Virtual Gourmet

  September 17, 2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"A Man Scraping  Chocolate," Artist unknown, circa 1780 (North Carolina Museum of Art)


MILAN, Part One
By Misha Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


Part One
By Misha Mariani

View of Milan from the top of the Duomo (2017) photo by Misha Mariani

    So it was Day 13 of two weeks of travel spanning the Italian and French Rivieras, beginning and ending in Milan, which is a far cry from the beaches in small villages like Camogli and Portofino and the hills of Saint Tropéz. Thus, our last day in Europe was a way to settle back into urban sophistication after the more idyllic charms of the Rivieras.
    Not too long ago Milan endured an image of being a northern industrial city, but today the first thing that comes to mind when the city’s name is uttered is fashion. Milan Fashion Week is one of the most prestigious, highly attended and influential weeks of the year for the fashion industry, when the greatest designers gather to show off their upcoming collections that will shape and dictate the styles to come. In this century Milan has surpassed Paris as the fashion capital of the world.  But Milan is not solely about fashion. It is a city that leads Italy in so many important ways, not least as Italy’s financial center, where its Stock Exchange is located. In the arts Milan sets the standards and the tone for other major European markets. The city is home to one of the grandest Opera houses in the world, Teatro della Scala (left). It is the city where Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper” and the Brera Museum are located, anchored by the Gothic Milan Cathedral and the Galleria, the world’s first shopping mall. And let’s not forget, Milan has some of the most exclusive shopping in Europe.
    On our return to the city for our last night, my wife and I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Milan. From a narrow cobbled road we pulled up to the main entrance into the hotel’s private piazza, which was long ago a cart entry. Today the premises are made up of four historic 18th  century buildings, formerly a manor house, a bank and the city’s tax office. Via the vision of architect and designer Antonio Citterio, the four structures were transformed into one of the most beautifully modern locations in the city. 
      Upon entering the main lobby, you will easily sense Citterio’s particular style, dimora Milanese—“noble Milanese residence”—by which the design of the façade was kept in tune with much of Milan’s architectural motifs; inside, the design is driven more by modernity central to the Mandarin Oriental group’s style. This blend of old and new is exemplified by Citterio’s use of highly colorful palettes, beautiful oak wood floors, Italian and Brazilian marble, walnut and oak walls, and soft textures of velvet that meld with and complement harder lines throughout the décor, which differs in each room. There are a number of suites inspired by great Milanese designers whom Citterio considers masters, including The Fornasetti Suite, which is playful, full of visual textures, and a departure from the rest. Another is an homage to Giò Ponti, which takes a 1950s minimalist approach highlighted by a Sarfatti chandelier, vases by Christofle, arm chairs and sofas designed by L. Caccia Dominioni, and the ‘Spoon XL’ bathtub from Agape.
    As someone who has traveled through much of Europe, Japan and the continental U.S., staying in a number of Mandarin Oriental properties, I have always noticed the consistency and continuity of the staff towards their guests.
     After checking in, we ventured out into the fashion district just a few blocks away to work up an appetite for dinner and to splurge a little on some high-end fashion. We of course hit the main shops in the so-called Golden Triangle—the cobbled streets of Via della Spiga, Via Santa Andrea and Via Montenapoleone lined with boutiques by Alexander McQueen, Thom Browne, Luis Vuitton and Gianvito Rossi—but we also stumbled across a great vintage couture shop named Cavalli e Nastri (right) where my wife found an Yves St. Laurent bag going back 20 years and a supple white lamb’s leather Fendi jacket.
    By the way, in an effort to attract more visitors, Milan has banned all street food, food trucks, and drinks in glass bottles in heavily trafficked parts of the city, including the area between Piazza XXIV Maggio, Gorizia Avenue, Via Codara, Cantore Square, and Gabriele D’Annunzio Avenue, as well as fireworks and firecrackers, and selfie sticks!
    After a couple hours of shopping, I was ready to throw in the towel, so we headed back to our room to get ready for what was to become the best meal we had on our entire journey over the two weeks in Europe. I guess they’re right when they say you save the best for last. There are two restaurants, the casual Mandarin Bar & Bistro (left)and the elegant Seta, both overseen by Executive Chef Antonio Guida (below, left), who has an extensive history, working in his earlier years for Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence and Don Alfonso on the Amalfi Coast. Upon his joining Seta (below), the restaurant received its first Michelin star, after only four months of being open, and then in 2016 received its second star—one of only five restaurants in Milan so ranked.
    The Bar & Bistro is done in a sophisticated decor of hound’s tooth patterned furniture and a mosaic of black and white marble décor that goes from floor to ceiling along the walls and pillars. Cocktails and light dishes are served. Seta’s design has plush, opulent fabrics, vibrant deep colors, and glorious woods with crisp white tablecloths and aquamarine veined marble laminates. In the mood for a culinary adventure, we left ourselves in the hands of Chef Guida—resulting in a seven-course journey of modern Italian cuisine, beginning with ostriche con patate, peperoni frigitelli e salsa alla champagne, a succulent oyster just barely poached enough to tighten its texture, set over gently crushed potatoes and draped with a velvety Champagne sauce. Following this was astice blu arrosto con zabaione ai funghi, cardi e polvere di trombette, pan-roasted blue lobster with a zabaione of earthy mushrooms and tart cardoons to balance the essential sweetness of the lobster. Riso in cagnone con verdure, Maccagno e polvere di lampone was one of my favorite dishes of the meal: perfectly al dente risotto was made with Maccagno, a half-cooked cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont that has hints of herbs in its profile to complement the autumn vegetable style of vegetable-based risotto, finished with a dash of raspberry powder that added a kick of acidity perfectly balancing the richness of the dish.
    Though not my favorite, spaghetti with a very pungent mackerel sauce topped with a julienne of cuttle fish was impeccably executed, and if you like those pungent flavors, then make it a point not to miss it. Triglia avvolta in foglie di bieta, salsa di granciporro e conchiglie di mare was my second favorite dish that evening: beautiful whole red mullet cooked till just medium, finished with a king crab sauce similar to sauce Américaine, then garnished with tender morsels of sea snails that added just one more dimension.
    Our final savory course was loin of lamb roasted to its rightful rosy state, complemented with small eggplants and finished with creamy goat’s cheese. Last but not least was dessert, a course that should carry just as much importance as any other course (as I am always reminded by my wife, who is pastry chef under Marc Aumont in New York’s Gabriel Kreuther Restaurant). Our culinary excursion concluded with dolce alla ricotta, cheesecake with wild strawberries, a tomato water sauce and saffron ice cream (right).
    Seta’s wine list is extensive, to say the least, but if you plan on doing a multiple course experience, I recommend entrusting yourself to the wine team and have them do a dish-by-dish pairing for you, as I did. Their services were thoughtful, unique, engaging and elevating.
    So following what was one of the most inspiring meals  of our trip, I surrendered to the sentiment that Milan had become one of my favorite cities in Italy. I had come to the realization that Milan wasn’t just the superficial fashion town I had always assumed but was a city incredibly rich in art,culture and style. It is a diverse city, and one that can satisfy the yearning of many different people from many walks of life.


