Virtual Gourmet

  JUNE 5,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Coney Island" by Edward Laning (1938)


By John Mariani

By John Mariani 

By John Mariani


By John Mariani

Old Quebec. Photo by Jean-François Bérgeron

    I assume that there is a good deal of competition between the Canadian cities of Montréal and Québec as to which offers the most pleasures for the traveler intent on finding history, architecture, shopping and dining on a short trip.  For the latter two interests, Montréal surpasses Québec, but for the first two, I find Québec the clear winner.  And the delightful part of a visit to Québec is that its touristic charms can pretty much be covered in two days, perhaps appended by visits outside the city to Jacques Cartier National Park and Le Massif de Charlevoix, which offer some of the most spectacular mountain views in North America.

    It is almost impossible to stand anywhere in Québec and not gaze upon the towering Château Frontenac (above), which has dominated the city’s skyline for more than a century, opened in 1892 by William Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific railway, as a stopover for travelers that have included King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco, Ronald Reagan, François Mitterrand, Charles Lindberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemingway.  Its vast layout is best seen in aerial photos, for it sprawls atop Dufferin Terrace (left) in full view of the St. Lawrence River.  Just to stroll through its magnificent wood-carved hallways and to peak into its splendid Champlain restaurant is requisite activity.

    From the hotel you can wind though Québec’s Old Town to Place Royal (below), where in 1606 Samuel de Champlain founded the first French settlement in North America; the square retains all its 17th and 18th century cobblestone charm, including the beautiful Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest stone church in North America, built in 1688.  The streets and staircases that lead in and out of the Place are just as historic, some with painted walls depicting Québec history—especially the Rue du Petit Champlain.  The streets are dotted with boutiques and bistros.  The Lower Town, which can be reached by a funicular, brings you to the foot of Cap Diamant, from where it’s a short walk to the Old Port. 

    Not very far away is the business and government sector of the city, which includes the superb Parliament  Building (dedicated 1886) and its 22-foot tall Fontaine de Tourny, with its 43 water jets and sculpted figures—all shipped in from Bordeaux only in 2003 by department store magnate Peter Simons.  Beyond that are the great Plains of Abraham, Québec’s beautifully landscaped 240-acre park with the enchanting Joan of Arc Garden with over 150 plant and flower varieties on display.  The Plains of Abraham (below) was the site of the Battle of Québec in 1759, during the Seven Years War, whose victory by British troops over the French sealed the city’s future, defenses, and architecture. In 1763 with the Treaty of Paris the French lost all claims to Canada, whose effect was to engage the French to help the Americans against the British when the Revolutionary War began.


    Down in the Old Port is a three centuries old Auberge Saint-Antoine, now a wholly modern hotel within the shell of a very historic property, once used as a wharf, a cannon battery, and mercantile warehouse, remnants of which have been preserved in the auberge by four generations of the Price family from Wales, which made its fortune in logging.  The auberge is now run by Martha Bate Price (wife of Tony Price), Evan, Llewellyn and Lucy Price (their children and the family’s 6th generation).

    On a recent visit, my wife and I had the pleasure of dining at the Auberge’s lovely Panache restaurant (below), dating back to 1822 as a warehouse, set within rustic stone walls with a wood-beamed ceiling and with a marvelous view of the great river.  Young French Chef Louis Pacquélin’s cuisine is derived from Canada’s seasons.  “I work a lot with fruits and vegetables in spring and summer from our organic farm,” he said at lunch, “then focus on the proteins in winter.  I had to work hard to find the best farmers to supply what I wanted. I am also impressed with the Canadian artisanal cheeses.”

    The result is a menu of French and Quebeçois classics like roast suckling pig with a ragôut of white beans and sage, spiced with Dijon mustard.

        We began with tangy, warm goat’s cheese on toast with honey and frisée greens that proved Pacquélin’s point about the quality of Canadian cheeses.  Also, there was an excellent terrine of chicken livers with housemade cornichons and croutons, and an impeccably made chicken soup with truffles in the style of the Lyonnais restaurant La Mère Brazier.

That juicy, crisp-skinned suckling pig was delicious, as was a gratin of lobster with very rich, very proper sauce Mornay, further enriched with a potato fondant and leeks but a little too much thyme.  Filet of Canadian beef came within a pastry crust, a tough thing to make well and here it was very, very good, the brioche crisp, the beef perfectly cooked, served with a marmalade of peppers and salad of green beans.  Somewhat lighter was a dish of ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and ricotta.

