Virtual Gourmet

November 7, 22, 2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER

Harold Russell, Teresa Wright, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Hoagy Carmichel and
Fredrick March in  "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946)




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GOOD NEWS! now has a new food section  called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.


In This Issue

GUATEMALA's GRANDEUR by Christopher Mariani

NEW YORK CORNERJubilee  by John Mariani

MAN ABOUT TOWN: W Retreat and Spa, Vieques, Puerto Rico
by Christopher Mariani

NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER: Whiskey Americana by John Mariani



by Christopher Mariani


When I heard I was heading down to Guatemala, I was little unsure what to expect,  so when I booked my trip, knowing little about where to go and what to see, I reached out to René Meier, one of the best tour guides in the country.  René is originally from Switzerland, so if you call him, don’t hang up when you hear his voice and think you have called the wrong number because of his thick Swiss accent; don’t worry, he also speaks Spanish. How he ventured from Switzerland to Guatemala is a question I couldn’t answer, but I’m sure there’s quite a story.
      Once in Guatemala I quickly realized the country is not financially rich but extremely rich in culture and history. During my stay, I climbed the Mayan pyramids of Tikal, toured and partied in the city of Antigua, visited the Lanquín Caves, swam in the natural water springs of Semuc Champey, went white water rafting down the Río Cahabón River, zipped down the mountainside of Finca Filadelfia by way of canopy, and hiked to the top of the Pacaya Volcano, still very active at the time of my visit, erupting just three months prior.
     My journey began in Guatemala City, where I exited the La Aurora International Airport, got into a tiny unmarked taxi and asked the driver to bring me to the very modern Grand Tikal Futura Hotel 
.  On the way to the hotel we whizzed through the crowded streets,  filled with thousands of small cars, hundreds of little motorcycles and mopeds, some surprisingly seating more than two adults, and many red public transportation buses (the city has no subway system).  The main strips were sided by small markets, street vendors, restaurants, a few modern buildings, and beautiful architecture, old cathedrals and enormous city squares.  Once at the Grand Tikal Futura, I checked into an enormous room that offered a terrific panoramic view of the city, followed by a quick lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, La Molienda, pleasant, but not worth missing out on the restaurants within the city.
      My first adventure, just outside of Guatemala City, was a four-hour hike up and down the still-active Pacaya volcano (right).  René and I started at the base where we were immediately approached by a horse and his owner, who politely asked if either of us would like to pay ten dollars to have the horse take us up and down the steep volcano.  We both declined the offer and started hiking up the first quarter of the volcano, looking back after a few minutes to see the gentleman and his horse following.  The gentleman looked up at us and said, “I’m here in case you get tired.”  This guy was a true salesman, he followed us for over two hours yet never made a sale.
As we ascended up the front of the volcano, the terrain became more challenging and the tilt increasingly steep. The ground was blanketed with black volcanic rock and hardened ash from the eruption just three months prior, which covered the entire mountainside in just 30 minutes, destroying the local towns and burning the branches and leaves off every single tree in sight, not an ounce of shade that afternoon.  Finally at the top, as my lungs burned and my thighs cramped, I looked out at the grayish black volcano peak that released steam and smoke, a daunting reminder that we were on top of an active volcano.
     After a bottle of water and a Granola Bar we begin our descent down the opposing side of the volcano.  During this section of the hike, the dried volcanic pebbles were six inches deep and very loose, causing my boots to nearly disappear with each step.  The decline appeared almost vertical, and as crazy as this may sound, the faster you charged down the slope, the easier if was on your thighs, almost like skiing.  We then stopped at a very hazy section of the volcano where the smoke and heat rose out of every crack in the hardened black lava.  René then pulled out a bag of marshmallows and insisted on having a snack.   He  placed kindling a few inches into the cracks of the black rocks, and within seconds the branches went up in flames.  We indulged in a bag of marshmallows roasting them with the natural fire from the volcano.  Only in Guatemala.
