Virtual Gourmet

  JULY 10,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER




Part Two
By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John A. Curtas

VERY SPECIAL EVENT: On July 7 Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center in NYC will host a Sugar Snap Pea Dinner,  with special guest, pioneering botanist and inventor of the snap pea back in 1979, Calvin Lamborn.  Chefs Marco Canora, Wylie Dufresne, and Justin Smillie will join Lincoln Chefs Jonathan Benno and Richard Capizzi to cook a five-course dinner highlighting the selection of peas.  It will be a rare evening offering guests the chance to taste several varietals of the peas, and meet the extraordinary man known as the ‘Snap Pea Sensei.’ 5 Course Dinner $150 pp. (plus tax and gratuity).   Lincoln Ristorante, 142 West 65th Street; 212.359.6500.


By John Mariani

 Gran Melià Roma Hotel 

    While the allure of Rome may make tourism its principal industry, it is also a major international business center whose travelers require as much modernity and efficiency as they do the traditional comforts of a city that can be mindbogglingly difficult to negotiate.  These travelers also may regard being slightly out of the way from Rome’s tourist maelstrom or as near as possible to exit options as virtues during a short stay.  Here are some diverse hotels that fill those requirements splendidly. 


Via del Gianicolo, 3
+ 39- 06-925901

  The new Gran Meliá Rome boasts a marvelous panorama on the great city, preceded by a short ride up a winding hill, removing you from the traffic miasma below. Indeed, the sprawling manor seems more like a country resort than a city hotel with public spaces wider, broader and longer than most others in Rome, and a very young staff, fluent in several languages who try very hard to make your stay according to what your personal ideals of service might be.  Still, though you seem remote, you may walk to Trastevere and the Vatican in five minutes and to the Piazza Navona in fifteen.
    This makes the best of both possible worlds—very old and very new—the theme throughout the hotel, with its outdoor pool surrounded by the city’s first botanical gardens, themselves worth a leisurely stroll.  The indoor pool more resembles what a wealthy Roman of 50 AD might have kept all to himself. The naturally lighted spa is by Clarins and includes a relaxation area, sauna, Turkish bath with chrome-aromatherapy, sensorial showers, external vitality pool, private Turkish bath, and fitness area with a personal trainer service.
    My favorite public room is the Library (left), set in what was once a 19th century church, where you can relax, have cocktails or a snack, also available at the casual glassed-in Nectar Bar. 

More upscale dining is in Vivavoce, whose chef consultant is the great Alfonso Iaccarino of Don Alfonso near Naples.
    The premises were once the site of the Villa Agrippina, home to emperor Nero’s mother, overlooking the Tiber. We stayed in a premium double room with a city view (left), the sleeping area, above whose bed is a stunning life-size faux mural capturing a section of a Renaissance painter’s masterpiece, was not particularly spacious, although the glassed-in bath and shower were larger and more California in style than you’d ever expect in Rome.  


Via Veneto, 70/A
+39 06 421111

    Who doesn't want to stay on the Via Veneto—the fabled winding street bound by the Villa Borghese and the Piazza Barbarini?  The Baglioni Hotel Regina, now within the Baglioni empire, has maintained and refreshed its effusive art déco exterior, with its fanned out glass and metal awning, the polished marble lobby and bright, very comfortable, modern rooms, all well-wired for the contemporary traveler, including 60 international TV channels. Our suite was done in black and off-white colors and buffed marble floors, heavy patterned draperies, antique desks and mirrors. 
    The Regina’s desirable location within easy walking distance to Maria della Vittoria church, the Spanish Steps, and Via Sistina gives it a centrality and access to all Rome’s transportation, including the subway and train station.
    The Regina’s Brunello dining room has the restraint of studied elegance and is neo-classical in décor, with a glimmering Venetian chandelier in the lounge area and appointments in  the color purple, which once distinguished the Roman senatorial class. Our meal was a fine marriage of Roman, Italian and Mediterranean elements, including springtime goat’s cheese stuffed zucchini flowers with just a hint of anchovies; risotto with salted codfish, yellow and green peppers and a dusting of black sesame powder;  red shrimps with a foam of yogurt and granita of passion fruit; and paccheri pasta (right) with basil sauce on cherry tomatoes extract, buffalo mozzarella flakes and Tuscan olive oil, as well as several marked vegetarian options.