By John Mariani


By John Mariani 

     When I last wrote about Günter Seeger’s namesake restaurant, he had recently garnered his first Michelin star, which only caused him to tell me, “Now we want to get better and better and better.” On the basis of a recent meal at his beautiful dining room in the Meatpacking District in Lower Manhattan, he has clearly kept his promise.

    I’ve known Seeger and his cuisine since he was chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta and then opened his own restaurant there, earning my pick in Esquire magazine as Restaurant of the Year in 1998.  Born and raised in Germany’s Black Forest, Seeger arrived in Atlanta in 1985, to a city not quite ready for long, personalized tasting menus of classic and nouvelle European cuisine. He left Atlanta in 2007, did consulting out of NYC and finally opened his dream restaurant a year and a half ago on Hudson Street, where he again offered only a $185 nine-course tasting meal. Yet, despite some excellent reviews, business was slow, so that he changed the menu format to offer ten courses at $148 as well as four courses for $98—prices well below comparable fine dining menus around town. (Le Bernardin’s four courses are $157; at Daniel, $142; at La Grenouille, $172.)

    The dining room, with a separate section off the open kitchen, has also become a warmer, more inviting spot, with blond wooden floors, a lovely chandelier said to be Seeger’s grandmother’s, marvelous effusions of flowers, and wooden beams and columns that echo Seeger’s Black Forest childhood. The stemware is of exquisite quality, and the bare tables are made of very beautiful dark wood. Conversation in a full room is easy; men are requested to wear jackets and women tend to dress up; the exceptionally cordial service staff is equally well dressed in black and white. The wine list is world class, with an admirable emphasis on German bottlings, which are reasonably priced to urge you to try them. Wine pairings are available.