That night, we dined at the hotel, and even though I had a long day of travel awaiting me the following morning, I splashed some cold water on my face, jumped in a cab and headed to Guatemala City’s Zona Viva, a vibrant section of the city filled with night clubs, bars and restaurants.  Not having a clue as to where to go and seated next to a taxi driver who spoke not a word of English, I asked him to parada at the first sign of load music.  I exited the taxi and entered a nightclub called Taboo, filled with young people, great music, a huge dance floor, and a long bar where I found myself sitting with a nice cold Gallo beer in hand.  Within a short amount of time, I had found some young Guatemalans in their mid-20’s who spoke just enough English for us to communicate, and later in the night a beautiful young lady to dance with until closing.
     The following day began at 5 am, so after a tall glass of water and a handful of Advil, it was off to Lanquin, a seven-hour drive from Guatemala City, most of which I slept through.  Finally arriving in Lanquín, I checked into the  very modest El Recreo Hotel, changed into my bathing suit, then jumped onto the back of a pickup truck for a 45-minute drive to the beautiful natural pools of Semuc Champey.  The placid pools (above) are filled with crystalline natural spring water that gently flows from one  to the next, where families either swim in the fresh water or just lounge by the water’s edge.
     After a few hours, lunch, and some local chocolate cookies, René and I headed to the Lanquín Caves to explore the darkness of the underworld.  The caves are massive, stretching hundreds of feet in width and depth, filled with multiple chambers of various shapes and sizes, with monumental limestone foundations, and enormous hanging stalactites.  The best time to visit the caves is at 6:30 in the evening when thousands of bats exit the mouth of the cave (left).  The bats shoot out by the hundreds, blanketing the dark blue sky, an unforgettable spectacle that lasted for about fifteen minutes.
     The following morning we woke up early, charged up on some eggs, toast and strong Guatemalan coffee before driving to the Río Cahabón River for some Class Four white water rafting.  I have rafted in the past but nothing has got ten my adrenaline going like the Cahabón River.  The rapids were tremendous, tossing the raft up and down at will as my captain and crew did their best to keep the raft facing forward.  We successfully made it through the rapids and when the river calmed, we enjoyed the scenic imagery of the Q’eqchi community of Saquijá.  Hours later, exhausted and depleted of energy, we headed back to Guatemala City for the night, had a few Gallo beers, and a shot or two of Ron Zacapa 23-year old añejo rum to celebrate our conquest of the river.
     The following morning we were off to the city of Antigua (right).  I began my exploration on the main streets, where I found great little coffee cafes and huge shopping markets filled with every conceivable item you could possibly think of and seemingly charming little children who should be teaching “Sales 101” in major U.S. universities,  speaking perfect English, extremely persisitent until they convinced me to buy their colorful native costume jewelry.  We ate at  one particularly traditional Guatemalan restaurant called La Fonda de la Calle Real
(below), a favorite of Bill Clinton, whose photos of dining at the restaurant are all over the entrance walls.  The restaurant has a gorgeous outside dining area surrounded by two floors of pink-and-white balconies, potted plants, quaint little green tabletops surrounded by metal framed chairs, and an outside open kitchen where just two chefs cook up all the dishes.  I ate indoors that afternoon because of the rainy weather, beginnng with an order of the caldo de gallina soup, a very typical lunch or dinner item throughout all of Guatemala.  The soup is a chicken broth, seasoned with mint, chili and cilantro, filled with large chunks of boiled potatoes and tomatoes, bone-in chicken breasts, sided by sliced limes, chopped raw onions, and chili powder.
     The caldo de gallina (below) is a meal in itself, but I had to try the famous Guatemalan pepian de pollo.  The chicken is served with vegetables smothered in a roasted tomato sauce made with chilies, cinnamon, and pumpkin, sided by white rice and a corn tamale.  The dish was hearty, full of flavor, and one of my favorite foods of Guatemala.  The pepian de polo does seem to be a competitive dish among Guatemalan chefs--I won’t name names but every single chef who made this dish was adamant that theirs was the best.
