Virtual Gourmet

February 14, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

                                                        Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard in "A Good Year" (2006)

Happy Valentine's Day!


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In This Issue

WHAT'S NEW IN LAS VEGAS? by John A. Curtas

EMPORIO by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Who Will Buy Bordeaux? by Mort Hochstein


by John A. Curtas

    What does 8.5 billion dollars buy these days? Lots of gorgeous glass and steel buildings, one super-deluxe shopping mall, some fantastic public art, three high end hotels, and eleven new restaurants. That’s pretty much what the inappropriately-named City Center (that is neither a city nor the center of anything) contains. Once you stop gawking at the eye-popping architecture, you’re going to notice a number of re-tread restaurants culled from the Bellagio stable of high-end eateries.
    Where Bellagio has Michael Mina, Prime and Circo, Aria (the 5,000 room mega-resort) has American Fish (by Michael Mina), the Jean-Georges Steakhouse (from Jean-Georges Vongerichten), and Sirio (from the Maccioni family). Each is a slightly downscale version of its Bellagio big brother, with slightly lower prices and a more casual vibe aimed at appealing to the gen-X and –Y crowd. As good as they are, it’s two newcomers (along with Masa Takayama’s Bar Masa and Julian Serrano’s new tapas/Spanish restaurant named Julian Serrano) that have captured the imaginations of curious foodies as well as the convention crowds.

TWIST by Pierre Gagnaire
In the Mandarin Oriental Hotel
3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South

