Virtual Gourmet

  JULY 10,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Barbecue" by Gil Elvgren (1948)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani


    It would be stretching the truth to say that Rome has an array of high-end, posh ristoranti serving cuisine of a kind that French Michelin Guide inspectors go ga-ga about. In fact, almost no one ever asks me recommendations for such restaurants, preferring instead to know what the best trattorias are in various parts of the city.  Of those I shall be writing about soon, but for now let me report on two ristoranti—both perched high above the Eternal City—with the kind of style and service that matches the superb food prepared by highly imaginative chefs whose work is like none others’ in Rome, in Italy, or in the rest of the world for that matter.


Rome Cavalieri Hotel 
Via Alberto Cadlolo 101

    Sprawling across the broad terrace floor of the Rome Cavalieri Hotel (about which I wrote recently), La Pergola is easily one of the most romantic restaurants in the world, purposely lighted that way and configured so that simply walking through it puts you in mind of all the sweeping American-in-Rome movies of the 1950s—“Three Coins in the Fountain,” “A Light in the Piazza ” (right),  “Roman Adventure,” “Roman Holiday”--as well as Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.” 
You wind your way through La Pergola, immediately stunned by the view, with Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s Basilica shining white in the distance, and you notice the impeccably set tables are wide and well-spaced from one another; the handsomely dressed captains and waiters part the way as you walk toward your table (all have a grand view of Rome), and may point out the artwork that includes
a rare Aubusson tapestry, Sèvres porcelain, an 18th Century bronze candelabra, imperial furniture and a fine collection of hand-blown glass by Emile Gallé.  Each day a florist makes his own art set into a 17th Century Celadron vase. Plates and silverware are vermeil-gilded.
    You are presented with warm breads that include the best focaccia you’ll ever taste as you peruse a wine list of astonishing breadth and depth—3,500 labels and 60,000 bottles, not only Italian wines but bottles from all over the world, all under the eagle eye of Marco Reitano, who has been awarded the title of “Greatest Sommelier in Italy.”  (Ask the maître d’ if you might visit the beehive-like cellar.) There is also a list of 29 types of regional bottled waters, even a selection of sea salts.
    Executive Chef Heinz Beck (above), who has been here since 1994 and who has, in fact, held three Michelin stars for years, is German, married to a Roman, and he combines his love of global cuisine with his passion for Italian.  There are some modernist tricks up his sleeve and a nod towards the molecular,  as evidenced by the number of well-out-of-the-ordinary kitchen appliances, like a unit that keeps different bread doughs at different, ideal temperatures before baking.
    His cooking always shows whimsy but is always backed by good taste. Every dish that comes to the table is the result of intense experimentation resolved only when perfected.  There are eccentricities, like making a powder from foie gras and crafting a dish called “Hole 18” to look like a golf course (below).  But what sounds odd becomes a revelation, like his cod on kidney beans with iced parsley snow; the idea of a “Composition” of John Dory, squid and prawns treated to a citrus fruit steam adds amazing flavors, each morsel of seafood individually cooked till tender.
    More traditional dishes, like rabbit tortellini (right) with an essence of peas and broad beans, outshine similar dishes anywhere else, as does the classic, very simple spaghetti cacio e pepe, commonly made with nothing more than cheese and pepper, which here takes on briny nuance from the addition of lime-marinated white shrimp.     A Mediterranean-inflected loin of lamb is crusted with fennel in a cereal crust, with goat’s cheese pearls. Desserts, as you might imagine, are final flourishes like cannelloni filled with salty pine nuts and Chantilly cream.
    Clearly, anyone seeking the pleasures of Roman food is likely to find Beck’s cuisine idiosyncratic, even strange.  But as you linger over coffee (dozens of varieties offered) and bon bons brought to you in a Sterling silver chest of drawers, finding yourself satisfied but not sated, you’ll look out again at the blue-black night sky of Rome and you’ll know just how unique your entire evening has been.

La Pergola offers a 10-course tasting menu at 230 euros, as well as à la carte. Dinner only.