I skipped dessert, finished the last of my Gallo beer, passed by the restaurant’s beautiful hostess and headed to Cookies, Ect. [sic], on the corner of 3a Avenue and 4ta  for something sweet.  The tiny café serves terrific teas, coffees, and best of all, fresh cookies served hot out of the oven.  After three cookies and a cup of coffee, I found my way to the real street market on Antigua, filled with vendors selling clothes, hats, bags, jewelry, toys, and much more.  To the naked eye, the outside market that borders the street’s buildings seem to mark the perimeter of the market, but look closely and you will see little openings where you enter into a whole new world.  The indoor market must be two football fields wide, filled with narrow maze-like alleys, endless stores, stairwells to stores upstairs selling watches, electronics, bags, and even live chickens and pets.  Do not attempt to remember how many lefts and rights you took, just keep a constant idea of what direction you came from.  You will never exit the same opening you originally entered, but you will most likely exit onto the same street.  I even witnessed a street performer charming a cobra snake, and drinking a glass of fruit juice and cow's eyeballs--cut in front of me--somehow trying to explain and convince the crowd to buy these little ginseng bottles he was attempting to sell.  As the rainfall began to increase, we headed to our hotel, the Villa Colonial , for shelter and rest.
       That evening after dinner I ventured back into the heart of Antiqua and found a great little jazz bar called El Ocelote Bar Restaurante on 4ta Avenue Norte, #3 (the white house opposite a sign reading "Riki’s")   that had live music until 11pm.  The music was great, the crowd lively, the drinks cold, and the female Alaskan bartender very good-looking.  I spent the night dancing and tasting all different types of añejo rum before I headed back to the hotel for some rest.
      The following morning we headed to Finca Filadelfia  for a tasting of Guatemala’s best coffee, followed by a turn on the canopy zip lines (left).  We climbed up 3,000 feet in an army green Mercedes military truck, almost to the top of the mountain and flew back down on a seven-course zip line.  The view was spectacular and the ride down was thrilling, some of the courses over 45 seconds long.  As long as you’re not petrified of heights, I would not miss the Antigua Canopy Tours.
     The last leg of my journey through Guatemala was to Petén, where I witnessed and climbed the ancient Mayan pyramids and temples of Yaxhá and Tikal.  Day one, we visited the archeological site of Yaxhá, which was once home to an entire Mayan city, buried deep within the jungle for thousands of years.  Many of the temples have not been excavated on purpose, still covered by the grass, weeds and foliage that offer protection to the very delicate limestone construction.  These un-excavated temples appear like giant natural mounds of dirt and trees and to the naked eye could easily be mistaken for a hill.  It was not until René pointed it out to me that I realized the dirt hills were actually temples and pyramids.  Even the grass and jungle floor we walked on were actually tremendous limestone plazas, public squares, streets and sidewalks.  As I ventured through the jungle and acquired a better sense of the city's size and design, I slowly began to imagine myself walking through a Mayan city, seeing temples and buildings, as opposed to just grassy hills.  At the base of one of the largest temples of Yaxhá (right), René said “Follow me, “ as he climbed to the top, overlooking the entire city and I finally understood how large this vast city was.  René explained that only the priests were allowed to climb the towers, for only they were worthy of being so high up in the sky and physically closer to God than anyone below.  It was surreal to think that where I was standing, thousands of years prior, there had been priests conducting ceremonies high above thousands of people, possibly partaking in  sacrificial religious ceremonies. The hike down the temple was not easy, extremely steep, and of course with no safety cords preventing me from becoming a present-day sacrifice.
     The following day we visited the even grander temples of Tikal, a Mayan city far greater in size and height than Yaxhá.  At the Tikal National Park, I witnessed some of the most amazing man-made architecture ever created.  I am talking about a city constructed and filled with enormous religious limestone buildings, pyramids that would take up entire NYC city blocks, and views from the top of these magnificent creations that stretch as far as the eye can see. Standing at the top of some of these temples and looking out at the vast jungle was the first time in my life that my jaw literally dropped.  For the remainder of the day, I climbed many other temples, took some terrific pictures, and viewed as much of the city as humanly possible.
     Sad to say, my time in Petén ended my adventure through Guatemala.  I had seen and experienced more adventure in seven days than I have my entire life.


