Kristopher Tillery, a mother-and-son team from the United States, and their wines are remarkable, as are the chili peppers they grow. Stokkiesdraai Biltong at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Food Market is a carnivore’s fantasy. I purchased a sizable bag of ostrich and beef biltong—imagine the best jerky you’ve ever had—early on my last trip, and happily snacked my way through it over the course of my stay.
        Chefs like the visionary Chris Erasmus of Foliage Restaurant (right) at the IS Art Gallery (also worth a visit for its gorgeous range of local artists and, given the friendly exchange rate, excellent values on one-of-a-kind artwork), are pushing the boundaries of what South African cuisine is and can be. Using local and seasonal ingredients, many of them foraged, in new and unexpected ways, a dinner at Foliage is an eye-opening and soul-satisfying experience.
  The menu changes, but you’re likely to find phenomenal dishes like a braised kudu shank boudin with roasted bone marrow, grilled springbok, purslane, honeybush jus, and mushroom and oyster, among many others.

Part Two of this article will appear May 8.


By John Mariani


90 Thompson Street (near Prince Street)

    As far as I know, NYC has only two true Piedmontese restaurants—the venerable Barbetta, opened in 1906, and the brand new San Carlo Osteria Piemonte.  One could hardly be different from the other in terms of atmosphere, for Barbetta is a townhouse resplendent in baroque and 19th century antiques, while San Carlo, with just 50 seats, is as modern as a new Alfa-Romeo Spider.  Yet both share a true dedication to the cuisine of that northern Italian region and its capital, Turin, whose famous broad piazza gives its name to this little osteria in SoHo.
    There are three enthusiastic partners behind San Carlo, all natives of Turin: CEO Carlo Rolle, a Turin restaurateur;  Managing Director Moreno Cerutti, a former marketing executive;  and Davide Poggi, former General Manager of the nearby Piccola Cucina.  In the kitchen is the ebullient Chef Riccardo Zebro, who trained in notable restaurants like Balzi Rossi in Ventimiglia and Il Milanese Curioso in Milan.
    Outside is an engraved brass bull, a Piedmontese symbol for good luck. Inside is a mural of Piazza San Carlo, the now commonplace exposed brick walls, wood floors,  and beamed ceilings, with an accent wall made with terracotta tiles, and a brass bar on the opposite side.  The chairs and banquettes are exceptionally comfortable, especially for SoHo, where rude wood rules.  The lighting is just right, glowing from brass sconces, but the place can get loud when it’s full, which means there is no reason whatsoever for the owners to pound in music you can’t even recognize.
    The ambiance is casual and guests are meant to have a good time, but the cooking at San Carlo is very serious indeed.  Just the texture alone of the housemade cooked pastas tells you it is as close as you’ll find to the real thing in Italy—not merely al dente but light, with the right chewiness and the proper amount of sauce.  Moreno Cerrutti bounds around the room greeting, coaxing, recommending and pleasing his clientele, which currently runs to neighborhood people walking in off the street to see what San Carlo is all about.  I shudder to think how tough it will be to get a table here once the word really gets out.
    Begin with a sip of lightly sparkling Prosecco Foss Marai ($12) and nibble on the crisp, hot fried squash blossoms oozing with mozzarella and basil.  A selection of salumi ($14 and $19) goes well with the good crusty bread and green-gold olive oil here, and for antipasti, by all means have one of the classic Piedmontese preparations—vitello tonnato, made with thinly sliced veal in a creamy tuna and capers sauce, with the novel addition of pickled onions ($15).  You might find this dish elsewhere around town, but at San Carlo it is done to perfection.  Capunet ripieno ($12) are stuffed cabbage rolls, lush with a fonduta of melted taleggio cheese. 
    Among the pastas is a good-sized portion of agnolotti with juicy, braised meat and a veal jus ($20) and egg-rich tajarin—the Piedmontese name for tagliarine or tagliatelle—in a quickly cooked sauce of chanterelle mushrooms and veal ragù ($19).  Potato gnocchi are airy and lavished with a Piedmontese cheese sauce studded with toasted walnuts ($17).  I will return to try their risotto with Castelmagno cheese ($21) and pray they will someday soon serve my favorite Turinese dish, the thumbnail-size agnolotti del plin, which are customarily served in a clean white napkin.
         Piedmont’s cooks have always taken their time making their meat sauces, and the slowly-braised beef cheek here proves why. All the ingredients and seasonings are suffused throughout meat that falls apart in shreds, accompanied by nutty buckwheat polenta and baby carrots ($27). San Carlo does a fine Cornish game hen alla babi, so-called because it is pressed and grilled and looks like a babi—toad—here served with scented baby potatoes and wild mushrooms ($24).  The grilled fish of the day will be pleasant if not thrilling, as Italian-style fish dishes so rarely are in New York.
    This food is rich but not particularly heavy, so you’ll have room for desserts like the egg-whipped zabaione with sweet wine and cookies, or the delicious Piedmontese chocolate custard classic bonèt with amaretti.
    San Carlo’s wine list is building up to 150 labels, with 10 by the glass, focused on regional wines of the north, not least Piedmont’s own great Barolo and Barbarescos.  And, since Turin has inspired more than its share of cocktails, like the Milano Torino and the Americano, there is a good spirits list too.   
I’m hoping the inevitable popularity of San Carlo does not overwhelm this precious little trattoria, for a good deal of the fun is to intermingle with the staff and sense that life is too short not to take your time eating food of this unusual kind.

