Virtual Gourmet

  November 24, 2013                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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J.C. Leyendecker (1928)



by John Mariani

Anassa Taverna

by John Mariani

To Your Health for the Holidays
by Geoffrey Kalish, MD



by John Mariani

    The food media have, by and large, largely ignored Boston since the 1990s, yet the city is one of America's great food centers, from its extraordinary markets to its panoply of restaurants. The Atlantic Ocean buoys everything in Boston's food scene, nourished by the bounty of New England fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, cheeses, maple syrup, and so much more indigenous to the region.  So here are some new restaurants taking full advantage of all that New England offers.

255 Washington Street
Somerville, MA

         I’m not really positive German-Austrian food will be the next Big Thing (though it’s got a lot more grounding than the fleeting fad for New Nordic Cuisine).  Bronwyn in the Boston suburb of Somerville is a signal reminder of how wursts and beer have never gone out of favor but are only now being sublimated in novel ways that make such fare exactly what you’re dying to eat right now.

    Chef owner Tim We
ichmann is rendering everything from housemade wursts—a gargantuan platter at $32 gets you six varieties, including currywurst and lemon weisswurst—along with bulked-up bacon dumplings called knödel with white summer peaches. He does biernüdeln—pasta made with beer--and the best, tangiest sauerbraten you’ll ever taste outside of Munich.

         When you sit down at the two-room restaurant, you begin by smearing schmaltz—pork fat—onto a giant Bavarian pretzel with roasted apple mustard, then have a beer soup with a cheddar cheese kreplach.  The borscht (above) is as beautiful as it is delectable. The venison pastrami with gulyas puree and the crisp, buttery jagerschnitzel are just made to go with the 40 beers poured here, from a 5.7 percent alcohol Warka Pilsner to a 9.5 percent Zywiec Baltic porter.  The bar serves as a weinstube (wine bar), where hard-to-find varietals like Austrian rotgipfler, Hungarian furmint, and Croatian plavac malí anchor the list.

         Bronwyn is a neighborhood place but it deserves national attention for proving the value of how what’s tried-and-true becomes pride in the new in the hands of a great chef.


324 A Street


    Fifteen years ago I  honored a young Chinese-American chef named Ming Tsai  (left) as Chef of the Year for his groundbreaking Asian restaurant Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  Since then, his trajectory has been ever upward, not least as host of the long-running, award winning TV cooking show “Simply Ming,” whose gentlemanly, down-to-earth approach has been a balm to all the screeching, fright wigged nonsense that passes for entertainment these days.
    He certainly took his time to open a new place—an 80-seat Asian gastropub that has been jammed from lunch and after midnight. Blue Dragon, with executive chef Tom Woods,  is a revelation of myriad tastes and preparations you just don’t find in places with names like New Hunan Balcony and Lotus Tiger King.  And Blue Dragon is a great looking room, almost diner-like, with Ming right there at the open kitchen, picking up plates and schmoozing with wide-eyed guests taking photos with their iPhones. At Blue Dragon the quandary is choosing among dishes that all look and smell so mouthwatering—how do you stop yourself from ordering six, seven, eight dishes like Japanese sweet potato chips with charred scallion and meat jus dip? Braised beef and celery pot stickers? Crispy pork tail with mango sticky rice? Korean chicken wings with fresh kimchee and soy glaze? Or “Mom's Salt and Pepper Shrimp”?
    Best not to even try. Bring your friends, order rounds of craft beers, and don’t get up from the table until you’re way beyond ecstasy. And even if you've eaten way too much, force yourself to order "The Cookie" a deep dish chocolate chip cookie served warm and topped with ice cream and soy caramel sauce.

 Open for Lunch and dinner daily.
Snacks and dim sum $3-$9; main dishes $9-$16.


