Virtual Gourmet

  September 18, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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                Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity" (1944)

Very Important Announcement!

My latest book, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their cofee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.


“Restaurateurs, take note: A resurgence in thoughtful, artistic menus is past due.”—Bon Appetit Magazine


by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by Christopher Mariani

by Brian A. Freedman

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

 THIS WEEK: What's the Real Value of the Zagat Guide?




By John Mariani

Alberto Sordi in "Un Americano in Roma" (1954)

    Rome, like every European capital now, is no bargain, and you can eat plenty high of the porchetta there.  But that doesn't mean you'll eat as well as you can if you spend less money.  The best food in Italy, with a few stellar exceptions like Dal Pescatore in Cuneto sull'Oglio and La Pergola in Rome, is still at the more moderate ristoranti and trattorias, some very small.  Then  again, Rome is a vast metropolis where you can find excellent wine bars, pizzerias, gelaterias, and much else without busting open the budget. 
    Of course,  Italians like nothing more than to dismiss the gastronomy of Rome as too excessive, too rich, and too expensive.  Of course, Italians in every city say similar things about every other city too, but when it comes to Rome, I think the rest of Italy is just plain jealous.  In fact,  Rome has a much deeper, broader gastronomy than any other Italian city. Indeed, the old adage that all roads lead to Rome might describe the infusion of meats, seafood, and vegetables that pour into the city night and day.   Rome has a wide-ranging indigenous cuisine that includes beloved dishes like abbacchio (baby lamb with mint)  coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail), carciofi alla giudea (fried baby artichokes)  trippa alla romana (stewed tripe),  spaghetti alla carbonara (with eggs and bacon) and cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper), while  happily welcoming other regional specialties to its belly, so that you can get first-rate Sicilian, Tuscan, and Abruzzese cooking in the city’s restaurants.
      I will admit that the wines of Rome’s region of Latium are only beginning to distinguish themselves, despite 26 D.O.C. appellations—few of which you will ever run across in the city’s enotecas.  That failing aside, Rome has the best of everything.  Here’s where to find it.

Prices reflect an average three-course dinner for two, without wine, but including tax and service.


La Matricianella (3 Via dell Leone; 06-683-2100; $100), not far from the Spanish Steps, looks pretty typical of a thousand other trattorias--wood beamed ceilings, blue-checked tablecloths--but the clientele here is resolutely Roman and quite fashionable.  They've been coming since 1957 for always consistent renditions of fritto misto,  a mix of seafood fried to a golden crispiness and served on brown paper), bucatini alla amatriciana (with tomato, bacon, and chile peppers;  abbacchio al forno, the local milk-fed  baby lamb raised  sprinkled with rosemary and mint;  and involtini di zucchini, plump, juicy morsels of eggplant in a bath of creamy tomato sauce.  If the weather is good, they park their Vespas next to the restaurant door and vie for an outdoor table. The 100-page list includes four on the wines of Latium.

You might well book a table at La Terrazza dell’Eden  (Hotel Eden, Via Ludovisi 49; 06-478 121; $150) simply for its beautiful view of Rome from the sixth floor of the Hotel Eden near the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto. But in fact this is one of the finest restaurants in Rome and understandably booked just about every lunch and dinner. The room itself is subdued in color and décor, but the excitement is on the plate, with Brescia-born chef Adriano  Cavagnigni showing a delicate balance of the old and the new in the same dish.  Thus, you might begin with zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and taleggio cheese, black olives and cherry tomatoes, or a  risotto with fresh figs and Falerno red wine and ewe's cheese;  gnocchi are packed with carrot and ginger, with king prawns; then for a main course indulge in a red mullet with Mediterranean spice crust and seaweed tartare.

Calling itself La Carbonara (
Piazza Campo de Fiori, 23; 06-6864-783. $120suggests a certain pride in this quintessential Roman dish in which full-flavored eggs beaten with Parmigiano, black pepper, and guanciale bacon are actually cooked by the heat of the pasta.  This is a very friendly and comfortable trattoria on the lovely Campo dei Fiori flower market, and it does indeed serve one of the finest renderings of the namesake pasta in the city.  The incorporation of the ingredients at the precise moment gives the dish a satiny sheen, with a salty edge, a peppery spike, and a luxurious melding of cheese and egg—not a bad idea for breakfast, if La Carbonara was open then. They also do light-as-a-feather potato gnocchi with a bright tomato sauce. (There is another, unrelated restaurant of the same name on the Via Panisperna.)


