Virtual Gourmet

  April 30,   2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Orange Brewery truck, Orange, NJ, circa 1916


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

The Aurora Inn, Aurora, NY


    I suspect that most people who have visited only New York City have little idea of the vast size and diversity of New York State, which stretches from the tip of Long Island to the Canadian border and from Vermont to the western end of Pennsylvania, bisected by the Hudson River and anchored by Niagara Falls.  And one of the most beautiful and most visited regions of New York is the Finger Lakes, eleven of them, spread through the middle of the state and lined with some of the loveliest small towns in the nation, including Skaneateles and Aurora.

    Set on a lake of the same name, Skaneateles (Skan-ee-AT-eh-less)—Iroquois for “long lake”— is both a town and an historic village, dating back to 1794, along what became known as the Seneca Turnpike. By the middle of the 19th century the community had attracted wealthy entrepreneurs who outdid each other building mansions along the water, some still extant and in perfect condition, like the Richard DeZong House (1839) and the Reuel E. Smith House (1852), within the Historic District. At Christmastime the village holds a Dickens Christmas, with actors in period costumes entertaining on the street.

    Two of the area’s best hotels are in Skaneateles.

        The Sherwood Inn (right) sits right on the main road, West Genesee, dating back to 1808 and built by Isaac Sherwood as a tavern to service his stagecoach business.  Successive owners expanded the premises—it once served as a hospital during the 1918 influenza pandemic—and it is currently owned by William B. Eberhardt. There are now 25 rooms and suites, none like another, all decked out in period antiques, some with canopy beds, fireplaces and Jacuzzis. 

There is a lakeview porch overlooking the street (which unfortunately gets an inordinate amount of loud truck traffic), a casual tavern with a seafood raw bar, and an elegant main dining room done in dark woods and serving seasonal American cuisine, which usually includes Yankee pot roast and baked scrod—the onion soup is very good—backed by a fine wine list with several New York State bottlings.  (The restaurant has published its own cookbook by local author Denise Harrigan.)       
Sadly, the breakfast buffet is mediocre for a hotel with such otherwise high standards and polish.

    The other hotel resort property in the area is Mirbeau (left), fashioned like a French auberge, complete with a little bridge across a riverlet in homage to the paintings of Claude Monet.  For a fuller description, read the article in this newsletter by Geoff Kalish.

Of course, everyone who lives in Skaneateles is likely to recommend Doug’s Fish Fry (below), as do I. It has been around since 1982 serving up plump lobster rolls ($15.95), chili ($3.85), hot apple fritters (in season), steamed clams ($6.50-$29.95) and fried fish ($6.31-$12.99) done to perfection, with a cold Saranac Adirondack Amber beer on the side.  The ice cream shakes ($3.95) are reason enough to come with the kids, who will be agog at the railroad train puffing its way across the perimeter of the dining room, whose murals tell the story of the region with folkloric charm.

Similar to Skaneateles only for its location on one of the Finger Lakes is Aurora, established in 1795 after having been burned to the ground during the Revolutionary War.  The Indians called it “the village of constant dawn,” owing to the long, lingering soft morning light coming off Lake Cayuga; hence the name Aurora, named after the Roman goddess of dawn.

    As much as anywhere in America, like Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Shaker villages like those Mount Lebanon in Lebanon, NY, Aurora is a living museum with a charming walking tour that begins with the beautiful Aurora Inn (below), one of a trio of buildings dating to the 1830s.  My wife and I stayed there for a night and could have stayed for many more in the gracious, wall-papered room—one of ten—with marbled bath, fireplace and all modern amenities. Sitting on the porch, rocking in a wooden chair, watching the sun come up or down is one of the quiet, and great, pleasures of Aurora.

    An option is the E.B. Morgan House (1858), with its stone masonry, etched glass front doors and skylight, library and seven original marble fireplaces; now with seven rooms and a collection of modern art; or the new reconstruction of the Rowland House, a Queen Anne mansion with a wrap-around porch and verandah, a Grecian temple, and a two-story boathouse with docks. The Colonial Revival-style Wallcourt Hall (1909), formerly part of  Wells College, was maintained for decades by a proud alumna named Ann Goldsmith, though it fell into decrepitude and was purchased by the Inns of Aurora in 2104 and renovated to become a 17-room hotel.

