Virtual Gourmet

  March 25, 2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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Welcome Back, Mad Men! 


ANNOUNCEMENT: On Wednesday, April 18, John Mariani will host a book signing dinner at Via Vanti restaurant at 2 Kirby Plaza in Mount Kisco, NY.  Five-course meal at $85 per person, including signed copy of How Italian Food Conquered the World.  Call 914-666-6400.



St. Lucia and the Cuisine of Jade Mountain
by Marcy MacDonald

Del Frisco's Grille
by John Mariani



By Marcy MacDonald

    Although Columbus may have discovered St. Lucia in the late 15th century, it was the French who named her and the English who fought for her. By 1814 the island had switched sides so often (seven wins and losses, each) that she was known as the "Helen of the West Indies.”
    Pirates loved Castries, now the Capital City.  Early adventurers, however, went to the west side of the island and found sulfur springs above Soufrière (where the future Empress Josephine bathed while still a girl from Trois Islettes in nearby Martinique), and the remains of a volcano that is now a 'drive-through' attraction, still the only of its kind anywhere. Unlike her Caribbean neighbors, St. Lucia is more mountainous than most of the other volcanic islands. The highest point may be Mount Gimie, at 3,120 ft above sea level, but two other mountains, the Pitons -- Gros and Piti -- form the nation's most famous landmark.
       After St. Lucia's independence half-a-century ago, architect Nick Troubetzkoy and his wife, Karolina began to visit the island -- and tried to take the view with them.  "Nick had been collecting antique jade mountains for 35 years before he saw the Pitons," she affirmed, "But what was
meant to be a brief stint in paradise turned into a lifelong passion for the island and its people." He felt the best view of the Pitons could be had from a few of the rooms at the nearby Anse Chastenet resort, and began negotiations to buy it.  That accomplished, Troubetzkoy designed and crowned the hill above it with his expression of “organic” architecture. "Nick was finally carving his own Jade Mountain, perhaps a little bigger than those in his collection," his wife continued.
    He used local workmen to create an über-luxe resort where open-air “sanctuary” guest rooms feature 15- foot ceilings, an ever-changing view and (often) a horizon pool.  He used recycled glass pool tiles to reflect the resident koi fish and glass lighting squares (that would be high and mighty lighting structures if local nesting birds hadn't designated them their preferred habitat) that create an atmosphere of a super posh home-away-from home.
      More than 20 species of tropical hardwood are found in each room) and include Snakewood, Etikburabali, Futubali, Purpleheart, Locust and other exotica.    Now, a gazillion hardwood stairs and wooden ramps  connect the levels of Jade Mountain, each artistically obscured by massive bursts of green; a secret spa; a little bar or two or three; a shop around an unexpected corner; another glass of island cheer; an outcropping of flowers, a selection of mad hats; an art gallery; a fitness studio; unexpected details, details, details and giant, economy sized bottles of sunblock.
     As the architect and his wife realized their artistic 24-room dream, they began to shop for a chef.  Their favorite was Allen Susser (below, left, with Exec Chef Jonathan Deardon),  formerly proprietor of Chef Allen's in Miami, who took one look at the architectural plans and designs, followed by a wander through Farmer John's Anse Mamin and Emerald Gardens began to plan his 'ideal' "Jade cuisine" menus.  He also stocks an excellent wine cellar. "The Jade Mountain plantation provides the resort with most of the fruits, vegetables and the cacao we use in a variety of dishes here," he says, and guests are invited to tour the Farm.  The chefs are forever experimenting--in full view of guests. "There was a time when we just sent all of our cacao pods up to Hershey, Pennsylvania for refining,” said the chef. “But there were so many cacao trees on the plantation here that we began to produce our own chocolate a couple of years ago. What's amazing is the process, the time it takes to harvest the cacao bean from the pod to produce a tiny sliver, the nib -- about the size of a fingernail tip -- essential to chocolate-making." 
    Although St. Lucia officially speaks English,  Antillean French Creole is used in literature, music and menus. As for Nobel laureates: the island has more per square inch than any other country in the world: Derek Walcott (for Literature, 1992) and Sir Arthur Lewis (Economics, 1979). The culture is gaining official acknowledgement, particularly by the Chastenet family whose latest generation has provided the young nation with its current Prime Minister, who is said to still have a penchant for the spicy, East Indian cuisine in the Apsara Beachfront dining room at Anse Chastenet (it runs about $100 for two), though he makes himself at home in Jade Mountain’s 14-table restaurant (open to non-guests by reservation only for about $170 for two) for Chef Allen's famous Spices of the Caribbean Culinary menus.
     These special gastronomic adventures are packaged as 'all inclusive' weekend and week-long events.   Generally, the only items not included in the price are the special daily cocktails, champagne (but at $130 per, the bottles of Moët are considered a bargain), cognacs, rums and malt whiskeys.    Guests who book these special foodie events are welcome to dine almost anywhere on the property (including their private sanctuaries). 
Each Major Domo provides superb and subtle service: Teddy-the-Perfect-Butler will worry himself sick if he doesn't see you enjoying your meal.)


