Virtual Gourmet

  NOVEMBER 29,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Carl "Alfafa" Switzer,  Rosina Lawrence, and George "Spanky" McFarland in "Hearts Are Thumps" (1937)



By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By Brian Freedman


By John Mariani


FIRE + ICE: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein ( $40)—For those who think that “New Nordic Cuisine” has anything to do with what people actually cook and eat in Scandinavia, Darra Goldstein’s thick volume should shock you back to reality, without a live ant or lichen on the plate.  Although Goldstein is not from any of the countries, she covers in this splendidly illustrated volume, she’s always been an intrepid scholar of culinary culture, and it shows in her understanding and preparation of dishes as disparate as chilled blueberry soup, asparagus and dill terrine, Jansson’s Temptation, and Swedish almond bread.



BISTRONOMY: Recipes from the Best New Paris Bistros by Jane Sigal ($39.95)—If you believe media who insist French cuisine has become stultified, open this beautiful book and be prepared to find that the best young chefs of Paris are doing stunning work, usually in homage to the classics but also wholly their own invention.  You’ll find Yves Camdeborde’s green lentil soup with tapioca from Le Comptoir; charred squid with boudin noir, peas and herbed oil from Shaun Kelly’s namesake restaurant; monkfish with asparagus and parmesan cream from Amélie Darvas’s Haï Kaï; pork belly with darphin potatoes and tamarind jus from Septime’s Bertrand Grébaut; and chocolate terrine with caramelized hazelnuts by Stéphane Jégo of L’Amis Jean.  A sense of conviviality and youthful enthusiasm runs through the book, without a scintilla of affectation.



TRUE THAI : Real Flavors for Every Table by Hong Thaimee ($35)—The subtitle of this book may be somewhat disingenuous, for many of the recipes require difficult-to-obtain ingredients of top quality, and, frankly, who’s going to make his own Chiang Mai sausage at home?  But Thaimee is an attractive, amiable and instructive teacher who insists that the Thai rule of thumb of rod mue—the “flavor of your hand,” meaning your own personal taste—be observed. The recipes are very well written and ever enticing, from coconut and wild sesame sticky rice to “The 15-Minute Soup That Changed My Life,” a shrimp dish with tamarind Thaimee made on the Iron Chef America TV show .


BOURBON CURIOUS: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker
by Fred Minnick ($22.99)—Fred Minnick is my favorite spirits writer because he is knowledgeable, writes beautifully, and turns what could be a screed of dull tasting notes into an insightful discussion of the exploding world of a “brown liquor” that even ten years ago seemed poised to be relegated to redneck bars and juleps once a year on Derby Day.  He spends nearly 100 pages giving you the history, the lore, the legal limits, and exposes much of the nonsense spread by producers about the confusing myriad single, small, ultra-rare bottlings with special treatment in casks coming out of Kentucky on a seasonal basis. Trust Minnick to steer you to the best of them.




GOVINO Wine Glasses—Up till now the idea of drinking fine wine from a plastic glass has been up there with eating a fine meal with plastic knives and forks and paper napkins. They feel awful in the hand, they smell, and they are associated with every cheapo patio party I’ve ever been to.  But when I received a sample of the govino (all lower case letters) “glassware” I was truly astounded by their beauty, their extraordinary thinness, and, like the very finest and most expensive wineglasses in the world, a lightness whose added virtue is that they are shatterproof.  (Always fun to toss one to a friend unaware that the glass won’t break in his hand.)
      They are made from a flexible BPA-free polymer and have no odor at all.  Unless you tell a person they’re plastic, he may never know.  Outside on the patio or around the pool or at the beach, I can’t think of anything I’d rather bring besides a good bottle (in glass) of wine.
    The govino glasses were originally made for wine industry people to take traveling to give store tastings, and they really are slightly flexible.  And they’re made in the U.S.A.!
    They come in a variety of sizes, including decanters and cocktail glassware, and there is a dishwasher safe variety gift pack for $99.75 that includes a
16oz Wine Glass 4-Pack; 8oz Flute 4-Pack; 12oz Wine/Cocktail 4-Pack; 16oz Beer Glass 4-Pack and 28oz Decanter.


TRAVELREST® Travel Pillow ($29.95)—I’ve probably bought and lost or discarded half a dozen travel pillows over the years, most of them those spongy things, some plastic blow-ups, and none has ever really eased me into a good position on a plane, where I’m a bad sleeper.  But this new ergonomic pillow by Travelrest® actually does mold itself to your neck and has a good but comfortable grip on you.  It does look a bit like a neck brace, but having given it a work-out on two flights recently, I found it the best of its kind I’ve ever nodded off on.  And it comes with its own pouch because you can compress and fold it up, and it always springs back.