by John Mariani

347 E 54th Street (Btwn 1st & 2nd Ave)
212- 888-3569

    There are more than 20,000 restaurants in NYC, and try as I might, I have not been to every one.  But for me to have missed a place like Jubilee for all these years is a serious omission. Almost twenty years, in fact, owner Eric Macaire has maintained this far East Side French bistro with unfailing,  unassuming grace, and managers Ilda Araujo and  Peggy Lavielle have been welcoming the regulars who pack the place most nights of the week.
     I went to Jubilee with no precionceived notions except that at one time the East Side teemed with simple, uncomplicated bistros with minimal décor and New York-Parisian charm, places long gone now like La Bibliothèque, Bis,  and Café du Soir, as well as places still in place and never changing, like Bistro du Nord, La Mangeoire, and Le Veau d'Or. Most looked pretty much alike, most served pretty much the same menu of bistro classics, and some lost their edge years ago.  But walking into Jubilee, seeing, feeling, and hearing the bonhomie of the place, I thought I'd been warped; back in time or whisked off to some outer arrondissement in Paris.
      Jubilee is a simply decorated, amiably cramped dining room with all the right little touches, like the ribbon of mirrors above the banquettes,  the  the crisp white tablecloths, and the wooden chairs. The greeting is warm, the waiters overworked, and the menu, if not set in stone, unvarying from years past.  Still, nothing I tasted had the slghtest whiff of ennui from the kitchen; instead, many of the old dishes tasted as bright as when I first fell in love with them, right down to the frites (oddly enough, called French fries here).
       No discussion of Jubilee ever begins with anything but mention of its marvelous mussels selection (right), from a superbly spiced and creamy curried version with coconut milk, shallots, and lemongrass to the hefty gratinée with béchamel or à la provençale with garlic and parsley butter.  You'll probably see at least one serving of them on every table.
       Hard as those mussels are to resist, try the silky mousse of truffled chicken livers, almost as good as if made with foie gras and better for have a hint of New York's love of chicken livers.  French onion soup was quite good, though it might have had a better caramelized broth.
      When our waiter announced a special of prawns, I asked twice if they were really prawns, not jumbo shrimp, and he said, yes they had come in and Chef Fredi Tito was making them that night simply grilled.  They were terrific, meaty and not at all expensive, as they tend to be elsewhere. Sweet sea scallops were roasted to a creamy turn, with orzo pasta, porcini and a dusting of Parmesan cheese. A grilled Black Angus steak with French fries and a green peppercorn sauce really took me back to the days when that was a classic rendering on every bistro menu in New York.  I loved it. Roast rack of lamb had the right amount of fat to trim, served with a luscious potato gratin and a jus scented with rosemary.

        The wine list is very user friendly, not vast but judiciously priced.
        Such food cries out for a good ending, and the old favorites are all here--crème brûlée, apple tart, profiteroles (left), and a soft-centered chocolate cake, every one a reminder of how good taste endures.
        As does Jubilee, which has become my favorite "discovery." It just took a lot longer than it should have.

Jubilee's dinner appetizers run $8.50-$14, musels $14, main courses $23.50-$31.50, with a 3-course prix fixe at $25 served Mon.-Fri. from 5:30-7 PM.  Open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, brunch on Sunday, nightly for dinner.




by Christopher Mariani

The W Retreat and Spa – Vieques, Puerto Rico

     After a long week of hard work, dining at some of NYC’s best restaurants, attending two posh parties, and testing out some terrific Italian wines, I was asked, yet again, if I could work over the weekend.  So I packed my bags and jumped on the first flight down to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After a two hour layover due to “inclement weather,” as the rain fell ever so gently, I boarded an eight-passenger, two-propeller plane and headed east to the tiny island of Vieques where I would be staying at the new W Retreat and Spa.

     Upon arrival into Vieques airport, no larger than two acres in size, with just one small landing strip, I was directed towards the W’s airport lounge, offering ice cold Champagne, homemade chocolate chip cookies, bite-size sandwiches, and chocolate covered almonds, all of which I scarfed down.   I must say, it was a well-needed refueling after such a long day of travel, and a wonderful way to begin my weekend.  After a short stay in the lounge, the W’s silver Jeep pulled up and drove me directly to the property, literally five minutes from the airport.  I was quickly checked in, then walked through the hotel’s “living room,” filled with multi-colored lounge chairs and pillows, grand murals, a pool table, a lively eight-seat bar, and off to the side, Alain Ducasse’s inspired Mix on the Beach restaurant, all created by designer Patricia Urquiola. 
     As a whole, the property was stunning and a form fit for the almost barren island of Vieques.  The rooms (right) are trendy in design, within unimposing three-story buildings that run parallel to the gorgeous Vieques beachfront, and centered around enormous king-size beds surrounded by mesh drapes with a particularly romantic cast.  Behind the bed sits an open bathroom with a full-size bathtub and a separate shower area made of black polished tile, with a fixed showerhead.  The rooms are impressive, possibly the highlight of the property, and even have an outside patio with two lounge chairs set up for relaxing and taking cover from the island’s hot sun.  There are two sections of rooms: the first border the hotel’s two shallow rectangular pools, occupied by lively guests serenaded by loud, bass-filled music.  The second section is far more private, set along the beachside of the property, great for those looking to feel secluded from other guests.

