Virtual Gourmet

September 13,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

"Kings of Hollywood": Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart (circa 1955)


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In This Issue

By Mort Hochstein




By Mort Hochstein

   The food world is rich in myths, often crafted to glamorize the product.
One of my favorites tells of the shepherd boy taking his lunch in a cave in the mountains above Montpelier A comely shepherd girl strolled by and he dropped everything to pursue her.   A few days later he returned to the cave and found his cheese transformed, blue veined and succulent. Voila!  Roquefort!  Or so the cheese people would have us believe.
    Then there’s Dom Pérignon and the quote attributed to him on   tasting what the world grew to know as Champagne: “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars! While the monk worked diligently to improve the quality of Champagne, he was not the first to make it, nor did he make that glorious statement, which first appeared in an advertisement in the late 1880’s.
  I was reminded of the shepherd boy and Dom Pérignon  and other apocryphal tales of food discoveries when Jack Czarnecki, the mushroom maven of Dayton, Oregon, told me how he had come to make natural white truffle oil. Truffle oil is widely used to add flavor to pastas and eggs and salads. “But, says Czarnecki, “what is currently sold as truffle oil is olive oil with flavoring and truffle aroma.  And much of it is dirty and tastes like cabbage, not truffles. Urbani does the real thing, “he declares, “but there are few others and certainly none produced in this country.”
    Czarnecki (below), a trained microbiologist, says his magical moment came when he opened a package   of Oregon truffles he was carrying to an agricultural conference.  The parcel also contained a steak left over from his restaurant which he’d been planning to finish before the meeting.  “When I opened the package,” he says, “the steak was suffused with “an overwhelmingly lovely aroma of truffles.
   “The gas from the truffles totally permeated the cooked meat and all of a sudden I figured out the way to bottle clean, true truffle oil.  After this epiphany, Czarnecki applied his culinary and microbiology training to create a  limited production,  expensive ($30 for a five-ounce bottle) white oil based on native Oregon truffles, which has is   served in  many West Coast restaurants. He now holds license number one from the Oregon Department of Agriculture for white truffle oil.
      Absinthe is a drink surrounded by myths, both favorable and devastating. Artists and fellow bohemians in the late 1800’s rhapsodized over the spirit they called their muse, the "green fairy," shown below in a fanciful rendering. Some of the sheen rusted away when it also became the drink of the poor and  in 1905 the anti-absinthe crowd seized on the tragedy of  a Swiss laborer who killed his family and tried to kill himself after downing a few shots.  Of course the man had also put away a buffet tableful of other spirits but the partisans used his death to catapult an anti-absinthe crusade which resulted, with a few exceptions, in a worldwide ban.
     It could be found in backstreet stores in Spain, Czechoslovakia and Sweden, and slipped past customs into the United States, and many absinthe fans did just that. In 2007   lawmakers took a second look and   lifted bans on the production and sale of Absinthe.     No more searching out the odd bottle in obscure places, no more worried, furtive trips through customs.    Today more than two thousand firms produce absinthe and it is up on  store counters, big and bold Now that it is widely available, much of the romance has slipped away, although producers try to spike interest with fanciful brand names such as Le Tourment Vert and, inevitably, a specialty drink called Absinthe Alibi.
   But my favorite romantic story came recently when I learned of caviar aquaculture in, of all places, Uruguay.  It’s right out of James Bond. Walter Laclede, a Uruguayan businessman, had   for three decades, furnished equipment to the Soviet fleet that fished the waters of the South Atlantic. In 1989, in the final days of the Soviet empire, a friendly Russian captain gave him top secret information, not about nuclear missiles or security, but about Soviet aerial surveys which had determined that Uruguay was “the best place in the world to raise sturgeon   for the production of Ossetra caviar from Russian Sturgeon.”
       It was the perfect time to gamble on sturgeon aquaculture.  Extensive consumption, environmental degradation and overfishing had severely depleted the supply of sturgeon roe from the Caspian Sea and turned those heavily fished waters into a disaster area. Laclede made several trips to Russia to confer with skilled ichthyologists but it was not until 1992, that he was able to locate and import fertilized Siberian sturgeon roe to start the project.   The collapse of the Soviet Union made fish eggs nearly impossible to track down legally.
      Not only was the supply dry, but the potential change in hemispheres concerned fishery biologists. Sturgeon, one of the oldest and largest fish species with fossils dated to 200 million years ago, are native only to the northern hemisphere. Potential diseases, disorientation and unforeseen conditions of the water could easily kill these delicate giants. The idea of farmed caviar seemed to be a bust before a fin touched the water. But a Russian contact found a supply of fertilized eggs which  prospered in the   foreign waters of Uruguay.
   Black River, the name given to the new company (below), harvested its first crop for export in late 2000. “Its quality was not what we see today,” says Graham Gaspard, CEO of Black River. “We’re giving the sturgeon 9 to 11 years, two to four years longer than in the past, before we take their roe, since mature fish make better caviar."
Historically, 98% of caviar has come from wild sturgeon, and only 2% from farmed, but that ratio is changing rapidly. Domestic white sturgeon have been successfully cultivated  in northern California for  decades, although   efforts to farm Russian species in the U.S. and Canada have been hindered by high startup costs and a muddy or off-taste which seems to come with farmed caviar.   At the Uruguayan facility, the water moves by the pull of gravity as it flows from the expansive Lake Bulgaria to the Río Negro. Unlike many aquaculture projects, the current changes constantly, and fish never swim twice in the same water. More than 50 million gallons move naturally through the farm daily. The Lacledes built   canals alongside the Río Negro to replicate a spawning river and the natural migration of a sturgeon from the feeding grounds of a lake or sea to an upstream egg drop. “We call it wild raised,” Gaspard says, “like cattle that wander the range. These are not like goldfish in a pond getting fat.”

Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.




by John Mariani

100 East 53rd Street
212- 751-4840

      This month it will be 50 years--a half century--since Brasserie opened its doors in Mies van der Rohe's magnificent Seagram Building, and, like its illustrious sister restaurant The Four Seasons on the other side of the plaza, it has never lost the spirit of the International Style that seems as modern as any place in NYC, despite occasional change in décor, the most after a 2000 fire that destroyed the original Philip Johnson design.
     This fall, Brasserie will celebrate its half-centennial  kicking off on Thursday, September 17th, with "A (Free) Taste of Brasserie"--yes, a free lunch--open to all guests who reserve a seat between 11:30 am–2:30 pm, with
many of  Brasserie’s  favorites, including French onion soup and steak frites; the first one hundred callers not to get a coveted seat on the 17th will instead receive a rain check for a complimentary “$19.59 after 9” dinner.
      The restaurant will also feature a Vintage Cocktail Menu, and  on September 30, a "5 Decades of Brasserie Cuisine Dinner"--5 courses of archival dishes from Brasserie’s five decades:   La Caille Brillat Savarin,  Le Filet de Sole ‘Lucullus’ and Le Crottin de Chavignol, et al., prepared by Chef Luc Dimnet, who is also bringing back The Brasserie Burger,  made the same way it was back in 1959, on  a baguette spread with garlic butter,  the burger stuffed with a blend of Gruyère and Swiss cheeses.