       Dessert was deeply satisfying—a classic chocolate éclair with pear and sugar-butter crumble.  It was all as fine a meal as I’ve ever had in Canada. Panache’s wine list holds 700 selections and 12,000 bottles, including several Canadian bottlings.  We enjoyed a Cuvée Spéciale Vignoble do Marathonien 2012 at a reasonable $45.


Lunch appetizer & main course or main course & dessert: $19; Appetizer, main course, dessert & filter coffee or tea: $24; Dinner $19 prix fixe or $14-$29 for appetizers, $39-$54 for main courses.



By John Mariani


Gnocchi with pork and beef ragù at San Gennaro

    Now that the New York food media have started to run low on Brooklyn eateries to rave about, there has been slightly more interest in the once neglected boroughs of the Bronx and Queens, both rife with restaurants of every ethnic stripe, not least good Italian trattorias without the hour-long waiting time and the five-dollar slices of pizza at an over-hyped place like Brooklyn’s Di Fara Pizza.  Here are two places the mainline media may someday get around to noticing.



2329 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY



    Gennaro Martinelli (left), born in Capua, south of Naples, has long experience cooking around the world, from Paris to Bruges, from Austria to Kenya, from Thailand to Brazil, so when he took over San Gennaro in the Bronx’s Little Italy section known as Belmont, you could tell right away that he was going to cook with somewhat more refinement than at most of the established Italian-American places in the neighborhood.

    His expertise, along with that of Chef Giuseppe Cammarota (left), shows clearly in the standard dishes of the genre, from excellent, greaseless, lightly battered calamaretti fritti to linguine with vongole clams in the shell.  Pastas are always al dente, ingredients gleaned from the Arthur Avenue markets, which means half a dozen specials every day, among which you’ll find the best dishes on a long menu.

San Gennaro is going through some decorous changes—new floor, new chairs—that will soon include an inserted wine wall, which I’m told will increase a wine list in need of more and better selections. 
    The room is small but it’s appended with a delightful patio on the street that is especially sought out in spring and summer.  Tables are close to one another, and it’s highly likely you’ll chat with diners at the next one over, either recommending what you’re eating or taking the advice on what they’re enjoying.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen looks wonderful, and while Martinelli is a very congenial host, he hires an equally amiable waitstaff.

    Antipasti should not be neglected, since Martinelli may have just obtained some buffalo ricotta, semi-soft in a lattice pattern (right), drizzled with truffle honey and ringed with sun-dried tomatoes ($13).  Grilled, marinated vegetables come glossed with good olive oil ($11 or $22), and they do a splendid carpaccio of slightly smoked swordfish ($12); the same treatment was given pressata di polpo ($15) as a special last week, and it was exceptionally delicate octopus, colorful and tangy with big capers from Pantelleria.

    Just about every pasta I’ve had at San Gennaro has been very, very good, many housemade, and the fettuccine with abundant shrimp in a verdant pesto  ($18) is excellent.  Two specials often featured are the nudi (left) dumplings ($24), made with ricotta and fontina, spinach, prosciutto and white truffle paste in a lavish, cheese-rich cream sauce, and perfect potato gnocchi ($20), airy but substantial, in a pork and beef ragù cooked slowly for three hours to incorporate all the flavors and spices.

    My favorite meat dish here is the pollo scarpariello ($18), big chunks of chicken cooked in white wine-lemon sauce with hot vinegar peppers and sweet sausage (ask for it on the bone).  Fillet of sole is quickly sautéed and served with vegetables in a white wine-lemon sauce ($22), and the scaloppini of veal with a dreamy Gorgonzola sauce takes on nuance from chopped walnuts ($24).  Last time I had the osso buco it was disappointingly dry ($30).

    By the way, you might save that ricotta appetizer as a fine dessert, without the peppers, but the cheesecake made here is one of the best in the neighborhood ($9).

    Gennaro Martinelli is always at his little trattoria and you’ll get to know him quickly.  Take his recommendations.  It makes him and Giuseppe very happy if you do.


Open daily for lunch and dinner.






34-12 31st Avenue, Astoria, NY



    Fraternity is among the strongest of human bonds but, brothers being brothers, there is also sibling rivalry.  Both may be the case with Jersey boys Peter and Danny Aggelato, but both are so committed to their darling pizzeria-trattoria in Astoria—they are on premises seven days a week—that you will sense immediately that Milkflower  is a labor of love.

