Virtual Gourmet

  March 4, 2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"Il Vino, La Musica e L'Amore" (Masciarelli Winery)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani
Photos courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg

The Williamsburg Inn

    It’s not reasonable to assume that Williamsburg’s culinary landscape is dotted with country inns of a kind featured at the Historic Colonial Williamsburg estate. It’s certainly true that many restaurants capitalize on that proximity, with names like the Old Chickahominy House,  The Hound’s Tale and Two Drummers Smokehouse. There’s even an Olde Towne Pizza & Deli, along with all the usual chains. But the fare is far more varied in the area, from fine dining French to sushi and Thai. Here are some of the more noted examples.

1430 High Street

    Named after a country village in the French Alps, Le Yaca was originally opened by Daniele Bourderau and her husband, Gerard Gormier, in 1980, though the current High Street location (there’s also a branch in Virginia Beach) has been for three years under the ownership of Chef Daniel Abid  and his wife,  Joy, who have made it into one of the finest French restaurants in the South.
    The sunny décor, with its sandy colors, copper accents and white fabric chairs spread over several dining rooms, evokes Boca Raton more than Williamsburg, but it fits in with a menu of classic and contemporary French cuisine, befitting a chef who spent time in such illustrious French kitchens as Le Pré Catalan, Moulins des Mougins and Alain Ducasse.
    Dishes like Abid’s fennel cream and bacon soup ($7) and a lovely onion soup ($7) that’s more like a chowder than a traditional soupe gratinée, show a light touch, and the crab cake on buttery spinach was fat with jumbo lumps of sweet crab and next-to-no filler. Coquilles St. Jacques ($34) was textbook perfect, the plump scallops bathed in an impeccably bound Mornay sauce, and for dessert there was a tangy-sweet cold lemon mousse with fresh raspberry sauce ($8).
    The $19 three-course lunch is a remarkable bargain, at dinner $37-$46, with an $80 tasting menu; otherwise, à la carte main courses run $26-$56. 

 Open daily for lunch and dinner.


1480 Quarterpath Road

    The Waypoint Inn is very much a locals’ favorite and tourist families are not much in evidence at Chef Hans Schadler’s very friendly, wide-open brasserie featuring many dishes from his Frankfort heritage.  It draws an older crowd, but the gemütlich tenor of the evening is added to by Hans’s wife, Liv, and daughter Tina Schadler-Phillips (left). Tables are polished wood, walls are blue-gray, with hanging orange lanterns and beaded curtains. The bar is wide open and busy by 5:30.
    Schadler was responsible for coordinating all meal functions during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Williamsburg in 2007, and he prides himself on creating menus where “tradition intersects creativity.”  Waypoint’s wine dinners are always sold out, as is its celebrated Oktober Fest.
    Thus, together with executive chef Steve Perkins, a night at Waypoint might begin with a lavish charcuterie board ($15) or an oyster stew dotted with Virginia ham ($14), then move on to shellfish and grits (right; $30) or a local fish like puppy drum that might be crusted with prosciutto and citrus.  Oddly enough, I thought Schadler’s “signature” veal schnitzel with spaetzle lacked the crackling crisp crust it should have had.
    For dessert, of course, go with the warm apple strüdel with walnuts and toasted cinnamon and rum raisin ice cream ($8.50).  The wine list is not huge but it’s very well priced, with plenty of good selections under $50.

Open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat.


