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  December 18,  2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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A HAPPY ANNOUNCEMENT: My new book How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave-Macmillan) has just won top prize 2011 from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.


by John Mariani

by John Mariani



Part One

by John Mariani

   Like all great world capitals, Amsterdam is a great walking city, and its semi-circular, arching grid lay-out, crisscrossed with canals and bridges--400 of them, begun in the 17th century--makes it a very easy city to navigate. A few hours' stroll will pretty much give you the entire scope of the historic part of the city south of the train station.  Choose your form of transport, bicycle or boat, and you can take in the landscape with ease.  (They do have cars in Amsterdam but traffic is not one of the big problems of this modern metropolis.) Near perfect English is spoken by literally everyone, about 780,000 natives.
But you'll need days more to visit the principal artistic and cultural sites. To make a dent in Amsterdam's myriad restaurants (which I will be writing about in an upcoming column), would take far longer, from the Indonesian rijstaffel eateries to the pubs and fine dining restaurants throughout.
    On a recent visit, during a warm autumn week, we stayed at the Park Hotel (Stadhouderskade 25; Tel: 31-20- 6711 222), across the street from the Singlegracht Canal and just five minutes walk from the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.  The Hotel (below) is of modest size, very comfortable, modern, and popular for business;  the morning buffet at the Momo Restaurant (with children's menu)  is excellent and highly diverse. Nice touch: the hotel is completely non-smoking, as are all restaurants indoors in Amsterdam. The service personnel range from mildly cordial to occasionally lax. The amenities are of high quality--crisp linens and pillows, rainforest shower, flat screen TV, 24-hour gym,  work desk--and there's a good library in the lobby.  You can also rent bikes and scooters here, which will make you seem one of the locals. And one of the city's best high fashion streets is right around the corner from the hotel, on Hoofstraat, with all the principal European designer boutiques and a spanking new Taschen bookstore well worth visiting.      

     I dined well but did not have a chance to stay at the gorgeously renovated 111-room Hotel de L’Europe (Nieuwe Doelenstraat 2-14; Tel. 31-20-531-1777; left), built in 1896 on the former premises of an in  dating to 1638.  Overlooking the Amstel River, the hotel's stateliness, with Dutch master paintings from the collection of Freddy Heineken, has been lightened up and brought into the 21st century.  Back in 1940 the hotel was the backdrop for scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Foreign Correspondent.”
    Its restaurant Bord’Eau, which I will be reporting on soon, is one of the best new fine dining rooms in Europe, and the bar one of the most sophisticated.  At the moment, the hotel is offering a New Year's package (256 euros-499 euros) with a gala six-course dinner and magnum of Champagne.
        The hotel is also where, just outside its doors, you can rent a marvelous old classic wooden saloon boat through Privateboat Tours (31-20-684-9338; right), which will pick you up dockside and meander for an hour or so through the city, past numerous neighborhoods and sights. You can also book breakfast, snacks or a dinner cruise. It’s really enchanting, whether during the day or when the night comes over the city.  Rates, for various boats, run 200 euros to 350 euros for the first hour.

    The two must-see cultural institutions in town are the  Rijksmuseum (Jan Luykenstraat 1)  and  Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 14), both within walking yards of one another.  The former (below) has been in a state of needed restoration and expansion, so only a part of the museum is open for the time being; fortunately the directors have gathered the museum's very finest and most famous works together in those open rooms, and if you are deprived of seeing everything, a couple of hours in these splendid rooms will more than enchant you with a grandeur that demonstrates the dominance of 17th century Dutch art. In full view are all the masterpieces, including Rembrandt's newly lighted "Night Watch," an awesome number of exquisite Vermeers, Franz Hals portraits, landscapes, and so much more that will easily fill a morning or afternoon's visit.
    The Van Gogh Museum (below), a very modern, if not particularly attractive, structure, is a monumental tribute to one artist, whose progression from self-taught painter and imitator of his contemporaries to an artist of unique creativity is told room by room, and you can readily see how he struggled with his art, always learning, ever incorporating, constantly refining until his work looked like no one else's, then or now.  Critics'  overly excitable psycho-biographies of Van Gogh, with incidents of self-mutilation and his sad suicide, pale behind these extraordinary paintings, which are far more beautiful than they are mere personal statements of a man who was alternately deeply depressed and amazingly joyful.  The work, more than any of his era, speaks for itself.

  Then, of course, there is the Anne Frank House (below), commemorating the 15 year-old girl who lived through the Nazi Occupation and died in a concentration camp, but who wrote those immortal lines, "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart."  
    Amsterdam is also home to a wide array of museums and cultural institutions, including the Historic Amsterdam Museum, which tells the story of Amsterdam and the Dutch; the Nieuwe Kerk, a Late Gothic church with an unfinished spire; the Nederlands Theater Museum; even a Woonboatmuseum, which exhibits what life on a houseboat was like, and a Hash Marijuana Hemp Museum with 1,000 artifacts.
    I heartily recommend that everyt beer lover, or anyone wondering how beer is made, visit 
Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78; 31 20 523 9483), a multi-storied interactive exhibition (below) that includes a section housing the copper-plated brewing equipment, and ending off with a chance not only to have a free beer, as part of the admission, but also to mingle with a young crowd that clearly has like-minded interests in socializing. There is also The House of Bols Cocktail & Genever Experience,  just across from the Van Gogh. During a self-guided tour you’ll learn the history of the genever company founded by Lucas Bols in 1575 and pass through a gorgeously lighted Hall of Taste (below) where you can touch and smell the ingredients that go into genever, and sniff from 36 “puffers” of flavorings from strawberry to white mint, coffee to peach. Then you end off at a bar/lounge called the World of Cocktails, where they’ll make you any of hundreds of cocktails made from scores of Bols genevers. There’s even a Ladies Night special discount, and you can sign up for the Bols Bartending Academy to become a registered bartender. You will also learn the proper way to drink genevers, which involves leaning over to take a sip from a full shot glass on the table without picking it up. And if you follow a beer with a chaser of genever, it’s called a kopstoot (headbutt) in Flanders.
    Also, visit one of the many "brown cafés," so-called because the barebones décor tends to be in that color. They are friendly neighborhood pubs, with limited food options, and most don't take credit cards.

