Virtual Gourmet

  February  2, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Japanese Steamship Line Poster (circa 1935)


On Tuesday, Feb. 4
at 6 PM,
the International Culinary Center in NYC will hold a lively debate on the subject "Culinary Technology: A FAD...or the FUTURE?"--whether MODERNIST CUISINE is a flash in the pan or an integral part of cooking fundamentals, moderated by Dorothy Cann Hamilton, Founder and CEO of International Culinary Center.  Join  the strongly opinionated panelists:
“The fact is, despite tremendous media hype… the expansion and influence of avant garde cuisine has been next to zero."--John Mariani, columnist for Esquire and author of the new Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink.
“Mariani's remarkable contention that avant garde cuisine has had no influence is so far off base as to be absolutely stunning.”--
Colman Andrews, editorial director, The Daily Meal, and author of The Taste of America and Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food. 
6:00pm classic + techie cocktails; Debate begins promptly at 6:30pm in the Amphitheater at the International Culinary Center, 462 Broadway, 2nd floor. Please RSVP by January 27 to or call 646-254-8577.



by John Mariani

by John Mariani

Uruguay's Time to Shine with Wine
by John Mariani


                        OUR FAVORITE MANSIONS   
                                                                                By John Mariani


590 Ocean Drive
Newport, RI

     It is no wonder that New England’s rippling shoreline, gouged out with inlets and bays, was a sensible stop and haven for mariners and colonists from Europe to settle, offering safe harbors and a seemingly bottomless supply of seafood on which to build a new country.
     Newport, set on Narragansett Bay, was one of the most accessible and beautiful sites along the entire coast, which long ago made it a prime seafaring town whose wealth by the mid-eighteenth century made it, in the words of an observer of the time, "the most formidable rival of New York."

   By the end of the 19th century Newport was home to many of the wealthiest families in America, whose summer homes were as splendid as the artistocratic châteaux of France and the Great Houses of England, as chronicled by novelist Edith Wharton.  Most of those mansions are still among Newport’s great tourist attractions, lining the appropriately named Bellevue Avenue; nearby is Castle Hill Inn, a 19th century mansion located on a 40-acre peninsula, originally the residence of marine biologist Alexander Agassiz.

    When it became an inn in this century, it attracted a celebrated crowd that included playwright Thornton Wilder, who wrote his 1973 novel Theophilus North in the turret room here.  Today there are 24 rooms spread out over the waterfront, including isolated Beach Cottages among the dunes, where my wife and I spent a very cozy evening, awaking in the morning to a blast of winter sunlight breaking over the edge of the world.

    Everything in these cottages is new (right), but based on cherished designs of the past, with pine wood slats, wicker furniture, and a farm sink, as well as all modern amenities; the rooms in the main house are individually designed with more Victorian cachet, the public rooms paneled with polished mahogany. 
     The great lawn here has been expanded this past year, and the management, under veteran Brian Young, is only too eager to help guests with everything from clambakes to kayaking, sailing and weddings.

    The Dining Room in the main house has been expanded into the Sunset Terrace, done in New England bluestone tile, teak furniture and linen-canvas umbrellas. Here Chef Karsten Hart features a fine amalgam of New England, American, and European cuisines, backed by an exceptionally rich wine list.  Hart grew up in Louisiana and cooked in various restaurants in New Orleans, giving up that city’s heat and humidity for New England winters.

    Our party of four ate extensively throughout the menu, beginning with an amuse of butter-poached lobster with fennel cream and cracker crumbs that made the morsel very crispy.  A roasted apple and celeriac soup was an excellent mix of fruit and vegetable, made tastier with the addition of peanuts, guanciale pork cheek, golden raisins and micro-celery, all providing textural contrasts and pinpoints of flavor.  Seared diver’s scallops, a little overcooked that evening, came with a winter squash veloute, pumpkinseed brittle and cocoa brioche.  These are all smart ideas, and Hart invests all his cooking with exciting contrasts.

    I found a confit of pork belly very salty beneath a poached egg, with a refreshing matsutake mushroom consommé.  My brother, who is an indefatigable oyster aficionado, pronounced the Rhode Island beauties, with a clementine granita and a touch of fresh wasabi, first rate.

    For our entrees, we enjoyed braised veal cheeks, succulent and tender, with a celeriac puree and the nice briny flavor of pickled and fried leeks and a mirepoix vegetable glaze.  That buttered lobster amuse was so good, I ordered another version, with quince relish, cauliflower, sweet potato fondant and a curry emulsion that reminded me how Newport was once a port on the maritime spice route all the way to Asia.

    Garlic bread-crusted hake with calypso beans, periwinkle and roasted garlic broth, and a bowl of littleneck clams with cardoons and pan-roasted fluke with an oyster stew, red flannel hash, wilted spinach and shaved fennel showed Hart’s range.  Good to see and taste was his take on the Portuguese-New England sailors’ favorite, pork with clams, here spiked with bacon and rich Brant potatoes and Rhode Island chowder.

     Jonathan Martson’s desserts were up to our expectations--a chocolate hazelnut bar with vanilla milk jam and dark chocolate sorbet; a fried apple pie with bourbon laced caramel vanilla ice cream and a lush brown butter crumble.  There is also a selection of New England artisanal cheeses well worth trying.

