Virtual Gourmet

  December 8, 2013                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Political Cartoon of Pres. William Howard Taft (1909-1913) in Puck.




by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by Andrew Chalk



                                        by John Mariani


         Like everyone, I like a good kitchen gadget that works, though I’ve never been suckered in by any of those sold by info-mercials on TV, when, “if you call now, you get two extra thigamajigs and a whole set of steak knives for just $29.95 in three easy payments plus shipping!”

         I’ll never be convinced of the importance of owning a can opener shaped like a toucan ($25) or a wheat grass juicer ($142), and the microwave oven someone gave me years ago has never come out of its box.

So when I come across three items that really impress me for their utility and as-promised dependability, I want to tell all my friends who spend any serious time in the kitchen.

1. About fifteen years ago, the great French master chef Alain Ducasse proudly showed off his ridiculously expensive new induction range installed in his New York restaurant.  He put a pot of water on the circle, turned it on, and within 30 seconds the water was boiling furiously.  He then told me to touch the cooking surface with the palm of my hand. Hesitating but dutiful, I did so and found it cool as glass.  Now, this was a really amazing piece of machinery, but wholly out of the question—at thousands of dollars—for a home kitchen.

Then, this summer, I was sent a demo model of the Waring Pro Double® Induction Cooktop ($249.95), which looks more or less like a simple hot plate but is actually every bit as impressive as what I saw in Ducasse’s kitchen.  Weighing only seven pounds, it’s easy enough to put on your kitchen counter, and its various settings allow you to instantly modify the cooking temperature, has a 150-minute timer, and shuts off automatically 30 seconds after a pot is removed. And it uses 70 percent less energy than conventional cooktops.

         At first I thought the cooktop a reasonable alternative or addition to my gas range, but during a brutally hot July, when I didn’t want to turn on a flame burner to add to the kitchen’s heat, I used the induction cooktop relentlessly, with the only heat coming from the food being cooked.

         One caveat: it only works with stainless steel pots and pans, so you can’t use your cast iron or simple aluminum cookware.  But I have really learned to love this novelty, which strikes me as one of the better inventions of the 21st century for the home kitchen.

2. As a passionate pizza lover who demands very specific virtues in how the crust cooks and the toppings meld, I was hardly impressed when a NEWWAVE Just Pizza Oven ($99) arrived at my door, looking like a countertop kettle barbecue grill.  For fun, I thought I’d give it a try, strongly suspecting I would get an anemic-looking, soft, puffy crust.

         I bought pizza dough from an Italian bakery, topped it with various ingredients, and, after heating up the Pizza Maker as instructed for five minutes, slid it onto the stone. Five minutes later out came as perfect a pizza as I’ve ever made at home—the crust was crispy, slightly charred underneath, and had those glorious charred bubbles of dough around the circumference (which Italians call the “cornicione”).  It was easily as good as some my favorite pizzerias make. (The photo on the right doesn't really show the blistery beauty of the real thing.)

         Had I made this pizza in my regular gas or electric oven, I would have had to heat up a pizza stone at the highest heat attainable (only about 450 degrees) for an hour before putting the pizza on it, then cooking it, shifting it around in the process, for about 15 minutes.  The Pizza Maker reached a much higher, controlled temperature in five minutes, evenly throughout, so I didn't need to shift the pie around.

         I was so impressed that I was making pizzas every night and even for breakfast, with a spread of Nutella hazelnut and chocolate. Now, that’s a nutritious breakfast!

3. I’ve never used ceramic knives in the kitchen because those I have tested chipped and broke easily and didn't keep the sharp edge promised.   Professional chefs spurn them with utter disdain.  Then I tried out a new, state-of-the-art set of ceramic knives, created by London designer Edge of Belgravia, which are incredibly sharp—made from zirconium oxide forged under 300 tons of pressure at a temperature of 1,400° F and said to be much sharper for much longer than steel blades.

They are terrific looking—the black ones look like Ninja knives, though the lime green ones are merely pretty—and though light in the hand, I found them so sharp that, without being serrated, they cut with surgical precision through tomatoes and the tough rinds of limes in one movement.  You can buy the knives individually—slicer ($107.90), chef’s knife ($92.90), santoku ($76.90), utility ($76.90) and paring ($44.90)—or as a set ($399.50).

