Virtual Gourmet

  January 20,   2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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Artichokes, Istanbul (2010) by Galina Dargery



by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by John Mariani

Montelucia Resort & Spa
4949 East Lincoln Drive

    The photo above, with a view of Camelback Mountain, looks very much like a stage set and in Technicolor tones.  But that's the way sunsets really are in Scottsdale, brilliant enough to make the coyotes howl.  Sitting in Prado, the Montelucia's restaurant, is as good a place as any to watch these displays, and you'll dine well, too. Three years ago this was one of the most exciting Spanish restaurants in the USA, headed by, oddly enough, an Italian chef.  Now,  Executive Chef Michael Cairns has broadened the menu to appeal to a wider range of guests, and the results, while admirable haven't quite the cogency of a restaurant that is, after all, named after a museum in Madrid.
    The hotel/resort itself is a fine place, spread out around that pool above, but those iron gates do not make it easy to get to and from your room in flanking buildings; I got trapped one night and had to holler to get sprung.  The rooms themselves are beautifully suited to the terrain, in a southwestern style that is both commodious and very comfortable.
    Prado is a good-looking place, inspired more by Italian villa architecture than Spanish or Southwestern, but those styles fit together amicably in the large space with its open kitchen and large lounge area.  The room is designed so that, while the tables along the patio may be favored, there isn't a bad sight-line in the place, just some tables cozier than others.
    There are now plenty of Italian dishes on the menu, beginning with an extremely rich and buttery polenta with mushrooms, corn kernels, and herbs; I thoroughly enjoyed, in season, the soft shell crab lightly fried crisp. I tried two pastas, one of tagliatelle with hearty pork sausage, bitter greens, vegetables, charred tomatoes, chili, and sharp pecorino, a dish a little labored but tasty; potato gnocchi were sautéed crispy and served with sweet English peas, prosciutto, basil, mint, and pecorino, both pastas available as a main course.
    Wild striped bass came steamed in a bag, which allows for welcome juiciness; it was served with mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, ginger, white wine and scallions, while well-roasted, very flavorful chicken came with roasted squash, cous cous, and marinated eggplant, carrying over the Mediterranean flavors. Of the two desserts I sampled, I highly recommend a fine rendition of good old strawberry shortcake.
    Sitting inside that night, with the intense heat of the day somewhat abated, I looked out on that pool scene above, with its uplifted palm trees, and lighted walkways, and above it all and beyond the mountains a silver scythe of a crescent moon had nestled in for the night.  

Prado is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. At dinner starters run $11-$15, pastas (full portions) $20-$24, and main courses $27-$39.

7001 N. Scottsdale RD

     Chef Shinji Kurita is nothing if not dedicated.  On the night I visited the shadowy restaurant, I was one of only three occupied tables. And, asking my Scottsdale friend if it was an off night, learned that it was not unusual for a midweek night. It seems that Kurita is one of those chefs who works strictly by the numbers--not of customers but of pieces of the finest seafood he can buy that morning. So, if he only has, say, six perfect pieces of toro, then that's all he'll serve.  And he won't fill up the restaurant with people who don't appreciate his dedication.
    In other cities like NYC and Chicago, foodies would fall over themselves to eat the long omekase meals here, ranging from $100 and up for five courses, with more numerous options available. Still, given that places like the much-hyped Blanca and Atera in NYC have less than 20 seats, those places always look packed.  If Kurita serves 20 people a night, he is very happy.
    Those who choose to let Kurita choose their meal will be rewarded with Japanese cuisine not readily found elsewhere in the U.S. and in Scottsdale, only at the well-regarded Nobuo at Teeter House.  My meal was composed of five courses, which came out at a civilized pace, beginning with halibut in two forms, topped with grape seed oil, scallions, garlic, and ginger, and another with spicy daikon, scallions and hot yuzu kosho paste.  Oddly enough, halibut was part of the next course (it was pretty terrific halibut), this time with Chinese pesto. Hotaru firefly squid was flavored with yuzu miso, and sockeye salmon came cuddled in cucumber slices, with avocado, ponzu sauce, scallions and salmon roe. Cucumber also wrapped around King crab with a sweet vinegar dressing, Japanese mayonnaise, and salmon roe.
    Still part of the second course were two uni items with wasabi; tuna tartar with rice cracker and crispy lotus root; more squid with truffle oil and salt; an orange clam with sweet mustard marinade and yuzu miso scallions seared hotate (scallops) with truffle oil and salt; and blue shrimp with shrimp reduction, osietra caviar and fried shrimp head. 
    Portions were just a bite or two, but we'd had a lot of food by then, with much more to come.  The third course brought Madagascar shrimp, soy sauce and sake marinate and a fried egg white, black bean oyster sauce and scallion stir fry, indicating the preparations were becoming more elaborate. The fourth course was washu beef with enoki mushrooms and asparagus, sprinkle with Himalayan rock salt, and for the end course, ten pieces of nigiri sushi, from silver shrimp to toro tuna.
    There were many overlappings of foods and seasonings, but flavors remained distinct and unmuddled, a tribute to Kurita's imagination, which, I suspect is endless.
To go here once is not enough; to go here again and again might not be either.

