Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter
June 12, 2011

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Audrey Hepburn, 1954


by John Mariani and Suzanne Wright

by John Mariani

by Christopher Mariani

by Mort Hochstein


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.


On this 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  John Mariani and Suzanne Wright

The Café at
the Ritz-Carlton

3434 Peachtree Road

     The updating of the Ritz-Carlton's Café has done nothing to compromise its casual elegance. Indeed, it has only been enhanced, and that certainly goes for the new menu by new chef Todd Richards, who is doing some of the city's finest modern cuisine with a distinctive Southern slant.  Richards has been at other R-C properties, including Atlanta (Downtown) and Palm Beach, before moving to The Oak Room at the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville, then returned to Atlanta to become corporate chef for One Flew South, the first fine dining restaurant at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.   
    The dinner menu is divided into traditional and modern selections, with multi-course and blind tasting menus also offered, so I put myself in the hands of Mr. Richards to serve me as he wished according to what was best that day.  And it  was a remarkable choice in every course, each buoyed by impeccable selections of wines by sommelier  Linda Torres Alarcón.

    We began with just the thing for spring-- a wild strawberry
salad with candied peanuts, balsamic granita, micro basil, olive oil, and an equally sunny roasted beet salad with frisée lettuce, Alison honey pepper vinaigrette and goat's  cheese, accompanied by a lovely 2008 Domaine Maroslavac-Léger, Puligny-Montrachet, “Les Corvées des Vignes," which also went beautifully with the next sumptuous course of  sweet King  crab that had been cooked in butter and served with tender asparagus, a crab bisque emulsion, and caviar, a sumptuous dish. Georgia trout took on woodsy notes from a hedgehog mushroom ragôut, Anson Mills truffle grits, and muscadine cider emulsion, perfectly paired with a lusty 1997 E. Guigal, Côte Rotie, “Brune et Blonde."

oie gras took well to a sweet-acidic huckleberry gastrique with  black truffle French toast,  radish, and bourbon-laced maple syrup, which Alarcón paired with a delectable but not too sweet
1998 Scubla, Verduzzo Friulano, “Graticcio” from Friuli. Richards then did a modern take on canard à l'orange by searing the duck breast and serving it with rich  confit risotto croquettes, a sunny side up duck egg, the just-arrived white asparagus and a spicy horseradish duck sauce, which married well to a young, 2008 Ponzi Pinot Noi from Willamette Valley, Oregon.             Desserts were very special: marinated strawberries sat atop a biscuit-like shortcake, and a warm chocolate cake came with mascarpone cream and coffee ice cream.
    I may still be nostalgic for the now-closed Dining Room here at the RC, which in its day was the finest exemplar in the city of French haute cuisine. But with Richards in the kitchen at the Café , so capable of turning out very beautiful, very sophisticated food in an atmosphere better geared to the way people enjoy dining these days, I won't sigh for the old days much at all.  The Café is an extremely fine dining room with a very sunny disposition to match and easily ranks among the very best in Atlanta.
--John Mariani


