Virtual Gourmet

  October 2,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"That one" (2014) by Galina Dargery



By John Mariani


By John Mariani


There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week because Mariani is traveling in search of undreamt of exotica.


By John Mariani

    Despite the annual urgings of two old friends who live on Hilton Head Island, my reluctance to visit was based on a bias against meticulously planned communities for golfers, second homers and retirees residing in way-too-large homes on way-too-manicured grounds.  Still, in trying to put such biases behind me and with a desire to be proven wrong, I made the trip to Hilton Head and found it an extremely pleasant place with remarkably good local restaurants beyond the usual upscale chains and places with the word “Cap’n” in their names. Indeed, a local dining guide lists more than 60 indigenous restaurants from seafood houses to Southern Low Country eateries.
    Let’s get the usual stats out of the way to show the breadth of Hilton Head’s activities.  Ten family beaches, 350 tennis courts and 24 championship golf courses, including layouts by such noted architects as Robert Trent Jones, Pete Dye, George Fazio, Rees Jones, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.  (Golf Digest has HH Number 10 on its list of the world’s best golf destinations.)
       The first resort that always pops up in conversation is the vast, sprawling Westin
Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa (right), which re-opened in 2013 after a $30 million renovation.  I stayed there for a few days and found it a serviceable and efficiently run large hotel situated within the Port Royal Plantation on the Atlantic Ocean, with access to one of three golf courses at the Port Royal Golf Club, and tennis available at the Port Royal Racquet Club.
     Located within the 5,000-acre Sea Pines community, The Sea Pines Resort (below) has been a premier destination for half a century, home of an annual PGA Tour golf tournament (well known to golf fans for its distinctive red-and-white lighthouse just behind the 18th green).  Sea Pines actually pre-dates the 1983 incorporation of HH, which is named after William Hilton, the first Englishman to scout the island in 1663.  Even before his arrival though, pirates, Spaniards and Huguenots had sought refuge on the amoeba-shaped island with a good harbor, and Native Americans had been there for more than four millennia.  The first English settlers arrived in 1717 and by the turn of the century the island’s long-staple Sea Island cotton became an important crop and industry, along with indigo, sugar cane and rice raised on plantations. The slaves freed during the Civil War stayed on but, sadly, remnants of their Gullah culture are all but gone.  Development pretty much displaced them all on Daufuskie Island.
    HH was only reachable by private boat and ferry until the construction of the
James F. Byrnes Bridge in 1956, the same year the erection of Sea Pines Resort began, spurring rapid development of the island as a resort community.  Led by Sea Pines’ founder, Charles E. Fraser, HH has always been critically involved in maintaining its environment, not least when its citizenry successfully beat back the installation of off-shore oil platforms and a liquefied natural gas shipping facility.
     One of the best places to get a sense of both the early and contemporary environmental concerns of HH is at the
Coastal Discovery Museum, set on 69 acres of diverse natural beauty, both aquatic and on terra firma, with grand vistas of waving marshes (right) and turtle-rich bogs, along with pampered gardens and huge wild oaks, cedars and pines.  There is also a two-hour dolphin research tour and shrimp trawling expeditions.
    The central building, called the Discovery House (below), is the oldest (1859); it showcases Low Country history through art and artifacts, with many children’s programs. There is also a Pole Barn that houses farm equipment, and a restored horse barn.   On Oct. 8, t
he Kiwanis Club of Hilton Head Island will host the 32nd Annual Chili Cook-off at the museum.
    Much of the charm of HH comes, however, by touring, as much as is possible, along the back roads and byways that curve throughout the island into beautiful shady enclaves of elegantly appointed homes like Port Royal (below). Many, to be sure, are within gated communities you can only visit by invitation, but what struck me most was the complete lack of cookie-cutter architecture.  My biased expectations of many connected structures done in the style of so many Southern resort communities, or of absurdly ostentatious mansions of a kind you find in Palm Beach, evaporated in view of the finely designed individual homes, all impeccably landscaped.
    If everything about these residences seems just a little too neat, too secluded and too exclusive, it is the price residents are willing to pay for peace and quiet.  That price is a high one, and there is always the fear that HH may grow and grow and grow until it looks more like the troubled development of Sea Island, Georgia, or the oddly eerie WaterColor houses of South Walton, Florida.
    There is a hint of that already in the sheer number of cars and trucks creeping down Route 278, the island’s main roadway, which in season can be as crowded as the New England Thruway during rush hour. But for now, HH maintains its unique calm and its natural beauty, and that’s well worth fighting for.


