Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter
June 26, 2011

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Italian Line Ad, circa 1935


by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by Christopher Mariani

    by John Mariani

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New York Celeb Chef at French Revolution Festival in Riviera Maya, July 11 - 23
From July 11-23, a festival honoring the anniversary of the French Revolution will be held at AAA Five Diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya. The resort's gourmet restaurant Piaf will be showcasing the talents of New York City's Madison Bistro owner and Maitre Cuisinier de France, Chef Claude Godard. Alongside Piaf's Executive Chef Michele Mustiere, Chef Godard will prepare a 5-course tasting menu featuring Sautéed Foie Gras w/ Artichoke Mousseline and white truffle; Hazelnut-butter Roasted Sea Bass, and a decadent chocolate dessert served with poached raspberries. Available to resort guests at no charge, $1200 pesos (approx. $100USD) for non-hotel guests. 1-888-323-2776;
Bond 45
NYC's Times Square fine-dining favorite Bond 45 (154 West 45th Street, 212-869-4545, is offering an unbeatable $15 Lunch Special at the bar from 11:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday. From pleasing pasta dishes to succulent seafood and steak items, you can enjoy a different and delicious dish each day from Culinary Director Brando De Oliveira. On Mondays indulge in classic Spaghetti & Meatballs; on Tuesdays savor Penne with Sausage Amatriciana; on Wednesdays, a tasty Tagliatelle with Filet Mignon Braciola; on Thursdays, Gramigna with Pulled Pork Ragu; and on Fridays, a flavorful Orecchiette with Red Wine Braised Calamari.
Le Caprice
On weekdays from 12pm to 3pm at the modern Le Caprice (795 Fifth Avenue, 212-940-8195,, you can enjoy Executive Chef Ed Carew's "lunch at the bar" menu with flavorful offerings like a Scotch Egg with celery salt ($8), Scottish Smoked Salmon with lemon and capers ($14), and an exquisite Welsh Rarebit ($10). And with Central Park right across the way, Le Caprice is an ideal spot for a midday meal.
Columbus Tavern
Columbus Tavern's (269 Columbus Avenue, NY 212-873-9400, old-world feel and delectable lunch menu can be enjoyed at their 100 year-old mahogany bar. Executive Chef Phil Conlon offers playful dishes like BLT Dumplings with spicy mustard and salted radishes ($7.50), Triple Mac & Cheese with spiral pasta and roasted tomatoes ($11), and ChefPhilly's Cheese Steak ($13). While there, you can also enjoy unique cocktails inspired by Upper West Side buildings like The Ansonia and The Dakota ($12 each).
Benjamin Steakhouse, White Plains, NY

Benjamin Steakhouse: White Plains NY seeks an energetic, self-motivated Events/Marketing professional to promote the restaurant and handle all banquet sales/private events. Ideal candidate must have excellent communication skills, as well as a minimum of 1-2 years of professional experience in events, sales, or within the hospitality industry.  Strong sales and administrative skills are key, as well as attention to detail, good organizational skills and the ability to multitask. Self-motivation is crucial! Must be able to promote, book, and coordinate events from start to finish!! Familiarity with the area is a plus! Interested candidates may email a resume, as well as a description as to why you would be a good fit to

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Eating and Drinking in Turin
Part Two

