Jack Nicholson and Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" (1983)
By John Mariani
IN THIS ISSUE
HOW THE FOOD MEDIA DEMONIZING FOOD
WITH ILL-ADVISED POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
LOVE AND PIZZA
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE BEST WINE IN THE WORLD
JOHN A. CURTAS
HOW THE FOOD MEDIA ARE DEMONIZING FOOD
WITH ILL-ADVISED POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
By John Mariani
Like much else in contemporary
society, the food media are
trying to right wrongs in the way they are
staffed and what their focus will be
in the future. The result has been an admirable
number of new appointments with an eye towards
diversity. Last June the staffs of Bon
and Epicurious (whose parent company
is Condé Nast) co-published “A
Long Overdue Apology, and Where Do We Go From
Here?” after the resignation of Bon
Appetit editor-in-chief Adam
Rappaport (below, 2nd from right, with staff)
when a “deeply offensive” photo of him
“mocking Puerto Ricans” in
costume appeared in the news.
FUNNY AND DEEPLY DEDICATED
was very saddened to hear that one of
my dearest and oldest friends, Ellen Brown, died
at her Providence, Rhode
Island, home last
week at the age 0f 72. I knew her for
most of her forty-year career as one of the
seminal food writers of the 20th
century, whose mission to cover the entire
United States culinary scene,
lavishly funded by her employer, USA
Today, was unique at a time when food
writers were almost entirely
NEW YORK CORNERBy John Mariani
LOVE AND PIZZA
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unable to write about or review New York City restaurants, I have decided instead to print a serialized version of my (unpublished) novel Love and Pizza, which takes place in New York and Italy and involves a young, beautiful Bronx woman named Nicola Santini from an Italian family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 email@example.com
To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue.
LOVE AND PIZZA
Cover Art By Galina Dargery
“This was not a palazzo at one time?” asked Marco.
“No, this was built from scratch just for the people of New York. Actually for the people of the whole world. You’ll probably hear as many other languages as you’ll hear English.”
“Ah, va bene, I will practice my languages then.”
Nicola could not have conceived of a more enjoyable task than to show Marco around the vast museum, from the Egyptian exhibits to the American wing, then up the grand staircase to the European galleries, rich in every great artist of the Renaissance.
They spent two hours in those galleries, Marco constantly shaking his head at the astonishing masterpieces, one after another, in room after room, many of which he’d only seen in books.
“And now I want to show you something very special,” said Nicola, taking Marco by the hand to the great Christmas tree and créche (right), soon to be taken down after Twelfth Night. “Guarda, Marco.”
What Marco saw was a towering fir tree adorned with lights and more than fifty cherubic angels. The créche had at least as many figures—Madonna and child, Joseph, the Magi, and the peasants of Nazareth, sheep, camels, horses, all carved by the Neapolitan artists Giuseppe Sammartino, Salvatore di Ranco, Giuseppe Gori, and Angelo Viva.
Marco could hardly believe what he beheld, almost brought to tears, both by the grandeur of the tree and the sculptures and by the graciousness of Nicola for bringing him there. Marco looked and looked and looked, then, turning to Nicola, said “Tante grazie, cara,” and kissed her passionately on her lips. Surprised but thrilled, Nicola kissed him back with just as much vivacity.
“I’ve missed you,” said Marco. “I think of this moment many, many times.”
Nicola demurred and said, “I’m very happy you’re here, Marco. We have so much to see and do.”
“Are you hungry?”
“As a matter of fact, yes I am.”
“Good. I fix you lunch. The Harrisons are not home tonight.”
Nicola loved the idea of having Marco cook for her and wanted to see his apartment right across the street.
Marco’s studio was part of the first level of the duplex. It was a little larger than many New York studios, with a decent sized kitchenette with a narrow four-burner stove. There was a sofa bed and a small bathroom. And there was a terrace, overlooking Fifth Avenue. Marco had already set up his easel and put out his painting equipment, though there were no paintings visible.
“Make yourself comfortable, Nicolina,” he said.
Well, that was the first time he’d use the diminutive for her name, she noticed. Nicola put her coat on the sofa and asked if she could help. Marco said, “Yes, you can. Would you light the oven to 180 degrees? I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit.”
“I think it’s about 350 degrees.”
“Okay, that sounds good. Now please peel six garlic cloves for me.”
“Not much of a job,” said Nicola, who proceeded to smash the cloves with the blade of a knife to remove the paper-like peel. Marco took out a sauté pan, splashed it with olive oil and she began cooking the garlic very slowly. “Don’t let them burn, Nicolina,” he instructed, “just a little gold color.”
“I know, I know. Then you want me to take them out of the pan, right?”
Marco opened the refrigerator and took out two filets of sole wrapped in paper and a bottle of white wine. He then gave Nicola one chile pepper and asked her to remove the seeds, then mince the flesh. He spread out a sheet of aluminum foil, placed the fish, garlic and chile pepper on it with two basil leaves, added a few sliced cherry tomatoes, splashed the ingredients with olive oil, folded its sides up and poured in some of the wine, then sealed the foil to make a package he placed in the pre-heated oven.
“Now we have a glass of wine and wait fifteen minutes.”
He poured the wine—a Campanian Falanghina—and the two of them clinked glasses, “Salute.” Nicola almost said “Cent’anni!” but then thought that was something personal to her and her Columbia friends.
Marco took Nicola to the window, his arm around her waist. A light snow was falling and the museum’s façade was already lighted. “Look at my beautiful view,” he said, “The Metropolitan Museum, Central Park, magnifico!”
Nicola thought to herself that it certainly was and that the view from her own apartment just looked out on other old apartment buildings. Then she pointed out some other landmarks in the distance, down Fifth Avenue to the south edge of the Park, and to the north they could just see the rounded bulging shape of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum jutting out.
