Virtual Gourmet

  January 29,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

"Eve" By Galina Dargery (2016)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

BY John Mariani 


By John Mariani

Hudson's on the Dock

    Not long after I visited Hilton Head, SC, and wrote about its attractions last fall, the area was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew and destruction was widespread, not least closing road access to the island for days.
    Friends who lived there said everyone and everything was affected by the Category Two storm, and most restaurants were out of business for months.  But now I am told Hilton Head is coming back to vitality, and all the restaurants I visited there are again open. So, since it’s now a very good time to head south, I can publish what I’d originally planned for last autumn.  Hope you enjoy your time there.

1 Hudson Road

    Everybody knows and loves Hudson’s. Since 1967 on what was once Hudson’s Oyster Factory on Port Royal Sound, this sprawling second-generation seafood house’s enormous popularity is owed to the dogged commitment of the Carmines family to obtain the finest seafood up and down the East Coast at whatever cost.
    Those costs are kept down by the Carmines owning their own fishing fleet and refrigerated trucks that contract fisherman from Charleston to northern Florida to bring in a wider array of fish than most anywhere else in the entire region—swordfish, mahi mahi, grouper, tile fish, trigger fish, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, crabs and lobsters, all of it processed in-house, so that Hudson’s each year goes through 250,000 raw oysters and 70,000 pounds of fresh shrimp, serving up to 1,200 guests a night indoors and out. They built the Shell Ring Oyster Company nearby to guarantee sustainable product.
    The field marshal who oversees these logistics and tactical considerations is Brian Carmines, originally a New Englander, who with his wife, Gloria, established the David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation to
raise money through seafood festivals for MD Anderson Cancer Research Center, the Island Recreation Scholarship Fund and the American Cancer Society.
    Most nights of the week, you’ll wait for a table at Hudson’s, but you wile away the time reading the huge newsprint menu while nursing a dark and stormy or a cold beer as the suns nestles below the Sound and live entertainment begins outdoors. You might even see a a green flash on the horizon.
    Stats and history go only so far to explain Hudson’s popularity, which is really based on all that high quality seafood prepared expertly by a brigade of cooks who have perfected everything from the second-by-second timing of cooking sweet fresh barbecued shrimp (right) till tender in a rich stock with buttered baguette ($12) to the proper seasoning with roe of she crab soup ($4.95-$6.25).  I had a platter of jumbo stone crabs (market price) as meaty as they come, with a light mustard sauce, and there was next to no filler binding the fat, pan-sautéed crabcakes ($12).
    The menu goes on to flounder stuffed with more crabmeat ($22), marvelous  broiled scallops ($25) and almond-crusted grouper with a citrus beurre blanc ($25). And, at dinner’s end, there’s a superlative sour-sweet Key lime pie ($6.50).  The merely serviceable beer and wine lists are nothing to rave about, but when you feed so many people, there’s little time for connoisseurship.
    Hudson’s is one of those places, like Union Oyster House in Boston, Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach, and the Sardine Factory in Monterey, that seem essential  stops for anyone visiting Hilton Head.  And for those who have been even once, just the mention of Hudson’s is enough to bring a smile to their faces.

Open daily


37 New Orleans Road

    I was told by HH friends that fine Italian food was not easy to come by on the island—with a single exception: Michael Anthony’s, opened by Tony and Becky Fazzini in 2002 and evoking the Italian eateries of their upbringing in Philadelphia, although, frankly, Philly is not exactly known for fine regional cucina Italiana.  Precedents aside, the Fazzinis and chef Chris Johnson are doing the kind of Italian food difficult to come by anywhere in South Carolina.
    It’s a handsome restaurant, easy to move around in, with very fine, soft romantic lighting against brick walls and white tablecloths, and a responsible decibel level.  Service is effusive without being intrusive, and menus change with the season.  The wine list is unremarkable, with most mark-ups per bottle about 200 percent.
    My friends and I began with a salad of watermelon with toasted pinenuts, arugula, aged balsamic vinegar with ricotta salata cheese, followed by three good pasta dishes. Spaghetti with crab was a natural choice for a Low Country rendition, while gnocchi cacio e pepe with cheese and cracked black pepper was as simple as it was simply wonderful; porcini tagliatelle was moistened just enough with a wild mushroom demi-glace.
    Portions are very generous here, and you’re likely to take some home, including a bistecca alla Nino Borghese, where lamb gained flavor from a black truffle and amarena cherry reduction.  Tender involtini of veal were lush with a tomato cream.
    For dessert the sformato di cioccolato was superior to tiramisu and panna cotta.  