         My days were spent by the pool (left) in one of the W’s beige-draped cabanas, drinking a few Dolce Havana’s, a cocktail composed of  dark rum, Campari, triple sec, orange juice and a touch of housemade syrup.  I also tried Puerto Rico’s local beer Medalla.   The resort is great for unwinding, and the natural scenery stellar, so sit back, enjoy a drink and take in some vitamin D.  One rainy afternoon I headed to the W’s spa, where I received an amazing Swedish massage.  The private massage rooms are staggered and each have their very own outdoor shower, a great way to finish off such a relaxing massage, much better than entering a locker room.

     That evening I dined at Mix on the Beach (below), run by Executive chef Dagan Lynn.  The interior is decorated with beige and cream tones, dark wood tables, a giant glass-cased wine rack and optional outside dining rimmed by standing torches.  The evening’s dinner consisted of a roasted lobster  topped with a curry sauce and sided with coconut basmati rice, followed by a Peking duck breast plated with breadfruit, turnips, radish and a dolche forte sauce.  And for dessert, chef Lynn kept it light by serving a roasted mango, lightly seasoned and served with a tropical fruit sorbet.    

      The following night’s dinner at W's La Pescadora, showcased what I thought to be as chef Lynn’s best and natural talent, grilled fresh seafood served with terrific sauces and local seasonings.  La Pescadora is a small wooden dining area placed directly on the beach--no closed toe shoes!--lit by torches and surrounding a massive grill and bar where Lynn personally cooks your dinner, using whatever local seafood is available that day.  The experience is very personal and I highly recommend it, if you can get a reservation:  just insist that the you were told you could have whatever and whenever, which fortunately happens to be the resort's slogan.  That evening Lynn started us off with a light and citrusy ceviche made with local fish, calamari, camarones, fresh coconut milk and lemon.   He then served two salads, one made of an escabeche with malanga and batatas, the second with octopus.  For the main dish, I ate two plates of succulent grilled cuttlefish and Caribbean lobster accompanied  by a housemade hot sauce, a tomato salsa with raw onions, and fresh mint leaf pure.  And to finish off the night we were presented with a seemingly bottomless plate of churros coated by sugar and cinnamon, and accompanied by a big bowl of dark chocolate sauce for dipping. Throughout the meal I opted for La Pescadora’s tequila tasting, including Patrón Silver, Sauza Hacienda, and Sauza Tres Generaciones.  This was my last night on the island of Vieques and what a perfect way to end such a long and straining weekend of hard work.  It was back to NYC the next day for dinner and a late night party.


Rooms range from a standard room at $275 per night and up to $999 for the premiere suites.  The W Vieques also has a wide range of rooms with different prices in between, go to the hotel website.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to


American Whiskies Lower the Burn in Small Batch Bottlings
by  John Mariani

   It was the “burn” that was the problem.

  “Back in the 1980s the bourbon industry was dying,” Bill Samuels, Jr., President of Maker’s Mark, told me over dinner at Pat’s Steakhouse in Louisville, KY. “Distilleries were closing, people were out of work, and the whole category was regarded as unsophisticated brown liquor with too much burn on the palate. Traditional bourbons were regarded as something your grandpa drank on the porch. Thank God for Kentucky Derby Day—at least a lot of bourbon got sold in mint juleps.”

      It was Samuels, 70, with his father Bill, Sr., who singlehandedly brought bourbon back to favor in 1958 with a slightly sweeter and much smoother spirit called Maker’s Mark, made in copper stills of the kind most bourbon producers had largely abandon

      With Maker’s Mark success, things changed rapidly, and Kentucky’s ten distilleries have all changed formulas, styles, and marketing, in particular coming out with new products called “small batch” and “single barrel” styles, especially from the Buffalo Trace Distillery (owned by the Sazerac Company), whose 2010 Antique Collection of limited-release bourbons include Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, George T. Stagg uncut and unfiltered 143 proof, and William Larue Weller, a wheat recipe bourbon also uncut and unfiltered, at 126.6 proof.
      According to the Distilled Spirits Council, in 2009, a healthy 15,064,000 9-liter cases of bourbon & Tennessee whiskey were sold in the US.
Facing such rampant competition, Bill Samuels knew Makers Mark (owned by Fortune Brands) had to come up with its own new product without distancing its faithful customer base.  “We’d spent so much time and focus on simply not screwing up the product that we didn’t innovate,” says Samuels, who once studied rocket science, then law, before joining the family bourbon business in 1975.  “We knew we had problems with the burn on the back of the palate, which comes mainly from grains. We asked ourselves, can we create a bourbon in the Maker’s Mark style people already love that is really, well, yummy.”
     Together with Master Distiller Kevin Smith, Samuels sought to intensify Makers Mark’s nose, length and style of finish. After numerous attempts, they turned to Brad Boswell of Independent Stave Company, who recommended Maker’s bourbon be finished in the original aging barrels but with the insertion of one-inch thick French oak staves seared (“toasted”) on both sides, which over two to three months further aging imparted considerable sweet spice to the bourbon.

