Virtual Gourmet

  November 22, 2020                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 





By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani




By John Mariani

MGM Producer Sam Goldwyn with the cast of the Our Gang comedies

   When my first son was about six months old, my wife and I thought it perfectly sane to bring him to Michelin star restaurants in France by carrying him into the dining room in a basket.  Knowing the French tolerate dogs better than they do children in restaurants, I had to swear he wouldn’t wake up, and my darling son delivered on the promise. Six months later I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting such a thing.
     But as he and my next son grew up, we took them out to dinner all the time, usually casual Italian or Mexican or Chinese eateries where they could escape from the table, but more than occasionally to fine dining restaurants where they were expected, within reason, to behave well.  Fidgeting was allowed, running into the sommelier was not.
     I thought that dining out in deluxe restaurants was not only a part of their education but a way to make them love all kinds of foods.  Since most children are notoriously finicky when it comes to anything beyond French fries and pizza in restaurants, we did what we’d always done in the casual places: We would order a couple of things we knew they’d like, and then a number of dishes new to them without telling them anything about them. 
     What we found was that the food would come to the table, look and smell good, and the boys’ senses were titillated enough for them to ask, “What’s that? Will I hate it?” We didn’t insist they try the food but invited them to do so, and, amazingly, they found that exotica like frogs’ legs with garlic did taste a lot like chicken and pâte de campagne was a dead ringer for their mother’s meat loaf.
      Once they trusted us they became much more adventurous—although my older son’s first taste of an oyster did not go down well; indeed, it didn’t go down at all.  But they came to love, even crave, things like Alsatian choucroute garni (funny frankfurters) and vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce), and Dover sole a la meunière (fish swimming in butter).  Lavish desserts were a no brainer, but we never insisted they finish anything on their plates as a bribe for dessert.  We were happy enough that they’d steal the trenette al pesto and the paella alla valenciana from under our knives and forks.  They learned to eat well and they did eat well, which was why they grew up loving food as much as we do.
      When they were quite young we would ease them into better restaurants, and we found that in Italy there was never a problem with the owners. At one restaurant in Florence, the owner’s wife scooped up our two-year-old son and whisked him away into the kitchen, not to be seen again until the meal’s end, when he emerged happily eating tiramisù, then fell asleep.
      French bistros and brasseries are fun, and resort dining rooms, however posh, are excellent choices because the kids invariably want to leave the table and go to the pool or up to the room. Escape routes are in fact important: Restaurants with gardens and patios function well, and, of course, buffet tables for brunch are a child’s vision of gustatory paradise.
      Some of other important guidelines:
— Make sure there is something on the table to nibble on immediately, like bread or rolls, and, if not, ask for it the moment you sit down. Kids are always starving and don’t want to order the appetizer before getting bread.

— Order from the menu quickly after being seated.

— Keep to three courses.

— Tell the maître d’ that you’d like to be finished in 90 minutes to two hours, max.

— Don’t allow the children to play with toys or digital games at the table. (I’m afraid older children with iPhones will refuse to go to dinner if they can’t bring them along.)

— Choose a restaurant that doesn’t take a long time to drive to. On the drive home I always had stories to tell the boys they’d heard before and wanted to hear again.

— I don’t like loud restaurants, but they do drown out the whining and sibling battles that inevitably occur.

— Outdoor restaurants are excellent venues for family meals, not least at the seashore. My younger son once got up from the table on a pier and leapt into the water to retrieve a little girl who had fallen in. Proud moment for our family.

— Allowing your children to invite their friends along is very risky business, because you never know how they will behave and your children will never try to educate them.

— Give your credit card to the waiter at the beginning of the meal so that there will be no lag at the end of it waiting for the bill. 

The main thing is that the parents get to dine well in relative peace, the restaurant is not upset by the occasional infantile faux pas (I always let the maître d’ know we will be dining with our children) and that the kids learn to enjoy rather than loathe the experience.  As a matter of fact, any restaurant that wouldn’t accommodate my kids is not a restaurant I want to dine in anyway.



