Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter
May 29 2011

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An American G.I. in Italy, 1944 (Library of Congress)

Remember Memorial Day

This Week

Abilene, That's Texas
by Christopher Mariani

New York Corner: Le Caprice
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit
By Christopher Mariani

Quick Bytes

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



On Monday, June 13, John Mariani will host a four-course book signing dinner in Boston at BINA Osteria for $40.
 For info and reservations, click here. 

On Thursday, June 16, John Mariani will host a book signing dinner in Bristol, Rhode Island, at DeWolfe Tavern, for $60 per person. For reservations, click here.



by Christopher Mariani

“Abilene, Abilene,
Prettiest town I’ve ever seen.
Women there don’t treat you mean
In Abilene, my Abilene.

I sit alone most every night
Watch those trains pull out of sight
Don’t I wish they were carrying me back
To Abilene, My Abilene.”

Lyrics by Bob Gibson and John Loudermilk, 
recorded and performed by George Hamilton IV in the 1963
movie “Hootenanny Hoot.”
Take a listen at 

n a recent flight to Abilene, Texas I was sitting next to a US Army soldier in full uniform and noticed both of his legs were shaking like mad and his hands were gripped tight around his armrests. Immediately I became concerned as to what might be troubling him. My eyes cautiously made their way up to his face only to find he was staring right at me, eyes wide-open and bursting with energy. Before I could even ask what was wrong, with great excitement he nearly shouted, “When we land I’m getting picked up by my wife!” I quickly realized there was nothing wrong with this giddy soldier, he was just anxious to get home and wrap his arms around his lady.
    After a brief introduction, I found out his travel back home began seven days earlier in Iraq, flying to Turkey, then to Germany, then Baltimore to Dallas Fort Worth and finally, Abilene. He was on the last stretch of his long journey and was clearly overwhelmed with joy. It had been one year since he’d seen US soil and what he missed most was the company of his beautiful wife and children, clean clothes, a real shower and edible comfort food. I smiled and couldn’t be more delighted that this fine soldier would soon have all he yearned for, most of all the love and affection of his family.
    I kept things casual and asked, “So what are you going to eat your first night back in Abilene?” The thought of a home-cooked meal nearly brought tears to this man’s face when he replied, “Steak!” It was then I realized I was en route to America’s Cattle Country. West Texans don’t eat much lamb, pork or veal. They eat beef. Twenty minutes later we touched down in Abilene and before I could extend my hand to say goodbye to my new friend, he had darted to the front of the plane to reunite with his family. I smiled and spoke softly, “Go get em’ , James.” I never saw James again, but I can guarantee he got all the love and steak he could handle that evening.
    Up until this visit to Abilene and Buffalo Gap, my only exposure to the vast state of Texas was the booming city of Dallas. According to many West Texans, Dallas is just another city, “like all the rest. This here is the real Texas.” These friendly folks couldn’t be more right. I landed in the heart of the old frontier and began to realize I was the only man in town without a gorgeous pair of custom-made cowboy boots wrapped snug around my feet like, as every Texan will tell you, “a pair of socks.” I guess my mahogany penny loafers were a sure giveaway that I was from out of town, and if that didn’t do it, the second I opened my mouth heads turned.
    Abilene is a charming little city about a two-and-half hour drive (or 35-minute flight) west of Dallas/Fort Worth and has just over 100,000 residents. The city is centered around a lively downtown area filled with history and art museums, a handful of great little restaurants and an enchanting chocolate shop called Vletas, stocked high with chocolate-covered toffee, pecan and walnut pralines, cinnamon covered nuts and much more. I bought so much chocolate from Vletas I had it FedEx back to New York to avoid being charged by our generous airlines for being over the ever-decreasing weight limit per bag.
    After a quick tour of the Frontier Texas! Museum, where I learned of the hardships endured over 200 plus years ago by those insanely brave Americans who pioneered this once dangerous land, filled with deadly rattle snakes, hungry wolves, the constant risk of being trampled by a ground-shaking buffalo stampede, and not to mention surprise attacks from native Indian tribes, I finally settled into one of the Sayles Ranch  (left) guesthouses, a genius concept created by founder Terry Browder. Imagine walking into a house with walls covered from head to toe in old cabin wood, antlers sticking out of the walls, stuffed goat heads hanging in the living room, Indian tapestry layered over almost every piece of furniture and yet the modern amenities of wireless internet and a 52-inch flat screen high definition television. Each room is different in design and continued to impress as I walked in awe, slowly opening closed doors with great anticipation to find yet another room splattered with magnificent artwork and carefully placed adornment. The walls of the kitchen were blanketed with old American license plates from almost all fifty states. There’s even an oven, stove, washing machine, dryer and every possible courtesy one could need to feel at home. I pulled on the refrigerator door and peeked inside to find three Shiner beers standing upright, ice-cold, clearly left behind by a previous guest. I grabbed a bottle, splashing the kitchen floor with condensation, popped off the cap and gulped down a refreshingly crisp, bubbly mouthful of the Texas-brewed beer. I quickly felt at ease.
    That evening, escorted by two of Abilene’s most lovely ladies, Shanna Smith Snyder and Nanci Liles from the Abilene CVB, we dined at Cypress Street Station (right), a charming restaurant in the downtown area packed nightly with locals. After a Manhattan on the rocks, I had the pleasure of meeting owner Brian Green, a local celebrity who strolls the dining room with a hint of swagger, humbly shaking the hands of every guest and even pulling up a seat with friends for a pint of one of his five house made brews.