5825 Roswell Road
Sandy Springs, GA

 Out in nearby Sandy Springs, sibling restaurateurs Federico and Stephanie Castelluci, who also run the Iberian Pig in Decatur and three Sugo restaurants in the region, have named their new Italian place after the highly refined, ground flour used to make pizzas in Naples.  This, and rigorously authentic Italian ingredients, along with a custom-made pizza oven that heats to a thousand degrees, is what Executive Chef John Coley works with to produce a very generous style of Italian classics; main courses are all meant to be shared.
    It's a very, very big restaurant with a very very long menu, and I hope the restaurateurs can keep up with the crowds already angling for seats at the communal table or their own table or a place at the long, adjacent bar and lounge.
    You must, of course, order one of the pizzas, made according to the strict rules of the
Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, which demands that only products from the Campania region of Italy are to be used and even the size and kind of oven used must go by form. The result here is a good pizza alla margherita (above), topped with buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh basil.  Other options are with five cheeses, seasonal mushrooms, and one with goat's cheese, red onion marmalade, and fingerling potatoes.
    There are, however, appetizers that might precede or follow the pizzas here, but be careful, portions are large, and like much else on the menu overloaded with ingredients.  Fried rice balls called arancini contain, scamorza cheese, peas, red pepper and yellow pepper coulis, lemon and honey, which is gilding a simple lily.  Ricotta gnudi alla carbonara are lavished with pancetta, greens, black truffles and quail egg, while quail itself is grilled along with sweetbreads, arugula, blood orange, pickled rhubarb, ricotta salata, and a blood orange vinaigrette--maybe a combo better suited to a hefty entree.  Lamb polpettine are crisp lamb meatballs with tomato-basil jam, fresh mozzarella and herb yogurt, which brings things into an eastern Mediterranean focus. Pineapple carpaccio, which I thought was going to terrible as a starter, turned out to be a beautiful and very refreshing item with prosciutto, pomegranate, balsamic reduction, croutons, goat's cheese and greens.
     Pastas are every bit as complex, from green and white paglia e fieno ribbons with a sherry-mushroom cream, peas, mushrooms, prosciutto and pecorino to egg fettuccine with sausage, broccoli di rape, lemon honey, Calabrian chilies, roasted garlic, and grana cheese. Setaccio dell immondizia (which awkwardly translates as a sieve of rubbish) sounds better in English here as "Everything but the Kitchen Sink"--pasta, topped with grape tomato, hazelnut pistachios, pignoli, raisins, currants, capers, chickpeas and scamorza.  It really is a mess but pretty tasty too.
    If you can stay simple with the main courses, by all means do, like the crispy boneless half spring chicken with creamy polenta, tomato, red peppers, mushrooms and pickled sweet peppers. Pancetta cuddles a pork tenderloin, which is then sided with a chickpea puree, currants, pignoli conserva, grilled eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and fennel.  
    The wine list is more than 100 selections, with 70 percent from Southern Italy, and 50 wines by the taste or glass. Prices are very decent indeed.
     There's no denying Double Zero's owners and chef are out to please, but if they cut back on even two ingredients per dish, the food would be even better, not to mention easier to turn out for 300 guests at a seating.  In Italian cooking--indeed in all cooking--simpler is always better. 

 --John Mariani

Double Zero Napoletana serves dinner Mon.-Sat.  Appetizers and salads run $7-$13, pastas $13-$19, main courses $17-$36.


999 Peachtree Street

Pennsylvania-born Chef Ryan Smith has a ten-year stretch in Atlanta kitchens, including stints at Bacchanalia, Canoe, Restaurant Eugene, and Holeman & Finch, and now he's partnered with Chef Hugh Acheson, of National and  Five & Ten in Athens, GA,  to bring the city a kind of contemporary Southern cooking that doesn't stray far from tradition but utilizes everything that is good from the Southern cornucopia, not least an array of vegetables that might put a carnivore in doubt of where his allegiances lie. 
    That's how I felt while gobbling up red Russian kale with bacon, field peas with rice, collard greens with ham hock, spring onion farrotto, and charred fennel with preserved citrus--all available on one platter for $15 or five buck apiece.  Put them next to jar items like ESS's creamy and finely textured pork rillette, or his crisp duck leg confit, or the succulent pan-roasted trout with a bacon vinaigrette, and you'll wonder how vegetables ever got pushed to the side of the proteins.
(Note well: If you order the main courses, they will come with two or three of those vegetables from the platter, so you need not order it separately.)

    All on its own, the ivory-yellow Vidalia onion soup with a delicious bacon-laced custard, cumin croutons, and a green onion puree is one of the loveliest renderings of this dish I've ever had, naturally sweet, lush with  bright spring flavors. 
    ESS is not a place to pass on dessert, even if the coconut cream pie doesn't resemble any you've ever had: this version comes with almond brittle and almond croquant, just fancy enough to make you realize how simple desserts can be among the most satisfying.
    The restaurant, which is pretty large, is tucked away and up from the road, and you'll probably have to ask directions. Outside, even in the broiling Georgia sun, tables are full for lunch and dinner, while inside the fairly stark dining rooms, done is a deep gray-blue, have some sought-out brown leather banquettes.  This is a restaurant where you might well want to share, and prices for everything are extremely reasonable.--John Mariani