    Pierre Gagnaire’s food can be, by turns, exhilarating, awesome, drop-your-fork-delicious, befuddling and infuriating. And that's just a single appetizer. Be prepared for all of those emotions and you can have one of the great restaurant experiences of your life. Walk in thinking you're going to have a conventional big-deal meal, and there's no telling what feeling(s) you will experience.
   You access Twist via an elevator that takes you to the twenty-third floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (everything cool and groovy about the Mandarin -- its lobby, lobby bar, spectacular views, etc. -- starts on its twenty-third floor). Proceeding down a short windowless hallway, you run into the hostess booth, and, to your right, a tiny, minimalist, four seat bar, stocked with a minimalist amount of top-shelf-but-not-very-interesting booze. The welcoming staff is all smiles as they lead you to your table in the 75-seat bi-level room. Almost immediately, the amuse bouche appear: mini-soufflés ), cuttlefish salad, tiny cubes of Guinness gelée, potato chips with sardines woven into them,  lemongrass biscuits, and long, thin crackers accompanied by light-as-air tuna "Chantilly" cream, that looks like a desert and tastes of the sea--everything alerts you to the juxtaposition of tastes you are about to encounter.
   Begin with one of the more normal-sounding appetizers: mushroom broth "Zezette," French slang for "wacky" and wacky is what you get: a mushroom velouté, intense and full of vegetable gnocchi and thick slivers of chicken. But Gagnaire is never content with leaving well enough alone. In France, he made his reputation by serving sometimes five or six different dishes with a single course. In Vegas, he seems to be sticking with three riffs per dish, but that doesn't mean any less craziness, because in short order, a martini glass arrives to accompany the soup, filled with a Bloody Mary sorbet on the bottom, and a ratatouille Bavarois on top.  Then, a strange, large, deep-fried, Kombawa brandade cake appears. Equally odd is poached sea bream  atop a "Libanese taboule tartelette" resembling a dark, crumbly, vegetable cookie, accompanied by a simple snow crab salad and a sauce boat of bonito-shellfish gelée dabbed with a scoop of mozzarella ice cream. Again, the first two verses of the song seem in perfect, complete harmony, until the discordant note is introduced to ruin the melody. On some level you known Gagnaire is exploring the various tastes of the sea and what can be done with them, but on another, more prosaic level, the diner is faced with a fishy, cold, brown soup, that has grainy, almost tasteless, mozzarella ice cream on top of it.
     Those who like to think when they eat will surmise that Gagnaire (below) never met a flavor idea he didn't think he could build upon. His crazy creativity is more pronounced in the starter courses than in the mains, and shows itself to its best effect in the langoustine five ways served as part of the "Pierre Gagnaire Spirit" tasting menu. Whether it's seared, grilled, raw, in a mousseline or en gelée, the full flavor profile of this crustaceans is shown off to its fullest.
    After this dégustation highlight, you veer back to the mundane -- a simple loin of venison -- until the Pierre throws a "Grand Veneur" quenelle (venison-flavored ice cream) alongside it. We nicknamed the dish "venison intensified," and still have dreams about the red-cabbage-black current jam sauce dribbled about the plate. As for the deer ice cream, we found it intriguing, but, once again, more compelling in concept than reality. Pekin duck "Salmis" style is another trio:  cured, roasted breast meat topped with a duck sausage patty  with  cumin-spiced, duck-stuffed cabbage dumpling. This works beautifully--each item adding to your enjoyment of the other.
     If you seek simple seafood, the Santa Barbara spiny lobster and the Dover sole are revelations writ large by understatement. The spiny lobster appeared in thick chunks under with large, thin rounds of mushroom, all at room temperature,d napped with Champagne dressing. Cappellini waits to be tossed into a green pepper, celeriac and cauliflower velouté. The first half of the equation: all subtle textures and flavors; the second: bright, clean and assertive, effectively complimenting the seafood salad from afar.
     Ordering the Dover sole "pan fried corn flour," we expected the classic preparation: a large piece of fish, filleted and served with a butter sauce. Instead, this is a riff on the classic goujonettes of sole -- small ribbons of fish, fried and mounded on the plate. The "ivory" wine-butter sauce drizzled across the top of the fish and around the plate is so good you’ll be lulled into thinking things have gone back to basics.
   That is, until you confront the weirdest surf and turf on the planet--"Shellfish Royale," an amalgam of toasted beef gelée (think: a quarter-inch layer of beef gelatin on the base of a plate), beet slices, smoked red beet puree, and  slightly poached Dabob Bay oysters, all on the same plate, which might just be the oddest forced marriage of land and sea ever attempted. The oysters are, of course, superb but  undermined by the umami depth charge of beef and overwhelmed by the earthiness of the beets. "What was he thinking?" is all you can say to yourself, and just about the time you're about to give up on the dish, out comes, yes, another bowl -- this time a shellfish "salad" of whelks, razor and marinated clams that is so good you want to pick up the damn thing and drink the shellfish liquor straight.
   Think you're out of the reef and beef woods? Wrong. Next up, is thin, toasted country bread, with just the thinnest whisper of Comte cheese melted across its top. How melted cheese on toast blends with all these shellfish, meat and earth flavors is anyone's guess, but in defense of the dish, days later, you will remember the intensity of everything you tasted.
    Just as memorable is the pan-seared entrecôte -- a superior cut of Nebraska beef  and the "Never Never" veal -- so named because the veal is free-range and never fed any hormones or antibiotics. You are provided smoked parsley powder to sprinkle on the beefsteak and a nice, dark Burgundy-snail sauce on the side that is the essence of Escoffier. Of course, this being Gagnaire, this lily needs to be gilded, with a caviar-topped potato ice cream  vastly preferable to the mozzarella version. No such overwrought attention gets paid to the veal, and the meat is probably better off for it, which comes with a wonderful morel-licorice coulis and  fried polenta with gorgonzola à la plancha.
     After those steaks and rich seafood, we decided some acid was in order. Pierre obliged with his all-citrus trio of baba cake, frozen limoncello, citrus gelée and a star anise marshmallow--each memorable but more meaningful as a study in different levels of pH. Matching this  with an appropriate wine isn't easy, but sommelier Julie Lin came through with a rich, dark, sweet Ben Rye Passito di Pantelleria that cut through the sharpness beautifully.
     Speaking of wine, the list is unimaginative in the extreme, poorly matched to the cuisine and massively overpriced. It should be as eclectic and interesting as his food but is neither. Full of trophy bottles, like $13,500 for a DRC, off-years of Bordeaux ('04 Château de Pez for $115), and New World bottles ($110 for Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc). It is long without being deep or broad, and diverse without being intriguing (no mean feat, that). By-the-glass selections are minimal: a few sparklers, five whites and five reds, but nothing non-sparkling is over $20 per glass, and given Gagnaire's penchant for peculiar pairings, these are your best bet.
    Twist by Pierre Gagnaire  demands serious attention from the customer. It is not about pirouettes on the plate as much as it is about the exploration of tastes and flavors. If your food tastes run to the musical equivalents of catchy pop tunes or lush, recognizable symphonies, you will have a hard time coming to terms with a restless spirit who is always looking for something new and exciting (à la Phillip Glass, Thelonious Monk, Radiohead, et al). Like them, his genius is rooted in a firm grasp of the classics. Dining in a Gagnaire restaurant is swimming in the deep end of the foodie pool. In bringing his oeuvre to Las Vegas, he has opened a restaurant that no American gourmet can afford to miss. Others, however, may occasionally need a life preserver.