    There is a large brick wall that divides a graceful dining room and a sporty bar room surrounded by flat screen TV’s. The menu is comprised of fairly typical bar items, including bacon-cheese potato skins, chicken quesadillas, pastrami reuben sandwiches, burgers topped with green chili, and even a 12-inch pizza. After a nice selection of crispy appetizers and a tableside-made Caesar salad--one of the best I’ve ever had--I ordered a well-fatted, 15-ounce bone in ribeye topped with a thin layer of gorgonzola cheese. For dessert, rich, gooey pecan pie is served in a wine glass topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. After I scooped out the last morsel of sweet pie, we stepped outside for a leisurely walk and witnessed what could easily have been a Youtube sensation. A California blond-haired rock n’ roller was jamming out on the sidewalk with an electric guitar while a three-foot high industrial strength fan was set up to blow a gust of wind towards his hair as if he was partaking in a 80’s MTV music video. There was also a neon blue spotlight blaring onto this unique musician. Absolutely priceless, reminding me of the great Joni Mitchell song about a street musician who "was playing real good for free." We then proceeded to mosey down the quaint streets of downtown Abilene where residents were in abundance, enjoying the city’s monthly Art Walk, an opportunity to promote art, culture and Texas history.
    The following day, again with the company of my two wonderful hosts, Shanna and Nanci, we dined at the Beehive Restaurant on Cedar Street, where I tasted my first true Texas chicken fried steak (left) with white gravy. Owner Nariman Esfandiary stopped by our table to say hello and with great eagerness immediately asked me if I had ever had a chicken fried steak. I replied “No, sir.” Nariman smiled and said proudly, “Why don’t you try that.” Chicken fried steak is made with either a top round or ribeye cut of steak, pounded thin with a mallet, as would a piece of veal for a veal Milanese or a chicken for a chicken cutlet, then battered with flour, egg, a splash of milk, salt and pepper, then either sautéed in a skillet of oil and a touch of butter or thrown right into the deep fryer. The nearly one-foot order of  very tender beef comes served with a big bowl of white gravy. I only knew of two gravies prior to this experience, brown gravy served during Thanksgiving dinner and red gravy, a term often used by Italian Americans to describe marinara sauce. In the south, white gravy always served alongside chicken fried steak and biscuits (below).
    According to a waitress at the Dixie Pig Diner on Butternut Street, who said I could stop by her house anytime I please for a taste of real gravy,  explained in detail how to prepare the southern recipe. Start off with the excess lard and fat from cooked bacon, heat it up, nice and hot, add a little flower to thicken up the texture, cook until the flour begins to brown, toss in some salt and pepper, and then slowly add milk. That’s it. As simple as this recipes may seem, the outcome is simply delicious. I was told not to dare order a chicken fried steak outside of Texas, but of course that advice was given to me by a proud Texan. Although Nariman is not a native born Texan, originally from Iran, he is known as having the best chicken fried steak in town. He explained that he and his brother Ali came to the States full of vigor and the dream of opening a restaurant. He quickly realized that dream would not be as easy as hoped for when he said to me, “Chris, imagine this, in 1983, two Iranian brothers walking into a bank in West Texas and asking for a loan to open up a restaurant. The banker literally kicked us out of the bank before we could finish asking our question.”
    After the help of some local Texans that loan was finally issued. A few months later, just one day before the grand opening, Nariman and his brother thought they had accomplished their dream, yet they still were under the impression that chicken fried steak was made with chicken. That same day, an elderly woman walked into the original Beehive in Albany, Texas, and asked to be seated. Nariman informed the lady that they would not be open until the following day. As the lady walked out, Nariman ran after her and stopped her to ask, “Excuse me ma’am, my brother and I have been arguing about what exactly is a chicken fried steak. It’s fried chicken, right?” Nariman explained  to me he would never forget the words told to him by this older woman who said, “You boys are opening the doors tomorrow and don’t know what a chicken fried steak is, you’re in for a schooling. Get your brother and come over to my house, I will teach you a few things.” Nariman and his brother took a crash course on how to cook some local favorites in just a few hours. The following day they opened up shop and were thrown right into the fire. They learned awfully quick how to cook Texas fare and within a short period of time were claimed one of West Texas’ best restaurants.
    After a wonderful weekend at the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit (see article below in the Man About Town column), touring the culturally rich city of Abilene, I found myself back at the Abilene Airport waiting for my flight to DFW, and of course it was delayed. I walked up to the American Airlines ticket counter and asked if there were any updates on the flight status. A very sweet woman looked up at me and with plenty of Texas twang, her motherly voice responded, “Sweetheart, they’re almost done fixing the emergency floor lights and then I will get you on that plane as soon as possible. Sorry for the wait, young man.”
         I said, “Thank you. Are there any direct flights from Abilene to NY’s JFK Airport so I can avoid situations like this in the future?”
        Again she looked up and then smirked at me, “Honey, when in Abilene, whether you’re heading to heaven or hell, you must first go through Dallas, Fort Worth.” I smiled and sat back down.
        It seems there's an interesting story behind everything and everyone in the city of Abilene. Whether your touring the Abilene Zoo, the Grace Museum, or just dining around town, stop and make it a point to talk to these fine folks. And remember, when driving past any person in Abilene, give em’ a smile and a wave. It’s rude if you don’t. 