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



         Nicola’s summer began more eventfully for what was happening within her family than in her own life, and it helped her focus on what was very real rather than on pipe dreams.
         Roseanne’s belly was expanding quickly, there were family parties and baby showers to attend.  Nicola enjoyed walking with her sister down Arthur Avenue past the shops selling christening items—the silk and cotton dresses, the teething rings, the picture frames—along with wedding gifts, silverware and china, whose presence in the windows always caused Roseanne to nudge Nicola to ask, “So when’s my little sister going to find a man and settle down?”
         Nicola would sigh and reply, “Maybe when you stop bugging me about it. Right now, as you may have noticed, I’m kind of busy.”
         Meanwhile, brother Tony clinched the deal with Joe Bastone and was moving ahead with his restaurant re-design plans, which began with taking down the ugly old Bella Napoli sign and completely gutting the interior.  New plumbing, new gas lines, new refrigeration, new stoves—but he kept the old pizza oven, believing that the flavor of the restaurant’s renowned pizzas was suffused throughout the brickwork.
         Then he began working with Nicola to do the interior design.  His vision was a more dramatic version than what it had been before.  He wanted shiny black and white surfaces, including naked tabletops, track lighting and black and white photos of Italian movie stars on the walls.
        Aside from the last item, Nicola disapproved of it all, contending that it was way too much of a departure for the neighborhood. Instead, with the images of her favorite restaurants in Milan dancing in her head, she wanted the new restaurant to have a more traditional trattoria look of a kind that many downtown Manhattan restaurants had been copying, yet without becoming a cliché—sponge mottled walls, wainscoting, wooden floors, perhaps some exposed brickwork, nice table linens, colorful outdoor canopies, and, okay, photos of Italian movie stars on the walls. (She was thinking of Paper Moon.)
        After considerable discussion, Tony came around to Nicola’s way of thinking, saying, “Hey, you’re the one going to the fancy arts school and you’ve seen what the trattorias look like in  Italy,” and gradually, as the décor took shape, he warmed to it.
        In fact, there had been significant changes in New York’s Italian restaurant scene and a shift away from the Italian-American formats of the past.  The supposed heaviness of tomato sauce and the overuse of garlic and oil was frowned upon by young chefs and restaurateurs who concocted an ersatz “northern” Italian menu that was supposed to be lighter by virtue of eschewing garlic and using more cream and butter in the sauces.  Even the tomato sauces became a little lighter—made fresh and without meat—rather than a ragù cooked all day on the back of the kitchen stove.
        But by 1985 there was another factor driving a new love of Italian food, and, not surprisingly, it was flamed by New York’s fashion crowd.  For in the mid-1980s the city’s downtown neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and SoHo were becoming the new nexus for contemporary art galleries like Leo Castelli  and Mary Boone and boutiques like Comme des Garçons.  And the art and magazine world, which had already shifted its allegiance to Italian fashion, needed some place to eat that evoked those trattorias they ate at in Milan.
Artist Robert Rauschenberg with Gallery Owner Leo Castelli