A few blocks from the teeming Spanish Steps, Ciampini is a chic corner café on the beautifully restored triangular Piazza San Lorenzo, with lots of marble and shining brass inside. Sit under its umbrella-shaded tables and watch the Romans sashay—and they do sashay by---without, as yet, too much of an intrusion of the touristi who haven’t yet discovered this charming spot. The natives walk arm in arm, they dress well, they sit down for a pastry and espresso, and let time go by as it always does.


Where else but at Alfredo’s on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore (06-687-8734; $120). Although not on the original premises, Alfredo’s is still run by the De Lelio family whose paterfamilias, Alfredo, created the luscious egg noodle-butter-and Parmigiano (no cream!) dish in 1914 to bring back his wife’s post-natal appetite. It will surely stir yours. The restaurant has a fine art deco cast, and the photos of movie stars and other celebrities who have dined here is astonishing, including Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford who in 1927, while on their honeymoon in Rome, gave them inscribed golden fork and spoons—Alfredo’s uses copies to this day. Since it's become a  ritual for celebrities, like Jimmy Stewart to the right, to have their photo taken eating fettuccine. (Another restaurant, on the original’s  pre-war premises on the Via della Scrofa, of the same name is not related.)


Not far from the Vatican and across from the Parco Adriano, L’Arcangelo (59/61 Via Giuseppe Giocchino Belli; 06-321-0992; $110) is an unpretentious, glowingly lighted ristorante. Local critics have sung the high praises of Stefania and Arcangelo Dandini’s cooking and wine service.  The food is described as “updated Roman tradition,” meaning tender traditional gnocchi potato dumplings with  dried tomatoes,  the ubiquitous mint, and the novel idea of adding salt cod; a lavish  platter of cured meats from the master salami artisan Fulvio Pierangelini; fat tortelloni pasta is stuffed with shredded lamb and cheese in a rich, golden chicken broth; and rare breast of duck is glazed with honey and dried figs cut with a  red wine sauce.  The 300-label wine list is carefully chosen to enhance the kitchen’s lusty cooking.


Baby artichokes fried crisp in olive oil (right) was a dish  made famous in Rome’s former Jewish ghetto (enclosed in 1556 and dismantled as of 1870; visit the Jewish museum within the nearby Synogogue) near the Tiber, and the dish thus called carciofi alla giudea.  One of the best versions—they crunch in the mouth with one bite--is at Da Giggetto (Via del Portico d'Ottavia, 21a; 06-686-1105; $110), which serves more than 500 a day. Their stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms, oozing ricotta, are also wonderful, and there’s a full menu of course.

Il Gelato di San Crispino  (42 Via della Pantelleria; 06-67-93-924; two other locations), Near the Trevi Fountain (and other locations) has a relatively small selection of very rich, satin-textured ice creams, but they come in very unusual flavors like Armagnac cream with lemon sorbetto; chestnut with Rhum Clement; hazelnuts and figs with chocolate and rum, and honey laced with whiskey, along with the more usual vanilla, chocolate, fruit gelati and sorbetti.  A small coppa goes a long way.



It doesn’t look like much but Sant’Eustachio (Piazza Sant'Eustachio 82;  06-6880-2048; near the Pantheon, is always packed and noisy withe the sound of its ancient espresso machines. They do a rich, secret “speziale” brew considered the finest caffè in a city obsessed with their espresso and cappuccino.  The “Gran Cappuccino" is a masterpiece here, a snowy, creamy, and wholly complex cup of coffee—drunk only at breakfast time by Romans.  Do not order it outside at a table: It will cost three times as much as inside at the counter.