136 Francis Street East

    Recently renovated, Historic Colonial Williamsburg’s most upscale restaurant, the Rockefeller Room, remains posh but has changed from a staid Regency style (it used to be called the Regency Room) to far more contemporary décor and colors, with pale gray walls, sconces, historic photos, soft golden lighting, large ferns and wonderful, entwined olive green tufted booths set with roses.  Tablecloths would be a nice touch.
    Service personnel recruited from the famous Inn at Little Washington have brought the hospitality into the 21st century, too, and the wine list, always admirable, is being built into one of the finest in the region.
    The current menus straddle the expected and the novel. Thus, a crabcake ($16)—this one with way too much filler—comes with a cucumber roulade, while a fine loin of lamb and shank ($45) are accompanied by a lavender and chèvre scented potato puree with roasted root vegetables. The steaks are of very good quality (right). Things go awry when dishes are over elaborate, like kurobuta pork belly with popcorn grits and something called “sheep’s nose pepper jam.” And why would the “market fish” of the day be a dull fillet of lemon sole with lyonnaise potatoes, fennel and saffron rouille ($36) when so many better fish swim in the Atlantic?
    Desserts are properly lavish—a croissant bread pudding with blueberry thyme and aigre doux ($19), and a melting chocolate cake with chocolate cardomon sorbet and red beet gastrique ($8).

Open daily for dinner.


5800 Wessex Hundred

    As I wrote last week, the Williamsburg Wessex Hundred Winery is well worth visiting, as much for the wine tours and tastings as for the excellent lunch-time fare at the Gabriel Archer Tavern, whose rustic look and rough-hewn tables are apt surroundings for the hearty American and global fare offered, from very good flatbreads ($12), like one with Brie, lingo berry, apple and arugula (left), to the lovely sweet potato soup ($7). They make a creditable Cobb salad with goat’s cheese, feta and local herbs ($13), and very tasty rockfish tacos that are chili-spiced and served with shaved cabbage and red onion slaw, piquillo pepper remoulade, and local white corn tortillas ($15).  The charcuterie board ($15) is a good idea to share with various glasses of the estate’s fine wines.  You’re not going to find better food at these prices anywhere in the area.

Open daily for lunch


420 Prince George Street

    The warm, welcoming Blue Talon Bistro, set within the historic district, is now fourteen years old and gets a crowd throughout the day. Chef David Everett describes his menu as “Serious Comfort Food,” which I’ll heartily go along with.  The room’s country décor evokes a Provençal French bistro, with its smooth zinc bar, shiny brass railings, gray marble tables, and waiters in blue aprons.
    At breakfast when I dropped in, I could tell that everyone in the place seemed to know each other, the owner and waitstaff, and they came for the omelettes whose plates brim over with Cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, sausage, biscuits and more ($11.95), or the warm croissants ($3.95) and pain au chocolat ($3.95).  With a good cappuccino, I’ve rarely had a more sumptuous, delicious first meal of the day, one that readily tided me over till dinner.
    Later in the day Everett’s menu grows to include old-fashioned bistro dishes like escargots bourguignon in garlic butter ($13.95), Gruyère-oozing croque madame (($14.95) and even a salt cod-based brandade with whipped potatoes, cream and truffle oil ($9.95). There’s a charcuterie plate, and at dinner you can order steak frites ($29.95), rotisserie chicken ($24.95) or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans ($21.95), ending off with desserts (all $7.95) like gâteau Bréton caramelized butter cake or Paris-Brest puff pastry with praline and cream.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.