The Hassler Hotel

Piazza Trinità dei Monti
, 6
+39 06 699340

      As does La Pergola, Imàgo sits within a great hotel, The Hassler, from whose sixth floor you look out over a gorgeous panorama that takes in lighted sites like Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, the Quirinale, Villa Colonna, the Campidoglio, the Victor Emmanuel II, Palazzo Venezia, Pantheon, the Trinità dei Monti Church and Spanish Steps,  and the Borghese gardens, with St. Peter’s glowing like a holy beacon in the moonlight.  The dining room epitomizes contemporary Roman elegance and has hosted every international movie star, potentate and magnate imaginable, including Jackie and John Kennedy back in 1963.
    You come off the elevator, see the glassed-in terrace across the room, with its inlaid marble floors, Doric columns, soft ceiling lights, antique vases, upholstered armchairs, tables topped with thick white linens and red roses or tulips, exquisite silverware and china, and in the center an effusion of flowers. Soft music sets a mood but never intrudes.
    Naples-born Head Chef Francesco Apreda creates menus in constant evolution—he’s held a Michelin star since 2009—grounded in Roman cuisine but boldly married to Asian flavors and cooking techniques, like octopus and seaweed with a spice he calls “uma-mia”—an Italian pun on the vague idea of umami. 
    The Hassler’s owner, Roberto Wirth, consulted on the Imperial Hotel Italian restaurant, Cicerone, in Tokyo, sending Apreda to work there before bringing him back to take over as Imàgo’s chef, and his fascination with Asian overtures returned with him.  Thus, even a classic Roman dish of penne all’arrabiata is melded with a Mumbai blend of spices.
Soy vermicelli are graced with an amberjack sauce, while silky black cod is glazed with sake and served with purple vegetables. Tandoori-roasted duck breast comes dusted with cocoa powder, while rigatoni pasta adds shiso to a traditional pesto, as well as bacon and pecorino cheese mimicking a Roman carbonara. With a tip of his toque to London, foie gras comes with English scones and "sweet rain" (below).
Given his birthplace, Apreda can be expected to revel in food from his home town but always with a twist, as in a Neapolitan sfogliatella “Samosa” style, green tea ice cream.  He even evokes a New York cheesecake, with a “Big Apple” sour blend.  There is also a difficult-to-resist selection of two dozen cheeses.
    Imàgo’s wine list is one of the finest in Rome, running to 51 pages and 1,100 labels, with 21 spumanti, dozens of Champagnes, a daunting array of the best Italian white wines, six vintages of Sassicaia, scores of Barbarescos and Barolos, and a good selection from the nearby Lazio vineyard.  You may have a pairing of six glasses with your dinner, arranged by sommelier Alessandro Crognale.
    Like his colleague Heinz Beck, Apreda is not making a cuisine intended for the traveler who is merely interested in Rome’s traditional culinary culture.  You have to open your mind to the way his works in an international style full of color, texture, contrasts and provocations, without straying over the line into fluttering sensationalism.
    Imàgo, in Italian, does not just mean “image.” It is more poetical, with connotations of singularity, and a reflection of all The Hassler and this extraordinary restaurant stand for in every detail.    

Imàgo offers two tasting menus at 130 euros and 150 euros and a vegetarian menu at 120 euros.  Dinner only.



NEW YORK CORNER (Suburban Division)

By John Mariani
By John Mariani

    I had only the slightest reluctance about going to Rosemary and Vine, a charming new Mediterranean vegetarian restaurant in Rye, N.Y., but was immediately won over by the tantalizing items on the menu: gazpacho blanco, babaganoush, truffled fettuccine, and a great deal more I was ravenous to try.  My hesitancy was based on visits over the years to vegetarian restaurants where the owners’ philosophy was writ large and the food just wasn’t particularly tasty. (For my own philosophical reasons, which include disregarding ferocious, often vicious polemics, I avoid vegan restaurants entirely.)
    What is proudly proclaimed on a sign over the kitchen at Rosemary and Vine is that everything you will eat is made fresh, (exceptions are the thin, crispy Lebanese pita breads and the pastas), which is immediately evident when you taste the food of Consulting Chef Erica Wides as conceived by Lebanese-born proprietors Tania Rahal and Berj
Yeretzian. He had left investment banking, of which the world needs less, to open his dream Mediterranean restaurant, which we need many more of; she was in event planning, so it was a natural leap.
    Both wanted to be rigorously true to their Mediterranean roots, and, after some tweaking in response to locals’ requests, the menu is now a panoply of well-known favorites and new dishes to be found only here. With nothing on the menu more than $22, you’re likely to share everything and take something home, as I certainly did with the potato kibbeh and bulgur layered with sautéed turmeric onions, toasted pinenuts and sauce with greens  ($18). 
    The space is a sun-lit shingled storefront with tall windows on the street and a couple of tables outside; the interior is bright with colors of cream contrasted with barn wood, brick and blackboards, with black and white tile floors beneath a pressed tin ceiling.  There is a communal table and an open kitchen that has a small counter bar holding the restaurant’s well-chosen wines, all of them available by the glass or bottle, stressing small batch Mediterranean wineries.