Next Issue:  Dining Out on Hilton Head


By John Mariani


55 Abendroth Avenue
Port Chester, NY

    I had not given much thought to visiting Saltaire in the New York City suburb of Port Chester until I read that the owners are the Barnes family, which also runs the excellent seafood restaurant in Queens called London Lennie’s.  I figured that if Leslie and Elizabeth Barnes are carrying on a 57-year-old legacy of first-rate seafood and hospitality at their new place, I should definitely check it out.  I did and found it even better than its antecedent.
    Largely my opinion is based upon the exceptional quality of seafood the Barnes family has always purchased, all on full display at Saltaire, so that the simplest of dishes are no-brainers as options from a large menu. You simply can’t go wrong.  But it is in the prepared dishes that I think Saltaire exceeds London Lennie's, and chef Cedric Lamouille, formerly at Bistro V in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut, is to be complimented for training a brigade of cooks and a fine pastry chef who are turning out some of the finest seafood on the East Coast.
    For years this had been a cavernous steakhouse, originally a granary, and the Barneses have pretty much kept everything intact while sprucing up the bar and dining room and improving the lighting with beautiful chandeliers. Maritime artwork, maps, charts and paraphernalia evoke the restaurant’s name (Long Island Sound is just blocks away).  The waitstaff is fleet-footed and well informed, and the noise level is quite acceptable for such a big room.
    The wine list is still growing, with wines available by the glass or carafe, all with reasonable mark-ups on the bottles (most under $70), and an impressive bar list of spirits, with eight beers on tap and as many signature cocktails ($11-$13).
    The four-page menu begins with a wide selection from the raw bar, which on any given night offers a dozen oyster varieties, and towers of seafood ($45 to $135), as well as ceviches ($14) and poke ($13).  Every kitchen does fried calamari, but few as carefully as at Saltaire, with an orange-poppyseed dipping sauce with pickled chilies and basil ($15).  The grilled Mediterranean octopus ($16), accompanied by edamame and hummus, with black garlic aïoli and crunchy toasted almonds, shows that every dish here is not just a copy of those everywhere else. 
    I recall that the crab cake at London Lennie’s was crab and nothing but crab, but, though Saltaire’s ($16) is good, it seems to have more breading than the original. There are then soups and salads and four mussel offerings ($18). Since it was near the end of the soft-shell crab season, I couldn’t resist ordering them with roasted fingerling potatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe and a sweet beurre blanc sweetened with pomegranate ($31).  They may have been the best soft shells I’ve had all season, and the New Bedford sea scallops with shaved Brussels sprouts, mushroom ragoût and the unexpected pleasure of Parmesan cheese and truffle emulsion ($35) was equally delicious.  I commend as well the chef’s way with wild striped bass with a beet risotto that was not only beautiful but perfectly rendered in texture and flavor  ($32).   I also sampled a dish from the “Top of the Catch” section, which included a fresh-as-the-sea Florida red snapper with a tomato velouté ($32).
    Most of the time in seafood restaurants of this stripe and size, the kitchen takes the easy route to please with cliché desserts, but at Saltaire a great deal of care has been put into an item called “Almond Joy,” composed of a
bittersweet chocolate crémeux with toasted almonds, strawberry and coconut sorbet that for once really tasted like coconut ($10).  Cheesecake ($11) is very good, scented with orange blossom, topped with poached apricots and apricot glaze, with an almond lace cookie, the kind of dessert you expect to find in very high-end restaurants.
    It is to damn Saltaire with faint praise to say it is merely a first-rate seafood house, for while it resembles others in its genre, it is really in its own league, one where you start with the best ingredients, treat them imaginatively but simply, and carry the commitment to excellence straight through dessert.  Saltaire is the kind of place that changes the game. 

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly. Parking is difficult in the area, but there is usually plenty of space two blocks away at the movie theater.



According to USA Today, "Milwaukee police say a customer upset with his order at a Taco Bell shot into the restaurant’s drive-thru window.Taco Bell management says that after leaving with his order, the man was upset to discover the employees forgot to add sour cream. He called the restaurant and the manager told him to come back the next day for a free meal because they were closed. Authorities say the man returned a short time later, about 12:20 a.m. Monday, and shot at the bullet-proof window and an employee’s car. No one was hurt. Police are looking for the man."



"If the herd of 300 water buffalo at Italy’s Tenuta Vannulo were human, they would be those beatifically smiling, slightly irritating types who talk about “vegan glow” and lean a bit too hard on the lifestyle advice of experts like Gwyneth Paltrow. The animals at this organic dairy farm 60 miles south of Naples, in the town of Salerno, certainly do deserve much of the credit for its astonishing mozzarella. But, like the children of royalty, these girls are the definition of privileged, thanks to Antonio Palmieri, the founder’s grandson, who believes relaxed animals make the best milk.”—Laurie Woolover, Food & Wine (8/9/16)


 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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