Virtual Gourmet

January 16,  2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

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                                       The late Dr. Robert Atkins, author of Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution (2002).

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.


Ambitious, or spread too thin? Richard Sandoval builds his empire
by Carey Sweet 


Richard Sandoval
with partner Placido Domingo

Chef Richard Sandoval’s eyes glazed over. But just for a split second. “Qatar,” he said. “Snowmass Village, Colorado.”
He was talking about where his most recent, most exotic restaurant had opened, plus where his next one would debut, and for a guy who currently controls or consults for an empire of 23 eateries in various parts of the world including Dubai and Acapulco, a moment’s hesitation wasn’t surprising.
    Then, he was gone, moving back into the sea of customers to visit another table where I was dining, at yet another new property, Zengo, which opened in August in the new Santa Monica Place mall in southern California.
    It was a busy 2010 for Sandoval, particularly in Orange County, CA, where, in August, he also held a ribbon cutting for La Sandia Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar, just down the walkway from Zengo. Only three months earlier, he had reinvented the cuisine at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, where he shook the dust out of what was formerly the resort’s flagship Restaurant 162’, renaming it Raya and introducing an adjacent outdoor bar and sushi salon called 180blu.  While the concepts are different, each new eatery seeks to encapsulate the Mexico City-born chef’s quirky approach to contemporary cuisine, playing on the idea of Modern Mexican cooking he first introduced at his flagship Maya restaurant in New York in 1997.
    Ambitious, or spread thin? Curious to find out, I dropped in to Dana Point to find Sandoval is casting a wide net for a mildly adventurous dining audience.


The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Dana Point, CA



        Gone are nearly all suggestions of the former Restaurant 162’, which opened in 2005. Sandoval’s crew wisely stripped the heavy drapes blocking the breathtaking views over Monarch Bay and replaced one partition with a dramatic, floor-to-ceiling kelp forest sculpture. Tablecloths have disappeared for an  décor of hardwood flooring and patterned carpets reminiscent of reflections on water, accented by sleek furniture, a color palette of amethyst, platinum and celadon, and plenty of leather and velvet.  It feels good, elegant, but not stuffy.

The theme here is Pan-Latin Coastal, emphasizing sustainable seafood and fresh, local produce, including some fruits, vegetables and herbs plucked from the resort’s new garden next to the property’s tennis courts. Bringing Sandoval’s vision to the plate is chef de cuisine Greg Howe (below), a Ritz-Carlton Sarasota alum, and it's not  unusual for him to visit tables, personally introducing the food  and demonstrating the colorful parade of small bites that march along slender rectangular plates. The menu gives you a true sense of place,  eating Pacific seafood while gazing at the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
    For diners who have eaten at Sandoval restaurants before, it’s mostly familiar fare; his signature ceviche dominates the appetizer section. “My Tutti Frutti and fufu makes this sound prissy,” said Howe as he presented first courses, describing the varieties of heirloom tomatoes adorning the ceviche and a take on the recipe for yucca and plantain chips used to scoop up the fish.
    Appetizers are designed for sharing, in ample portions and a rainbow of flavors ranging from sweet-fiery (rock shrimp ceviche in coconut broth with lychee, sweet sambal, black sesame seed, mint and a serious jolt of habanero) to earthy-sharp (mussels dressed in savory, pungent Korean gochujang). Think street food gone “Pretty Woman” for bites like lobster tacos, the delicate Maine seafood dressed in black bean purée and chile de arbol salsa. Sandoval fans will recognize the sweet corn soup (below), stocked with truffled masa dumplings, Dungeness crab, clams, lobster, and the dusty, decadent kiss of huitlacoche purée. The solids of the soup are presented in a big white bowl with the clam yawning in its shell like a flower,  then the server pours the thick, steaming broth over the top.