     Chef Allen's innovations begin at breakfast,  often as experimental in the dining room at Jade Mountain as it is traditional in the restaurants down mountain at Anse Chastenet.  Breakfasts  include items like local smoked bacons and sausages to fried Creole baked goods and accra morning fish cakes with sweet chili sauce.  Guests who are already addicts of Theresa Henry's bakery shack in nearby Soufriere still wait to go to  breakfast until they can smell the fragrant bread being delivered to the resort each morning.      Ask for Jade Mountain's pulled-pork sandwich on her baguettes for one of the best taste treats on the island.
    Each day of the Spices of the Caribbean Week may feature another tour of Farmer John's acreage for Chef Allen's top ten spices: cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, star anise,  turmeric, ginger and vanilla.
     On the day of arrival, Friday,  guests are toasted by Chef Allen's Jade Spiced Rum cocktail that combines sustainable local exotics from the Emerald Gardens and the local rum for a good start to the gourmet days ahead.   If guests select from his Spice Menu, a seven-course nightly offering, the bill will about $85 per person per meal (plus a 10% service charge and 8% government tax) on their all-inclusive plan. One starter might be the Emerald vegetable wrap in rice paper features, with  spiced pumpkins and green bell peppers in a cumin raita.
    For the second course, coriander seared foie gras with compressed pineapple and raspberry sea salt. Passion fruit and sesame-glazed shrimp looks like the more recognizable of the two early courses, but add melon mojito salsa with a Campari foam. The third course may feature two entrees, the almond-crusted goat’s cheese, served with local greens, tomatoes, lightly grilled onions and sun-dried tomatoes, or the organic mustard greens, grilled and lightly dressed with a cucumber-mustard seed vinaigrette).  For the Intermezzo: a passion fruit and raspberry sorbet.
     Line-caught kingfisher steak is paired with lentil and green banana sauce Lyonnaise, over which a nice, crunchy celery salsa complements the purple long beans. Next, garam masala grilled pork tenderloins with spiced sweet potato and ginger, bok choy and barbequed papaya. If you have an inch left for desert, there are several to share: cardamom-spiced crème  brûlée, spiced chocolate truffles and  a black rice spring roll.
    Cooking classes are limited to those  afternoon foodies who really want to duplicate their favorite tastes from the Chef's Spice Menu.  Nor is Chef Allen a stranger to Chocolate Weekends, (even entire Chocolate Months) on the island where some of the best and tastiest end-results in the Caribbean are produced.  You can spot the liquid chocoholics every May during the island's famous jazz festival napping under the cacao trees.

Jet Blue flies from the New York airports; American Airlines flies from Miami; Delta wings in from Atlanta; Air Canada and West Jet carry passengers from Toronto, as well as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic from London. Although rental cars are plenty, almost all of the resorts have 'meet and greet' people at the airport to organize transport. 
    Nothing is cheap, but you definitely get more than you pay for.  For reservations call 800-223-1108 or contact ANSE CHASTANET RESORT at Tel 758-459-7000, Fax 758-459-7700, e-mail jademountain@ansechastanet.comwebsite: always ask for whatever the seasonal 'deal' is: often both Anse
Chastanet and Jade Mountain offer free days for longer bookings.