by John Mariani

Photos by Galina Dargery

Piedmont's classic agnolotti del plin, at Monferatto, Turin

             Not far from Turin's center sprawls the Turin food market, where at least one generation of Italians who have never known hunger come to buy amazingly inexpensive fruits and vegetables—one euro for a kilo of lemons!—that are to sight and smell of the highest quality.  There are so many competing outdoor stalls selling the same long-stemmed artichokes and cardoons, oranges as bright as the sun, wild mushrooms in profusion, so vendors sing out praise of their wares as they slice off the outer skins and stalks of the asparagus and fennel.
    Inside are the butchers and fishmongers, a horsemeat stall, and myriad shops selling cheeses from all over Italy, with 48 from Piedmont alone.   Langoustines and red mullets glisten on beds of ice; the butchers slice the hams paper thin and pull down sausages from hooks; the good lighting shows it all off to best advantage, and the big room hums with people ordering amounts of food once unimaginable to their grandparents, who now join the throng.
    Also nearby, just east of the Piazza Castello, is a delightful narrow street called Via Barbaroux whose food shops and groceries are quite old and very small, usually specializing in a few items, such as cheese or fresh pasta, wine and coffee beans.  Here the personal touch and long familiarity between sellers and buyers makes for a generational trust and fidelity.
         There is a distinctly Torinese, or at least Piedmontese, gastronomy, one that observers—not least other Italians—will say is more than a little tinged with French culinary ideas.  The farms produce excellent fruits and vegetables, the Po Valley produces the majority of Italy’s rice, and in autumn the magical appearance of Alba’s white truffles occurs in the oak, poplar and hazel tree forests. Excellent freshwater fish is brought out of Lake Maggiore, and cold weather makes game dishes, usually braised, highly desirable. The region’s beef, called razza piemontese, is well regarded everywhere in the country, and there is an official government list of more than 100 different types of salumi, many artisanal.  Every bit of the pig is used, so that the frisse of Cuneo is rich with offal meat, while testa in cassetta di Gavi is made from the head.  Lonzardo is a loin of seasoned pork, and brod is made with the blood and offal, flavored with cinnamon and fennel.
         As in most of northern Italy, the Torinesi have a love-hate regard for polenta, for this cornmeal porridge was once the bland gruel of the very poor, whose unremitting daily appearance at the kitchen table reminded people of less fortunate times, when pellagra was a deficiency disease of children who ate little or nothing but polenta while growing up. Those days are long gone, but it is now rare that a Piedmontese cook would serve polenta on its own, rather than as the underpinning of another ingredient like braised meat or vegetables.
    Of course, the wines of Piedmont have long been among Italy’s finest, at least since post-war winemakers and contemporary innovators like Angelo Gaja, Bruno Giacosa, Aldo Conterno, and others raised the bar within the region to concentrate on terroir over quantity.  The wide range of Piedmont wines—barbera, dolcetto, nebbiolo, barolo, barbaresco, and many others—is too immense to speak of here, but a visitor can taste his way through dozens of fine examples from the list of just about any restaurant in Turin.
    Indeed, more than most restaurateurs in Italy, the Torinesi proudly amass excellent wine lists, a requisite that is also very much in line with their civilized self image.  Just as the baroque in Turin is less flamboyant than in Naples and Palermo, so, too, the restaurants show a certain, very personalized restraint.  “You have to understand that the Torinesi both respect and support their arts and music,” Gianandrea Noseda, the Milanese-born artistic director and conductor of the Turin Opera told me in an interview. “This is a royal city with a strong devotion to refinement and it shows in their cuisine and restaurants.”
         So, too, Laura Maioglio, owner of the great Piedmontese restaurant Barbetta in New York, whose father opened it in 1906, old me before I flew to Turin, “It’s a city of fine restaurants, not trattorie.  The Torinesi may go to their favorite little spots, but the proud traditions of cucina alla piemontese are being carried on in the ristoranti.”