By John Mariani

48 East 12th Street (near Broadway)


    A cliché becomes useless not because it is untrue but because it becomes fatuous or all inclusive.  So let me use a cliché about food that I think cannot be stressed nearly enough: Good food requires the best, freshest ingredients that should never be complicated by many others. 
    The fact is, despite the constant repetition of this idea as a promotional claim, by its very definition there is only a finite amount of the best, freshest ingredients available to cooks and restaurateurs, no matter how much they insist they always buy first-rate asparagus, Dover sole, wagyu beef and sea scallops for their printed menus, day after day, year-round.
    I was reminded of this all over again while dining at Ribalta, the exuberant pizzeria-trattoria in Greenwich Village run by
 Rosario Procino and Chef Pasquale Cozzolino (right), whose dedication to making true Neapolitan food is palpable when you speak to them.  “Pizza was our first food,” says Procino, “We didn’t really have to learn about it. It’s so basic and essential to our lives.”
    Ribalta’s pizzas are among the best in NYC, and possibly the very best Neapolitan versions, because each of a very few ingredients is nonpareil in its class. The yeast brought from Italy, called “Le 5 Stagioni,” has for 80 years gone through a regeneration process every three days, resulting in “a lighter, more balanced pizza.” The dough is Organic Stone Milled Flour Blend leavened with that yeast for at least 36 hours.
    And then there are the tomatoes; it is indeed a cliché to say that the tomatoes from around San Marzano, good as they are, are incomparable. But as Cozzolino proves in his cooking, the supreme tomatoes of Southern Italy are called
pomodorini del piennolo (below), small grape tomatoes whose cultivation is restricted to 18 communes around Mount Vesuvius. Their color, intensity and sweetness are like none other, not even the very finest vine-ripened tomatoes from a small California farm.
    Once you’ve tasted them on Ribalta’s simple spaghetti al pomodoro or atop the pizzas, you will never forget them and you will compare all others to them. They also found a place atop one of NYC’s best pizza alla margheritas, made with imported fior di latte cheese. Another pie, called Nobile, was adorned with shaved black truffles, while a third, in pala salina, came with  imported ricotta that for once had the real taste and tang of true buffalo’s milk cheese, along with Sicilian capers, Gaeta olives and mozzarella.
    But, before those, we noshed greedily on golden, crisp, very hot from the fire potato croquettes, along with zucchine alla scapece, which were not just impeccably and quickly fried but which had a shot of housemade vinegar, mint and garlic to add further taste and texture.
      They make a terrific eggplant parmigiana in a casserole, a dish once disdained as merely Italian-American but now becoming very popular in NYC Italian restaurants.  Baby octopus Luciana was a fabulous and lush dish of the seafood cooked slowly in San Marzano tomatoes with olives and capers and set atop a thick slab of toasted country bread.
    Aside from the spaghettoni with those marvelous
piennolo tomatoes, we also tried a pasta alla Nerano with thinly sliced zucchine and provolone del Monaco, brought in from the Amalfi Coast.
    Desserts are as well conceived as everything else at Ribalta, including rum-laced baba slices layered with a tiramisù of Nutella-enriched mascarpone and topped with blueberry sauce, along with a deliciously creamy, crisp Sicilian cannolo. After all this, I expected the espresso to be made well, and Rosario’s “special” was everything I could want and so rarely find elsewhere.
    Ribalta’s wine list is small—about 35 labels—but focused for a trattoria selection, at very reasonable prices.
    The food and wine would be enough for me to recommend Ribalta as one of NYC’s best trattorias, but add to that an exuberant atmosphere that somehow is not as loud as I’d expected and the presence of Rosario bounding among the tables, and you have a real experience as close to anything you’d find in Naples.

  Open for lunch and dinner daily.




