Virtual Gourmet

March 27, 2011                                                                                                    NEWSLETTER

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This Week

Dining Out In Wales
by John Mariani

New York Corner: Gotham Bar and Grill
by John Mariani

The Food Scene in the Caribbean...And Where to Eat When In Aruba
by Christopher Mariani

Notes From the Spirit Locker: Muscat Is More than Its Aroma
by Mort Hochstein

Quick Bytes


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: Great Moments in Italian Food History


by John Mariani

   I doubt many people have the foggiest idea what Welsh cuisine is, except for Welsh rarebit--that staple of 1940s and 1950s ladies' luncheons, consisting of nothing more than melted cheese over toast, usually with the addition of a little mustard and cayenne pepper. The dish has been around for centuries--basic as it is--first mentioned in print in 1725. But no one has ever satisfactorily explained the origin of the name. Some surmise that it might be a word play on poor people having cheese instead of meat as a rare bit. Actually, "rarebit" seems a corruption of "rabbit," perhaps used in the way mock turtle soup contains no turtle meat.
     You will find Welsh rarebit/rabbit (below) in just about every pub in the region, a poor advertisement for Welsh gastronomy, composed of not much more than its basic elements, which anyone elsewhere would just call a grilled cheese sandwich. But in fact, Wales has a robust food culture, with plenty of hearty, quickly cooked dishes like Tatws Pum Munud, made with potatoes, vegetables, and bacon on the stovetop, and a good array of stews like cawl, made with lamb and leeks.  Bara brith ("speckled bread") has a sweet taste, made with raisins, currants and candied peel, while crempogau are buttermilk pancakes, and bara lawr is laver seaweed and oatmeal made into patties fried in bacon fat.
    Caerphilly (below) is a raw cow's milk cheese made around Cardiff, once a very simple, mild cheese, often  pushed out in large factory bulk. Once, miners would wrap them in cabbage leaves for lunch. There are, however, artisans who make some first-rate Caerphilly, creamy, sought-out brands like Duckett's (though that one is actually made in England), Caws Cenarth, and Glynhynod all worth searching out.
    There is some wine made in Wales--20 working vineyards--and, since 1998,  Penderyn makes a fine whiskey.  But Wales is a beer-loving country
and brands like S A Brain and Felinfoel are easily found.
    I'd like to report that my pub visits in Wales revealed a thriving food culture, but just as in England and Scotland, the fare is pretty much the same  in every pub and pretty dreary stuff. You might, therefore, want to consult the annual Good Pub Guide for more in-depth coverage. But if you want to dine much higher on the hog, consult Welsh Rarebits: Hotels of Distinction 2011 for a collection of more than 50 of the country's finest hotels, townhouses, inns and restaurants.  On my recent trip to Wales I ate splendidly at several such places, from menus both classic and up-to-date prepared by young chefs who are as knowledgeable about where to find the best local, just-shot grouse and Welsh cheeses as their employers are the best Burgundy wines.
    Fairy Hill (right), set in an 18th century stone house on 24 acres of parkland in Gower, has eight cozy rooms and an excellent restaurant that draws its provender and ducks from their own walled garden, and the Gower Peninsula holds a bounty of sea bass, sewin, laverbread, samphire and cockles, and also gives its lamb the flavors of the salt marsh. The wine list is excellent. Y
    You might begin, then, with a
Welsh goat's cheese and beet salad with toasted walnuts, or a finely textured tian of Welsh crab with rich yellow mayonnaise, tomatoes and avocado. Scallops are seared and spiced with cumin, served with a cauliflower puree, black pudding and the unexpected appearance of chorizo. Duck from the Penrhiw farm comes with a liver parfait and sweet jelly wine, while brill fillets take on chard with an herbed polenta in a Swansea Bay mussel broth.  Of course, there is fine Welsh beef, with hand-cut fried potatoes, a confit of tomatoes, and bok choi, lavished with yellow Béarnaise sauce.  For dessert don't miss the treacle and almond tart--marvelously sticky stuff--with the crisp nougatine, custard and clotted cream.  And you will sleep well.
Two courses run £35, three £45.

