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 September 29, 2013                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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by Christopher Mariani

by John Mariani

Wines of Catalonia, Part Two
by Mort Hochstein



by Christopher Mariani

Napa Valley, photo by Brent Miller,

    Having just experienced the most splendid lunch at Auberge de Soleil, we jumped into our convertible and took a short drive to Meadowood (below), a destination that perked up ears with every mention along the way. We were in the final stages of our week-long road trip, which started in San Diego and had taken us along the coast on the magnificent Pacific Highway. Wrapping up the end of our trip in Northern California was the perfect way to conclude our amazing journey.
    With great anticipation, we entered the grand property at Meadowood, driving along a long beautifully landscaped road and came to a charming gatekeeper who welcomed us with a smile. His amiable demeanor was simply an introduction to the type of service we would receive during our short stay.
followed a narrow winding road trimmed with tall trees leading to the property’s main house and immediately we were greeted by the hotel manager who personally walked outside to meet us in the parking lot, welcoming us by our last names (pronounced perfectly) and helped us unpack our luggage from the trunk of our car. Our check-in was effortless, a quality most hotels could learn a lot from, without all that puzzling typing, typing, typing into the computer.
    Within moments, we were escorted by golf cart to our impressive lodgings, which resemble magnificent townhouses. Before our escort left the house, I mentioned we were slightly fatigued and contemplating pushing our dinner reservation at Goose & Gander in St. Helena back one hour so we could rest. Just minutes later we received a call from the front desk stating our reservation was set one hour later, and the property SUV would be waiting to drive us to dinner at ten minutes to 8 pm. We realized at that moment we wouldn’t be lifting a finger for the rest our stay. The staff and management’s insight to our daily needs was truly remarkable. It was as if they new exactly what we were about to ask before we asked it. Their constant but gentle attentiveness to our requests made our stay particularly enjoyable. There are few hotels across the country that can compete with this high degree of refined hospitality.
    The backyard of our residence was a lush green, well-manicured grass croquet court. An outdoor wooden patio, where we spent our morning sipping hot coffee (left), allowed for quiet relaxation and privacy from the rest of the property. The bathroom was almost as large as our bedroom, beautifully furnished in white marble with massive mirrors, a style and standard California set for the rest of the world to follow. Our extremely comfortable living space, with a functional fireplace, had giant oak wood beams lining the ceiling. The bedroom was the largest of all rooms, elegantly decorated in a simple, clean all-white design with every amenity one could desire, including comforters and silent temperature controls. There was little aspiration on our part to leave our new home.
    Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to eat at recently renovated The Restaurant at Meadowood (below), which for three years now has maintained three Michelin stars, under Chef Christopher Kostow, who features a nightly ten-course dinner at $225, with wine pairings an additional $225 from a 1,200-label cellar.
    We were chauffeured  across the Valley to St. Helena by the hotel car—an especially nice touch because the highway police are very tough on drivers leaving the Valley’s restaurants-- and dropped off in front of Goose & Gander. The restaurant, set in a 90-year old structure once owned by a local bootlegger and afterwards the Martini House restaurant,  is charmingly homey at first glance. Hanging yellow bulbs lead guests through the front doors, flanked by two 100 year old cedar trees,  which open up into a dimly lit dining room decked out in dark, polished redwood. The space looks as if a masculine steakhouse and an upscale pub were combined as one, showcasing mahogany-colored leather banquets, sturdy oak tables, wood-beamed ceilings and a staff dressed in all black anxiously awaiting your arrival. Downstairs is an extremely popular Basement Bar.