Chefs who spend hours chopping and slicing may contend that they prefer more heft and weight in their knives, but I found the slicing so easy and consistent, and I can't imagine any home cook slicing up 200 zucchini.




by John Mariani

721 Main Street
New Rochelle, NY

    I have not (yet) visited the Dalmatian Coast, which I hear so many wonderful things about—the ruggedness of the seaside, the stretching away of the dark Adriatic, the small villages and a cuisine that takes full advantage of its location, not least for a great array of seafood. I am already an admirer of modern Croatian wineries.
    So the opening of Dubrovnik not far from where I live in Westchester County (about a 45-minute drive from midtown Manhattan) was wholly enticing to me.  Set along a less-than-lovely stretch of New Rochelle, NY, the restaurant’s colorful façade declares owner Jerry Tomic’s intention to make you feel very, very welcome. Once inside, you will be heartily greeted and shown to a linen-draped table in a room of considerable warmth, especially now with the fire and rotisserie going strong. There is a good bar, though not as well stocked as it might be, but there are some Croatian-style spirits well worth trying as after-dinner drinks.
    The dining room décor evokes the seaside restaurants of the coastal city, with a ship’s wheel on a wall arched with dark polished wood (Tomic [left] also owns Top Drawer Custom Cabinetry in town). There are petite chandeliers, sheer white draperies, and evocative black-and-white photos of Croatia along the walls. The lighting is very homey, the clientele appears to be very happy to be among friends, and the staff does everything to make their guests’ evening go right.
    Out back is a considerable garden and patio with fountain (below) that will be put to good use come springtime. There is a lot of space highly suitable for parties here, and Dubrovnik gets a local Croatian crowd for celebratory events.
    So, everything seemed set for a congenial evening with friends, though I wondered how good the food might really be, when shortcuts might be so easily taken on a menu whose prices are so remarkably modest.  But when the manager brought out a lavish platter of obviously very fresh seafood—octopus, shrimp, red snapper, dorade, bream, cod, tuna, and whatever was of the highest quality in the market that morning—I realized immediately that Dubrovnik takes its food very seriously.
    Indeed, what I ate that night was some of the finest seafood I’ve found anywhere in this country, where I am so often disappointed in quality even at very expensive restaurants.  Of course, you can have good product, but if you don’t know how to cook seafood, it won’t matter in the least. At Dubrovnik each species came roasted or from the grill cooked to impeccable succulence, the fish firmly textured but easy to slide from the bones, simply dressed with nothing more than good olive oil and lemon.
    You may begin with poached shrimp with a cocktail sauce—nothing out of the ordinary except that the shrimp were fat, juicy and full of flavor.  The octopus salad was perfectly cooked, spiced up with capers, tangy red onions, boiled potatoes, olive oil and vinegar—a good way to get the appetite roaring. Even more impressive were some large calamari served whole, not cut up, not fried, and the flavor of the sea was briny and delicious.
    There were two pastas on the menu, which makes sense since both Croatia and Italy share the Adriatic between them and a long history of culinary interaction. So I was not surprised to find a dish called teletina na lovački (gnocchi with a rich veal ragù) much to my liking, as was pasta sa povrčem (with a complex vegetable sauce).
    If you are in the mood for lamb, which throughout Eastern Europe is far more popular than beef, by all means try Dubrovnik’s lamb chops “nona,” sizzling hot from the grill, tingling with rosemary and garlic sauce and served with broccolini and sweet roasted peppers (right).  The portion of chops--four thick ones--is enormous and you’ll undoubtedly take some home, as I did.  Svinjski kotlet Dubrovnki is a roasted pork loin, nicely fatted, stuffed with prosciutto and onion, just the right dish for the oncoming winter cold.
    For dessert I’m sure you’ll delight in the palacinke, light, lacy crêpes filled with chocolate-hazelnut Nutella.
    The wine list is nothing to rave about and has, for the moment, too few Croatian wines, but those they do carry, like the Piližota Babic 2011, are impressive bottlings that go very well with this kind of food.
    For the authenticity of Dubrovnik’s setting and cooking, it would be a restaurant anyone with a love of good seafood and lamb should hurry to, but add in such a large component of hospitality, and you have a restaurant you will return to as an old friend of the house after one visit.


The restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Appetizers, soups and salads: $5.75 to $15.75; main courses: $18.75 to $34.75.





by Andrew Chalk

    Since the onset of the modern South African wine industry in 1994, there has failed to emerge a dry red table wine that is mentioned in the same breath as the great Cabernet/Shiraz red wines of the world like Bordeaux Crus, Australia’s Grange and California’s cult Cabernets.  That should change if an international consortium of oenological and business talent has its way.
    4G Wine Estate   was established in 2009 by Swiss business consultant Phillipp Axt, French Bordeaux University professor and super-consultant Denis Dubourdieu (below, sorting grapes), Italian-born South African winemaker Giorgio Dalla Cia (below, with Mia Fischer) the man who made Rubicon at Meerlust) and other investors. Its mission statement is the easiest thing to convey: to make the best wine in South Africa that is also of world class quality, without regard to cost. A so-called First Growth of The Cape. Its name is ‘G.’
    They hired onsite winemaker Mia Fischer, a graduate of South Africa’s Elsenberg Agricultural College with experience in Germany, France and New Zealand, and set about using some unusual and, at least in South Africa, unprecedented practices to make the wine. To put that in context: in the grape growing, the best vineyard sites were selected and then the selection narrowed down to the best rows of vines in those vineyards. Those were then leased from the owner, just for the vintage. The lease stipulated that the owner could do no agricultural work on the vines for that vintage season. 4G would do it all, providing its own workers, tools and management. At the end of the growing season 4G would harvest the grapes, the lease would end, and the maintenance revert to the owner.
    De-stemming is done by hand. The grapes are then individually sorted by hand, a process that requires more than 100 employees.  After fermentation (both barrel and steel is used, the proportion varying by vintage), the wine is aged 18 months in 100 percent new French oak (multiple cooperages have been tried), after which it is bottled in what I can vouch are the heaviest 750ml wine bottles I have ever lifted, each one empty clocking the scales at more than four pounds.
    To complete the packaging tour de force, each bottle gets an ornate 50-layer gallery resolution printed label by young German artist Sebastian Blinde  on which an African Sea Eagle bristles in front of a matte black “G.” When you package like this, the contents have a lot to live up to.
    The 2009 vintage produced 2,915 bottles of a prototype of G that was given away to friends and family. The first released vintage of G was the 2010, which turned out 3,410 bottles. The cépage was 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Shiraz, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc. This makes for a wine that has a nose of dark fruit (black currant, blueberries) and lead pencil with hints of oak. After aeration, it opens up to forest floor notes. In the mouth it is still tight.
    Only 1,943 bottles of the 2011 were produced and the cépage was modified to Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, and Petit- Verdot (4g does not publish percentages here on out; I do not know why). The 2011 initially seemed grapey in the nose, its raspberry and black cherry fruit not as intense as 2010. There was some five spice powder. Over time it revealed a very complex nose. In the mouth there were pronounced anthocyanins, hints of cedar, and a long cedar-y finish. It opens up with time and the fruit becomes very powerful. Overall, not quite as polished as 2010, but that may reflect its youth.
    The winery also produces a second wine, “Echo of G” (not tasted), reflecting lots not blended into G.
    Each bottle of G is individually numbered and owners may enter their bottle numbers into a registry on the 4G website. This should help owners prove their bottles are genuine, if they plan to transfer them to new owners at a later date (if 4G Wines runs the registry properly). It is interesting, and fair, to consider both vintages and ask what common characteristics is G establishing. Both these wines are undoubtedly new world wines. In terms of parallels with other greats they most closely resemble Napa cult Cabernets.
    It is too early to talk about ageability in anything more than a predictive sense. Sure, the backbone will mean ageability for a decade or more, but how long, and how the wine will evolve is a more open question.
    The jury is also out on whether this is a First Growth of The Cape for another reason. The house style is still under development. Look at the omission of Cabernet Franc and its replacement with Petit-Verdot between 2010 and 2011. No established growth would make such a huge change in the blend because the experiments were done long ago and the house style settled. With G, by contrast, we have a wine that is still in development.
    Perhaps the hardest goal for the 4g team will be giving G a sense of place. Bordeaux and Grange carry the leitmotifs of their regions. California Cabernet lucked out being the first global star to stake a claim to massive Cabernet fruit as its defining characteristic. G arrives last and finds the ballroom already crowded.
    None of this detracts from the fact that this is a wonderful wine and the proprietors are doing all of the right things to get it its place among the great growths. Keep a careful eye on this wine as it may hit the G spot sometime in the future.
    G.2011 goes on sale next month in the United States at a suggested retail price of $360.