As far as entrees, Sandoval and Howe have some attention-getting plates like Pacific sea scallop paved with slabs of unctuous pork belly and the unexpected tart crunch of nopalitos, amid the more expected dishes like rack of lamb jazzed with a bit of hoisin-adobo sauce.
    If I wasn’t already intrigued by the sound of a surf-n'-turf dish of New York sirloin and Alaskan king crab, Sandoval woke me up with two lapel-grabbing sauces: a heat-packed chipotle hollandaise and multi-dimensional black truffle chimichurri.
    The Latin notes continue into dessert, where chunks of cactus make a crunchy cameo as a salad tossed with strawberry and coconut, while banana ice cream lends a bit of tropical flair to a rich, chocolate-peanut torte. Toffee cake is a classic finish, all thick and gooey and forked up with bits of fresh pear and maple syrup ice cream.
    Ultimately, Raya is a successful revival. It’s safe enough for the typical steak-n'-potatoes resort guest yet sparked with enough well-crafted, creative dishes that the gourmet-minded will be pleased, too.

Raya serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.   Appetizers $12-$18, Entrees $21-$38.

La Sandia Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar

395 Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica, CA


It’s an interesting business partnership: chef Richard Sandoval and opera star Maestro Placido Domingo. Yet the two have worked together for seven years now, and this approachable modern Mexican café marks the fourth location of the La Sandia concept.
    In quick summary, La Sandia still hints of Sandoval, but in a  more mass-friendly approach to familiar Mexican dishes at reasonable prices (most dinner entrees are in the $12 to $20 range).
    There’s no forgetting we’re in a swanky mall above the bustling Third Street Promenade. The place is large,  seating 175 plus 25 at a communal table that’s a fun perch, except for the fact that the table’s frame is so thick and low that I couldn’t my legs beneath it. Yet the vibe is classy enough, thanks to a design that feels like a Mexican hacienda of white stucco, terra cotta, reclaimed white oak, accents of azure talavera tile, and a centerpiece courtyard complete with a retractable glass sky light ceiling.
    If you can get past the boisterous atmosphere – the restaurant can do 1,000 covers a day– it doesn’t feel too formulaic, thanks to attentive staff and touches like more than 250 different tequilas and mezcals. Guacamole is prepared tableside in a stone molcajete, offered with a side of shaved Serrano ham plus habanero paste that looks like Thousand Island dressing; its  heat comes in handy, since there’s not a whole lot of flavor to the avocado mash.
    Enchiladas are OK, but it’s better to focus on more complicated plates like chicken mole poblano, updated with fried plantains and sesame seeds, or the red snapper Veracruzana, the fish crisp-skinned and moist under a flavorful flurry of olives, capers, peppers and spicy tomato sauce, alongside an Anaheim pepper stuffed with tangy goat cheese. Tacos, too, are worthwhile, bundled in warm corn tortillas and brimming with savories like chicken tinga so moist the juices dribble down your chin, or luscious carnitas, or robust adobo-marinated pork decorated in grilled pineapple.

Certainly have a cocktail. A mezcal con pepino margarita is gutsy but not too spicy, like a splash of really fresh cucumber and lime ignited in the underburn of Serrano and chile pequin salt. The tequila sommelier also tempted me with some uncommon pours, and I couldn’t say no to a rosado, aged three months in Bordeaux barrels so  that it took on a raspberry pink tone and floral notes. She also talked me into a sotol from Chihuahua with the idea being to sip it slowly like Cognac, savoring the honey notes, then to cap it with a bit of orange slice dipped in terra cotta-colored worm salt (yes, salt mixed with dried worm, a Latin American specialty).
    Given its corporate roots and chain execution, La Sandia could easily be just another mall restaurant. Still, the food is tasty, the mood is high-energy, and the cocktails are strong – it all adds up to a hangout guaranteed to draw crowds.
La Sandia is open for lunch and dinner daily and brunch on Sun.
Appetizers $5.95-$11.95, Entrees $11.95-$24.95.

395 Santa Monica Place
Santa Monica, CA


The original Zengo opened in Denver in 2004, garnering attention for its inventive Latin-Asian fusion approach to eating and drinking. Today, the concept still feels fresh enough, thanks to fun dishes such as Peking duck daikon tacos, where slices of Asian radish serve as “tortillas,” or chicken tandoori garnished with cilantro and mango salsas as a Latin substitute for coriander and mango chutneys.