    Owners Andy Florsheim and Chef Kelly McCown both have long tenure in the business, Florsheim operated the Pollo Campero restaurants throughout Chicago and Florida before moving to the Napa Valley to launch Oliver Jade Restaurant Management, which developed Goose & Gander.  Native San Franciscan Kelly McCown  (below) had been with Martini House when it opened on 2001, and as sous chef at the Wine Spectator Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone.
    The room (below)  was bustling with excitement as guests conversed over multiple bottles of wine and hearty dishes like the G&G burger, topped with Gruyère cheese, smoked bacon, melted bone marrow and a side of duck fat fries. We started with some smoked corned croquettes and a small plate of charcuterie, filled with thick slices of chorizo and soppressata, along with a duck pâté de campagne. For appetizers, the spicy skillet roasted whole prawns with garlic-butter, rosemary, chilies and silky polenta is a must order. The prawns are to be eaten with the shells on, adding a wonderfully crispy texture to the bold dish. Octopus came grilled seasoned with smoked paprika while sea scallops came alongside sweet smoked white corn, crispy pancetta and sliced avocado.
    The entrees continue to impress us, with ricotta gnocchi glazed in a white truffle pesto sauce with fava beans and shaved Parmesan cheese. The flat iron steak was as hearty as anticipated, sided by cream spinach, béarnaise butter, sautéed mushrooms and giant battered onion rings.
    It is clear that executive chef Kelly McCown is serving hearty, even heavy food but with grace and flair, making sure to balance each dish well, using bold flavors and texture combinations. After another glass of red wine and some terrific desserts, we called our driver and headed back to Meadowood for a splendid night’s sleep.
    Goose & Gander is open for dinner nightly.  Snacks range from $2 to $6; Small Plates $8 to $18; Large Plates from $14 to $26.


    In the morning, after a light breakfast, we drove to our last California destination, San Francisco. Along the way we stopped at few notable wineries on highway 29, including Cakebread Cellars. St. Helena highway is blanketed with wineries, neighboring each other, all competing for prestige. I recommend spending a few hours hopping from winery to winery, casually tasting various wines. The wineries’ objective is always to sign you up as a wine club member, but resist their sales pitch and simply enjoy a basic red and wine tasting for around $25.
    A few hours later we crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge and entered the beautiful bay area, staying at the Ritz-Carlton SF (left). It has been three years since I last visited the Ritz, but it was as if no time had passed. Familiar hotel employees remembered me at first glance, welcoming me back by my last name, treating me like the most important man in the hotel. The level of customer service was outstanding, a benchmark for the Ritz-Carlton brand which never wavers. Our room was on the club level floor, where guests experience their own concierge, willing to do just about anything to improve our stay, with many free amenities and one of the best complementary food spreads I’ve ever seen in a business lounge. Freshly baked quiches and croissants were in abundance, along with smoked salmon and an array of artisanal cheeses. There was sliced filet mignon, cured meats and an endless supply of sparking wine. In theory, one does not need to leave the club member floor when traveling for business, but the extra fee for staying on the club level is worth every penny if you take full advantage of what is offered.
    That evening, we dined at the hotel’s very own restaurant, Parallel 37 (below left), located on the lobby level, previously a highly regarded but very formal dining room. now wholly transformed.   A lovely hostess ushered us to our table where we spent the next two hours enjoying the hotel’s newest culinary creation, a project in the works for some time. The room is modern in design, showcasing sleek lines, a chic décor, coated in earth tones and different patterns of dark wood. The service staff was relaxed, well familiar with the impressive menu selection. The kitchen is led by Michael Rotondo, a talented young chef with a true sense of balance, who previously worked under Charlie Trotter in Chicago.
    Our meal started with two glasses of sparkling wine and a celebratory toast to the final days of our memorable road trip. For starters, heirloom tomatoes were topped with crispy duck confit and drizzled with aged balsamic. There was a terrific ceviche of hamachi served with avocado and beans, one of chef’s simple yet well-executed seafood dishes. Sweet soft shell prawns sat on top of corn ravioli and made for one of the best dishes of the night. Risotto was mixed with tender lobster knuckles, roasted beets and a subtle lemongrass oil. The meats were as impressive, including a juicy pork tenderloin served with ripe mission figs and pickled chanterelles. Coconut and green curry complemented a wonderful flank steak seared medium rare, full of flavor and complex depth.
    Hotel restaurants have not always attracted outside diners, but in this case, I assume the city is already buzzing over this year-old dining destination.
 The following and last day of our California trip was spent walking along the marina, eating casual food and visiting the city’s gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge, spanning the choppy Bay with a backdrop of scudding clouds as a totem of all the beauty and civilization that Northern California has to offer. This was end of our amazing California road trip, one I will never forget and cherish always.   



