Virtual Gourmet

December 19,  2010                                                                   NEWSLETTER 

Merry Christmas!



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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. THIS WEEK: THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS DINNER OUT.


In This Issue

London, Part One by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER Balade-Lebanese Pitza and Grill  by Christopher Mariani

MAN ABOUT TOWN: Allure of the Seas—Royal Caribbean International by Christopher Mariani

NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER Irish Whiskey Keeps the Cold at Bay by John Mariani


London, Part One
by John Mariani

       After New York, London is the city that celebrates Christmas with the most exuberance. With all its ties to Charles Dickens, the city, in Boz's words, knows "how to keep Christmas well."
      Indeed, it was only in Victorian times that the celebration of Christmas came to exceed that of all other holidays.  The English Puritans had banned any celebrations after the English Civil War as of 1651, and it was only Queen Victoria's Saxony-born husband, Prince Albert, who reignited celebrations by bringing his own German traditions to England, including the Christmas tree, as of 1840, whose origins dates back to pagan Germanic winter rituals.

Regent Street, photo by Wolfiewolf

         London gave birth to the Christmas card (1846) and kissing under the mistletoe. The singing of Christmas carols from door to door was an English tradition. At home the making of Christmas pudding began on Stir-up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent, with a wooden spoon  (in honor of the Christ child's wooden crib), and mince pies were consumed for luck during the twelve days of Christmas.
        So this is a grand time to be in London and to dine out with friends at the city's vast variety of restaurants--51 of which earned stars from the 2011 Michelin Guide.  This week I will tell you about some new entries, next of some enduring favorites.


54 Curzon Street
020 7629 2742

    London is in the midst of what foodies call the “trat revolution,” with dozens of new casual Italian trattorias open, and Tempo,  run by Henry Togna, has drawn praise from the critics and a chic Mayfair crowd that comes for Chef Yoshi Yamada’s light Italian cuisine.
    The two-story restaurant has the main dining room downstairs (right) and private dining upstairs (below), the former in a minimalist décor of cream-and Mediterranean blue colors, round mirror, wall sconces, and handpainted glass tables. Upstairs there is more filigree and feminine colors of rose and spring green, sofas and upholstered chairs. The lightness of everything in the décor--and sun comes streaming in from Curzon Street when the sun is out in London--is buoyed by the lightness of Yamada's cooking, itself reflective of his training at the great Don Alfonso ristorante on the Amalfi Coast.
    Over two visits to Tempo I've eaten just about everything on the well-balanced menu, beginning happily with the cicchetti, small plates of delicacies like a crostino of  funghi porcini, garlic and parsley; a salad of tender grilled octopus with roasted peppers; very good Pugliese burrata cheese; bruschetta topped with tuna loin; and heartier items like calamari and whitefish fritto misto, and a crostino of spicy Calabrian sausage. You might be tempted to stop there, but push on or you'll miss a lot of wonderful food.
     There is a selection of three carpaccios--I loved the wild sea bass with grapefruit and a touch of fennel--and five antipasti, like fat sea scallops with golden beets, the tang of lemon, and the edge of chili.
    And so on to the pastas, ever  the shining glory of an Italian menu, and Yamada does some beauties, always with his own touch, as when adding a little chili to potato gnocchi with tomato and creamy mozzarella.  Indeed, chili seems a leitmotif in his cooking, suggesting Abruzzese traditions, and it shows up again in tagliatelle with clams, garlic, and briny bottarga (below). Fat tortelli are packed with rabbit, pistachio and sage, while risotto is abundant with shrimp, lemon zest and a bath of white wine. Although I could do without the dill in his tagliolini with sweet Cornish crab, it's a  lovely dish.  Each pasta may be had as a first or second course portion.
    If you crave beef, Tempo has a big thick Scottish ribeye for two, cooked rare and served with its bone marrow, potatoes, and kale. There is also roasted lamb with borlotti beans, tomato, parsley, and the important addition of just a little anchovy to bring the dish into savory focus. When I visited grouse was still on the menu, cooked pink, not bloody, and accompanied by polenta, braised onions, and a lashing of reduced red wine.  And if you feel like seafood, the stufato stew of prawns, mussels, pollock, and clams is definitive in its class. A side of zucchine fritte is recommended for the table.
    Italian desserts have for some time now been getting more and more interesting in London, and Tempo's are some of the best, including a sweet-sour lemon tart; mascarpone with peach and elderberry jelly; and a pannacotta with sweet poached fig.
    So Tempo adds to Mayfair another fine restaurant like Cecconi and nearby Locanda Locatelli in Marylebone. Tempo, however, is far friendlier, less pretentious, more casual, and wholly unfussy, not unlike Mr. Togna's favorite Italian restaurant, The River Café. The always impeccably dressed host has even removed his necktie at Tempo, seems to know everyone, and is absolutely delighted you've chosen to dine with him.  In London, the personality of the greeting is key to success, and when you have the owner there every day, you know you'll be well taken care of.