For more pitures of Abilene please visit our new Facebook page by clicking below

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by John Mariani

Le Caprice

Pierre Hotel
795 Fifth Avenue (at 61st Street)


    Now eighteen months old, Le Caprice in The Pierre Hotel has settled in as a sophisticated competitor to  the frantically Italian Harry Cipriani in the adjacent Sherry Netherlands and the historic but lifeless Oak Room at the Plaza across the street.  Upon opening, Le Caprice assumed it would immediately draw the same clientele that its owners, Richard Caring's Group, attract at the original Le Caprice, which opened in 1947 in London, as well as The Ivy and Scott's, but that didn't work out too well, and New Yorkers didn't quite embrace the place with open arms.               
    Since then the owners have tried very hard to embrace everyone, cordial to all guests, with a staff led by manager Gillian Dixon, whose Canadian amiability is genuine, in a long, swank room
done in black and white, with fashion photos by 1960s celeb photog  David Bailey.  The room certainly gets its share of celebrities and global visitors, who include London regulars, fashionistas, and hunched-over, unshaven men in t-shirts who could probably buy the Pierre.
    There's a new chef onboard, an American named Edward Carew, whose résumé includes stints at Spiaggia in Chicago, Gramercy Tavern and Fiamma in NYC, and as chef-owner at The Cottage Eatery in Tiburon, CA.  At Le Caprice he keeps many of the favorite dishes of longstanding from the London original while adding his own touches day by day. 
    On a lovely spring evening, with a room about three-quarters full midweek, we ordered cocktails, and our charming waitress Brianna already knew my preference for a daiquiri, which came from the bar impeccably made; there is also a menu of cocktails (which range from a brow-rising $17 to $21) to choose from, including a Fleur de Pologne made of Zubrowska vodka, St. Germain, apple cider, lemon juice, mint leaves and orange bitters that my wife pronounced to a genteel pick-me-up. There is also a Bar Menu of items like Scotch eggs, smoked salmon, and the Caprice burger.

