Virtual Gourmet

  February 4, 2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Brando at Breakfast


By John Mariani

By John Mariani 



By John Mariani


ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week because Mariani will be bounding around San Francisco for his readers' edification.


By John Mariani

The hostesses at Hotel Lebua's Whiskey Bar

    I find it laughable that of the ten Michelin star-rated restaurants in Bangkok, four are French, one Italian, one Indian, one Danish, and so it goes. (The Thai government is said to have paid a great deal of money for Michelin to do a guide.)  Good as some of those might be, no traveler to Bangkok should even consider straying from the path of finding great Thai food everywhere. Indeed, on a five-day foray into the city’s food culture I don’t think I have ever had more exciting and delicious food, meal after meal, day after day.
    Of course, I was the luckiest American in Bangkok during my stay because I was happily led around by Thailand’s leading food authority, Mom Luang Sirichalerm Svasti, who goes by the nickname Chef McDang (right). Born into Thai royalty and studied at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, then at the  Culinary Institute of America, he is an author and TV personality and easily the most ebullient and candid fellow one could ever hope to meet.
    When you go out on the town with Chef McDang, you find that he seems to know everyone and everyone’s business, so I had a rollicking good time.  From the start McDang sought to dispel the belief that all Thai food is blistering hot; instead the heat and taste of the chilies are but two aspects of the blend of seasonings that are never meant to overpower the flavor of the fish, meat or vegetables they enhance.

120 Prachathipatai Road

    A storefront eatery it may be, with several branches, but here is where I had some of the best traditional Thai food, lovingly prepared and served by owner Khun Ludda, who opens her restaurant at ten in the morning and shutters it at seven p.m.
     There are plastic stools and shiny bare tables and the room is suffused with aromas that make the appetite race.  The staff prides itself on the cleanliness of the restaurant, which is not a given in many other places, and the menu focuses on street food. We asked the owner to just keep sending out dishes till we said stop; so we began with a spicy papaya salad, followed by the noodle dish pad thai, which McDang vociferously defended as being a true classic, despite what some ignorant western authors contend is its commercial image. This one was definitely the best I’ve had, where every ingredient from the noodles to the herbs and the shrimp revealed layers of taste.
    There was a  juicy pork satay with a velvety peanut sauce; mussel fritters were addictive and spring rolls were packed with pork and taro. Then came a seafood omelet with rice and holy basil, and steamed fish with crispy fried garlic.
    What most impressed me beyond the levels of flavor and heat was that, unlike Thai restaurants in America, where so many dishes simply serve meat or seafood in the same six sauces, each dish at Siriwan Hoi Tod was wholly different from the next, in texture, aroma, complexity and style—fried, wok-seared, or steamed, all in just minutes.



130-132 Wireless Road

    The explosion in Bangkok of new office buildings anchored by restaurants has afforded the year-old Saneh Jaan, named after a golden apple dessert, prime real estate in the beautiful Glasshouse near the U.S. Embassy. The dining room is sleek, sophisticated, done in soft earth colors, with widely separated tables and very comfortable banquettes.  The walls are hung with photos of Bangkok. Nothing about it seems corporate.      
     Saneh Jaan serves the traditional food of Central Asia as it was fifty years ago, according to Chef McDang: “There are no extremes of flavor.” Yet the flavors were myriad in a wide array of dishes I enjoyed, which included fried fish balls with sweet and sour sauce; a quickly sautéed fish cake called pla krai; an egg roll stuffed with minced pork and spices; a massaman-style curry; a curried fish mousse, and a shrimp and crispy pork rind omelet. I was delighted to find that a dish so often made outside of Thailand as a treacly sweet mess—mee krob—was rendered with subtlety and real crunch.
    Even the desserts were way beyond the ordinary, from sweet sticky rice to an egg custard with coconut milk.  Of particular interest was the restaurant’s first-rate wine and spirits list, including a wide range of single malt Scotches.  
     The best way to appreciate dinner there is with the 8-course menu at $50 (U.S.); a la carte, main course dishes run between $13 and $15.