Tempo is open for lunch, Mon.-Sat., for dinner Mon.-Sat.Cicchetti and antipasti run £2.25-£14.50, pastas (as main courses) £12.50-£17.50, and main courses £17.50-£28.50. A discretionary 12.5% service charge is added to the bill, with VAT included.

The Lanesborough
Hyde Park Corner
020 7259 5599

       London has no more opulent hotel than the Lanesborough, premises that were, since 1733, formerly St. George's Hospital, though the current structure dates to 1825, designed by William Wilkins, who also did the plans for the National Gallery. Keeping to that master's model, the current operator, St. Régis Hotels & Resorts, hired the  Royal Fine Arts Commission, the Georgian Society, the Victorian Society and English Heritage to supervise the change-over into a hotel, which opened in 1991 as a Rosewood porperty, passing to Starwood's St Regis operation in 2002.
    Bathrooms are paneled with Carrara marble, floors are parquet, all  rooms and suites (there are 43) are done in polished wood, silks and satins, with beds and sofas you sink into deeply, and superb artwork throughout.  The suites (below) have  24-hour butler service and all the modern amenities, including free use of laptops, personal business cards and stationery printed on arrival, and for those who stay in the Royal Suite, the exclusive use of the chauffeur driven Rolls Royce Phantom.  Reportedly,  Madonna, Mariah Carey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith and Pamela Anderson have taken such advantage.
    Service throughout the Lanesborough is British in the most attentive way, save at our breakfast when the dining room staff seemed out of touch and unable to bring coffee and croissants to our table in under 15 minutes. Menus were soiled and unappealing.

