Virtual Gourmet

  December 11,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER




By John Mariani


By John Mariani



by Geoff Kalish



By John Mariani


OXFORD COMPANION TO CHEESE edited by Catherine Donnelly
(Oxford U. Press; $39.16)—Although not the last word on a fast-changing subject, this 3 ½-pound, 888-page tome covers 855 subjects, from Abbaye de Tamié  made by monks to Ziraly Panir (an Iranian sheep’s cheese). Donnelly, as e-of-c, has the cred—she’s a Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the U. of Vermont, backed by 325 experts. Aside from the cheese identities, there is info on cheese service, even pregnancy advice and charming if irrelevant tidbits like Louis Pasteur’s writing nightly love letters to his wife. Lots of science here, too: molecular biology, yeasts, molds, and plenty more. It would take a thousand hours to look all this up on Wikipedia.



FRENCH WINE: A HISTORY by Rod Philips (University of California Press,  $34.95).   This latest in the fine series on the world’s wines published by U. of California Press treats thoroughly a subject that, oddly enough, has never been given such an in-depth analysis.  The story begins more than 2,500 years ago (though half the book is about what happened after 1870), and Philips brings us right up through today, what he calls a “golden age” for French wine, owing to technological and generational shifts and global influences and taste.  Of course, it is full of great and startling characters, including Thomas Jefferson and Baron Philippe de Rothschild.  Sadly, Philips writes like the academic he is. His prose is flat and clinical, especially for a subject that should be far livelier.  But it’s the best book out there on the subject and has been a long time in coming.


by Dominic Roskrow (Kodansha, $34.96).  Anyone who doubts the excellence of Japanese whisky has either never sampled any or never left the Scottish moors.  An open mind on the subject of whisky is rewarded with myriad pleasures, and this “Essential Guide to the World’s Most Exotic Whisky” details a century-old history of making brown spirits right up to the present, when distillers have created cult whiskeys, like Karuizawa, whose special bottlings can bring $30,000 and more.  There are profiles of the major distillers, detailed tasting notes, and a list of the best bars worldwide serving Japanese whiskey.  Dominic Roskrow has long experience as an award-winning  spirits journalist, and the illustrations, paper stock and presentation is all complementary to the whiskeys themselves.


by Esterele Payany (Flammarion, $39.95) Although I have real problems with the irate tenor of vegan rants, vegetarian cuisine is as old as man and has become far more diverse than ever in history, so that the non-vegetarian will find this fat, beautifully illustrated book a textbook for everything from its descriptions of fruits and vegetables to the way to make a perfect array of omelets, all with the precision that underpins all fine French cuisine. Those who are vegetarians, of whatever stripe, will go through it for years without exhausting its pleasures.


(Voyageur Press, $25).  As I happily wrote on the back cover of Bourbon: "It's been clear for some time now that Fred Minnick is America's finest authority on spirits, and his new book on bourbon seals the deal--impeccably researched, beautifully illustrated, and written with such informed individuality that reading the book is like listening to the engaging teacher whose lectures enthralled you as much as enlightened you. There's never a last word on any subject, but Minnick's new book is unlikely to be exceeded by anything better for a long time to come.”




--Taittinger has always been a personal favorite of mine, for it hits that perfect balance of fruit, acid, effervescence and backbone I like in a bubbly, and the brand has never gone for the bone-dry, pas dosage style of so many ridiculously priced prestiges cuvées that taste too often like acidic water. Taittinger is voluptuous as a rosé ($70) and as a brut ($50), a blend of 30 different chardonnay and pinot noir vintages  it is perfect to serve as an apéritif, with caviar and smoked salmon, and it will go well with everything but red meats or very sweet desserts.

REDBREAST SINGLE POT STILL SHERRY FINISH LUSTAU EDITION IRISH WHISKEY ($69)—Dating back to 1903, Redbreast is Ireland’s largest selling single pot still whiskey, and it has always had a distinctive sherry note to it. This Lustau edition, which refers to a century's old alliance with Bodegas Lustau and Midelton  Distillery, is bottled at 46% alcohol, after maturation in sherry casks for 9-12 years, then finished in first-fill sherry butts from Lustau.