by John Mariani

126 East 7th Street (between First Avenue & Avenue A)



    The first thing everyone hears upon entering Giano is the booming "Benvenuto!" of owner Milanese Paulo Rossi (below), who seems to be everywhere at once, behind the bar, schmoozing with a table of Asian guests, suggesting a new wine he loves on the list, and generally kibitzing throughout the night.  He is the epitome of the grand Italian host and he plays his part very well, half Roberto Benigni, half Alberto Sordi.
     Giano (from the name of the two-faced Roman god who could see both past and future at the same time) is a long slip of a 55-seat dining room off East Seventh Street in  Greenwich Village, where it has for five productive years been winning the locals' hearts with an ebullient welcome and excellent cucina italiana by chef-partner Matteo Niccoli, also from Milan. There is a garden, open till October cools down, that seats 20 that right now is a welcome respite.  But we dined up front at the table right at the open windows, offering a wonderful view of the street life of a neighborhood not too long ago an iffy place to stroll through.  It has always had its share of Indian restaurants, but as time has worn on and the Lower East Side  has gentrified, people of every stripe have brought colorful vitality to the area, from the families with baby strollers to the hipsters buying cup cakes at the bakery across the street.
    It was a lovely autumn night, cool and murmuring with city sounds, putting me in mind of Milan's Navigli section, with its small boutiques, food stores and trattorias.
    The curved 12-foot long bar at Giano is said to be made from  Sicilian sea salt and resin and the decor combines both the rustic of oak tables and brick walls set with votive candles with sleek modern Italian design and gilded ropes strung like curtains from the wooden ceiling. It's very homey and you may have the sense of being somewhere you'd like to keep to yourself.  But word has gotten out that this is one of the best downtown trattorias, with a good, reasonably priced wine list and a menu whose nightly specials are well worth listening for.
    The night we dined, one of those specials was a salad of crisp, peppery arugula with almonds, sweet peppers, and hearts of palm whose textures were impeccably melded as an appetizer. Also very good were fat sweet asparagus wrapped in smoky Speck ham and lavished with a rich fontina cheese sauce.
    Rigatoni all'amatriciana was a superb rendering of this classic macaroni pasta, lusty with onion and tomato, a sizable portion for $15. From the Tyrol comes a dish of nice, chewy tagliatelle with Speck, mushrooms and an enrichment of Parmesan-laced cream. Risotto with wild mushrooms had good taste but the rice itself was overcooked and somewhat mushy.
   The assumption that baccalà on an Italian menu is going to be the salted, re-hydrated cod previously dried to leathery hardness is a reasonable one, but at Giano baccalà refers only to fresh cod Livornese style, pan-seared with tomatoes, black olives and capers, served with crispy white polenta--a very good seafood dish.  The filet of beef is of excellent quality on its own, gaining enhancements from a balsamico glaze, basil-scented mashed potatoes, braised onions and the welcome addition of crispy pancetta bacon to bring in even more flavor.
    I also recommend the pollo (chicken) alla milanese (right), which takes its cue from vitello (veal) alla milanese, pounded thin, breaded and sauteed, then sided with cherry tomatoes and arugula.  Not surprisingly, it has as much flavor as if it were veal at a far more expensive price (the now notorious veal parmigiana at Carbone is fifty bucks!), and at $17.95 a real bargain.
    Chef Niccoli makes the few desserts here but puts effort into them, including a good, not-too-sweet, very light tiramisu; a classic crème brûlée, and an interesting take on budino, a pudding that is served with an icy underpinning of coffee.
    Giano might seem to be one of a score of downtown trattorias worth visiting, but the hand of a true Italian chef in the kitchen is  evident at Giano, and in Paulo you are getting a vivacious slice of Italian hospitality so often lacking in places where the owners are rarely there and the chef might be off at events three nights a week. Giano looks, smells and tastes like the real thing.  Were I a local, I might not tell anybody at all about it and keep it to myself.