    The stunning new Italian restaurant Apsleys--A Heinz Beck Restaurant  is anything but a "trat" and replaces a far more formal French restaurant in this large, two-level space, designed  by Adam Tihany in soft colors of gray and taupe, with wine red accents, and a striking mural collage (above) entitled "The Great Daedala"  by contemporary artist Simon Casson, who describes it as
"A Greek methodical painting capturing the passion between Zeus, the king of the ancient Greek gods, and his wife Hera."  They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.
    The convivial conversation level in the room is perfect, without the intrusions of noise that even in London is becoming a problem.
    The Lanesborough's decision to go from French to Italian cuisine indicates just how strong the Italian drift is in London's gastronomy  right now, and to get well beyond the trattoria style, they've brought in a powerful consulting cannon from Rome,
Chief Heinz Beck (below), of La Pergola in the Cavalieri Hilton, where he  forged a highly creative style of cucina italiana and won himself three Michelin stars in the process. Thus far, Apsleys has garnered one star.
    When my wife and I visited, the menu was still in its summer mode, but all Beck  does reflects the finest of the season and aims to lighten tradition Italian cookery by mostly eliminating butter, flour and cream--ingredients not used that much anyway outside of Emilia-Romagna. He has also announced that his cuisine "
is designed to ensure that the body’s insulin levels stay within recommended levels rather than adding excess sugars and carbohydrates, which create harmful peaks and troughs. For example, when meat is grilled at a very high temperature, even for a short period of time, the glucose and proteins merge to form harmful proteins which slow blood flow and age organs and cells, something I avoid.” I arch an eyebrow at that, since I haven't heard of late of many Italians keeling over after eating bistecca alla fiorentina.
    Whatever. Beck's food is superb, often exquisite, executed with great finesse by Executive Chef Massimiliano Blasone. Some of the London media have been, as usual, a tad snarky about Apsleys simply because it is rather fancy, and they don't like fancy when it comes to Italian cuisine. But anyone who believes modern cucina italiana is on a par with the best cuisines anywhere will find its new standard at Apsleys, starting with the
  tuna tartare with herbal infusion and green tea sorbet and the wild red sea bream carpaccio with exotic fruit vinaigrette (below) and the Wild red sea bream carpaccio with exotic fruit vinaigrette.
    The preparation of all dishes here takes enormous care, even when they seem simple, like the ricotta-filled tortellini with tender, sweet fava beans. A cannolo (that's one cannoli!) is plumped with shellfish, eggplant and black olives, while filet of sole is the essence of freshness, served with a little tomato and basil.  The traditional children's dish, pappa al pomodoro, has here grown up aside a filet of beef and avocado, while ravioli is filled with rabbit and pistachios. Almonds add texture to tagliolini with morsels of lobster.

     For main courses, consider veal cured in yogurt, whose acids break down the fibers and whose creaminess makes it velvety, served with a carrot puree; or turbot packed in a salt crust that is cracked open, releasing its steam and aromas, served with a roasted pepper and potato terrine.
    Desserts show the same concentration of detail, as in the apple and chocolate-hazelnut gianduja, and the ricotta soufflé with passion fruit and chocolate.
      Apsleys wine list is huge, with plenty of bottlings left over from the days when it was French dominated, so there are dozens of Champagnes. Prices can reach the stratosphere, but among the Italian labels there is an admirable number priced £30 and under.
        Apsleys' and Beck's contributions announce that Italian cuisine is ready for star billing in London, and that star shines very brightly indeed.

Apsleys is open for lunch and dinner. Dinner antipasti run £17-£70, pastas £15.50-£55, main courses £29-£38. Seven courses £79, with accompanying wines £119.

Tsukiji Sushi
Westbury Mayfair Hotel

Bond Street (at Conduit)
0208 382 5450

      The Westbury Hotel debuted in Mayfair  in the mid-1950s--the first to open in the West End since before the war--with extensive  1999 renovations  by Cola Holdings. In that time the hotel has played host to everyone from  Mikhail Gorbachev to Carla Bruni and her French President, from Gillian Anderson to Martina Navratilova. With 246 rooms, 20 of them suites, the place has an intimacy within the quiet of Mayfair, not unlike having an apartment in town rather than staying in a transient hotel room.
      The Artisan dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and its Polo Bar draws a sophisticated group of Europeans and well-dressed Londoners for cocktails.  The week I visited, the hotel had just opened Tsukiji Sushi, a small, stylish restaurant to the right of the entrance, where Chef Show Choong oversees a staff dedicated to sushi and sashimi and an array of modern grilled and cooked dishes. With just 20 seats, it is a good bet for lunch or a pre-theater dinner, and the service, by darling waitresses, moves at a genteel pace.
Tsukiji Sushi breaks no new ground but what it does is very, very good, so you might begin with a seared sashimi salad or a tatar cucumber roll with yuzu soy, and there is a choice of misos--jalapeño salsa, white miso, and red miso, as well as yuzu ponzu jelly and parmesan crisp.  There are several grilled items and vegetarian too.
     But the meat of the matter is in the raw fish, and Tsukiji's small size makes good the promise of unstinting freshness. Huge sushi restaurants can be problematic, even if their turn-over is high; smaller places need to buy fresh everyday and use only what they think they can sell.
     So here you are guaranteed excellent fatty o-toro tuna, mackerel, sweet shrimp, King prawn, and sea urchin. The cooked items include cuttlefish and eel, razor clams and there is the sweet omelet called tomago. The sushi rolls are substantial, in fact very generous, including a California roll of snow crab and avocado, and eel and cucumber, crispy softshell crab, even an unexpected foie gras roll.
    Tsukiji, named after the vast Tokyo fish market, is a tidy spot to go to when hunger seizes you, when a quick lunch is in the cards, or when you want to splurge with friends and eat like mad. 