    On another evening we dined at 
Ynyshir Hall  in Eglwysbach (once owned by Queen Victoria),  which we found after twirling through narrow country roads whose palisades-like stone walls turn every turn into a hairpin. You can roam the 124 bucolic acres here, quietly as a dormouse, entertained  by the residents eh inhabitants of a highly renowned bird sanctuary. Within the hotel it is  as quiet, tufted and comfortable as a location setting for a BBC series from a Thomas Hardy novel, though not so dramatically charged.  The Dovey estuary is also a Welsh Biosphere Reserve.
The dining room has a chummy intimacy, meaning you will be on nodding acquaintance with others in the sea blue-green, well-set, flower bedecked room with textured tall chairs and modern art. Here we began with smoked haddock with poached egg and new potatoes, then Borth Bay cockles with lava bread served on soda bread toast. A serving of smoked wild salmon was silky and delicious, enriched with scrambled egg and chives, then omelets with cheese and ham, treacle-cured bacon, sausages, lava bread, and black pudding. Oh, I didn't mention this was just breakfast.
    For dinner Chef Shane Hughes achieves a balance of the sumptuous with the simple, evident in dishes like his starter of cod and scallops with lightly curried potato, onion cream and shallot crisps. Large-breasted quail is poached and roasted, with a quail's egg ravioli, cream cheese, and lovely green pea puree, while rock oyster and langoustine comes with an oyster cappuccino.  Excellent Welsh lamb is treated to an accompaniment of asparagus tortellini, crayfish, lamb's tongue lettuce and salsify. And for dessert there is a dark chocolate fondant with spiced toffee, bay leaf ice cream (not wise) and berry jelly. Or you might opt for the Welsh cheeses. The wine list is first rate in every budget category.

A 3-course dinner is £25 with  6-courses at £72.50, and 10 at £90.

     Our last night in Wales was spent at Tyddyn Llan  near Chester and Llandrillo, at the tip of Snowdonia. Owners Bryan and Susan Webb call their proud labor of love a "Restaurant with Rooms," and those rooms are splendidly appointed, as is the country dining room with its own simple, well-groomed elegance and its view over the green lawns and forest. (ask them to turn up the low lighting here to provide some buoyancy). Here you begin with a proper dressed crab scented with fennel and a delicious pea shoot salad, or perhaps a foie gras parfait with onion chutney.  You sip a little wine from a list rich in Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a good sampling of other European labels, then choose among leek, truffled risotto or wild bass with laverbread,  The juicy filet of Welsh black beef comes marvelously rich, sparked with a black pepper  sauce of classic breeding with shallots and thyme-perfumed puree. Don't miss Nea;s Yard farmhouse cheeses with the last of your wine or a glass of Port. And off to bed, drowsy and contented that you have dined as well in Wales as anywhere in the UK and slept as well as any traveler ever will.

Dinner is set at £70.




12 East 12th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

         It seems impossible that Gotham Bar and Grill opened 27 years ago, not just because time flies but because it seems as fresh and innovative as when Chef Alfred Portale took over the kitchen (and a partnership with original owners Jeff Bliss, Jerry kretchmer, Tichard and Robert Rathe) two years into its wobbly existence.
     Walk in for the first time and you might well think the place is brand new and the hottest new restaurant in town: It is exceptionally handsome and gregariously large, with a long bar, perfect lighting so that everybody can see everybody else, all done in creamy colors and glowing chandeliers.  There’s even a couple of steps down into the dining room, evoking a swank nightclub of the 1930s. Alas, there is something missing now—the six-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty that once held her torch high about midway through the room.  True, it might have been a little kitschy but it was the restaurant’s totem as much as  the giant octopus on the ceiling of Gargiulo’s or the jockeys outside “21” Club.