       When Restaurant Associates, then in its heyday, opened Brasserie in 1959 as an all-night evocation of Parisian brasseries, it was a far cry from any other NYC options for getting something to eat and drink after midnight, which were pretty grim beaneries and saloons.  Its design, with a dramatic stairway leading to a subterranean dining room, was as modern as Johnson (who'd never before designed a restaurant) could make it, clean but colorful minimalism. In 1971 Forbes Magazine's Restaurant Guide called it "New York's most sophisticated unrich restaurant," meaning that, like the Automats of the past, it drew people from midtown businesses at lunch and for drinks, tourists at night, and all sorts of nightcrawlers after hours. It was a time when Restaurant Associates also ran The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Zum Zum, Charlie O's, La Fonda del Sol, and the Four Seasons--all of them revolutionary in their thematic ways. Now owned by the Patina Group (which also runs The Sea Grill, Naples 45, and La Fonda Del Sol in NYC and Patina Restaurant in L.A., among others) and redesigned by architects Diller + Scofidio, Brasserie is still sleek and you still enter downwards to a space that spreads to a bar of the right and alcove-like booths on the left. You are always greeted cordially, even if there's a line out the door for breakfast, and the waitstaff is some of the best trained in the business.
          Over the years I've always found that Brasserie was, well, dependable: good food, great setting, not very expensive, open late. It's no longer open 24/7, but you can come in for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner till 11 PM.   Recently my dinner there was at a nice, proper 7 PM, and I was delighted to see that 50 years have passed and Brasserie not only shows no signs of wear but actually is as sprightly as ever, eclipsing in décor and ambiance its closest imitator, Lever House restaurant across the street, another one-floor-down restaurant in an historic building, now being transformed into an Italian place. Brasserie's food has never been better.
     The menu is fairly short (the merely ample winelist  too short), and while there are few surprises on it, there are the classic signature dishes, all based on French brasserie models, along with more contemporary dishes. What is so wonderful about them is not only that they have endured through culinary fashion and fads but that they are among the best of their kind in New York.  The kind of well-deserved praise that is heaped upon a place like Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern eludes Brasserie because it has been doing what it does so very well for so long.
      Thus, you won't find a better onion soup gratinée in the city, rich and dark, caramelized to a savory sweetness, layered with just the right abundance of Gruyère cheese.  Tuna tartare with coriander, ginger, and cucumber julienne takes no backseat to anyone else's, and the foie gras torchon is all creamy goodness, with petit kügelhopf bread (reflecting Dimnet's is Alsatian background) and a sweet-sour sherry gastrique.
     Of course, you might just go with the lavish presentation of shellfish, piled high in tiers on ice--mussels, clams, oysters, lobster, crab, shrimp, and snails, with various dipping sauces.  This is the kind of thing that Parisians, ravenous at three in the morning, would have at an all-night brasserie (damn few left even there!), and New Yorkers have the same cravings. Only you have to sate those cravings before midnight at Brasserie.
     I loved the plump, crisp, greaseless softshell crabs with chickpea salad, okra beignets, and a rich chorizo-saffron  emulsion, and Dimnet's sea scallops with morels, cippolini, pattypan squash, and Champagne beurre blanc are wonderful.
     For main courses there is a daily grilled whole fish, seasoned with herbes de provence and served with green beans and a sauce vièrge. The roasted organic chicken with green beans, forest mushrooms, and its own pan juices is comfort food in excelsis, so satisfying at any time of the day or night. There is a côte de boeuf for two I want to try next time, but I wasn't thrilled with the New York strip sirloin, not because it wasn't good but because the beef itself lacked marbling fat and therefore flavor. It comes with a choice of various sauces. The accompanying pommes frites are terrific, and there's plenty of butter in the mashed potatoes to give them a lot of flavor.
     Ken Larsen's desserts are outstanding at Brasserie, from irresistible apple cinnamon beignets with hot apple cider to autumn spiced gingerbread with Riesling poached pears and five spice panna cotta. They also bake fresh cookies here.
      So, when you see the recent closings of wonderful old restaurants like Café des Artistes, Florent, Giambelli 50th, and René Pujol, it is satisfying to know that Brasserie is alive and thriving, as buoyant a place as it was when "Mad Men" would go there for three-martini lunches and musicians at midnight after their shows.  Some places grow old and tired; Brasserie just grows better and better.

Brasserie is open  for breakfast Mon.-Fri, brunch Sat. & Sun., lunch Mon.-Fri., and dinner nightly. Dinner appetizers $10-$17, main courses $18-$42.




A Federal Trade Commission attorney criticized a Anheuser-Busch InBev NV for a marketing campaign that features Bud Light cans decorated with college-team colors. Janet Evans, a senior FTC attorney who oversees alcohol advertising, said the  agency had "grave concern" that the campaign could encourage underage and binge drinking on college campuses.


