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 October 20, 2013                                                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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"Autumn Squash, Michigan" by Galina Dargery (2012)



LONDON, Part Two
by John Mariani

by John Mariani

Boroli Barolos
by John Mariani

    ON OCTOBER 22nd at 7 PM at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY,  John Mariani will give a talk on his book How Italian Food Conquered the World,  Leo in the A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library, First Floor South Campus. Admission is free. For info call   (516) 463-5669. . . .  ON OCTOBER 23rd John Mariani will give a talk at Zooma Trattoria in Providence, RI, about his book Menu Design in America, from 1850 to 1985, which won the International Gourmand's Best Book Award.  Signed copies will be for sale.  $15 admission, $5 with student ID; free for paid-up CCCP members (free pizza/snacks, free valet parking, cash bar). Space is limited. For info call 401-253-0215 or contact us at


LONDON, Part Two
by John Mariani

Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in "Private Lives" (1930)

58 Poland Street

    After huge success with his first restaurant, Pollen Street Social, Jason Atherton has another on his hands with the similarly named Social Eating House, which sounds more like a charity home for Oliver Twist orphans.  Instead it is a casual, quite comfortable bistro with a fervent crowd of well-dressed Londoners.
        The place looks older than its April debut, with exposed brick walls—now the standard international style for every other new restaurant--white-washed copper ceilings, bare tables and weathered leather banquet seats.         

    They’ve named the bar the Blind Pig, 19th century slang for a speakeasy, where bartender Gareth Evans has given his own names to cocktails like the Thermonuclear daiquiri and Scrub a Dub Dub.  Downstairs is a so-called ‘Employees Only’ dining space with its own bar and menu fitted out for a private party.
    The food here is designated as a “contemporary bistro menu paying homage to the best of British cooking with international influences,” which pretty much describes that of almost every non-ethnic restaurant of recent years in town. But Chef Paul Hood is turning out delicious, lusty food in sizable portions, with a selection of snacks contained in jars (right), like c
onfit pork rillette with grain mustard, apple and cider vinegar, and a creamy brandade with potato chips, celery salt and vinegar. Wild mushrooms are riddled with garlic and served on toast with a cèpe puree, and there is a smoky Black Angus tartare with crisp radishes, stinging horseradish and mustard leaf. Lamb neck fillet comes with ricotta-enriched potatoes, chicory-like monk’s beard, garlic and parsley. Charred grapefruit sections set up the saline flavor of octopus carpaccio (left).
I was delighted by the sweet Colchester crab on lettuce with tomato and a roast tomato vinaigrette, as well as with the meaty, rolled smoked ham knuckle with leeks cooked over burning embers.  There is something wonderfully old fashioned about Hood’s cooking, yet it’s really all his and happily new to me.
    There is also a selection of steaks, including—not often seen in the UK—45-day aged smoked Buccleuch côte de boeuf for two.
The desserts at Social Eating House range from sumptuous sundaes of pina colada ingredients and citrus meringue to a honey-almond sponge cake with goat’s cheese curd ice cream and orange.
    For a place this size and with such homey ambitions, the wine list is admirable in its size and obvious care of selections with numerous bottlings under 40 pounds.

Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner nightly. Starters are priced between £6-8 and mains are approximately £12-18.


51 Buckingham Gate

+44 (20) 7769 7766

    I think it safe to say that London has by far the finest Indian restaurants outside of the sub-continent itself.
    Certainly, Malaysia and New York have a slew of very good ones, but Great Britain's connection to India goes back to 1600 with the founding of the East India Company and, through periods of colonialism and rebellion, England has had an enormous affinity for India, and, largely vice-versa, with the food cultures of both nations intimately related.

     This symbiosis can be seen as readily in the ambiance of the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Hotel as in the beautiful restaurant Quilon within it. The hotel, with 86 rooms,  is just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, tucked away in its own cul-de-sac, and I found it a very quiet place to stay, sequestered from the tourist crowds.

    The building has a marvelous red brick-and-stone façade reached through an archway and wrought iron gate, and the connected mansions that comprise the quarters are centered by a calm fountain and rung round with what is said to be the longest frieze in the world. The reception and attention to detail is both unobtrusive and helpful, with items that had not even popped into my mind, as when the concierge asked if he might check my flight and print out my ticket.
The Quilon, named after a Kerala seaport, features the southern coastal cuisine of Chef Sriram Aylur (
left), whose dependence on the very finest British provender distinguishes the food here from lesser Indian restaurants in the city.  The food also tends to be a bit lighter, the sauces and gravies more refined and complex than merely spicy. 