200 Stuart Street

    The Revere Hotel Boston Common is one of the city’s most modern luxury boutique hotels, with just 356 rooms, located conveniently in the city’s theater district and near the Common. It obviously draws a young crowd, both for its reasonable room rates and its sheer conviviality, not least at the Rooftop@Revere Lounge and Bar (right), seven stories above ground, next to the beautiful swimming pool here.
    From there a panorama of Boston’s landscape gives you a very good sense of how intimately this fairly small city is tied to the water and the harbor and how its proud inhabitants have maintained as much historicity in its neighborhoods as possible.  (It is sad how the city fathers allowed such a grotesque Government Center to be built in the heart of the city.)
    The Rooftop encompasses 16, 000 square feet and, when open (it’s closed right now for the winter season), is set with broad, deep cabanas that may be rented, and chaise lounges where you may relax and feast on a remarkable array of dishes for which the word “snacks” is wholly insufficient.  Indeed, my friend and I made a complete meal of beautifully wrought items like Nantucket bay scallop ceviche in Bibb lettuce wraps and a coconut shell; Bully Boy tequila shrimp cocktail spiked with wasabi; spiced hummus with warm, puffy pita bread; and a terrific array of sliders that included Black Angus beef, Caribbean chicken, and, in a town of first-rate lobster rolls (below), the Revere’s stand near the top of the pack, luscious, creamy, and generous with lobster. Dishes run $5-$18.
    With these you may sip signature cocktails like the Hibiscus Rum Punch of Rum, Bacardi 8, Domaine de Canton, hibiscus tea syrup and lime, or the Frida, with Tanteo jalapeno tequila, fresh watermelon puree, and lime. To make things still merrier, the staff on the Rooftop is composed of some beautiful young women dressed in swimwear by Pret-à-Surf, which makes the whole experience up there more like South Beach than Boston.

They are an extremely cordial group and the Rooftop has become a major draw for cocktails and sunset any time after 5 p.m. There is also an indoor Emerald Lounge whose brilliant lighting color gives it its name, and a restaurant, Rustic Kitchen, featuring Mediterranean cuisine by Chef Michael Kelley, which I did not have a chance to try on my visit.

    The lobby is set with dramatic metal sculpture, and the same degree of warm hospitality upstairs makes check-in and the courtesy of being shown to your room quick and easy. The colorful premises and layout of the rooms themselves balance all the most modern amenities with exceptional comfort in the furniture and bedroom.
     One caveat: The Revere took over an older, less deluxe hotel, so the air conditioning and heating units in some rooms can be loud at night when you’re trying to sleep. Fortunately the pillows are downy enough to block out some of the noise.

    Looking at the photos arrayed above, I'm not sure I can wait for next summer.

1166 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA
617- 615-6195

  I hesitate to write about how Puritan & Company is faring these days because it has been several months since I (happily) dined there.  Still, today's menus seem quite in the same style, with many of the same items, Chef/partner Will Gilson set out at the beginning to evoke in a homey, old-fashioned atmosphere that includes an old ceramic 1920s stove (in which they have set the computer and host stand). Soapstone sinks make up the oyster bar here, and there is a cozy communal dining table.
    This used to be the Puritan Cake Company, and Gilson himself is a 13th generation descendant of the Mayflower. A better pedigree for culinary pride than that would not be easy to find.
    We enjoyed ourselves that evening very much for all sorts of reasons, not least the dining room’s extremely cordial staff.  It’s a good-looking place, the music not too loud, and clearly people were enjoying themselves to the hilt. Is it New England reserve that keeps them from shouting like Americans elsewhere when dining out? The wine list strong, sommelier very informative.
    We were bowled over by the hot Parker House rolls
--the name refers to the Parker House restaurant in Boston, where the rolls were first made--and the manager was nice enough to give us a box to take home. They were truly transcendent, and matched by the gougeres (left), though one for three bucks, for an item given away in France, is a tad steep. Every one of the appetizers was first-rate, and it was difficult even to choose which were better than others.  Luscious confit, innovative swordfish pastrami, frisee with foie gras, and desserts were all very good and imaginative.
    I was, however, disappointed in some of the entrees.  The duck was good but hadn’t much flavor on its own, needing seasoning; the grilled cobia was actually fishy and unpleasant; and I expected the “local flounder” to come as a fillet flat on a plate but it was like a rollmop, tasting steamy. I trust that those faux pas are not an every night occurrence, for Gilson is a serious chef and Puritan & Company a winning combination of New England fare and hospitality.

Open nightly for dinner, for brunch on Sun.; Starters $3-$15; main courses $17-$28.