Dinner, 5:30-10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

7114 E. Stetson Drive

    Silvana Salcido Esparza (right) is finally happy.After running several popular Mexican cafés in Scottsdale, making endless trips south of the border for ingredients, and trying to wean gringos off enchilada platters, she's doing what she was apparently born for — translating her formidable pasión and knowledge into a reality.
    "Whenever I go to Mexico, I make it a point to do two things: visit the main church and find the town's mercado," she says. "I would extend my stays in remote towns so I could wait for the mercado ambulante —the traveling market, where I find the heartbeat of Mexico. I can only hope to honor that tradition at Barrio Queen." Every inch of it is an expression of Esparza's cultural roots, including the Día de los Muertos skeletons. I could see Quentin Tarantino blocking out his next movie here without touching a thing. Everything people love about true Mexican food is intensified by Esparza, from the cochinita pibil tacos brimming with juicy spiced pork to the barrio chicken with piñon cream. You won't find better chiles en nogada outside of Mexico City, here done with apricots, pecans, and pomegranate seeds in a velvety almond cream. Esparza's food is exactly what it says in street lingo on Barrio Queen's T-shirts — A TODA MADRE — "totally awesome!"
    The menu's larger than it needs to be, not only stressing the kitchen but, given the quality of everything here, difficult to choose among, from the grilled corn on the cob served with cotija cheese, cilantro and lime to the marinated pork cooked with orange rind and Coca-Cola, served with green chile and Oaxacan cheese. Those are just two of many appetizers.  Then there are soups, salads, a whole bunch of savory tacos and quesadillas, enchiladas, tostones, burritos and much more.  Everything I tasted was scintillating, packed with juiciness and levels of flavor, some cheese here, some avocado there, huitlacoche, garlic, shrimp, more and more and more.
    Barrio Queen has a set a standard that the formidable Silvana has sharpened through years of research and love of the kitchen.  It is a summation of Mexican diversity and regionalism but also very much a personal expression of her own soul.

Open for lunch and dinner daily; check menu for prices, which are amazingly modest.

Hotel Valley Ho
6850 E. Main Street       

    At a time when Scottsdale was mostly farms, the construction of a modern hotel did not portend great success, but the Hotel Valley Ho, opened in 1956, suggested that this small town was about to get bigger and more attractive to tourists looking for sun and quiet.  The hotel was a sister property to the Westward Ho in Downtown Phoenix, both owned by John B. Mills and husband and wife Robert and Evelyn Foehl. The couple  lived on-site to make sure a guest "felt wanted."
    The place was designed by
Edward L. Varney, whose work included Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, the Motorola Building, and others in a post-war, 1950s style that came to be known as Populism, a specific look, with bright colors, no reference at all to past architecture, an emphasis on the swimming pool, and space age furniture that was quickly becoming a dominant look of the the west. It was the first in Scottsdale to have central air conditioning, making it a year-round hotel.  Its 99 rooms cost $7.50 a night, with  TV, some with  kitchenettes, and it attracted a celebrity Hollywood crowd that came for the privacy, including Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis and wife Janet Leigh, and Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, who had their 1957 wedding reception in the hotel ballroom.
     As the years passed, the novelty of the hotel passed, too, in favor of more modern styles of architecture. In 1973, Robert Foehl passed away, and the hotel was acquired by Ramada, sold in in 2002 to a highest bidder who wanted to raze the old dinosaur, but, happily, the deal fell through.  MSR Properties, a local company run by the Lyon family, bought the property and were committed to restoring the now historic hotel's original look and atmosphere, re-opening in late 2005. The results are splendid, beyond what could have been hoped for at a time when modern amenities are so requisite in a contemporary hotel.
    But drive to the entrance and you expect to see Pontiacs with huge fins, horse-coillared Edsels, and red T-Birds parked there. Check into the lobby and you'll feel like Bobby Darrin and Sandra Dee might come through any minute.  Lounge by the pool and you'll feel you're on the set of a Warner Bros. movie like "Palm Springs Weekend" and expect Esther Williams to come swimming up to the edge.  Up in the rooms, all done in Populuxe colors--lime, mango, violet, avocado--you'll feel quite ring-a-ding-ding and want to order up a bottle of Scotch and plenty of ice.
    This is not a fantasy: this is the real deal, a marvelous refitting of an era that had style to burn. This is not a nostalgic reverie; the Hotel Valley Ho--funny name and all--is a living museum of Southwest American culture from the Atomic Age.
    It was the kind of look once widely adapted in a cheaper, cheesy rip-off by motel chains around the U.S., but none ever did it with this high level of panache.
    I wish I'd had the chance to dine at the restaurant at the Valley Ho, especially since one of the West's best,  Chuck Wiley, is executive chef. But I will be back and give it a try.  As a matter of fact, I can't wait to get back to this unique hotel and away from all its corporate-style competitors.