      I told the captain that my wife and I would rather not both have the whole ten-course menu, instead opting for two different four-course menus of Seeger’s choosing. I lost that battle: It would be ten courses, which Seeger promised would be light and not last late into the night. Again, he delivered on his promise. For not only were the various courses light but the pace of the meal was such that they came out at ideal intervals to prevent feeling stuffed to the gills by the end of the meal. Indeed, Günter Seeger is the only restaurant I can think of where I would happily return for such an extensive tasting menu, which changes all the time. Seeger himself goes to the market to choose which ingredients he thinks he can make that evening into something special.

    His amuse of a gently steamed egg with a maple Chantilly cream and smoked trout roe (below) has become something of a signature that proclaims that everything to follow will have the same simple presentation, color, and imaginative playfulness. It was served with a glass of Equipo Navazos Sherry La Bota de Amontillado. Next came marinated fairytale eggplant, pretty violet and white in color, with a subtle anchovy cream and pickled plum. Small heirloom tomatoes were the base for a salad with tomato sorbet and cool tomato gelée, enjoyed with a 2015 Hans Wirsching ‘Iphöfer Kalb’ Silvaner from Franken.

    Adirondack Mountain trout came with nothing more than braised gem lettuce that served to emphasize the mild taste of the freshwater fish, accompanied by a 2015 Clemens Busch vom Roten Schiefer Riesling Trocken from the Mosel. Oddly enough at this juncture, the next course was a poached peach (below) whose sweetness was paired with woodsy chanterelles, with a glass of 2002 Ferdinand Krebs Trittenheimer Altärchen Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel. Just as unexpected was the marriage of a lovely squash blossom filled with creamy lobster mousse, squash pesto and lobster sauce, with a 2015 Burg Ravensburg Weissburgunder Trocken Sulzfeld from Baden. Notice that I said squash blossom—singular—for that is one way Seeger keeps the lightness of the meal and the appetite ravenous for more.

    After all these delicacies, it made sense to serve beef tenderloin, with a deep, rich shallot sauce that showed how Seeger’s perfecting of such a classic reduction will remind you of why they are still the bedrock of grand cuisine. He served this with okra that was not in the least viscous, along with a 2011 Michel and Stéphane Ogier Côte-Rôtie.    A sheep’s milk cheese with the charming name of Summer Snow, from Woodcock Farm in Vermont, was a fine match with a 2015 Alphonse Mellot ‘La Moussière’ Sancerre. The small surprise to end the meal was a strawberry sorbet sparked with Sichuan pepper and a braised sweet Nardello pepper touched with orange, ginger, lemongrass and fromage blanc sorbet, accompanied by  a 2016 Renardat-Fache Bugey-Cerdon Mousseux Rosé.

    At the end of such a grand evening, my wife and I had three reactions: First, this was one of the finest meals we’ve ever had in New York, or anywhere else; Second, there was not a moment when we felt anything less than excited by one course and by the arrival of the next; and third, that Gunter Seeger is, after all these years knowing him, fully capable of surprise without ever losing what made his cuisine entirely his own. Of course, had he not been so thoroughly well trained in the classics, he could neither improve upon them nor move beyond them. To call his cooking simple is like saying the poetry of Emily Dickinson or a painting of Mondrian is simple. For behind the simplicity is the intelligence to know exactly what is right, at least until Günter Seeger can make it better and better and better.