         While the distinctions between ristoranti and trattorie have been considerably blurred all over Italy, we did find that in Turin my lunches and dinners were carried out with a raffinato hospitality everywhere we ate.  Almost every restaurant has tablecloths, at night they light candles and set down good silver and wineglasses. They are never very loud; people dress well; there are no t-shirted waiters, no brusque urgings for you to relinquish your table, and definitely no rap music or Lady Gaga being pumped into the room.
         And I am also happy to comfort those who fear food in Italy is losing its regional grip and traditions, by saying that this is absolutely not the case in Turin, where tradition has a firm hold in the kitchen.  Indeed, it might be said that Turin has 500 chefs all cooking the same seven sacrosanct dishes, which would be vitello tonnato; the veal tartare called carne cruda; the tiny meat-filled agnolotti del plin; the egg-rich tagliatelle they call tajarin; various braised brasato dishes; the lavish finanziera, made with chicken livers, gizzards, cockscombs, and porcini; and for dessert, a Marsala-laced cocoa and amaretti cookie custard called bonèt.
         My wife and I ate these dishes several times over several days—my first instinct upon arrival was to eat plin at every meal to find the very best—but I was also looking for variety, unique cooking, and innovation.  At the first restaurant we visited, Neuv Caval d' Bròns (below), located since 1948 above its own beautiful confectionery on the Piazza San Carlo, all three curiosities were satisfied, not least by an amuse sent out by Chef Cristoforo Di Muro, of a single slice of culatello ham, a spoonful of Castelmagro cheese with a few dots of balsamico, and a mere sip of Carpano Antica Formula amaro, which proved to be a capital way to spark the appetite.
         What followed was a quivering sformatino of artichoke with foie gras, arugula, and pomegranate, and a hot fondue of raschera cheese and Jerusalem artichokes flavored with truffles.  We then had our first plin, at least our first in Turin, which came, characteristically, in a simple but luscious veal sugo with a touch of tarragon and a sprinkling of Parmigiano—simple, tender and delicious, and, now the case throughout Italy, in a generous portion indeed.  We also opted for venison ravioli with a rich sauce of braised beef and funghi porcini.  Dessert was a semifreddo of nougat with rum sauce and a mousse of chocolate and hazelnuts in a vanilla custard with Morello cherries.
        Caval d’Bròns (the name comes from the bronze horse in the piazza) is a ristorante, polite, quiet, sedate, all virtues we found in spades at the famous Ristorante del Cambio, here since 1757 and which, according to culinary historian Luciano Tamburini, “put Turin on the map of the Grand Tour to Italy.”  The name Cambio has never been satisfactorily explained, but the restaurant was well known to Casanova, Cavour, and Goldoni, and 19th century society adopted it as requisite for a visit to Turin in the 19th century. Its fame and fortune es have been up and down ever since, but today Cambio, now owned by the Turin Hotels International group, is still thronged with locals, opera lovers, and travelers on weekends.
         On a Tuesday evening when we dined there, however, the luxuriously appointed dining room (below) was nearly empty, giving its restored Neoclassical wood paneling, paintings on glass by Bonelli, and baroque stuccos the ambiance of a museum.  Still, the service staff, in dovetail coats, administered to our table as if we were honored guests.
         The cuisine at Cambio is resolutely Piedmontese, with a continental cast, and we ordered accordingly, not least the restaurant’s famous risotto alla Cavour, which may well have been created at Cambio. It is rice cooked in white wine, with a poached egg and Parmigiano to enrich it. We also enjoyed a delicately flavored cannelloni of cauliflower, and stinco di vitello, a succulent and tender shank of veal braised in vegetables and wine, and for dessert the classic Marsala-spiked bonèt.                                                  Photo courtesy of Ristorante di Cambio
Most of our other meals in Turin were in less lavish, more casual places, including the amiable Ristorante Monferrato across the river, with three pale yellow rooms with pleasingly separated tables, by one o’clock filled with businessmen scarfing up large portions of wonderfully pink carne cruda and ladies out to lunch on a fine antipasto (left) of cooked vegetables, a generous platter of stuffed zucchini, polenta with Gorgonzola, a spinach flan, cheese in puff pastry, red peppers with ground meat, and simply cooked cardoons.  Here again, I ordered the plin, this time with butter and sage, and gnocchetti in a rich sauce of Toma cheese, which was probably too much food, knowing what was to follow—a marvelous, steamy bollito misto of beef, veal, and chicken, with condiments that included sweet and hot mostarda.