200 East 60th Street (off Third Avenue)

    Those of you old enough to remember Yellow Fingers on Third Avenue and 60th Street probably also remember Sign of the Dove, Maxwell’s, Serendipity 3 and the original TGI Friday’s—all must-see boites for the thrashing singles scene of the 1960s and 1970s.  (Wasn't it at Yellow Fingers that Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffmann [below] battled over custody in “Kramer vs Kramer"?) Many restaurants have occupied that enviable space—right across from Bloomingdale’s and a bunch of movie theaters—yet none survived for very long.
      On the basis of the packed crowd I saw at Anassa the other night, this is one tenant I hope has a long lease. Anassa, which opened in May and means "breath of fresh air," is thoroughly Greek, under executive chef Nikolaos Karvelas and owner Tim Pappas, the power behind Avra on East 48th Street.  It’s an expansive place--170 seats on two floors; and the 
second floor also was occupied on a mid-week night--with a décor “inspired by the Greek village and seaside,” so you’ll find all the expected touches of rusticity, along with a collection of traditional Greek jewelry such as “Evil Eyes,” and “Komboloi beads (Worry Beads),” available for purchase. 
    The whole place has a vibrancy that draws a very mixed crowd of young and older people from the neighborhood, and Anassa carries on the long tradition of the location’s singles bar ethos.  As you might expect, then, Anassa can get very, very loud, not helped by piped-in music of a throbbing kind you’re unlikely to hear at a taverna in Plaka.
The greeting is cordial, the waitresses pretty and from various eastern European stock, and the menu dependable, if striking no new ground in modern Hellenic cuisine.  But what is on the menu is, overall, delicious and true to form.  The wine list has a slew of good Greek wines well worth ordering.
    As in all Greek restaurants, the mezes are usually the most enticing, always accompanied by warm pita bread, spreads like tzatziki, taramasolata, skordalia, and fava puree ($12).  The octopus at Anassa is as good as any in town, tender, warm, nicely charbroiled with onions and capers (below).  I know saganaki is just fried cheese, but what’s not to love about that, and Anassa does a hot, crispy version.  Meatballs in tomato sauce went fast at our table.
    Among the main courses I enjoyed were grilled lamb chops with roasted potatoes, grilled tomato and topped with tzatziki, which gave them extra flavor. The eggplant in the moussaka gets a boost from involving chunks of lobster meat and a béchamel sauce, and the Thursday special was braised veal shank, coming right off the bone, with tomatoes, orzo and the good touch of tangy feta cheese. The only real disappointment was the showy dish of wild striped bass cooked in parchment, with steamy vegetables; it was just that, steamy and without much flavor, the fish’s texture having disintegrated.
         Don’t forget the usual and irresistible Greek sides like oregano potatoes, giant lima beans in tomato, and the wonderful greens called horta dressed in olive oil and lemon.  The Greek desserts push no envelope, but the honey cake is the best of them, the cheesecake the least, the baklava standard issue.
    Anassa Taverna is clicking right now, not least at the bar, and since this neighborhood is not currently rich in good Mediterranean fare, it’s a fine place to go when you have a true yearning for the kind of food that always leads to a Zorbian sense that life is, after all, pretty damn wonderful.