Well, she’s gone but everything else is the same and it sparkles as if the restaurant just opened its doors last week, when I visited.  The greeting is as cordial, the walk to your table always has its sightings of celebs and regulars, and the tablesettings are first class in every respect. The noise level can rise because the place is always packed by 8 PM, and it is clear that whoever comes here is here to eat, not to goggle or feel in the know.
Portale has always served his own style of grownups’ food, never trendy, never given over to a fad for gourmet pizzas or meatballs. It  is a style famous for its “towering” dishes of lavishly layered ingredients that was Portale’s trademark early on and much copied everywhere.  He still layers some dishes but they seem restrained so as not to seem a dated cliché.  What he  does do, and has done for 25 years, is to build in layers of rich flavors based on woodsy mushrooms, bitter-salty greens, and impeccably reduced sauces.
         Thus, a seafood salad that sounds deceptively simple is a triumph of bright flavors—scallops, squid, Japanese octopus, lobster and avocado, all in particular balance.  He makes a risotto with ruby red shrimp, incorporating smoked bacon, roasted tomato, and wild arugula for textural, sweet and saline notes. Goat’s cheese agnolotti seem simple enough, but Portale brings them into a moist mélange of braised chanterelle mushrooms, baby leeks, sharp pecorino cheese.  The only dish I thought didn’t really click were lovely bay scallops left raw, with a green apple geleem hearts of celery, lime, piment d’espelette; I would much prefer the scallops just barely cooked in a little butter or oil to fatten up the dish.
     Portale (below), along with chefs Adam Longworth and Jacinto Guadarrama, here for 24 yrs), have kept on some of Gotham’s favorites, or at least I think the magnificent lobster with Thai spices, water spinach, snow peas, ginger, rice noodles in a kaffir lime broth has been a signature dish.  In any case, it seems as contemporary as any being served in New York and one hard to resist.  There is never any question that Portale buys the finest ingredients because you taste every one of them in ever dish, unlike those of chefs who merely put a few dots of some ingredient on the rim of as plate or a few snippets of vegetables on top of a protein.  Case in point, Gotham’s superb grilled rack of lamb with Swiss chard, roast baby onions and potato puree—a classic rendering, with a marvelous reduction of the lamb pan juices.  Truffle-crusted Atlantic halibut is a good concept, especially since cauliflower, baby leeks, and a mushroom fricassée with verjus emulsion really perk up the basically bland flavor of halibut.
   Pastry chef Deborah Racicot is in perfect step with Portale’s ideas, rendering desserts like pistachio soufflé with Medjool dates and tangy Meyer lemon ice cream a class act, while the equally classic tangerine vacherin of perfect weight and texture takes on nuances from crisp meringues and white chocolate with poached Mandarin oranges.
         Gotham’s winelist, 800 labels strong, overseen by sommelier and dining room manager Rick Pitcher, is among the exceptionally well chosen screeds in New York, but high-end bottling dwarf those under $100, and I’d like to see more below $50.  But the selections are all there to buoy Portale’s cuisine, as is everything else about this stellar restaurant that remains after three decades a Statue of Liberty-like beacon and standard bearer of New York style, grace and taste.

Gotham Bar and Grill is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, for dinner nightly.  Dinner appetizers run $19-$28, main courses $34-$48, with a five-course tasting menu at $95.




by Christopher Mariani

The Food Scene in the Caribbean. . .