Open Tues.-Sat. for dinner.


81 Pope Avenue

    Chef-owner Matt Jording is not trying to please everyone, for his cooking is focused with a robust excellence and beautiful presentation that command the attention of a serious gastronome, all without the slightest pretension. 
    Open only for dinner, there are no hamburger or fried fish sandwiches on the menu.  What there is shows that Jording can cook with finesse both in classic and modern styles, beginning with an excellent three onion soup ($8) of smoked provolone that gives an added nuance Gruyère lacks to the caramelized onions and goat’s cheese crostini. 
Since it’s difficult for me ever to turn away from South Carolina’s great shrimp, I ordered a dish of them, sautéed and set over al dente angel’s hair pasta ($27) with the shrimp lightly sautéed then tossed with bell peppers, basil and garlic over a roasted tomato sauce sprinkled with good Parmigiano-Reggiano.  On the meat side of the menu I found a well-marbled, well-seared ribeye of beef first rate ($40), a 22-ounce giant sided with a bleu cheese-lavished, sage-scented potato gratin served with crisp green beans. 
    The dining room is comfortably casual but not a place I’d arrive in sporting cut-off shorts and flip-flops. A ten-person bar functions as a chef’s table that wraps around an open kitchen. The well-lighted wine wall is an impressive part of the design, and the wine list is one of the better ones on the island, with many out-of-the-ordinary labels like The Stump Jump (Australia) and Ernie Els Big Easy (South Africa), among a number of well-known, largely Californian, names like La Crema, J. Lohr, and Rex Hill.

Open for dinner Tues.-Sat. 


8 Archer Road

    Seasonality, amply bolstered by the HH Farmer’s Market, drives chef Chaun Bescos’s menus at Red Fish, especially since he grew up on an organic farm in Hawaii, a blessing that shows up in dishes like seared ahi poke ($13) and Asian pork meatballs ($10).  So you can be sure that the greens in his salads left their beds that morning.
     If anything, the menu is too large—20 appetizers, soups and salads, 12 entrees and 10 desserts, many involving a lot of ingredients.  But he’s not about to compromise sparkling fresh grouper (market price) or a Heritage Farms Berkshire pork chop ($33), which he brines in maple syrup and serves impeccably cooked with house-cured bacon grits, sautéed broccolini and red-eye gravy—a convincing argument for how far Southern traditional food has been brought in the last few years.
    Red Fish is a great-looking spot, airy with well spaced tables, and an attached wine shop and a thousand bottles in inventory.  Sturdy chairs, white tablecloths, polished woodwork and hanging lights are wholly appropriate for the kind of casual style that also bespeaks good taste all around.

Open for lunch Mon.-Sat.; Dinner nightly.