Set lunch from £19.50;  sushi from £18.50.

The Berkeley
Wilton Place

020-7235 1010

      Knightsbridge's finest hotel, the  Berkeley, has been there since 1972, though some of the original appointments from its former location at the corner of Piccadilly and Berkeley are still visible, when it was owned by Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of the operettas of  Gilbert and Sullivan. Its Blue Bar has been a swank watering hole for more than a decade now.
      The space that now houses Koffmann's was earlier Jean-George Vongerichten's Vong, and the Koffmann in question is the master chef Pierre Koffmann, whose reputation among London's chefs is near idolatry. Having closed the beloved La Tante Claire in 2004, Koffmann has returned to oversee his finest, and certainly most modern, restaurant yet.

      You enter at the top of a broad staircase that may remind you of entering a well-heeled gentleman's new flat, especially given the lighted bookcase--with Koffmann's favorite cookbooks--on your left. The colors are of the earth, the lighting inviting, the leather chairs and banquettes exceptionally comfortable, and the noise level refreshingly convivial rather than loud.  Photos by Jean Cazals of food are hung on the walls, and the kitchen is open to view.
    Kudos to Koffmann and sommelier Mark Botes for assembling an international wine list of 160 labels, French heavy, with reasonable prices, starting at £19 bottle,  20 by the glass from £6. And my applause goes to manager Eric Garnier's deft handling of an international crowd.
Koffmann has brought back several of his signature dishes, including scallops with squid ink, braised pig’s trotter with morels, and pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream. New to his menu are a light, crab salad with celeriac and apple, and a wintry pithivier of puff pastry filled with game and laced with a thyme sauce. I've come to prefer terrines of foie gras to fresh livers, and Koffmann does one of the best--creamy, subtle in flavor, served with its own crisp baguette.
     There are two dishes prepared for two, Scottish rib of beef cooked on the bone  and a roast chicken stuffed with bread and garlic, neither of which I tried on my visit but both that I am eager to have next time.
The black pudding with sautéed apples is good Gascony-style cookery.
    If you've never had that pistachio souffle, by all means do, but there's also a  marvelous quince tarte Tatin and good old-fashioned floating island, too.
    Koffmann's menu is written in delightful shorthand--no flourishes of six ingredients or rapturous culinary verbs--proving yet again that the pleasure to be found in fine cuisine is not in its flourishes but in its consistent excellence, year after year, so that returning to such a restaurant is always preceded by a well-considered and mighty appetite for favorite dishes.

Koffmann's is open for lunch and dinner daily. Starters run£8-£16; Mains £18-£36; Set lunch menu at £18 for two course,  £22.50 for three; Sunday set lunch menu three courses £26. A 12.5% service charge is added to the bill.



by Christopher Mariani

Balade-Lebanese Pitza and Grill
208 1st Avenue (near  12th Street)