 Ten years earlier, a Tuscan named Silvano Marchetto opened a four-table trattoria on the edge of Greenwich Village and SoHo named Da Silvano, and another Tuscan, Pino Luongo, who had been a manager at Da Silvano, opened his own place, Il Cantinori, on West 10th Street.  Acclaimed by the New York food press, the two trattorias began to attract the city’s art and fashion crowds.  Da Silvano, in particular, had to grow fast, expanding to two rooms so as to always have tables for Hollywood and Broadway actors, Andy Warhol’s people and editors from Condé Nast and Hearst, who had to take limos downtown to eat at Da Silvano and Il Cantinori.
        Those two restaurants set the decorous tone for “trats” that Nicola was aiming at, a look that was definitely different from the restaurants in Belmont, which toed an established line that ran to red checkered tablecloths, badly painted murals of the Bay of Naples, Roman statuary downsized to fit into an archway, and family photos dotting the room.
        Detail by detail Tony’s dream restaurant took shape, but he’d fallen out of love with naming it Trattoria Santini, which sounded too traditional.  He’d gone through scores of names trying to get just the right sound.  “Tony’s” was too old fashioned;  Vasto too unfamiliar; La Trattoria too obvious.  But he had time to think about it.
        Meanwhile, Nicola had kept her toe in the modeling world by happily agreeing to pose for the second issue of Willi, which would be less aggressively thematic than the first but still edgy, with a mix of street and high end fashion throughout.  Elena wanted Nicola for the feature fashion article in the middle of the magazine, which only took a day to shoot, this time outside The Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue.
        While there, during the long set-ups, Elena thought to ask Nicola if she’d signed with an agency. Nicola said no, she really hadn't given it much thought.
        “You’ve gotta go with an agency, Nikki,” Elena said. “I mean, I’ll use you whenever I can—and I’d get away without paying the agency a commission.  But, if I did, all the agencies would gang up and refuse to allow me to work with their models, and I can't afford that. So, listen, here’s a card for a new place, SNAP.  It’s owned by a young guy who’s hungry and needs out of the ordinary girls.  He comes from money and he watches his girls like a brother.  He watches out for them, keeps them away from the trash and the druggies and all the rest of the scuzz in this industry.”
        By then the Sodom and Gomorrah orgies of the Studio 54 disco era had passed, but the fashion industry, inextricably engaged with the entertainment business, was still fueled by drugs and lechery, just as it had become among the hangers-on from Wall Street.
        Nicola took the card and read it, then said, “Y’know what?  I think this agency called me in Milan and wanted to sign me. And I said I’d think about it.”
        “That’s great,” Elena said.  “Then they know you and already want you. I’ll call them first.”
        “Thanks, Elena, but, I just can’t become a full-time model right now.  I don’t have the time and, frankly, I don’t have the inclination.”
        Elena rolled her eyes and said, “Honey, what you’ve got is the look, and you can make more money part-time with that look than ninety-nine percent of the struggling models out there will ever make in a full-time career.  Listen, I want to use you every month—till I get tired of you and dump you on the heap—just kidding—so you’ve got this gig.  But I can’t do that if you’re not signed with an agency. So, if nothing else, do it for me.”
        Nicola thought that was a perfectly sensible solution to her problem and said she’d be happy to sign with SNAP, if they still wanted her.
        And they most certainly did. The agency’s owner and president, Steven Holtz, told Nicola, “My God, I thought I’d lost you! You never called me back.  Well, I’m glad I have you and first things I’d like to do is to get you photographed and put together a book for you.”
        Nicola mentioned that she’d already done one shoot for Willi, and Steven said, “Elena’s terrific—she called me about you, y’know—but she’s not going to give me any prints before the first issue of Willi comes out in August. So, we’ll have one of my best photographers shoot you. Let’s see, when can you come in for a whole day?”
        The two of them discussed her schedule and with a handshake the deal was informally sealed. 
        Three days later Nicola went to the photographer’s studio in a loft not far from Willi’s offices.  The photographer, who was British and named Ronnie, received her cordially, asked if she liked some water or tea, and got to work.      
        With music blasting away—Wham, Madonna, Hall and Oates—and lights constantly being shifted, he worked at a furious pace, snapping through a roll of film, putting out his hand to receive another camera from an assistant, lying on the floor looking up, getting on a chair looking down, and, as Nicola posed, he kept up the fashion photographer’s annoying mantra: “Fabulous! Sensational! All right, work with me! Sell it to me! Make every woman who sees this want to look exactly like you!”
        Nicola found none of it amusing or even particularly helpful, but her own natural beauty seemed to please her Pygmalion.  When it was all over, Ronnie dropped the act, thanked Nicola very much and said he’d send the photos over to Steven by Monday. And that was that.
        By Monday afternoon, Steven was on the phone with Nicola, raving about the photos, then said, “When do you want to start to work?”
        Nicola said she wasn’t sure and that she didn't want to compromise Elena’s first issue by appearing in other magazines. Steven said, “Not to worry. If a magazine used you tomorrow, their next issue wouldn't be out till November at the earliest.  So that’s not a problem.  What’s your schedule like?”
        Nicola said that aside from the classes she was taking at Columbia, she was pretty free.
        Fabulous,” Steven said. “Okay, I’m sending the contract over to you today by messenger.  Have your lawyer look it over, sign it, and let’s get to work.”