Wines for Healthy Year-End Holidays

By Geoff Kalish, MD


    While toasting and drinking add to all the merriment associated with the year-end holidays, researchers have recently reported some important considerations regarding the choice of alcohol-containing beverages so as not to detract from post-festivity well-being. In fact, these considerations can not only mean the difference between sobriety and inebriation, but can also affect sex drive as well as whether the event is followed by a peaceful night’s sleep or one disturbed by bouts of “heartburn.”
    The following discusses why this is so, what we can do about it and which wines are best to drink or serve at your year-end holiday event for a healthy outcome.
    Studies have now shown that in men alcohol consumption can decrease the production of testosterone--the hormone produced primarily in the liver (but also in the testes)--that is instrumental in enhancing libido, physical arousal, attaining an orgasm, as well as the intensity and amount of pleasure produced from an organism. (In women, while testosterone is likely also associated with sexual arousal, it appears that the situation is more complex and the effect of alcohol not as profound.) So, in men, the more alcohol consumed over a shorter period of time, the lower the testosterone level. In addition, there appears to be a delayed effect of alcohol, with testosterone reaching its lowest levels some hours after the blood alcohol level has peaked. What this means is that, if a man consumes a large amount of alcohol early in the evening, his sex drive will be maximally decreased later in the night or the next morning. Clearly, drinking moderate amounts of relatively low-alcohol wine along with food, especially items rich in carbohydrates and protein (which slow absorption of alcohol from the gut) is the way to go for those planning amorous activities following a holiday dinner or party. As to what constitutes a moderate amount, most authorities on the subject recommend limiting intake to 12 to 16 ounces of wine over at least 4 to 6 hours or more. And, importantly, to keep the blood alcohol from peaking too rapidly, the wine should be consumed slowly.
    As to the effect of alcohol on heartburn--a searing or burning sensation in the chest made worse by lying down--it has been found that large amounts over a short period of time have an increased likelihood of inducing the condition, through an effect on the upper gastric tube (esophagus). In fact, in a study conducted just a few years ago in Japan, it was found that the men who drank the largest amount of alcohol over a period of time had the most severe symptoms. On the other hand, another recently published study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California showed that small amounts of wine (a glass daily) might have a protective effect on the lining of the upper gut. Moreover, this protective effect was not seen in men with beer or distilled spirits.
    So, like the situation with the effect of alcohol on testosterone, the evidence from these studies strongly indicates that to maintain a healthy gut, relatively low-alcohol wine in moderate quantities is preferable to other alcohol-containing beverages, especially for year-end holiday events. And, there does not seem to be any difference between whites versus reds. So, to set you on the right path for an enjoyable, healthy holiday season, the following widely available wines are recommended.


Non-vintage Prosecco –
In general these Italian bubblies contain less alcohol than French Champagne or California sparkling wine. However, remember to sip slowly since the carbon dioxide in these wines enhances alcohol absorption. Brands to look for include Candoni and Nino Franco Rustico, Zardetto and Mionetto.



Moscato d’Asti – These Italian wines have about 6 percent alcohol and a very fruity, slightly fizzy taste with a somewhat sweet finish and make good matches for hors d’oeuvres, fruit and cheese. Two standouts are the 2012 Bartenura and the 2012 La Spinetta.


Viñho Verde – These dry whites from Portugal, with a bit of effervescence, usually contain less than 10 percent alcohol and mate perfectly with seafood and chicken dishes. Try the 2012 Casal Garcia or the 2012 Grinalda.


German Riesling Kabinett
– The best of these contain 8 to 10 percent alcohol and have a slightly sweet bouquet of apricots and peaches and a touch of acidity in the finish that marries well with shrimp, oysters and other raw shellfish. Brands worth seeking out include Dr. H. Tanisch, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Geyser Weinheimer and Weingut Johanneshof.


Lambrusco –
These Italian red bubblies usually have less than 11 percent alcohol and make great aperitif wines to serve with prosciutto, tuna tartare and pigs-in-the-blanket. Reliable brands include Riunite, San Giuseppe and Opici.

Beaujolais Nouveau –
From France, these light fruity, grapey quaffs usually contain about 11 percent alcohol and pair well with a range of fare from grilled or poached salmon to veal and beef. Good bets are the 2013s from Georges Duboeuf and Joseph Drouhin, which feature bright, festive labels sure to heighten the mood at any year-end celebration.


Geoff Kalish, MD is a former wine columnist for The Wine Spectator and The New York Times (Westchester Weekly Section) and has long studied and reported on the effects of wine on health.



Japanese company  B&H Lifes has launched a wine specifically for cats, called "Nyan Nyan Nouveau," made from sugar, cabernet grape juice, vitamin C, and catnip. "Nyan nyan" refers to the meowing sound cats make and Beaujolais Nouveau,  for $4 (399 yen) a bottle, with only 1,000 bottles on sale.




"One thing that you definitely shouldn't do is, in the middle of your main course during summer, when you see two young girls swimming outside, you definitely shouldn't leave your table, take your clothes off, show your middle-aged hairy body, and jump into the water with the two young girls. That, you definitely shouldn't do."--
“Worst Restaurant Customers: René Redzepi on Kleptomania and Creeps at Noma,”



 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: MINNEAPOLIS; COSTA RICA

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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