Virtual Gourmet

  February 25, 2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Cary Grant in "Suspicion" (1941)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani
Photos courtesy of Colonial Willamsburg

                                                                                                                                     THE GOVERNOR'S PALACE

    Colonial Williamsburg is hardly alone among America’s historic attractions in being a reconstruction, rather than a rehab, of an original site. Fraunces Tavern in New York, Front Street and the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and parts of Old Salem in Winston-Salem are all recreations on abandoned sites.  Still, some sticklers sniff that the creators of Williamsburg somehow “Disney-fied” American history by recreating an impeccable colonial village complete with hotels, restaurants, carriage rides and cooking demos.

    It is a charge with no merit. For one thing “CW” pre-dates Disneyland by three decades, conceived in the late 1920s and supported by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (now called Preservation Virginia), the Colonial Dames and the Daughters of the Confederacy, with the principal benefactors including John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whose idea was to make CW a living museum, not a theme park. (In fact, Walt Disney World’s The American Adventure attraction in Florida owes its inspiration to CW.)

    As part of the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which includes Jamestown and Yorktown (I will be reporting on these at another time), CW was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1960. The village derives its name from King William III (as does the nearby College of William and Mary), but after nearly a century as the center of Virginia’s government, political and economic activity shifted to Richmond, so that by World War I the town was seriously derelict and most of its colonial buildings beyond repair.

    When restoration came, more than 700 post-18th century structures were razed and 500 buildings were reconstructed, including 88 that were salvageable. After World War II, CW became one of the primary historic destinations for Americans and foreigners, hosting the first World Economic Conference in 1983.

    Further blunting the charge of artificiality was CW’s focus from the beginning on rigorous historical research, which today includes the Teaching Institute in Early American History, and constant interaction with school groups.  A good deal of emphasis in recent years has been on black history via the “African-American Experience,” and there are numerous craft demonstrations in book binding, cabinet making, cooking and gardening.

    The food has steadily been improved at the taverns—especially the King’s Arms (dating to 1772) and Christiana Campbell’s (supposedly one of George Washington’s favorites)—utilizing fruits and vegetables from local gardens and offering dishes typical of 18th century cooking, like peanut soup, a seafood fricassée and rum cream pie.  The estate’s most expensive restaurant, the Rockefeller Room, in the luxurious Williamsburg Inn, has a more eclectic menu and has been undergoing some updating in service, though my meal indicated that the kitchen has a ways to go to be called contemporary fine dining.

    There are several CW ticket packages, with a single day ticket $40.99 for adults and $20.49 for children, which includes shuttle service, interpreter-led tours of the Governor’s Palace, Capitol Building and all Government Buildings, admission to two art museums and seasonal tickets on carriage rides.  One of the problems at CW is that it is an open, un-gated village, meaning anyone without a ticket can just stroll through.

    Tourist visits have been down since their peak in the 1980s, and operating deficits have plagued the foundation, causing a sell-off of some properties; in 2017 CW President and CEO Mitchell Reiss admitted there’d been too much dipping into the foundation’s endowment, which for the 2016 fiscal year reportedly dropped from $713 million to $663.6 million. With a $317.6 million debt, Reiss was forced to outsource management of the operation of the hotels, golf courses and several retail stores.

    Key to CW’s continuance is to convince tourists to spend more time in and around the area, rather than the one or two days typical of a family visit.  Increasing that to three or more days by exposing people to nearby attractions, including Jamestown and Yorktown, is critical. 

    On a recent trip to the area, aside from enjoying the breadth and depth of CW itself, I was also able to visit the Copper Fox Distillery in Williamsburg, opened by Rick Wasmund  (right) in 2016 at what was previously the Lord Paget Motel.  He makes applewood-smoked single malt whiskey, a rye and gin, and the quickly expanding distillery is open to visitors.

    There is also the Silver Hand Meadery (left) in a nondescript strip mall, which makes a number of limited quantity meads with beguiling names like Dream by the Fire, All Blues and Ginger Me Slowly. Tastings of the meads are free, along with a tasting of six honeys  for $6. 

    Then there is the Williamsburg Winery at Wessex Hundred, which, in addition to producing some very good wines, offers hotel packages, wine tastings, and delicious food at The Gabriel Archer Tavern, with a lunch that ranges from crab cakes and a pork sandwich to artisanal Virginia cheeses and charcuterie.