    The shimmering dining room (above), now with its own new Q Bar, is twelve years old and has been refurnished completely this year, with jaali screens and a candle wall of tea lights.  The wine list is not just deep and broad for an Indian restaurant but for any restaurant at this level of posh, and Master of Wine Peter McCombie keeps it that way, along with a list of 50 whiskeys and 20 beers.
        I was presented with crisp pappadum wafers with dipping chutneys of tomato and coconut. They also serve you a hot drink of spicy tamarind and tomato juice to cleanse the palate, which indeed it did on a brisk afternoon.
        The breads, especially the Malabar paratha, was extremely flaky, almost like phyllo, and very buttery; indeed, the kitchen does use ghee, India’s rich butter, which has of late been eschewed by so many Indian restaurants.
        Do not expect the food here to be highly spicy, as in hot spicy. You may ask for it to be made that way, but the complexities and subtleties of the myriad spices actually used may be blunted by too much heat.  This is more refined cuisine, impeccably served in beautiful surroundings.
        You might begin with mini masala dosa rice-lentil pancakes filled with potatoes and vegetables, served with sambhar coconut chutney.
Coconut cream chicken with ground coconut, chili and cumin, cooked over a griddle I found a little bland, the only dish I wished had been spicier, but the batter fried shrimps cooked in a coconut masala sauce tipped the balance, with onion tomato, mustard and curry leaves.
         There is, too, a good deal of lamb on the menu, including Malabar lamb biryani cooked with steaming, fragrant basmati rice in a sealed pot.  And, of course, there are savory vegetarian dishes, too, including a three-bean masala--cannellini, chili and white kidney beans cooked in a wide range of spices.
         There are some delectable desserts, all freshly made—not always the case in Indian restaurants—like caramelized banana pudding parfait and a Goan specialty called Bibinca and Dodhol of thin coconut crêpes with vanilla ice cream. The cooked yogurt (left) is to swoon for.
         It is no surprise to find that The Quilon has garnered a rare Michelin star, which is supposed to be largely for the quality of the food.  But this is one Indian restaurant as sophisticated and luxurious as any dining room in London, for which I would certainly award another star. With its sister restaurant Bombay Brasserie and a few other fine Indian restaurants around town like Tamarind and Benares, my contention about London’s supremacy in this culinary category seems well secured.  

Open daily for lunch and dinner; three-course fixed price menu £24. (All prices include
tax and a discretionary 12.5% service charge).



by John Mariani

430 Hudson Street (Leroy Street & Morton Street)

    With so many, many, many restaurants serving exactly the same menu as do their competitors, it is encouraging to find a new place whose partners are not playing it so safe, instead imparting their own food cultures on the menu and design.
    This is the case at Piora, which means “blossom” in Korean and evokes owner-manager Simon Kim’s background.  On the other hand, the chef-partner is an Italian-American guy, Christopher Cipollone, who brings to the kitchen his own culinary history, and the mix works very well, without any gimmicks, without any overexplaining.
        Designer Stephanie Goto has provided Piora with a front-room communal table and stone-topped bar. From, there you go through small alcove and on to the Hudson Room, which itself opens onto an outdoor garden.  A meandering mural intended to resemble a blossoming flower extends throughout the restaurant.
        Seoul-born Kim was most recently at The Mark uptown, and Cipollone at Tenpenny. Beverage director Kyle Ridington came here from The Mark, and before that from Chicago’s L20. Their total resumes would be a screed indeed of top restaurants throughout the country.
        The menu is tightly crafted to reflect a kitchen I’m told has only four burners, and the dining rooms’ 50 seats are always occupied after 7 pm, so Cipollone keeps his recipes to a minimum of ingredients, so that all of them have to be of superb quality.  With nothing on the menu over $34, Piora hits a sweet spot for dining seriously well while dining casually, though the noise level mounts during the evening.
        We began with some irresistible monkey bread (right), kind of like puffy Parker House rolls, with whipped lardo (nice touch) and seaweed butter (meh). There are nine appetizers, three pastas, and five main courses, and three vegetables.  I liked the duck confit, which came with Earl Grey tea, sweet plum and cucumber, showing a Franco-Anglo side to the menu.
        Barbecued octopus was tender, with fermented peppers, basil and the crunch of pine nuts, while an egg came with chicken wing, potato and artichoke barigoule to make for a whimsical but perfectly logical combination.
        My favorite dish of the evening was al dente bucatini pasta (left) with black garlic, Dungeness crab and maitake mushroom chili; the noodles were nice and firm, the crab sweet and the spicing just enough to spark the entire dish.
        I enjoyed the succulent suckling pig with radish, burdock and apple as an early autumn dish.  Halibut came with chanterelles, squash, and brown butter fumet, but the halibut, essentially a bland fish, needed more help to pump up its flavor.
        There are housemade sorbets and ice creams and a selection of cheeses, along with desserts like a darling strawberry cotton shortcake with yuzu, sesame and elderflower, and a chocolate raspberry tart with pistachio, lychee and rose.
        Piora is firing on all cylinders right now and has become one of the go-to places of the moment in the West Village. I found some dishes needed more intensity, which should come with time—and maybe a couple more burners in the kitchen.  Right now, it makes a mark as a work in progress.