    So-called “ethnic food” is very easy to find throughout NYC, but that’s not to say it is always good, especially in restaurants where authenticity is often trumped by an owner’s attempt to appear trendy and modish.  Balade, located on 1st Avenue in the East Village, is definitely not one of these restaurants.  Chef and owner, Roland Semaan, has created a bona fide Lebanese restaurant with innovative dishes and creative interpretations of conventional flavors, yet and thankfully still making use of traditional Lebanese ingredients.
Upon entering Balade, there is a small bar off to the right, and straight ahead, a dimly lit dining room seating no more than 50 guests, filled with dark wood tables, charming lanterns that hang from the ceiling beams and brick walls  decorated with Lebanese murals.  My date and I listened to Balade’s non-intrusive live music, a sole musician playing an Arabic stringed instrument called an oud, only on Thursdays.  The staff is extremely friendly and accommodating, making one feel welcome.  Balade offers an interesting selection of Middle Eastern beer and wine, many served by the glass, so do a bit of tasting.
      The dinner menu is very large, offering an array of choices for such a physically small restaurant.  The dishes are packed with Lebanese spices, copped raw onions, garlic, and tomatoes.  Chef Semaan also adds wonderful textures to his dishes, an attribute just as important as flavor and presentation.
A perfect start to the evening, sided by an Almaza beer, is the baba ghanouj, chargrilled eggplant pureed with tahini, fresh lime juice and sumac (right). The labneh with toum is also a must, a creamed cheese made with Greek yogurt, mixed with mushrooms, thyme and garlic. The meat appetizers were the highlight of my meal, exciting combinations of flavors, and a balance of heat and acidity, not subtle, and happily so. 
    When I go back to Balade, I will surely order again the sabousik, ground lamb and pine nuts placed inside pastry pockets, and the savory soujouk beef sausages, slightly spicy, mixed with diced tomatoes and flambeed in olive oil.  The main courses are generous in size and include platters of beef krafta, shish kabob, chicken tawook, all juicy and sided by pureed garlic and homemade hot sauces.  Chef Semaan also does an excellent Lebanese pizza, topped with seasoned ground beef, diced onion and tomatoes, perfect for a mid-course, and a steal at only $12.  Like the entire menu, the desserts are faithful to Lebanese cuisine, including the henafa, a baked ricotta cheese topped with bread crumbs, syrup and pistachio nuts.
         With the majority of appetizers starting under $10, and most entrees, including meat platters, under $20, Balade’s prices are a bargain for what you get, fine service, delicious food, and the true feeling of what more ethnic restaurants should strive to be.

Open daily from 11:30am-11:00pm. Starters $5-$16 and entrees range from $11-$21. 



by Christopher Mariani


     This month I was in Fort Lauderdale checking out the brand new Allure of the Seas cruise ship during a two-day preview sail, just days before the inaugural sail.  Driving up to the dock, my first impression of the ship was something like, “My God! This ship is mammoth!”  I had seen pictures of the ship before my arrival, but nothing could have prepared me for the ship’s colossal size.

