Virtual Gourmet

  AUGUST 28,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Trolley card poster card for Wrigley's gum, circa 1900.



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By John Mariani

The view of the Bay of Naples from Don Alfonso's Farm

    Before a traveler embarks on the treacherously winding and ridiculously narrow drive along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, there are towns and pleasures along the way just south of Naples and before you get to Sorrento, not least, of course, Mount Vesuvius and the ruins of Pompeii. And in the foothills of the volcano lies one of the most enchanting attractions I know of in Southern Italy: Cantina del Vesuvio, where, on 30 acres of very rich volcanic soil, Maurizio Russo and his partner, Esther Grosso (left), produce excellent wines and run a little trattoria serving some of the best local food in the area.
    The winery was founded in 1949 by Maurizio’s father, Giovanni, at a time when wine was transported to Naples by horse-drawn wagons, then sold to merchants who supplied the restaurants and wine stores. Then, 18 years ago, Maurizio began selling his products from the winery itself, after improving their quality and making his estate a tourist destination at the base of Vesuvius.
    And so you arrive—a twenty-minute drive from the center of Naples—among the cool green hills of Vesuvius. You will be effusively met by Esther, whose graciousness is exceeded only by her joy that you have come to visit.  Maurizio, who is in the vineyards digging, planting, trellising, and pruning, invariably arrives and proudly shows off his winery.
    Then you sit either on the leafy patio or in the rustic interior room, where the moment you sit down, bottles of Lacryma Christi bianco, Rosato, and Rosso wines, pitchers of water and a lavish antipasto platter of provolone and salami, local Casatiello bread, and smoky bruschetta topped with heirloom P
iennolo tomatoes are brought over.
      Then arrives a bottle of Lacryma Christi Riserva and a platter of spaghetti tossed with a deep red tomato sauce of such intensity that, unless you have dined elsewhere in Campania, where the tomato achieves unparalleled greatness, you will never have tasted anything like it. Stick the bread into the sauce, leave nothing behind. Finish this supremely simple meal with a Napolitana torta di pastiera made with sweetened ricotta, candied fruit and boiled wheat berries, paired with Capafresca Spumante Rosato and Acquavite di Albicocche del Vesuvio.  Nothing short of an eruption on Mount Vesuvius could possibly affect your bliss.
    By then, with a languorous smile of satisfaction on your face, you will be powerless to resist going to the winery room and buying Cantina del Vesuvio’s wines, their superb olive oil, and perhaps one of the pretty chicken-shaped pitchers.  And, if you wish, you may even take a cooking lesson here.
    It will have been a rare day, even in a region as beautiful as Campania, and you will feel you’ve made warm new friends, not just with Esther and Maurizio and their staff—even perhaps with a vineyard dog who ambles about the place—but with the others from all over who shared the experience with you that day.  

The shop at Cantina del Vesuvio is open daily (closed Sundays in Jan. & Feb.). Reservations should be made at +39 081 536 90 41 or through


