Virtual Gourmet

  June 4. 2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Nik-L-Nips Wax Juice Bottles



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By Gerry Dawes 


By John Mariani


    The ferries ply the New England waters between the mainland and Nantucket, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard all the year round, and each season has its charms and its degree of activity on those North Atlantic islands.
    Having visited Martha’s Vineyard in both summer and fall, I find the former the most enjoyable away from the crowds that pour into the landing ports at Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and in the cooler months, the sheer enjoyment of being left relatively alone to explore every inlet and dune of the island is the main draw.
    Right abut now those ferries are packed to the railings with weekenders, which the locals cope with as best they can and the hoteliers, boutiques, restaurants and ice cream and fudge shops do banner business from Memorial Day through Labor Day when everyone who stays on the island, whose year-round population is about 16,500, waves exhausted good-byes to those who are leaving it, whose numbers add 85,000.
    The English settled here as of 1642 and Martha’s Vineyard grew wealthy via the 19th century whaling industry, but that collapsed with the shift to petroleum by 1870.  Afterwards its chief industry became tourism, and many of the most affluent African-American families long ago settled around Oak Bluffs, known for its colorful gingerbread houses,  and the East Chop area.  There are, incidentally, accredited vineyards on the island sold under the Martha’s Vineyard AVA designation since 1985.
    The movie Jaws was filmed here in 1974 and despite its off-putting storyline, it made the Vineyard more popular then ever before. Summer residents Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama have further helped swell this astoundingly affluent small island with even more of the rich and celebrated.  Each March and in July the island’s film festivals are held, and the arts community is strong and well exhibited in local galleries. A Food & Wine Festival is held in October.
    You can drive around the entire island in a few hours and hit most of the tourist sites, which include five historic lighthouses; the Aquinnah Cliffs; the Trinity Park Tabernacle and Old Whaling Church; the Cottage Museum and African American Heritage Museum; the 130-year-old Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs; the nostalgic and quaint Hank's General Store, and the ring of bright beaches around the island.  Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt once said of the Vineyard, “Nowhere in the world is there a place more beautiful than this.”  His photo of the giant oak at Oak Bluffs is shown to the left.
    Accommodations on the island run from the very posh to B&Bs, and in the summer they all come at a premium. Off season, many close, as do a majority of the restaurants and emporiums. By November you could go starve at lunchtime; for dinner pickings get slim.  On my last visit in October my wife and I stayed at the very beautiful and exceptionally well maintained Harbor View Hotel (right), which opened in 1891 in Edgartown and has been a member of the Historic Hotels of America since 1996.  For good reason the sprawling cedar shingle clapboard main house and cottages with their creaking rocking chairs and windswept verandahs have been called the “Grand Dame” of the Vineyard, now with 114 guestrooms and two restaurants.  Rarely does a weekend go by, even in late autumn, when the Hotel isn’t hosting one or more weddings.
    Current owners Scout Real Estate has of 2006 poured a great deal of capital into making the property look as fresh and manicured as possible, and the quiet sophistication of the décor within the cottages is as up to date in amenities, furniture, King size beds, TVs, kitchens and Internet access as to make them near-private oases even within the large premises of the property.
    Upscale dining is to be enjoyed at the Victorian-appointed Lighthouse Grill (below) here (which was regrettably open only for breakfast when we visited); its menu runs to four cuts of beef ($32-$50), chowder ($11) made with the local Littleneck clams, and a shore dinner of lobster and corn [market price],  so instead we ate hearty pub fare the Henry’s gastro-pub, which stocks a good array of micro-brewery beers and small plates, including local calamari with pickled banana peppers ($15); Chatham mussels with stewed tomatoes and linguica sausage ($19); a very popular country fried chicken sandwich ($16); and, of course, a hefty lobster roll with remoulade ($23).  For dessert just about every table orders the fresh warm chocolate chip cookies ($9).
    Nearby is the Vineyard’s other best-known dining spot, Alchemy Bistro & Bar, (below), which has gone through a few chefs in recent seasons.  This year it is Brian Woods, so I can’t vouch for his cooking except to say that in style it resembles his predecessor’s, whose menu was updated New England fare in big portions.  The house burger is still here. The wine list is not long but very, very pricey.
    The restaurant’s premises on Main Street are very handsome, two stories with verandahs, upon which a street lantern throws an antique glow.  White walls and white tablecloths keep the interior bright, and despite a voluble crowd, the noise level is somehow kept in check.  Now, in good weather, small tables for two are set outside.
    One other food note—though nothing sublime: There’s a local ritual late at night to trek over to Back Door Donuts, which is actually the back door of Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery in Oak Bluffs.  There will be a line, everybody will be young and seem to have the munchies, and the donuts are well worth the wait, as donuts always are after midnight.
    Choosing when to go to Martha’s Vineyard should be geared to one’s own preferences, for summer weekends are indeed a crush, though weekdays less so.  Spring is idyllic and early fall imparts a sweet calm to the island, while winter is a time for those who incline towards the reclusive.  But what Henry David Thoreau said of Provincetown will be equally true of the visitor on Martha’s Vineyard in any: “A man may stand there and put all of America behind him.”