    It would be good form to use cloth rather than flimsy paper napkins.

    The problem for a carnivore at Rosemary and Vine is not finding something you want to eat but trying to decide among so many delectable options.  The use of nuts and spices, creaminess and cheese, crusts and other textures add measurably to the enjoyment of foods that might otherwise be one-dimensional. 
    Gazpacho blanco ($9) is a summery puree of cucumbers, grapes for sweetness, and almonds, garnished with fresh mint and labneh.  As you would expect, hummus ($8.50), in various forms, is a stand-out in a Lebanese restaurant, this one based on a family recipe of simmered chickpeas, sesame-rich tahini, garlic and lemon served with warm pita.  Grilled country bread is the bed for avocado, charmoula (a Moroccan pesto), chopped parsley, coriander, cumin, feta and mint ($8.50), which makes a good appetizer for two people.  The babaganoush ($9.50) has the requisite smokiness in eggplant that has been fire-roasted, blended with spices and garnished with bright red pomegranate seeds that crunch in the mouth, while the lovely, rosy mouhamara ($9.50) is a similarly smoky mash of red peppers, toasted walnuts, olive oil, pomegranate and the delightful addition of molasses.  A too-simple plate of roasted beets ($8), with more molasses and pomegranate, was bland.
    The pride of tradition about flatbreads (below) in the Middle East causes Tania to wince a little if you call them pizzas, though the offering here called “Ella" ($13), with
ricotta, caramelized onions, baby arugula, evoo, parmesan and toasted pine nuts. might pass muster in Naples.
    Since every dish is meant to be shared, the main courses are generously proportioned, like the Turkish ragout of eggplant braised slowly with lentils, Anaheim peppers, and that apparent staple, pomegranate molasses, served atop tender quinoa ($15).  A hearty Moroccan tagine with chickpeas, zucchini, squash and savory spices ($16.5) gives off the evocative aroma of saffron, while a very good five-mushroom lasagna ($22) that incorporates mozzarella, ricotta, parmigiano and Comté cheeses along with cremini and porcini mushrooms in a rich béchamel is one the best dishes on a menu of stand-outs.
     So, too, the housemade truffled fettuccine ($20) is a vegetarian triumph of grilled asparagus, sweet corn, bitter radicchio and fresh basil with truffle butter (below)—a very colorful, lovely presentation of wholly complementary flavors.  The only disappointment was falafel ($15), whose little cakes of chickpeas and favas were dry, as, for some reason, they often are.
    Of course, they make the desserts here, and I recommend the almond rice pudding ($5.50) made with almond milk touched with cinnamon, or the dark chocolate pudding that uses Valrhona chocolate, coconut milk and toasted almonds.
    It is surprising to find Mediterranean food of this caliber anywhere in the U.S., and particularly in an affluent suburban town like Rye on a street lined with boutiques, a steak house, and an oyster bar. Indeed, much has been made by the media this year of the superb Mediterranean food at Shaya in New Orleans—an opinion I wholeheartedly share—but in every way I can think of Rosemary and Vine is as admirable, even without meat on the menu.  Everything is fresh, in concept, in ideas, in careful cooking, and in the way Tania and Berj, who live in Rye, greet their guests.


29 Purchase St, Rye, NY

Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat.