DaviO's northern italian steakhouse

3500 Peachtree Road NE

    I can’t quite shake off the fact that I’m dining in the former Niketown in Phipps Plaza that Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse,
an outpost of Steve DiFilippo's Boston original, has transformed.  The  9,000-square-foot interiors seem to appeal to those on an expense account:  tasteful if not memorable.  Not surprisingly, the bar area is lively on a midweek night with a mix of women who shop too much and the men attempting to socialize with them.
    When asked what cocktails he might recommend, our waiter says he doesn’t drink.  I’m non-plussed:  at these prices I don’t care if he’s Mormon or Muslim, I expect him to be able to describe the cocktails.  It’s a gaffe that foreshadows the rest of the meal. He overcompensates by providing way too much exposition for every dish we inquire about, can’t recite the five (!) steak sauces and forgets an ordered appetizer. I trust that waiter is not representative of his colleagues.
    As I await libation assistance, I wonder why the maître d’ doesn’t materialize. Finally, the bartender recommends cocktails.  Though I didn’t enjoy the too-grassy "dolce vita" with mint, the peach bellini was a beauty, heady with the scent of fresh puree.
    Things improved mightily when the food was served.  Tiny mussels swimming in a Dijon mustard cream sauce displayed huge flavor and the grilled bread was perfect for dipping.  Pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras atop a plump sweet potato waffle with maple pecan syrup was a genial nod to the Deep South’s soul food traditions.  The crispy-skinned Vietnamese spring roll sampler—perfect bar food and perhaps the best value at $13—features four unusual varieties, including chicken parmigiana with marinara sauce.  By contrast, spaghtettini with shrimp, smoked bacon and peas in garlic olive oil just didn’t come together in as a whole.  Palm-sized, pan seared sea scallops nestled on a bed of fresh corn grits with a goat cheese stuffed piquillo pepper was inspired. Likewise, the wet-aged, fork-tender, 16-oz. ribeye was sublime, and worth every penny of $39, especially since the leftover steak was marvelous the next day with a fried egg for breakfast.--Suzanne Wright

Appetizers:  $6-21; entrees: $15-46; hours: Lunch  Mon-Sat;  Dinner: Mon.-Sat. Brunch Sun.

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Goin’ Coastal Sustainable seafood joint
1021 Virginia Ave NE

    Sustainability is the concept around which this Virginia-Highlands new restaurant is built (there's another in Canton, GA), but despite its awful name, which stresses seafood,
this laid-back spot knows its way around a bird. Yes, my favorite thing on the menu was fried chicken:  old-fashioned, buttermilk-marinated, fried chicken served with creamy bacon-thyme gravy.  And though a kicky watermelon and jalapeño margarita is an unconventional pairing, it was very satisfying.  Less so:  the too sweet, cakey cornbread—cooking in cast iron could have solved this—and the not-quite-crispy-enough fried pickle chips. However, a special of zingy green beans with grape tomatoes and gorgonzola was zingy.
    The seafood dishes, while competent, didn’t break any new culinary ground.  I liked the crab and shrimp dip mixed with creamy cheese and served hot with toasted bread, the meaty, grilled amberjack, and the lobster and lump crab cakes served with Dijon buerre blanc.  The shrimp with stewed tomatoes and curry over rice sounded promising but was a bit too sweet.  Besides the chicken, the evening’s other highlight was bananas foster goosed with rum, salted, candied peanuts. 

    Again, it’s wasn’t from the ocean, but it was good.--Suzanne Wright

Appetizers:  $6-20;  entrees: $12-26; dessert: $7; Open nightly for dinner. 