 and Where To Eat When in Aruba

  Throughout my  travels to the different islands of the Caribbean, I've  realized that the restaurants are generally hit or miss. It is also evident that many of the islands share similar cooking styles and dishes that vary only slightly. A significant percentage of the islands have good to really good restaurants in some of their major luxury hotels and an abundance of decent fun local restaurants that try hard but are more about the experience than the food. It is well known that throughout the Caribbean, tourism boards and government officials are now intervening and placing a tremendous importance on the revamping of their island’s gastronomy, understanding that the bulk of their revenue comes from tourism, simply because tourists love to eat. They are achieving this improvement by setting up food and beverage schools to educate local citizens. These schools offer cooking classes, front-of-the-house training, wine seminars and management programs in an attempt to generate more job opportunities for locals, a trend I hope to see more of. 
    Far too often I hear from hotel general managers that local recruitment for staff among the islands is slim to none, which is why you will often stay at a high-end hotel and be greeted by a bellhop from Croatia, check in at the front desk by a pretty Polish girl, and find the concierge is from France. At the Ritz-Carlton in Grand Cayman, they even list the staff’s home country directly underneath their name tags. This is a terrific way to add culture to a resort, but it is not exactly creating jobs for the locals. So it is nice to see a push for the education and expansion of job prospects for island natives within the hospitality industry.
    In my experience, it has nothing to do with the capabilities of the locals but has everything to do with the ever-apparent mentality that so-called “Caribbean time” is acceptable. “Caribbean time” is the idea that everyone can and will be late by 45 minutes and that’s just the way it is. Maybe it’s because I’m from New York and am always on the go, or maybe it’s because I don’t like waiting 30 minutes for a taxi to drive me to a restaurant where I then wait another 30 minutes for my waiter to approach the table for my drink order that I become frustrated.
I guess I just don’t know how to relax and kick back. Let’s make this clear: I would never expect a culture to feel obligated to adapt to a tourist; it should be the other way around, tourists should be the one respecting another’s culture. But when working in a restaurant or hotel (the hospitality industry), being cordial is not making your guests wait around until you feel ready to serve them.
    That said, two islands where I did receive terrific service and even better food were  Anguilla and Grand Cayman. They both have a good balance of fine fare restaurants and local eateries. The locals have sense of happiness that translates into every aspect of the island and its culture, and
surprisingly “Caribbean time” did not exist, they operated on “real time.” How odd.
         On a recent trip to Aruba, my first time, I was excited to explore and taste what the island had to offer in terms of restaurants and cuisine. And let me start by saying, Aruba thankfully operates on “real time.” After checking into the Aruba Marriott Hotel & Casino, one of the largest hotels on the island, I walked down to the hotel restaurant, Simply Fish (left), right on the beach. I sat down, ordered a drink and looked out at the ocean as the sun began to set and glimmer off the almost placid water. There is something magnificent about eating on the beach as the heat begins to cool, the humidity lessens and the day turns to night leaving the flames from the torches, bright moon and stars responsible for the only light.
    The menu at Simply Fish is straightforward, offering eight appetizers, the shrimp ceviche with mango, avocado and lime juice one of the best. Also worth a try, the grilled shrimp lemongrass kebabs served with a sweet salsa. The main courses are generally seafood and large in portion, all fresh and enjoyable. The friendly service staff is easily the restaurant’s greatest attribute, smiling men and women who are simply there to make your dining experience as pleasant as possible. The Marriott also has a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and sushi bar, neither of which I dined at but it was nice to see multiple dining options for guests staying on property.
         Venturing off property I dined at a local bar on the water called Zeerover (right), a 15-minute drive from the Marriott and most other major hotels. Zeerover is a great little outdoor spot occupied by a pool table, an old juke box in the corner playing Spanish music, a handful of tables surrounded by plastic folding chairs, and green Christmas lights used for decoration. There’s also a wooden deck that extends to the dock where small single engine boats come in out and with the ocean’s freshest fish. Most tables are filled with groups of older gents and women sitting back with shades on drinking ice-cold bottles of Aruba’s own Balashi beer. Owner Eric Bisslik waits for the boats to arrive as he scans the daily catches and buys whatever fish he feels like cooking that day. That afternoon, a giant wahoo came in and Bisslik chopped it up into chunks before his cook battered,  then threw them into the deep fryer along with a few handfuls of shrimp and sliced plantains. This bowl of fried delights (below) came piping hot to the table and was sided by a glass container of hot papaya sauce for dipping. After a few Balashis and a stomach full of seafood, I sat back, soaked in some rays and stared out at the beautiful ocean as the clouds slowly passed above. Zeerovers is not often visited by tourists and is considered to be an island secret; that’s part of its charm. So when in Aruba, stop by for lunch but don’t tell too many people about how great it was.
         The following evening we dined at Gostoso Restaurante, a festive restaurant in Oranjestad that had a surprisingly complex menu with some dishes not often placed on an island menu. The dishes are generally Portuguese and Arubian-influenced, but there are little hints of Japanese and Italian that create an interesting twist. One of my favorite appetizers was a deep-fried sushi roll with a sweet and tangy soy sauce. There were also traditional Aruban dishes such as the
cabrito stoba, a mixture of goat, cilantro, red peppers , and rosemary in a red wine sauce, along with the lenga stoba, stewed beef tongue cooked in garlic, onions, tomato and scallions. All Arubian dishes here are cooked with a deep sense of flavor and quite a bit of flair for an uncomplicated island restaurant. From the Portuguese menu, a generous portion of New York strip hangs on a kebab after being marinated with bay leaves, garlic and sea salt. Chef/owner Jode Do Nascimento works nightly along with his lovely wife as local waitresses orchestrate an extremely fluid service.
         The last restaurant was more beautiful than tasty but definitely worth a visit. The Kunuku House (right) was originally an old farmhouse built over 150 years ago that has now been converted into a functioning restaurant. Ask to be toured around and try to envision what the rooms would have looked like for the past 150 years as you enter the master bedroom, which now has a handful of tables and is painted  a light powder pink. The rooms jut off from one another as you may find yourself dining in the children’s bedroom or possibly the living room. The Spanish architectural house has its windows in line with the north-east trade wind for a cooling breeze along with very thick walls, covered by a saddle roof for natural cooling. Along the perimeter of the house is a
transhi stone fence formerly used to protect the cultivation from stray goats. We dined outside on the patio where a cool breeze blessed the island that night. Most dishes are good. Stick to the fried selections, order a cocktail and enjoy the atmosphere.
         Beyond the tropical weather, always-bright sun and gorgeous white sand beaches, Aruba has evolved from a stereotypical laid back “Caribbean time” island that still haunts many of its neighbors. As many, if not all of all the islands found in the Caribbean, Aruba is a coastline paradise with an interior that offers not much more than shrubbery and an almost desert-like terrain, but Aruba distinguishes itself with its collection of pleasurable restaurants and its wonderful staff.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Muscat Does Not Live by Aroma Alone
by Mort Hochtein