Via Cavour, 18
+39- 06 4870270 

        Just a block away from the Termini train station, the Massimo d’Azeglio is easily the most accessible and luxurious hotel in the neighborhood.  It is owned by the Bettoja family, which also runs the Mediterraneo across the street, and is done throughout the public rooms in fin de siècle décor, rich in reds and golds, with a distinguished collection of paintings from the Risorgimento period of Italy’s unification, including a self-portrait of painter-statesman  Massimo d’Azeglio himself.
    With 185 rooms, the hotel is a particular favorite for business meetings in rooms outfitted with state-of-the-art tech equipment. The bedrooms are fairly basic in décor, though with excellent large bathrooms adding to the comfort.
        There are two restaurants, the main dining room (right) at street level, and below, a charming, rustic wine cellar trattoria (above), at its best when guests are at their most romantic.  We dined upstairs in a room that has admirably remained unchanged for decades, except for better lighting, hearkening back to days when dining was intended to be relaxing and enjoyed at your leisure, quiet enough for business, lovely enough for lingering.  It would not be an idle thought to close your eyes and imagine Gregory Peck seducing Audrey Hepburn at a well-set table here with its flattering pink linens and red flowers, over a glass of Frascati and dishes from Piedmont, like codfish with polenta; meat ravioli with scallop sauce, and a bollito misto of boiled meats.



Viale Liegi 62

The modern Hotel Hilton Garden Inn, Rome Claridge makes no bones about its situation and style as a place for the business traveler to alight and perhaps leave within 24 hours. There is a 24-hour, high-tech business center (below), a small fitness room, and the uncluttered rooms are Spartan in their décor. 
  We found the reception and concierge staff particularly well versed in the needs of a guest who may have to be in and out in a hurry at any time of the day.
    For this reason, perhaps, not much thought seems to have been put into the restaurant menu, which is little more than serviceable for a post-workday dinner, though the breakfast buffet was more than adequate, and included in the room rate.



