Virtual Gourmet

  April 1, 2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER






By John Mariani


By John Mariani





By John Mariani

Yorktown American Revolution Museum


    One need not be a partisan to believe our Republic is at a dangerous crossroads, although bipartisanship is what has always made this country capable of enduring everything from world wars to depressions.  Remembering how it all began—and how difficult those beginnings were—has been well preserved in the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Virginia.

    In several respects, what is very new about Jamestown is what is very old, meaning that constant archeological progress is being made using the most modern technologies to trace the history of this 17th century settlement. Created in 1957, Jamestown Settlement, like nearby Historic Colonial Williamsburg, was made to be a living history museum that contains a recreated James Fort, a Powhatan Indian village, and replicas of the original English settlers’ ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery (left)

The archeological excavations go on at the adjacent Historic Jamestowne (note the last “e”), run by the National Park Service and Preservation Virginia. (Preservation Virginia is the group that supervises the archeology. The Park Service owns the other acreage.)

    The settlement was established on May 14, 1607, to be permanent, although several failures and abandonments occurred, as well as a war that annihilated the Paspahegh Indian tribe in the area and in 1676 the burning down of the town during Bacon’s Rebellion.  It immediately became Virrginia’s colonial capital; the first slaves  arrived in 1619. But by 1699 Jamestown’s power had declined as the capital relocated to Williamsburg, and in the next century Jamestown ceased to exist as a working settlement.

    The galleries and exhibitions are beautifully done at Jamestown, starting with the docudrama “1607: A Nation Takes Root,” and the exhibits focus on the three cultures--native, European and African (the  Powhatan Native American  was the “parent” culture and a Pocahontas exhibit just closed this winter), “The Crossing,” and “From Africa to Virginia.”  The history of Jamestown as a tobacco-producing colony is described—it was often used as cash, which led to wealth but ultimately a lack of diversity in the economy.  Outside, the Powhatan Indian Village features houses and archeological artifacts of how the Native Americans lived prior to the arrival of the English.  Layer by layer more is being revealed every year, and the sight of so many students digging carefully through centuries of dirt and building materials is inspiring.

    A new exhibit, "TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia," will open in November this year.


A copper alloy figure from the Kingdom of Benin at the Jamestown Settlement gallery.


         Meanwhile, at Yorktown, where the last battle of the Revolutionary War was fought, they have a new, state-of-the-art American Revolution Museum that sprawls over 80,000 square feet of the rolling landscape and offers art work, historic dioramas, films and a recreation of the white-tented military camp of the American army, which, with help from the French army and fleet, roundly defeated the British on October 19, 1781. Washington’s troops pierced the British outer defenses, bringing to bear such a force of artillery that the British general Lord Cornwallis was forced to negotiate a peace to end the war, resulting in the finality of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. 

    The Yorktown attraction is known for its collection of uniforms, firearms and living history, with military artillery firing each day at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Shows on the food culture of the Colonial and Revolutionary era are held throughout the year, and a working farm demonstrates the way people harvested, cooked and ate from homemade utensils.

    The museum’s 22,000-square-foot layout leads from one era to another, its walls and floors first showcasing British Colonial America as of 1763 and an interactive map of the United States in 1791. Famous battles are described, how they began and developed, in a 170-seat museum theater, beginning with the film “Liberty Fever” in a moving panorama containing live-action movie scenes. The “First Great Victory”—the Battle of Saratoga in 1777—is actually shown within an army tent, while “The Siege of Yorktown” is shown on a 180-degree surround screen theater at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

    From there “The New Nation” and “The American People” bring our history up through the 19th century and how the new country was so influenced by immigrants and internal migration westward.

    One expects grand yarns and great victories out of the American Revolution, but I was delighted by some of the lesser artifacts that told the story in more endearing ways, like the first portrait of a black slave, named Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, by William Hoare circa 1733; the first book of poems by an African-American woman named Phillis Wheatley, albeit by a London publisher in 1773; a silver teaspoon stamped with the motto “I love liberty” (1773); and a lap desk once used by Gen. Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox.”