      The result was “46,” of which Samuels says, ”Maker’s Mark was created in the 1950s for people who didn’t like bourbon; `46’ is for people who like Maker’s Mark as well as other, more robust styles of bourbon."
      On taking my first sip of “46,” which is named after the special staves Boswell created, a tangy, spicy burn ran along the edges of my palate, not the back of it. It tasted of cinnamon and black pepper, followed by vanilla and caramel notes, then a very long, lingering finish with all those components in synch.  It is certainly one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted, and at only about $35 a bottle and 94 proof, compared to the original Maker’s Mark at $25 at 90 proof, it’s an achievement that in just a few months of release has become a cult favorite.
      Samuels rolled “46” out without fanfare or advertising, yet the 2010 supply of 35,000 cases will be sold out by January and will soon be on allocation. Worried that the new bourbon might cut into the original Maker’s Mark brand Samuels notes happily that there has been “zero negative impact on sales."
    I also recently had occasion to taste Jack Daniel’s Special Barrel Select, which is a Tennessee Whiskey, by law made with sour mash and filtered through a thick layer of maple charcoal before aging. Jack Daniel’s original formula, called Old. No. 7, was been added to by Gentleman Jack and, more recently, its Single Barrel Select, a special bottling to  mark the One Hundreth Anniversary of Nashville’s grand Hermitage Hotel, whose chef Tyler Brown, conferred with Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett to choose a cache of just 240 bottles, with a Hermitage Hotel Centennial seal. I found it a superb, soft but very bright whiskey, with both an edge and a supple sweetness that gave it depth and huge complexity.  Depending on how you look at it, the availability of this whiskey only at the hotel’s Capitol Grille and Oak Bar (left) can be frustrating or good reason to get into the spirit of the hotel’s history, a place where a lot of years ago a Tennessee girl named Dinah Shore used to croon “Skylark,” “Blues in the Night,” and “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.”

 John Mariani's wine and spirits 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.



"When it comes to other people's kids, there's no shame in admitting you like some better than others. I'll be the first to say I prefer Michael over Sonny, Phineas over Ferb, and Kevin over the rest of the Jonases."--Carrington Foc, "Merchants," Nashville Scene.

In Buffalo, NY,  restaurateur Joseph Jacobbi, owner of Casa-di-Pizza, will be feeding pizza to the poor as punishment for cheating the state out of sales tax, after pleading guilty to third-degree grand larceny.  A state Supreme Court judge sentenced him to deliver 12 sheet pizzas from his popular restaurant to the City Mission once a week for a year. . . . Meanwhile, in the UK, the Pizza Express chain  has hired an actor to train employees in the act of "flirting" to build business.


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 Nov. 21 six Portland chefs pair up with six Oregon beers for a battle for The Monaco Cup, to raise funds for United Way. Hosted by Oregon Brewers Guild and Monaco Portland, guests select their favorite pairing from restaurants like Wildwood and Cafe Nell.  $20 pp, incl. 6 small plates and pairings.

* On Nov. 26-27 at Qualia resort on Hamilton Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia hosts Part 3 of the Great Barrier Feast w/ Guest Chef Ben Shewry, one of 2009’s “Top 20 Rising Stars” in Food & Wine magazine. Beachside food & wine pairings, incl. Oatley wines, and a master chef class will round-out this exciting alternative to a traditional Thanksgiving weekend. Visit

* On  Nov. 26 Yountville’s 22nd Annual Festival of Lights, with carolers, shopping, food and wine events and Santa Sommelier. Tickets for food and wine required. Visit

* On Thursday, November 11, 2010 in Las Vegas, NV Thirsty Girl LIVE! will be at Sushisamba in the Palazzo Hotel.  Founded by Leslie Sbrocco, author, hostof PBS Show "Check Please Bay Area."  From 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM PST enjoy sushi, sashimi and ceviche and learn about wine and food pairings.  Buy tickets online at

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:


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: Christopher Mariani, 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.

 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