Twist is open for dinner only. Appetizers: $16-$34; Entrees: $26-$56;  Eight course tasting menu: $175
 a 7-course tasting menu at $160.

In the Aria Hotel and Casino
3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South

     Shawn McClain's Sage may be the most significant restaurant to open in Las Vegas in the past three years. As good as Twist by Pierre Gagnaire is, in the end it is a restaurant that challenges the diner. Sage serves up cuisine  every bit as hyper-delicious and creative, but with a Midwestern sensibility that makes it more approachable for non-foodies as well as curious and demanding gourmands.
     The significance of Sage is what it might mean for our culinary future. As much as we love the contribution such heavyweights as Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, Mario Batali, Joël Robuchon, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Guy Savoy have made to the Las Vegas culinary scene, their presence has never been, and will never be, anything more than ephemeral.
   McClain made his mark in Chicago with Spring and Green Zebra, proving himself an innovator of mixed culinary metaphors. We don't know the politics (yet) behind his move to Vegas, but we're told he's committed himself to being in the restaurant  for the next six months. If true, like Julian Serrano, Alex Stratta, Paul Bartolotta and Rick Moonen, he is helping to break the strangle hold absentee "celebrity" chefs have on Las Vegas, fly boys who drop in whenever their management contract tells them to. One caveat, though: Sage's website lists Richard Camarota as "chef," so one has to wonder just how involved McClain currently is.
   You enter the over-sized bar with its super-high ceilings and immediately notice how generous the space is. No overcrowded tables here -- no matter where you sit, you have a sense of privacy--and the acoustics are wonderful, so that conversation is soft and muted, much like the flattering lighting. The first issue you'll have will be to resist the impulse to just hang out at the bar. So spacious is it, and so interesting the bar food and beer list, you might find yourself nibbling away for hours at such menu gems as Vancouver Island kusshi oysters (left) dotted with a piquillo pepper/Tabasco sorbet, sharply seasoned wagyu beef tartare, sinfully rich oxtail and beef marrow crostini, or  sweet and sour sweetbreads.
   The charcuterie (don't miss the La Querica Speck) is solid, and includes what is sure become McClain's signature dish: foie gras custard brûlée--the silkiest dessert on the planet with the creamy overtones of good foie, sprinkled with cocoa nibs, and served with a heavenly salted brioche. Sommelier Mike Shetler offers an assortment of craft brews on tap and in bottles.
    On to the dining room: We could wax poetic for days over McClain's yellowtail crudo with pine nut foam in black truffle jus -- an odd combination of earth, sea, and tree that haunts you with its interplay of flavors -- as well as his sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi that almost disappear in your mouth before you bite into them. We're not sure gnocchi can get any lighter than these without becoming a foam. McClain brings all this puffy fluffiness back to earth by accenting the weightless dumplings with spaghetti squash, a riesling reduction and bits of preserved lemon. A simply spectacular display of vegetarian inventiveness. Less successful are  the smoked Columbia River sturgeon, and escargot and pork belly agnolotti. The agnolotti can only be called a noble failure; as for the sturgeon, this bottom feeder needs to be smoked more and sliced thinner before it will win any fans.
    McClain lavishes the love on Spanish Iberico pork loin "garnished" with pork shoulder cannelloni and braised romaine, and perfectly roasted turbot with clam and lemon risotto. Likewise, his butter-soft veal cheeks were packed with a beefiness veal usually doesn't achieve without superior braising.
     One of many smart moves made by McClain (right) was in bringing pastry chef Lura Poland over from Restaurant Charlie. As taken as we were with her Valrhona malted milk chocolate dome, tasting like a soda fountain drink with a higher education, and her roasted pear tarte tatin with a surprising, sharp and sweet blue cheese ice cream, it was her very un-American canelles (sic) de Bordeaux that truly captivated the table.
    These difficult-to-make tiny cakes appear almost burnt on the outside and are soft and custard-y within. We fell in love with canelles de Bordeaux on la Rive Drôite de Paris a decade ago when we stumbled upon a patîsserie that specialized in dozens of variations of them. Poland tops hers with a nice white chocolate sorbet and a rum sabayon, and the only fault we could find was that she didn't put three or four more of them on the plate.