     On an airplane recently, a stranger in an adjoining   seat observed me studying   files and deduced that I knew something about wine. Unbidden, he started a conversation with a test: “If you’re so smart,” he ventured, “what‘s my favorite wine?”  Somehow, perhaps because I had been reading about it the day before my flight, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise popped into my mind, and I tossed the name of  that southern Rhone “stickie” at my seatmate. I’d hit it right from out of nowhere and overwhelmed by my acuity,   I am happy to say, that shot silenced my querulous companion   for the remainder of our flight.
   I like Muscat in all its forms, sparkling as in airy, feather-light Asti spumante from Italy, blended, fortified, aged, and bulked up like a heavyweight boxer in rare and pricey bottlings from   Rutherglen in Australia, elegant in the refined style of Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace, tantalizingly sweet as in Moscato d’Oro from Robert Mondavi in California and in all its infinite varieties from the many vineyards where it grows.
    There are more than 200 varieties and derivatives in the Muscat family. Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains are the most common. Among other prominent offshoots, Austria fields a Gelber Muskateller and a Muscat Ottonell, while Muscat Cannelli and Orange Muscat spring up in California.   In its more prevalent light and fragrant variations, Muscat makes the perfect aperitif or dessert wine, satisfying on its own, better when paired with a simple sponge cake, flan   or Swiss Roll, delectable when paired with Fois Gras, and dangerously overmatched by cheeses of any sort. I’ve made it a point to sample Muscats wherever I travel and it has been a rewarding quest.
   Every two year, French producers   stage  a rolling tasting   called  de’couvertes en Valle du Rhône  (discoveries in the valley of the Rhône), a week  of  daily tastings  and excellent buffets starting in the  north below Lyon, and working south along the river to the delta  below Avignon feeding into the Mediterranean.   I joined the most recent  caravan at stage one  at the ancient city of Vienne  and  as we sampled our way through oceans of Côte-Rotie, Condrieu,. Saint Joseph and Hermitage.  I lusted for day three when I could satisfy my thirst  for  fresh, young Muscat de  Beaumes de Venise.

