Virtual Gourmet

  January 10, 2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 




By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Outdoor Dining at Beatrice Inn, NYC

         As we enter 2021, the state of America’s restaurant industry has rarely seemed more dire, thanks to state and city demands that restaurants all but shut down until the pandemic is defeated. As with all small businesses, the on-again-off-again closures that are difficult enough for a gym or a nail salon for restaurants require enormous effort, not least dealing with the amount of wasted food in storage.
         In good times municipal governments make the running of a restaurant far more restrictive than for other businesses, from health department inspections to prohibitions against or expensive permits for outdoor dining. Restaurants pay high taxes, justified by local governments as somehow being imposed on cash rich and consistently profitable businesses. Liquor licenses cost a small fortune, and blue laws can prevent restaurants from fully utilizing their potential.
         Now, with some landlords threatening to shutter restaurants—often because they believe they’ll get a far higher rent from a CVS than on a 15-year restaurant lease—old and new restaurants are struggling to stay in place. Many will not survive, even at the top of the ladder.
        It was announced last week that New York’s famous ‘21’ Club (left), owned by the Belmond hotel company (which was bought for $3.2 billion by LVMH in 2018), would close, hoping it might be re-purposed sometime in the future. Celebrity restaurateurs like Danny Meyer, David Chang and Jean-Georges Vongerichten announced closings last autumn, and Las Vegas’s high-end, high-roller restaurants have been decimated.
         Still, I believe that the resiliency of restaurant owners and history will show that restaurants will rebound when the pandemic ebbs. For, despite the greed of many landlords, they are well aware that spaces must be filled; realtors abhor a vacuum, and in many cases spaces built specifically to be restaurants cannot easily be converted into another kind of business.
        Ironically, the vast three-level space at the bottom of New York’s Seagram Building might have become a Cadillac showroom back in 1959 but instead became The Four Seasons restaurant (right), which later applied for and received New York City Landmark status, so that its interior cannot be altered in any way, if the current owner of the building ever reopens it.  One can hardly imagine restaurants like the Signature Room on the 95th floor of Chicago’s John Hancock skyscraper, Picasso in Las Vegas or Per Se in New York’s Time Warner Center being converted into a car dealership or a Lululemon.
        And in Paris, the Jules Verne restaurant (below) on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower is not going to be replaced with a Verizon store, nor will the grand dining room Man Wah overlooking Hong Kong Harbor with a Ferragamo shoe salon.
         Also, savvy realtors know not only that good restaurants in their buildings attract renters and visitors, but that an award-winning restaurant brings prestige to the property. Indeed, many realtors build out space specifically to install a restaurant with a name chef or restaurant company behind it, like Wolfgang Puck or the Ducasse Group.
         For a while in 2021, there will be tectonic shifts in the number and kind of restaurants remaining open or new restaurants taking a chance. Yet, the fact is every Wednesday in The New York Times Food Section, there is a listing of at least six new restaurant openings around the city—more than 300 in a year. It is obvious that many mom-and-pop restaurants will sadly close, but others, especially ethnic eateries, have adapted and found a new market in take-out and home delivery. Many have built outdoor dining spaces, some enclosed for winter, that bring in a valuable number of diners, even if indoors regulations only allow for occupancy of 25% to 50%.
         And therein lies the real hope for America’s restaurants: Pass any number of restaurants where outdoor dining has been arranged, and you will undoubtedly find them packed with guests, not to mention those picking up food to take home. True, far too many guests ignore health regulations about wearing masks and a few unscrupulous restaurateurs flout those rules, which has resulted in spreading Covid-19, but, as vaccinations kick in, that problem should be quickly decreased.
         The fact is that people love going out to eat and are dying to do so right now. There is a pent-up demand that will explode onto the restaurant scene by spring and summer at every level. Smaller restaurants, which have gained attention during the pandemic, will be the immediate winners, with old customers flocking to them and new ones delighted to try something new.
        At the higher levels, where expense accounts drive business both for the restaurant and the hosts of a business lunch or dinner, it will take a while longer to come back, because companies will initially be sheepish about seeming too extravagant. But again, as history shows, even when the allowance of expense deductions for business meals was cut from 100% to 50%, it had almost no effect on entertaining, simply because the cost was such a small part of doing business. (The current battle over a new stimulus package included discussion of new tax breaks for what was characterized by the antiquated term “three martini lunch.”)
        And during economic slumps companies that slashed entertainment budgets, and compiled lists of expensive restaurants to be avoided, always relented as soon as the economy rebounded. Predictions of the “death of fine dining” have always proven wrong.
         Neighborhood storefronts and spaces the size of a skyscraper’s floor plan cannot go empty for long, and, when the pandemic is over and life returns to something that feels like normal, people will do what they have always done with the greatest of pleasure. They will go out to eat, sit at their favorite table, order a good bottle of wine and be very happy again.