         There were other fine meals, some more successful than others, all resolutely Piedmontese, so we sought out restaurants’ specialties, like the unusual cod ravioli with butter and chives. at Sotto la Mole (below), across from the Cinema Museum. Here, under a brick barrel vault ceiling, we also enjoyed an onion soup so thick with sweet onions, melted cheese, and soaked bread that the soup was a mere moistener.  Fried rabbit with artichokes was very good, crisp, and meaty, but the surprise on the menu was to find braised donkey (asino) stew, which tasted a good deal like venison, served with yellow polenta.  The menu, by the way, is available in broken English, so that finanziera is translated as “guts,” true enough but a bit off-putting.
         Modern—for Turin—is the style and cooking at Porta di Po on the Piazza Vittoria. With its polished black wood tables set with herbs, gray walls, and beautiful glassware, the owner Antonio Terre and Chef/partner Giorgio Marone (right) of this four year-old restaurant takes great pride in obtaining the best ingredients in a city full of them.  We thoroughly enjoyed a subtle vitello tonnato here, the tuna sauce not too pronounced, the veal superb; an order of sugo-glossed tajarin whose dough is made with 40 egg yolks; and plin eaten in a very old-fashioned way—cooked in a broth and served in a napkin, to be eaten one by one with your fingers.          Photo courtesy of Porta di Pio
         The name of the very popular little trattoria Le Vitel Étonné—is a French pun on the Italian for 20-month old veal, vitelloni (also the title of a 1953 Fellini movie)—on Via San Francesco da Paola. Always packed with locals, this is a fast-paced, friendly, youthful spot with bare wooden tables and paper mats. The food is modern, though anchored in traditional Piedmontese cooking, including an open-faced raviolo with peppery rabbit sausage; an assertively spiced breast of duck; and for dessert a very rich hazelnut torta lavished with golden yellow zabaglione.
         On our last day in Turin we made our pilgrimage to EATaly, set so far out of the city center in the once declining industrial neighborhood of Lingotto because its backers needed so much space. EATaly is a big part of the evolution and promotion of the
Slow Food Movement, which Carlo Petrini began in nearby Alba, where he held the Salone del Gusto food exposition in the Lingotto Convention Center back in 1996. In early 2007 they debuted what they bill as the “largest food and wine market in the world” within what the former Carpano Vermouth Factory.
         I need not go into the Slow Food Movement’s philosophy of biodiversity, and dedication to traditional and artisanal foods or to scratch the surface of what is carried at EATaly.  Suffice it to say, all the food and wines and restaurants here are rigorously Italian, from the fresh burrata and dozens of hams to the confections room floor-to-ceiling with chocolates and candies, biscotti and cakes, and a seafood stall that teems with dozens of species of fish, clams, oysters, shrimp, and langoustines.
         It is, though, worth saying how delighted, even giddy we were strolling through this joyously lighted space, where every loaf of bread and every form of fresh pasta is displayed to best advantage.  Its banners, reading “Good Food Unites Italy,” give visitors a true sense of elation—and immediate hunger—buoyed by the aromas and appeal to the eye from the panini counter, the salumi counter (left) , the pasta station, and the steaming plates of daily soup, along with the user friendly wine storage that tells you all you need to know about a bottle.  New Yorkers are lucky to have a branch in the Flat Iron District.
         In EATaly and in Turin’s restaurants and cafes you realize the city’s cultural beauty, from the vast expanses of baroque plazas and graceful arcades stretching for miles outward and inward from one another to the colors of candies in the windows.  In a city known by others for its citizens’ hard work, the Torinesi have always known that theirs is a unique form of la dolce far’ niente, especially when it is done with such polished elegance.