the  Sound Table

483 Edgewood Avenu

    The Old Forth Ward is still gritty—I was panhandled twice from the car to the restaurant—but it’s worth t
he aggravation for dinner at Sound Table, named for tan old Cameo jazz song. 
    The tattooed hostess shows us to a table overlooking the street where we proceeded to watch diner after diner attempt to open a door that was not the entrance.  When we commented on the apparent confusion guests were having our waiter Nick replied wittily, “It’s an art installation called ‘psych.’”  Ah.
    The décor is bare bones, but the menu has an edge—it’s not the same old, same old—and neither is the multi-culti crowd.  While I appreciate the creativity of the cocktail list, some felt a bit overworked with one ingredient too many.  We tried several, the best which were the Dead Tom, made with gin, lemon, sugar and soda and the Estate di Romeo with violoncello, vermouth, Campari, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and prosecco.
    Our meal was almost uniformly successful.  Tiny, briny fingernail-sized olives and white anchovies are enlivened by orange zest and pepper flakes; arugula and beet salad features the welcome surprise of avocado and white anchovies.  Arancini rice balls kissed with black truffle are plated on a puddle of butternut squash.  More, please.  Lamb meatballs in an eggplant puree with grape tomatoes were moist and terrifically seasoned, and you can stand up the crispy Belgian frites in the housemade mayonnaise. The only misfire was the chorizo burger,  most likely tough because pork must be so thoroughly cooked.  Maple pot de crème with graham cracker topping and tangy blackberry compote was a well-balanced finale.
    I plan to return soon for the Chinese pork ribs which get raves.
--Suzanne Wright

Appetizers:  $4-15; Entrees: $11-22; desserts: $5.   Hours: dinner Mon-Sat: 6-11 p.m.

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by John Mariani


467 Columbus Avenue (Between 82nd and 83rd Streets)

212- 595-4300

    If you happen to live or find yourself strolling the Upper West Side along Columbus Avenue, you can hardly pass a storefront that isn't a restaurant of some kind; just between 82nd and 83rd alone, there are options for Italian food, French food, and a couple of others, not least the brand new Blue Caravan, mid-block. 
    Restaurateur/Chef Mei Chau comes from Malaysia, emigrating to NYC in 1988 to pursue fine arts.  As often happens, arts students work in restaurants, and before long,
Chau opened her own, Franklin Station Cafe in Tribeca, serving a mix of French and Malaysia food. That lasted a solid fifteen years, and now she is again in a neighborhood quickly developing its gustatory chops.
    Since she regards NYC as a "global village," the menu at Blue Caravan ranges the world, and, says Chau,
“I chose the name Blue Caravan for several significant reasons.  I have studied flamenco dancing over the years.  Since flamenco’s origins are with the gypsies who traveled in caravans, I was inspired by their free spirit.  On a broader scale, a caravan is a gathering of diverse people on a common journey and I envision Blue Caravan as a welcoming environment for them.  My favorite color is blue.  It symbolizes nature (ocean, sky) and with it a free and open spirit that has no boundaries.  Hence, Blue Caravan.”
    That color brightens the bar (above) and  premises of the long 40-seat dining room, with room for 30 in the lounge (left), and 20 in an outdoor cafe. The lounge is dominated by a 15-foot long black marble and oak bar, with exposed brick walls, fabric lanterns, and a 12-foot ceiling in the dining room (below) with candlelit tables, chrome mirrors, pretty rattan chairs, dramatic wall art, and an open kitchen; this last feature, with flat lighting and nothing pretty about it, is not quite as enticing as it might be.
    Across the board we had some terrifically tasty food. I am always a little suspicious of "global menus," assuming no kitchen can turn out with consistency items as disparate as Italian arancini and Malaysian skewers.  But Chau has assembled the kind and size of menu that can easily be handled with a deft hand, and the flavors sparkle in small plates like the crispy calamari  with blood orange and a soy reduction.  Gambas al ajillo was a hot plate of plump shrimp in assertive, creamy garlic sauce and white wine, sprinkled with parsley; a spicy chicken skewer with Asian coriander, cumin, galangal, and tamarind peanut sauce was something my table of four wished we'd all ordered a plate of.  There was a real taste or porcini  mushrooms and peas in the arancini rice balls (though a little dense) with a wonderful smoked eggplant aïoli.  The only disappointment among the small plates was a steamed pork bun with braised pork belly and hoisin sauce that just didn't have much flavor.
    Large plates--none above $27--include true prawns, fat and succulent, grilled with ginger-red pepper sauce and a strawberry coulis, while braised short ribs were a hearty and hearty rendering with just the right amount of fat to lean, in a sprightly five spice and orange sauce with tagliatelle noodles and asparagus.  Blue Caravan's hanger steak is nice and chewy, as it should be, with a tame bordelaise sauce, nicely cooked bok choy, and roasted red potatoes. Seeing prime rib on the menu, I asked if they really roasted a whole roast beef each night, but what I got was a dreary slab of beef dusted with some seasonings, no rib in sight, with green beans, red potatoes and a green pepper corn sauce--not what you expect from prime rib.
    We had two pleasant enough desserts, a fruit tart and a chocolate bombe, both purchased by the restaurant.
    As of this early date (the place opened in April), the service staff, amiable to a fault, hasn't yet gotten it together.  Mistakes were made early on, waits were long for requested items, and a order for a malbec took forever for them to tell us they didn't have it, presenting instead an entirely different varietal. I trust Chau will get things to go more smoothly on this front.