ANGEL’S ENVY CASK STRENGTH BOURBON ($180)—Only 8,000 bottles of this critically acclaimed bourbon was made for 2016, aged up to seven years in Portuguese oak and released at cask strength of 62.3% alcohol, so it packs a wallop but has all sorts of nuances when allowed to flow slowly over the palate.


NOVO FOGO SINGLE BARREL #87 ($99)—Novo Fogo is renowned for its cachaças, made from organic sugar cane in the state of Espirito Santo, Brazil.  Most cachacas are little aged or not at all, so this example, which spends five years in American oak barrel and released at 41% alcohol, is a rarity indeed, so it takes on the heartier notes of a good rum while retaining the citrusy, fruity quality of cachaça, so you can drink it neat rather than waste it in a caipirinha.



WOOD’S HIGH MOUNTAIN TENDERFOOT WHISKEY ($50)—Although there are now several spirits distillers in Colorado, they are still novelties in the market and therefore these spirits make a good holiday gift. Wood’s is located in downtown Salida, CO, made by PT and Lee Wood since 2012, who came up with the idea on a rafting trip.  This is a single malt style, blended from 77% barley malts, 13 % malted rye, and 10% malted wheat, with an alcohol level of 45%. There’s a distinct chocolate-y flavor among the cedar and spices you won’t easily find in other malt whiskies.



HIGHLAND PARK FIRE EDITION ($200)—This special release 15-year-old single malt was matured in Port-seasoned casks, released at 45.2% alcohol, and, with only 28,000 bottles produced, it’s not easy to find, which puts it on the most wanted list of Scotch connoisseurs. It also has a distinctive Norse symbol on the label and is bottled in a ruby red glass “meant to represent the fierce and molten world of the Fire Giants” and comes in a black wood cradle.


PLANTATION O.F.T.D. OVERPROOF RUM ($32)—For aficionados of old style navy dark rums, this new entry, at 69% alcohol, has the deep color and the body of the genre and the characteristic bottom sweetness, but is not as dark as Gosling’s or Meyers’s.  The “O.F.T.D” derives from spirits writer David Wondrich tasting the rum with Plantation’s distiller and exclaiming “Oh, f**k, that’s delicious!” but the company prefers to say it means “Old Fashioned Traditional Dark.”  This is a product of France’s Maison  Ferrand that makes Pierre Ferrand Cognac.







     I see by the NY Times style section that you can purchase gifts like an ash tray for $2,000 and a wristwatch for $164,000, both of which may well last a lifetime.  But more practical, time-proven gifts people don't expect are the best gifts of all.  Here are a few I'd treasure.


The Original Zeroll Ice Cream scoop, which contains a heat conductive fluid sealed within the handle, is a marvel of form and function, and, by eliminating compression, gives you to 20% more scoops of ice cream per gallon. The scooper is a brilliant example of American ingenuity born from a moment’s realization that something could be done better. According to Zeroll’s history, “Its revolutionary design was the inspiration of Sherman Kelly of Toledo, Ohio. As the story goes, Kelly was vacationing in West Palm Beach, Florida, when he observed a young woman dipping ice cream. Noticing the blisters on her hand from the constant use of the disher in the hard ice cream, he thought to himself, `there must be a better way to serve ice cream,’"  so in 1933, Kelly developed the design made of cast aluminum (manufactured by Alcoa), whose interior fluid transferred heat from the user’s hand, and thereby defrosted the  ice cream, with no  need to rinse the dipper in water between servings. The scooper is one of the few simple things in the world that works perfectly and does so forever. It comes in different sizes but can be found for $12 and up.



Farberware Stovetop Percolator--My mother was a first-rate cook and highly efficient hostess—the less to do the better—and her coffee was always rich, flavorful and at the ready, thanks to her old stovetop percolator, by which boiling water is forced through a stem to filter down through ground coffee.  Part of the allure was the moment when the little glass bubble on the top started to throb with coffee and made a unique popping sound—used as a ten-note jingle in Maxwell House coffee ads that was played on a wooden block instrument.  

    The first percolator was invented in 1804 by the America-British physicist Benjamin Thompson, and the stove top model was crafted by Parisian tinsmiths in 1819, perfected in 1889 by a patent owned by an Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich.

    Only in the past year have I acquired a percolator and find it just as marvelous a machine as it was in the 1950s and my coffee has never tasted better, no matter what brand I use.  The 8-cup Farberware model is the simplest and most classic of them all, all for about twenty bucks.