    For starters, chilled lobster with tender fava beans, samphire and toasted brioche sounded like a capital idea for spring and it proved to be, with sweet lobster and those wonderful beans, and the samphire (an herb much favored in Britain) added a fine aromatic touch.  Heavier but no less delicious was braised bacon--the belly of the beast--with Manila clams, green garlic, and cannellini beans, making for a balance of the delicate with the very rich. There are three pastas offered each evening (Carew's Tiburon restaurant was Italian), and we enjoyed both a tagliatelle with a wild boar ragù and Parmigiano and a marvelous, perfectly cooked risotto with morels and the best asparagus of the season.
    For main courses you can play it traditional with a veal Milanese, nice and crisp, with an arugula and Parmigiano salad,  or a golden-brown roast chicken, generously proportioned, with morels, fingerling potatoes and peas.  Both dishes, like all else here, gain from the seasonality of the vegetables, which I could easily gobble up with or without the meat.  Wild salmon (left), silky and mild, came with peas and freekah--an Arab toasted green wheat you don't see everyday on American menus, and it added a pleasing texture and nuttiness to the dish, further enhanced by crème fraîche. I also loved the buttery diver's scallops, plump and meaty, with a snail and mushroom bordelaise and green garlic.
    Now, of course an Anglo restaurant like the French-named Le Caprice needs to serve fish and chips, and Carew does his very best with this pub dish, keeping the hefty piece of cod tender and not mushy, succulent beneath a crispy batter, served with "mushy peas" (a  Brit infatuation from the nursery) and tartare sauce.  I could eat it twice a week.
    Desserts are gooey and irresistible, from a crestfallen Pavlova blueberry meringue "mess" to a sticky steamed plum pudding lavished with custard, the kind of desserts you want to take across to Central Park and eat sitting under a tree watching for the White Rabbit to appear.
    My only head-scratching disappointment at Le Caprice is the feeble wine list, which requires a good deal of time to choose from, not because there are so many selections but because there are so few, and so many stratospherically priced.  They need more wines and more of them under $50.   
    Le Caprice seems to function on at least two levels, as a home away from home for foreign visitors and as a  place Americans--and that includes New Yorkers--can easily adopt as their own.  And believe it or not, prices are down by a dollar or two from the last time I visited.
     Carew is canny in using very few ingredients to superior effect, for this is not intended to be fancy haute cuisine, merely damn delicious cooking, which is a delicate balance to achieve, especially when you have a regular crowd who cringes at change.  He is a subtle chef and I expect within six  months he will be distinguishing himself even more.

Le Caprice is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Brunch on Sat. & Sun. At dinner, appetizers run $14-$24,  entrees $18-$44.