     Both men have worked for years in others’ restaurants—Danny in pizzerias, Peter as manager—but they dreamed of having their own place in this gentrifying Queens neighborhood of good ethnic restaurants of every stripe, but none quite like Milkflower, which refers to the whole milk called fior di latte used in Italy to make mozzarella.   While principally a pizzeria in the Neapolitan style, the long slip of a space with a garden patio out back makes far more use of the wood-burning oven than usual, resulting in wonderful small dishes like roasted octopus with potatoes and green olives graced with dill ($15) and roasted meatballs with tomato, garlic confit, grana padano cheese and basil ($11).  They also do a pea toast with a touch of mint and creamy-rich burrata and grated lemon ($10).   Plates of Serrano ham ($14), a string bean salad, with persimmon, feta, almonds and citrus ($11), and eggplant caponata ($12) made smoky by that oven is enriched with burrata, pinenuts and a dash of balsamico.

    There are also some delectable pasta offerings, from Roman cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) on fat bigoli noodles ($13) and rolled cavatelli in a beef ragù with goat’s milk feta ($16).

    The Aggelatos can be proud of all those dishes, but clearly their hearts and energies are focused on their ever-improving pizzas, from a classic margherita ($12) to one called “s.t. the ghost,” named after an employee, made with Grafton cheddar, mozzarella, Parmigiano cheese and burnt honey ($15).   
     These are not the ultra-crisp flatbread variety of pizzas; they are the soft-centered Neapolitan variety, always with a risen corona around the rim, with blistered bubbles and charcoal scorchings that make them so marvelous in both lingering flavor and chewy texture.

    Sometimes there’s no reason to re-invent the wheel, if your goal is just to make a better wheel, and that’s what the charmingly named Milkflower is doing to the very best of the brothers’ abilities.


Open for lunch Sat. & Sun., for dinner nightly.






By John Mariani

    I am in no way doctrinaire about what to drink “in season,” so while I do look forward to sampling more rosés and lighter reds with seafood and chicken, I’m just as happy with a brawny Cabernet or Zinfandel with my grilled red meats.  Here are several wines I’ve been delighted with recently.


Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noir Rosé
($15)—A delightful medium-bodied spumante rosato from a very modern winery outside of Modena, Italy, better known for its Lambrusco. It’s a blend of Grasparossa and Pinot Nero, at 12% alcohol, so it goes down very easily. I find it a perfect aperitif—at a great price—that can carry over into first courses like shrimp grilled or in a salad.


Clos de Capelune Cru Classe Côtes de Provence 2015 ($16)—Produced by Château Saint-Maur, this is a fuller bodied rose with 13% alcohol that distinguishes a Cru Classe, with wonderful aromatics and flowers in the bouquet and enough heft to go very well with anything but grilled red meats.  It is a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre and Rolle.


Mercer Horse Heaven Hills Sharp Sisters Red Blend 2013 ($20-$26)—The blend of 47% Merlot, 41% Syrah, and 16% other grapes, with 20 months aging, gives this the fruit and the mellowness, and its moderate heft made it a wonderful accompaniment to black bean soup and suckling pig cooked on the grill.


Cobb Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard  2013 ($75)—With just 12.8% alcohol, this is a lightweight Pinot Noir with plenty of  bright fruit flavors.  Winemaker Ross Cobb picks his grapes at a lower Brix level than many others do in Sonoma, and he tones down the use of oak. The grapes come from cool climate vineyards around Sebastopol with lots of volcanic ash and it reminds me of lighter style red Burgundies that go so well with wild salmon in summer. The price is up there, though.


Beronia Rioja Crianza 2012 ($13-$14)—A superb example of the Crianza style of Rioja, which ranks just above basic Rioja, spending one year in oak and one in bottle, emerging with a very reasonable 13.5% alcohol from 88% Tempranillo, 10% Guarnacha, and 2% Mazuelo (the Spanish name for Carignan), which provides a nice acidity. Most Crianzas are in this price range, making them excellent with just about anything on the summer table.


Il Tascante Nerello Mascalese IGT 2011  ($50)—At this price this might be a tough sell for a Sicilian wine, but it shows the direction the best wineries are taking to modify the too-often too-huge body of others in its category.  It is a lighter, more supple version of Nerello Mascalese,  grown on the northern slopes in Mt. Etna’s volcanic soil, with 13.5% alcohol.  It puts me in mind of some Tuscan IGT reds (the grape may be an offshoot of Sangiovese), and would be a fine accompaniment to grilled chicken or lamb.


Spottiswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($32-$34)—I’m no fan of flowery, sweet Sauvignon Blancs, but Spottiswoode avoids tipping into that popular style. It’s a bit drier and lacks that overly grassy component you often find in Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs, achieving a better balance of fruit and acid that makes it a good choice for any kind of summer’s seafood, especially blue fish.


Miguel Torres Las Mulas Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($10-$14)—A terrific price for an impeccably made Cab from Central Valley, Chile. The grapes are from organic vineyards (begun in 1979 by the Torres family), the alcohol is a fine 13.5%, and yet, despite being 100% Cab, there are layers of flavor and the texture is just right, with the tannins already toned down.  Very good wine with any red meats.


Château Tourril Cuvée Helios Minervois 2015 ($10)—What a little enchanter! This Provençal 100% Roussane is made by two friends who have aimed at and achieved a wine at 13% alcohol with a substantial taste profile that profits from the sunny South of France, emphasizing aromatics, along with fruit and subdued sweetness.  With sushi and sashimi it works very well, as with just about all seafood, not least scallops and lobster.  You can’t beat the price.


Usquebach Old Rare Superior Blend ($115)—This would make a capital Father’s Day gift for its flagon bottle, but at $115 there’d better be a fine Scotch inside.  And there is, blended by the Laing family from 41 whiskies with a good dose of malt in the making. It has just enough  bite balanced with smoothness, and the sherry-like finish is a bonus.  There is also a Reserve Premium Blend at $40 and 15-year-old Pure Blended Malt at $80. 

Canadian Club 100%  Rye ($19.99)--The resurgence of interest in rye, once a staple of every bar and home spirits cabinet, has resulted in the usual overpriced novelties in the market, most drawn from the same stocks as the next bottle over.  So you figure that Canadian Club, which has been around since 1858, knows a bit more about the nuances of 100% rye (by law a bottle labeled rye need only be 51% rye), this good-looking bottling at 80 proof, made from Calgary grain, without barley or corn. And while it makes a classic mixer for cocktails, this new offering has a lot of spice, richness, and true rye flavor with just enough burn to sip on the rock or with a dash of water.




Cafés in France have begun adding charges to their menus for rude behavior.  L'Hamburgé in Grenoble lists coffee prices that range from €1.50 (for barbarians) down to €1 (for nice, polite customers). At La Petite Syrah in Nice, they charge  €7 if the customer simply demands, "Coffee," but €4.25 if the person says, "A coffee, please," and €1.40 if ordered with a "Hello, a coffee, please."



 “I tend to rank delis on an indigestion scale, one being hardly worth a belch while five is a full-on gaseous bloat with accompanying salami-based halitosis.”—J. Kevin Wolfe, “You Rascal,” Cincinnati Magazine (April 2016). 


 Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


By John Fodera, Tuscan Vines 

    Finally...finalmente!  Some sun and warmer weather finally arrived this week and we at Tuscan Vines were more than happy to get outside, stroll the garden and sip a lovely, refreshing rosé.
    I think Rose is still a difficult wine for many, especially Americans, to appreciate.  Spoiled by the sappy, cloying nature of so many White Zinfandels, people often incorrectly assume that roses are sweet wines that don't really have a place at the table.  The truth couldn't be further from that supposition and the pink wines I like best are typically the versions that are steely and dry.  That brings me to Centine Rosé.
    I buy a few bottles of the Centine Rosé every year.  I enjoy it alone, as an aperitif while I'm cooking.  I enjoy it sitting in the garden and with lighter dishes like this Panzanella or these antipasti.  My point is, this is versatile and tasty and incredibly budget friendly.

    Today we're talking about the 2015 Centine Rosé - a wine that comes from the next excellent Tuscan vintage and one that I think is the best example of this particular wine that I've tried.
    In the glass, the 2015 Castello Banfi Centine Rosé  is a bright melon color - it's pink with a sort of orange reflection throughout.  Like a fading summer sunset.  The aromas from the glass exude watermelon, strawberry, melon and white flowers. It's more complex than I remember past vintages being.
    On the palate the wine is exceptionally fresh and vibrant - the vinous version of Saltimbocca if ever there was one.  Bright melon, strawberry, and mineral tones permeate the palate throughout and the acidity is refreshing. An unspecified blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet,  I suspect the first grape is the dominant portion of the blend.  Serving temperature is important here, so be cognizant of that and you will enjoy.

 About $11-$13.


 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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