By John Mariani


57 East 54th Street (off Madison Avenue)

    The East Side townhouse that is home to Bill’s dates back to 1924 as a speakeasy, when food was not on most patrons’ minds.   After Prohibition loosened its mushy grip, the premises were transformed into Bill’s Gay Nineties, known as much for its basic food as for its sing-along piano bar and the silver dollars imbedded in the bar’s wooden floor (left). So there’s a lot of history still in the rafters, along with vintage prints and artwork, book-lined walls, a fireplace, stuffed animal heads, sports memorabilia, hunting bugles chandeliers, ship’s wheels, ceiling fans, leather banquettes, and tables set with starched linens.
     A few years back Bill’s Gay Nineties closed, an event that provoked elegies from NYC’s old-time newspaper wags, so its re-opening in 2013 was eyed suspiciously, especially since the awkwardly named Crown Group Hospitality made it plain they sought to attract the kind of people who wear real and knock-off Ralph Lauren, arrive in town cars, and create the deafening din of people whose voices, as Scott Fitzgerald said, “were full of money.”  But that ploy, along with some nasty company shake-ups and unpaid lease bills, didn’t last long and, after a brief flare-up of interest, Bill’s closed yet again.
    Now, since April, what is now called Bill’s Townhouse seems on much surer footing, thanks to veteran restaurateur
Curt Huegel, whose previous involvement included Scarpetta and American Cut, and to a  kitchen now far more dependable under Chef Angel Vela, previously at Pastis and Waverly Inn,  while Manager Stephanie Gonzalez works hard to make everyone welcome.
    It’s been a while since I’ve heard the word “barfly”—a term that dates back to 1906 in American print—to describe a regular and committed imbiber at a saloon, but it seems worth bringing back to describe the downstairs clientele at Bill’s, where the bar is mainly filled with loud men just off from work, their ties askew, bellying up to the bar for another round of Bud Light or Absolut on the rocks.
    They are a raucous lot, and, although there are a couple of tables downstairs and a couple more outside for summer, anyone wishing to have a good meal and conversation with friends will find upstairs (right) fare more appealing.
    Bill’s menu is what it is, though, without sounding presidential, that depends upon what the meaning of “is” is. What it is is unabashedly traditional New York-American fare of a kind that has never gone out of style, just as the menus of the classic bistros of Paris and the tavernas of Mykonos will resolutely be ever the same.  So, of course, there’s the requisite raw bar selections, which on the night I visited featured Wellfleet oysters ($18) and a colossal lump crabmeat cocktail ($20).  There are about a dozen appetizers, along with one or two nightly specials, including lobster thermidor ($25), a 19th century Escoffier classic that went out of style in the modern foodie era.  Usually this dish of lobster meat cooked with cream, butter, brandy, mustard and tarragon can be too rich when served as a main course, but at Bill’s it makes a capital starter, without the lobster being overwhelmed by the sauce; it’s a dish worth bringing back from the Gilded Age.
    Veal and porcini meatballs with ricotta and fried sage  ($18) were delicious, if not classic America, but the crabcake, with cabbage slaw and tartar sauce ($19), lacked the colossal lump crabmeat served in the raw bar cocktail, instead too firmly packed with shreds of  crab. “Bill’s Housemade Buttered Egg Noodles” ($12) were just that and nothing more, nice, egg-rich noodles with butter,  with nightly variations, so one order is fine for a table of four as a side dish. 
    Among the entrees, a roasted half chicken ($29) was excellent, big breasted with very crisp, burnished gold skin, juicy to the bone and served with carrots, onion and a dash of lemon.  We tried a veal chop ($52) special, with pesto sauce that did nothing for the superlative chop I’d rather have had without it because it was a very fine piece of meat. Indeed, wherever Bill’s buys its beef, it must save special cuts for the restaurant because both the 14-ounce New York strip ($51) and the bone-in ribeye ($57) were among the very best I’ve had in a city manic about its steakhouse fare.  Bill’s were nicely charred, medium-rare as ordered, and had both the richness of fat-rich marbling and the tangy minerality a great steak should have. Were I ravenous for  just a slab of beef, but not in the mood for the caterwauling ambiance of a typical NYC steakhouse, I’d head straight to the civilized and historic surroundings of Bill’s and have it there. Oh, and the “cheesy potatoes” ($10) and trio of sautéed onions ($10) made good sides for such steaks.
    Of the desserts I tried I’ll go, as ever, for the S&S Cheesecake, almost a staple of New York chophouses and a standard for what a dense but moist slice of this cream cheese confection should be.
     The wine list is not cheap, especially the wines by the glass: a Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco goes for $14 a glass, the same price as an entire bottle in a NYC wine shop; Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 $17 versus $26; MacRostie Chardonnay 2012 is $17 versus $23.  By the bottle, the listings shoot past $100 quickly, with mark-ups about 300% above retail, with Pio Cesare Barbaresco an eye-popping $275, which sells in a store for about$60-$65.
    That famous and beloved cheesecake, which has been made in the Bronx for more than half a century, is a natural choice for a place like Bill’s, which itself is a repository of NYC gastro-lore.  Were Bill’s only a nostalgia trip, it might be worth a burger and beer at the bar.  But in its present re-incarnation, Bill’s manages to add measurably to its cherished image by polishing it to a shining modernity.  Bill’s may not be as raffish as it once was, but it is still what it is, and now it’s a whole lot more.  

Lunch and Dinner Mon.-Sat.