399/3 Silom 7 Alley

    The word le du is Thai for “season,” the driving force for Chef Thitid Tassanakajohn (known as Chef Ton), so his set four-course ($54) and six-course ($95) menus are always changing, depending on the day’s market.
    The room itself, with an open kitchen, is modest and not easy to find, but every taxi driver knows Le Du, which has won its share of international awards.
    Chef Ton actually graduated—first in his class—from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., then worked at Eleven Madison Park, The Modern and Jean Georges; along the way receiving the Certified Sommelier recognition from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
    There is a great deal of innovation and presentation in Ton’s cooking, every dish showing precision of technique and color, from cold appetizers like khoa-chae shrimp, and tender pork balls with radish, salted fish and jasmine ice cream, to blue swimming crab cooked in prawn fat and coconut milk. Sustainable fish is used and Ton adds pungent durian curry and pickled vegetables to one species or another. Short rib of beef comes with egg noodle, cabbage and a Northern curry called khao soi, and he puts banana blossom together with egg, curry and river prawn. You may get a tot of tomato water with cream and yogurt or a cup of pineapple jelly with peanuts.
     The desserts are lovely and very refreshing, like mango panna cotta with smoked coconut ice cream.
     Le Du is well known for all the right reasons, not least by showing that Bangkok cuisine is as modern as anywhere else in Asia, buoyed by a good culinary education back in the States.


Should you tip in Bangkok restaurants?  According to Chef McDang, most restaurants include a service charge in the bill; otherwise leave ten to twenty per


By John Mariani

2418 Broadway (at 89th Street)

    I once read that New York City has more Italian restaurants than Florence, which I find not impossible to believe, though doubtful. There’s no question Italian restaurants dwarf the number of any other kind in NYC, and whenever I’m asked a suggestion on where to dine in the city, very few ask about a French, Indian, Thai or Mexican restaurant.  No one at all has ever asked for a good Nordic spot.
    The variety of Italian restaurants in NYC is better than ever, though true regional menus are barely represented; instead, a kind of generalized Italian/Italian-American standard exists, whereby now just about every place serves pizza, carpaccio, meatballs, and tiramisu.  These places may be said to be the “neighborhood dependables.”
    The Upper West Side is not exactly rife with good Italian restaurants ,but once through the door of Cibo e Vino, you’ll be able to tell this is one of the neighborhood’s favorites. It’s good looking, cozy, with pleasing colors, hanging and potted plants, a sturdy bar up front and an outdoor patio come spring.
    The menu is of a size so as not to overtax the kitchen, whose best dishes—unusual in an Italian restaurant—are the entrees, about which more in a moment. Of the appetizers, the Portuguese octopus is an admirable staple, seared and served with fingerling potatoes, plump Kalamata olives, capers and grape tomatoes ($14), and a house specialty is the crispy, seasoned cauliflower with a rich truffled béchamel ($14), which never leaves the menu.
    The four pastas I sampled were good, if not outstanding.  Spinach and ricotta-stuffed ravioli had a pleasant sun-dried tomato sauce ($20), but a “traditional” tagliatelle Bolognese ($19) lacked the requisite complexity of vegetables, instead incorporating too much tomato to be traditional.  Spaghetti carbonara ($19) correctly used guanciale bacon and cracked black pepper, but adding heavy cream and parmigiano instead of pecorino was ill advised.  Cavatelli (all pastas are home made) was very good, with wild mushrooms and a truffle porcini emulsion ($19), while squid ink taglioni with shrimp, calamari, prosciutto, chili flakes and tomato ($22) was a fairly standard rendering.
    I really liked the impeccably cooked Mediterranean branzino fillet ($25) with rainbow cauliflower, sweet eggplant, capers, grape tomatoes and Kalamata olives to give it a wide range of flavorings, and a very juicy roasted Amish chicken ($26) had plenty of inherent taste, appended with wild mushrooms and spinach.  Hefty short ribs braised for a long while in red wine were succulent to the bone, served with tender green beans and creamy polenta ($29). A Milanese-style pounded chicken breast with avocado and baby arugula was just bland ($24) and needed seasoning.  The PB&J with a chocolate glaze is the dessert to finish with (right).
    I don't know why but Cibo e Vino’s website doesn’t cite its owners Marjanne Motamedi and Dragam Ristovski, who is the executive chef, and while lively the place lacks a discernible personality. Still the staff is friendly, the wine list fine, and, if you put yourself in an Upper West Side state of mind, you'll have a good time at C&V. 