"Gin’s a spirit unto herself.  She’s a loner.  Gin can gnaw on the back of your neck till she nigh-on draws blood, and she can just as easily kiss you softly behind each ear, stroke the back of your shivering hand, and make you know that everything’s going to be okay. . . Gin won’t be seen dead with the loud, brash braggart down the end of the bar.  Gin likes a little foreplay before she commits to going all the way.  Tease gin with elderflower cordial, for instance, and she’ll flirt for a while before she takes her blouse off.  There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the blouse is coming off, but Gin takes her own good time. . . .  She can just sit quietly at the end of the bar, faded jeans and a plain white T-shirt, secure in the knowledge that only the guys and gals who know exactly what they want, how they want it, and how they’re gonna go about getting it, will ever approach her."--"Thoughts from a Gin Mill" by Gary "Gaz" Regan (shown in photo at right)


On Sept. 13, in NYCNew Amsterdam Market will take place on South Street, between Beekman Street and Peck Slip in Lower Manhattan from 11:00am to 4:00pm - at the site of the historic Fulton Fish Market, in order to revive the indoor public market with butchers, grocers, mongers, and other small businesses who will support regional agriculture. Open to the public at no charge; porchetta by Sara Jenkins and other guest cooks.  Visit

* Beginning on Sept. 14 and continuing on every Tues. & Wed. nights, Chez Papa Resto in San Francisco hosts “Wine Nights with the Wine Director.” From 5:30 to 10:00 p.m., premier wines selected by Wine Director George Aknin will offered for up to 55% off the current list price, plus there will be no corkage fee charged on these evenings. Call 415- 546-4134;

*On Sept. 14, in NYC, the Rose Club at the Plaza will be hosting the first Ron Abuelo/Rum Jumbie Mixology Contest. NYC’s top mixologists will  compete for a chance to win a trip to Miami, FL to participate in the second and final stage of the contest, held at the Rumbar at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne on Oct. 15,  and the grand winner of this contest will receive an all-expense paid trip to Panama to visit the Varela Hermanos distillery. No cover charge, cash bar only. Call 212-941-5595.

* From now until the end of November, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse in Los Angeles will be offering a 10th Anniversary Tasting menu, 3 courses at $39.95 incl.  a choice of salad (wedge, classic Caesar or Tomato), an entrée (filet mignon, organic chicken or oakwood grilled salmon) and a  dessert selection of lemon meringue pie or a trio of gelato or sorbet.  Call 213-680-0330.

* On Sept. 15 in Chicago, Mundial Cocina Mestiza will celebrate Mexican Independence Day with a special 5-course dinner by  Chef Hector Marcial, featuring an exclusive sampling of 4 Boutique Tequila's and one Mezcal individually paired with each course.  $75 pp Call 312-491-9908; visit

* From September 15-3 Chef Aulie Bunyarataphan of Bangkok Joe’s on the Georgetown Waterfront in D.C. will offer a 6th Anniversary 5-course tasting menu for $36.66, a compilation of her most popular dishes over the years,  with a free Siam Sunrays cocktail, Thailand’s first signature cocktail, developed by Chef Aulie’s nephew in Thailand.  Bangkok Joe’s also offers half-price wine nights on Mondays and Tuesdays. Call 202-333-4422.

* During September in London sees the launch of a second masterclass at Le Bouchon Breton in Old Spitalfields Market and this time it’s oysters paired with a handpicked Champagne and white wines.  .  The first class will run on Sept. 25 and will run for 5 months on the last Friday of the month with a break in December for Christmas. The class costs £60 pp. Call 08000 191 704.

*From Sept.15-19 in Sausalito, CA,  Poggio will be celebrating "Festa del Pesce" with a special Italian seafood menu of Crudo (raw/marinated/cured) and Cotto (cooked) antipasti featuring mostly local fish from the Pacific coastline prepared on the wood-fired grill, cured, marinated and baked in salt.  Call 415-332-7771.