by John Mariani

Del Frisco's GRILLE
50 Rockefeller Plaza

   It seems reasonable enough to ask why a New Yorker,  or out-of-towner, for that matter, would choose a national chain over a local steakhouse in NYC. Why wouldn't you opt for an indigenous place like the original Palm on Second Avenue, or Spark's on East 46th Street, or, if you could get a reservation, Peter Luger in Brooklyn?  The idea of going to a steakhouse that originated in New Orleans (Ruth's Chris), Capital Grill (Providence), Morton's (Chicago), or Del Frisco's Double Eagle (Dallas) seems odd, playing it safe. It's kind of like going to Neiman Marcus rather than  Bergdorf Goodman.
    But the fact is, with a very few exceptions, NYC's own steakhouses have themselves branched out across the country, even abroad, so that while the original Palm on Second Avenue is still first rate, as is original Smith & Wollensky on Third Avenue (still owned by founder Alan Stillman, the rest corporately franchised), the branches are often pale facsimiles. So, too, the BLT Steakhouse chain severed relations with Laurent Tourondel, the chef who gave his initials to the original. Therefore, those "out-of-town" steaks house chains have proliferated based on consistency, each with a different focus--Ruth's Chris with its sizzling filet mignon, Morton's by showing off the uncooked meat, Shula's with football memorabilia--and that repeated style is what appeals to people.  Location, as ever, is crucial to a restaurant's survival (despite Peter Luger being a long, rough ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to Williamsburg.)
Usually steakhouses put mileage between them, in locations where they might compete with others but not themselves.  For years now the three-story Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House has thrived on Sixth Avenue, across from Rockefeller Center, with a snazzier, snappier style and décor of tall columns, tufted leather booths and white tablecloths that contrasts with the clichés of most steakhouses' scruffy, he-man décor. The  restaurant is a big draw for business lunches and dinners, pre-theater meals, and out-of-towners looking for the same food and service they've come to enjoy at the chain's eight branches.
   So, slotting another Del Frisco's--this a more casual Grille--smack in Rockefeller Center, half a block from the skating rink and the skyscraper featured in the TV show "30 Rock," doesn't seem to make much logistical sense. Still, since opening just a few months ago, the Grille has been packing them in at lunch and by six PM the bar (above) crowd is overflowing into the main dining room (right). (There's another Grille in Dallas, with plans for more on the way.) "We feared we might be cannibalizing the one across the street," manager Nick D'Ambrosio told me, "but, knock wood, that hasn't happened." 
      The Grille is a large, rambling space
with a long bar and a pizza oven--unusual steakhouse for a steakhouse. The place is handsome, flattering to both men and women, though not as glamorously decorated as the Sixth Avenue flagship;  bare tables and an uncomfortably  high decibel level tell you that they're trying to be more casual here, and prices are, admirably, lower.   The service staff is fleet-footed and amiable, and sommelier Brittany Kirkpatrick oversees a well-selected wine list with more than 600 labels.
    The menu duplicates many items from across the avenue, but Grille Chef Scott Kroener (below) breaks the mold with some terrific appetizers that--no pun intended--go against the grain of the traditional steakhouse menu of shrimp cocktail, tomato and mozzarella,  slab of beef, potatoes, and cheesecake.  For one thing, that pizza oven turns out some admirable flatbreads, including a winner with roasted tomato, mozzarella and basil, along with a white clam version. When I read the words "Cheesesteak Eggrolls, Sweet & Spicy Chili Sauce and Honey Mustard," my mouth dropped and I just nodded, "Yes, yes, yes!" I was rewarded with a really terrific dish that needs no more explanation than what it is.  In the same line are delectable, crunchy ahi tuna tartare tacos with avocado and a well-spiced citrus mayo.  By "Jumbo Lump Crabcake" with Cajun lobster sauce, they mean the crabmeat itself is indeed luscious jumbo lump, though the size of the cake itself was not the largest specimen I've seen on a plate.
    There are several "Big Salads," as Elaine Benes on "Seinfeld" called them, one an iceberg lettuce wedge with ample bacon, tomato, and blue cheese dressing.  As at all Del Frisco's, the beef is USDA Prime, wet-aged for 28 days. I can't say the sirloin would beat Palm's in a blind tasting--the latter's dry aging gives a deeper flavor--but, after Chef Kroener avidly recommend I try the filet mignon on the bone (left), a cut I usually avoid because it tends to lack marbling, I gave in and ordered one "Pittsburgh," that is, charred on the outside.  Like the sirloin, it came impeccably charred and seasoned; having been cooked on the bone, it was very juicy, and its size indicated it came from the best section of the beef carcass, making for an absolutely first-rate filet mignon, whose only competitor in NYC would be Smith & Wollensky's on Third Avenue. We also enjoyed hearty beef Stroganoff on buttered fat noodles in a dark, winy sauce lashed with sour cream.
    For sides, be sure to go for the truffled mac & cheese, the sea salt and Parmesan-dusted fries, and the rich broccoli au gratin, all of which easily serve a table of two or three.
    If there could possibly be any room left in your appetite, share a mile-high slice of lemon layer cake  with the table.
   So.  What Del Frisco's Grille offers is a casual atmosphere, excellent beef, a better wine list than Palm, more interesting appetizers, sides and desserts than Gallagher's, and way better service than at Luger's and Spark's.  I, for one, can't wait to go back to try the hamburger and a few more of those eggrolls.

Open daily from 11 AM till midnight. Starters $9-$19; entrees $19-$45. (For the record, prices at Del Frisco's Double Eagle run $
13-$22 for starters, and $35-$93 for main courses.)



Dougie Luv, proprietor of Vancouver's DougieDogs, has created the world's most expensive hot dog, called the $100 Dragon Dog (right), because 2012 in China is the Year of the Dragon:  a foot-long bratwurst infused with hundred-year-old Louis XIII cognac (at $2000 a bottle), Kobe beef seared in olive and truffle oil, fresh lobster, and "picante sauce." The cost: $100 Canadian.

OY! And Such Small Portions!

"As we become more health conscious and sensitive to the quality of ingredients in the foods we purchase, it should come as no surprise that even traditional delicatessens (or `delis') are also taking the organic and healthy route."--James Stolich, "San Francisco’s Artisan Delis." Nob Hill Gazette.


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their coffee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.

My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) 
has just won top prize 2011 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, Gotham Bar & Grill, 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: AMERICA'S MOST VISITED MONUMENTS.

Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).

The Family Travel Forum
 - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO

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. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2012