Sage is open for dinner only, with starters: $12-$24; Mains: $34-$49; Six course tasting menu: $110.

John A. Curtas has 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



231 Mott Street (near Prince Street)

    Remember Billy Joel's song "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"?

    A bottle of white, a bottle of red,
    Perhaps a bottle of rosé instead
    We'll get a table near the street
    In our old familiar place
    You and I, face to face

    A bottle of red, a bottle of white,
    It all depends upon your appetite
    I'll meet you any time you want
    In our Italian Restaurant.

     Everybody should have an Italian restaurant full of good, warm memories. Not too big, not too loud, not too expensive, maybe in Greenwich Village or SoHo, a place where they see you coming through the door and greet you like old friends.  That's pretty much a description of Emporio, owned by Gaspare Villa, Elena Fabiani, and chef/partner Riccardo Buitoni, who also run nearby Aurora and another in Brooklyn. You walk down Mott Street--"And tell me what street/ Compares with Mott Street, in July"--and there it is, a storefront to a rustic, casual charmer, where you can go for a full meal or the aperitivo menu or the late-night spuntino items.
       The walls are hand-painted, there are old ceiling tiles, shelves of wine bottles, a skylight, and the bar is hung with salumi. To the rear is another room (below) crafted to look like an outdoor atrium.  The welcome from Gaspare is all you need to know you will be well taken care of by a young staff that eagerly enjoys telling you about the night's specials, which are also, happily, printed out. Order some wine from a well-priced list of small estates, and don't neglect ordering a pizza to start with--there are eight of them, all with impeccable crusts, charred and bubbly; I particularly liked the one with prosciutto di Parma, aged stracchino cheese, buffalo mozzarella, and arugula.
      The owners are very proud of their producers and sources, which are listed on a separate broadsheet, from imported oils and vinegars to tomatoes and spices, and the extra care to obtain these shows in every dish. Antipasti include plates of cheeses, salumi, and raw oysters, and irresistible stuzzichini like a crostino with creamy sweet Gorgonzola and truffle honey and croquettes stuffed with wild mushrooms risotto and fontina cheese. Among the fresh pastas (made with organic eggs) you are sure to love are chestnut pappardelle with leeks, porcini, and grana padano cheese--very, very simple, and very, very good; the garganelli is a lustier dish, with pork sausage and a wild mushroom ragù--at $14 a great bargain. I've been hungering for good lasagne lately, and Emporio's, with a meat rag, is outstanding, Agnolotti are filled with  rich robiola la Tur cheese and a sauce of eggplant and fresh tomatoes.
        You can tell by the positioning of the categories on the menu what Emporio wants to stress--its pizzas and antipasti--for the secondi are but four offerings, plus, perhaps, a nightly special. Braised beef short ribs with Parmesan polenta can get you through any winter's night in New York, and the Cornish hen flattened under a brick (alla mattone), with radicchio and lemon salad, is succulent to the bone, and the accompaniments give it some real snap.
      Despite its largess, the food is fairly light, providing you didn't gorge on too many stuzzichini and salumi. So save room for some fine desserts like a simple but fabulous and fabulously simple cup of vanilla gelato doused with a shot of sweet espresso. There is also a honeyed apple and berry pie with gelato, and the Nutella chocolate-hazelnut and walnut calzone baked in the pizza oven is a lot of fun.
      This is such a delightful place that I cannot imagine living with ten blocks of Emporio and not dropping by at least twice a week, perhaps for a pizza, perhaps for a pasta, or perhaps for a nostalgic evening of a kind when such little Italian restaurants seemed the sweetest thing in the world.  At Emporio, it still is.

