Virtual Gourmet

January 10, 2010                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue

Dining Out in the Valley of the Sun, Part Two by John Mariani

SD26 by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR:   Ten Predictions for the Wine World in 2010  by John Mariani


Dining Out in the Valley of the Sun, Part Two
by John Mariani

     Once asked about a colleague, Winston Churchill said, "He's a modest man, who has a good deal be be modest about." Obviously that was not meant as praise.  But in the case of two new restaurants in Phoenix and Scottsdale, I mean it as a compliment, that is, they are modest restaurants but should be justifiably proud of that.  They catch the tenor of the moment by being comfortably casual, good looking, and well priced, with a real dedication to good, simple flavors.

705 North 1st Street, Phoenix

   Chef/owner Wade Moises has a good résumé both locally and nationally, having been chef at the first-rate Italian restaurant in North Scottsdale named Sassi, Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician, and stints at Mario Batali-owned restaurants in NYC.  Now he has his own place, and it's a notable addition to downtown Phoenix, where good Italian restaurants are not a dime a dozen.
      Start with good ingredients and you can’t go too far wrong—that’s the contemporary mantra of good cooking, and Moises brandishes the idea by telling you where all his ingredients come from locally, including pond-raised shrimp, heirloom tomatoes, naturally raised pork, and eggs from Dave the Egg Man at Two Wash Ranch. 
     Given the restaurant’s name, the focus here is on pastas, through there are some terrific antipasti too—buffalo mozzarella with basil pesto, tomatoes, and anchovies, and Dave’s eggs with Parmigiano, warm garlic, and anchovy vinaigrette.  There are also good side dishes—the ones you do not want to miss are slow-roasted pork shoulder and the sweet shrimp.
     The main event is a list of nine or so pastas, all hearty, freshly made, with vibrant sauces, from bavette with lemon, butter, and Parmigiano to spaghetti alla ghitarra all’amatriciana, with guanciale bacon, onion, parsley, hot pepper, and tomato.  Both are exemplary and as close as you can get to the true flavor of Italy.  I also enjoyed the gnocchi alla Lupa (I suspect the “wolf” in question is Mario Batali’s trattoria in NYC), with a sweet and spicy fennel sausage ragù, and the spaghetti alla carbonara is true to Roman form, with the raw egg cooked by the heat of the hot pasta. The odd thing here is that ,as the photo above shows, they serve bread with pasta--two starches--which is like the old days at Italian-American restaurants when people would have pasta followed by a main course with a side order of spaghetti.
      There are 18 Italian wines by the glass.
     The dining room itself is spacious and fairly quiet at lunch, when I visited, so I can’t comment on the noise level at night. There is indeed a bar, ideal for dropping in for a plate of pasta. The place is a tad difficult to find: You drive down the street, see a storefront named Sens and Turf Restaurant & Pub, with an alleyway, go down there and you’ll find it at the end. Believe me, once you eat here, you’ll remember where it is and bring your friends.

Pasta Bar is open for lunch and dinner daily. Antipasti run $5-$10, pastas $9-$17.

7216 East Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale

     What a novel idea! At least for Scottsdale. An old-fashioned French bistro offering impeccable renditions of classic bourgeois French fare--exactly what Old Town Scottsdale needed.  Chef James Porter, previously at Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar, has opened a bistro of ideal size, 33 seats inside, 50 on the patio, where I had lunch on a relatively cool (i.e., not 95 degrees) afternoon. The décor is cheery throughout, with chandeliers and country fabrics, a good bar, open kitchen, and service couldn't be more cordial.
     Glancing over the menu, I saw so many dishes I wanted to try, including many that will never go out of style no matter what culinary fashions are. Those you may begin with would be a fine, well caramelized onion soup with Gruyère cheese and a touch of sherry, or wonderfully creamy, well-textured duck rillettes, served with apricots and pistachios.  The foie gras on toasted brioche with caramelized apples and pickled grapes is an outright steal at only $10, and if you enjoy roasted beef marrow (below), here's the place to have it in town, accompanied by a parsley-caper-fennel salad.  Sea scallops were done the old way, with mushrooms, white wine and an herb gratin--a fine winter's appetizer.
     For the main courses, lush confit of duck comes with a steaming white bean cassoulet that showed a real respect for such this style of cookery, and the roast chicken is stuffed with chestnut and sage, served with pearl onions, and buttery pommes purée.  Porter wraps pork tenderloin with bacon, serves it lightly pink, and sidles the plate with celeriac and Brussels sprouts with a red wine gastrique to add sweetness and piquancy.  Bouillabaisse for two ($39) is a lovely, almost romantic dish, chock full of mussels, clams, lobster, scallops, and whitefish, then scented with saffron and a ruddy fennel broth.
      You might end with a selection of good, ripe cheeses, but then you'd miss the textbook soufflé au Grand Marnier with vanilla crème anglaise and the crème  brûlée au chocolat.
      In its lack of pretense, Petite Maison shows just how much precision and talent it takes to turn out food of such wholesome goodness and to do it with a little more largess that makes this a bistro à l'Arizona rather than l'Antibes.