Trudeau Automatic Lever Corkscrew--I've seen hundreds of corkscrew gadgets not worth the money, especially when you can buy the formidably reliable classic "waiter's corkscrew" with its double-action leverage for about ten dollars.  But for something very beautiful and very smooth indeed, I like the Trudeau Automatic. It comes with a foil seal cutter, then you merely lower a lever arm into the cork, and--(since this is a French machine) Voila!--with little effort the cork slides out. It's a refined technique, not a showy one, and shows a little respect for the holiday bottlings you will open. You'll find in on-line for $60-$70.



By John Mariani

New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West (at 77th Street)


    There is a fine new chef at Storico, which has become one of my favorite restaurants on the Upper West Side, quite a ways from the rush and bustle below 72nd Street.  The fact that Storico is set within the New-York Historical Society lends it a certain refinement, and right now, during the Christmas holidays, both are well worth a festive visit.

    The restaurant was opened four years ago by Stephen Starr, who in addition to Buddakan and Morimoto in NYC, recently opened the much heralded Le Coucou downtown. At Storico the light pours in through stately windows against milk white walls, puts a gleam on the historic brass chandelier, and brightens lemon yellow banquettes and fifteen-foot shelves set with antique chinaware from the museum's vast collection.  During the day it’s a bright and cheery spot to dine, with an open kitchen and marble counter, while at night its has a casual sophistication that has increasingly drawn a neighborhood crowd.  Thank heavens they’ve turned down the once intrusive music and no longer lower the lighting after 8 p.m.

    The new young chef is Tim Kensett, whose tenure at London’s The Square and the seminal Italian restaurant The River Café shows in the lightness of his touch, the appreciation of ingredients, and a respect for the traditions of Italian cuisine as set by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray. He’s a jolly Brit with a good rapport with his guests, so I hope he stays put for a long time. He deserves more media attention.

We began with an array of antipasti that include a crudo of Albacore tuna with just-pressed, very green Capezzana olive oil, baby radish and saline bottarga ($18);  crusty, smoky bruschetta topped with the best wild mushrooms I’ve had this fall ($20), including true funghi porcini; and buffalo mozzarella from Campania ($18) with roasted Long Island pumpkin, wilted dandelion and grilled chili, though imported mozzarella, which needs to be made daily,  is never as fresh as it should be.

    All the pastas at Storico are wonderful, from simple housemade tagliarini with good butter and shavings of white truffles ($17, with 5 grams of truffles $80, with 10 grams $140), to capellacci di zucca ($17 or $24), which are  pumpkin-stuffed “little hats”—a holiday pasta—dressed with marjoram, dried chili that perks it all up and parmesan. Only slightly unorthodox is the risotto made with wheatberries, which give it a nutty flavor, blended with oxtail marrow, and pickled radicchio ($19 or $26).   Also a bit out of the ordinary is the rigatoni with black cabbage (kale) impressed into the dough, served with pine nuts and pecorino ($19 or $26).

    Main courses all have a novel twist to them, too, as with a luscious and tender roasted duck with braised borlotti beans, caramelized endive and aged balsamic ($36);  and pan-seared skate wing with charred escarole and a preserved lemon gremolata. Half a lobster is cooked in butter with wilted rainbow chard and toast ($36).

     Do not skip dessert at Storico.  The lemon and sour cream tart with raspberries ($9) is light and has a fine balance of sweetness and tartness, and the dark chocolate-hazelnut tart with crème fraîche ($9) makes a great ending, perhaps with a dessert wine.

    Cocktails run $14-$15 and there’s a glass of Valdo prosecco for just $12.

The wine list is admirable for its range and unusual labels from smaller vintners, though price hikes of 300 percent on some bottlings is tough to swallow. A Muri Gries Müller-Thurgau 2014 that sells for $14 in a wine store is $50 here and a Polvanera Primitivo 2014 shouldn’t be $54 when you can buy it for $11.

    As noted, Kensett deserves attention, not just from the NYC media, which rarely venture north of 14th Street, but from cooks around town who need a refresher in how to prepare innovative but simple Italian cuisine the way it should be.