         Both Jamestown and Yorktown show how hard curators, linked into the newest technology, have worked to bring history alive for visitors, with a clear and obvious mission to entice and entertain young people whose urge is never to turn their eyes from their iPhones. In the sound and light, shadow and music of these stellar museums lies both the truth and the emotional commitment to our ancestors


By John Mariani
322 East 86th Street (near First Avenue)

Photo: Paul Wagtouicz


    A little over a year ago François Latapie opened Little Frog on the Upper East Side at a time when construction of the way overdue Second Avenue Subway was disrupting every business in the area.  Noise, dust, steam, barriers and trenches made it impossible to put tables outside or draw traffic. Still, Little Frog succeeded largely by appealing to neighborhood regulars, many of whom knew Latapie as the suave, effusive fellow who had once been maître d’ at Le Cirque and La Goulue.

    Now that the subway is done, the Yorkville neighborhood is back to being fairly quiet, a good place for a stroll along broad East 86th Street, and I was so happy to see that the German meat store Schaller & Weber, the Hungarian restaurant Red Tulip and Heidelberg German restaurant are still open on a block in Yorkville that once teemed with Eastern European groceries, cafes and restaurants.

    Little Frog is a handsome, long slip of a white brick-walled room, seating 75, with a cheery bar up front, green tufted banquettes, bentwood chairs and the requisite tilted mirrors. The sound level in the room is pretty good, but the piped in music is wholly unnecessary. No one goes to a French bistro for the canned music, unless it’s Piaf or Aznavour.

    Latapie is the consummate host, a gentlemanly mix of French gentility and American affability, and Chef Xavier Monge proves that consistency in every dish is really the key to this kind of cuisine.  He works hard to obtain first-rate ingredients, evident in yellowfin tuna tartare with seaweed salad, wasabi dressing and sesame tuile ($22).  Frogs’ legs (right)—once a staple of French restaurants—make a welcome re-appearance at Little Frog, nicely garlicky, sprinkled with parsley and served with tatsoi greens ($16).  Asparagus out of season are risky, but Monge somehow sources very good ones, which he nestles in a buttery pastry shell with a lustrous Hollandaise mousseline ($16).

    There is also a small section of tapas (all $10), which include hot shishito peppers given a delightful sweet glaze ($10) and thinly sliced pink Iberico ham on a crunchy garlic-swabbed baguette.  Fat tiger shrimp get a shot of sea salt to perk them up ($10), and best of all was a plump fritter enclosing oozing Comté cheese (below).

    Among the “Butcher’s Choices” is a deliciously juicy roasted chicken scented with herbes de Provence and served with green beans, garlic and shallots ($25). It’s good to see Monge does not hold back on the garlic as too many French bistro cooks do.

Rack of lamb ($42) is available for one person, given some hardy ballast with merguez sausage and couscous.  As it should be, hanger steak is nicely chewy and full of flavor, which we ordered au poivre, with hand-cut French fries ($36).  I’m always hesitant to order the ubiquitous branzino on a menu, but Little Frog’s is one of the best in the city, grilled whole and boned, served with arugula and a beurre blanc tinged with lemon and tobiko roe ($29). As a side dish, have the macaroni gratin in a béchamel sauce ($10) or the sautéed wild mushrooms, with more garlic persillade ($13).

    All the cherished classics of French bistro desserts are here: an ethereally light île flottante (right), a good crème caramel and terrific chocolate croustillant. Only an apple tart was disappointing, for its lack of caramelization and its soggy crust.

In addition to the food menu, Little Frog’s wine list has changed for the better, now more gently priced than before, and, among its fifty bottlings are an applaudable number under $60 and only a handful priced over $100.

    So, Little Frog survived all the bureaucratic red tape and deep-down subway construction put in its way. Latapie’s faith in his neighborhood and his well-known hospitality have made Little Frog the true French bistro this stretch of Yorkville really needed.


Open for dinner nightly, for brunch Sat. & Sun. There is a $29 three-course fixed price dinner with wine from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. nightly.



Don’t Believe in Global Warming? Just ask a Tuscan Winemaker

By John Mariani


    It’s a question I’ve put to every winemaker I’ve interviewed over the past five years. “Have you seen the effects of climate change and global warming in your region?”