Yet it likely won’t surprise anyone that Zengo is a mini-chain, with three other locations. Seating for 225 sprawls across a busy, nightclub-style landscape of teal accents, glazed red and lava tile, brown leathers and black concrete tile flooring set with a curated wall of Asian tea tins, ceramic opium pillows, and sculptural incense burners.
    And fair warning. If you’re looking for simple sustenance, you’re not going to  find it easily in this loud, dark, night-clubby space, where sauces and spices are layered upon layers, and cocktails command as many ingredients as the most complicated dish. As I ate my way through an ample collection of small plates, I found myself musing that this must be dining for people with short attention spans – one flavor explosion after another, throbbing music, and crowds milling about the bar and packed tables, everybody texting and tweeting even as they lifted chopsticks to their mouths.
    That’s OK for the many diners who seem to love this experience. The idea at Zengo is to socialize, while amid all the cacophony the chefs try keep a grip on the food quality. Indeed, chipotle-teriyaki chicken wings are some of the best I’ve ever had, the tiny gams braised in their own fat like confit, then fried ultra crispy and smothered in lots of sweet-smoky-sticky sauce. There are Sandoval’s ubiquitous ceviche,s too. One of the best is the shrimp, octopus and calamari combination, decorated in heart of palm, orange, fiery aji panca, Serrano ham and bonito.

While Asian ingredients provide much of the firepower behind Zengo dishes, some of the most satisfying creations are actually the most straightforward. I couldn’t stop eating the excellent pork-mushroom gyoza dunked in black vinegar-soy, while the  tofu was positively exquisite, deep fried to crisp exterior and a creamy interior, bedded on Napa cabbage and kissed in lemon aioli and sesame chile sauces.
    At first glance, charred tuna wonton tacos seem more mainstream, but then it’s discovered that the crispy bundles are packed with sushi rice, mango salsa and dabs of guacamole, and are very good with a prickly pear caipirinha. Plump edamame, on the other hand, are perfectly steamed then drowned in highly seasoned XO sauce – startling when paired with a tamarind-togarashi margarita.
    Is Zengo dizzying? Absolutely. But is it good? For today’s high-energy diner, often enough, yes.

Zengo is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, for dinner nightly; 
Appetizers $4-$12, Entrees $11-$16.


Carlton Hotel
92 Madison Avenue

    The return of master chef Laurent Manrique (below) from San Francisco to New York is cause to cheer, and with partners Christopher Condy, Meredith Gelacak and Peter Chase, he has refashioned the Art Nouveau glory of the upstairs 150-seat restaurant at the Carlton Hotel (opened in 1904 as The Seville), named it Millesime (which means "vintage") and given the city a true Parisian seafood brasserie like La Coupole and Balzar of breadth and bonhomie, right down to the sexy waitress outfits. With its shellfish counter, red banquettes, and extraordinary Tiffany stained glass dome (above),  Millesime is one of the most beautiful restaurants of the moment in a style likely to endure for a long time to come.
    Also on the same level is the  balconied Bar Millie, overlooking the Salon Millesime, a lounge for live entertainment, cocktails and small bites. Below, where you enter the premises, is a more casual eatery.
    Manrique's background proves why his cooking is so rigorously, joyously in the great French tradition, having
trained at Toit de Passy in Paris then at Taillevent under chef Claude Deligne.  A ten-year stint in NYC included restoring the rep of Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria before heading to San Francisco to chef's positions at notable restaurants like Campton Place and Aqua, then in the development of bistros like  Café de la Presse  and Blanc et Rouge.
        As at all true brasseries, there is a generous selection of oysters and shellfish (below), which may be ordered in various sized plateaux. A not-to-be-missed appetizer is a wonderful dish of scallops with a truffled vinaigrette and mâche. More unusual for a brasserie is the hamachi tartare, with lime, ginger, and shiso. Truer to form is a list of mussel dishes, from the classic rendering in white wine, parsley and shellfish broth to Berbère, with Moroccan spices and lemon confit bouillon.
Of course, there is onion soup, caramelized and layered with bubbling cheese.  One of the specials the night I visited was a stunningly good  parmesan-and-black pepper soufflé with lobster-and-crab fondue with sea urchins, each element wholly complementary, never out of balance, subtle, delicious.
    And then there are the quenelles of pike, once a fixture in  French restaurants, now tough to find.  Manrique does them in a classic and very rich cream sauce à la Jean-Louis Dumonet, a respected chef and mentor.  If you've never had quenelles or haven't in a long time and pine for them, Millesime is well worth rushing to for just that dish.