    Patrick Higgins is executive chef for all the inns here, providing delightful breakfasts, lunch and dinner, with all fare made on the premises, using the bountiful provender of local farmers.  At our dinner at the Aurora Inn Dining Room (right), we enjoyed an excellent appetizer of pork belly with peaches, fennel and preserved ramps ($11), and a board of housemade charcuterie ($12-$15); for the main course country fried chicken with whipped potatoes ($24), finishing with three terrific desserts (all $9)—apricot crisp with oatmeal streusel and vanilla ice cream; chocolate mousse torte; and coconut cake.

    Other historic building on the Aurora tour include the Cayuga Lake National Bank (1840), done in an Italianate limestone style; the Greek Revival Taylor House (1838), which became part of Wells College; the Fargo Bar & Grill (1834), popular with the locals; and Phelps House (1800; below), now home to Jane Morgan’s Little House, a clothing boutique that has grown into Jane Morgan’s Bigger Little House in another building.  Many were once part of Wells College, founded for women in 1868, now co-ed. 

    The fact that all of these properties are as well maintained, trim and decorated with truly fine art as they’ve ever been is due to an enduring love affair a woman named Pleasant Rowland had for the village and Wells College, which she’d attended. Rowland went on to become the creator of the fabulously successful American Girl brand (sold to Mattel for $700 million in 1998), and many of her philanthropic efforts have gone into preserving this very special, very beautiful, very quiet village on Cayuga Lake, commemorated in Cornell University’s alma mater song.

    As contemporary as the services are in the inns here, walking outside on the lawns, down to the lake or along Main Street easily evokes what small town American was like at the turn of the century, when horses meant more than automobiles, all food was seasonal, and you could see shooting stars cross the blue-black sky. 



By John Mariani

100 East 19th Street


    For those unfamiliar with the NYC dining scene in 1985 it would be difficult to assess what a break-through restaurant the original Union Square Café was, all without fanfare.  For while there were plenty of wonderful restaurants then of every stripe, none had quite the ambiance and charm of a place that St. Louis-born owner Danny Meyer (right) chose to call a café, signifying right away that this would be a casual place, a neighborhood spot in a place without many places to eat, but with really good food, more or less Italian.
    Actually, it took three years for USC to garner the kind of kudos it received when Chef Michael Romano took over the kitchen, including three stars from the NY Times and national accolades, even though the ever-puzzling Michelin Guide has never seen fit to award it a single star.
    The food went from very good to really, really good after Romano’s arrival, but it was a combination of warm hospitality and professionalism that caused USC to become a totem for what an American restaurant should be in the late 20th century.  From the moment a host picked up the phone when you called to the final goodnight, you felt as well taken care of as if you were part of an extended family.  Meyer put it best when he told Esquire magazine, “There are a finite number of things that any restaurant can serve at a high level of quality. Understanding how to edit the classic with the new is a really important thing. And we're going to make mistakes. But when we make mistakes we really care.”

    Meyer went on to open bigger, more expansive restaurants like Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, as well as a slew of Shake Shacks around the country.  But the closing of USC—owing to an exorbitant rent hike—sent shock waves through the food media, and regulars wept at the thought of their favorite restaurant not being there for them.
    Though it took a while, Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group re-located USC, now on East 19th Street, to larger quarters, complete with a fine long bar, a very loud downstairs dining room (below, right), a quieter mezzanine floor (below, left), and much the same beloved artwork that so distinguished the original premises.
    Chef Carmen Quagliata's menu does not diverge from the evergreen style USC has always proffered, and while that may be a safe course to follow, it is one few of USC’s idolaters would ever want to change. The menu is of a sensible size and the 44-page wine list is one of the best in breadth and depth in the country; given its size, prices will range from very reasonable to high.  The wine director, Jason Wagner, and six sommeliers will graciously advise you. Half bottles are legion.