Blue Caravan is open for breakfast Mon.-Fri., lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly, brunch Sat. & Sun. Dinner small
plates$7-$15, large plates $16-$27.

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by Christopher Mariani


On board the M/S Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia

    I’m often asked two questions that I couldn’t be more proud to answer. The first is, how did you get into writing about food at such a young age? And the second, what really makes you or anyone for that matter qualified to write about food and restaurants?

    I hope this piece offers a little insight as to why I became a food and travel writer, not what makes me qualified to write about food, but why I love food and really the sole reason I write about it.

    Ever since I can remember, family dinners were always a big deal. I loved waking up on the morning of a holiday, inhaling whiffs of garlic, sweet onions, a simmering pasta sauce and cakes or pastries that were still in the oven. My brother and I would spring out of bed and immediately run downstairs to check out what my mother was cooking. If there were cookies cooling on the tray next to the oven, we always managed to snatch one or two before getting yelled at for eating cookies for breakfast.

    My aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents always showed up late, and it drove my father crazy. When they finally did arrive everyone would stand around in our small kitchen peeking under pot lids and picking at plates of antipasti that my father had gone to get the day before from Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Even though the living room was set with extra chairs and small plates of olives and nuts, everyone stayed in the kitchen and somehow my mother continued to cook a feast for ten plus people. Dinner itself was always long, filled with multiple courses and twice as much food as was ever needed.  

    When there were no holidays or birthdays to celebrate, my mother would cook a hot meal nightly for my father, brother and I. Many will say their mother’s cooking is the best, but for anyone who knows my mother personally and has eaten her food, they might modify their claim.             Even with the TV turned on, we would sit around enjoying each other’s company, talking and many times arguing, but that’s what makes a family a family. My life and family have revolved around food as far back as I can remember.  

        Growing up the son of a food and travel writer, we dined out a lot. We were constantly heading into Manhattan for dinners at many of the city’s best restaurants. From an early age I was lucky enough to eat at some of the greatest restaurants and I didn’t even know it. Years later I understood, but at the time I was too young to appreciate their quality. As I got older I was willing to try just about anything. I remember my father saying to me when he saw me analyzing a dish, “Try it, if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it.” So I tried it and most of it I liked.

    I vividly remember the first time I tried frogs’ legs. We were dining at a Chinese restaurant and the waiter brought over a steaming hot plate of crispy frogs' legs smothered in a garlic sauce that smelled wonderful. My father informed me they were chicken wings, so I gobbled them up. After eating every last morel of the juicy "chicken wings" I  found out I'd been deceived, but I shrugged it off and we all laughed. Eating, dining out a few nights a week and tasting just about anything were the memories of my childhood. I didn’t know it then but my palate was expanding, and I began to have a reference for many different foods and cuisines far greater than any of my friends did.

    My father traveled extensively when I was growing up, but as often  as he could he brought the family with him. By the time I was a teenager I had seen many major American cities and traveled abroad numerous times, eating out in London, Paris, Rome, and Florence. My brother, mother and I treated these trips as vacation while my father was working as hard as ever, joining us for dinner each evening. I anticipated each trip with great expectations to see new places and try new food.

     At every dinner my father would have me taste a sip or two of his wine to learn to appreciate alcohol and understand its pleasantries. Even when a wine was bad he would insist I try it. He always said, a man cannot appreciate a good wine until he has tasted a bad wine--a  statement that  applies to many other things in life.

    At the age of fourteen I began working as a busboy in the summer months at a terrific, upscale diner in White Plains, NY, called City Limits. I took the train to work a few times a week and quickly learned how hard it was to make a few bucks. On the weekends I worked in the coat check of an Italian restaurant around the block that paid me $50 to sit there for four hours, and I made tips! I was rich!