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by Christopher Mariani

Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit

    The sun was just beginning to fall in West Texas and the calm sky burned bright orange. Streaks of mysterious purple lay deep between the silky, amber clouds and gave clue that the darkness of night was near. Shanna and I walked across the parking lot and stirred up a small haze of red dust with every step. We approached a giant white tent and saw a man leaning against the trunk of a wide tree. It was Tom Perini. Most men of Tom’s status would not be outside greeting his guests, but that is what makes Tom different. He wanted to meet everyone that entered the property. His welcome was grand.
         For the last seven years Tom has hosted the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit at his very own ranch. The event arouses excitement among local ranchers and Texas wine makers who all show up wearing their finest custom-crafted boots, leather belts fixed with extravagant silver or gold buckles and beautiful rawhide cowboy hats. The women too wore cowboy hats, not all, but those who did clearly spent much time positioning the direction in which their hair would cascade from within.
         The evening began outdoors where everyone assembled for a few glasses of sparking wine and crunchy crostini topped with velvety goat’s cheese. The chatter grew with every sip of Champagne and it was evident most attendees knew each other well. I, of course, was the new guy, yet it didn’t feel that way. Everyone was warm. I shook the hands of many guests and was continuously asked where I was from. Being from the big city awakened immediate excitement and conversation.
    In the distance, a small entourage of white coats walked toward the kitchen. It was chef Stephen Pyles and cast. That evening, Stephen would prepare a grand feast for all who were present.
         After another glass of Champagne we headed towards the white tent where we sat down at a round table draped with a white a tablecloth topped with over thirty empty wine glasses, all waiting to be filled. Six other guests dined with us at our table, three men and three women. The tent held around 500 people. The first course arrived and many guests grew curious. They squinted to get a better look, picked up the small shot glass and smelled its contents. Some even poked at it with a fork.
    “And for your first course, chef Pyles has prepared a saffron oyster shooter, please enjoy,” said our lovely waitress. Everyone’s eyes squinted even tighter. I smiled to myself as one courageous man picked up the yellowish mixture and shot it down in one quick motion and grinned to let the others know it was okay. It was obvious that oyster shooters were not a common amuse bouche in West Texas. We all laughed and took our shots.
    Shortly after, a rectangular cube of foie gras mousse topped with candied bacon arrived to the table. The sweet, crunchy bacon added a hickory flavor to each mouthful of the rich, silky liver. Each bite was washed down with a sip of chilled Sauternes. The meal achieved undiminished excellence when Pyles sent out a beautiful cut of seared tenderloin seasoned with salt and pepper, laid over a pool of dark bordelaise sauce and topped with a generous portion of buttery bone marrow. There was not a plate in sight that had not been cleaned with bread to absorb every last drop of sauce and salty beef jus.
    At this point all of us sat back in our chairs at ease and gave a little pat to our stomachs to show appreciation for such a splendid meal. There must have been at least three or four glasses of red wine in front of each guest, many from local Texas wineries, and one brawny rancher to my left took all three glasses of his red and poured them into one, stating he had created a magnificent blend. I didn’t try this magnificent blend, but who knows, maybe it was good. I highly doubt it.
    The following morning, for those brave men and women able to rise after such a gluttonous evening, the festivities continued with a wine tasting at 10 a.m. under the same white tent. For the most part, the white wines from Texas were very crisp and clean, most wineries making it clear they do not age their whites for long and stay away from the California wave of abundant oak and vanilla flavors. The Texas reds are typically full of tannin and could never be drunk alone, only appreciated when paired with a big hunk of well-fatted beef, as flawlessly stated by one of the attendees, who said, “Nothin’ better than a slab and a cab.” I must agree, but if drunk alone, prepare to pucker up. Notable Texas wineries in attendance were Becker Vineyards, Llano Estacado, Brennan Vineyards, Lone Oak Winery and McPherson Cellars.
    That evening was the gala dinner. Chefs from all over the area set up shop to serve one signature dish from their restaurants’ menus. There was a live band and the Texas two-step quickly became highly contagious. The line for chicken fried steak appeared longer than the rest as each guest stood tall with a glass of wine in one hand and a plate of hearty food in the other. 
The night ended late, people filtering out, the musicians packing up their instruments, but just as I was about to leave myself, I heard a reveler looking up at the yellow moon and singing, "Prettiest town I've ever seen."