Emporio serves lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly, and brunch Sat. & Sun. Dinner pizzas run $14-$16, antipasti $7-$12, pastas $14-$16, and secondi $18-$22.


by Mort Hochstein

   The hype started months ago, soon after the harvest in Bordeaux.  The weather   had been near perfect throughout the growing season and the owners of the great châteaux of Bordeaux are proclaiming that 2009 will yield one of the all-time great vintages.  We’ve heard that song before, but this one sounds authentic.
      Observers predict 2009 will rank with 1982, 2000 and 2005 for quality. En primeur, the ritual period in which wines are first shown publicly, begins later this month. Buyers and wine journalists will be flocking into Bordeaux in the last week of March and early April to test and buy at pre-release prices.
     Bordeaux’s previous selling campaigns, ’06, ’07, and ’08 were hardly successful. In ’06, producers tried but failed to achieve the prices they'd received for the great ‘05’s and ’07. First growths of the ’08 vintage were released at prices significantly lower than both ’07 and ’06 and were further discounted after their release.  The recession and the weak dollar against the Euro sent American buyers looking for less expensive wines from other sources.
    Conditions before the ’08 en primeur last year were so discouraging that Jean-Guillaume Prats, general manager of  Cos d’Estournel (below), a second-growth Bordeaux, suggested that the selling campaign be pushed back from Spring to Autumn. “I’ve never seen such a dead market in thirty years,” he lamented.  The campaign went off on schedule and Prats repeated his call for change again in January, again with no success.
    The outlook for the ‘09’s is further complicated by the exodus of the major American buyer, the Château and Estates division of Diageo. For several decades, as an arm of Seagram and for a term under its current owner, Diageo, C&E bankrolled the French, buying and stockpiling huge quantities of classified growths for later distribution in the states. Diageo, accustomed to rapid returns on its spirits, found itself in a different ballgame and, as early as 2001, was seen as looking for a way to reduce its wine inventory.
    Last year, Diageo had had enough and stopped buying. For months it has been holding a fire sale, peddling wines like Lynch-Bages at 30 percent below cost, and Haut-Brion at 60 cents on the dollar. Other distributors, restaurateurs and hotels have been snapping up the bargains.   Whether or not your local retailer will pass on the benefits of buying in a distressed market remains to be seen.
   So, with Diageo no longer playing banker for the French, there is turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic.  Jean-Michel Cazes, director of Lynch-Bages, says Bordeaux has been hit by several whammies—the weakness of the Euro against the dollar, two years of a sluggish economy and now, the absence of Diageo.  “Inventories are full and it will take some time before the  relatively high-priced ’06 and ’07 vintages are totally absorbed by the market and they will put some  downward pressure  on the prices of other vintages.” he observes.
     “The disappearance of Diageo’s Château and Estates division doesn’t help. Their presence and ability to service buyers brought a good deal of flexibility that we do not find anymore.”  Cazes pointed to a similar situation in the ‘70’s when the giant importer Austin Nichols collapsed at a time when the economy was similarly weak, due to skyrocketing oil prices.
    Still, Cazes puts a good face on prospects. “We sold our 2008 nicely,” he avers,” and the prospects for the 2009 campaign are excellent. We try to follow the actual price level as defined by the market and do not believe it feasible to force the market into prices which appear unrealistic.  There is a lot of interest and I’m  sure we will experience quite a successful campaign.”
    Sophie Schyler-Thierry, marketing director of Château Kirwan (below) is less optimistic, noting that banks are no longer willing to finance huge Bordeaux inventories and are demanding a 60-day turnover. “Anybody buying futures cannot deplete within that time frame,"
she observes. "Major houses are offering deep discounts on recent vintages, further driving down the market.  The trade has lost money with Bordeaux and will look at ’09 futures very carefully.”
    Bolstered by the excitement over the latest harvest, the French will attempt to recoup, but they may have a hard time getting back to the previous benchmark. Just equaling the price of the 05’s at today’s exchange rate, hardly favorable to the American market, would make it the most expensive vintage on record, up by more than 25% for U.S. buyers.
     It remains to be seen how prices will go. After three mediocre campaigns, the Bordelaise will surely attempt to increase prices for the ‘09’s. But buyers, burned in previous years, are turning cautious.  Show me the money, says Guillaume Touton of Monsieur Touton Selections, a major U.S. importer. “I’ve made great buys recently on earlier vintages, but I am not buying any of the ‘09’s unless I have a demand for them.”
    The 2009 may be a great vintage.   But will the French be able to raise prices as nimbly as they have in the past or will they adjust to a troubled market?  There will be a lot of hard bargaining in the halls of Bordeaux in the coming weeks.