Imàgo, the rooftop restaurant at the Hotel Hassler (6 Piazza Trinita del Monti; 06-699-34-726; $160),  is set atop the glorious Spanish Steps and overlooks the entire city, from the Borghese Gardens to St. Peter’s and beyond.  Everyone from John and Jackie Kennedy to Princess Di have dined at this aerie,  and now, just renovated as Imàgo, with white marble floors inlaid with wood and mirrored tables, the food, under Chef Francesco Arpeda, is superbly modern without losing its Roman roots, with dishes like crabmeat ravioli in a parsnip-saffron sauce.


An old and revered favorite is the tiny Cul de Sac
(73 Piazza Pasquino ; 06-6880-1094. $70) a stone’s throw from the Piazza Navona, a little trattoria with outdoor tables outside and attached wine store with more than 1,400 selections, along with a wide selection of grappas, amaros, and digestivi, and a menu with all the Roman favorites, including lustrous charcuterie like Prosciutto (right), culatello, and salsicce.

You are unlikely to find Latium wines like Atina, Circeo, Genazzano, and Zagarolo in Rome unless you visit a comprehensive wine shop like  the city’s oldest, Enoteca Bulzoni, (34/36 Viale Parioli; 06-807-7660) dating to the 1930s and stocking 2,500 regional Italian and other wines.

as also become home to the International Wine Academy of Rome,  (
Vicolo del Bottino, 8; 06-699-0878; $140) located in a Sixteenth Century palazzetto, run by the redoubtable Ian Domenico D’Agata, an American who gave up a practice in pediatric gastroenterology to devote himself to his passion for Italian wines;.  Here you may take a wide array of wine courses, from a half-day course to an evening of eight weekly sessions. Classes are followed by lunch or dinner at the very fine Aroma del Palazzetto restaurant attached to the Academy.


La Rosetta  (8/9 Via della Rosetta; 06-686-1002. $140) ;is perpetually packed with a sophisticated, well-dressed Roman clientele, yet it is not in the least stuffy.  The premises date back to 1763 as a “Grande Ristorante Rosticceria” but in 1965 Carmelo Riccioli and photographer Romana Colella turned it into Rome’s best seafood restaurant. Everybody orders the tempura-crisp fried octopus sprinkled with mint. Then consider spaghetti with true scampi--prawns, not shrimp--or linguine con astice, with sweet Mediterranean lobster.   Grilling of whole fish is expertly done here, and desserts are made on premises--always a given in Rome. The bill can mount high for whole fish like turbot and langoustines here!



by John Mariani

362 West 53rd Street

    Clearly owing to the sheer number of restaurants opening year-round in NYC, my missing some gems is inevitable.  In a sense, missing the opening of La Silhouette, Sally Chironis and Tito Rahman's two-level French restaurant in Hell's Kitchen turned out for the best.  For while I have no idea what the food tasted like when the restaurant opened in January, what I tasted from the kitchen of new chef Matthew Tropeano makes me regret nothing. I know Tropeano's work from his tenure as chef at La Grenouille, the staunchly classic French restaurant on the east side, where the menu rarely changed at all from year to year, and, while delivered with consistent finesse, gave Tropeano very little leeway or ability to express his own creativity. Now, at La Silhouette, he can and does, while maintaining an admirable link to all that is good and precise about French cuisine.
    Chironis and Rahman (left), whom I knew when they were at  Le Bernardin, have fashioned a charming series of rooms, carved from a former garage, with the downstairs (above)  the principal dining venue, done with vivid red and white stripes, very comfortable banquettes, and pop art-like brown patterned carpets. The place is beautifully lighted and buoyant, with no discernible house music to disturb conversation.  Prices are on a par with many fine West Side restaurants but considerably below so many French restaurants where you begin at $100 per person. La Silhouette has a $48 pre-theater menu ($65 with wine) and a $19 brunch.  Otherwise appetizers run $12-$28 (that last for fresh foie gras) and main courses $29-$39--significantly below what you'd pay for an unadorned steak at nearby beef emporiums.
    They take cocktails very seriously, and the wine list, culled by Mr. Rahman--who will insist you call him Tito--is a very good balance of unusual selections and familiar bottlings in every price range. Most of the whites are under $50, and plenty of good reds under $60.
    There are predictable menus, outlandish menus, and then wholly sensible menus of a kind where you really do want to try everything on them. La Silhouette's is of this last kind, nicely balanced so that the kitchen can deliver on every dish every time, and Tropeano (left) weaves his ideas into dishes that read as irresistible.  One of the specialties here sounds simple but it is a small masterpiece of flavors and textures--poached farm egg (where else would eggs come from?) with asparagus, oyster mushrooms and a truffle vinaigrette. Foie gras is seared on the griddle quickly to keep its interior soft but not runny, served with caramelized peaches that are the best of the season, and the crunch of toasted almonds.
    A hefty lamb chop comes with gnocchi Provençal and ragù, while snowy white halibut  (right) is poached gently in olive oil, with a crispy shallot crust, succotash and piquillo peppers. Lentils du puy accompany sweet sea scallops with a julienne of vegetables and  lovely saffron-mussel broth. Spiced cherries are happily added to a dish of pink duck breast with Swiss chard and quinoa.
    For dessert you might go with the artisinal cheeses, but at this time of year it's tough not to order a warm apricot tart with crème fraîche-basil; ice cream, or a flourless chocolate cake with strawberry sorbet and berries.
    Little on Tropeano's menu would scare off even the most conservative interloper from La Grenouille, but for everyone who visits everything here is fresh, bright, vivid and delicious.  And both Tito and Sally Chironis could not be happier than to have you as guest.  