By John Mariani

    If you believed all the lyrical lingo on wine labels, you’d think that owning vineyards and making wine is some kind of idyllic life of dreamers and the gods who love them.  In fact, winemaking is a business, one guided as much by the vagaries of the market as by weather, and all the winsome blathering, best satirized in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited—“It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle ... dappled, in a tapestry meadow ... a necklace of pearls on a white neck”—cannot change the fact that wine begins down in the dirt and ends up being boxed and shipped out in a truck.
    One of the least prepossessing and therefore honest winery owners I’ve met  is Tom Gamble (above) of the Gamble Family Vineyards, whose name suggests just how much risk there is in being a small winery in California’s Napa Valley, whose huge, well-invested wineries like Robert Mondavi and Berenger have tremendous clout in buying land, grapes and supermarket space.
    “It’s difficult to get distribution,” Gamble, who has the easy, laid-back California swagger down pat, said over dinner in New York. “Thank God we have one thousand subscribers who buy 40 percent of our wines, and our biggest dollar gross is in selling our grapes to other wineries.” (In fact, Beringer leases a large chunk of Gamble’s properties.)
    Gamble is a third-generation farmer. Vineyard owners don’t often refer to themselves as farmers, though Tom has some cattle ranchers in his bloodline and, with 100 years of agriculture in Napa behind him, now owns 175 acres of prime estate vineyards from the most respected AVAs—Oakville, Mt. Veeder, Rutherford and Yountville, where grape-growing plots can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre, with few left to buy.
      “That’s one of the great things about being in this valley for a century,” he says. “You get to know the microclimates and the growers who always know of a little section of prime terroir no one else ever knew about.
    “Given this legacy, one does not continue farming for dispassionate reasons alone,” he says. “There are easier ways to make a living. So, taking the next step and putting my name on a bottle of wine does not come lightly. I didn’t know much about winemaking or wine sales, but I knew I had good land to work with.”
    Gamble Family Vineyards was flunded in 2005 and the winery built in in 2012 on land that holds the ancestral farmhouse, water tower, and barns, which Gamble and his wife, Colette, whose family and farmland have been in the valley since 1873, are committed to maintaining. Her brother, Morgan Conolly, did the design of the property’s new structures, which includes a tasting room (by invitation only).  Tom and Brit-born winemaker Jim Close (right) are, as you’d expect, also insistent that they follow sustainable agriculture; his winery and vineyards are certified Napa Green and Fish Friendly.  That’s in his blood, too. Tom’s mother, Mary Ann McGuire, was active in establishing1968’s Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, an ordinance that protects vineyards and wineries from commercial development and ensures that the land is used strictly for agricultural purposes.
    Rather than follow the blockbuster style of many Napa Valley colleagues, Gamble  and Close hue more closely to the traditions of Bordeaux winemaking, whereby blending varietals and heeding the nuances of terroir produce distinctive wines without high alcohol levels.  In addition, they use both French and California grape clones they believe thrive best in one plot or another. They also want their  wines to age gracefully and take their time to mature.
    “We aim for vivacity, richness and lift,” said Gamble. “If there’s too much alcohol, or imbalance of tannin and acid, the wine won’t marry with food.”  When it came to marrying Gamble’s Sauvignon Blanc with peppery focaccia made at  Lincoln Ristorante that evening, the flavors were indeed highly complementary. The pepper perked up the taste of the wine and the wine imparted a tangy sweetness to the warm, olive oil-brushed bread.  Gamble also makes a beautiful series of well-structured Cabernet Sauvignons that echo some very fine Bordeaux while still showing the effects of California sun and soil.
    The naming of estates on Napa Valley wine labels is often a mixture of mysterious numbers and letters, but Gamble prefers them to have personal meaning tied to his family, so it’s no surprise to find names like “Homestead” and “Water Tower” referring to blocks.  Two wines are named after his parents, G. Thomas and MaryAnn.  It is, then, a little odd to find a vineyard named “Cairo,” which has no seeming relevance to Napa Valley.
    “Oh,” said Gamble, “That’s named for our beloved rescue dog. He’s gone but he lives on on the label.”
    I should have guessed. Spoken more like a farmer than a vintner.





A study by Dr. Marie Bragg, a psychologist at N.Y. University, did a study of 65 celebrities who endorsed products from 38 food companies that are low in nutrients and high in sugar and fat, writing, “that food advertising leads to overeating and the food industry spends $1.8 billion per year marketing to youth alone.” The biggest category of celebrity endorsements was for soft drinks like Pepsi, promoted by Sofia Vergara, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Mariah Carey,  Nicki Minaj, and Shakira. Conversely, there were zero celebrity endorsements of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.  



“My first suitor was hot, rich, smooth, well-dressed, and arrive promptly. We met at ZBGV on Race Street with my potential love match came gliding out of the kitchen on a wooden board I couldn't help but be charmed by the gently yielding homemade bun the slice of melt the Emmenthaler curling around its edges, the patty so rich it sparkled under the hot lights. It led to one of those magical tasty first dates where I thought I might have finally found `The One.’”—Jeff Mathews, “Meat Market,” Cincinnati Magazine (June 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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