Petite Maison is open daily for lunch and dinner. Appetizers run $6-$10, main courses $16-$18.

To Read Part One of this article, click here.


by John Mariani

19 East 26th Street

     The name Tony May has enormous respect in the New York restaurant industry, and among Italian restaurateurs everywhere he is justly credited with raising the image of Italian cuisine and wine over the last 30 years, having opened two of the most refined ristoranti in America--Palio and San Domenico--along with helping create the program for Italian culinary studies at the Culinary Institute of America's Caterina de Medici Room, for which he complied the textbook.
      So no one was happy when he closed San Domenico two years ago over a lease dispute, for it was there, under successive great chefs that included Theo Schoenegger, Paul Bartolotta and Odette Fada that modern Italian cuisine was best displayed in New York.  Only Chicago's Spiaggia and Santa Monica's Valentino rivaled it for creativity, fine décor, settings, service, and nonpareil winelists.  Now, together with his daughter Marisa (left) and a good number of former San Domenico employees, including the wonderful bartender Renato, May has relocated to 26th Street and Madison Park.
      I did not see he has replicated San Domenico there, for the Mays are adamant that this is an Italian restaurant--and a New York Italian restaurant at that--for the 21st century, culling many ideas and influences that make this a more casual, far more expansive place, with 300 seats, where everything is offered in small or regular portions, as desired.  Some of the same signature dishes remain, and so too, Grazie Dio!, does Master Chef Odette Fada.
      This is a big, cavernous place, set on two levels, with a long, well-lighted bar up front, and a long, bright open kitchen and salumeria/formaggeria in the back.  The lighting overall is warmer than it was when the place opened last fall, and I know that many food media leaped to judgment too soon without realizing that an enterprise of this size was not going to be at its best after one or two weeks.  There were problems with service and getting food out of the kitchen, and the initial flurry of interest in such an important restaurant overwhelmed everyone.  Thus, having now been back since that crazy time ended, I can say that SD26 is on an even keel and serving wonderful, modern cucina italiana. The winelist is on a hand-held computer, which you may find fun and easy to use, though I prefer a good old ream of paper.
      You should definitely begin with a few selections from the salumeria, which include San Daniele prosciutto, culatello, bresaola, and smoky Speck, along with various salumi--don't miss the fat-marked mortadella--and the mozzarella di bufala is the only one I've had this side of Naples that truly hits the mark; it is, of course, imported from Campania.  Also, the Sicilian caponata with pignoli and raisins is superb, with no flavor overpowering any other. As noted, you can have small plates of these or one big platter for the table, and that goes for the pastas, too, either as a primo or secondo piatto.
      Pumpkin-filled ravioli, which Italians enjoy this time of year, were wonderfully tasty, a blend of sweet-salty cheese and pumpkin.  The risotto is fabulous, exactly, precisely, absolutely done to the perfect texture, creamy and laced with paper-thin sheets of lardo and a little fennel. Pappardelle with a wild boar ragù is as good as any in NYC, and the long-time favorite here is the extravagant raviolo filled with a soft-boiled egg and lavished with truffle butter. My only disappointment was another dish San Domenico is known for--simple spaghetti alla chitarra with tomato sauce--I thought the sauce tasted too pureed and blandly lifeless.
        I love the succulent baby octopus expertly grilled, and the wild bass aquapazza (in "crazy water") is enhanced with fregola grain, zucchini, and diced tomato.  Almost raw, slightly seared tuna was not out of the ordinary except for a slice of guanciale and a too-fishy anchovy-flavored puntarelle salad.  Of the meats, I raved over the impeccably cooked squab with Casteluccio lentils (a good luck item for New Year's),  and luscious sweetbreads with coffee oil (very good) and baby turnips.  It's game time, so the venison loin with celeriac, Brussels sprouts, and Fuji apples is an ideal dish for January.
     Desserts, usually not a high point at Italian restaurants, are first-rate at SD26--jiggly pannacotta with a reduction of sweet balsamic vinegar and fresh figs, and extra bitter chocolate fondant with stracciatella (chocolate chip) gelato.  You can also count on a perfectly made espresso here.  They take care of every detail as they would in Italy, a country that could learn a few things about 21st century Italian cooking by visiting NYC's most exciting new ristorante, which SD26 has now become.