Giano is open for dinner Tues.-Sun.; 2-Course $21.95. Dinner entrees $12.95-$22.95.                             





Wines of Catalonia, Part Two

by Mort Hochstein

Castell Del Remei


     Castel Del Remei (above and right) is located far into western Catalonia, about 75 miles from Barcelona in the province of Lleida.  It is hot, low lying country, and is bone dry for most of the year. Annual precipitation amounts to less than  ten inches   from a smattering of rainfall in the spring and autumn.  It’s a hot Mediterranean climate but fortunately cooled in the evening by maritime breezes that refresh grapes baking under a hot summer sun.  Grenache, Tempranillo, and similar indigenous grapes such as Macabeo flourish, and the estate, sprawling over some 1,000 acres, with about a fifth of its land mass dedicated to estate grown grapes,  also cultivatesmaller plantings of Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.
    Once a village of some 50 families existed on the property, but now its six buildings stand alone, along with a historic church that is opened for festivals and holidays. Castell Del Remei, however, retains its own postal code.  Since 1780 when vines were first planted on the estate, it has posted several landmarks in the history of Spanish wine, most notably becoming the first in the nation to cultivate Cabernet Sauvignon.  
    Sales in the property’s early years were largely bulk made for for other wineries.  In   1871, financier Manuel Girona imported a team of growers and an oenologist from Bordeaux and became the first Spanish grower to cultivate  international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon.  Castell Del Reimi went on to produce estate wines modeled on practices he had observed in France and subsequently  his was the first winery in Catalonia to sell wine under its own label.   By the 1920’s, Castell Del Remei was the largest producer of quality wines in Catalonia. 
    The region became a battle ground during the Spanish Civil War and the plant, under siege, was nearly destroyed when an ammunition dump nearby exploded and much of the facility had to be rebuilt. 
    Joan Ignasi, a descendant of the founding family, ran the company until his death in 1950, when Castell Del Remei fell into disrepair for three decades.  The family of Manuel Cuisine bought the historic facility in 1982 and set out to restore it to its earlier glory. They replaced antiquated equipment, revitalized the vineyards and hired well trained staff. Today, behind thick, centuries' old walls are gleaming technology and modern offices, while the facility overall retains a colorful and rustic atmosphere.
    Manuel Cusine’ says the essence of making good wine is “the people, their teamwork and commitment.“   The leader of his winemaking team is Isabel Marza Salles, and under her direction Castell Del Remei produces a range of wines based on indigenous grapes from small, neighboring vineyards and estate grown European varietals .We tasted several at the winery and at its eponymously named restaurant.
   The flagship wine here is "1780," named for the vineyard's  founding year. It is a blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo, Merlot and Syrah, a big bruiser, with deep intense flavor. It rests a year and a half in French and American oak and another year in bottle and sells for about $45. Gotim Blu is a less expensive version of that wine, with similar characteristics, released after ten months in oak, selling for about $20. The red wines of the region characteristically have a powerful aroma and balanced taste and are basically flavorsome and well structured. The whites, generally in the $20 range, are light and fruity; our favorite was Planell Blanc, the least expensive at about $10.  It is one of Marza Salles’ most delightful innovations, a citrus bomb of grapefruit and lemon based on Chardonnay and Macabeo. It’s a light and totally enjoyable blend, one that I went back to several times during our tasting.
    With an assist from a partner winery, Castell Del Remei markets its own sparkling cava, based on the traditional   indigenous grapes, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  Salles has also been experimenting with a 100% Cabernet which has yet to be named. She is aiming for release next year