La Silhouette is open nightly, with brunch on Sat. & Sun.

by Christopher Mariani


4152 Cole Avenue, Dallas

  During a recent trip to Texas I had the opportunity to stop by and dine at chef Abraham Salum’s Komali restaurant in Uptown Dallas. I was a bit blasé about it when I heard Komali was a Mexican restaurant because although the city is known for its excellent Mexican cuisine, it is also known for plenty of dull Tex-Mex eateries.  However, Salum stated, when opening Komali, “I want the antithesis of Tex-Mex. Look for regional cuisine from Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Veracruz.” I wasn’t too worried.
     Komali (the name refers to the comal, an open fire grill used by the Aztecs) just opened this summer and is a wonderful addition to the Dallas culinary scene. The space is lovely, coated in a light beige canvas with a grand fireplace decorated with broken tiles and iconic Mexican sculptures and murals. There’s also a long, sleek bar graced by many of Dallas’ well-dressed socialites.  Salum, a very humble and enthusiastic chef, cooks nightly and occasionally pops his head out of the kitchen to tour the dining room and say hello to guests, some of whom sit at the communal table near the bar.
         Upon sitting down, our gracious waiter approached the table and asked, “Would anyone like a margarita?” I, of course, nodded, yes. There is a vast selection of terrific añejo tequilas on the menu and an assortment of flavored margaritas. Keeping it traditional, I ordered a standard margarita but was encouraged to have the rim of the glass coated with a chile powder that packed a whole lotta’ spice into each mouthful, a very nice touch. After a margarita or two, I saw the restaurant begin to fill up, leaving not one seat empty in the whole place. Komali, like any new restaurant in the city, is packed nightly and getting lots of hype from local diners, and rightfully so.
            Salum (left) is preparing some of the city’s finest authentic Mexican cuisine in a refined manner, serving dishes packed with tons of flavor and lots of heat. We started with some appetizers you should not miss, Oaxaca-style tamales topped with a thick brown mole sauce, chorizo sopes and tender pork tostadas.  There is a wonderful rich black bean soup, a runner-up to Dean Fearing’s version just across town, but still a contender, while the crema de pobano with queso fresco was uniquely its own. Ceviche comes splashed with fresh lime juice, mixed with fresh avocados, cilantro and red onions. There is also a choice of quesadillas del dia--a daily mix of three quesadillas with roasted tomato.
         Entrees include a thick cut of salmon wrapped in banana leaf and rubbed with
achiote and bitter orange abobo. There’s a nice beef tenderloin topped with fried goat's cheese and a side of almendrado sauce. The meat  options are lengthy and go on to offer Mexican meatballs, grilled pork chops drizzled with honey and a braised pork soup with cabbage and onions.
         For dessert, I recommend the goat's milk crêpes served with caramelized plantains and toasted pecans along with the sugar dusted churros served with a cup of Abuelita hot chocolate.
         Salum cooks what he preaches and is showcasing food as far from Tex-Mex as possible. His dishes have gusto and he is not afraid to serve exactly what he desires. Salum is one of the few chefs who is taking Mexican fare to new levels by evolving many of the old dishes yet never losing the traditional flavor found throughout Mexico.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Merlot Shines under Northstar
By Brian A. Freedman