    From the simple to the sublime is but a one-hour drive. Set in the hill town of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi is the extraordinary Don Alfonso 1890, which is not just one of the loveliest boutique hotels in Italy but one of Europe’s very finest restaurants, run by the redoubtable chef Don Alfonso Iaccarino and his dear, charming wife, Livia, who have had the hotel and ristorante since 1982. 
So removed is the hotel from the rest of the area that the only sounds you’ll hear are those of nature—birds, bees, trickling water, wind in the trees. This was once the reclusive residence of 19th century poet
Salvatore Di Giacomo, whose early fame soured into infamy after he allied himself with the Fascisti.
Recent renovations have brightened every room and suite with the colors of the flowers and herbs they are named for; the gardens have been amplified, the pool refitted, and the reception area brought to a high polish of classical elegance.  The dining room is as large as a chapel, with high, airy ceilings, all in tonal variations of white and pink, punctuated by modern artwork, with impeccably set tables well spaced from one another.  The only sound you hear is of guests murmuring their approval of each dish’s presentation and taste, right from the moment the variety of breads arrives.
on Alfonso is clearly the maestro of the magnificently modern kitchen (Livia oversees the million other details of the estate with impeccable grace), and their sons, Ernesto and Mario, and a brigade of 20 young kitchen staff seem to regard him with as much awe as they do affection. The cuisine here is constantly evolving out of the traditions of southern Italy, with most of the ingredients plucked from the estate’s own seven-acre "Le Peracciole" farm down the hillside, where they make their own olive oil and raise some of their own livestock and poultry.
     The estate’s wine cellar dates back six centuries, dug deep into the volcanic rock and always maintained at the same cool temperature, preserving a cache of 25,000 bottles and 1,300 labels; it would be difficult to ask for any prestigious wine of the world and not find it in several vintages in this cellar (below). Prices are remarkably fair, usually just above a 100% mark-up.
    It is difficult to know where to begin describing the menu at Don Alfonso, not just because it is so extensive but because a mere listing of its items would barely hint at their creativity and exceptional balance of flavors and textures without ever losing the essential flavor of a dish.  So let me just try to describe some of the high points of a multi-course sunlit lunch.
    Having managed not to eat all the breads offered, I tucked into a kind of  tempura-style lobster with sweet and sour notes, cut by the acid of citrus fruit, a dish I might have had in a fine restaurant in Hong Kong.  Next came a quivering baked egg with cream-centered burrata and shavings of black truffles that might serve as an opulent breakfast. 
    Very traditional here is the potato gnocchi, with just a touch of novelty in a sauce of creamed smoked scamorza cheese and sweet cherry tomatoes. Then came marvelously tender and nicely fatted lamb with minced Mediterranean herbs and a subtle aïoli.  A selection of local cheeses with honey from Le Peracciole followed, then an array of desserts that included baba with a Marsala-whipped zabaglione and raspberry jelly; a “concert of lemon,” composed of one of those big lemons of the area that is hollowed out then filled with a lush pastry cream topped with a netting of caramelized lemon and a little lemon-scented beignet on the side.
    Extremely fragile sfogliatelle pastry came perfumed with vanilla and cinnamon, while a pastiera soufflé made of ricotta and wheat was made even richer with spiced honey ice cream.
    There were more sweets, including a pastel-colored selection of macarons, bon bons, cookies and chocolates, espresso elegantly served, and other small touches that make a Don Alfonso meal so indelible. After dinner you’ll want to stroll the leafy grounds—you could cover the whole town in about a two minutes’ walk—sit by the pool and sip a grappa, or just retire to your room and watch the stars peek from behind the clouds above the Bay of Naples.  You’ll sleep well and you’ll sleep late.


By John Mariani


118 East 40th Street (near Lexington Avenue)

    No one ever accused John DeLucie of not being a first-rate chef in the NYC American style.  He first burst upon the scene at Graydon Carter’s way-too-trendy Waverly Inn, then went out on his own with partners in the Crown Group, opening American grill restaurants up and down Manhattan until the ceiling fell in on them.  You can Google the reasons for the group’s collapse in the NY Post, but DeLucie is nothing if not resourceful, so it’s good to find him back at the stoves, since February, at Bedford & Co. in the Renwick Hotel.
    DeLucie’s background, which includes an
Italian grandfather who owned a fruit and vegetable market and a job chopping 40-pound bags of onions in the back room of Dean & DeLuca, led to culinary school, the obligatory grand tour of Europe, and a job at the innovative Arizona 206 in NYC, then as chef de cuisine at the  seafood restaurant Oceana.   
    The Renwick Hotel has its own NYC history, with a long list of littérateur guests like John Steinbeck, Thomas Mann and F. Scott Fitzgerald; the name Bedford & Co. refers to the hotel’s original name in those days.  
    Featured prominently within sight of the small dining room is a wood-burning open grill of a kind you’ll find in Argentina, where meat, meat and more meat pretty much covers the menu. (Stacked split logs make for a decorative wall.)  DeLucie, with chef de cuisine Justin Neubeck,  puts that grill to good use for a wider variety of foods, from octopus to broccolini.