By John Mariani
Photos by Evan Sung

9 West 57th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    NYC’s historic restaurants dwarf in number those of any other city in the world, beginning with America’s very first restaurant, Delmonico’s, in 1837 to the Italian kitsch of Mama Leone's in the 1940s and the grandeur of The Four Seasons and Windows on the World in the post-war 20th century.  These and so many others were as much works of innovative architecture as they were fine dining establishments, and, though some very dazzling restaurants have opened in Las Vegas and Asia in the present century, in NYC only the stunning glass box at Lincoln Center named Lincoln Ristorante (where my son is g-m), opened in 2012, shows signs of an enduring architectural legacy.
    The mere look and feel of Brasserie 8 1/2 is a mid-1970s reverie that fits impeccably into the so-called “Bellbottom Building” on West 57th Street designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (among whose other NYC projects are One World Trade Center and the International Center of Photography).

Of course, putting a serious restaurant, now managed by the Patina Group, below street level, with no windows, was always risky, so the designers made the entryway as dramatic as possible: a circular staircase just made for a grand entrance by Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth leads slowly down to a huge but not intimidating dining room with an onyx bar, white terrazzo floors, mirrored columns, expansive flower displays, deep leather booths, and a stained-glass mural by Ferdnand Léger (left), along with other original artwork by Matisse.  The whole place explodes with colorful elegance and a kind of glamour not seen much anymore in NYC.  No wonder an episode of “Sex and the City” was filmed there.   No one seems to miss the windows.

      The menu is described as “stylish French brasserie,” so you expect dishes like steak frites and Tarte Tatin. But Chef Franck Deletrain takes full advantage of all NYC markets have to offer, which right now includes some marvelous, fat softshell crabs ($27 or part of a $42 fixed price menu) you don’t want to miss.
The coral-colored lobster bisque ($14) is outstanding, laced with rather than overwhelmed by crème fraȋche, and there’s no quibbling about the abundance of true jumbo lump crab meat in the lightly packed crabcake, served with a
sea bean salad, pickled red onions and golden beets ($18).  White asparagus are now in the market ($17), though they rarely taste as sweet as they do in Europe, here enhanced with chanterelles, smoked duck and a lovely fromage blanc flan.     The only real disappointment among the appetizers was an asparagus risotto with tomatoes and black truffle essence ($18) whose texture was gummy, looking more like guacamole than a rice dish.
     There is a selection of raw shellfish, including generously mounted plateaus (at $48 and $75).
     The filet mignon au poivre ($42), steak frites ($47) and côte du boeuf ($49) are all Black Angus-derived and those crisp French fries are excellent.
      So, too, was a pink loin of veal (a steal at $36) both tender and juicy, served with a woodsy wild mushroom sauce, angel’s hair pasta and fava beans.  Even better was Duck Two Ways ($34), both roasted and as a confit of the leg (left), accompanied by bulgur wheat, tangy rhubarb and an orange gastrique to cut the richness.  Best of all—according to my wife, who is extremely finicky when it comes to moules frites—was the big pot of sweet, steaming mussels ($22), which can be had in either a marinière sauce of white wine and garlic or picantes with espelette pepper.        
     How welcome to have a cheese selection (three choices for $14), and you’d expect solid French desserts with a menu like this. Pastry chef Jerome Charpentier delivers with a superb Tarte Tatin made with tangy-sweet Granny Smith apples and caramel ice cream; classic crème brûlée ($9), piping hot beignets with three dipping sauces ( $10); a raspberry mousse cake with chocolate ice cream and white chocolate Chantilly cream ($9); and a black plum tartlette with almond frangipane, vanilla ice cream and ginger syrup ($9).

       Brasserie 8 1/2’s long tenure and popularity is proof that it continues to serve people very good food at very reasonable prices--its Sunday brunch buffet ($34 and $17 for children) is always packed, and there is a remarkable $29 lunch menu--although it rarely gets mentioned by a food media ever on the lookout only for what’s novel.  Even now, just to walk—or sashay—down the staircase at Brasserie 8 1/2 is to capture some of the swank of the “Mad Men” era that evolved into the “Sex and the City” zeitgeist.  Brasserie 8 1/2 never gets old; it just gets better.

Sunday 11a.m.-9 p.m.; Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday 5-10 p.m.





By Gerry Dawes

        For the past several weeks, the Four Black Bulls of the Spanish Weather Apocalypse have been raging through the vineyards of northern Spain, wreaking havoc.  Their names are Helada (Frost), Lluvia (Torrential Rain), Pedrisco (Hail) and Viento (Wind) and they have dimmed prospects for the 2017 wine grape harvest in areas such as La Rioja Alta, La Rioja Alavesa, Ribera del Duero, Bierzo, Ribeiro, Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra and Monterrei and some losses in the Albariño vineyards of Rías Baixas.
In their wake, they have brought a great wave of demoralization, one which the brave men and women who farm the vineyards of Atlantic Spain will no doubt overcome.  Still, at this point, many predict crop losses of 70 to 90 percent.