By John Mariani


    Since, for the time being, I am unable to write about or review New York City restaurants, I have decided instead to print a serialized version of my (unpublished) novel Love and Pizza, which takes place in New York and Italy and  involves a young, beautiful Bronx woman named Nicola Santini from an Italian family impassioned about food.  As the story goes on, Nicola, who is a student at Columbia University, struggles to maintain her roots while seeing a future that could lead her far from them—a future that involves a career and a love affair that would change her life forever. So, while New York’s restaurants remain closed, I will run a chapter of the Love and Pizza each week until the crisis is over. Afterwards I shall be offering the entire book digitally.    I hope you like the idea and even more that you will love Nicola, her family and her friends. I’d love to know what you think. Contact me at
—John Mariani

To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue.


By John Mariani

Cover Art By Galina Dargery


Columbia University in Winter

         When Nicola arrived home in New York, with just two months to go before the semester ended, she plunged back into her studies, occasionally bringing what she’d learned about the artists of the Neapolitan School into classroom discussions.  The only modeling she did for the month before Christmas was for the next two issues of Willi, whose reputation for being a truly new kind of fashion magazine was growing.
         She and Catherine were closer than ever, but Catherine began to feel that Nicola ending school a semester earlier than her might put some distance between them, believing Nicola’s head start on the rest of her life might put their friendship out of kilter.   Nicola insisted it would not.
         “I can't imagine why you’d say that, Catherine. It’s not like I’m moving anywhere.”
         “I know,” her friend said, “But let’s just not let it happen, Nick.”
         Nicola also enjoyed seeing Mercédes, Jenny and Suzanne on campus, and during the Thanksgiving holiday, they were all invited up to Alla Teresa for dinner, which pleased Tony immensely. 
        “Nick,” he said, “This is what I mean.  You bring your high-class friends to the restaurant and more will follow.”
         “Well, I’m not sure they’re all high class, Tony. I’m not.”
         “Hey, you all look high class.  That’s what we need more of.”
         Business had been very good at Alla Teresa and all the local reviews had been positive, though The New York Times, whose food critic rarely set foot in the “outer” boroughs, had not reviewed the place.  Also, while Tony could not be happier with the sales of pizza, he wanted people to come for the rest of the menu and to sell more expensive wines. 
         “I could stock nothing but Chianti, Valpolicella and Soave and no one would care,” Tony moaned to his sister.  “I have to educate these people just to get them to try something like a Dolcetto or Nebbiolo.”
         “It’ll happen,” said Nicola. “It’s just going to take a little time. You’ll see.”
         “And, hey, Nicky, I know you’re like super busy, but any time you can spend at the front, I’ll really be grateful.  A lot of people who come in know you and heard that you're my sister. It could help a lot.”
         Nicola gave her brother a kiss and said, “Tony, listen, I’m in the home stretch here with school.  Three weeks and I’m finished. I’ll be here throughout the whole holiday season, okay?”
         Tony thanked his sister and said, “And bring those high-class people you know!”
         Actually, the spread in the first issue of Willi had brought a lot of what Tony thought of as high-class people, but, typical of that crowd, they visited once, in order to say they had been there, done that, then didn’t return.  Many thought they were going uptown and slumming, the way the white swells used to take the A train to Harlem back in the 1930s.
         Thanksgiving came and Christmas was coming on quickly.  Nicola took her exams in stride and was busy sending out applications for graduate school.  Her professors told her to apply for the best, because at least two or three of them would accept her and probably give her student aid.  In fact, the head of the Art Department at Columbia, who had had Nicola in class, told her he would do everything possible to get her to stay at the school, arguing that the resources of New York City’s art scene and the options for getting a job teaching, curating or in restoration were highly dependent on connections, which Columbia had.
         “I’m not saying that if you went to Yale or Harvard or Princeton you wouldn’t get a superb education,” said the department head, adding New York University, the University of Michigan, Penn and the University of Virginia to the mix. “But I think we’re the best at what we do, and”—to sweeten the pot—“I think that after you get your M.A. here, you’d probably get to teach at the college while you get your PhD, which will really cut down your expenses.”
         Nicola took it all in, knowing the truth of what the professor preached about Columbia.  Her choice, however, would probably be decided on whether she wanted to get out of New York again, see something completely new, not New Haven, a dreary city only 90 minutes away, but perhaps Boston or Charlottesville or Durham, where Duke was located. 
         It would all be confusing in the extreme if she didn't know she had Columbia to fall back on. Still, as of New Year’s Day, 1986, there was no rush to make a decision.
         Nicola had settled back into the routines of living in Belmont, enjoying her family and Roseanne’s baby and doing hostess duties at Alla Teresa.  The burdens of academia were lifted from her shoulders, the Christmas holidays filled every waking minute with preparations for the family dinners, and she was happy to be able to cook alongside her mother again, recalling all the lessons her grandmother had taught her years before. 
         Nicola Santini was more or less happy.