    Two years later I quit both jobs and began working at a catering hall in the Bronx, which catered specifically to Albanian weddings with over 800 guests present. I had no idea what I was doing. I was told to make sure the guests always have a full glass of whatever they were drinking, make sure to not drop the tray of food, and don't so much as glance at the Albanian girls. (I sometimes disobeyed the last order.)  It was very difficult work but occasionally someone would slip a $20 bill into my pocket and that made it all worth it.

    My next job was waiting tables at the Italian restaurant I used to coat check for. Through high school I worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and enjoyed every second of it. I found my groove as a server and families began to request my service. I was making great money and learning what no restaurant management school could ever teach me. I was young, working my butt off and making good tips, finding out what it took to run a restaurant and realizing what a grueling profession it can be.

    The best way to describe working in a restaurant is organized chaos. I am a strong believer that every teenager should work at least two years in the restaurant business.  Trust me, it will change you. I was socializing with customers, dealing with kitchen problems, surviving the 7 pm to 9 pm rush and working for every dollar I made. I had a ton more responsibility than my friends who worked at Blockbuster bagging DVDs and arguing with customers over their balance.  Restaurants were an enlightening experience for me and taught me values I hold onto to this day.

    When I went off to college I continued to work in the restaurant business but upgraded to a Modern American restaurant in wealthy Greenwich, CT, named Rebeccas, where I learned about classic French service and the proper way to do just about everything in the front of the house. This schooling later became  an essential tool when writing about dining out and offering my reader a true reflection of the service they will receive.

    Every car that rolled into Rebeccas’  parking lot was worth $80,000, many much higher. Maseratis, Bentleys, Mercedes, it was like walking into an exotic car show. The tips were unreal. For the next four years I worked and broadened my understanding of what makes for a great restaurant. I wasn’t just serving food, I was actually playing an important role in the restaurant. I began to learn about the ingredients we were serving, where they came from, why they were they better than other products, the importance of presentation and how a restaurant must work in harmony to be successful. There is so much that goes into the dining experience that unless you have worked for years in the business, you will never know. When I dine out now and the orders come out in an orderly manner and the food tastes great, I truly appreciate what went into achieving that experience.

    During my time at Rebeccas and while attending college, my mother and father wrote their first recipe collection together, The Italian American Cookbook, and I was the guinea pig for all the recipes--270 of them!--and began to taste food differently and to understand its subtleties and flavors. I started to taste the ingredients that created the flavor of complex dishes, and again, my palate continued to grow. I also took daily advice and pointers from my mother on how to cook. I don’t consider myself a great cook but I definitely know my way around the kitchen.

    A year after the book was published my brother started a career as a chef. He attended the French Culinary Institute in NYC and graduated first in his class, taking a job as a line cook at The Modern, one of Danny Meyers' restaurants in the MOMA. After three years he moved to work alongside master chef Michael White at Marea. He is now working as a manager at the new Lincoln restaurant in the Lincoln Center. He also dates a beautiful girl named Priscilla, who is a wonderful pastry chef at one of Daniel Boulud’s fine establishments. I guess food runs in the family.  

    Still,  after college I dismissed the restaurant business and took an office job with a local health care company. At first it was exciting, a new environment, shirt and tie every day, and a desk where I could finally sit! But within a few months I realized this job was not for me. As much fun as using the fax machine and sending out lengthy weekly sales reports to my boss were, I knew I needed to get back to my roots and do something I enjoyed. 

    I was so miserable I thought of just quitting my job and fly out to Australia where I could lay out on the beach for a year and work when needed. Australia never happened, even though I still think it would have been amazing.  A little over a year later, at last, my opportunity presented itself.

    My father asked me if I wanted to come work for his newsletter, Mariani’s Virtual Gourmet, and I said, “maybe.” Within a few weeks he shipped me off to French Polynesia, where I was covering a story on the Paul Gauguin cruise ship stopping in Tahiti, Bora Bora, Morea, Ratea and Taha. Just one week earlier I'd been sitting behind a desk making cold calls for some company that didn’t even know I existed, and there I was in French Polynesia drinking a Hinano beer, and eating poisson cru.  When I returned from the South Pacific I turned that “maybe” into a “yes!” I had no idea where it would take me and I didn’t care, I was once again happy.