In mid-April, high winds in Galicia ripped off branches of vines in Rías Baixas, according to Manolo Dovalo, owner of Adegas Rozas, who produces one of Galicia’s greatest artisan Albariños.

Then on the night of April 28 a late freeze that will go down in the history of this region devastated much of La Rioja Alta and La Rioja Alavesa, causing 90 to 100% damage to this year’s grape crops.  Luis Albert Lecea, owner of Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio, told me, “I have bad news.  There will be no wine next year.”

Luis then took me on a tour of his devastated vineyards.  Lecea and his crew laboriously laid water lines into his vineyards and spent 800 Euros on gasoil (diesel) to run the pumps, trying to irrigate the vines, which had also been suffering from drought, hoping that the water would provoke the growth of more leaves to replace those shriveled by the freeze (left).

Three days later, I arrived in Villafranca del Bierzo and found roads still being cleared from mud slides, the Camino de Santiago in front of La Puerta del Perdón strewn with rocks washed down by the torrential rains, and mud across many roads. There were reports of hail and freeze that, especially in lower lying vineyards, will mean a short crop in 2017.
A month after the freeze hit, Bierzo producer Gregory Perez, owner of Bodegas y Viñedos Mengoba, told me, "Now is when we are really beginning to see the damage from the freeze: the vines are drying up, the bark of the trunks is bursting, and the only thing we can do is severely re-crop the salvageable vines and begin anew.
       Later the same day, I visited Hacienda Ucediños in O Barco de Valdeorras, whose owners, Eladio and Marcos Santalla Freile, reported their prime Godello Vineyard was hard hit by the freeze and will produce little or no wine. They were also hit by torrential rains.
D’Berna in Córgomo in Valdeorras, higher up than some of its neighbors, escaped the freeze, but was hit with mudslides during a downpour in which three inches of rain fell in just a couple of hours, The deluge brought tons of topsoil down from the vineyards that surround the winery and deposited several feet of mud and rocks in the parking lot, buried their cooling unit and knocked out their water.  When I arrived, several members of the family were hand shoveling the mud into wheel barrows and taking it away, while a front loader plowed mud out of the parking lot and road leading into the winery (right).

In Ribeira Sacra, where I was last week, there were more reports of hail and torrential rains.  José Manuel Rodríguez, President of the Ribeira Sacra D. O. and producer of the superb Décima Mencía, suffered damage to one of his prime vineyards to add to the loss of much of his crop last year to a powerful hail storm.   Here there were also reports of freeze and more damage from hail and torrential rains.

I spent an afternoon with my Bodegas Artesanas Albariño producers in Rías Baixas, where Manolo Dovalo of Adegas Rozas reported wind damage in his vineyards, but all six of my producers seemed to have escaped serious crop damage.

Not so in Ribeiro, to the east and inland, where Manolo Formigo showed me freeze damage and estimated that he may lose as much as 80% of 2017’s expected production.

In Monterrei, Antonio Triay, his wife, Puri García, and their son (left) showed me their freeze-damaged vines and were very demoralized.  Puri’s father, who farmed the Triay’s vineyards for decades is now an octogenarian.  He remembers a hard frost like the one that hit this year, but back in 1941! They are small, very high quality producers of Triay Godello and Mencía and they believe that 85 to 90% of their 2017 crop was wiped out in the late April freeze that hit the Monterrei D.O. particularly hard.

Of all the regions I have visited so far, only southern Navarra seems to have escaped damage. Carlos Aliaga at Bodega Aliaga reported no damage.
    Ironically, where I saw the mud slides the mudslides and the rock strewn across the road near La Puerta del Perdón in Villafranca del Bierzo, there was a wall mural of a hiker with the words "AVE FENIX." It appears that the vineyards of much of northern Spain will have to do just that, rise like the Phoenix from the ruins of the 2007 freeze, regroup and battle their way back what is sure to be a very hard economic blow to that wine making efforts.

All photos by Gerry Dawes©2017.



Competitive eater Molly Schuyler (left), who weighs 100-pounds and is a mother of four,  set a record for the most burgers eaten in 97 seconds, beating out 12 male competitors at the annual Hwy 55 World Hamburger Eating Competition in Raleigh, NC.  The meal  included seven stacked burgers from Hwy 55 restaurant, a side of fries and a 20-ounce drink in one minute and 37 seconds, winning her a grand prize of $2,500.


“Since colonial days, the community that became the midsized mountain city of Roanoke, Virginia, has been a transportation hub.”—Mason Adams, “It’s Easy Being Green,” Delta Sky (April 2017).



 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 Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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