Virtual Gourmet

  April 28,  2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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                                                                          NEWPORT, RI                                                                                                                                                                        by Robert Mariani

The Roger Hotel
by Christopher Mariani

Notes from the Spirits Locker
Deconstructing Bourbon
by Mort Hochstein


NEWPORT, Rhode Island
By Robert Mariani

    In summer, people flock to the legendary island city of Newport, Rhode Island,  by car, by boat, by cruise ships, all to experience its white ocean beaches, its yacht races, its mansions and music festivals. But if you’d rather enjoy this historic seaside town in a less crowded, more leisurely way, the best time to visit is now, before the crowds arrive.
    Tours of Newport’s famed Golden Age mansions begin in Spring when the stately elm trees along Bellevue Ave. start spreading their leaves over the lush green lawns of these “summer cottages, as the “terribly rich” would describe them. The Vanderbilts’ summer home, The Breakers, has 70 beautifully decorated rooms and is the largest of the Newport mansions. Further down Bellevue, the Château Sur Mer is a Victorian masterpiece overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and is also a national historic landmark. The Elms (above and right) is modeled after the style of an 18th century French chateau.
    As for dinning in Newport, there are a number of excellent options.  Here are but three.

590 Ocean Drive

    First on my list would be The Castle Hill Inn. Newport has a plethora of spectacular views but the one from the Castle Hill Inn is to my mind the best of the best from just about every window. It is the only Relais et Chateaux establishment in Rhode Island.
Once the home and laboratory of Victorian Era marine biologist Alexander Agassiz, the interior features exquisitely carved wood paneling, a beautiful dark wood bar, patio dining when the weather is right, and an outstanding menu.  
    The Inn’s three-course Prix Fixe dinner is $75,  $105 with wine pairings. You cannot do much better for a comfort food starter on a spring evening than Chef Karsten Hart’s garlic soup with a brioche garlic toast, poached egg, and house-made bacon. Another starter, the Hereford beef tartare, has a seasonal freshness enhanced by a mix of red onion crostini, pear, anchovy vinaigrette and Dijon-horseradish cream.
    One of the entrees that keeps me coming back is the Inn’s sumptuous lobster risotto with veal sweetbreads, English peas, oyster mushrooms and a sauce Foyot,  a form of Béarnaise with a meat glaze added--hard to imagine a more seductive blend of textures. The roasted rabbit ballotine is another springtime favorite, with its smoked carrot, goat's cheese dumpling and rabbit jus. The Inn’s take on seafood includes a perfectly pan-seared Atlantic salmon with hearts of palm, roasted golden beets, dill-dotted pierogi, and celery mignonette finished with a freshly made borscht.
    (Just a reminder: during the busy summer months, making reservations days in advance is advised. And the dress code is casual but smart.)

Spiced Pear
The Chanler Inn at the Cliff Walk

    Directly across the island from Castle Hill, overlooking Easton’s Beach, The Chanler Inn at the Cliff Walk presents yet another splendid view of the ever-changing Atlantic. On the night we dined at the Chanler’s Spiced Pear, the early April sun was just setting behind some silver clouds, and from our table by the window the surface of the rippling water looked like polished steel. On any given day, regardless of the season or the weather, you’re likely to see some of Newport’s intrepid surfers carving the waves.
    The Chanler bills itself as a “European style inn.” It looks and feels like a Victorian mansion but with spirited touches from the 21st century, not least  their shiny new open kitchen looking out into dining room.  I was delighted with the Pear’s soup du jour, a lobster bisque that might well be the best version of same I’ve tasted, with hints of sherry and perfectly cooked lobster meat.
    Another little culinary jewel is their mushroom and egg salad with poached free-range duck egg, Vermont cheddar polenta, organic mushrooms, asparagus, wild arugula, and truffle-citrus vinaigrette.
    Other starter options were an organic beet salad with Vermont butter and cheese, and an ahi tuna carpaccio, all dressed and garnished for Spring. I was so pleased with my lobster bisque that for my entrée I ordered the butter poached lobster. The tail and body meat were presented neatly carved from the shell (no bib or nut cracker necessary). It was accompanied by some bitter broccoli di rabe, truffled leeks, pancetta, petite artichokes, candied beets (a great combination!), plus tomato confit and a sunchoke puree. Other featured dinner items include Gulf shrimp and Maine diver’s scallops with wheat noodles, baby bok choy, and edamame; British Columbia King salmon; duck breast with baby winter vegetables and blood orange juice; and a Hudson Valley hare encrusted with crispy almonds, and a wild boar bacon-wrapped loin.
    As an Inn The Chanler of course serves breakfast and lunch too. 
Entrée prices at The Spiced Pear range from $32 to $48. There is also a Chef’s Tasting Menu with six courses for $98 paired with wine; and a nine-course Gourmand Tasting for $144, and $153 with wines.