    After these, consider a simple main course. A selection of half a dozen fish are offered grilled or done on the griddle, and they come with a choice of five sauces, from lemon mousseline to meunière. They will all be impeccably cooked.  There are a few dishes for two, including a two-pound lobster pot au feu with sauce Choron and for the non-seafood eater, roast chicken and cite de bouef. The side dishes are every bit as savory, including dark green spinach, and potatoes mousseline laced with bountiful amounts of butter.
    For dessert consider the moist brioche with plum ice cream and Armagnac, the espresso pot de creme, or the apple crumple with lime crème fraîche.  The profiteroles with hazelnut ice cream need some work and better chocolate sauce.
    The wine list is sensibly assembled and priced, this, after all, being a brasserie, not a trophy-heavy haute cuisine establishment.  Yet in the cooking of Manrique and executive chef Alan Ashkinaze you begin to realize that elaboration does not make a great cuisine. Tradition bolstered by modern interpretation does, and Millesime is a gorgeous testament to that.

Millesime is is open daily for lunch and  dinner. Appetizers at dinner run $7-$15, main courses $17-$36.


by Christopher Mariani

501 East Camino Real
Boca Raton, FL

    In way too many cases, large resort hotels are known for offering one premier restaurant, and a handful of mediocre eateries and poolside snack bars, not exactly appealing to guests who may be staying on property for more than a few days.  Such is definitely not the case at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, where one can dine well at any of the hotel’s five new restaurants.


    The first night of my stay, after a pleasant day of relaxing by the pool and taking in some sun, I dined at the resort’s seafood-inspired Seagrille, located in the newly renovated Beach Club property.  The restaurant is of a modern design with high ceilings, a spacious feel, green and white leather chairs, hanging lanterns, and a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean. The kitchen is run by executive chef Donna Wynter, who came from Kingston, Jamaica, to start her training in NYC at the French Culinary Institute, then went on to expand her food knowledge in Bangkok and Beijing, finally heading back to the States to cook for Bill Clinton and many other famous faces before settling down in Florida at the Boca Raton Resort, working under executive chef Andrew Roenbeck.  Wynter has put together a menu that offers the freshest fish possible, grilled, steamed, baked or cooked, however you like.
    The menu displays the fish along the perimeter of the menu yet places prices only next to fish chosen that day by trusted local purveyors, who offer Gulf swordfish, Florida pompano, hog snapper, and Atlantic salmon, just to name a few.  Wynter also offers tasty starters that include Key West pink shrimp served with a coconut and mango colada sauce, large sea scallops wrapped in bacon topped with a crayfish
etouffé, and a simple order of steamed mussels with a lemon, white wine and garlic sauce, just the way mussels should be prepared.  Although I would recommend sticking to the daily catches, the specialty entrées are definitely worth a try, particularly the banana leaf-baked black cod drizzled with  a miso glaze, and the crispy yellowtail snapper sided by a sweet and sour sauce.  The food is as refreshing as the design, and depending on the length of your stay at the resort, I would make it a point to reserve one night at the Seagrille restaurant, and if the humidity is bearable, eat outside. It’s lovely.

Starters $9-$16 and Entrees $16-$34.


On my second night at the resort, I headed over to the Japanese-inspired Morimoto sushi bar, one of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s signature restaurants, here run by executive chef Takao Soejima, who worked under Morimoto for two years at his original Philadelphia location.