 Storico is open Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.




by Geoff Kalish

    Originally from South Africa, Anthony Bell has made wine in the U.S. for more than  35 years—first at Beaulieu Vineyard in the late 1970s and since 1991 at Napa Valley’s Bell Wine Cellars.
    And, while well known among the oenophile cognoscenti for his work on rootstock choices for grafting and “clone 6” Cabernet Sauvignon, his recent wines are little known to most consumers. In fact, with limited production (14,000 cases annually) and a total of 22 different wines (many offered only at the winery), opportunities for wide distribution were limited. However, efforts are now underway to get the word out about at least five of the wines produced and mechanisms are now in place for  nationwide availability. 

    To gain insight into these five wines, we attended a recent tasting Bell conducted at The Wine Cellar, an upscale retail shop in the Mercato Shopping, Dining & Entertainment Plaza in Naples, Florida. The following are my notes and some comments about the wines.

2013 Bell Estate Bottled Yountville Chardonnay ($30)
—Grapes for this wine hailed from a Yountville estate surrounding the winery. “The vineyard enjoys early morning fog and cool growing conditions with more sunlight and warmer daytime conditions than the more southerly Oak Knoll and Carneros regions, which allows for a wine with rich fruit flavors and excellent acidity,” commented Bell.  Following fermentation, 36% of the wine was aged for six months in neutral French oak barrels and the remainder in stainless steel.  It showed a bouquet and light, elegant taste of apples and pears, with a hint of oak in its crisp finish. It makes a worthy mate for shrimp, lobster and more deeply flavored seafare like grilled tuna and swordfish.


2014 Bell Red Blend ($23)—This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Syrah (37%), Zinfandel (11%) and Petit Verdot (2%).  Bell noted that “the growing season provided numerous challenges—our third consecutive drought year, the South Napa earthquake in August, and late season hail—but we harvested about two weeks early, with intensely flavored berries.” The wine had a fragrant bouquet and easy drinking fruity taste of ripe strawberries and plums with notes of chocolate in its finish. This is a great “everyday” wine at an excellent price that pairs well with a wide range of fare, from smoked salmon to hamburgers and even pizza.


2013 Bell Yountville Merlot ($50)—According to Bell, Napa reds from the 2013 vintage should be excellent, with ideal growing conditions in most areas. This wine is made from primarily hand-harvested Merlot (95%) with the addition of a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon (5%). Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 20 months in oak (97% French, 3% American). It had a bouquet and rich taste of ripe plums and chocolate, with a slightly tannic finish—perfect to mate with beef and veal dishes.


2012 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)—Made from a blend of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (82%) and smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, the wine was aged for 18 months in oak (86% French, 14% American) before being bottled unfined and with a gentle filtration. “The blending of the six varietals provides the wine with great complexity,” Bell says. I found it to have a bouquet of cassis and ripe raspberries and a well integrated taste of fruit and oak. Prime rib and lamb chops are ideal mates for this wine.


2013 Bell Canterbury Syrah ($30)—For this wine grapes from a Sierra Foothills vineyard, noted for well drained soils, were fermented and barrel-aged for 11 months in oak (59% French, 41% American), followed by 10 months of bottle aging. The wine showed a  bouquet and taste of ripe blackberries and toast with a smooth finish.


B. Y. O. B. . . . AND OXYGEN

One Star House Party and James Sharman, a chef at  Copenhagen's Noma, are offering a dinner at the base camp of Mount Everest, as part of a 14-day trip that will start in Kathmandu in Nepal on Dec. 10 and return on Dec. 23, at a cost of $1,050 per person (excluding flights). 


 “I love no steak better than a rib-eye, but this one - a $54 investment - was a mess. I took most of it home, where it made my dogs happier than it had made me. . . . Perhaps I would have been in a better humor had my $19 black-truffled, twice-baked potato been filled with appealing fluff rather than the semi-liquid glue at which I poked disconsolately. . . . A wonderfully demented grilled banana split the size of my laptop featured bananas that had been halfheartedly (nay, quarterheartedly) grilled. . . . For $45, this wasn't so much a dish as it was a pro-forma assemblage. Like too many dishes here, this is generic American "luxury" fare that hasn't been well thought out. . . . This is a pulsating mating ground for the 30s and 40s set - even a bit beyond - with a thumping vintage soundtrack to match. The not-so-young-and-restless of all descriptions flock in to join the dance, united only by hope and disposable income.”--Alison Cook, "Steak 48," Houston Chronicle (10/19/16)



 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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