Andrew Chalk is a Dallas-based writer on wine, food and travel. He is editor of and senior writer for "Texas Wine & Trail."



An Upper East Side, NYC father named David Schnorr  has sued a court-appointed psychiatrist after she testified in a child custody case that his refusal to treat his 4-year old to McDonald's was an example of "unfit parenting."  Mr. Schorr told his son to choose any  restaurant NYC except McDonald's, or no dinner at all. The son chose no dinner. The psychiatrist told the court that  Schorr was "wholly incapable of taking care of his son."



"We have talked before about the gentrification of deep downtown, the colorful area familiar from dystopian novels and Tom Waits lyrics that has become the most reliable destination in town for bespoke cocktails, vintage party dresses and monogrammed dog bowls."--"Purist omakase sushi at Zo" By Jonathan Gold (November 9, 2013) LA Times.





Countywide Service Excellence Workshops

    Eric Weiss, who has been teaching people the art of service since 1994, has steadily broadened his reach, training the staffs of restaurants, resorts, hotel groups, then in 2012 an entire city—Healdsburg, California—and in 2013 an entire California county, Mendocino. In the new year he will present Countywide Service Excellence Workshops in Sonoma and Napa in January and April.
    “In Mendocino, the challenge was the mountains that separate the coast from the inland,” Weiss reflects. “We focused on team building and getting people from different areas of the county together.  “Sonoma and Napa are different. Napa has been riding for decades on the idea it can do no wrong. Now it recognizes it needs to do more. Sonoma has always been regarded as Napa’s little sister. But Sonoma has moved into first place in Trip Advisor as the Number One visited wine region in the world—over Tuscany, Bordeaux, you name it. So Napa is looking over its shoulder, and Sonoma wants to maintain its position.”
    Daniel Shanks, director of food & beverage and events at the White House, has called the
Countywide Service Excellence Workshops “an initiative that could change the face of hospitality.”  Michael Bauer, restaurant critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, recently hailed the Countywide Workshops as “an ambitious and grand idea. Anyone who travels to the wine country knows it’s hard to find exceptional staff.” 
    Both workshops will take place over several days, divided into daily sessions from 9 am to 4 pm, with a 45-minute break for lunch. The Sonoma workshop will be held at Safari West, a 400-acre private wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa. The location of the Napa workshop has yet to be determined.
    The January sessions will be spread over five days.  The first two days will be for lodgings and restaurants, the next two days for wineries.  All participants will come together on the final day for a wrap-up. April’s workshop will be a seven-day affair: Lodgings and restaurants the first two days, wineries the next two days, then two days for independent services (civic leaders, banks, markets, boutiques, utilities, etc.) and a one-day wrap-up with everyone together.
    Presenting in partnership with Weiss will be the West Coast representative of Service Excellence Citywide,
Maureen “Mo” McElroy, “Sonomambassador” and chief service officer for I AM Your Destination.
    Registration is limited to 45 participants per business sector. For details, visit


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

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN FOOD & DRINK by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)—This Fifth edition of  this classic American reference work updates more than a decade of what has happened in our country’s gastronomy, including the rise of sustainable food, locavorism, molecular cuisine, TV food shows and changes in diet and consumption.  Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink, from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats.
“Filled with information to intrigue and inform.”—The New York Times.
“Much needed in any kitchen library.”—Bon Appetit.
“Required reading.”—The Dallas Morning News.

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: THE FIVE BEST TRAVEL BOOKS OF THE YEAR

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