         For consumers who still inexplicably adhere to the "Sideways" school of thought--Merlot is universally bad, Pinot is universally good, and the wine world is easily divvied up into clean-lined categorical imperatives--the Walla Walla Valley and neighboring AVAs of Washington State offer a delicious refutation. They are, I’ve grown convinced, home to some of the best Merlots this country produces, and with its passionate, dedicated supply of winemakers and vineyard owners, they only promise to get better.
         Fans of the region’s reds have known about this secret for years. Now, however, word is leaking out, and with a renewed focus on the Pacific Northwest in both the wine press and at the retail level, these AVAs--Walla Walla Valley, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, etc.--seem to be on the verge of a serious (and seriously well-earned) popularity explosion.
         This was brought into deliciously sharp relief this past July when I attended Merlot Camp, a three-day immersion into all things Merlot and Washington, put on by the excellent producer Northstar. Over the course of my time there--I was joined by eight journalists and two members of the wine trade--I had the opportunity not only to explore the various iterations of the region’s uniquely expressive Merlots (and other grape varieties as well), but also to see exactly what makes this unique place such a remarkable home for America’s most inappropriately denigrated grape variety.
         Any discussion of this part of Washington inevitably starts 15 million years ago, and this is exactly where my education at camp began. Dr. Kevin Pogue of Whitman College’s Department of Geology kick-started the immersion with a lecture and presentation on the geological history of the area. Over the course of this discussion, several things became clear. First, great wine regions don’t happen by mistake; they are the result of geological forces and phenomena thousands of millennia in the making. Second, the wines produced in these regions are a result of culture, of stylistic tendencies and the sense of community and shared knowledge that develop in the best regions, as well as non-human forces.
         As for the latter, lava flows 15 million years ago created the basaltic bedrock that’s such an important aspect of the terroir here. Then, 15,000 to 12,000 years ago, huge glacial floods, according to the Walla Walla Valley AVA’s web site, “deposited much of the well-drained sand and silt that today forms the soil of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). . . . After the floods, ash derived from the eruptions of Cascade Range volcanoes was deposited throughout the region adding even more complexity to the Valley’s soil.”
         Practically speaking, this means that the rooting zone for the vast majority of vineyards here is typically wind-blown silt, which has a significant impact on the ways in water moves through the vineyard. Beyond that, however, the diversity of soil types and overall surface geology has the effect of accommodating any number of styles of resulting wine. This was brought home during a blending exercise we participated in that included samples from a number of the ones we visited, including standouts like Klipsun Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA and Anna Marie Vineyard in the Walla Walla AVA: Each one provides something  unique to the final blend of a wine, and in a carefully considered final cuvee, the idiosyncrasies of each--spiciness, lush fruit, chocolate notes, tannic backbone, etc.--add up to that unique character that so beguiles fans of the Merlots here.
         As a result of over-cropping and under-thinking in certain parts of the American wine firmament, many consumers wrote off Merlot long ago. But as believers in the grape variety know, it is more than capable of producing wines of utterly astounding depth and complexity in both single-varietal bottlings and blends. (How many people, really, would turn their nose up at a bottle of Pétrus?)                 Luckily, Merlot is staging a bit of a comeback among wine lovers, and it’s likely only a matter of time until it breaks through the wider popular wine-snob aversion to it. And if I had to guess, I’d predict that the standout AVAs of Washington will continue to be leaders in the renaissance of American Merlot.
         Much of this comes down, quite simply, to style. As a result of the unique geology and terroir here, the Merlot is actually more tannic than the Cabernet Sauvignon. Right off the bat, this confounds the easy stereotype that Merlot is an inherently soft-souled--not to say flabby--grape variety. But that doesn’t mean that it’s rough here; far from it. Rather, the Merlot in this part of the country, to speak in gross generalities, exhibits plenty of fruity depth but also an excellent sense of structure alongside the sort of tobacco, spice, and mineral notes that connoisseurs of great Merlot-based wine swoon over.