     I began my evening with a morimotini specialty cocktail, made with Belvedere vodka, jumai sake, and a refreshing slice of cucumber.   I sat at the restaurant’s white marble sushi bar, lined with marine blue bar stools (with backs, thank God!), as I watched my sushi being prepared in front of a line of eight flat screen TV’s that displayed the image of an aquarium, actually deceiving one of my guests, who for at least five minutes was convinced that the digital fish were real.

    The restaurant is small with only a handful of tables, and may require reservations during peak season, so do plan accordingly.  The menu is filled primarily with selections of negiri and sashimi, all made with the freshest cuts of fish, including fatty tuna, salmon, eel, yellowtail, and Japanese striped jack.  If I hadn’t eaten so much of chef Soejima’s delicious rock shrimp tempura served with a spicy kochujan aïoli, I would have attempted to try every roll on the menu.  I did get a chance to taste the deep-fried soft shell crab maki, filled with asparagus, avocado, tobiko, and a spicy sauce, along with the barbecued eel and avocado roll; both had terrific textures and flavors.

    Because of the unique design and atmosphere of Morimoto, I almost felt as though I was dining off property, a pleasant change of pace.

Appetizers $8-$28, Rolls $6-$15, and Sushi/Sashimi $3-$9.

    The following night I dined at Lucca, the resort’s Tuscan-style, Italian restaurant, run by executive chef Adam Pile, who  began his career as part of the Resort’s Apprenticeship Program, overseen by Chef Roenbeck.  The evening began outside, at Lucca’s Cloister Garden, where I indulged in a glass or two of Prosecco with food and beverage director, Paul Grim, as we savored the warm weather and spectacular view.  For dinner, chef Pile put together a tasting menu, five courses long, not including dessert.  It was evident throughout the meal that Pile’s talent far exceeded his experience, as course after course continued to impress.
    To start, thinly slices of prosciutto placed on wooden cutting boards bombarded the table, along with thick slices of creamy
mozzarella cheese, spicy ceci beans and eggplant salads, and black olives served in  bowls of warm virgin olive oil.  Next came a giant hen's egg raviolo topped with black truffles, goat's cheese and sage--not quite what you would get at San Domenico in NYC, but still very good.  For our fish course, chef sent out a terrific grilled branzino accompanied by a San Marzano tomato marmalatta, and a pumpkin orzo pasta.  Then came a rich veal osso bucco and saffron risotto, followed by our final meat course, rack of lamb, cooked medium-rare, surrounded by escarole, cannellini beans, and a braised lamb ragù flavored with fennel pollen.  Not only did every course consistently have creative flavor combinations and quality products but the wine pairings were also top-notch, incorporating wines from Castello Banfi in Italy, one of my favorite Italian wineries, and also many whites from the Russian River Valley.  As if the five courses were not enough, we headed to the resort’s very own Serendipity for dessert.

Antipasti $12-$19, Pasta $21-$30, and Entrees $26-$46.


    Arriving at the resort’s Serendipity, which mirrors the NYC original on East 60 Street, I walked into what appeared to be the Willy Wonka factory: endless rows of cupcakes, ice cream, pastries, chocolate, sprinkles, éclairs, and the famous frozen hot chocolate, all displayed on massive ice sculptures and ice tables.  I didn’t know where to begin nor where to end.  As I filled my plate with chunks of fudge and miniature cupcakes I was being asked what type of ice cream sundae I would like to try.  All the desserts were as good as they looked, and I walked back to my room that evening with a big smile on my face.