To read Part One of this article, click here.

This article is expanded from the original that appeared in the magazine La Cucina Italiana.




by John Mariani

Photos by Noah Fecks


420 Park Avenue (at 29th Street)

       It's not quite as easy as you might think to cook good Italian food in NYC, but  from the myriad examples of wonderful ristoranti and trattorias in the city, the pretense that one had to be born and raised in Italy to achieve authenticity crumbled as soon as American cooks got their hands on the same ingredients Italians had been using for the last two centuries.  (As noted in the article above, EATaly, with a branch in NYC, is no longer unique to Turin.) Nevertheless, when you taste Italian food made by an Italian, via Sardinia, like chef Marco Porceddu of the new Asellina, you will be reminded that there's no substitute for being bred in an Italian kitchen.  Even his last name is evocative: in Sardinian dialect, porceddu refers to a roast suckling pig.
      His training in European kitchens must have prepared him for the large-scale of Las Vegas, where he'd worked for Steve Wynn, then opened his own restaurant there, Bella Luna. At Asellina, which is in the Gansvoort Hotel on Park Avenue, Porceddu is in charge of all the food prep, from room service to banquets, but his heart and soul are clearly at Asellina.  You'll taste it the moment you bite into a tender Cerignola olive, stuffed with veal and parmigiano, dusted with semolina and fried--as luscious a morsel of goodness as you'll ever eat. So, too, the wood-fired meatballs with cannellini beans, culatello, and fontina, and sweetly savory baked eggplant tortino with ricotta and cheese fonduta.  Variants of these might be found around town these days, but this is how they should be done.
      Not quite so with the pizzas and flatbreads (left), which are indeed  trendy flat, with less-than-intense flavors, including suckling pig and robiola, not as satisfying as pizza with a thicker, more pliant crust. The pastas, however, succeeded in convincing me that Porceddu has trained his staff well in the craft of making and saucing (not over saucing) dishes like tender spinach and ricotta ravioli with simple fresh sage, butter, and lemon zest.  Saffron strozzapreti ("priest stranglers," colloquially so called because priests would gorge on the noodles when visiting parishioners for Sunday dinner) with shrimp, zucchini and a splash of brandy (below)--one of the best seafood pastas in the city. Also delicious was garganelli with a three meat ragù, wild fennel and pecorino sardo. Wide pappardelle came with a finely textured housemade sausage and sauteed porcini, though the mushrooms were overcooked and too soft.
     For the secondi, seared chicken with prosciutto and fresh sage, the fondly recalled saltimobocca style usually done with veal,  was very juicy, served with asparagus of the season. Monkfish was equally as succulent and perfectly cooked, and stuffed beef tenderloin with chanterelles, ubriaco cheese and red wine had plenty of flavor. But lamp chops, which were either oddly thin or pounded to be so, were overcooked and livery, not helped by a soggy herb crust, marinated tomato skin and too assertively acidic Champagne vinegar.
     What I'd really love to see on Porceddu's menu are his native Sardinian dishes, which no one in NYC ever does, like burrida seafood stew, malloreddus pasta, and seadas dessert pastries, not to mention porceddu itself.
    Italian restaurants in NYC and in Italy used to serve less than thrilling desserts, but Asellina's are very good, with a vanilla-rich panna cotta, a moist round of cheesecake, a good chocolate torta with vanilla gelato, and a terrific tiramisù with savoiardi biscuits and Frangelico.

    The wine list hits all the right notes, mostly Italian ones, and wines are offered by the quartino.  The service staff couldn't be nicer, from  greeting to seating, from wine knowledge to dish information.  There was, however, considerable lag time between courses, more likely the kitchen's fault than the service staff.
     Having thus rendered praise of Asellina's food, I must note that the place loses its authenticity as an Italian facsimile by virtue of its setting, décor, and focus on the vivacious bar scene up front (left). The designer, New York-based ICRAVE, has done a lot of work in Las Vegas, and Asellina shows the same swank and vibe, done in brick, stone, metal, and  wood. The dining room is dark to begin with and darkens further as the night wears on, and the throbbing Euro-music is itself pumped up as it gets past eight o'clock--aspects more in line with a Vegas casino restaurant than a New York style. A DJ spins live music Wednesday and Saturday nights.  Places with these entertainment effects are few and far between, if they exist at all, in Italy, but if places like  NYC's Tau and Buddakan are to your liking, than you'll probably enjoy yourself. at Asellina. But many who truly love Italian food and atmosphere may be put off by the glitz.

Asellina is open for breakfast daily, lunch Mon.-Fri., dinner nightly, and brunch on Sat. & Sun. Dinner antipasti run $10-$16, pastas and main courses $16-$31.



by Christopher Mariani

Truffle Hunting in Le Marche, Italy

"Acqualagna, Italy"

    Again I woke up early, but at least there was daylight, unlike the morning we visited the fish auction in Fano. I was with legendary restaurateur Tony May (below) and one of America’s famed wine writers, Anthony Dias Blue (he goes by Andy), as  part of an annual GRI trip to Italy.

We had been touring the beautiful Italian region of Le Marche, dining nightly at terrific Michelin-star restaurants and trattorias, tasting native wines (mostly white) and relying on espresso for energy. I’ve known Tony May for many years but never did I know he doesn’t require sleep, nor is he affected by jetlag. The man touches down on Italian soil and he has the vigor of  a teenage boy. The only time Tony took a break was while we sat down on a wooden bench in the seaside city of Pesaro while smoking cigars and gazing out into the horizonof the Adriatic.

         That morning as the sun awakened we drove to one of Italy’s highest truffle producing capitals, Acqualagna. There is public land where only licensed truffle hunters can hunt, and there are truffle farms where truffles are grown in semi-controlled environments and harvested year round.