The Black Pearl
Bannister's Wharf

  If you’re looking for great seafood in a less formal dinning venue, The Black Pearl is one of Newport’s oldest and most appreciated restaurants by both locals and tourists alike.  Located on the docks on bustling Bannister’s Wharf, the Pearl maintains its saltwater patina from the 1920’s, when it was used as a sail loft and machine shop. The interior is all well-worn dark teak wood and the floors creak as if you were aboard an ocean-going vessel.  When  the weather warms up, the Pearl unveils its outdoor patio and raw bar venue with the same menu as inside The  Tavern.
    In The Tavern, the Pearl’s creamy white clam chowder continues to be the most popular signature dish people keep coming back for. The rest of The Tavern menu has a full array of shell fish in just about every possible iteration, along with just about every basic type of pub food imaginable, from burgers and chili to filet minion Béarnaise, veal parmesan, baked cod, or rack of lamb. They also do a good job with classics like tuna melt on an English muffin, as well as several other sandwiches like their juicy corned beef Reuben.
    The choices are daunting, and though I’ve been dining at the Black Pearl for years now, I still feel like I haven’t made a dent in its sprawling list of options. If you’re lucky, the early spring weather will be warm enough  so that you may dine out on The Pearl’s patio, where you can watch the yachts and dinghies come and go.
    Feeling like something grilled? Few things taste better than The Pearl’s grilled tuna steak with Dutch pepper butter or their jumbo shrimp scampi or their bacon-wrapped scallops. If you have not had enough creamy, heart-stopping goodness yet, The Tavern’s dessert menu should take care of that with treats like Key lime pie, seasonal bread pudding, chocolate pecan pie with vanilla ice cream, or the berry Napoléon. 
    Like the menu itself, The Tavern’s price range “covers the waterfront” (pun intended). You can enjoy a pretty inexpensive meal like clam chowder and a salad, and a beer for about $25, or just a good hamburger for $8.50 with your choice of add-ons for 75 cents each. At the bar there’s a large array of beers, ales, and wines.
    The Pearl’s other dining area, The Commodore’s Room, is separate from The Tavern,  with a more upscale nautical look. Their website describes this venue as “an elegant dining room with white-tie ambiance.” Because so many people travel to Newport by boat, there are no specific dress codes, but you probably won’t feel very comfortable here in cut-off jeans and a sweatshirt. Khakis and a collared shirt are fine. The Commodore’s Room menu is a paired down, more formal version of The Tavern’s bill of fare but with somewhat higher prices. For starters there’s the Pearl’s signature white clam chowder and a fine version of lobster bisque. The appetizer list features dishes like a shrimp, crab and lobster cocktail with three sauces; the Chef’s own pâté de maison; Littleneck clams with Dutch peppers and bacon; and escargots bourguignon.
As always, lobster is at market price and you can have your two-and-a-half-pounder either grilled or steamed. For those who prefer a slightly more delicate entrée, there’s a beautifully done grey sole panetière. Or if you’re more in the mood for meat, there’s Black Pearl lamb, filet mignon, or veal chop from the grill.

    Both the The Black Pearl’s Tavern and Commodore’s Room are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week and closed from January 3rd to Feb. 12th.  Reservations are not accepted at the outside patio raw bar or The Tavern.  At the Commodore's Room appetizers run $8-$13, entrees $21-$39; at The Tavern, appetizers $3-$12, entrees $17-$29.50.




by Christopher Mariani

ROGER New York
131 Madison Avenue (at 31st Street)

