Virtual Gourmet

  March 26,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Greta Garbo in "Anna Christie" (1930)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


Part One
By John Mariani


    Several years ago a thoroughly clueless editor at Travel & Leisure  magazine gasped at my proposal to write a story on Belfast, from which I’d just returned.

    “Are you mad?” she screamed. “We don’t want our readers getting blown up in the streets!”

    I remarked that there were plenty of places in the world where that was as good a possibility, but even in the days when Belfast had its grievous and enduring troubles between Protestants and Catholics, I still found it a beautiful city of great historic interest.  I didn’t get to write the story.

    Now, since the 1998 cease-fire Good Friday Agreement, Belfast has become a fine, thriving city, and its superb Georgian and Victorian buildings have been restored to all the color and brightness they possessed when they opened well more than a century ago, when red brick walls and slate roofs vied with the stone facades and marble columns of the Baroque Revival.  In addition the arts flourish, not least in approved murals of great fancy (above) around Commercial Court near the Duke of York Bar (below). 

    There are still reminders of the bad times, poverty still has large pockets, and the events of political repression are still commemorated on murals in vivid color.  Relations between Catholics and Protestants still simmer, and there is a duality in citizens’ self image, some feeling closer to Ireland, some to Britain.  As Belfast’s finest poet, Seamus Heaney, once wrote, "Be advised my passport's green./No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen."

    Years of economic stagnation have lifted, and the peace dividend has resulted in Belfast now being ranked in the top five fastest growing regional economies in the UK, with unemployment well under five percent and an expanding boom in tourism.  The city can even claim to have Ireland’s tallest building, the Obel Tower, completed in 2011.  Such hubris has, of course, caused widespread construction, especially along the meandering Langan River, with the result that housing prices have skyrocketed.

    As did the visionary leaders of Bilbao in bringing a Frank Gehry-designed branch of the Guggenheim Museum, the smart money in Belfast saw the city’s future along the waterfront by building the spectacular Titanic Quarter (formerly Queen’s Island), 185 acres now home to a very modern museum devoted to the doomed Cunard ocean liner, built in Belfast’s shipyards by Harland & Wolff, as well as to another Cunard liner, the SS Nomadic, and the Titanic’s Dock & Pump-House,  whose length and breadth shows just how astoundingly huge the ship was. The surrounding area  (right) is devoted to “urban village” space and parks, as part of a 30-year project of development.

    The RMS Titanic Museum (left), opened in 2012, is a marvelous mix of the most modern light and sound shows spread over nine interactive galleries within five stories of anodized aluminum forged into four pointed hull-like shapes by Concept Design Architects and Todd Architects.  The tour takes you up a gangplank, through rooms of historic artifacts—none, for ethical reasons, plumbed from the sunken ship itself—showing the regal majesty of the ship, its mighty power stations and beautifully designed passenger rooms.  There are farewell letters and photos, ship’s logs, and original blueprints.  You trace the ship’s departure from Southampton, England, on the fateful voyage that ended so abruptly on April 15, 1912, and, although I found the depiction of the moment of horror when the hull hit the iceberg wanting in drama, the tour as a whole is magnificently and tastefully done, and people peer in silence at the facsimile of the great ship sleeping in the sand 12,500 feet down.  Small wonder it draws a million visitors each year and is indicative of the future of Belfast.

ut the heart and soul of the city are still along Great Victoria Street, which becomes University Road on its way to Queen’s University and connects to other major thoroughfares like Donegall Road and Shaftesbury Square.  Along its broad route lies the Grand Opera House (right), there since 1895 in all its Edwardian gaiety.  During the civil unrest in the city,  when few people ventured downtown,  the Opera was closed, destined for sale and demolition but rescued at the last moment by
the Arts Council, which bought the building and restored it. Subsequently two car bombs damaged the structure in the ‘90s, causing the installation of blast walls around the auditorium. Today the institution is run by the Grand Opera House Trust Ltd., and a 2006 extension has improved hospitality areas and access.

    North of the Opera is the modern, glass-sided Castle Court Shopping Centre, with 80 stores and 15 eateries, then Great Victoria  Street moves on to Saint Anne’s Cathedral, consecrated in 1904, almost destroyed by a German bomb in 1941, and topped with a 130-foot stainless steel spire named the “Spire of Hope” in 2007.

    A few blocks east are the monumental City Hall (left), an Edwardian structure designed by Alfred Brunwell Thomas well worth a look-see inside (tours are offered), and the Linen Hall Library, commemorating Belfast’s eminence as a linen producer.  Farther east towards the river is the vast, award-winning St. George’s Market, built between 1890 and 1896, which holds a weekly Friday Variety Market, the City Food and Craft Market on Saturdays and the Sunday Market. 