    The last night of my stay, I dined at Cielo, located on the 27th floor of the pink tower, where executive chef Nadar Jaouhar prepared a coastal Mediterranean feast. Stepping off the elevator, I was immediately greeted by Cielo’s general manager, Amber Renberg, who sat me down at the bar for a drink while I waited for my table. While enjoying bartender Kareem Lakchira’s specialty, rosemary-infused cocktails, I watched the sun set through the restaurant’s gigantic windows that surround the entire dining room, offering a stellar view of the surrounding area and the Atlantic ocean, the only view of its kind in Boca Raton.
    After my drink, I was sat next to the window looking out as the afternoon turned to darkness and the city below filled with light.  For starters, Jaouhar puts together very light, simple appetizers, like grilled prawns served over roasted octopus, calamari, and harissa, along with roasted beet salad mixed with fresh arugula, candied orange, feta cheese and pomegranate.   The main course dishes are diverse, mostly seafood, beginning with a pan -roasted grouper served over a lush braised oxtail, marcona almonds, and a spiced broth, a generous portion of branzino served over a charred cauliflower puree, beluga cous cous, baby bok choy and chermoula.  For red meat, the grilled lamb shank is delicious, presented over Moroccan cous cous, date chutney, root vegetables and lamb jus.

    Throughout the meal, sommelier Roberto Colombi stopped by the table to help pair wines from his expansive and well-balanced wine list.

Starters $11-$18 and Entrees $28-$38.

501 East—This is the sixth restaurant in the Boca Raton Resort, which I wrote about last October:

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to




Two customers sued Seafood Peddler restaurant in San Rafael, California, after their snails "exploded," scalding hot garlic butter on them. The judge hearing case threw it out of court, insisting that it should be a reasonable assumption that escargot might include hot butter.

    "Our evening started in The Grille Room. Maybe it is my own prejudice, but I feel more comfortable seeing a couple of gentlemen in their late 50s handling the bartending duties in such a classy-looking establishment.
You know, someone whose cocktail experience means having made drinks that don't contain Red Bull as a primary ingredient. As it was, I had to halt the proceedings when the young lady mixing my Manhattan started to put Grenadine in it. Her replacement didn't fare much better, but was very attentive as I walked her through the recipe."--J. F. Mix, "Black Fin American Grille Is Worth the Wait," Florida Times Union


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

* Through January, Carnivale in Chicago will host events to celebrate one million customers.  Mojito Mondays, Temperature Tuesdays, $15 gift certificates for diners more will culminate with a Las Vegas vacation giveaway.  Call 312-850-5005 or visit

* On Jan. 17 in Philadelphia, R2L launches lunch service, Monday-Friday.  Chef Daniel Stern brings back the 3-martini lunch, and plates snacks and seafood, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, and signature mains in creative American style.  Call 215-564-5337 or visit

* From Jan 17 – Feb 15, Red Light in Chicago will preview new Executive Chef Ryan Fowler’s menu with vegan and non-vegan $20.11 prix fixe menus.  Call 312-733-8880 or visit

* On Jan. 20 in Chicago, Cityscape Bar, located at  the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza, will host their first "Vino with a View" wine sampling of the New Year. Hosted by Palm Bay International, guests will enjoy several varietals of wine along with an assortment of small bites.  Complimentary. Call 312-836.-000 or visit  

* On Jan. 20 in Malibu Canyon (Los Angeles) Saddle Peak Lodge will host its first food and wine dinner of the year featuring winemaker Stolpman Vineyards of California’s Santa Ynez Valley.  Chef Adam Horton will present a five-course dinner and exceptional wine pairings.  $95 pp .  Call 818-222-3888 or


* On Jan 21-22, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows in Hawaii is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to present a culinary weekend featuring celebrity chefs Michael Symon and Jonathan Waxman and award-winning cocktail mixologist, Manny Hinojosa. VIP welcome reception on Friday evening and six course dinner on Saturday. $300 pp both events, $250 pp Saturday dinner. 720-201-1853 or visit


* From Jan. 21-30 in Charlotte, NC, the Winter 2011 "Queen's Feast" Charlotte Restaurant Week will feature 83 participating restaurants offering 3 courses (or more) at dinner for $30pp.  For menus and reservations, visit

* On Jan 21-23, Pensiero Ristorante in Evanston, IL, will serve its traditional Afternoon in the Grand Parlor of the Margarita European Inn. Guests will enjoy finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, and tea, for $19 pp.  Historic cocktails and wine are available as well. Call 847-475-7779.