NORTH Fattoria Italiana
4925 North 40th Street
Phoenix, AZ

    I had what I thought would be a light lunch in Phoenix at this bright, spacious Italian eatery, but everything I tasted was so good that I stuck around and tried more and more, from good breads and arancini rice balls to charcuterie, first-rate puffy pizzas and pastas, including one with spicy rock shrimp, chilies, tomato, garlic, fennel and garlic, all overseen by Chef Chris Curtiss.  The room is wide open, and, even during the day, there was live entertainment by a guitarist.  Families were gathered around and it's a great place for kids or after any event in town.  The kitchen is open, too, the entire staff friendly, and there's a branch in Tucson.


69 West 55 Street (near Sixth Avenue)

    PizzArte is a good name for a place that features excellent pizza and modern art, but it doesn't do justice to Neapolitan Executive Chef Antonio Pisaniello's complete menu of Campanian dishes.
         It is all to the credit of co-owners Bruno Cilio and Dario Cipollaro de L'Ero that they have given midtown not just an exceptional pizzeria but a restaurant that is obviously committed to go beyond the clichés of Italian food in NYC and to do so with a regional swagger. For while you can get some good Neapolitan food around town, most of it is more in the Italian-American style and none shows the range of the menu at PizzArte.
    Pisaniello has a Michelin star for his ristorante outside of Naples in Nusco called La Locanda di Bu, and he brings that level of quality to NYC, beginning with breads and focaccia to nibble on, dip in olive oil, and enjoy with a variety of olives. You might begin with crisp, light fried calamari and shrimp with lemon sauce, or delicious eggplant parmigiana. Meatballs are studded with pignoli and raisins, very typical of the region. The artichoke salad  was very refreshing, just drizzled with olive oil and lemon, and very tender.
    PizzArte's namesake dish comes in 18 versions, every one true to Neapolitan tradition, not newfangled with ingredients no Italian would ever let near a pizza. We tried several and liked them all, especially the quattro formaggi with Gorgonzola, caciocavallo, smoked buffalo mozzarella, and parmigiano. Tartufata is topped with mushrooms, black truffles, mozzarella, Speck and basil. Curiously enough, the verace, most like a Margherita, classic margherita, while tasty, had mozzarella that had only barely begun to melt.
    Looking around the room, we saw every single table eating pizza--couples, families, everyone--and not availing themselves of the other parts of the menu, which may well frustrate the owners. The pastas are superb here, from freshly made maccaronari with tomato to golden potato gnocchi (left) comes rich with butternut squash, sage, and Parmigiano. They even do a distinctive flat  paccheri noodles with baccalà cod, cherry tomatoes sauce, Gaeta olives and capers.
    We forged ahead with perfectly steamed then quickly seared octopus and a veal alla pizzaiola every bit as good as all else we tried that evening. Then on to two good desserts, an Italian cheesecake and a baba au rhum.

    The wine list, primarily Italian, is very reasonably priced, with several Campanian offerings and dessert wines like Negroamaro Passito, Rarum, ’08 and a selection of grappas and amari.
    PizzArte is a two-level affair, the downstairs narrow and made for pizza-eating, upstairs a long room with a window over West 55th Street, its walls lined with a changing art exhibition with paintings for sale.
    It would be a shame if the people who go to PizzArte for its superb pizzas never venture upstairs for a true Neapolitan meal.  They are missing some of best interpretations of such Southern Italian cuisine in NYC, or anywhere else outside of the Bay of Naples, even Nusco.

PizzArte is open daily for lunch and dinner.  Prices for antipasti are $12-$18, pizzas $11-$24, pastas $16-$25, main courses $22-$32.




According to CCTV,  certain KFC suppliers in Shandong have
been feeding their chickens illegal drugs--"at least 18 kinds of
antibiotics so that they would not become ill." KFC says it will
rectify the situation.

"Lightness has its limits: the Sonoran cheese crisp, a thin flour tortilla beneath melted cheese, roasted tomatoes and threads of roasted poblanos, had a way of staying behind on its pizza stand while other things on the table disappeared. Like, for instance, the scalding pan of chorizo fundido, in which Mexico looks Switzerland calmly in the eye and says, `I’ll see your cheese fondue and raise you some green chiles and a heap of crumbled spicy sausage.' (Switzerland folds and leaves the room.)"—Pete Wells,  "Playing Cool With a Mexican Palette: El Toro Blanco in West Village," NY Times 1/9/13




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

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, 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 coffee 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--Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has just won top prize 2011 from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It 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: Bighorn Ski Lodge; Dolder Grand, Zurich; Letter from Paris.

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).

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 2013