      Manhattan confidently peacocks its grandeur with truly awesome architecture, diverse museums, influential restaurants and an abundance of impressive hotels. These are just a few of the extraordinary qualities this unique city has to offer, so to distinguish oneself in the Big Apple is no easy task.
    A few weeks back, I headed down to the Flatiron district to check out the newly renovated Roger Hotel. I entered on Madison Avenue and was greeted by a friendly doorman who directed me through a sophisticated and posh lobby, towards the front desk, there to be met by a young, female concierge who cordially welcomed me to the hotel. This constant, genial quality was evident throughout the entire property, gratefully noticed during my two-day stay.
    Next stop, my room, on the ninth floor, overlooking Madison Ave and 32nd Street.  I highly recommend a room on the northwest corner of the hotel,
if available. The view is lovely. Rooms are decorated in a simple, smart design, trimmed with a classic molding, and murals of celebrated NYC locations; our room was hung with an image of Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain (above). After a leap onto the bed once the bellhop left (we all do it, right?), I deemed the accommodations very, very comfortable.
    Although dinner was nearing, I needed a light snack. So I ordered a  grilled cheese sandwich made with white cheddar from Murray's Cheese--the best cheese monger in the city-- fries, and a glass of Burgundy. The pre-meal appetizer was a prelude to our well-executed dinner. Interestingly, the in-room dining menu is the same as the restaurant’s.
    On the  mezzanine level, we exited the elevator directly into The Parlour (below), the Roger’s quaint dining option. The pantry-style dining room looks over a balcony onto the hotel lobby; an intimate space worth visiting as a non-hotel guest; great for cocktails and a few appetizers or a full fledged meal.
    Executive chef Pete Goldklang has created a straightforward menu, solid all the way through. We started with a creamy corn chowder soup, crispy soda-dipped fried chicken served with a sweet and spicy honey and hot Sriracha dipping sauce, accompanied by the hotel’s “Madison Manhattan” cocktail, made with Bulleit rye whiskey, Laird‘s apple brandy, sweet vermouth and bitters. Mentionable salads included the heirloom tomatoes alla caprese, drizzled with a sweet, syrupy balsamic reduction. Next, steaming cavatelli, coated in a rich pesto sauce, the highlight of our meal. Whiffs of fresh basil rose from the plate as the shredded Pecorino Romano, coarsely chopped pine nuts and silky olive oil blended together. For entrees, chef sent out a tender cut of marinated hanger steak with a bordelaise sauce, and a silky wild King salmon, cooked medium rare. Desserts included chocolate molten cake, and the “Apple Brown Roger,” Gala apples, brandied brioche and bourbon vanilla bean ice cream. The Parlour’s wine list could surely use some bolstering, offering only a handful of red and white wines; listing just one bottle under $50.
    The following morning we headed back down to The Parlour for their highly regarded breakfast. The pantry table was elegantly topped with silver trays of smoked salmon, delicate pastries, French-style scrambled eggs, freshly squeezed juices and richly aromatic coffee.
    The remainder of our stay included a short walk to Madison Square Park’s Shake Shack for lunch, and, later, dinner at Midtown East’s Brasserie. Working only a few blocks from the Roger and residing in Westchester County, I did not anticipate such a feeling of respite, as I was seeing New York as a visitor would and reveling at the grandness of it all.




Deconstructing Bourbon
by Mort Hochstein

    Kentucky is the home of American Bourbon, where farmers discovered it was more profitable to ship  corn  likker to market than corn itself. There are 18 bourbon distilleries in  the state, some, like Jim Beam with multiple brands,  and as a person in authority said to me “I can’t tell you many unlicensed.” About 95% of this nation’s s bourbon comes from the Bluegrass State.
Neighboring  rival Tennessee  had for many years had just three licensed distilleries.  Following  a  recent loosening of regulations, that number is now 12,  with others  in the planning stage,  though both states had many more  distilleries prior to the destruction wrought by Prohibition, And, oddly, an unnamed Tennessee  official also said to me “I can’t tell you how many unlicensed.”  So there must be a lot of moonshine being brewed in the backwoods of  The Volunteer State, as well as across the line in Ole’ Kentucky.

It is interesting to contrast the better known names with the growing number of small producers.  Jack Daniel's is the biggest name in its field, and though we may think of it as bourbon, it  is classified as  a Tennessee whiskey, since producers in  Tennessee add an extra filtration through charcoal, a procedure  not  frequently observed  elsewhere.

Kentucky is home  to  Makers Mark (left), Jim Beam,  Heaven Hill, Woodford Reserve  and Old Forrester,  famous   names in the long history of American spirits. 
    Tennessee’s best known brand is Jack Daniel’s, revered by Frank Sinatra, whose passion for “Jack” propelled its sales to record levels. The distillery repaid the favor   with Sinatra Select,  a special  bottling honoring that sold out rapidly.