* On Jan. 22 in Chicago, Terzo Piano’s Chef Meg Colleran Sahs and Beverage Mgr. Ryan Paykert invite guests to join them for a winter soup cooking demo. The class will teach guests savory and wholesome soup recipes using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, and drinks will be paired and served with each course. $65 pp. Call 312-443-8650.

* From Jan. 24 - Feb. 4, The Source by Wolfgang Puck in Washington, DC, will celebrate the Chinese New Year with a special 5-course tasting menu by  Executive Chef Scott Drewno.  The Source will offer a sneak peek on Jan. 19 with Chef Wolfgang Puck. $95 pp. 202-637-6100 or visit .

* On Jan. 24  at Del Posto in NYC, Mario Batali will host a special dinner prepared by Dario Cecchini, world famous butcher and chef (often referred to as the “Michelangelo of Meat”), with Del Posto Executive Chef Mark Ladner’s selection of hors d’oeuvres, bellinis and Fontodi Chianti.  The 5-course menu will be paired with wines from Fontodi. $200 pp. Call 212-497-8090.


* On Jan. 26th, Grand Central Oyster Bar in NYC, will host a 6-course Oyster & Wine pairing dinner led by Oyster expert Rowan Jacobson and winemakers from Andre Lurton, Barone Fini, and The Crossings.  $60 pp. Call 212-490-6650. 

* On Jan. 27, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards in Livermore Valley, CA, will host the decadent Livermore Valley Winemaker’s Dinner featuring six wines from the local area.  Providing an exclusive experience and open forum discussion, each winemaker will be present to pair their wine with a six course menu created by Executive Chef Eric Berg. $120pp. Call 925-546-2450 or visit

*On Jan. 28, NYC's James Beard Foundation hosts a Grand Italian Winter Feast by LI, NY's Bohlsen Restaurant Group Corporate Chef Cornelius Gallagher and Wine Director Paulo Villela for Verace Restaurant. The 6-course wine dinner plus stuzzichini is $170 pp; $130 JBF members. Call 212-627-2308 or visit

* On Jan. 28,The Oregon Truffle Festival and The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, OR will host the film "SLOW:The Taste of Authenticity" by photographer Douglas Gayeton as the inaugural event, with agronomist and international wine judge Alessandro Mondello and guest chef Stephanie Pearl Kimmel; a two-day truffle dog training seminar, truffle cooking, cultivating, and wine-pairing lessons from acclaimed instructors and chefs, a multi-course Grand Truffle Dinner prepared by celebrity chefs, and a market place where local wineries/vineyards and truffle product vendors display their bounty. Prices vary. 503-296-5929 or visit

* On Jan. 29, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Chicago, IL hosts a 5-course Revana Vineyard Wine Dinner with special guest and owner, Dr. Madaiah Revana. $125pp. 312-329-9463.

* On Jan. 30, in NY, NY, Chilifest 2011 will take over Chelsea Market as 25 chefs from around the city serve their chili creations and strive for the $2,000 grand prize. Chelsea Market, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, and the Cleaver Company are the presenters of the event which benefits Food Systems NYC. Brooklyn Brewery will be providing all the beer for the beer hall. $30-40pp in advance or $35-45pp at the door. Visit

* Jan. 30th, in Washington D.C., Eola Chef/ Owner Daniel Singhofen has teamed up with Ansonia Wines to co-host "Burgundy & The Beast", a four-course dinner featuring rustic preparations of wild game paired with beautiful, hearty burgundies from small production vineyards in France, hand selected by Tom and Mark Wilcox of Ansonia Wines.  $85pp.  Call 202-466-4441 or visit .

* From Jan. 31- Feb. 4, Fedora Lounge in Chicago, IL, will hold “Tot Week” in honor of National Tater Tot Day. Each day of the week will feature a different dish starring tater tots incl. “Tachos” (nachos with tots instead of chips), “Buffa-Tots” (tots tossed in spicy buffalo sauce with shredded chicken and blue cheese crumbles) and “Tot-za” (pizza with tots as the crust).  All dishes $7. Call  312-624-9008 or visit


FEATURED LINKS: 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: NASHVILLE; ST. PETERSBURG, FL.


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).

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 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

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