    The Allure is the first of its kind, grand in every sense of the word, filled with a massive shopping mall, an actual boardwalk with rides, 26 dining options, nightclubs, bars, miniature golf course courses, multiple pools, and a section of the ship that mirrors Central Park, with trees.  From an architectural standpoint, there is not a ship on the water as unique in design.
    Now, considering I only had two days to experience the entire ship, I knew I was in for a long weekend.  I began with lunch at Park Cafe, a charming restaurant offering outdoor dining where one can sit and enjoy tasty panini while also taking in the openness of the park.  I opted for the “Cubano” sandwich, a warm melt of ham and cheese topped by sliced pickles and a hot mustard sauce.  I also ate two (small) Key lime pies, easily the best dessert onboard the ship. Next it was off to the pool to soak up some rays and relax with a cocktail in hand in the adult section. 
The pool set-up is pleasant, sectioned off by standing hot tubs and filled with comfortable lounge chairs that are generously staggered.  In the midst of my unwinding, I caught a glimpse of the film crew shooting Adam Sandler’s new movie, not a clue what it was, but at least I got to see the sometimes-amusing Adam Sandler.  One of the best attributes of the ship is its service staff, especially by the pool.  Without their being intrusive, the arch of an eyebrow immediately catches the attention of a friendly staff member, who after serving me just one round of drinks, knew exactly what to bring me.
That evening, after a little pre-dinner gambling at the blackjack table, I dined at the Main Dining room, an impressive room with high ceilings and a very elegant décor.  The food was a bit lackluster, owing mainly to the food quality, but the actual preparations showed potential.  After a nice enough meal and wonderful company, it was off to experience the ship’s enticing nightlife.  My first stop was to Boleros (below), a Latin-themed nightclub with a live band that had many of the guests letting loose and attempting to salsa, entertaining to say the least.  The club is blanketed with shades of red and orange, and focused around the bar, lighted by yellow flames that shoot from the ceiling. The vibe was hot and the drinks plentiful.  Although I didn’t particularly want to leave, I only had two nights onboard, so it was off to the Rising Tide, a floating bar that moves slowly up and down between decks 5 and 8, offering a unique experience that awed everyone.  After one ride up and down, I had got my floating fix, and it was off to Dazzles, a glitzy, chic nightclub with great music and a lively crowd.  I stayed at Dazzles for the remainder of the night and left after the dancing and drinks finally caught up to me.  Many would head back to the room at this late hour, but I had unfinished business at the blackjack table, and so I walked, barrel-chested and full of confidence to reclaim what was once mine.  The results of this vodka-induced decision did not exactly end well, but at least I put up a fight.
    The following morning I shook out the cobwebs at the Vitality at Sea fitness center, sweating out some of my sins.  I must say, the gym was better equipped than I had expected, filled with tons free weights, brand new machines, and a sea of treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals. After my intense workout and a quick shower, I headed to the Windjammer Marketplace for a delightful breakfast buffet, pretty much negating everything I had accomplished in the gym earlier that morning.  The restaurant sits on the top deck and offers a an extended view of the ocean no matter where you may sit. Coffee, eggs, bacon, waffles, and two muffins later, I was back at the pool evening out my tan.
    After a few hours of sun and a few Heinekens, hunger beckoned, so I walked over to the Boardwalk where I fought for a table at Rita’s Cantina, one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, only a $7.95 additional charge on top of the all-inclusive cruise price.  With a little help from a newly acquired friend who worked her good looks to get us a table, we finally sat down and ordered some tasty margaritas and a few Mexican appetizers to begin our feast.  Rita's sits right at the end of the ship's Boardwalk and is decorated in a Mexican theme, filled with many colors. The food was fresh, full of flavor, and showed no concern for toning down the heat and spice for the ship’s masses.  The beef and chicken fajitas were topped with chopped onions and peppers, the black bean soup was as good as  I've come to expect  in Mexico, and the deep-fried beef chimichanga was hearty and well worth the calories.  Although we had insisted that dessert would be just too much, our friendly server surprised us with a chocolate and banana crêpe.
    That evening, I dined at my favorite restaurant on board, the Samba Grill Brazilian Steakhouse.  The interior is elegant, surrounded by glass walls, and the tables all focus around an appetizer buffet of seafood, very traditional to an authentic Brazilian Steakhouse.  The meats came on skewers--lamb and beef, both well-fatted and full of flavor, juicy chicken breasts wrapped in crisp bacon, pork belly, and much more.  After two rounds of meats, we finally clicked the table light from green to red, signaling we'd had enough.  There is a small surcharge of $25 at Samba Grill, well worth the money.
    The end of dinner marked the beginning of my final night onboard, and I was determined to live it up and party through the night.  I started at Boleros again, around 11 pm, then found my way down to Blaze around midnight.  Blaze doesn’t get hopping until around 1 am, so stay at Boleros a little longer than I did.  After a night full of dancing and drinks, I presumed my night was coming to an end, until I was suddenly dragged up to deck 15 by a gorgeous  girl who insisted we continue to party at Club 20; willingly,  I agreed.  The club was gigantic, filled with a sea of young guests, a square bar staffed by beautiful bartenders, and a DJ that had everyone going wild.  It was around the time that the sky was a faint baby blue that I decided it was time to turn in, knowing I had to be off the ship in just a few hours.
    The following morning I walked off the ship and was left with nothing but fun memories.  For those who have some time to kill in Fort Lauderdale before their flight, like I did, go to the Southport Raw Bar on Cordova Road, a wonderful little seafood joint that sits right on the water and allows for outside seating where one can order fried shrimp, a pitcher of beer and watch the boats come in and out of the dock.
    As I witnessed on the Norwegian Epic months prior, and now on the Allure of the Seas, it is evident that larger cruise ships are taking a much different approach to dining than they did years ago, offering an array of diverse dining venues, most of which are pretty good.  It's safe to say that one will eat well when onboard the Allure of the Seas, especially when dining at one of the speciality restaurants.    