SD26 is open for lunch and dinner daily. Salumeria items run $7.50-$9, antipasti $7/$16 to  $11.50/$19.50 (depending on portion), pastas $14/$3 to $30, main courses $16/$30-$23/$40.



What Will Happen in the Wine World in 2010?
by John Mariani

    Not since that Millennium 2000 folly have I seen so much frenzy in the global wine market.  Back then, with the stock markets booming, auction houses setting records for wines, and Champagne producers warning there would not be enough product for the celebration, everything in the wine world seemed upbeat and getting pricier by the month.
      What a difference a decade makes.  With high unemployment, shaky markets, pared-down expense accounts, and just too much wine being produced, it’s a very different world, one that plays into the buyers’ heart and pocketbook with lower prices, more choice, and less pretension.  Those 99-point ratings don’t seem quite so requisite any more to buying good wine.
       So what do I see happening in the wine market in 2010?

1.Prices will continue to drop across the board, from the priciest of Bordeaux and Burgundy to cult California wines that were once available only by subscription. This goes, too, for those Italian, Spanish, and Chilean wine producers who thought that they could easily get the same kind of money those age-old French and small estate California wines used to get.

2. More people will be buying wine online, where you can go to a site like and compare prices for the same wine not just around the U.S.—where many states now allow cross-state shipping—but in Great Britain, Germany, and other countries. Often the range can be amazing: a wine costing $40 in one store may be $75 in another. Wine stores, whose profits come largely from inexpensive wines, will stock more of them and promote them like crazy.

3. Wine blogging will increase exponentially, mostly among those contending they’ve found spectacular wines that will “blow your doors off” for under $15 a bottle.  As with all blogging, readers should always know the source of such claims. Making wine knowledge accessible is not the same thing as saying anything of much value.

4. Alas, I don’t see California backing away from big, high alcohol, oaky reds and whites anytime soon, because the producers continue to believe that is a style most Americans prefer to subtlety and complexity. The problem is that cheaper wines of this style are so often dreadful, out of balance, and undrinkable after one glass. California wineries talk a good game about finesse, but then they overripen their grapes and stick them in new oak for too long anyway.

5. The tsunami of new wines coming in from South America and Eastern Europe should ebb as the market overflows with what’s already in it. Greek, Portuguese, and Brazilian wines have had good press in recent years, but unless they keep prices way down, they won’t make much headway.

6. New Zealand wineries are in trouble mainly because of recent prodigious harvests that have glutted the market for the overly fruity punch-like style that has begun to fade among winedrinkers who want to move up in quality.

7.  Champagne is in serious trouble, not just because prices got way out of whack with reality, with too many selling above $100 a bottle, but because other sparkling wine producers have been canny about getting their bubblies well positioned, extremely well priced, and well reviewed. Champagne is cutting back production and holding back product they’ve bottled to get some balance, but it’s going to a struggle to wean people away from Italian prosecco, California sparklers, and Spanish cavas and back to Champagne, which simply has far too many labels out there.