By John A. Curtas

    Friendliness and approachability are pretty much the watchwords at Weingut Dr. Loosen, not to mention elegance, which is pretty obvious from the moment you step into the tasting room, just across the river from Weingut Thanisch.  These stately homes are steeped in history and give you a feeling of timelessness as you stroll the cobbled streets of what can only be described as a Riesling storybook land. Wine shops and tourists are everywhere, and you half expect Hansel and Gretel to come strolling out of one of half-timbered houses.
    Looming over it all is the impossibly steep Berncasteler Doctor, the most famous vineyard in Germany. The village of Bernkastel-Kues (really two villages on opposite sides of the river) has been at the center of the German wine world since Roman times, and Dr. Loosen's headquarters are right in the middle of town. Markus Schulte, our wine guide for the morning, brought an armful of maps, pictures, and props to demonstrate what makes the soil and the exposure so valuable in this region.  One of the most stunning was a famous photo of the Doctor vineyard, showing a frost on the ground all around it, but, owing to its position on the river, providing a clear and warm terroir for the vines fortunate enough to be drinking up the sun being reflected from the water.
     For all of its history, though, Dr. Loosen (right) has made a name for his winery as one of the most modern of the German wine estates. Since taking over the family business in 1988, Ernst Loosen has turned a modest estate (at the time comprising 19 acres of planted vines) into a Middle Mosel powerhouse, with almost a hundred acres planted. Loosen makes three blended wines, a non-estate Riesling called "Dr. L," and two estate Rieslings, one made from grapes grown entirely on blue slate, and another from vines in red slate. All three of these retail for under $15, making them a flat-out steal for everyday sipping.
    But the core of the Loosen portfolio are the six old-vine sites from which Loosen makes both dry and sweet wines that are benchmark examples of the form. The bouquet, density and higher alcohol content of these wines distinguish them from the usual fruity, Mosel style. These sites represent some of the Mosel's most coveted: Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen, Bernkasteler Lay, and Graacher Himmelreich.  Each vineyard is the German equivalent of Grand Cru vineyards, or Erste Lage (first class site), which is designated on the label as "GG," an abbreviation that stands for
Grosses Gewächs wines.  Luckily, as we've noted previously, the taste of the wines more than makes up for the constant confusion printed on German labels.
    With the exception of the Dr. L wine, all the wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts, and aged on their lees in massive old oak barrels for at least 9 months before being racked. The single vineyard wines are aged in old oak for between 12 (for sweet) and up to 24 months (for dry) on the lees before filtration and bottling.
    As quaffable as Loosen's entry-level wines are, it's the single vineyard selections where things get really serious. His 2012 Ürziger Würtzgarten Spätlese may clock in at only 8.5% alcohol, but it delivers a strong floral nose and loads of citrus notes all wrapped around juicy acidity that begs for a second sip. Quite a mouthful for around $27.  Even more stunning was the 2011 Erdener Pralat Alte Reben Auslese Reserve, not only for the price (around $200), but for the huge, round, sexy-silky mouth feel of a sweet grapefruit, offset by concentrated acidity that advertises its aging potential. It is the stuff Riesling dreams are made of, and in ten years could go toe-to-toe with anything the Loire Valley or Burgundy could throw at you. The reserve we tasted is probably next to impossible to find in the United States, but the regular Alte Reben GG is available in better wine stores for around $60, and it's nothing to sneeze at either.
    To complicate things further, Loosen has designated some of his dry wines "GGR," standing for Grosse Gewachs Ruhe Reife, or, a dry wine from the Grosses Gewachs vineyard that has been allowed to rest (ruhe) and mature (reife). Rather than try to keep up with all of this, just know that regardless of your wine knowledge, budget, or level of bewilderment, Dr. Ernst Loosen has a product that will fill the bill and please your palate.
    I came away from Mosel actually feeling sorry for German winemakers. They try to impart as much information as they can to the consumer (as required by law) and sincerely want you to know as much about the bottle as possible before you buy it. But the densities of the German language defeat them—and us—every time. Be that as it may, there's something fascinating about all this ironic inscrutability,  telling you everything while leaving you in the dark, that will keep you coming back for more, once you dive into the deep end of the Riesling pool and discover the most remarkable and versatile white wine you will ever taste.

Dr. Loosen has small tasting rooms within the beautiful house that holds its business offices. Dr. Loosen must be contacted in advance for a tour of the cellars and a tasting of the full panoply of its wines.

Part One and Part Two here.




“To understand the point of keeping rafter-rattling war horses in the repertoire, all I had to do was eat Benoit’s quenelles de brochet. These two little footballs of happiness are improbably smooth, almost but not quite fluffy, filled with the freshwater richness of pike.  . . .  I tasted it, and the whole chorus marched out on the stage at once, the orchestra pounding and the fat lady throwing her head back and letting it rip. A standing ovation would have followed if Benoit’s quenelles hadn’t made me feel a bit like the fat lady myself.”—Pete Wells, “Benoit in Midtown Is the Bistro That Will Take You to Paris,” NY Times (2/2/16).



A woman in Hartford, CT, called 911 to complain that the local Empire Pizza had mistakenly delivered a half-cheese, half-hamburger pie instead of a half-cheese, half-bacon one, asking, "If I order a pizza and they don't want to give me my money back, can you guys do something?" after employees at the pizzeria stopped answering her calls. The dispatcher explained that's a consumer compliant, not an emergency. The woman replied, "If I go over there and start asking them, they can call the police." The dispatcher  said, "No, if you go over there, you can have an officer meet you there. But an officer's not going to just call them and ask them to give you your money back."


 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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