     The Jack Daniel’s plant in Lynchburg, Tennessee,  is  huge, larger than the largest Wal-Mart’s and far taller. The distillery’s website  says Jack Daniel’s was founded in 1846, but  in the 2004 biography, Blood & Whiskey, the Life and Times  of Jack Daniel’s, author Peter Krauss contends that land and deed records show that it was not founded until 1875. Provenance disputes notwithstanding, Jack Daniels’s is the nation’s best known and best selling whiskey. But it is not possible to buy Jack Daniel’s  Number 7, its signature label,  at the  plant because it sits  in a dry county.   A wrinkle in state law, however,  permits a distillery to sell one commemorative product, regardless of local regulations.  So  Jack Daniel’s  now offers Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniel’s’ Single Barrel and a seasonal blend on rotation at the distillery.
In contrast, George Dickel in Kentucky, one of the old  line producers in that state,  is also one of the smallest. Its low-lying facility barely makes a dent in the landscape. In a proud history dating back to 1870,founder George A. Dickel is credited with  the discovery that whisky formulated in colder seasons becomes smoother than a spirit produced in the summer.  To this day, Dickel is the only Tennessee  whisky to chill the spirit before it enters charcoal vats for mellowing,
Dickel is also credited with causing headaches for writers and editors who strive for correct spelling of the terms whisky and whiskey. While most American spirits carry the name "whiskey," Dicker argued that his product was the equal of the  finest Scotch, and insisted on using the Scotch spelling  whisky for his product.
In recent years, with the growing number of distilleries, there has been a great focus on locally made, hand-crafted bourbons.  Many of today’s entries, produced in small batches with minimal technology involved, proudly claim to be  hand-crafted.  Jefferson's Bourbon is actually a "collection" of  three bourbons (and one rye) made in what the producer, Trey Zoeller,  calls "Ridiculously Small Batches," totally about 300,000 bottles sold per year.  The Reserve is a blend of three different bourbons, some 20 years old, while another, just named Jefferson's Kentucky Straight Whiskey, is a blend of up to 12 different batches of various ages. This last is a spicy, creamy, tangy bourbon with a real peppery edge. 
        Angel’s Envy, one of the more recent entries,  is the latest act for Lincoln Henderson, a pillar of the Bourbon Hall of Fame, who  came out of retirement to develop  what he describes as the greatest bourbon he ever made. He’s made a few over the decades. In 1983, Henderson developed Early Times Kentucky Whiskey for Brown Forman and later created  Gentleman Jack, Early Times Premium, Woodford Reserve and Forrester1870, among the many products that bear his imprint.  In 2011, joining with his son,  Wes, he reentered the spirits industry  to fashion  one of today’s most sought after labels, Angel’s Envy.
    The  name derives from the industry  term, angel’s  share, ascribed to the spirits  lost to evaporation as the whiskey ages. Henderson argues that the angels might have wanted a bigger cut from his  superior product, which  matures  in traditional new American oak barrels for four to six years,  and is then  finished in port  barrels for three to six months.  “We’re the only Kentucky distillery doing this and it pays off with  an exceptionally smooth and nuanced bourbon, “ Henderson declares proudly,  observing that he enjoys the freedom to experiment  and call the shots his way.   He makes just 600 bottles of Angel’s Envy  bourbon each year (he is also releasing a rye this year) and it has become one of the most sought after of bourbons, largely found in fine restaurants.
   The bourbon and whiskey world covers a wide range of flavors and styles. Each has its own special quality, from the high production facilities of firms such as Jim Beam and Brown Forman and Jack Daniel’s to the smaller houses such as Dickel and the even more limited production of craftsmen like Lincoln Henderson. There is a lot of bourbon to sample, not to mention all that moonshine flowing out of the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee.





While eating a bag of Pepperidge Farm goldfish during Holy Week, Patti Burke (left, with goldfish) of Melbourne, Florida, thought  she saw a crown and a cross imprinted on a cracker and, she tweeted,  "when I picked this one up, I knew he was special." Her pastor then spoke of the fish during his Sunday sermon, saying "I think it's a sign. I think it points to, I would hesitate to call it a miracle, but I think it points to the miracle, which is Jesus Christ defeated death. And that's what Easter is all about."



Elizabeth Niemi of Hooksett, NH, called 911 saying
she wanted  help in ordering take out food. When
firefighters arrived at her home she was arrested for misuse of 911





 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 won top prize  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:

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