  The tavern-like room is windowless and low-lighted, largely done in dark wood that could use brightening, not least the dark brown tables with black placemats on them.  The sound level is fine for conversation, and the crowd at the adjacent bar does not intrude. The service staff, however, seriously needs to get its timing down.
    The menu has sections of small plates, pastas, mains and large formats, this last containing a massive two-pound, 28-day dry-aged ribeye embellished with lardo fat, roasted garlic and watercress ($125), which can easily feed three people.  Right now among the first courses is a delicious late summer chilled corn soup perked up with marinated mushrooms, yellow chili and toasted corn ($14).  Not pretty but quite good were the heads-on shrimp with grains and a shellfish jus ($21). Portuguese octopus  is now ubiquitous in NYC, but the wood-grill here does its fiery work, sided by a cucumber chili and a squid ink vinaigrette ($19), marred only by too much salt that night.   
    DeLucie has always been a master of fresh pastas, and every one we tried was perfectly cooked, spicily sauced and always with a little unexpected lagniappe, like the pistachio and merguez sausage and ricotta salata with the spaghetti ($21); the kale and walnuts with whole grain reginetti ($19); and house-cured pancetta, green garlic and fennel with rigatoni ($21).
    I’m always reading about ultra-crisp chicken and am usually so disappointed, but DeLucie’s dexterity with the grill makes his chicken under a brick (right), with asparagus, marinated mushroom and asparagus purée ($24), the real deal; rarely have I bitten into a skin so crisp and buttery, with oozing succulence in the meat underneath.  A leg of Colorado lamb (well priced at $28) comes with charred lettuce, Moroccan olives and a sour cherry jus. Perfectly charred, rosy-red steaks (below) have always been among DeLucie's most laudable items on his menus.
By all means have those broccolini, but don’t miss the herb-infused fries to be dipped into a rich Béarnaise.
    Pastry chef Fatmah Canty puts her own twist on American favorites, like a cheesecake in a jar with vanilla, house-made Graham crackers and Bing cherries ($10); a rye brownie with sea salt, candied walnuts and luscious vanilla gelato ($10); a stone fruit crostata with black pepper gelato ($12); and lemon buttermilk pannacotta with a rhubarb-strawberry compote ($11).
    Bedford & Co.’s wine list, overseen by Sarah Tracey, will not win prizes for size, but might for being so well selected to go with DeLucie’s food. But prices are a little hard to swallow when a bottle of Mionetto Prosecco goes for $9 in the store and $12 a glass at the restaurant.  And you can find Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio for under $20 a bottle that will cost you $78 here.
    I’m glad to see DeLucie back in his chef’s whites and looking happy. He’s not a guy you’d want to keep out of the kitchen for long; he’s got too much to offer.

Bedford & Co is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on weekends. 



By John Mariani


     As someone who has enjoyed Oregon wines over the past few decades, I have to remind myself that the industry is still going through adolescence compared with states like New York and California, whose vinous histories date back hundreds of years.  There had been plantings in Oregon as early as the 1860s and a small wine industry, largely producing fruit wines, burgeoned just before Prohibition shut it down in 1919.
    But it took decades for wine production to resume after Prohibition ended in 1933, and it amounted to little in the post-war years, when California’s wine industry blossomed, then flourished in the 1960s. “We really started from zero,” says David Adelsheim (left), who with his wife, Ginny,  purchased a 19-acre field of wildflowers in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains back in 1971 to try their hand at making wine.  “We just thought it would be fun; we didn’t expect to make a ton of money and we didn’t have much expertise to draw on back then.”  Ginny designed the labels.
    Over dinner in New York, Adelsheim explained to me that “Oregon’s wine industry is a story of fits and starts, and in 1973 we had some real battles to wage in order to protect the Willamette Valley from sprawling residential growth.”  In fact, Adelsheim is credited with keeping Yamhill County a vinicultural zone, now the center of the state’s wine industry. 
Still, Oregon wineries had little focus until various pioneers like Adelsheim, Dick Erath and David Lett insisted that the varietal that had the greatest potential in the terroirs of the Willamette Valley was Pinot Noir—a belief proven correct when Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir bested top-tier French Burgundies in two blind tastings in 1979.  So eye-opening were those match-ups that the illustrious Burgundian vintner Joseph Drouhin scoped out vineyards on Oregon and began plantings there soon afterwards.
    Meanwhile, Adelsheim was spending his time in Burgundy, learning its techniques and secrets; he even became Burgundian Liason for the First International Pinot Noir Festival, held in Oregon in 1987.  Adelsheim’s acreage grew, as did its wine-making facilities. In 1994 Jack and Lynn Loacker came on as co-owners, adding further to their estate holdings.  With the addition of winemaker David Paige in 2001, the Adelsheim style of Pinot Noir was set, based on finesse, elegance and harmony.
    Yet, despite tremendous strides—Oregon now has nearly 700 wineries and a thriving wine tourism industry—production is still way behind that of neighboring Washington State. “Our relative size has always been a virtue and an incentive in Oregon,” says Adelsheim. “Instead of mere volume, Oregon vintners aim for high quality.  Even if I wanted to make one of those ultra-ripe California-style Chardonnays, our climate wouldn’t permit it, because we don’t get that kind of heat in the Willamette Valley.” (Adelsheim does make about 2,400 cases of Chardonnay [$65], with the 2014 at 13.5% alcohol.) “We could boost up the alcohol percentages in our wines by letting the grapes hang on the vine later in the season, but we don’t aim for that style, especially with Pinot Noir, which takes on a different flavor profile when the alcohol gets above 14 percent.”  His 2014 “Breaking Ground” Pinot Noir  ($45) comes in at 13.5%, with only 1,779 cases produced. Adelsheim also makes a rosé from Pinot Noir ($25), as well as a Pinot Gris ($19), Auxerrois ($25) and Pinot Blanc ($25).
    Oregon’s milder temperatures have allowed winemakers to aim for a balance of fruit and acid, as in the best Burgundies, and Adelsheim is not as worried about global warming in his vineyards as he is about overall climate change, because “so many factors go into what makes an individual terroir, and climate is significant to every aspect of growing grapes.” In 2007 Adelsheim and vineyard manager Chad Vargas aimed to get all their estate
vineyards certified by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), a program founded in Oregon ten years earlier and the first in the U.S. to be endorsed by the International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants. In 2012 David Adelsheim received the lifetime achievement award from the Oregon Wine Board for lifetime of service in the industry.
    Adelsheim seems to have warmed to the idea of expansion and making a good living from wine, noting that “Our export market is becoming more and more important for us because we have a moral obligation to our winegrowers to expand markets and help them make a good return on their investment.”  In that regard, David, whose title is now President, primarily focuses his energies on
strategic planning, marketing and sales, financial planning, and over-all direction of vineyard and winemaking activities.  Yet he still remembers when it was his job to fix the broken plumbing.
I know this is a business,” said David, “but it’s still a lot of hard work to make it work, and for me it’s still a lot of fun.”
     Which is where he came in.