    Almost everyone answers yes, to one degree or another, and recently even the winemakers of Bordeaux and Burgundy, where they have always craved sun and heat, have begun having doubts about their benefits.  In warmer climates the effects are now rigorously being monitored and vintners express both concern and ignorance as to what will happen just within the next decade.

    Over dinner in New York, I posed these questions to Stefano Ruini, 57 (right), Technical Director and Enologist since 2017 of Luce winery in Montalcino, Tuscany, where Sangiovese grape vine clones (hundreds tested for their sturdy quality by Banfi Vintners in the 1980s and donated to the region’s other wineries) transformed the region’s wine production.

    “Climate is becoming much more of a question than clones of grapes now,” said Ruini. “Twenty years ago we noticed changes in the Ph levels, the acidity, the phenolics and they began to affect when we would harvest. Now we are picking much earlier and doing a shorter maceration time. Five years ago changes began to accelerate, and one of the real problems is lack of rain.”

    Indeed, Ruini, addressing these and other vagaries of wine production, prophesied that “in ten years Cabernet Sauvignon will taste like a different grape and Bordeaux, which lost one-third of its crop last year due to drought, in a decade from now will have the climate of Sicily.”

    Ruini was brought onboard at Luce, after working for years in Bordeaux’s Médoc region, to continue the technological improvements the winery had set in motion more than two decades ago, when Vittorio Frescobaldi and California’s Robert Mondavi joined forces to produce a modern Tuscan red wine based on state-of-the-art viticulture. 

    For reasons too complex to go into, Frescobaldi parted ways with the Mondavis and now holds full ownership of the estate in the Val d’Orcia, spread over 250 acres with just 135 under cultivation. It was the first winery in Tuscany to plant Merlot, adding it to Sangiovese, a blend that means the wine cannot be labeled as Brunello di Montalcino, which by Italian law must be made from 100% Sangiovese.

    “The Merlot is there to soften the wine,” said Ruini, “and it ripens earlier, in mid-September, while the Sangiovese ripens in October.”  Indigenous yeasts are used exclusively.

    The 50-50 blend (the current vintage is 2015) spent 24 months in barriques. “I do not want the wines to taste of oak,” says Ruini. Three years later the tannins have loosened and the Merlot has softened the wine while buoying the delicious fruit and acid typical of Tuscan wines. It has a density that will lighten in years to come, but this is not a wine to keep in the cellar for twenty years.

    Lucente 2015 is a second, less expensive label from the estate, with a larger proportion of Merlot to Sangiovese and spending only 12 months in oak. It is, therefore, a lighter version and very ready to drink as a medium-bodied red with ripe fruit right now and at a very, very good price for this quality.

    Luce also makes a Brunello di Montalcino, made from just 12 acres, which spends additional time aging in bottle after two years in oak.  The 2013 vintage is now on the market and it shows all those elements that a single varietal of real character can muster: dark fruit, a backbone of tannin and a long, satisfying finish. The vintage year had excellent weather, with ideal conditions during a hot summer.

Sales of Luce’s wines are currently about evenly split between Italy and the U.S., at 29% and 25%, with Canada and Germany next, followed by 84 other countries where it may be bought. Ruini sees little interest in Italian wines in China at this time.

    Time will tell how heat and rain, or a lack of it, will affect Luce, Tuscany and European vineyards, whose natural terroirs are far more delicate than those of hot weather climates like California and South America.

    “Not too long ago,” said Ruini, “most wine estates in Italy were composed of those who tended the vineyards and those who worked on the enology and all other aspects of the winery. Today, those two segments have to mesh and learn from each other, if only to keep up with what’s happening in the air around us.”





“I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t eat fried food. I don’t eat red meat. I don’t eat any dairy, except low-fat cottage cheese and non-fat yogurt. I don’t eat sweets. … Oh, and I don’t eat flour.”—Padma Lakshmi




IKEA is replacing beef in its burgers with mealworms  as part of what the company calls "fast food of the future."   The burger is made from a mixture of beetroot, parsnips, potatoes, and the "larval form of a darkling beetle."



 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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