8. The cut in expense accounts has caused fine dining restaurants to sit on their previous big capital purchases of expensive wines. They’ll buy only nominal numbers of them until guests get back into the mood to tell sommeliers that “money is no object.” Good luck. This means lower sales of premium wines in the restaurant market. By the same token, fewer fine dining restaurants will even open, as more modest, very exciting new restaurants build their winelists around interesting, small labels from around the world and sell them at reasonable mark-ups. Since the big ticket wines aren’t selling in Las Vegas anymore, it’s going to be interesting to see just what kinds of wines the new restaurants in the troubled City Center will be selling.

9. More and more wine producers will be switching from cork stoppers to screwtops in an effort to stem damage to the wines in the bottle from corkiness and oxidation as well as to make wine more accessible to the average consumer. The dirty little secret is that most winemakers I talk to say they’d love to switch to screwcaps but fear buyers will think them cheap-looking. Very dumb.

10. Americans will buy more and more wine at the $10 and under level, while Europeans are already drinking less. The best bet for an expanding market is China, which is thirsty for good, inexpensive wine that they will soon be producing themselves.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.



According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, light to moderate consumption of red wine may lead to improved sexual function in women. A study conducted at the University of Florence showed that women who drank one or two glasses of red wine a day scored higher on a questionnaire about sexual health and enjoyment.


"When a highly regarded restaurant loses its chef, we tend to hold our breath. The better the restaurant, the deeper we inhale.

 It's a reflex. We tend to think of a chef and his restaurant (even when it's not `his' restaurant) as inextricably entwined, two entities sharing a single personality. When they pull apart, we react as though hearing about the separation of conjoined twins. Can either survive? Will one, at the expense of the other?
"--Phil Vettel, "Sepia sails along nicely despite chef shakeup," Chicago Tribune (12/3/09).



Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

* Cleveland Independents, a group of 90 independent restaurants located in northeast Ohio, will be promoting Family Values throughout January.  Restaurants will feature family-style dinners and/or children’s menus and special desserts.  Visit and click on Family Values.

* Every Sun. through Wed., Marfa in  NYC's East Village presents “BBQ Tax Relief” specials.  Big Bend Sundays: Big Bend Platters for Two (incl. a shot of tequila each), $11 pp, El Cheapo and Border Platters 1/2 off, for two, $4 shots of tequila.  All You Can Eat Mon: Unlimited Wings ($9), Ribs ($12), Barbeque Shrimp ($15), All served with Baked Beans and Slaw. $3 Bud or Bud Lites.  Cross the Border on Tues: $4 appetizers, or $10 for any three, Choose from Guacamole, Vegetable Quesadilla, Fish Taco, Vegetarian Chili, Beef Chile or Pork Tostada. $3 Tecates, $4 Coronas, $4 Margaritas, $4 shots of tequila. West Texas Trash Wed: $9 All You Can Eat Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes, $3 PBR's.  Call 212-673-8908.

* From Jan. 6 through Feb. 27, McCormick & Kuleto’s (415-929-1730) in San Francisco,  and Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto (510-845-7771) in Berkeley,  bring the flavors of New Zealand to the San Francisco Bay Area by showcasing special items on their dining room and bar menus. Visit

* From Jan. 11-Feb.28, in NYC, restaurants of the Patina Restaurant Group offer comforting one-pot specials at wallet-friendly prices: cassoulet, paella, choucroute, and more. See menus at

* On Jan. 11th,  Cellar 56 in Atlanta will be featuring 4 wines of the major wine regions across the world, incl.Argentina, Spain, France, and the United States. Only $15 for 4 half glasses.   Call 678-244-3600 for reservations. . . . On Jan. 14, Cellar 56 presents The Hess Collection Wine Dinner at Cellar 56. Executive Chef Josh Carden has created a 6-meal paired with specialized Hess wines. $65 pp. Call 404-869-1132 ext 102.