© John Mariani, 2020



By John Mariani

     Nowhere on earth are natural beauty, food, and wine so intimately entwined as in Italy, and the soaring interest in that delicious trinity finds full flourish in Puglia, where valleys of vineyards, hillsides of olive trees, fields of wheat, and seas teeming with life conspire with ancient traditions to make the region irresistible to gourmets and connoisseurs.
     Yet it has become clear in the past decade that Puglia, in the  southeastern part of the country (including the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”) is also now in the vanguard of innovation in viticulture, while vigilantly based on historic traditions.  Today Puglia produces 32 wines in the DOC appellation and four DOCGs, with new IGT wines coming out all the time. 
     Varietals like Negroamaro, Bombino Bianco, Gravina, and Primitivo, once unfamiliar in the global wine market, are now celebrated for their distinctiveness, while wines like Salice Salentino, Rosso di Cerignola, and “Five Roses” are found in restaurants and wine stores throughout Europe and the U.S. 
    Wisely, Puglian producers have also kept their very best wines priced at a level all consumers can afford.  Puglia has been able to capitalize on Primitivo (below) as being the same varietal as America’s popular Zinfandel (both originating in Croatia), but instead of wholly commercial styles like sweet “white Zinfandel” or high-alcohol “blockbusters,” Puglian Primitivos are softer, with a fine balance of fruit and acid, easy to drink young with a wide variety of foods.
     The technology of Puglian winemaking is as modern as anywhere in Europe, with minimum use of chemicals, optimum use of production methods and reduction of waste. Indeed, Puglia is the second largest producer (after Sicily) of organic wines.
      The manifest success of Puglian wines is clear in its bottling and export figures: while Southern Italy exports only 6% of its production, 90% of Puglia’s fast growing number of bottled wines is sold outside Italy.
      This broad presence in the global market has made agro-tourism a major industry in Puglia.  Visitors now flock to Foggia in the Daunia mountains, surrounded by vast wheat fields and vineyards. The region of Murgia winds down to the Adriatic, with dramatic sweeps of nature that create different microclimates that define the terroirs of the vineyards and olive groves. 
    There the prodigious Nero di Troia grape is the basis for three Castel del Monte DOC wines, Rosso Canosa and Rosso di Barletta, while fragrant white varietals like Malvasia del Chianti, Greco and Bianco d’Alessano go into Gravina.  Murgia is also the principal stronghold of Primitivo, planted there for three centuries.
     The so-called “Itria Valley Triangle” that embraces the  provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto is famous for the conical-shaped limestone trulli houses as well as for DOC wines like  Martina and Locorotondo, made principally from white Verdeca and Bianco d’Alessano grapes.  Outside the “white city” of Ostuni, two indigenous grape varieties, Ottavianello and Sussumaniello, are now being made in artisanal style and achieving a unique renown of their own.
      Messapia is now famous for the richness of its Primitivo wines  and is increasingly being planted with international varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that show great promise.  The regions within Salento is the domain of the finest Negroamaro, whose translation “black bitter” is certainly outdated, for wines made from it, like Salice Salentino, are now fresh, complex red wines of distinction.
     While it is obvious that the sale and promotion of wines in the world market has gotten tougher and tougher, owing to both recession and sheer volume, the leaps forward that Puglian wines have made in technology, organic commitment, and saleability has gone against the currents by virtue of a quality that was not even possible twenty years ago.  Italy is justifiably proud of its finest wines, and Puglia is fast achieving a reputation among them. 



"I Never Thought to Make My Own Kaju Katli Until I Was Stuck at Home"—Priya Krishna, Bon Appetit (11/6/20)


"16 Festive Thanksgiving Mains That Aren’t Turkey: You might be skipping turkey this year because it’s too big or just too much work. We’ve got options to get excited about."—Alexa Weibel, NY Times (11/17/20)


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 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.


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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