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.




"Bomb-diggity is the best descriptor for Melody Key, a five-acre isle near Summerland Key owned by 311 rocker Nick Hexum. Renters join the island's only regular inhabitant, a five-foot iguana named Herman, and stay in a three-story, three-bedroom house kitted out with a pool, Jacuzzi, wet bar, fierce sound system, grill, and kayaks. Revel in the Caribbean sunset from the 360-degree crow's- nest balcony on the villa's roof (305-942-9197; $6,800-$8,000 a week for up to six)."--Eimear Lynch, Kate Maxwell, "the Key Keys," Condé Nast Traveler (February 2010).

Next Year They're Going to Flood
the Gaza Strip with Matzoh Ball Soup

A mix of Arab and Israeli Cooks in Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem whipped up more than four tons of hummus, doubling the previous record for the world's biggest serving set in October in Lebanon, which itself had broken an earlier Israeli record. The organizer, Israeli Arab restaurateur Jawdat Ibrahim, who became a millionaire after winning a lottery in the U.S., insisted that "competition is a healthy thing. Today we have the hummus. Hopefully, we will have the talks for peace in our region," he said. A singer sang an Arabic love song to the paste.


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

* On Feb. 13 –16, Dominick’s, the popular Italian eatery in West Hollywood and Little Dom’s, a Los Feliz favorite dining destination, are offering a special Cajun-inspired menu celebrating Mardi Gras. In addition to the regular menu, Big Easy native Chef Brandon Boudet will be serving up N'awlins style cuisine for a limited time leading up to the big day.  Dinner only.  Visit; call 323-661-0055.

* From Feb. 16-Feb. 27 in San Francisco, E&O Trading Company will feature Chinese New Year-Inspired dishes, "good fortune" cocktails, traditional festivities and special giveaways for guests.  And for those born on the Year of the Tiger (1928, 1938, 1962, 1974, and 1986), come in and "Have a Tiger (beer) on the house.  Visit  or call 415-693-0303.