* On Sept. 16, in Washington D.C., Art and Soul at The Liaison Capitol Hill, will host its fall Patio Barbeque Feast.  The large fire pit on the restaurant’s patio enables guests to continue dining outdoors amidst the fall foliage. The BBQ feast will be served every Wednesday throughout the fall and includes Smoked Baby Back Ribs, Beef Brisket, Carolina Barbeque Wings, Coleslaw, Cornbread, Baked Beans, and a duo of unique barbeque sauces. $25 pp, call 202-393-7777 or visit

* On Sept.17 and Oct. 15 in Yountville, CA, Brix restaurant will host a series of “street food” dinner events called “Brix Unpaved.” Sept. 7 will be a Thai-themed evening called “One Night in Bangkok” and Oct. 15 will be an Italian-themed evening called “Street Feasts of Sicily.” Each evening will take place at outdoors at Brix restaurant from 6:00pm-9:30pm and tickets can be bought for $35 in advance at  under the “Brix Unpaved” logo. Call 707-944-2749.

On Sept. 20, in NYC, il Buco celebrates its 15th anniversary at its 6th annual pig and apple festival.  Chef Ignacio Mattos and staff start a bonfire on Bond Street between Lafayette and Bowery, where they will slow-roast a 200 lb heritage breed Crossabaw Pig.  Starting at 1pm, friends and family alike will line up early for a buffet of all things pig, including porchetta panini, apple pork sausages and apple ricotta fritters. $20 per plate.  Call 212-533-1932.

* On  Sept.  21 in NYCAlto will hold a dinner with winemaker Federico Ceretto.  $135 app.  Call  212-308-1099;

* From Sept.21-25, "National Wine Week" will be celebrated in NYC at Quality Meats, Smith & Wollensky, Maloney & Porcelli, Park Avenue Autumn and The Post House.  Ten wines are served for $10 with the cost of lunch each day.  For more information,

On  Sept. 23 in NYC, chef David Burke will host a Leblon cachaca 4-course dinner as part of his David Burke at Bloomingdale’s beverage series.  $39 pp. Call  212-705-3800;

* From Sept. 24-26 in Denver, The Great American Beer Festival will be held, with 450 breweries from 47 states and more than 2,000 beers. Educational areas include the Beer and Food Pavilion, Farm to Table Pavilion, Inside the Brewers Studio and much more. Tickets are $55.  Visit or call 303-447-0816.

* On Sept. 25, in Boston, Chef Rachel Klein welcomes the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston to Aura Restaurant at the Seaport Hotel for "Fine Dining, Family-Style," a night of family-friendly dining and art-focused activities. Call 617-385-4300.

* On Sept.26&27 in Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, Starwood’s Cervo Hotel hosts the first ever Porto Cervo Food Festival with special dinners prepared by renowned Italian chefs including Michelin starred Chef Giulio Terrinoni of Acquolina Hostaria restaurant in Rome and Chef Peter Brunel of Chiesa Restaurant in Trento, incl. a tasting exhibition of Italian and Sardinian culinary delicacies. For more information on the festival, accommodation or dinner packages visit,; call +39 (0789) 931612/606.

* From Sept. 26-27 The Miami International Wine Fair returns for Eighth Edition with 500+ producers and 1,500 wines representing 20 countries, at the Miami Beach Convention Center. $75 pp. with proceeds benefiting Educate Tomorrow.  Call 866-887-WINE or visit

* On Sept 27 in Boston, Sel de la Terre Back Bay marks its 1st anniversary with  an “Anniversary Harvest Dinner to Beat Hunger” with proceeds to support Massachusetts Share Our Strength’s regional hunger relief and food education programs.  The 7-course dinner will be prepared by 7 Boston area top chefs,  with a live auction  emceed by  food writer Annie B. Copps. $125 general seating, $250 limited chef’s table seating.Call Carrie Weed at 617-266-8800.

* On Sept. 27 in Welches, OR, Nicky USA presents the 9th annual Wild About Game Festival at the Resort at the Mountain. Pacific NW chefs compete in a wild game cook-off and pick up tips from last year’s winners at cooking demos. Guest judges incl. Chris Cosentino from Incanto in San Francisco and Seattle’s Tom Douglas. A Wild Game dinner tops off the day’s events. $25 for day event; $55 for dinner. Call 503-622-2220;


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with 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."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: NIAGARA FALLS WITH THE FAMILY; SPAWATCH DEBUTS ; THE NEW YORKER HOTEL FOR LESS.


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).

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: 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.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Bloomberg News, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2009