         The idea of a truffle farm may seem foreign to most who think of truffle hunting as rummaging through the forest with pigs in search of baseball-size truffles, which, is not too far off from the truth. Except  that in Italy pigs have been replaced by dogs trained to sniff out the intense aromas of what essentially is a fungus. Dogs generally don’t eat the truffles, thank god, unlike pigs that salivate at the thought. Imagine  that your pig locates a truffle easily worth a few hundred dollars and bites into it like an apple! This would be a sad day for any hunter.

         Truffle farms are filled with specific oak trees trimmed to stay small, concentrating all nutrients and water in the roots of the tree. It is underground where the truffle spores find a home by attaching themselves to the roots and feeding off them for nutrition. The spores and fungus spread on these farms and almost every tree has hidden treasures underneath the soil it stands on. The question is, which tree on any given day has a truffle? An important question that must be answered quickly, considering the shelf life of a truffle is far from long. 

During our visit to a truffle farm in Acqualagna, owner Giorgio Remedia and his faithful companion Bobby (right) showed us which trees have truffles and which trees have lots of truffles. The farm is cultivated and each tree is planted in a row staggered by at least ten yards. This offers the roots of all trees a chance to grow large and hopefully produce lots of truffles.

Giorgio and Bobby led the way as we marched across the muddy field. We approached a steep hill facing the sun where the oaks were planted in rows that went on for a hundred yards. Bobby’s tail began to whip with great excitement for the start of a hard day's work. Giorgio slowly unclipped Bobby’s leash and before you knew it Bobby darted across the field ripping up chunks of dirt with each stride. He lapped the field once or twice before narrowing his search to a specific area where he smelled something. Quickly Giorgio sprinted towards the tree Bobby was sniffing and asked, “Where’s the truffles Bobby?” Bobby began to shake with excitement, he knew there was a truffle within a paws reach. Bobby suddenly started digging in a crazed state right before Giorgio pulled Bobby back to ensure the safety of the truffle. Giorgio explained that the slightest graze of Bobby’s claw to the truffle immediately dissolves the value of the truffle because it would be flawed and exposed to bacteria and decay. Giorgio, still holding the wide-eyed Bobby back, brushed a thin layer of dirt away and picked up a black truffle the size of a tennis ball with his bare hands. Bobby was then rewarded  with a dog treat before he rushed off in search for another treat worthy truffle.

This process went on all morning, and just a few hours later we had a small canvas bag filled with black truffles of all different shapes and sizes. It was not the season for white truffles but interestingly enough Girorgio explained to us how white truffles are only found in Italy and the reason for this is still unknown. He told many stories of truffle experts who uplifted entire plots of soil and roots known to have white truffle spores attached to them and relocated the land to different countries around the world, yet not one truffle was produced. It is a mystery that doesn’t seem to make sense. Do the spores know they are leaving their beloved Italy and decide to rebel by not turning into truffles? 

That afternoon after saying goodbye to Giorgio and Bobby we headed to the Acqualagna Tartufi laboratory for a quick tour. As we pulled into the parking lot there was a hint of truffle in the air. When we opened the doors to the laboratory it was as if we had been smacked in the face by a giant truffle. The rooms were filled with truffle essence and shelves stocked with jarred truffle oil, creams, silky cheeses topped with shaved truffles, pasta infused with truffle and my favorite, a glass jar of truffle honey. I bought a jar for my mother and we drizzled it onto chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese when I returned home.

The lab room was centered around untouched truffles, mounds that stood one foot tall and three feet wide. It was like truffle heaven and I didn’t want to ever leave. Stainless steel machines surrounded us and the aroma only thickened. We eventually had to leave, against our will, as we stumbled back to the car in a truffle haze.