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



by  John Mariani

      St. Patrick’s Day should hardly be the only time people should think of Irish whiskey (and then it's usually poured into Irish coffee), and it seems to me the more wintry it becomes, the idea of a tot of Oy-rish is a capital idea, not least with a good figgy pudding at the end of the holiday meal. With so many refined examples of Irish whiskey now available, it seems a shame not to drink them year-round.
      The Irish themselves consume about 6 million bottles, with France the next largest consumer.  “Irish” is a grain whiskey, mostly blended, though there are also Single Malt, Single Grain, and Pure Pot Still styles. Unlike Scotch, Irish does not use peat in its malting process (Connemara Peated Malt is the exception), so there is less smokiness in the bottle.
      In the late 19th century more than 150 distilleries turned out more than 400 different brands of Irish, but the industry was crippled by the onset of Prohibition in the U.S.  The spirit’s slow growth after World War II had as much to do with ethnic snobbery as it did with weak grain supplies and lack of marketing money. The whiskey had a niche market among Irish-Americans, while Americans drank other “brown goods” like bourbon, rum, rye, Canadian, and Scotch.       A big boost came with the popularity of Irish coffee--unknown in Ireland or anywhere else until 1942 when first created at the bar at Foynes Dock, where the flying boats (below) docked during World War II, then promoted as a welcoming drink at Shannon Airport. In 1952 American newsman Stan Delaplane introduced the beverage at San Francisco’s Buena Vista Bar, where it became famous. A plaque outside the bar tells the story.
      Today all Irish is made in just three distilleries—Midleton (owned by Pernod-Ricard) in Cork, Bushmills in Antrim, and Cooley in Louth (the only one Irish owned). Consolidation brought money and marketing clout to the global market, so that there are now at least a dozen Irish whiskies widely available in the U.S., with prestigious small-batch labels costing upwards of $200.  Yet the average price for a bottle of Irish is still below $25, making them readily affordable.
      Bushmills is the dominant brand in the market, producing at least seven different whiskies. Its standard “White Label” ($18-$20), is a fine introduction to Irish (Czar Peter the Great declared it the best spirit in Europe.) Its Black Bush ($25-$30), aged in old sherry casks, has been a big hit in the U.S., with a more pronounced maltiness and a near Sherry-like, soft finish.  Their 10-Year-Old Single Malt ($38-42) competes with the Scotch Single Malts. Made from 100% malted barley, distilled three times, and matured in bourbon barrels for at least 10 years, this has a lively smokiness in the bouquet, with level after level of complex spices and fruit, finishing like velvet on the back of the throat. Bushmills also makes a 12-, 16-, 21- and 25- year old.
     Jameson, dating to 1780, is a solid contender, with 2 million cases sold in 2006. I find its basic label ($16-$19) not quite as rich as Bushmills'; I prefer the 12-Year-Old ($35-$45), which shows off nutty, woody flavors, and a pleasant undertone of sweetness.
      John Power & Sons ($19-$21) begins dry, almost severely, but mellows on the palate and takes on nice caramel-like notes, then comes up again with the right heat in the finish, though I find a somewhat medicinal flavor in there too. Though the same 40 proof as most Irish, it has a powerful kick.  
Tullamore Dew takes its name from “Tulach Mhoŕ” (big hill) and the letters of general manager Daniel. E. Dew’s name. The company motto is “Give every man his Dew.”  They make a good basic label ($19-$23) and a 12-Year-Old ($30-$37), while its Heritage ($30), blended from 20 casks laid down in 2000 to commemorate the company’s Heritage Centre opening, is a fine mix of spice, citrus notes, and vanilla from wood aging. It comes only in 70 centiliter bottles, available at duty free shops.
     Michael Collins is named after the beloved Irish political leader, known as the “Big Fellow” (Liam Neeson played him in a 1996 biopic). According to the back of the slender, pleated bottle, “his heroic spirit lives on in Michael Collins Whiskeys,” which, I suppose, has more marketing persuasion than a whiskey named after general manager. The basic spirit ($22-$25) goes through a small copper still whose long neck delays the passage of the spirit, making it more refined, spending a minimum of 8-12 years in old bourbon barrels. The first sip has a real bite at the start, then a softening, elegant sweetness and maltiness on the palate, fading slowly without any harshness whatsoever.
Then there’s lovable Paddy Old Irish Whiskey ($28-$30), named, inauspiciously, after a company sales rep.  It’s pleasant enough and mild, if lacking in finesse, and is indeed ideal for Irish coffee.