* On Jan. 16-23 in NYC,  Great Performances presents James Beard guest chef Michael Wei and his Chinese cuisine at Sotheby's Café. Menu will complement Sotheby's current exhibition on Chinese ceramics.   Price ranges from $5.75-$12.  Call 212-606-7081.

* From Jan. 17-24 in Virginia Beach, VA, Virginia Beach Restaurant Week is offering 3-course prix-fixe meals at special prices. Call Virginia Beach Restaurant Association at 757-422-4420 or the Virginia Beach Visitor Center at 757-491-7866, or e-mail, for more information.

* On Jan. 20 in Salt Lake CityLugano Restaurant kicks off its ten year anniversary with its first Italian wine dinner featuring Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco and Guest Chef Maurizio Albarello of Trattoria Antica Torre.  Six course chef’s menu inspired by the cuisines of Piemonte for $59 pp, optional Barbaresco wine pairing $45 pp. Call 801-412-9994 or visit

* On Jan. 20 in Healdsburg, CA, Cyrus Restaurant, continues their Winter Winemaker Dinner series with an evening with Radio-Coteau. Special guest, Eric Sussman, Winegrower at Radio-Coteau, will provide  information about the wines paired with a 5-course menu by Chef Douglas Keane. $215 pp. Call 707-433-3311 or email . . .  On Feb. 2, Cyrus Restaurant welcomes Peay Vineyards for their final Winter Winemaker Dinner of the series. Andy Peay and winemaker Vanessa Wong will showcase their beautiful Sonoma Coast offerings complemented by a 5-course menu.

* On Jan. 22, in Orlando, FL, Rosen Centre’s award-winning “Vine and Dine” series returns to The Everglades Restaurant with “Homage to Frommage” in honor of national cheese lover’s day, as a 5-course menu is prepared to showcase a variety of distinct, flavorful chesses accompanied by wine selections designed to compliment each dish. $65 pp. Call 407-996-8560 or visit  or

* On Jan. 23-24 in Boston,  the 19th Annual Boston Wine Expo returns to the Seaport World Trade Center. Highlights  incl. the Grand Tasting showcasing over 450 international and domestic wineries from 13 countries pouring over 1,800 different wines; An Exclusive Grand Cru Wine Lounge; Celebrity Chef cooking demos; a Seminar Series designed for all levels of wine lovers; and a Meet and Greet the Winemakers presentations where attendees can meet the winemakers to discuss and sample their latest vintages. Call 877-946-3976 or visit

* From Jan. 29-31, in Eugene, Ore. the Oregon Truffle Festival celebrates its 5th anniversary. Truffle enthusiasts, chefs, foodies, truffle hunters with truffle dogs and truffle growers gather at the festival for three days of tastings, tours and workshops.Visit;  call 503-296-5929.

* On Jan. 30 in Eugene, Ore., four of Portland’s most celebrated chefs will join hosts Rocky Maselli and Stephanie Pearl Kimmel of Marché to prepare the 5-course meal served at the 5th annual Grand Truffle Dinner:  Philippe Boulot, executive chef at Multnomah Athletic Club and culinary director at Heathman Restaurant and Bar; Naomi Pomeroy of Beast; Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Pascal Sauton of Carafe.  Paired with Oregon wines. $160 pp. Call 541-913-3841, or visit

* On Jan. 30, V. Sattui Winery’s annual Barrel Tasting & New Release Party in St. Helena offers more than 45 wines, including horizontals of 2007 Zinfandels and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignons, complemented by an international feast ranging from Alsace to Vietnam.. $75-85/person, 800/799-2337,

 * On Jan. 30 in NYC, Henry's  presents a special Jazz Brunch as part of its 10th anniversary celebration featuring a surprise jazz vocalist with acoustic accompaniment and Chef Mark Barrett’s additions to the menu. Call 212-866-0600 or visit online at . . .  On Feb. 1 Henry's presents the debut of "Sing for Your Supper," a relaxed evening of food and American popular song hosted by Pianist Steven Blier (Founder of the New York Festival of Song).  Chef Mark Barrett will serve a 3-course Spaghetti and Meatball Dinner and all the Italian varietals will be offered at half price. $19 pp.


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."


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

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: 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 2010