       The service continues at that remarkable high level of amiability and knowledge that has influenced restaurants throughout the industry.  After one visit, you’ll feel you know your servers, trust them completely and will want to tell friends about them.
    On two recent visits I found the timing of the meal and service of the wine impeccable. On one occasion a pasta dish came out tepid and was whisked away and a fresh one brought back within minutes.  The sommeliers are happy to chat with you without ever breaking into the turgidity of Winespeak.
    There is a selection of oysters nightly ($4 each), and seven appetizers (plus specials) that always include a crudo like lustrous Spanish mackerel with artichoke, Castelvetrano olives and a bite of chili ($17).  My favorite starter was a marvelous, quivering cauliflower sformato with a romanesco sauce and rich black truffle fonduta ($21), and though fried calamari with anchovy mayo ($19) were very good in flavor and crispiness, I wondered why such a ubiquitous dish is on the menu.  Indeed, the dish has already been replaced by a fritto misto of calamari, artichokes, scallops and skate. A bowl of cornmeal polenta with crescenza cheese, maitake mushrooms and pesto ($13) didn’t quite measure up to be a course on its own.
    There are six pastas, including ricotta gnocchi with a light tomato-basil passatina and good dousing of pecorino romano ($18),  and delicious candele pasta dumplings with carrots, chilies, scallion, pancetta and a dollop of  thick Greek yogurt ($23), though now made with rigatoni.  A good test of a kitchen is its broth, here the bath for fat housemade tortelloni ($19), and Quagliata’s is excellent on all counts, with a melding of vegetable flavors like Swiss chard and a soffrito (an Italian roux) to give it even more of a boost.
    Fans of the great USC burger ($27) will be relieved to find it still in its glory, made with Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar and thick bacon on a brioche roll with first-rate French fries.  I don’t recall if the spiced chicken with a white sweet potato puree cooked à la plancha with baby onions ($31) had been on the old menu, but I plead with Quagliata never to remove it from the current one.  The spicing is assertive and complex, the skin crisp, the meat moist; this is as fine a chicken dish as can be found in NYC.
    Pan-roasted squab with ramp polenta and rhubarb ($43), braised lamb shank with salsa verde and roasted potatoes ($46), and perfectly roasted rack of juicy pork with shell beans, kale, and a fennel-apple mostarda ($39) all won favor, but a butter-roasted monkfish in a too-mild mushroom broth with turnips and cabbage ($38) needed spark.
    Pastry chef Daniel Alvarez’s desserts ($13) all fit the curve at USC: solid renderings of a homey chocolate pecan tart with maple-bourbon jam and coconut ice cream; buttermilk panna cotta with citrus, oat crumble, olive oil and Clementine sorbet; a rhubarb sundae with frozen yogurt, puff grains and whipped cream; and deeply satisfying espresso chocolate cake with an espresso ganache and caramel.    There is also a selection of fine cheeses ($7 each).   By the way, the bread here is some of the best in NYC.
    The immediate success of the new USC was pretty much guaranteed, and it can be difficult to get a table on short notice, though Mondays and Tuesday are not so tough, and, I found upon leaving around nine-thirty, people were coming in without a rez and being seated promptly.  Great for après cinema.
    Welcome back, USC. You were missed and now you’re better than ever.


Open for lunch Mon.-Fri; Brunch Sat. & Sun; Dinner nightly.



By John Mariani

"To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history."-- Clifton Fadiman


HILLROCK ESTATE DISTILLERY DOUBLE CASK RYE SAUTERNES FINISH ($90)—This is one of the most impressive ryes I’ve tasted in the past year, amazingly complex, just dry enough, with a woodsy quality, no burn at the back, and a very rich layer of spice. And it comes from the Hudson Valley of New York, made from rye grown on its own estate—something very unusual in spirits production—and Hillrock makes several iterations, this one finished in Sauternes barrels and all presented in handsome bottles.  45% alcohol.



GEORGE BENHAM’S GIN ($40)—For its beautiful label alone, you might pick this right off the shelf, and the back of the label revels in California hype.  But the traditional botanicals used, from Sonoma’s “funky little town of Graton,” provide a lot more flavors than you’d find in a wide range of high volume gins that seem to taste like little more than vodka. It’s definitely peppery and would make an excellent Martini or Gibson.  On the rocks, you could enjoy it with smoked salmon. 


MONTANYA RUM EXCLUSIVA ($59)—In Anguilla recently I found a bar with more than 200 rums, including some American-made, which proves that good rums can be produced in wide variety. This one, from Crested Butte, Colorado, with sugar cane culled from Louisiana, is a fine, limited-release, tough-to-find example of modern rum making, barrel-aged for two years in American white oak then another six in French oak. Lots of cinnamon, a little like Dr Pepper, and it makes an excellent mixer for a Daiquiri or Cuba Libré.


LE SERRE NUOVE DELL’ORNELLAIA 2103 ($55-$80)—This is the baby sister of the great Ornellaia of Bolgheri, with grapes coming primarily from younger vineyards, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—very Bordeaux-like rather than Tuscan—at 14.5% alcohol.  It has a nice bite but it is not massive, an ideal wine for grilled meats and poultry.