     There we were at an ancient family estate 45 miles west of Barcelona. It was hardly some impoverished Russian shtetl, so why were the music and lyrics of  “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof” playing in my head?
     Jesi Llopart  I Llopart,  her full  name,  and several   generations of her family were educating  us about the wines produced on this historic estate. This was no customary discussion. It was more of a sharing  relationship  with warm and outgoing Catalans,  devoted to the land and their wine.

    The  Lloparts  have been farming this ground since 1385, raising the familiar Mediterranean crops, wheat, olives and grapes. It wasn’t until 1887  that they focused  on bottled wines, and one century later became among the first to emphasize cava. Their hilly 234-acre  estate is in the heart of Catalonia’s cava belt, not far from the  two giants of the industry, Freixenet  and Codorniu.

   In huge, automated facilities,  those industrial firms churn out several  million bottles of cava every year. Their sparklers are  inexpensive  and a  familiar sight in restaurants and bodegas throughout Spain and much of the world. In contrast,   Llopart produces   450,000 bottles of cava annually and  almost everything   is done as it was in centuries past,  from picking  to riddling, and there’s usually a family member   on hand, whether in the field, cellar or office.

   Llopart  cavas, crafted by  family patriarch Pere Llopart I Vilaros and his younger aide Pere Llopart Llopart, age  much longer, on average  about three years, and as long as five, before release. That sort of production  means greater quality, and a higher sticker price, about $15 for the least expensive label and much higher for the reserve wines, even higher for the top of the line cava,  Ex Vit, which comes from  60-year old Macabeo and Xarel.lo vines, the classic  Cava grapes, along with Parellada.

   In three  vineyard sites extending over 60 acres, the Lloparts also cultivate  Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, and indigenous grapes such as Grenache  and Monastrell. They produce six types of cava, and two rosés. Under the DO Penedes label, the house also produces two still wines , Clos del Fossils, from Chardonnay and Xarel.lo, and one red, Castell de Subirats, a Bordeaux style blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.     

   Tasting at the family villa gave a new dimension to the term wine cellar. We descended  painstakingly  through a trapdoor and threaded our way down a narrow staircase to an underground maze and finally into a candle lit room   with parents, siblings, teens and  sub-teens packed  around a table groaning with home-cooked food, and    a lineup  of cava.  

   Members of the extended  Llopart family joined in the  festivities and we all chanted or hummed and enjoyed songs by   a guitar player, yet another  family member.  I could grasp the emotions, if not the language which was certainly  not from “Fiddler on the Roof.” More like country and western, Catalan style.

   The standouts among the sparklers  were the 2008 Gran Reserva Brut,  flavorful with a toasty oily nose, richer and  slightly sweeter than expected, and  the 2010   Rosé Reserva, rich with ripe red fruit and a tad  bitter long and lively finish.  The estate, ancient in many aspects, ultra modern in others, is worth a visit, and the familial warmth makes it even more memorable.


To read Part One of this article, click here.



"Let's not pretend: the only people who order the chicken in restaurants are those who don't care enough about their dinner. . . . For the most part, chicken is the beige of the restaurant world; it's the Ikea shelving unit, the Vauxhall Vectra. It does the job, but not much more. You can do it better at home. The only downside is you have to tidy up afterwards."--Jay Rayner, "Kingly Court,"  The Observer


Glasgow l
ocals and politicians want restaurant and bakery Riverhill Coffee Bar to stop
selling "Breaking Bad Crystal Meth" cupcakes,  because they seemed to "glamorise drugs."
The baker refused, saying that the cupcakes are nothing more than  a tribute to his favorite TV show.



 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. 

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"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: Tarpon Fishing in Belize.

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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