    Nearby is the Albert Clock (below), Belfast’s stand-in for London’s Big Ben, created in 1865 to honor Queen Victoria’s late Prince Consort.  You need not look too closely to see that, like Pisa’s famous tower, the Albert Clock, having been built on marshy land, has tilted about four feet over the past 150 years; it is also one of the landmarks seen prominently in the fine 1947 film Odd Man Out.  All these places I’ve described can easily be visited in a morning and afternoon; save the university and the Titanic Quarter for another day.

    In the city’s western neighborhoods there is still a good deal that is run-down and derelict, and the scars of civil war and the continuing uneasiness are evident in the ironically named “peace lines,” long, somber walls dating to 1969, some of rusting iron, some of dark brick, rising up to 25 feet above the street. They serve as unyielding border barriers between Catholics and Protestants, an eerie echo of the Berlin Wall, and their gates are still shuttered at night by the police. 

    Sadly, the walls have increased in size and number since the Good Friday Agreement, and a 2012 study indicated a majority of the residents insist they are still necessary to prevent violence. Total removal is now scheduled by 2023, but for now many are painted with large murals and pictorial graffiti showing the various heroes and villains of both sides of the strife—murals I hope will be preserved in museums in  Belfast, when the walls come tumbling down and its people come and go with renewed faith in the future.


IF YOU GO. . .

• Check in at the new Welcome Centre Visitor Information, 8-10 Donegal Square, which offers free wi-fi access, tickets, and gifts. Utilize the website

• Most banks are open Mon.-Fri. and ATMs are everywhere.

• Most shops are open daily till 6 p.m., on Thurs. 9 p.m.

• Belfast is a smoke-free city and most hotels no longer offer smoker’s rooms.

• Tipping at a restaurant is 10-15 percent on the bill.

In my next installment I shall write about the restaurants of Belfast.


By John Mariani

43 West 24th Street (off Sixth Avenue)


    I claim no first-hand knowledge of traditional Peruvian cuisine, much less a modern take on it, but if what the kitchen is cooking at Raymi is any indication, then I regret what I’ve been missing.

    I do know that, thanks to Japanese immigrants, Peruvian food adapted sashimi to ceviches—Nobu Matsuhisa was once a resident of Peru—and the ingredients on the menu at Raymi include items like white soy, jasmine rice, bok choy, Chinese sausage and others that give it a contemporary, global flourish.  For me it all seems to work well, without the forced clash of disparate foods that once went under the useless term “Fusion Cuisine.”

     Raymi’s flavors are well conceived, well thought out, and beautifully executed, served up on ceramic plates, woks, and in black skillets, the result of two heads being better than one in executive chefs and brothers Felipe and Jaime Torres (right).  After graduating from culinary school, Felipe worked at several of NYC’s finest restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, and Esca, then decamped to northern Italy before returning to Peru to learn how his native cuisine had evolved. 

    Jamie had studied business in Colombia before joining his brother in Peru, then furthered his education at Madrid’s celebrated Astrid & Gaston.  When the opportunity to work together arose in NYC, they became partners with others at a restaurant named Nuella, which folded; then, they took complete control and reconfigured the space as their own.

    My words won’t do justice to the color and openness of the dining areas, so I direct you to the photo above to see the open kitchen and counter, the good space between tables, and the use of lighting to enhance its overall vitality.  I am not a fan of dining on the high chairs in one room, but I got used to it quickly.

    The service staff is fleet-footed and cordial, and I could hardly have asked for more geniality from our waitress, who was, ironically, from Budapest.

    The wine list is modest, but you should try one of the frothy Pisco cocktails.

    There are several overlapping categories on the menu—piqueos (snacks), ceviche and toraditos, and small plates and salads, all easily shared by two people.  The unexpected appearance of wontons ($13) on the menu seems odd, but, filled with pork, aji amarillo, ginger and scallion, they would pass muster in any Chinatown dim sum house.  The clasico ceviche ($16) comes with lustrous corvina, lime, red onion, sweet potato, cilantro, and habanero chile pepper (left), all working in a spicy-tangy-sweet delicate balance.  Hamachi toradito ($18) is flavored with aji amarillo, aguayamanto (Chinese gooseberry), poppy seeds, crispy quinoa and a touch of fresh thyme.

    You could easily make a meal of these and a few small plates, like the hearty charred octopus with aji limo mayo, endive, radicchio, and crispy quinoa ($18), or the sweet pastel de choclo ($12) toasted corn cake with roasted mushrooms, their juice and watercress.

The next category is entrees, from which I chose juicy carapulcra ($25), a plate of very rich roasted pork belly, Peruvian potatoes, roasted peanuts, and salsa criolla, and a jasmine rice dish called arroz chaufa ($26), abundant with egg, broccoli, ginger, char shui chicken, shrimp, Chinese sausage, and peanuts. 