VIÑA ARDANZA RESERVA 2008 ($25-$30)—I truly believe I finally understood how impressive modern Spanish winemaking could be when I tasted Viña Ardanza for the first time, perhaps 20 years ago.  A Rioja Alta made from 20% Garnacha and the rest Tempranillo, it is powerful and fruit-rich, but it is not, as some fool noted in the wine press, “jammy”—meant as a compliment.  It is in fact silky, velvety and has a brilliant long finish that makes every sip and every glass a joy with red meats, grilled rabbit, and stews.  It also proves, at 13.5% alcohol, you don’t have to go big to be bold.


ASTER RIBERA DEL DUERO 2013 ($21)—The huge flavor of this Crianza, meaning it’s 100% Tempranillo aged for a year in oak and up to a year in bottle, is the character of the varietal, so it doesn’t need a great deal of age to reveal itself, even at just 14% alcohol.  Owing to its price, it makes for an easy way to appreciate good Spanish wines without sticker shock.


AVIGNONESI VINO NOBILE DE MONTELPULCIANO 2012 ($28)—Not to be confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this is one of Tuscany’s fine wines that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves, except from those cognoscenti who prefer it to a lot of self-described Super Tuscans out there. It shows more power than its 14% alcohol, and it can use a little more time in the bottle to knit its elements and soften its tannins.  Many lesser Italian reds at twice the price don’t deliver the sheer satisfaction of Avognonesi.


PARADUXX PROPRIETARY NAPA VALLEY RED WINE ($48)—If you like a big, chewy Napa red not sky-high in alcohol, I think you’ll find this intense but wonderfully smooth, a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Zinfandel and 5% Merlot, persuasive proof that Zin belongs in California blends.  It gives up a luscious fruit that tames the Cab, and the Merlot brings it all into harmony.


ALFRED GRATIEN CUVÉE PARADIS ROSÉ BRUT ($135)—For those who find préstige cuvées too deliberately dry and without sufficient fruitiness, this splendid copper-colored rosé provides elegant balance of fruit and acid with nuances of flowers in the bouquet and finish.  The house has been in Épernay since 1864, and the current winemaker, Nicolas Jaeger, is making better Champagne than ever.  The bubbles are not too large, slow to rise, and the creaminess of the Pinot Noir is charming.


FERRARI BRUT ($23)—If you don’t go the expensive route of celebrating with Champagne, a wine like Ferrari 100% Chardonnay Brut is perfect for Mother’s Day and every summer holiday. Ferrari’s been at this a long time—since 1902—and it shows in the consistency of every bottle, with the apple-tang and floral aromas of cool weather Trentino.  Ageing for at least 24 months gives it far more complexity than Prosecco.


CHÂTEAU DE SÉGUIN CUVÉE PRÉSTIGE 2013 ($15)—It may be faint praise to say this is a very nice Bordeaux, but this Supérieur category example is what you could drink twice a week with a wide variety of homecooked meals, and at a very reasonable price.  It’s the kind of wine that is coming into the market now from Bordeaux that proves the region’s versatility without pretending to be more notable than it is dependable.



North Carolinian gun-toter Edgar Madison Welch (left), 28, pleaded guilty to two weapons charges when he brought at AR-15 rifle to "self-investigate" a 
claim that the D.C. pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was actually a clandestine Hillary Clinton pedophilia ring. Reports say Welch has also agreed to  pay $5,744 to cover the damage from bullets he shot into Comet Ping Pong’s computers, an office door, and a ping-pong table.   Fake-news stories contended it was a satanic ritual grounds whose activities included cannibalism.  Welch later admitted, "The intel on this wasn't 100 percent."  He could serve up to 20 years total, but the plea agreement suggests 18 to 24 months for the interstate transport of firearms, plus 18 to 60 months for assault with a deadly weapon.



"The question of where to have lunch when you’re summoned to jury duty is of grave importance: It may very well be the brightest spot in your day. Luckily, the courthouses in Manhattan happen to be in stone’s-throw proximity to some of the very best — not to mention most comforting — restaurants in the borough, smack dab on the border of Chinatown and Tribeca. Here are the very best spots to break for sustenance while fulfilling your civic duty.”-- "The Absolute Best Restaurants for Jury-Duty Lunch Breaks" By Hannah GoldfieldNY Magazine (3/20/17)



 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 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."

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