    When that occasion  arrived at the Salle des Fêtes in Beaumes-De-Venise, I followed the crowd, figuring the locals know what’s best. The biggest cluster was around the table for  the Domaine de la Pigéade. And for good reasons, because the Pigéade, a pale gold pleaser, its perfumed nose redolent of honey and apricot tones, is a rare,  primarily bespoke and expensive wine.  Smooth with  honey and apricot fruit, elegant on the palate, its sweetness tempered perfectly by a tweak of acid,  the Pigeade is worth searching out. I found   375ml bottles  online  in two California stores, K&L ($14.99) and Backroom Napa ($17.)
   It was also difficult to get to the Domaine de Durban table, and again, rewarding. The  ’09 Durban is slightly weightier, ripe with  scents of white flowers, mandarin and pears, morphing into more tropical flavors of pineapple, peach and marmalade that linger long on the palate. Priced between $18 and $25, it is  generally more available than the Pigeade. My number three muscat was the 2009 Domaine des Bernardins,  more amber in color, with a slight tang of pepper on the nose, medium full bodied and rich in pineapple and figs and a hint of molasses. An elegant wine, it retails for about $18.
    There are four communes in the Muscat appellation and many small farms belong to  cooperative, the largest of which is Vignerons de Balma Venitia.  The co-op wine is medium bodied, with apricot  and pineapple flavors, and was a close fourth in my rankings. Retail in the U.S. is $16 to $20, and Balma Venitia  is  also available in kosher style.
Sherry-Lehman in New York carries the kosher 2006 Balma Venitia Muscat de Beaumes de Venise at $17.95 for a 750ml bottle.
    If I say I had to fight crowds with these four, it was  hardly  easy to get near the other major producers—Vignobles la Coterie,  which is also a co-op, Domaine  Beaumalric, Domaine de Fenouillet and Domaine de Bouletin. But it was definitely worth the battle and  I  left, my thirst for muscat satisfied, if only for the day.
   I saw the ’08   Durban by the glass at the bar in 59 East 59 Theater in New York City, and I am sure it is available on many restaurant wine lists, doubling as an aperitif or an after dinner sweet drink.   Knowing that Sondra Bernstein’s   restaurant, The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma,  has an extensive Rhône selection.  I checked there and  found an ’06 Durban by the glass at $10. As Michelin might say, worth the detour.

Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.


Quick Bytes

Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes events, special dinners, etc, open to the public.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, including tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