    “To Share” are dishes like a superbly rendered duck confit with cilantro, jasmine rice, aji amarillo mayo and crisp quinoa, all braised in dark beer ($24/$48).  Nicely chewy skirt steak is a popular cut in Peru, and here it is lashed with spicy chimichurri, aromatic roasted garlic and crispy yuca fries dusted with parmesan cheese ($26/$50).

    The plates are generous, and a side dish of papa a la huancainia ($12), baby potatoes, Alfonso olives, watercress and a quail egg, is sufficient for a table of four.

    After all this, desserts are mere indulgences that won’t make a difference in your opinion of what preceded them.

    The Torres brothers are clearly committed to bringing their style of food to New Yorkers’ attention, and they succeed in both careful cooking and presentation. The added spice, the crunch of peanuts, the unexpected Asian notes make this kind of food very rare, if not unique, in NYC, so Raymi becomes as much a culinary education as it does a happy night out.


Raymi is open for dinner nightly.







By John Mariani

    To paraphrase the opening of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, “A destiny that leads the Scots to Bangkok is strange enough, but to create a unique Scotch whisky for a single hotel halfway around the world from Speyside is remarkable indeed.”

     That was, however, the idea conceived by Deepak Ohri, CEO of lebua Hotels & Resorts (below, on the right), and Quentin Job (below, on the left), managing director of Pernod Ricard Thailand, for the opening of the hotel’s Alfresco 64-A Chivas Bar (above) atop what is currently Bangkok’s tallest rooftop bar.

    This is the first time in the history of the luxury whisky brand that it has blended a whisky exclusively for one specific partner,” Job said at an opening night party March 8 that I was in town to attend. “Only 96 bottles of the Chivas Exclusive lebua Blend are available, with each bottle individually numbered.” 

    The bottling was created by Chivas Regal’s master blending team led by Colin Scott (left, in the middle) and is composed of selected whiskies distilled in 1985 or earlier and laid down in a selection of casks, including American Oak.  The final blend was then left to rest in a First-Fill Oloroso Sherry Butt for nine long years—something Chivas has never done before. The whole experiment was aimed at creating an elegant, very rich Scotch whose fruitedness was complemented by the oloroso sweetness and deep color absorbed from the barrel, yet it still had to have the characteristic Chivas style, which begins with the distillery blending the malts and grains separately, the former from Speyside, the latter from Paisley. Chivas is known for its vanilla-toffee flavors and a hint of chocolate.

    In an interview at the hotel with Colin Scott, I asked if this individual blend was something Chivas would be doing for other clients. “Never say never,” he answered, “but we promised this would be a one-time, unique effort on our part, made from the finest whiskies we have, so there will never be more than 96 bottles.  That’s just 300 glasses, then it’s gone forever.”

    The reason CEO Ohri gave for what is a canny marketing event was to give an added incentive for people to visit the hotel.  “It’s very easy to sell rooms, especially when you’re in the deluxe market,” he told me, “so the food and spirits gives people more to talk about, draws them in, even if they’re not staying at the hotel.  They spread the word. It’s the reason we do not hire celebrity chefs who are never in their restaurants; we stand by great cuisine, service and spectacular scenery.”

    In fact, lebua competes mightily against a great deal of luxury competition in a tough market—the Peninsular, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and St. Regis hotels, with a Ritz-Carlton coming soon—all within view of lebua’s 64th floor.  

    Alfresco 64 straddles other bars on that floor, which after 6 p.m. are usually packed with visitors who come as much for the food and drinks as the view.  You come off the crowded elevator and are greeted by a number of charming women in traditional Thai dress, their palms together to greet you with a nod and a smile. Then you enter into Alfresco 64-A Chivas Bar, which is designed to look like a luxury yacht, jutting over the side of the building and set with lounge chairs and couches, with teak flooring. Glassware was specially designed for the cocktails served. (There is also a more private Heritage Room available for events.)

    It seems unlikely those 96 bottles will last very long, even at $260 per glass—I decreased the supply by one tot—especially since on opening night a Chinese fellow bought two bottle outright, at $7,000 each.






The Michelin Guide to France mistakenly awarded a coveted star to a small café in the central French town of Bourges called Bouche à Oreille (left)— “word of mouth."  When the owner, Véronique Jacquet,  heard thew news on the radio, she said, " I laughed out loud.  It was impossible that this could happen to me. I run a small working-class brasserie, nothing to do with a gourmet restaurant.” A three-course menu costs $13.25 (12.50 euros) per person.  Michelin mistook the café for Bouche à Oreille in Boutervilliers, which has had its star since 2015, where main courses start at $29.75 (about 28 euros).


“What Are Paczki and Why Is Everyone Freaking Out About Them?” by Lucas Peterson, (2/27/17)






 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 , 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.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2017