    The Williamsburg area is rife with all levels of accommodations, and there are a dozen golf courses designed and landscaped by the likes of Pete Dye, Rees Jones, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Arnold Palmer, Curtis Strange, John LaFoy and Nicklaus Design Associates. One of the most highly regarded is Kingsmill Resort & Spa (above), with two golf courses—the River Course and the Plantation Course—and a range of AAA Four Diamond condos available. The resort is under new management that plans needed upgrades of the rooms and restaurant.

In a few weeks the full flourish of springtime will reveal the Virginia coast and countryside at its loveliest, just as it was three centuries ago when Williamsburg was truly a colony and the center of political clout in the South.


By John Mariani

1278 3rd Avenue (near 74th Street)
212- 772-0404

         “Under the radar” is a term usually reserved for people, places and things that never attract much media attention but that always have a full complement of faithful fans.  In the case of the ten-year-old TBar, its popularity has as much to do with its redoubtable owner, Tony Fortuna (below), as with its solid American cooking.

         Tony is on the one hand very old school in his demeanor and professionalism while on the other he is sensitive to changing times and tastes without ever glomming on to the merely trendy. 

         Tbar’s menu, under its first and only chef, Ben Zwicker, can easily be characterized as modern American or contemporary NYC, and the restaurant is clearly a neighborhood place, in this case the Upper East Side in the Seventies, so TBar draws a crowd not otherwise in the mood for the slim pickings in the area that begins with J.G. Melon and ends with a slew of cookie-cutter Italian restaurants.

         TBar is a smart-looking 100-seat dining room with brightly lighted bar, fabric-covered banquettes, soft overhead lighting, crisp tablecloths,  votive candles and a rear wall painting reminiscent of Paul Klee.  When full, the room can get very loud up until about 8:30, when the tenor of the place loosens and the early crowd moves on. The women dress well, the men, who once might have sported blazers, now wear XXL polo shirts and Xtra Comfort jeans.

         You will be greeted by some of the loveliest and most capable hostesses in NYC and cordially shown to your table, where a waiter pops up within seconds to give you your menu, cocktail and wine list.  Tony cruises the room, and just about everyone wants to chat with him.

         Although pizzas have become far too common on non-Italian menus, TBar’s ultra-crispy version makes for a good starter for four people ($17), as does a seared Spanish octopus with potatoes, celery and olives ($20), tender, of course, and nice and smoky. A foie gras and chicken parfait ($15) takes on a piquant accent from a cherry compote to slather on a toasted baguette, and four fat tiger shrimp come with a zesty cocktail sauce and lemon ($22).

         Among the main courses, if you’re in the mood for roast chicken, you’ll be very happy with TBar’s version, which is dependent first and foremost on a good, flavorful bird.   

         A place like TBar has to serve a couple of beef dishes, and in that category Fortuna and Zwicker deserve high praise for the quality of the meat they buy. The 14-ounce NY strip ($52) was one of the best, most flavorful, mineral-rich, fat and sweet examples I’ve had outside of the city’s finest steakhouses, and that same beef—Prime aged Black Angus--registers just as high in the burger here ($26), a nicely sized, lightly packed patty with plenty of juice, layered with nothing but lettuce, tomato and pickles, and sided with a good portion of freshly cut French fries. It’s a much better burger than the vaunted example at J.G. Melon, though it’s a good deal more expensive.        

         The desserts at TBar are remarkably generous, all set in jars and layered with first-rate ingredients that include a strawberry shortcake sundae ($20), a banana cream millefeuilles cookie tower ($20) and luscious warm cookies ($10), all suitable for sharing at the table.

         TBar’s wine list is exemplary for a place this size, with wines by the glass $11 to $22. I wish Tony would put it on the website.

         If TBar were only a good, solid neighborhood American restaurant it would thrive.  I do wish there was more change in the menu after a decade, but what works really works well,  And the presence of Tony Fortuna in the mix makes it one of a very special place on the Upper East Side.



Open for lunch Monday through Friday, brunch Saturday and Sunday, and every night for dinner.






By John Mariani

    As with everything in Virginia, a little history is in order: Wessex Hundred is actually a 300-acre farm that is now home to the Williamsburg Winery, as well as to the Wedmore Place hotel, Café Provençal and the Gabriel Archer Tavern. The use of “Hundred” to name a property dates to the Colonial era to describe parcels of land sufficient to support a hundred families, regardless of actual acreage.

    In 1606, the Virginia Company sent three ships led by Bartholomew Gosnold to attempt to settle a permanent English colony in America.  Sailing up the James River and coming upon the region now called Wessex, Gosnold’s second in command, Gabriel Archer, believed this protected tributary of the river an ideal place for a settlement, but the rest of the crew insisted on sailing further, eventually setting down in what became Jamestown on May 13, 1607.