By John Mariani


135 E 55th Street (near Third Avenue)

    I’m sure there are many diners, New Yorkers and out-of-towners, who bounce from one steakhouse to another, but there also seems to be a good deal of avid fidelity to one or the other.  In Midtown Manhattan, where you can choose from about 20 high-end steakhouses within a ten-block area, you can have your choice of old school, like Palm or Gallagher’s, swank spots like Strip House or NYY Steakhouse, or—though it’s hard to fathom why—out-of-town chains, like Capital Grille and Ruth’s Chris.
    Angus Club, on East 55th Street, has, over the past three years, built a loyal customer base upon several factors that go beyond the excellent food: The service, under partner Zef Makaj, goes well beyond the rudiments, without any of that “who-gets-what?” macho so often the case at places like Smith & Wollensky and Spark’s.  In fact, Angus Club is one of those steakhouses that goes out of its way to appeal to women; you can see it in the way they’re taken care of when dining with their friends.  It’s the kind of a place that goes a bit further in trying to please guests, with $1 oysters at happy hour and a three-course fixed price Sunday dinner with a glass of wine at $65. 
    There are also several private dining rooms downstairs (below), done in various decors, for parties that management is happy to work very closely with to insure a desired ambiance and privacy. Upstairs (right) is the main dining room, not very large, with a well-populated bar to the right, whose own décor veers from the usual clichés of dark wood, wainscoting, and ocher walls; instead, it’s a trim space, with very sturdy, comfortable brown leather chairs, a mural of the NYC skyline, and that’s about it.  At night the lighting could be warmer, less flat; it’s not a quiet room but the sound level is reasonable enough for conversation.  White tablecloths, black napkins, and good thin stemware complete the picture.
    The menu at Angus Club will win no points for innovation, for it follows the proven formula of the NYC steakhouse, particularly that of Peter Luger.  The beef is all USDA Prime and chef-partner Edward Avdyli ages his for 35 days, serving it with a good degree of char when asked, as did I.  The quality of the other ingredients is also high. For that reason I stayed simple on my most recent visit, opting for the jumbo crabmeat cocktail  ($27.95), which lived up to its name—all jumbo lump crabmeat in a generous portion.  And while that same jumbo crab was involved in the six-ounce crabcake ($24.95, also as a 10-ounce main course at $39.95), there seemed at least as much bread filler as there was meat, when the correct balance should be 99 percent of the latter and next to none of the former.
    Baked clams ($17.95) were plump and nicely seasoned, and, according to the oyster connoisseur at our table, the bivalves were of superlative quality, icy, impeccably fresh and nicely briny. Porterhouse ($63.95 per person), as elsewhere, is served for two or more people, and it came perfectly cooked and sliced without losing any heat (the plates are red hot).  The meat itself had the right minerality and was exquisitely juicy. The ribeye ($55.95) was an even juicier, fattier cut, and you’ll probably take a good deal of it home for a fine lunch or midnight raid on the  fridge.  So, too, Colorado lamb chops ($47.95)—four of them—were hefty, succulent and full of flavor, and it was even kind of sweet to see mint jelly on the side.
    I did, out of professional duty, order seafood—a three-pound lobster ($94.95)—but was told the kitchen has only two per night and both were gone before I got there at 7:15 p.m. As lobsters can live in cold storage for a few days, I didn’t quite understand why only two would be on hand.  Frozen lobster tails ($74.95), though available, are not a reasonable option.
    Side dishes (below) include good, substantial French fries ($9.95) and sautéed garlic-rich spinach ($11.95). Next time I’m going for the onion rings and truffled cream corn.
    Desserts for the most part are made off-premises, but if you’re still starving, there’s pecan and Key lime pies and the inevitable tiramisu. They really should make the desserts on premises, as many new steakhouses now do.
    The wine cellar at Angus Club is a beauty (above), and the list itself has breadth and depth, not top heavy with trophy wines but not rife with many bottlings under $50. 
    With so many choices of steakhouses of every stripe in NYC, everyone gets to pick their favorite based on what they value most.  Since all the top steakhouses serve very high quality beef, for many people it’s the meeting and greeting that can make all the difference in choosing where to eat.  Fortunately, NYC has several steakhouses that put a premium on good service and guest rapport, and for that Angus Club proves nightly why its guests are as faithful as they are.

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly.