By John Mariani

LAMARCA PROSECCO ($14)—The back of the label reads “perfect for a party, a picnic or weekday soirée”—all very true, but at fourteen bucks a bottle, there’s no reason to save it for a special occasion. This is a sparkler that can be enjoyed anytime you sit down or stand up to eat—canapés, snacks, a long lunch or nightly dinner—and its versatility is due to its light bubbles, subtle sweetness and bracing acidity that marries well with just about anything. Perfect with risotto.

NORTON PRIVADA FAMILY BLEND 2014 ($19)—Malbec is, of course, the star grape of Argentina, but Norton’s adding some Merlot (30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) makes it a far more interesting wine, with more nuance and smoothness.  It’s a rich red that goes particularly well with meats grilled over an open fire, with its own smoky charm and a good 14% alcohol. It’s very well priced, too, tasting like wines twice that much. 

TASCANTE NERELLO MASCALESE 2014 ($50)—Are there Sicilian wines worth $50 a bottle? In recent years, definitely, as wineries like Tascante prove. Nevertheless,  prices for this red wine, from around Mount Etna, vary, from $35 and up, so shop around. It spends 18 months in oak and emerges at 13.5% alcohol, and this varietal shows the sun of the South in its robust body, but it has surprising acid, too, which tames it all down. 

RÉVA BAROLO 2013 ($50)—A medium-bodied example of Piedmont’s showpiece grape, Nebbiolo.  Give it a little time to breathe and pair it with red meats, and all its lusty, earthy tonal qualities will come out. The grapes are from some of the Langhe region’s finest crus, including Ravera, Lazzarito and the vaunted Cannubi, and all are grown organically. 

QUINTA DOS MURÇAS RESERVA 2011 ($30)—Made from older vines planted high in the Douro region (best known for its Porto), the 2011 came from a small vintage harvest with ideal conditions, aged in French oak for 12 months. Winemakers David Baverstock and Luis Patrão aim for depth and complexity at 14.5% alcohol, making it a wonderful wine with lamb or veal, or Spanish cheeses like Mahon and Garrotxa. 

FERRATON PÈRE & FILS CROZES-HERMITAGE LA MATINÈRE 2015 ($23)—The Syrah grape finds one of its finest expression in the northern Rhône Valley’s gravel-rich soil of Crozes-Hermitage, and this example from the districts of Mercurol and Beaumont-Monteux is very well priced to give you an excellent intro to the terroir of this region within the larger Hermitage appellation. Those of Crozes-Hermitage tend to be a bit lighter in body, but I might argue they show more nuance than their brawnier brothers.

CHARLES HEIDSIECK ROSÉ RÉSERVE ($70)--My affection for rosé Champagnes grows whenever I drink a new favorite, in this case  one in which 80% of the wines of the harvest are blended with one-third of each varietal used--Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, while 20% of reserve wines from other years--seven or eight years old--are blended in equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Then, they add 5% red wine to give more tannin to the blend.It is then matured for three-years. The result is a very complex rosé with just the right body, effervescence and fruit to distinguish it from simple rosé blends.




Upon waking up from life-saving surgeries, a North Korean soldier who successfully defected to South Korea last month said the first thing he wanted to eat was a Choco Pie, which are banned in North Korea and sell for about $10 on the black market.  The company that makes Choco Pies in South Korea said they were giving the man a lifetime supply of them.




“The 27-year-old Big Bar is, as any East Villager worth her dive-bar grit knows, actually tiny, but in the snug, homey sense. It’s sexy, too, with red lighting and little booths suitable for two — a great place to relax while actually being able to hear your date. There’s no food, but you’re near plenty of other bars if you want to continue at a second location (and it’s a happy three-minute stroll to Crif Dogs if you’re hungry).”—Mary Jane Weedman, “The Absolute Best Places for a First Date in New York,” NY Mag (12/27/17)


 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 Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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