         They age well, too. In what was one of the best opening-night tastings of a wine-immersion experience I’ve had in a long time, Northstar winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld (above) and his wife, Lynne Anderson, hosted our group at their home for a fantastic dinner prepared by local star chef and accomplished organic farmer Greg Schnorr. Over the course of the evening, we tasted a vertical of Northstar’s Columbia Valley Merlots from 2007-1998, as well as a magnum of 1994. These bottles demonstrated just how elegantly the wines here can age, and how nuanced they become without losing the sense of exuberance that characterized them in their youth. (Its tasting room is  shown in the photo below.)
         The primary red fruit of the 2007 still dominated, though the entirety of the wine still remained balanced. The 2006, on the other hand, was already far more complex, with smoke and warm clay aromas, a lush mouthfeel, and flavors of dulce de leche, cinnamon, and cherry. The 2005 showed more chocolate and kirsch, as well as a hint of birch bark, and the 2004 boasted a seam of eucalyptus and bright red fruit, both the result of a freeze and cooler weather that hit the region that year. 2003 found its footing on the opposite side of that coin with sappy cherry compote flavors--a sharp contrast to the spicier raspberries and drivingly youthful tannins of the 2002: This is one for the cellar. 2001 practically hovered above the glass with its licorice perfume and exuberantly expressive cherry fruit, and the 2000, all warm-souled cedar, lush fruit, and a touch of marzipan, remained remarkably persistent at 11 years old. The 1999 nodded in the direction of Right Bank Bordeaux with its dark cherries, fine-grained tannins, sage, green cigar tobacco, and spicy cedar. Amazingly, even at 13 years of age, the 1998 showed popping-fresh raspberries and other red berry fruit, in addition to beguiling secondary notes of leather and tobacco. And, finally that night, there was the magnum of 1994, a classic mature Merlot with perfect acidity and minerality for freshness, as well as deeply complex toasted vanilla, creamy tobacco, spice, and leather.
         Northstar is also working on a proprietary bottling called, right now at least, the “Big Dipper.” 2009 will be the first vintage, and its goal is to express, in premium-cuvée form, the full potential of Merlot here to be both enjoyable young as well as to age. I tasted a barrel sample, and the early results are astounding: high-toned red fruit on the nose, as well as perfumed spice
that will continue to be absorbed from the barrels, and a palate of sweet, balanced black fruit, grilled herbs, tobacco, scorched earth, and a hint of tar. It promises to be a two-decade wine that will be approachable long before then. Even a month after tasting it, I can still conjure up its character.
         And that, it seems, is the hallmark of a great wine and a great wine-producing part of the world. The wines of this part of Washington, and the Merlots in particular, are exactly what both the grape variety itself and the American wine-consuming public need. It’s rare to find such approachability, complexity, agability, and exuberance from a single corner of the wine firmament. Combine that with the all-for-one-goal attitude that seems to permeate the region, and you have all the ingredients for continued success. And, I’d guess, a renaissance of American Merlot--starting right here, in Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and their neighboring AVAs in Washington State.



“BWOK-BWOK-BWOK!' The back seat of the car erupts in a riot of barnyard noises with every scraggly gaggle of chickens we pass. The boys, innocents of 5 and 3, are so excited to see actual real live chickens here on the quiet side of Grand Cayman you’d think they were watching leopards attack baboons in Zambia. It’s a symptom of the suburban captivity in which they are being raised and, therefore, nobody’s fault but my own, but the incessant bwok-bwok-bwoking is driving me nuts."--Dave Herndon,  "Creature Comforts: The Ultimate Cayman Island Family Vacation," Caribbean Travel and Life .



On Miami Beach, Club Cameo refused entrance to Beyoncé Knowles' sister Solange because she was carrying an inflatable banana. Knowles, however, contended she was denied for racial reasons, then allegedly became "unruly" with off-duty officers, who "took her across the street to try and calm her down," at which point, says Knowles,  they pulled a switchblade on her banana. According to the Miami Herald, "Police said they did not take the banana into custody, and it is still unclear why Knowles was club-hopping with the fake fruit."


 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

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"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: BIG SUR REVISITED

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