Günter Seeger NY

641 Hudson Street  (near Gansevoort Street)

646-657- 0045 




By John Mariani 

    Julia Child once remarked that you can’t have a great cuisine without wine, and, however obtuse that seems, an underlying question remains: What exactly do you serve with highly spiced food from countries like China, Korea, Thailand and India? Is there really a wine that holds up well with Texas chili or Nashville hot chicken? And is there really any rationale always to try to match wine to a dish rather than drink what the locals do with their cuisine?
    This thought occurred to me—not for the first time—at a wine dinner in The Grill in New York City that seemed to promise careful match-ups of the featured wines with foods that would complement, but not overpower, them. The wines were from Spain’s Viña Ardanza, which produces Tempranillo-based Riojas of consummate refinement and rich complexity. One of the dishes served, however, was a large, medium-rare filet mignon au poivre—that classic French bistro dish of such pungency that any wine chosen will be nothing more than a beverage. This version of the dish  was so heavily massed with crushed black peppercorns that they emerged as the main flavor, so that the beautiful Viña Ardanza was obliterated by it.    Had the filet mignon been served unadulterated by the pepper, it indeed would have complemented the flavors of the wine, as would any red meat served simply. But it seems obvious that you should not serve a wine like Viña Ardanza with Sichuan dried beef, lamb vindaloo or Korean barbecued beef with kim chee. It would be like wearing an elegant little black dress underneath a studded biker jacket (which I suppose in some quarters might seem edgy).
    There are also some non-spicy foods that literally make wines taste unpalatable, like artichokes and asparagus, despite so many books that insist on matching every food on Earth with a wine. But, when we are dealing with high spices and herbs—chili peppers, certain forms of black pepper, liberal use of cinnamon, strong mustard, cardamom, asafetida, garam masala, cumin, soy sauce, wasabi, kim chee, hoisin, nuoc mam fish sauce, even sugar or honey—wine, which is made solely from grape juice, cannot enhance, or even hold up, such flavors.
    Historically, wine always has been part of Chinese food culture; the Jesuits brought viniculture to Japan in the 16th century; and the British to India in the 18th century. But the arrival of the American chile pepper in the 17th century radically altered Persian and Asian cuisine, which, blended with other pungent herbs and spices, led to foods for which wine—not drunk among the general populace—found no match. And, despite China’s and Japan’s nouveau rich appetite for the highest priced French wines at auction, that is an anomaly causing Hong King billionaires to serve $1,000 First Growth Bordeaux with Beijing duck and $10,000 Romanée-Conti with dishes like octopus in black bean sauce and sweet-and-sour lamb.
    Some wine writers suggest that Gewürztraminer from Germany or Alsace is a good choice with spicy dishes, because the varietal itself has some spiciness to it. But, when the full fury of a chile pepper is unleashed on a Gewürztraminer, the wine’s characteristics are lost. Others contend that if spice is tough to match with wine, then choosing a rather bland white wine like pinot grigio or pinot blanc makes sense. But then what’s the point? Still others—the kind of enophiles who believe Champagne goes with everything—say that the bubbles and acid in Champagne will “help to cut the heat” of spicy foods. If so, it’s an awfully expensive way to go about it, when beer or sparkling water is a much better option.
    Increasingly, I find Chinese and Indian restaurants in America and Europe stocking wines that might work with the menu’s offerings—big-bodied reds,  bland whites, even sweet wines like Sauternes or Johannisberg Riesling. I tend to stick with imported Asian beers, even if so many of them are made for the Western palate. But they all work fine with dishes like pad Thai, rogan josh, samosas, doro watt, and American dishes that deliberately go off the heat scale, as in the current fad for hot chicken doused with chile powder, chili con carne spiked with any of the fifty hot sauces lining the eatery’s shelf, or dry-rubbed barbecue with brown-sugar suffused baked beans on the side. Nothing’s going to work.
    Wine lovers have to realize that it’s perfectly okay not to drink wine with every meal, especially if it conflicts with the food. Let’s face it, drinking wine with a glazed donut when you could be having it with a nice glass of milk or cup of coffee is a no brainer. So, too, trying to figure out what wine will go with an item on a Thai menu with five little chile pepper icons appended to its name is just plain dumb.



USA Today reports that researchers concluded that women who work in “sexually objectifying restaurant environments” like Hooters and Twin Peaks, where they must wear revealing clothing and flirt with customers, were at greater risk for anxiety and eating disorders. According to the study "In Sexually Objectifying Environments: Power, Rumination, and Waitresses’ Anxiety and Disordered Eating"  published in Psychology of Women Quarterly a pair of researchers surveyed 250 female restaurant servers at such "breastaurants" and found the in some cases the women's appearance was “graded” by customers and supervisors and that the women "lacked power at work to control their own environment, such as with sexual harassment."



“A baby elephant seal was making eyes at me.”—Maggie Shipstead, “The Southern Wild,” Conde Nast Traveler (Aug. 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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