Virtual Gourmet

  September 18, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


(Note sketched-in caricature
of comedian Ernie Kovacs, with cigar, on the far right menu with his with Edie Adams to the left)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Whistling Straits Golf Course at Destination Kohler


    Nothing about Kohler, Wisconsin, is unintentional.  It is the expression of a remarkable vision unique to America when planned communities—sometimes characterized as Utopian—sprang up in the 19th century as places both autonomous and isolated from the stewpot cultures of the big cities.
      Many, the various Shaker and Amish communities, were wholly based on religion and philosophy. Others were founded on scientific and social reform, like New Harmony, Indiana’s Boatload of Knowledge. But while there were certain elements of all those in the establishment in 1873 of Kohler, its founding was foremost a way for Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler (left) and Charles Silberzahn to maximize efficiency and costs for their booming Sheboygan Union Iron and Steel Foundry, which made their signature cast iron bathtubs and farm implements and later producing drinking fountains, plumbing fixtures, engines, generators, and, of course, the kitchen sink.
    It was Kohler’s idea to have his workers live within a short distance of his new plant, set on 28 acres of farmland, so a village was developed  and incorporated in 1912. If not wholly Utopian, Kohler was truly a company town, where  Kohler’s son Walter contended “A worker deserves not only wages, but roses as well.”  If not always a bed of roses (workers have called four strikes since 1934), the mostly immigrant workers paid only $27.50 a month for room and board to stay in  a marvel of Tudor architecture named The American Club, opened in 1918, which included a pub, bowling alley and barbershop. The management as well provided lessons in the English language and for gaining American citizenship. Aesthetic standards for homes were established, and a Residential Review Board was established to oversee any further development.
      Around the Club the Olmsted Brothers, whose masterpiece of landscaping had been NYC’s Central Park, helped create a 50-year master plan that would take full advantage of the natural beauty and quietude of the woods and lake lands of northeastern Wisconsin.
    With an increase in families in the town, workers wanted their own homes,  mostly to be built and sold at cost by the company, so that the American Club was eventually reconfigured  as a grand inn, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. 
    I shall report next week specifically about the American Club, its various lodges, activities, and restaurants, but let me speak of the attractions that make Kohler itself a beautiful and very special place to visit.  My wife and I did so in winter, which I do not highly recommend, for the glory of the territory bursts forth in spring, continues through a brilliant summer and ends in a riot of fall colors, from the yellow and red foliage to the blue and silver shadings of the sky and rivers, the gold of farmland and the diverse greenery of forests.    
           As you can imagine in a land of lakes and rivers, fall is an ideal time to fly fish the Sheboygan River or Lake Michigan for spawning king salmon and steelhead, or canoeing and kayaking down the 25-mile long river, though seven miles is the usual route people take for a day trip.    Kohler’s River Wildlife offers upland and bird hunting at three fields on different terrain, in addition to trap shooting.  Of course, merely hiking or meandering at one’s leisure over the 500 acres of the town’s land can be a blessing in summer and fall for anyone who wants to appreciate Wisconsin as slowly as possible. (You’ll need snowshoes in winter.) Horseback riding is also available.  As you might imagine,  golf is one of the principal attractions for visitors to the area,  and the Club has four courses, two each at Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, designed by Pete Dye. They have hosted three PGA championships, the US Senior open and two US women’s tournaments in 2012.  In 2020 the prestigious Ryder Cup Matches will be held at Kohler.
    Even in winter I found the Kohler Design Center to be among the area’s most fascinating attractions, since there is a Heritage Museum of Kohler history—the brick building of 36,000 square feet was transformed from a recreation hall built for the workers—a testament to American ingenuity and original design as fine as the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building in DC.  Here are the plows that broke the land, the earliest tubs and stoves, massive generators and diesel engines for the war, and a cache of industrial graphics that are priceless, along with a modern art section whereby American artists pay homage to industrial themes.
    The Design Center itself is a showcase for contemporary Kohler bat and kitchen designs, not least its “Great Wall of China,” made from many colored toilets (right).
    The town has two shopping areas, one at Woodlake and another at Deer Trace.  The former  is home to many local designers and artists, like Art Imig’s men’s clothing store, Kacia women’s clothing, Wisconsin Trader home furnishings, and Scentualities for perfume and lingerie, as well as an Italian restaurant named Cucina, Craverie Chocolatier Café, and the ArtsSpace Gallery.
    In nearby Sheboygan the non-profit  John Michael Kohler Arts Center emphasizes craft related forms and folkloric by self-taught artists, all located with Kohler’s restored mansion and the former Mead Public Library.