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Super Tuscans May Be Passé,
While Ornellaia Goes
Its Own Way

 by John Mariani

        Mention the term “Super Tuscan” to Tuscan winemakers like Axel Heinz and you’ll get either a wince or, more likely, a shrug.
    Heinz was in New York recently to show the illustrious red wine called Ornellaia, long in the company of other legendary single label names like Sassicaia, Solaia, and Tignanello, along with many others that have merely acquired the name via media marketing.
         The term Super Tuscan, concocted by the wine media and promoted by the industry,  has no standing under Italian wine law, which by regional tradition dictates which grapes be allowed in Tuscan wines like chianti and brunello di montalcino. Wineries that don’t play by those rules may only label their bottles “I.G.T.” (typical regional wines), which is only a slight step up from the lowest appellation “vino da tavola” (table wine).
         Thus, over a lunch of Italian food at Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center, Heinz, 39, who became Ornellaia’s wine maker in 2005, ignored all the Super Tuscan hype and concentrated on the enviable reputation that the 26-year old winery has achieved on its own, using a bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and, since 2003, a little petit verdot.
    To that end, much like Bordeaux’s Mouton-Rothschild has done for decades, the winery has chosen modern artists to illustrate a characteristic of a vintage. Under a program called Vendemmia d’Artista, a selection of large format bottles with the artist’s label is put up for a charity auction to support the arts, as when a salamanzar (12 regular bottles) of the 2006 vintage, entitled “L’Esuberanza” with a label by artist Luigi Ontani, was auctioned for 17,000 euros ($24,000) to fund restoration work at the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan.
     At the luncheon, I asked Heinz (left), who looks like action movie star Jason Statham with wild hair, about his wines’ high, 14.5 percent alcohol level. “The higher the alcohol level, the harder it is to make a great wine,” he insisted, a comment that flies in the face of global winemakers who deliberately boost their alcohol levels. “If you are actively trying to make a blockbuster, you will not have a good wine. But now everybody in the industry is monitoring global warming, because just in the last decade alcohol levels have accelerated 1 to 1.5 percent because of the heat. A winemaker has to be very careful in monitoring how the grapes grow through each season and figuring out the best time to pick them.”
         Ornellaia has always been a big, bold, luscious wine that shows enormous finesse and an Italian refinement that can be amiably pleasing even when young.  The wines we tasted, 2006 through 2008, including Ornellaia’s second, less expensive wine from younger vineyards, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, made since 1997, showed just how different vintages can be yet still show the unique character of terroir.
         Of the 2006 L’Esuberenza ($150-$175), Heinz said, “The wine made itself,” from a harvest that was near perfect, with uniform ripeness. The wines aged in barriques for 12 months, when the final blend was made, aged six more months, then bottled and aged for 12 months before release. I thought it was a truly magnificent expression of the Ornellaia style with several levels of complexity and tight but wondrous fruit qualities.
         The 2007 Harmonia ($130-$150), with a label by Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh, was very tight, even after an hour with food, with a modest nose, needing a long time to emerge from its glass cocoon. It was definitely not made from over-ripe grapes, so its virtues are going to take time to develop.
         The 2008 L’Energia ($155-$170), with a label by Rebecca Horn, lives up to its moniker: it’s got a big nose with a woody, but not oaky, bouquet, and a remarkable herbaceous content of violets and mint. The tannins are already loose, and I enjoyed this youthful wine enormously, knowing it will get better and better over the next decade.
Heinz said it had the “lushness of the Mediterranean,” which is an apt description of a vintage that began wet, had a dry, hot summer, whose temperatures were lowered by the northerly tramontana winds, so that at harvest a “brutal drop in temperature” turned out to be something of a blessing to prevent over-ripening.
         The same vintages of Le Serre Nuove showed exactly the same characteristics but in a lighter, more approachable style.
         Although the 2009 was not available for tasting yet, Heinz called it a “very difficult vintage to make. The grapes were picked early and the tannins are soft and the wine will only be of medium weight.” No name for that one yet, but maybe he’ll call it “mal di testa,” which is Italian for headache. 

John Mariani's wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis.