By John Mariani


    Alex Sokol Blosser may very well be the first west coast winemaker I’ve interviewed in NYC who wore a necktie to dinner.  Hell, he may be the only one to own a necktie.  And I thought that gesture meant something, part of the key to Sokol Blosser’s pinot noirs, made in Dundee, Oregon.
    As conventional wisdom goes, pinot noir is a famously finicky grape from which one can produce an over-extracted fruit bomb of a kind made by many California wineries or a too delicate Burgundy of a style even an aficionado may have trouble loving.  Sokol Blosser is wholly family owned—founded 45 years ago at a time when wineries were a rarity in Oregon—and therefore Alex, along with his sister, Alison, co-owner and CEO (right), can make pinot noir the way they feel fits into their own sensibility not as  faux-Burgundy or weak facsimile Russian River pinot noir.
    “There are really two basic types of soil we work with,” Alex said over dinner at Lincoln Ristorante. “Volcanic soil makes great pinot noir at higher elevations.  But below 300 feet the soil is full of calcium and produces very vigorous vines, which in turn make for good but not great pinot noir.”
    Located on a certified organic, 85-acre planted vineyard in Oregon’s Dundee Hills sub appellation (they also buy grapes from others), Sokol Blosser Winery was founded by Alex and Alison’s parents, Bill and Susan,  with all the enthusiasm that untutored youth could muster.  “Dad worked another job and they really didn’t know if the winery would be around in twenty years,” Alex said. “That was 1971.”
    But the winery prospered and became a template of Oregon’s future as a wine region, now with more than 500 wineries, most of them in the Willamette Valley.  Today Sokol Blosser is one of the most award-winning and most respected estates in the west, not least for its dedication to the environment and sustainability.
    After college Alex was a vineyard manager and salesman at Argyle Winery, then sold insurance for a while, before his mother offered him a job in sales.  Along with his position as winemaker, Alex took over the management of the winery in 2012.
    Today Sokol Blosser makes a wide array of wines, most of them intended to be sold at the winery’s new tasting room in Dundee or through on-line sales, from pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay to a nine-grape blend in magnum called Evolution.  But the family’s heart and soul, as well as its considerable reputation, is built solidly on pinot noir, of which they make about ten stylizations from various vineyards.
    In addressing the differences between pinot noir-based Burgundies and California pinto noirs, Alex said, “In France the earthiness of their wines make for a softer, rounder texture and more minerality. The most important component in pinot noir is acid; complexity hangs on that acid. 
    “In California the pinot noir is picked riper to make a heavier, showy style. The riper the grape the more phenolics, and the sugar goes up and ferments into higher alcohol.  Here in Oregon, we’re in the middle, between France and California. We don’t have the former’s soil but we don’t get California’s heat.  Our summers are drier, and this year we had like two weeks of snow on the ground. So we treat the grapes more delicately.  In California they harvest in September or October; we harvested in August last year.”
    Over a raviolo with an egg yolk, ricotta and shavings of black truffles,  we enjoyed a rosé made from pinot noir, which had more body than most rosés of its type.
    “What I love about pinot noir,” said Alex, “is the fruit, so I’ll always accentuate that, and the acid gives nuance and refinement.  We’ve really ratcheted back on the toasting of our [French] oak barrels because we only want a hint of that flavor in the bottle.”
    With main courses of grilled veal chops and braised lamb shoulder, we drank three different low-yield pinot noirs from Sokol Blosser: a 2014 Dundee Hills Estate ($38); a 2013 Big Tree Block ($70); and a 2010 Orchard Block ($70), each evidently fruit forward.  The Dundee Hills Estate, which is very well priced for a wine of this caliber, was comprised of grapes from
Dijon, Pommard and Wadensvil clones, and if you don’t see the label, you might believe you are drinking Aloxe-Corton.
    The  2013 Big Tree Block came from a  very dry year—23 inches of rain versus the normal 37—and temperatures were high; June brought some rain, August humidity, all of which made for tricky, careful winemaking. Picking started late and ended only on October 10—the longest period ever for a Sokol Blosser harvest.   But the results were excellent, showing forth the desirable fruit along with an intensity balanced with good, fresh acid.
    The same conditions governed the harvesting of the 2013 Orchard Block Pinot Noir, made from a single Dijon 777 clone, which shows a bit more zest and elegance on the palate, along with velvety texture and a tempered spice finish.
    “I’m a baseball guy,” said Alex, beginning an extended metaphor. “And in a game, see,  I’m in the batter’s box and Mother Nature is the pitcher. And no matter what she throws at me, I want to put the bat on the ball and put it where I want to put it. So it’s a game of finesse.”
    He paused to finish his glass of wine and said, “Now, by comparison, making cabernet sauvignon is . . . football.”



A former Smith & Wesson CEO opened a gun-themed restaurant called Modern Round in Peoria, Arizona, and the company says that already 23,000 people have signed up for memberships, which cost $5 and allow people to reserve tables set up in front of giant screens, where customers can fire ultra-realistic replica guns--including a replica AR-15 with a CO2 cartridge at a series of different scenarios that include zombie-killing scenarios, duck-hunting games, games where people shoot at pigs, and even actual live-action police and military training scenarios.



“The design of the place. . . is posh. Part the gray-velvet cold-blocking curtains at the entrance, and you will feel like Alice tumbling onto a dramatic stage set. Gray and white tiles jitterbug across the floor, palm trees evoke a land of serenity. . . . One evening, Zakarian spent the evening cruising the dining room, with its long, narrow space between rows of tables, through which the wait staff had to gingerly sashay from kitchen to table.”—Rosemarie T. Anner, “The National,” Westchester Magazine (3/7/16).


 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: CORTINA SKI RESORT

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, Geoff Kalish, Mort Hochstein, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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