© John Mariani, 2020




By John Mariani


         There is an increasing danger in the global wine market that too many wines are being made to taste according to a template, rather than to the individuality of their terroir. I’ll be writing about the high alcohol phenomenon soon and about how wines can be manipulated in order to increase intensity. For now, here are some good wines that express individuality, rather than taste just like their competitors’ in their respective regions.


MacRostie Brut Rosé 2017 ($25)—This is what I drank for a first wine on New Year’s Eve. I like well-made rosés (not all are by a long shot) and this three-year-old has developed depth while retaining the fruitiness I look for in a sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise. It’s a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend, disgorged in 2019, adjusted for sweetness, with 7 grams residual sugar. It went beautifully with an appetizer of foie gras terrine.


Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blanc ($85)—This is what I drank at midnight to toast the incoming year, as celebratory a Champagne as I know and well appreciated by connoisseurs. Heidesieck has been making Blanc de Blanc since 1949, and, since 2017, as a blend, with 25% reserve wines and prolonged cellaring. It is very silky, highly refined and should be the focus of attention, so drink it with mild-flavored foods like filet of sole. 

Cecchi Chianti Classico “Storia di Famiglia” 2017 ($27)—A modern take on a classic Chianti style, not too big, not too high in alcohol, made with 90% Sangiovese, it is very easy to drink and to match with just about anything but a delicate fish dish, and is wonderful with pasta sauces of every kind. Cecchi also makes a $48 Riserva and a $65 “Valore,” but I think the $27 bottle is nearly as good.

Alois Lageder Chardonnay 2018 ($16)—A great price for a very good, very crisp Alto Adige white wine from the southern Tyrol in the lightweight Chardonnay style. Not a lot of oak or sweetness, not manipulated, and with 12.5% alcohol very easy to drink, especially with cheeses, chestnuts and shrimp.

Gødesy Eola Springs Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($75)—If, on the other hand, you enjoy a little oak and a fuller body in your Chardonnays, this is a supple if restrained example, at a slightly high alcohol level of 14.1%. It is not cheap, however. It matches best with seafood in butter sauces.

Cellier des Dauphins Côtes du Rhônes Vacqueyras 2017 ($35)—A relative bargain for a southern Côtes du Rhône, a mix of Grenache and Syrah that avoids the murkiness of some bigger styles and prices. Buy a case, drink it freely with just about all meats, especially pork, and you’re good to go.

Essenz Barolo di Serralunga d’Alba 2015 ($50)—Not easy to find in the market, but ferret it out and you’ll be rewarded with a distinctive Barolo from a high altitude in Piedmont, whose soil has alternating layers of sandstone and marl. Too often Barolos from this region are getting higher in alcohol than they should be, but this, at 14%, allows all the elements of fruit, acid and tannin to shine forth. First-rate choice for beef or lamb





A NY State man named Robert Galinsky filed a class action lawsuit against the maker of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, contending that he was misled into believing the rolls were made in Hawaii when in fact they are baked in California.


An Idaho man named David Rush, who has broken more than 150 Guinness records triumphed again by
throwing 52 nuts in the air and catching them in a can attached to his head.



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   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.

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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,

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"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.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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