    Flash forward to 1983, when Belgian-born Patrick Duffeler (left), a former Philip Morris executive, sought to leave the corporate rat race to become a gentleman farmer and to build his own winery, purchasing 300 acres in Williamsburg. In 2007 he opened a European-style country hotel, Wedmore Place (right), on the property; in 2013 his son, Patrick Duffeler II, was appointed  president and CEO of the company.

    I met with the estate’s winemaker, Matthew Meyer, a Brit who studied at the University of California at Davis, earning a degree in Oenology and Viticulture with a minor in Business and Marketing.  After graduation he worked with notable California wineries that included Grgich Hills Wine Cellars and Heitz Wine Cellars, arriving at Williamsburg in 2002 to become VP and Winemaker. He has since won an array of medals that in 2014 included his Adagio bottling winning the Virginia’s Governor’s Cup Award as the state’s highest rated wine. 

    In 2013 a Forbes article proposed that Virginia wine country was “poised to be the East Coast Napa,” and today the state has more than 300 wineries and has widely promoted its dozens of wine trails as tourist attractions.  Williamsburg Winery is open year-round for tours and tastings ($10-$38 per person; $35 with lunch, $78 with dinner).

    I sampled several of Meyer’s wines over a lunch with him and his charming wife, Elena Barber (left), who is the estate’s On-Site Trade Sales Manager, at the rustic Gabriel Archer Tavern. (I’ll write more fully about the restaurant in an upcoming article) Just like the food, which included some splendid cheese and charcuterie, there was an honesty about the wines. Though some were curious varietal choices, none seemed manipulated to appeal to a specific market profile. Alcohol levels rarely hit above 14.5 percent, and there was good balance in all the wines I sampled. Many of the wines are in limited, seasonal release and sell out at the winery.

    The Petit Manseng grape is well known in southwest France but rarely seen in American vineyards, and it is best used to make a tangy-sweet wine. Meyer’s 2016 vintage has wonderful aromas of citrus and ripe autumn fruit, and its light sweetness was a true complement to the cheeses and would be as easily enjoyed as an aperitif this summer.

    Viognier is a varietal that I find is not well understood by American winemakers, who too often produce an overly herbaceous style, but Meyer’s 2016 has far more finesse because of the acidity and for its spending a year in French oak.  The winery’s website extols the wine as if “standing in a fresh field of wild flowers eating a lemon pie made from Granny (Granny’s always make the best pie),” whose hyperbole I’ll forgive because it seems to make sense when standing in these lovely Virginia vineyards.

    The 2015 Gabriel Archer Reserve is a blend of 36% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec. (Meyer uses Argentinean Malbec root stocks.)  But Meyer didn’t release a 2016 because he didn’t think he could make as good a wine as he’d wish from the vintage.

    His 2015 Petit Verdot Reserve is a blend of 87% Petit Verdot, 11% Malbec,  and 2% Cabernet Franc, and it’s a big, bold red whose tannins have yet to loosen but which went nicely with the sausages and charcuterie on the table.

    Adagio is one of Meyer’s proudest achievements, the 2015 a mix of 58% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 12% Cabernet Franc. There’s something to the name, for, if wine can be compared to music, this Adagio evokes a slow movement whereby each of the flavors, the fruit, the acid, the texture and the satisfaction reveal themselves little by little, a wine to savor, sip by sip, peppery, earthy and with a fine long finish.

    Some of Williamsburg’s wines are made from grapes grown entirely at the estate, others are sourced from Virginia vineyards elsewhere, and many are available only to the winery’s Club Members.

    I mentioned to Meyer that he seems to make too many different wines, including spiced wines and a Vin Licoreux de Framboise blended with raspberries.  But, he said, that’s the beauty of having a winery of Williamsburg’s size and private ownership.  “I can experiment, go in new directions, and, if I don’t think a wine will be good enough, I don’t have to release it. And thanks to the tourism, the hotel and restaurants, people are very open to trying whatever it is we’re doing on a seasonal basis. They take their time here.”




“The biggest fruit native to the continental U.S. is the pawpaw, sometimes called the poor man’s banana.”—Hanna Raskin, “Pawpaw,” Charleston Post and Gazette.




The re-opened Modernist restaurant Noma 2.0 in Copenhagen will feature new menus, at $364 per person, that will will focus on Scandinavian seafood, including “weird shells, deep water seaweed, the eyeball of a cod, slivers of fresh lobster,” according to the restaurant's announcement.


 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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