Open for dinner Mon-Sat. Appetizers $8-$18;main courses $23-$34.



by John Mariani

     To judge how far barolo has come in the past three decades, check out the prices on some of these better-known bottlings: Angelo Gaja “Sperss” goes for $315; Brovia Monprivato, $372, while Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva costs $638.
     Pretty remarkable for a regional wine that some producers were giving away before 1980. “In the 1970s, if you bought one bottle of cheap dolcetto in Piedmont, you’d get a bottle of barolo free,” says Achille Boroli (below), 36-year-old winemaker and owner of Boroli winery in Alba in the heart of the barolo region.
     Barolo enjoyed a high reputation at the beginning of the last century, then quality deteriorated as volumes increased.  Yet today barolo, named after a local village and made from the nebbiolo grape, is now considered one of Italy’s most prestigious red wines. It was one of only three wines awarded the government’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita (DOCG) status in 1980, when that classification was introduced.
     Since then, hundreds of newcomers have entered the fray. shows 500 different barolo labels on its website, and that’s only a partial list. The approved zone for planting barolo is not huge but takes in about a dozen villages in Piedmont, leading to variations in soil and style of the finished wine.
     Barolo is always a big, highly concentrated wine, which by DOCG law must spend at least three years aging, two in oak or chestnut barrels. A riserva must age for five years, two in barrel. Old style barolos are said to require ten years of additional aging in bottle to reach their prime.      Newer styles of barolo are usually aged in smaller French barriques, with less tannins, so the wines are fruitier, a direction that has pitted the old timers against the new guys in the “Barolo Wars.”
     Boroli’s wines are clearly of the newer camp. Achille’s father, Silvano, whose family is in the publishing industry, bought prime vineyard property in the Langhe region of Piedmont in 1997. Today it is a small production winery with a range of wines in addition to barolos. The company has also opened Locanda del Pilone, a small hotel and restaurant with a cooking school.                 
    At a tasting with Achille Boroli at Sandro’s restaurant in New York over plates of gnocchi with burrata cheese and onion-and-bacon-rich spaghetti all’amatriciana, I was delighted to find the barolos he brought were very easy to drink right now; you certainly wouldn’t need to wait ten or even five years for them to achieve their peak. All had a signature of black and white pepper components.
      Starting with the most youthful, the 2008 Barolo ($40), which spent two years in barrel and 18 months in bottle, showed the power of the nebbiolo varietal as well as its earthiness, distinguishing barolo from other Italian reds like Chianti Classico or Piedmont’s other great red wine, barbaresco. The 2008’s tannins are still not softened up but the fruit is splendidly forward already.
      The 2007 Cerequio Barolo ($79), from a First Category Cru vineyard, was magnificent, reaching every taste bud on the palate and revealing velvety tannins and the scent of truffles in the nose. Here you find the explosive power of barolo, along with a finish of great elegance, all at 13.5 percent alcohol.
      Boroli’s Villero Barolo ($71), also from 2007, comes from the region of Castiglione Falletto, known to produce a somewhat fuller-bodied wine -- this one has 14.5 percent alcohol -- that takes its time coming into focus.
      I found this, like the other Boroli examples, ripe and achieving a balance of fruit, acid and tannins that echo older styles but are indicative of the sound modern winemaking techniques of the region today.
      I also got to taste Boroli’s Chinato ($67), an interesting vermouth-like wine infused with the bark of the South American cinchona bark, which the people of Piedmont believe helps prevent malaria. The sickness isn’t much of a problem in Italy anymore, but the wine endures as a dessert beverage.
      In the “Barolo Wars” I try to remain neutral, though I have long cherished the chance to taste very old or old-style barolos that reveal the tastes of another era. As I get older, however, the happier I am to find young winemakers like Achille Boroli who have carefully crafted a newer style without compromising barolo’s essential character.
      Many other Giovanni-come-lately winemakers have, and their sales have suffered as a result.

This article first appeared in  Bloomberg News. 



Kuma's Corner, a "heavy metal burger joint" is featuring a "Ghost burger" with a red wine reduction to represent "the blood of Christ" and garnished with an unconsecrated communion wafer. The owner told the local newspaper that the "Ghost" burger is "not a commentary on the state of religion or anything like that" but as a tribute to  the Swedish band Ghost B.C. (left), whose lead singer often wears the outfit of a Roman Catholic Cardinal."We think is a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself. "



“Monzo's udon are even in their rectangular profile, dense but not grainy, elastic more in terms of flexile strength than in actual stretchiness. If you twined enough of these udon around itself, you could probably hang a modest suspension bridge from them, but you would still be able to bite through the noodles in a single go.”—Jonathan Gold, “Marugame Monzo is all about udon,” LA Times.


 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." 

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