In Rudd, Iowa, authorities say had to clean up after a tipped-over semi-trailer spilled 52 pallets of Jell-O gelatin and pudding cups across a county road. The driver,  Eric Young of Charleston, S.C., wasn't able to make a turn and went into a ditch, suffering  minor injuries.


(and maybe a few Jell-O shots)

"I'm starting to starting to love this place. . . . I love a couple of other dishes, particularly an arugula salad with slices of roasted golden beets, dabs of local Latte Da Dairy goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts. . . . . I love the tableside filleting of the Dover sole."--Leslie Brenner, "The Oceanaire Room," Dallas Morning News.



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


* From Jan. 9-Feb. 3, 2011, The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, CA, will host its annual Chef’s Holidays event series over 8 sessions incl. cooking demos, kitchen tours and meet the chef receptions, with a 5-course finale dinner with the guest chef and Ahwahnee Executive Chef Percy Whatley in the Dining Room.  A few of this season’s incl. Chef Michael Tusk of Quince in San Francisco; Chef Andrew Kirschner of Wilshire in Los Angeles; Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane in Montclair, NJ; Chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles; and Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA.  Two- and three-night packages start at $695 for 2 people.  Call  801-559-4903 or visit

* On Jan. 13, at Restaurant Daniel in NYC, Rajat Parr, Wine Director for San Francisco chef Michael Mina, shares the stories and wines that shaped his journey to becoming one of the country's great sommeliers. Each of the evenings features six courses by Chef Daniel Boulud paired with two world class selections by Rajat. $305 pp. Click here to reserve. . . On Jan. 25 Maria Jose Lopez de Heredia, owner and wine maker at her l family estate in Haro, Spain, joins us to co-host an evening  with great wines of Rioja. Each of the dinners five courses  prepared by Daniel's  Executive chef Jean Francois Bruel, paired with two selections. $635 pp. Click .

* In Uncasville, CT,  Mohegan Sun is offering a “Get Lucky” package features an overnight stay for two complete with a complimentary intimacy kit, dinner and drinks for two at Lucky’s Lounge and a complimentary free bet voucher. $96 pp.  Call 1-888-777.7922 or visit

* From Jan. 21-3-, Kansas City Restaurant Week is back in 2011, providing foodies hundreds of opportunities to sample different menus across the Kansas City area. The second annual epicurean event will take place January 21 – 30. Ten percent of every Restaurant Week menu purchased during the ten days will once again be donated to Harvesters. 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: TULUM, MEXICO; PARK CITY, UTAH.


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). THIS WEEK:PARK CITY, UTAH; LETTER FROM PARIS.

The Family Travel Forum  - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

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