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"Twenty minutes later, possibly under their own steam, the snails arrive. Vesuvian, they bubble and smoke in a magma of astringent garlic butter and parsley. We grasp them with the spring-loaded specula and gingerly unwind the dark gastropods, curling like dinosaur boogers. They go on and on, expanding onto the plate as if they were alien. We have to cut them in half, which is just wrong. The rule with snails is: Don’t eat one you couldn’t get up your nose."—AA Gill, "L'Amis Louis," Vanity Fair. 



"To me, cooking is like making love. You see great ingredients, take them home, and make something exciting." —Wolfgang Puck,  at a panel discussion for Tufts U. students.


Mariani's Quick Bytes
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Tattered Cover
On May 31 at Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver, CO, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. 7:30pm. Tattered Cover 303-322-7727, or visit for more info.
"Chefs to the Rescue"
Chefs from Alabama, Georgia, Florida and D.C. will cook up a special night in Auburn, Alabama on Wednesday, June 1 to benefit tornado relief.  The event, “Chefs to the Rescue,” will feature a meet and taste from more than 20 chefs. Their culinary creations will be paired with beers and wines donated from across the U.S. Tickets are $100; a VIP ticket is $1,000 and provides a one-on-one with some of the top culinary talent in the country.  100% of the proceeds will go to the Auburn Family All-In Tornado Relief Fund. For more information and to purchase tickets visit!/AUChefstotheRescue
Tibetan Aid Project
On June 1 at the Arader Gallery in New York, NY the Tibetan Aid Project will host the benefit gala Taste & Tribute in efforts to support the cultural and spiritual heritage of Tibet.  Guests will enjoy an exquisite four-course meal prepared by a superbly talented team of New York chefs including Missy Robbins, George Mendes, Gavin Kaysen, and Michael Laiskonis.  There will also be a live auction which will feature Tibetan artwork and luxurious getaways. $475 pp. Visit
Melissa Coleman
On June 2 at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies in Aspen, CO, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. 5:30pm. ACES, 970-925-575, or visit for more info.
db Bistro Moderne and Esquire
On June 3, db Bistro Moderne and Esuire will host a "State of the Hamburger" lunch and panel discussion. The 4-course menu includes the DB Burger (stuffed with short ribs and foie gras) paired with a 2009 Languedoc; oanelists include Daniel Boulud and the execuitve chef of McDonald's--and you get a copy of the new Esquire cookbook. $110 per person. Call 212-391-2400 or visit 
"Dinner by the Book"
On June 6 in NYC, The YWCA-NYC will host "Dinner by the Book" at Negril Village with special guest with special guest Victoria Brown, author of Minding Ben (Voice/Hyperion). Tickets are $40 and include tasting menu, autographed copy of Minding Ben, and a tax-deductible donation to the YWCA. Reservations required. For tickets, contact <>  or call (212) 735-9708.
On June 6 in NYC, Maestro Steven Blier continues the spring season of HENRY¹s ³Sing for Your Supper.² An evening of great music provided from New York City¹s rising stars of musical theatre and opera and Chef Mark Barrett¹s famous Baked Veal Ricotta Meatballs featured in the 3-course, Italian-American prix-fixe dinner.  ³Sing for Your Supper² will sell out, so please reserve your table now!  Call 212-866-0600 for reservations or visit
Powell's Books
On June 6 at Powell's Books on Hawthorne in Portland, OR Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. 7:30pm. Powell's 503-228-4651, or visit for more info.
The Booksmith
On June 8 at The Booksmith in San Francisco, CA, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. 7:30pm. The Booksmith 415-863-8688, or visit for more info.
Apsleys, a Heinz Beck Restaurant
On June 9, The Lanesborough, London, and Domaine Leflaive, will host an exclusive tasting event at ‘Apsleys, a Heinz Beck Restaurant.’  Adam Brett-Smith, MD of Corney & Barrow, will be on-hand throughout the dinner to lead guests through each of the rare vintages offered, paired with 7-courses designed by Three-Michelin starred Chef Heinz Beck.  £250 pp. Call +011 44(0)20 7259 5599 or visit  

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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 impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested 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, minds, 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:

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.

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© copyright John Mariani 2011