By John Mariani

Château La Nerthe Entrance

    Obviously, the wines of the Rhône Valley are not as familiar to the average French wine drinker as Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, but, in fact, there is considerably more variety there. From the north, beginning at Vienne, to the south, ending in Avignon—a distance of only 125 miles—more than 1,800 wineries and 103 cooperatives produce wines from more than 30 grape varietals, many rarely grown in the rest of France, like Bourboulenc, Piquepoul, Carignan and Ugni Blanc.
    The principal grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Roussane, Mourvèdre, Marsanne, Cinsault and Viognier, which are blended into a wide range of classified wines with names like Côte-Rotie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas in the north and Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Lirac and Tavel in the south, where 95% of the production comes from. In contrast to Bordeaux or Burgundy, the Rhône does not have an  official classification for "Grand cru" or similar terms.
    Among all these varieties, a lot of poor or mediocre bulk wine is made, labeled Vin du Pays or Vin de Table, and the cooler northern region has always had bragging rights for making more refined reds.  Nevertheless, the brawn of southern Rhône wines, enjoying a more Mediterranean climate, has long had its own appeal, while younger winemakers are very busy doing clonal research to find the best, healthiest grapes and terroir to make better and better wines.
    Not until the 1980s did Côtes du Rhone begin to develop anything close to the reputation of the more illustrious Bordeaux and Burgundy. Starting in the 1970s, forward-looking merchants like E. Guigal (controversial for introducing new oak to the aging), Jaboulet, Chapoutier and Delas, modernized the estates, while winemakers like Gérard Chave, famous for his Hermitage, became local heroes for their rigorous commitment to better Rhône wines.
    Among the best-known of the southern Châteauneuf-du-Pape vintners is Château La Nerthe (right), whose sloped terroirs of 13 varietals are all within the company’s estate, which was certified AB organic in 1998.  The château dates back to 1736, and through various owners, boom times and bust, it had at times gone to ruin. But in 1986 the Richard family bought and renovated the property, now with 222 acres. In 2015 Ralph Garcin, 43, previously at Jaboulet, took over the estate and its wine making.
    Over a dinner of foie gras terrine, sea scallops with caviar and chicken with mushroom fricassée at New York’s Benoit restaurant, I interviewed Garcin about modern viticulture in his region.  He explained that La Nerthe uses four to five grapes in its Chateauneuf-du-Pape, whereas most of his neighbors use one or two. (Nineteen varieties are allowed to be used by law, ten red and nine white.) Garcin (left), who gained his expertise on clonal research while working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, noted that “in the next 20 years we need to find resistant plants, and, because we are organic, we use the least amount of spraying. Global warming has not yet been a problem, but we do careful pruning and would irrigate only to save a crop that has been affected by too much heat, which affects the acids, aromas and phenolic maturity. We are certainly picking earlier now to avoid the wines going above 14.5 percent alcohol.”
    We began dinner with a 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($60), made from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc, with the Roussanne aged on the lees. It was a fairly easy vintage with good weather, with the wine reaching 13.5% alcohol, and with its brightness and tropical fruit flavors went very well with the scallops and salty roe.
    I was very impressed by the 2015 Clos de Beauvenir Blanc, from a large harvest that was spread over several weeks. It is very rich, an exemplary white wine from the southern Rhône, though at $140 it’s at the very high end.
    The most basic of La Nerthe’s red wines is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2015 ($60), which I found a very bold, very fruity wine with a leafy bouquet and, at 14.5% alcohol, years of improvement yet to come. The blend was 44% Grenache, 24% Mourvèdre, 18% Syrah, 2% Cinsault and 2% other grapes, and it was ideal with the chicken and mushrooms.
    La Nerthe makes an array of other red wines, including some fine Côtes-du-Rhône Villages,  but they also make a very lovely Prieuré de Montezargués Tavel 2017 rosé ($25), produced in the special microclimate of the sillon rhodanien. Many decades ago Tavel was the wine I’d save to serve with dinner with my favorite girlfriends instead of Lancers Rosé—the extra three or four bucks was worth it—but La Nerthe’s blend of 60% Grenaches blancs and noirs, 20% Syrah, 10% Clairette/Bourboulenc and 10% Cinsault shows how far Tavel has come. It has a deep, almost fuchsia color, and there’s plenty of fruit and floral without being cloying, making it an ideal aperitif or accompaniment to cold dishes, goat’s cheese, or salads.





The U.K. is hosting its first ever Chicken Nugget festival this summer,  organized by We Love Food, taking place on August 11 in London and September 22 in Manchester. According to Metro, with  live bands, DJs, and  a chicken nugget eating competition, where winners are crowned “Nugget King” and “Nugget Queen” for the day.




“Ruchi is easy to miss: the dining room and snuggly fitted into the crook of O’Hara’s, a boomerang shaped cop and fireman watering hole. The restaurant is marked only by a faded red vestibule and a pair of plastic stands that advertise deals--North Indian dishes are half price at lunchtime on weekdays. Colored glass lanterns wash the interiors with a warm, effulgent light, and the mauve shadows they cast seem to demand you to try something out of the ordinary.”—Nicholas Niarchos, “Ruchi,” The New Yorker (1/29/18).


 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.


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2017