Open for lunch and dinner daily.




By Geoff Kalish

Jordan Vineyard & Winery
1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg 

    Tom Jordan made his money in oil in Colorado and in the late 1960s and early 1970s traveled through France with his wife, Sally, to try to buy a chȃteau producing top-quality wine. Unable to find what he wanted, he built a “Chȃteau” in Alexander Valley.  He hired a young winemaker, Rob Davis, and contracted for the consulting services of renowned enologist  André Tchelistcheff (creator of the iconic Napa Valley Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour Private Reserve” Cabernets).
    The first vintage of Jordan Cabernet in 1976,  made using barrels purchased from Château Lafite Rothschild (which some say contained Lafite),  received spectacular reviews and ratings and was compared with the wines of top-tier French producer Château Margaux.  Now producing 100,000 cases of wine annually and owned and operated by Tom Jordan’s son, John, the winery is also making a well-regarded Chardonnay. When asked about the possibility of producing other types of wine, John commented that “we do not plan to make more than just a Cabernet and Chardonnay.” 

Recent Releases

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($55)—Fragrant bouquet of cassis and plums, with well integrated taste of herbs, oak and dark fruit, and long finish with a touch of tannin, which makes for good accompaniment to charbroiled steak and lamb.

2013 Chardonnay ($33)—Bouquet and taste of ripe apples and butterscotch with a lively finish; perfect to mate with sea fare and grilled chicken.

With advance reservations visitors are accepted for a variety of one- to three-hour tour and tasting programs.


Robert Young Estate Winery
4960 Red Winery Road, Geyserville

      In 1965 Robert Young began planting grapes on the 200-acre parcel his family had owned and farmed since the 1850s. As with other Alexander Valley properties the grapes were initially sold to other wineries for their use in wines (some good and some not so good). However the wines made from Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay grapes fashioned by Richard Arrowood were some of the best received and best known  of  Sonoma County. And in 1997, with his father’s blessing, Fred Young began producing and selling wine from the grapes grown on the estate.  Today three different Chardonnays and seven reds are produced under the direction of winemaker Kevin Warren.

A Sampling of Recent Releases

2013 Alexander Valley Estate Chardonnay ($42 )—This wine has a bouquet and taste of citrus, pears and hints of peaches and almonds with a moderate amount of acidity in its finish.

2012 Barrel Select Estate Chardonnay ($49)—Showing a bouquet of ripe papaya and lemons, this wine shows layers of fruit and vanilla with a long memorable finish.

2011 Scion Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)—Aromas of blackberries and ripe cherries dominate in the bouquet and taste, with a lingering flavor of vanilla in its soft finish.

The small tasting room is open to visitors daily (except major holidays and for special events) 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. With advanced reservations, guided one-hour walking tours are available on most Saturdays and Sundays.

White Oak
7505 California Highway 128, Healdsburg 

      From its initial, small Alexander Valley vineyard and tasting room just off the square in Healdsburg in the 1970s, owner Bill Myers has gown this winery to produce award-winning bottles from over 750 acres of prime land, including parcels in Alexander, Russian River and Napa valleys. And, although only about 10% of the harvest is used for wines under the White Oak label (21,000 cases), other producers are having great success with the grapes from Myers’ holdings. However, while its wine and winemaker William Parker win numerous accolades on the West Coast, recognition is only beginning in the eastern markets.

A Sampling of Recent Releases

2013 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($17)—This well-priced white shows a bouquet and taste of citrus and nectarines with a lively acidity in its finish.

2013 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($24)—With a bouquet and taste of tropical fruit, hints of baked apple and a citrusy finish, this wine is perfect to pair with a wide range of sea fare from oysters to Arctic char and grilled salmon.

2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35)—This Fifty Best Double-Gold Medal winner shows a bouquet of deep red fruit, chocolate and sage, with a well-integrated, elegant taste of plums, herbs and oak and a smooth long-lasting finish.

2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35)—A bouquet and taste of figs, plums and cassis dominate in this complex wine that has firm tannins and will need 3-5 years to show its best.

The winery is open for tastings and picnics in its scenic grove 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily (except major holidays).





After intense marketing studies and compiling massive data, Burger King announced that it's adding hot dogs to its menu, one with the standard fixings of ketchup, mustard, onions, and relish (left); and another with chili and cheese (right). 




“Brined in sweat and covered in Hong Kong’s humidity, I pushed myself to amble up a dirt path.  Finally, there was a bus stop—and next to it, a cow, waiting.”—Chaney Kwak, “Hiking Hong Kong,” Delta Sky (January, 2016)



 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) 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 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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