    I took a significant pay cut in salary, but for those who read my weekly column, you know where I've been and what I've seen; money can’t compare. I consider myself very lucky to have been given this opportunity and don’t take any of it for granted. Many people ask me after hearing my last name, “You’re John’s son, right?” And I say proudly, “Yes, I am.” I respect my father’s work and believe he’s one of the best writers in the game. As many of you know, our writing styles are far different, and that’s what makes me the Man About Town.

    I travel three times a month, dine at some of the best restaurants around the world, stay in posh hotels, meet terrific and interesting people, and constantly expand my horizons, whether it is in Paris, France or Paris, TX. Every place I visit has something wonderful to offer. In fact, nothing makes me more happy than writing an article about a small town then getting flooded with emails of people who now want to visit or who have been and can share the same experience.

    My father and I are constantly asked, so what do you guys cover? And we always respond, the entire world, wherever they serve great food.

    So to answer the two questions I am frequently asked.  The answer is the same to both: I got into writing because of an entire life of loving and learning about food and how other people eat and drink around the world.

    I want to thank everyone who reads the Virtual Gourmet and know that it makes my day every time we receive a positive email from you. I will continue to travel and write as much as I can, I hope you will continue to enjoy my articles. Please take a look at our FaceBook account where I have endless albums of pictures taken from just about every trip I’ve been on. You can also follow the Man About Town on Twitter @Virtual Gourmet. Ciao

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by Mort Hochstein

  There are some benefits that come with growing old: reduced price tickets  at museums and  movies, senior citizen fares on the bus and subway,   a seat on those busses and subways  offered  frequently in deference to age, and just  recently, a  precious bottle of  wine from the year of my birth.

   That   prize arrived after a sumptuous luncheon for journalists at chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se, a temple of fine dining in NYC.  A small group of writers had been assembled by Gerard Bertrand, a worldly winemaker who owns half dozen estates in the Languedoc in France.  Mr. Bertrand (below), a rugged former rugby star, is the Johnny Appleseed of the Languedoc, traveling frequently to proclaim its vinous virtues to the world, just as Robert Mondavi did for Napa in its less prosperous years. (By the way, Bertrand  also runs a fine resort, shown in the photo above, named after L'Hospitalet.)

        The Languedoc is a region we worshipers of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace often overlook. and I really was not acquainted with Mr. Bertrand’s wines until that long and lavish afternoon. Our host was spending big bucks to seduce writers into a greater respect for the Languedoc. He opened a batch of  his wines, some inexpensive, others costly, to accompany some of the most exquisite and expensive food in Manhattan. That sort of pairing is almost always guaranteed to add luster to wines that are not well known or seldom arrive at the tables of the affluent-- if they are good, and these were. 

       Bertrand’s opening salvo was a crisp and lemony 2010 viognier, coming in at $14 retail, a low price point Mr. Keller and his customary clientele might never explore. It was paired with a delicately roasted halibut, the vivid acidity of the viognier bringing out the sweetness of the fish.  Bertrand reached  to a higher level for  an organically produced Cigalus ($50), primarily chardonnay  tempered by small amounts of  viognier and sauvignon blanc.  (The Cigalus vineyard is shown at right.) The lush Cigalus, crisp  on the palate with vanilla , nutmeg, and tropical   fruit tones,   played well with a San Marzano tomato marmalade which dressed the halibut.

    Three reds were tested alongside a ribeye steak plated with potato comfit, spinach, mushrooms and onions. The first,  a robust 2009 Corbières    ($15) was  a classic blend of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, whose gamy, peppery flavors mated perfectly with the steak, as did a more complex, graceful Pic St. Loup, ($19) a Syrah, grenache and carignan blend.  The third wine, was L’Hospitalet Réserve Rouge ($23), full-bodied and fleshy, with spice and fruit flavors. It  was a good mate to  the rich beef,  and went particularly well with the caramelized  king trumpet mushrooms.

        Mr. Keller and Mr. Bertrand respect the mantra of red wine with cheese and Bertrand brought out three big guns  for this course, La  Forge and L’Hospitalas, both  from 2008, and   Le Viala 2007, each  retailing at  $75. Wines of this caliber  deserve more time to develop and I would relish revisiting them  when they   are more mature.   Of the three, I preferred  the elegant, highly concentrated, ripe black fruit of the La Forge. Its black raspberry fruit and high acid notes  brought out the best in the cheeses.