    I suppose I cannot escape saying something about Amsterdam's notorious Red Light District, which  in all candor, I find distressing, but, if there is any degree of taste in such things, it is done with a modicum of it.  With the women arrayed like sideshow freaks  in storefronts and crowds of the curious filing by pointing fingers and snickering, it is a trail of nervous titillation, with plenty of porn and sex shops to go along with the sordidness of it all.
    But that kind of license is but a small part of Amsterdam's, and the Netherlands' liberal policies towards their own people, who know very well how to enjoy life and leave others to theirs. 
    One warning I picked up from an Amsterdammer: with the onset of global warming the water levels city's canals are unquestionably going to rise, and one look at the slight gap between current water levels and the sidewalks above them will tell you that the future is going to be problematic for this city built on water.  But I am also told the city fathers are looking into solutions, and something tells me that long before Venice comes to any conclusions about its own watery demise, Amsterdam will have found a way through the crisis. But go now, just to be sure.



By John Mariani

420 East 59th Street (Between First Avenue and York Avenue)

    As I detail in my book, How Italian Food Conquered the World, Pino Luongo (below) has been one of the most important progenitors of modern Italian restaurants in NYC since starting as a waiter at Da Silvano, then opening his own Tuscan trattoria, Il Cantinori in Greenwich Village.  Since then he has opened (and closed) many restaurants, including Le Madri, Cocopazzo, and Tuscan Square,  but for the past few years has had a consistent hit with Centolire on the Upper East Side.  Now, with the opening of Morso (which means "morsel" in Italian, on premises in the shadow of the 59th Street Bridge, he has what I think will be another hit. 
    Morso, in its bright conviviality and focused menu, is a winning contrast to the faux-rustic trattoria style of the past couple of years, and the food, while straightforward and traditional, has small touches that make big differences, not least in the perfect al dente tenderness of the pastas, which so many NYC Italian restaurants continue to botch. The prices are right, too: Nearly every dish is offered in small ($14-$16) or large ($24-$30) portions, the most expensive item being  bistecca alla fiorentina at $58, but that's for two people. The wine list, by Alessandro Bandini, is intelligently chosen, and there are featured Morso cocktails you should take a chance on.
     The 86-seat dining room (with a patio when good weather returns) is a riot of color, provided by a pastiche of poster art that evokes Italy circa 1960. The chairs are leather and very comfortable, the floors slate, and the lighting ideal, as is a decibel level that allows for good conversation. 
        Exec chef Tim Ryan, formerly of Picholine and Bouley, sections out his dishes into "Vegetables, Legumes & Grains," "Eggs & Cheese," Daily Specials, and meats, game, and seafood.  By all means, start off with a plate of Gorgonzola fritters with sweet roasted pears, endive, frisée, spiced walnuts and an apple cider vinaigrette (below, right)--in a large portion it would make a terrific lunch.  Equally good is the poached egg with lamb sausage, chick pea fries and a rich fontina cheese sauce much better than most Hollandaise sauces.  A wise choice for brunch.
    There are pastas throughout the sections of the menu, and if you love spaghetti alla carbonara but too often get a mess of cream and limp bacon on overcooked pasta, go to Morso and revel in the perfect rendering here, with firm spaghetti, guanciale, sweet golden onions, and pecorino cheese to give it bite.  A different risotto is offered each day, and our Thursday night table was lucky to have the succulently prepared, tenderly cooked rice with plenty of lobster morsels. 
    The game dish of the evening was wild boar, done in big slices, and it was a fine counterpoint to the roast suckling pig, which had all of its wonderful fattiness intact within crackling mahogany-colored skin.  Grilled lamb chops were of excellent quality, nicely trimmed, with crispy eggplant and lamb roll, white beans, and mint sauce. Sautéed sea scallops, cooked just past translucence, come with a generous addition of spicy chorizo, black rice (nice touch), roasted pepper and a light sauce based on limoncello that adds both citrus zest and additional sweetness to the scallops.
    The desserts don't go much  beyond the usual clichés at Italian restaurants, but they are well made.
    Each time Luongo has opened a new restaurant, it has been regarded by other restaurateurs as some kind of signal, a change in the wind. Morso is not trying to radicalize our ideas about Italian restaurants; it is, however, a sign that the ideas underpinning la dolce vita--gusto, brio, playful sexiness--can make the idea of a cramped, noisy Xerox copy of yet another downtown trattoria seem a little passé.

Morso is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner nightly; Brunch Sat. & Sun.



A NYC lawyer has filed a $730,000 lawsuit against the Setai Club and Spa Wall Street for reneging on its promise of a “complimentary full breakfast” with his $5,000 annual membership fees. Attorney Richard Katz told Gothamist, "They had a full restaurant menu like you get in a hotel -- omelets, pancakes, waffles, yogurts, meats, juices, whatever you wanted.” But since September, the spa, he said,  started serving just a cold buffet on the roof deck.  The club allowed Katz to quit and gave him a prorated refund of his fees, but Katz told them, “It’s just not that easy.”





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

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.

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: Ottawa's Rideau Canal.

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