A group devoted to not wasting food named Salvage Supperclub is now hosting Dumpster-dinner series using recycled food from trash bins. A NPR reporter attended one San Francisco dinner (right) that consisted of wilted basil, bruised plums, past-their-prime tomatoes, vegetable pulp, surplus squash, whole favas, garbanzo bean water, dairy whey, sweet potato skins and overripe, peel-on bananas. 


“I first learned that the world could be a wondrous place filled with magical delights when, as a little girl in Brooklyn, I walked up to a Good Humor truck. There, for sale, was a stick of ice cream that has an entire chocolate bar inside of it. Chocolate candy. Inside ice cream. Are. You. Kidding. Me. Good Humor introduced me to joy and awe.”—Liz Tuccillo, “My Life in Ice Cream,” Food & Wine (August, 2016).



Summer’s Perfect Pairing: Crab and Gavi

By John Fodera,

    With the unbearably hot and humid weather we’ve been experiencing this summer in the Northeast, a quick trip to New Jersey’s Long Beach Island was a refreshing break for the body and soul – as well as a delight to the taste buds. While Maryland may be more famous for crabs, NJ’s bays supply similarly scrumptious crustaceans, and the sweet, succulent scallops caught off of LBI’s coast cannot be matched. Fresh, local catch inspired this simple seaside recipe.


~ Soft Shell Crabs with lump crab meat, diver scallops and rigatoni. This is decadence from the sea. ~

The recipe began by boiling the pasta. Simultaneously, I sautéed the soft shells in some lemon, white wine, and olive oil, and helped myself to a crab as I cooked.  Hey, chef's preference!  While doing so, I opened a lovely white: 2015 Principessa Gavia Gavi from Castello Banfi's Piedmont estate, an excellent value from what is shaping up to be an excellent 2015 vintage.  Made from 100% Cortese grapes grown in Piemonte, the Gavi DOCG zone was promoted from DOC status in 1998.   

The nose of the wine is replete with white flowers, peaches and citrus notes that carry through on the palate but add a distinctive, shale-like, minerally note that I love. The crabs seemed to bring out a certain saline aspect in the wine that was very mouthwatering and before I knew it, almost half the bottle was gone before lunch!  (Yes, it was nap time on the beach afterwards.)  Vinified completely in stainless steel, this retains its freshness from start to finish and is crisp, lively and refreshing.




 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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