Mondays beginning March 21, in Chicago, Frontier will feature a prix fixe dinner half-prices bottles of wine including Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (regularly $42), Mumm Pinot Noir (regularly $32), Provenance Merlot (regularly $54), Tintara Shiraz (regularly $36) and more.  Created by Executive Chef Brian Jupiter, the prix fixe dinner will include a choice of 4-courses including soup (Oyster and Artichoke Bisque) or salad, an appetizer (Duck Tacos), entrée (Slagel Family Farm Meatloaf) and dessert.  $30 pp.  Call 773.772.4322 or visit 
On March 28 - 31 in Astoria, NY, MexiQ Kitchen & Draught is partnering with Tuthilltown Spirits to  host  a Hudson Whiskey pairing dinner.  Executive Chef Jonathon VanSleet has created four courses of Mexican-American barbecue dishes which will enhance the flavor of each locally-distilled whiskey. $45 pp.  Call 718-626-0333 or visit
On March 30, Texas de Brazil in Chicago, IL, will host a Chicago Hotel Concierge Association Fundraiser benefitting Share Your Soles, the CHCA Assistance Fund, and Les Clefs d'Or 2013 Congress. Guests will enjoy beer, wine, complimentary passed hors d'oeuvres, casino games and a silent auction.  $35pp, $30 with a donation of gently used shoes. Call 312-670-1006 or visit
On March 31, in Atlanta, RA Sushi is hosting a Maki Madness sushi-eating contest to coincide with NCAA March Madness.  The contest is organized into a bracket system and competitors will be eating RA Sushi’s signature Tootsy Maki.  The grand prize eater will win sushi for a year.  Food and drink specials will be available all day for guests.  Deadline to register is March 29, and the contest is limited to first 40 entries. No cost to register. Call 404-267-0114 or visit
Through March 31 in San Francisco, CA, Ozumo will donate 100% of the proceeds of their Kibou No Hana (“flower of hope”) specialty cocktail to Japan tsunami relief efforts. Call (415) 882-1333 or visit
On March 31, Nombe in San Francisco, CA, will host a Sake 101, Primer on Sake Pairing with all proceeds going to the Japan Disaster Relief fund.  Dinner will showcase four traditional styles and a 4-course meal.  Special guest will be Yuka Takahashi, sister, to Nombe partner, Mari Takashahi, who left Japan 4 days after the quake and will share her compelling experiences. Industry donors include Youngs Market, ABS Seafood, VegiWorks, Golden Gate Meat Company, and Modesto Chicken.  Highlight of dinner is 18-yr-old koshu (aged) sake served by Sake sommelier and Nombe partner, Gil Payne.  $45pp.  415.681-7150 or visit
On March 31, Foreign Cinema in San Francisco, CA will host a very special evening with Winemaker Eric Sussman of Radio-Coteau. Sussman and Wine Director Zach Pace will take guests through a food and wine journey take guests through a food and wine journey as they pair the flavors of Foreign Cinema’s seasonal, California-Mediterranean cuisine with select library wines featured alongside current releases from the venerable Radio-Coteau. This dinner will take place in the restaurant’s intimate Mezzanine and will include a 4-course menu with wine pairings for $100pp. Space is limited to 27 guests. Call 415-648-7600.
From March 31 to April 3 in Austin, TX, Whole Foods Market presents The Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, which unites innovative culinary artisans, wine producers, and the general public to celebrate the rich traditions that influence TX wine and food. Now in it's 26th year, the festival welcomes more than 30 chefs and culinary experts from across the globe, and features 18 unique wine and food events at top restaurants, hotels, and venues throughout the area. Attendees can engage with Chefs like Tyson Cole of Uchi/Uchiko, learn from TIME magazine columnist Josh Ozersky, and experience wine from various TX vineyards. For more information and to purchase tickets visit or call 512-249-6300.
On April 1 and 2, Hop Scotch Spring Beer & Scotch Festival in Seattle, WA, features beer, wine, Scotch and tequila tasting at Fremont Studios. $25 pp. Call 206-633-0422 or visit
On April 2 to April 9, Atlanta will host the 1st ever Hotel Restaurant Week. Nine hotel restaurants are participating and will each serve a $25 pp. 3-course meal. Visit
On April 3, Candyality in Chicago will host an Afternoon with Cub’s starting pitcher, Ryan Dempster.  Come meet Ryan and discuss your favorite candy as he signs in as Candyality’s Celebrity Candy Specialist for the afternoon.  Ryan will autograph Mini Candy Bins filled with the ever popular red, white, and (cubbie) blue-Cubbie Gummie Bears with proceeds from the sales of this and the Sweetest Cub’s Fan Raffle going to the Ryan & Jenny Dempster Family Foundation.  773-472-7800 or visit
On April 5 in NYC, Maestro Steven Blier continues the spring season of HENRY’s “Sing for Your Supper.” An evening of great music provided from New York City’s rising stars of musical theatre and opera and Chef Mark Barrett’s famous Baked Veal Ricotta Meatballs featured in the 3-course, Italian-American prix-fixe dinner.  “Sing for Your Supper” will sell out, so please reserve your table now!  Call 212-866-0600 for reservations or visit
On April 5 L’Auberge Chez Francois restaurant in Great Falls, VA, will host an Alsatian Wine Tasting Dinner. Owner and wine maker, Catherine Fallar, of Domain Weinbach, one of the top wineries in Alsace, will be presenting new wines and answering questions. Chef Jacques Haeringer will pair wines with a five-course meal.  Price $125 per person all inclusive.  To reserve spaces go to or call the restaurant: 703-759-3800.
On April 13 in Denver, CO The Ritz-Carlton's signature restaurant, ELWAY'S Downtown will host a Johnnie Walker five-course pairing dinner featuring a seasonal menu by ELWAY'S Chef Robert Bogart. Attendees will get to meet the House of Walker's Whiskey Master, Robert Sickler. Selected Scotch blends include Johnnie Walker Red Label, Green Label, Blue Label, Black Label and Gold Label. $75 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 303-312-3107 or visit

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

" A fact-filled, entertaining history [that] substantiates its title with hundreds of facts in this meaty history of the rise of Italian food culture around the globe. From Charles Dickens's journey through Italy in 1844 to 20th-century immigrants to America selling ice cream on the streets of New Orleans, Mariani constantly surprises the reader with little-known culinary anecdotes about Italy and its people, who have made pasta and pizza household dishes in the U.S. and beyond."--Publishers Weekly

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastornomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the imnpact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone iunterested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Espositio, hosty of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, min ds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to 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: 10 Ways to Beat High Airfares This Summer


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.

Click Here to return to John Mariani's Homepage

© copyright John Mariani 2011