* On “Fat Tuesday,” February 16 in Oakland, CA, Ozumo hosts their 2nd annual “East Meets West” Mardi Gras celebration with food and Brazilian drink specials, live entertainment and the sounds of New Orleans as presented by DJ Gray, no cover charge. Call (510) 286-9866;

* On Feb. 19 in Venice, CA, ArtBites will host a Dinner and a Movie: Como Agua Para Chocolate.  Watch film clips and learn about history and traditions in Old and New World Mexico while cooking a Mexican feast that includes Chiles en Nogada and Mexican Chocolate Cake. $75 pp.  Registration is required as space is limited. Please register under upcoming classes at

* On Feb. 20 at Bar Boulud  in NYC, Chef Daniel Boulud welcomes Chef Jean Pierre Xiradakis of La Tupina in Bordeaux for a one night only dinner-- a "Tue Cochon" menu  with the  cooking and wines of Southwestern France. $175 pp. Call: 212-595-1313 x161.

* On Feb. 21 Donato Enoteca in Redwood City, CA ( will welcome  Campania region winemaker Bruno De Conciliis for a  wine dinner celebrating his aglianico and fiano varietals. Executive Chef Donato Scotti will create a 5-course menu of dishes that highlight the bounty of the Campania region of Italy and complement each of De Conciliis’ wines for the evening, including Selim Spumante, Donna Luna Paestum Fiano, Antece Paestum Fiano, Donna Luna Paestum Aglianico and Naima Paestum Aglianico.  $70 pp.  Call 650-701-1000.

* On Feb. 22 in Portland, OR, Metrovino presents a 6-course Whole Goat Dinner served family-style with Metrovino chef Greg Denton and guest chef, Gabriel Rucker from Le Pigeon. $100 pp. includes wine pairings. Call 503-517-7778.

* On Feb. 23, in Vancouver, BC, Cesare Casella will represent Italy and Rick Moonen will represent the USA in an Iron Chef-style culinary face-off at the Dirty Apron Cooking School, hosted by Clark Wolf and put on by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture in an effort to promote eating “True Italian.” Open to media only. Email or call 206-931-1037.

* On Feb. 23 in West Hollywood, CA, RH at Andaz presents a special 5-course dinner showcasing Southwestern French specialties prepared by Chef Sebastien Achambault and paired with wine. Part of Club Culinaire’s “Chef A Table” series, the event will also incl.local guest chefs who will rotate tables and visit with guests. $105 for Club Culinaire members; $115 for nonmembers. Call 323-785-6090.

* From Feb. 24-28 the Reykjavik Food & Fun Festival will feature Icelandic ingredients, special restaurant menus and an international Chef competition, drawing international chefs to collaborate on special restaurant menus throughout Reykjavik and to participate in a competition where the only rule is – Icelandic ingredients only. Visit

* On February 25 in Berkeley, CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto hosts a Takara brewery sake paired dinner with a five-course menu prepared by Chef Devon Boisen. $60 pp. Call 510-845-7771;

* On Feb. 25, in Richmond, VA, Lemaire Restaurant at The Jefferson Hotel will host a 3-course dinner and wine event showcasing oyster mushrooms from Dave and Dee’s Mushrooms. At the dinner, you may purchase a bottle of wine at 25% off from the restaurants list to accompany your meal. $50 pp. Call 804-649-4629.

* From March 1 to 5 in Chicago and Schaumburg, IL, Shaw's Crab House celebrates its 25th Anniversary with landmark menu values, incl. 1 pound of steamed Alaskan Red King Crab Legs  for $25. As an added bonus, Shaw's will ring in its milestone with $.25 by-the-piece seafood specials served mid to late afternoon. Call 312-527-2722 (Chicago) or 847-517-2722 (Schaumburg), or visit

* From March 2-4 in Portland, OR, 28 Restaurants and 50 Winemakers will join the Classic Wines Auction Spring Winemaker Dinners, with proceeds support five Portland, Oregon area charities and help more than 42,000 families in need. Reservations are now being accepted  at Tix are $150 pp er person (tax deductible portion is $65), incl.  dinner, wine and gratuity. Call 503-972-0194.

* From March 4-7, the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival benefits local culinary charities and scholarships. Visit

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."  THIS WEEK: 9 TIPS FOR WHISTLER


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