It was then off to Il Palazzo del Gusto for a truffle-inspired lunch. One inch thick slices of Italian bread were soaked in a truffle cream sauce and topped with shaved truffles. It was like truffle bread pudding with a rich liquid consistency. Fluffy eggs were covered with black truffle shavings (above) and washed down with mouthfuls of crisp, cold white wine. Chef then brought out plates of fresh pasta and personally shaved small mountains of truffle on top. I don’t remember when it all stopped.
     After visiting Acqualagna, I can say with full confidence, I am displeased when a restaurant claims to serve a dish with truffles yet there is not one truffle on the plate. You cannot call mash potatoes "truffle mash potatoes" simply because you have added a drizzle of truffle oil and a pad of truffle butter. It is not right! A dish that claims to have truffles must have truffles, and whenever I start to think about that marvelous day in Acqualagna, I call up Tony May and ask him if he has a table for me at his NYC restaurant SD26, where chef Matteo Bergamini is never cheap with the truffles.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to





by John Mariani

    Do I lie?
    In my new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World, I spend a chapter and more telling the story of how Italian wines went from straw-covered bottles of  cheap Chianti through fizzy Lambrusco on ice, to Bolla Soave, and finally, in the late 1970s to the import of great wines like Gaja Barbarescos and the Super Tuscans.  Led by then Italian Trade Commissioner to NYC, Dr. Lucio Caputo, Italian wine sales went from 142,000 hectoliters in 1970 to two million by 1980.  Sine then there's been no stopping the increases in Italian wine sales, not just in the U.S. but in all markets outside of Italy itself. Today Italy is the largest exporter of wines to the U.S. Blow the bugles!
    Now comes a report by the Italian Wine and Food Institute, whose president is that same Lucio Caputo, that in the first trimester of 2011, Italy experienced an increase of 28.7% in quantity and 27.1% in value,
rising to 610,570 hectoliters for a value of $297,455,000  during the first trimester of 2011, with America further distancing itself from Australia, the second largest exporter to the U.S. (In fact, Australia reported a decrease of 8.7% in value this year.)
     According to Caputo (below), "A major contribution to that success was given by the notable increase of bulk wine exports – mainly Pinot Grigio exported to California – which rose from 11,270 hectoliters to 51,650 hectoliters during this ongoing year. The value rose from $2,264,000 to $8,263,000. There was an increase of 358.4% in quantity and of 265.1% in value."

     Meanwhile, imports from France rose slightly from 150,700 hectoliters to 150,920 hectoliters this trimester, and its value increased from $126,115 to $131,173,000. Therefore, France has experienced an increase of 0.1% in quantity and of 4.1% in value. Spain, however, experienced a 73% increase in quantity and 27.6% increase in value.
      In addition, Italian sparkling wines (spumante) increased from 32,620 hectoliters for a value of $19,997,000 in the first trimester of 2010, to 50,180 hectoliters for a value of $29,750,000 this year so far. Italy increased 53.8% in quantity and 48.9% in value.

         Stats are of enormous interest to growers, importers, and distributors, but for the average wine drinker, these above show how wholeheartedly Americans have embraced Italian wines.  The figures do not really speak to the premium Italian wine market--as noted, cheap pinot grigio to California rose substantially--but there is no question in Americans' minds that Italian wines are good value and, possibly just as important, very very consistent.  At the higher end of the market, Italian wines are unbeatable, especially when you think that very few retail for more than $100, while French Bordeaux and Burgundy prices reach into the thousands of dollars for a single bottle.
        Thus, Italian wine has at least conquered America as of this new decade.  The rest of the world will come along soon.



"Did you ever see the movie called 127 Hours, where the guy has to saw off his own arm? [While I watched it,] I wanted him to know how to debone a chicken. He kept trying to cut through the bone. I wanted him to know he could go in through the joint and pop it out."--Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune, NYC.



The makers of Silver Bullet Gun Oil say their product contains USDA liquefied pig fat, "a highly effective counter-Islamic terrorist force multiplier." According to the firm's owner, who calls himself "The Midnight Rider," a bullet so oiled  "effectively denies entry to Allah's paradise to an Islamo-fascist terrorist," and that "thousands of bottles of Silver Bullet Gun Oil have been distributed since July of 2004 by its creator to members of all U.S. Military branches," and was likely to have been used to kill Osama Bin Laden. When asked about this possibility, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's weapons-procurement command said he was unfamiliar with Silver Bullet, conceding only that a soldier or marine could theoretically purchase the oil on his or her own and use it on the battlefield, noting, "We do not promote discrimination against any race or religion, only terrorists."



 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." 

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,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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