By John Mariani

Park Hyatt Hotel 
153 West 57th Street (near Seventh Avenue)  

    Hotel dining rooms are not an easy sell in NYC, despite some illustrious examples like Jean-Georges and NoMad. Generally speaking, the food media rarely cover them and, when they do, it is with a shrug or to accuse a celebrity chef of merely lending his name, not his presence, to a space that must serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. 
    A hotel restaurant has, therefore,  to be very special to get notice and respect, so giving a dining room a drab name like The Back Room in the Park Hyatt is hardly an enticement.  And, contrary to the kind of thought, design, and money the Park Hyatt brand has put into its elegantly appointed restaurants in cities like Paris, Milan, Vienna, and Chicago, the NYC developer originally decided The Back Room would be the most expensive steakhouse in America within the shell of a gloomy dining room done in various shades of dark brown, tabletops included, and cold lighting that seems oddly fluorescent.
    So, while the developers sold $100 million condos upstairs, no one wanted to eat downstairs, and the few notices the restaurant received were dire.  When I dined there early on I thought the beef was of very high quality but not much else about the restaurant was, so I was more than puzzled as to why the owners seemed to have no interest in putting in a first-rate restaurant to bolster the Park Hyatt brand.
     Now, after a year of chef changes and strategies,  thanks to Executive Chef  Sebastien Archambault and
Chef de Cuisine Chad Brauze, the menu has become focused and the food excellent. Steaks, much reduced in price, are still on the menu but there's so much more to like.  Brauze has worked at Restaurant Daniel and Per Se in NYC, Lédoyen, George V, and Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, and, most recently, in NYC at Rôtisserie Georgette.
    The room still looks like a V.I.P. lounge at a sports stadium. But I found the entire staff, led by general manger
Arleene Oconitrillo, formerly of Picholine, Per Se and Eleven Madison Park, professional, more than amiable and well informed.  Wine Director Tristan Prat-Vincent, formerly at Véritas and Betony, has also managed to compile a wine list that can rank with the most impressive in NYC.
    We dined in the middle of a special promotion (which will last until December 4) featuring several dishes with white truffles.  So one of our first courses was a simple luxury of softly scrambled eggs with toasted brioche and shaved white truffles ($55), each ingredient a perfect complement to the rest.  Similarly, a main course of housemade fettuccine (above) mixed with rich Toma Celena cheese and shaved white truffles  ($55) needed nothing more to be magnificent.
    Seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($24) had the sweet flavors of autumn to buoy it—plum chutney and apple, with duck jus and brioche—while farro (right) was ennobled with pumpkin, green apple, pumpkin seeds and a vin jaune ($16).  Grilled octopus (slightly fishy that evening) was imaginatively combined with a garlic coulis, bean ragôut and shallot-mustard vinaigrette ($18).
    So rarely does turbot travel well to American kitchens, but Brauze finds a way to give this silly fish its due, gracing it with more white truffles.  The first venison I’ve had this season was served with tangy Port-braised cabbage, with quince and huckleberry jus ($38), and the newest ingredient popping up around the city, Mangalitsa pork collar, the fattiest part of an Austrian pig,  came with baby turnips, radish and a mustard seed jus ($38).   A generous, very juicy, well-marbled ribeye cap ($56) took well to chanterelle mushrooms and a well-reduced red wine jus.  Of the side dishes, cheddar and potato croquettes ($14) should be considered as an extra indulgence by every table.
    I can’t find anything to criticize among Scott Cioe’s autumn desserts ($12) like brown butter panna cotta with pumpkin semi-freddo, burnt milk coulis, sage and molasses ice cream or cocoa toffee pudding with brûléed bananas, salted cocoa nibs and malted milk ice cream, except it would be nice to serve some with more texture than so many soft, creamy, mushy ones on the current menu.  But you won’t go away disappointed with them either.
    Brauze most certainly has the talent to get The Back Room noticed, and the once out-of-whack prices have come down considerably, especially for food of this high quality. Now, if the owners would only consider lightening up and making more colorful what now has the gloom of “hotel dining room” on it, Brauze and his team may get the credit they now richly deserve.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.