       The wine of my vintage came last. After  we had properly appreciated our first three courses, Mr. Bertrand rose to the podium to introduce  a  rare dessert  wine, a 1929 Legend Vintage Maury. Wines entitled Legend Vintage are special bottlings  from exceptional vintages, and there are currently just two others available, a Rivesaltes 1945 and a Banyuls 1951.

     “This is a wine that is 82 years young,” he proclaimed. “The grape  is grenache noire, its color  remains  brilliants and crystal clear, and it has many years  ahead to bring pleasure to the table. None of us,”  he observed, “were around when it was born.”

     I savored the wine, its  fresh, spicy nose   and  its still vigorous flavors  of apricot, tobacco and minerals. Then  I informed  Mr. Bertrand   that I and the wine shared a similar vintage. He beamed and said, “come with me to the podium.”  Bringing the afternoon to a dramatic  climax, he presented me  with an unforeseen additional benefit of   growing old, my own bottle of 1929 Maury, declaring that we should   enjoy a long life together.  All afternoons should be so rewarding.

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According to the Times of Trenton, the municipal government of Hopewell Township, after three hours of public debate,  passed laws to regulate farm chickens’ sex life. The measure not only limits the amount of time male chickens can spend with their female counterparts to 10 days each year, but that they prove they’re disease-free before having access to the hens.  Also, the roosters must keep quiet during their stays. Any rooster caught crowing for a prolonged period of time will subject the property to a two-year moratorium on all rooster visits.


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In a recipe for Roast Chicken for Two, Michael Ruhlmann in Slate writes that after preheating the oven, washing and trussing the chicken and putting it into an oven, "Have sex with your partner. (This can require planning, occa­sionally some conniving. But as cooks tend to be resourceful and seductive by nature, most find that it's not the most difficult part of the recipe.)"


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Lockwood Restaurant
On June 14th, Lockwood Restaurant in Chicago, IL, will host a Napa Station wine dinner. Sasa Sinanagic will lead guests through each selection of wine paired with a 4-course menu by Executive Chef Gregory Elliott. $75 per person. Call 312-917-3404 or visit
ELWAY's Dowtown
On June 15 in Denver, CO The Ritz-Carlton's signature restaurant, ELWAY'S Downtown will host a four-course pairing dinner with Cliff Lede Vineyards of Napa Valley featuring a seasonal menu by ELWAY'S Chef Robert Bogart. Guests will get to meet the winery's Vice President and General Manager, Jack Bittner. Wines for the evening include: 2010 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley; 2008 Breggo "Ferrington Vineyard" Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley; 2008 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District; 2007 Cliff Lede "Poetry" Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District. $100 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 303.312.3107 or visit
Marchello's Ristorante 25th Anniversary Wine Tasting and Concert
Marcello's Ristorante of Suffern, NY celebrates his 25th anniversary with the release of his new cookbook with two live concerts at the historical Lafayette Theater. On 6/16 artists Cristina Fontanelli,Gary Wilner,Big Band, on 6/23 Giada Valente,Antonio Ciacca, Albin Konopka, Elsebeth Dreisig, Ivan Dimitrov and Ornella Fado. Please visit for details and to view the playbill. The pre-theater wine tasting at Marcello's Ristorante is already sold out but we still have concert tickets available. If you are not attending the concert, the wine tasting of 8:00, 9:30 are still available with live music.Cost of wine tasting and Italian antipasto is $25 all incl. Call 845-357-9108 for tickets. Grazie!
Gather Restaurant
On June 22 Gather Restaurant in Berkeley, CA will host a Hodo Soy/Magruder Ranch $47.00 four-course prix fixe dinner prepared by Esquire Magazine’s “Chef of the Year” Sean Baker with continuous service from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.; Mac MacGruder and the owner of Hodo Soy will be at the dinner; vegan alternatives available; optional wine pairing also offered; 2200 Oxford Street; (510) 809-0400;

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 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, gastronomy, 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 Esposito, host 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: CUBA: ROME'S BEST BISCOTTI; TO THE LIGHTHOUSE.

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.

© copyright John Mariani 2011