By John Mariani


138 Lafayette Street (near Canal Street)

    Here’s my prediction: When Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Esquire, GQ and the rest of the trend-frenzied magazines come out with their best new restaurant lists for 2016, Le Coucou will not be on any of them. Apparently, owner Stephen Starr and chef Daniel Rose did not get the memo that no one any longer wants to eat at a beautiful, softly lighted, civilized restaurant with exquisitely crafted food, a superbly selected wine list, accepts reservations, and has a professional staff taught to smile and say “thank you” and “hope you enjoyed your meal” when you leave.
    Le Coucou means “the cuckoo,” which Starr might have churlishly chosen to suggest an idea that’s a little crazy. Fortunately, NYC’s more inclusionary food critics, like Steve Cuozzo of the Post and Adam Platt of New York magazine, have been in high praise of Le Coucou, not least for its grown-up approach to dining out.  Let me add my own fervid kudos.
    At Le Coucou, Starr, who is Philadelphia-based and knows well the casual dining segment (El Vez, Jones) as well as the big house scene (Buddakan, Morimoto), has given NYC his most ambitious fine dining restaurant, while Chicago-born Rose, who has two restaurants in Paris (La Bourse et la Vie and Spring), has taken the leap across the pond to show that French cuisine still has its fans at a time when the NYC restaurant scene teems with hole-in-the-wall eateries winning multiple stars for veggie burgers and bowls of pho.
    Despite Le Coucou’s residence in a hotel innocuously named 11 Howard (it serves breakfast daily), the onus usually attached to that situation immediately evaporates when you enter this 80-seat dining room of such stunning good taste, from the pewter chandeliers hung from a high ceiling and heavy curtains over triple-hung windows, to the swank bar and the bright open kitchen.  The rough brick walls are off-white, the wooden floors bleached, the chairs extremely comfortable, and the white linen tablecloths have a soft heft.  You’ll still find many restaurants in France looking this refined, but they are now rare in NYC, so you may be forgiven if you allow yourself the daydream of thinking you are in a polished auberge in a city like Chagny or Eugénie-les-Bains.
    Some may no longer know French cuisine when they see it, but you will when you taste the food at Le Coucou. Balance, subtlety married to rich flavors, and a harmony with wine, these are the hallmarks of what Rose  (below) has devoted his career to following and producing.  You will not wince at a strange concoction, never doubt that each dish has been thoroughly thought through rather than “created” on a whim, and you will never have to guess what an ingredient is.
    The menu has a judicious number of items that the kitchen can turn out with great attention to detail, though it’s printed in somewhat confusing categories of hors d’oeuvres and “gourmandises,” then “poissons et viandes,” although the gourmandises function as small main courses, and since everything is à la carte, you can eat very well at a good price. 
    Lobster is stuffed into golden-green squash blossoms with yogurt, mint, dill and cucumber ($21) that gives you your last taste of summer, as does chicken and foie gras with warm fruit ($25), while veal tongue with golden ossietra caviar and crème fraîche ($38) seems a precursor of autumn. If you wish to know what they are cooking in Paris these days, one bite of Rose’s marvelous sweetbreads with tomato cream and tarragon ($24) will tell you, with great finesse.  I always seem to order quenelles of pike with a Nantua sauce out of duty, but Rose’s, with a similar lobster sauce Americaine ($26), was a revelation—the quenelle light as helium, not at all spongy or fishy, with a very delicate taste buoyed by an unapologetically rich sauce of tomato, white wine, brandy, plenty of butter and a touch of cayenne in the reduction of lobster meat and shells.
      “Wagyu tripe with green tomato and olives” ($12) sounds like a lily gilded, but in fact it’s a crispy finger of tender American wagyu tripe, gone in a few bland bites.  The only real—and puzzling—disappointment was a bourride of black bass and shellfish with aïoli  ($38), because the fumé itself was insipid.
    A dish called “Tour le lapin” (all the rabbit) includes renditions of meaty
legs, saddle and liver treated to an herb-mustard basting and pan juices enlivened by some Manzanilla sherry.   Very juicy duck breast (left) comes with sweet Mission figs, lustrous foie gras and black olives ($38), which is as Provençal-inspired a dish as you will come by in NYC.
    A must in any serious French restaurant, a selection of cheeses is offered at Le Coucou (one for $7, three for $21, five for $35), and Daniel Skurnick’s desserts maintain the same balance as the first and second courses. A chiboust à la vanille  (right) with red wine cherries ($12), rice pudding with pistachios and chartreuse ($11) and a pavé of chocolate with gold leaf, glace and pralines ($11) show delicate refinement and complementary textures.

    The 600-label wine list, put together by Aaron Thorp, is largely French, remarkable not just for its breadth and depth but for the pricing, with dozens of bottles under $70 in every category and an amazing range of wines you simply won’t easily find anywhere else. But presenting it all in a loose-leaf binder is pretty tacky.
    That last small detail stands out only because it does stand out in a restaurant of such attention to every detail, a trifle amidst an array of impeccably thought-out style and cuisine.  For which reason most people dress accordingly, despite the restaurant allowing some ostensibly adult men to sit down wearing t-shirts and jeans.
    In almost every way, then, Le Coucou is not a beacon but a testament to the enduring appeal of an evening where the management and the kitchen want nothing more than to manifest their own pleasure in having you as a guest.


Le Coucou is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.