By Brian Freedman

    The news of the Paris attacks last Friday began spreading a little after 4pm. But I’d had one of those days where I was running behind from the start—the kids dawdled through breakfast; my younger daughter, who turned two years old that very day, had spent the second half of the afternoon in a state of perpetual meltdown; the writing just wasn’t coming easily, no matter how hard I tried to buckle down and work, and by late afternoon, I was scrambling to buy the ingredients for dinner.
    I got home, mixed up a quick martini, and got down to the business of mashing the avocados for the guacamole, and seasoning the ground pork, and chopping up the cilantro: It was Taco Night in the Freedman house. Both my phone and my wife’s, always placed in silent mode and relegated to the countertop next to the sink during meals, vibrated throughout dinner. But the rule in our house is that the table is a sacred, electronic-device-free zone. So we didn’t get up to look what the fuss was.
    Only once we’d finished dinner, wiped our kids’ faces of drying salsa and caked-on black beans did we check our phones. Which is when we finally saw what was just then happening in Paris. After absorbing as much news as we could in the short time we knew the girls would be distracted, we decided not to let on that anything unusual was happening. So we walked upstairs with them and put them to bed,  before hustling downstairs to begin the grim and all-too-familiar process of watching the news anchors ask awkwardly intimate questions of just-escaped survivors and listening to the pronouncements of experts hustled into the various stations’ studios.
    As someone in the wine business, it’s perhaps inevitable that I have many French friends and colleagues. And, indeed, France has always played a wildly important role in my life: I first visited the country (and the continent) in 1994, as a high-school saxophonist on the American Music Abroad program: My first time in Europe. The few days I spent there, I can say without exaggeration, changed the course of my life. It was there that I was bitten by the travel bug, and determined, even at just 17 years old, to spend my life exploring Europe in particular and the world in general, as much as I possibly could.
    Three years later, I left Penn State for a semester and enrolled at the wonderful American University of Paris, where I made friends that I still speak with today, nearly 20 years later. And now, at 38 years old, I still have to pinch myself when I have the chance to travel to France for the insanely fortunate work of tasting and learning about wine.
    The next morning, Saturday the 14th, I spent much of my time watching the news, and reading the latest updates on the New York Times iPhone app, and checking in on friends and colleagues in France and elsewhere as they continued to update their Facebook information.    
    That night, we went to our good friends’ house for dinner. When the time came to decide what to bring, I knew exactly what it would be: The idea, in fact, was precisely the same as the one that dictated what we drank during the first meal my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I shared with our families after September 11th. Both of us had been in New York that day. I was a student-teacher at Stuyvesant High School, far too close to Ground Zero, and watched countless people, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and bosses and employees, leap or fall to their death, a hundred stories below. My wife, who was working in Times Square at the time, was unreachable by cell phone for hours on end. It wasn’t until I’d walked back home, on East 95th Street, more than a hundred blocks north, that I knew for sure she was okay.
    It took several days before we were able to get out of the city, before the trains began running with enough reliable consistency that we could chance the otherwise quick journey back to the suburbs of Philadelphia. That night at dinner, as my parents’ neighbors lined those quiet, unassuming suburban streets with lanterns and candles, my father opened up one great bottle of wine after another from his collection: Classed growth Bordeaux, California
cult” Cabernets, old Port, and more. Because, he said through tear-stained eyes, the perpetrators of the attacks of 9/11 did so out of hatred, and out of a bloodlust for ugliness, and violence, and malice. Opening those wines, he believed, was a repudiation of everything they railed so horrifically and violently against. A middle-finger, he said, aimed, in our own small way, right at them.
    So on the night of November 14th, I brought to our friends’ house a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne. We opened it up and raised our four glasses in honor of the victims, our brothers and sisters in France, and for peace. The juice in that bottle was a testament to the beauty that man is capable of creating when his goals are pleasure, and honesty, and joy. To my mind, it stood in diametrically opposed relation to the havoc the terrorists wrought on one of the greatest cities on the planet, in the country that has had such a profound, indeed paradigm-shifting impact on my own life. We drank to the victims, and to the survivors, and to the families and friends of them all who were so tragically affected by it. Which, when you think about it, means all of us. Because all right-thinking people must stand united against these hateful peddlers of an ideology of such vileness, of such ugliness.
    Earlier on the day of the 13th, just hours before the first shots were fired and the first suicide vest detonated, my wife and I had decided on a house in Provence at which we will likely be spending a month this coming summer with our daughters. Before we went to bed that night, we agreed that the attacks would not change our plans one bit, and that we would press ahead. Because just like that Champagne on Saturday night, and just like my father’s wines more than 14 years ago, joy and beauty and promise have to win out over the extraordinarily ugly and nihilistic worldview espoused by those who so deeply despise all that is beautiful in this world, those whose hatred of light and love is only matched by their zeal for death and destruction.
    The Champagne was delicious, and provided a sort of pleasure—not just to the senses, but to the soul, too—that those terrorists will never have the opportunity to enjoy. They don’t deserve to anyway.

This essay first appeared in  The Food, Drink & Travel Report, at


"Duff's Good-Ass Fudge" in Duff Bakes by Duff Goldman (left) and Sara Gonzales.



“Is there anything more eighties than having money? Maybe melon and prosciutto. And caviar blinis. Zinfandel, for sure.”—Amelia Lester, “Jams,” The New Yorker (11/2/15)


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

   I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has just been published through Amazon and Kindle. 
     It 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 back 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 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).

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, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2015