“That’s our next visit, Marco,” said Nicola.
“My God, there is so much to see in this city,” said Marco. “It could take a lifetime!”
“I certainly haven’t exhausted it yet. And when you finish with Manhattan, there’s Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. I would love you to see the Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo.”
Marco said, “And there maybe you can cook for me.” Then, glancing at his watch, said, “Ah, the fish is cooked.” He took the foil package out of the oven, placed it on a platter and brought it to the small dining table where Nicola had set two warmed plates. Marco carefully peeled back the aluminum foil and a fragrant whoosh of steam—garlic, tomato and basil—ascended into the air.
Nicola inhaled the perfume and said, “Oh, my God, that smells so wonderful.”
“I hope you like it,” Marco said and served her a portion of fish, spooning the rest of the ingredients onto her plate, then served himself. As on Capri, Marco’s cooking was direct, simple, but intense with the flavors of each individual ingredient.
“Is this the kind of food the Harrisons eat every night?” asked Nicola.
Marco shrugged and replied, “The daughter wants to eat American—the burgers, the chicken fingers—the parents, they hired me for my cooking but they don’t want to eat Italian all the time. Mrs. Harrison, she seems to live on nothing but salads. Il Signore is not picky, but, to tell you the truth, I don't really know why they needed to hire me.”
Sounding like her friend Catherine, Nicola said, “Rich people like the Harrisons hire people like you for the prestige of being able to say to their friends, ‘Oh, we have the best chef from Capri as our personal cook.’ It’s not about what the Harrisons eat, it’s about who you are and what you serve their friends.”
“I understand that, and I’m not complaining. I have an apartment in New York, I have plenty of time to myself, and, now, I have you with me, Nicolina.”
The young couple embraced and began to kiss each other passionately. Marco alternated his advances, kissing her forcefully then tenderly, pulling her close then releasing her, just to look at her. Nicola responded to every move, as if they were dancing, then with two swift motions, Marco tossed the pillow off the sofa and yanked open the bed, easing Nicola onto it, undoing the buttons of her blouse. Nicola pressed him to her by his waist and when he knelt over her for a moment, repeating “bella, bellissima,” she slowly unclasped his belt.
Nicola had little to compare Marco’s lovemaking to, but if Giancarlo’s movements had had the rhythm of waves, Marco’s were like those of surging surf. He was not rough but his movements were charged as much with pure lust as with emotion, and Nicola was deliriously happy to respond to both.
Afterwards, Marco sat up and smiled like a little boy who had just won a prize, which Nicola was very pleased to have given him. Then Marco said, “Ah, cara, I have thought about us in bed for many weeks. Ever since your visit to Napoli. And now we have all the time in the world.”
Nicola would wait to see how that played out, so for the time being, she thought she’d lighten the electricity in the air and asked, “Marco, are you the only Italian guy who doesn’t smoke a cigarette after making love?”
Marco was surprised by the question, laughed and replied, “Maybe so.”
“One more thing I like about this man,” Nicola said to herself.
© John Mariani, 2020
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE BEST WINE IN THE WORLD?
JOHN A. CURTAS
My response: The best wine in the
world is the Champagne with which you
toasted your new bride. It is a crisp Chablis
drunk with bracing, saline
oysters in a Parisian café. It's Sangiovese
from a carafe on a Tuscan hillside.
Or a muscular
Cali cab that washes down a Flintstonean rib
eye in a clubby
The best wine is the one that captures the mood of the moment, and the essence of itself, along with the place where it is drunk, be it a Puligny-Montrachet quaffed in the town of Puligny-Montrachet, or an amontillado sherry sipped between bites of jamon Iberico in Andalusia.
Nothing tastes better than drinking a good wine in the place where it is made, alongside the people who made it, be it in the Piedmont hills, on the slopes of the Côte d'Or, or beside the Mösel, in the shadow of the Bernkasteler Doctor vineyards (left).
The best wine in the world is whatever fits your mood that moment. People love to sneer at over-oaked California Chardonnays, but many is the meal I’ve begun with such a glass (especially in the cooler months). (And shhhh ... don't tell anyone, but big, flabby whites also go well with salty, robust cheeses.)
`Nowhere does the law of diminishing returns apply more sharply than when you evaluate the price-to-value paradigm of wine. Absurdly priced trophy wines do not reflect tastes/flavors/sensations that are orders of magnitude greater than similar products. A $500 bottle of wine is not five times better than a $100 bottle. The cost reflects hype and scarcity, not quality. Screaming Eagle, DRC Burgundy, and Château Haut-Brion can be transporting in intensity and complexity, but even experts, in blind tastings, have trouble distinguishing them from bottles costing a fraction of their hefty tariffs—a failing they rarely admit.
At best, wine is a discovery, a journey, a marathon if you will, that lasts a lifetime. You never "master" wine (even Masters of Wine admit this), all you do is form an appreciation for it—an ever-evolving admiration that changes every year, every vintage.
The best you can do when learning about wine is to broaden, then narrow, your focus. Broaden your horizons by trying new things, then narrow your gaze to wines that appeal to you and then learn more about them. The best wines then become the ones you love and that continue to intrigue you. Think of it like a composer (or band or artist) whose work you love: the more you experience them, the deeper your knowledge and esteem.
But you don't have to do any of this to enjoy "the best wine in the world." Because the best wine in the world (like "the best song in the world") is the one you are really, really enjoying at that moment.
ARTICLES WE NEVER
"Why Is Everyone Obsessing Over Bucatini? By Katherine Martinelli, Easter.com (1/7/21)
Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
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.
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“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.
❖❖❖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, ForbesTraveler.com 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:
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
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
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