By John Mariani 

    You would think that after 136 years of making wine that a fourth-generation, family-run domaine like Maison Joseph Drouhin would have everything down pat.  Yet President Philippe Drouhin, CEO Frederic, enologist Veronique and Director of the U.S. market Laurent (right) are, ironically, among the avant-garde who have never rested on their laurels—and those laurels have long been among the most prestigious in Burgundy.
    For some time now Drouhin has followed the principles of biological and biodynamic cultivation on its 182.5 acres in order to limit the amount of chemicals in the vineyards. It uses natural predators to control spiders, compost from organic matter instead of fertilizers and allows certain vineyards to lie fallow for a few years.   It has also switched to glass bottles that are ten percent lighter, thereby reducing their carbon footprint.  And, not to be outflanked, the company has purchased 280 more acres in Oregon.
    Like all vignerons, the Drouhins worry about vintages, sunshine, rainfall, and, increasingly, climate change, though Burgundy can always use more heat. Production over the past five years in Burgundy has been seriously down—as much as 40% in some vineyards. There are concerns about what Brexit will mean to the global market, and how overall consumption of wine in Europe has dropped, although more people are drinking better wines.
    Yet, throughout it all, an estate like Drouhin must maintain consistency at a time when styles of wine change not only due to climate but to popular taste.  "The Burgundian terroir expresses itself through the vine: our role is to translate and reveal its most subtle messages,”  reads the Drouhin  mantra.  "Every effort is made to respect this terroir in all its diversity.”
    That consistency and commitment to its motto  of “Natural Elegance” has always made the estate’s wines among the most sought-after in France.  In fact, according to Laurent Drouhin (who lives in a New York suburb), “only 25 cases of our Musigny is allotted this year to the United States. Only six bottles—total—are allocated for all of China.”
    The 2014 vintage of Drouhin wines are now coming into the U.S. market, and I had a chance to taste many of them at a lunch in NYC at Le Bernardin restaurant with Laurent, who told me, “It’s an excellent vintage, especially for the whites, but a difficult year, too.” 
    A report compiled by Laurent with Stephen Brook and Gerard Basset for Decanter magazine, read: “The reds are less voluptuous and rich than the 2009 or 2012 but also riper than the 2008.  There are many forward wines for drinking over the next 8 to 10 years, as well as superb wine from the top venues that should age well in areas that were affected by hail. We’re always presented with challenges. First the yields could be reasonably low. Second, levels of extraction could be worrying high. There’s a huge stylistic variation along the Côte de Beaune wines.  Many are limping, others all dark and dense.”
    That’s not a rave review of the vintage, but, after tasting the Drouhin examples, I again realized how those 136 years of experience count in keeping the estate’s wines from any vintage at a consistent level of quality. 
    The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Vaudesir  is proof that an appellation wine made so widely—and often so badly—in Burgundy can rise to rival the more respected village whites of the area, which almost  justifies a price of $80 by virtue of its depth and complexity.
    The Gevrey-Chambertin ($70), from the slopes of the Côte de Nuits, is an excellent wine, aged in oak for 15-18 months, powerful as Gevrey-Chambertin can be, which makes it long-lived, though I think this will be quite mature within the next five years.
    There are two Puligny-Montrachets in release: one, at $75, was quite tangy and acidic; the other, the famous Folatières ($115), was a finer wine, better knit, toasty, grown high on the slope in chalky soil that is reflected in the wine’s minerality, which will keep this a luscious wine for the next four years.
    Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche ($130) is a wine whose acreage is wholly controlled by Drouhin, rather than parceled out to other owners or negoçiants. If one had to choose a Burgundy that shows the difference between a French chardonnay and those of just about any other country, this would be a standard to judge by for its rich pear-like flavors and just a hint of vanilla.
By the same token a Côte de Beaune Villages ($30) reminded me of a somewhat funky California wine.
    My favorite wine of the day was, not surprisingly,  Vosne Romanée, which at $100 is worth every penny.  (It’s a shame that in a restaurant this would probably sell for more than two or three times that price.) With an ideal 13% alcohol, it is elegantly structured and balanced between fruit and tannins. Drouhin owns just less than an acre of Vosne Romanée turf, so it buys grapes from growers in this tiny village in the Cotes de Nuits. But the result is magnificent, even in a troublesome vintage like 2014.  Innovation seems to count mist when experience is solidly behind it.




“This year we decided to take our summer vacation in Amsterdam.”—Russell Shorto, “Amsterdam, Revisited," NY Times (9/4/16)


Burger King’s first St. Petersburg location is serving some limited-edition burgers that pay homage to performance artist Petr Pavlensky, who has nailed his testicles to the cobblestones of Red Square and cut off his earlobe.  The new burgers include: One that’s been “partly sewn shut” to commemorate the time  Pavlensky sewed his mouth shut (left to protest the Kremlin’s jailing of Pussy Riot;  a  burger wrapped in “edible barbed wire” as an homage to the time Pavlensky stripped naked and got into a cocoon of barbed wire to protest repressive government policies;  a burger  “burnt on one side” to celebrate the time Pavlensky set the Federal Security Service’s door on fire.


 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: APPALACHIAN ODYSSEY

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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