    After dinner, in bed before a crackling fire, with a fierce Northeast wind blowing around our cottage and a cold white moon shining through scudding silver clouds, my wife and I thought ourselves very lucky to be partaking in such a grand, historic tradition of New England hospitality.  Any idea of being in an air-conditoned  seaside room in the Caribbean never even entered our mind.

The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner nightly, and Sunday Brunch with Live Jazz. Three-course dinner is $78, four courses $92, six courses $105.

Haymount House
25 Studio Hill Road
Briarcliff Manor, NY


        In contrast to the Castle Hill Inn on Narragansett Bay, Haymount House has the architectural grandeur of a Newport mansion but lies above the Hudson River, what Henry James called a swift-flowing “romantic stream.”         This is a very historic stretch of New York, with all the attendant reminders of Rip Van Winkle, the Headless Horseman, and the Hudson Valley School of painters whose numbers included Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett, Albert Bierstadt, Asher Durand and Frederick William Church.
        Haymount was built in the early 1900s
in Briarcliff Manor, NY, by Wall Street financier William Fuller as his country estate, later home to Bernard van Leer, who ran the Holland Classical Circus and kept four elephants on the property.  Years later the estate was taken over by Maison Lafitte, which I recall as one of the worst French restaurants in America. But the property itself was a wonderful place for a wedding, so Maison Lafitte it stayed for five decades, while the structure went into deep disrepair. Thank heavens it has been saved and restored to its original grandeur by four investors, its lineaments and ceilings, staircases and marble fireplaces intact.  More than ever, this is a place just made for large weddings on the lawn.
    The long, wide dining room is quite lovely, with some tables set with cloths, other just varnished wood.  Haymount House’s Executive Chef is Bruce Beaty, formerly at the admirable Red Hat On The River in nearby Irvington and before that at some of NYC’s finest, including Gotham Bar and Grill and Le Bernardin.  His palette is colored with contemporary American flavors, and his technique shows in silky housemade gravlax as a starter. Prince Island mussels come steamed with spicy merguez sausage, a fine sofrito and saffron-bouillabaisse broth. Crispy pork belly with grilled leeks, Yukon potatoes, and a tangy sauce gribiche was a wonderful dish for a winter’s night, and for a main course Beaty’s roasted Catskill duck breast with spiced farro with almonds, spinach, a honied reduction of the duck juices and an apricot mustard was as perfectly cooked and as flavorful as any duck I have ever enjoyed in this country. 
    There was everything to like about a well-fatted pork chop with whole grain mustard spaetzle, kale, and a caper-currant relish. Roasted seasonal vegetables and creamed spinach lashed with mascarpone cheese went with the heartiness of everything here.  So, too, desserts follow the pattern for lusciousness in items like pumpkin crème brûlée with macadamia nut langue du chat cookies and a brioche-coconut milk bread pudding (left).

    The wine list is not as extensive as I expected it to be in a place of this seriousness, and the service, at least on the night I visited, lagged.  There is a convivial bar as you enter and live jazz on appointed days.
    It should be noted that the prices for dinner at Haymount House are below what you’d find at comparable restaurants: starters run $10-$15 and main courses $21-$48.
    With better weather to come, this is a splendid place for a spring brunch or summer dinner, when the days grow long and twilight above the Hudson bursts into full color.
Haymount House is open
Wednesday to Sunday for dinner and for Sunday brunch.



by John Mariani

115 E. 60TH STREET (near Park Avenue)

     Steve Tzolis and Nicola Kotsoni are veteran Manhattan restaurateurs, and few know the business as they do, having had long-running successes with the Greek restaurant Periyali and the Italian trattoria Il Cantinori. So, combining the two cuisines into a Mediterranean menu at Amàli makes perfect sense, especially since their ingredient sources have been so well established over so many years;l in fact, each morning they get a shipment of seafood from a single fisherman in Montauk with whom they share a partnership in his boat; the rest is filled in late at night at Chelsea Market.
    Amàli is certainly a gregarious place, with a rustic décor gleaned from reclaimed, repurposed or refinished materials, including tables made from a
150-year-old pine.  The room is certainly not over-decorated, instead giving the appearance of a simple taverna-trattoria on the Aegean, with black and white photos and hanging lights of strong filaments.
       It’s happily not too loud, except around the bar, and the staff, from the hostess at the front to the engaging waitresses, makes this a very convivial evening.  The wine list carries 400 labels and prices are not too bad.
       Sharing commonality in Mediterranean flavors, there is very good creamy burrata, salumi like culatello and coppa, sausages like cacciotorini and fennel-flecked finocchiona, and cheeses from Vermont and New York to begin.  The pastas range from an excellent tagliatelle bolognese with grana padano cheese and breadcrumbs to run-of-the-mill gnocchi with pork cheek guanciale, marinated tomatoes and parmigiano. Spacatelli comes dressed in  “cacio e pepe,” cheese and black pepper, while the beet ravioli
with toasted pistachios was that night drenched in too much brown butter. 
       Our table of four shared some fine, pearly sea scallops with cauliflower, brown butter and capers to give them a little tang; grilled dorade was a bit overcooked, and there was a moment in the dining room when we got a strong whiff of fish that smelled none too fresh.  I mentioned this to the manager and we never sniffed that strong an aroma again that evening.
    A good slab of grass-fed beef took to the stone ground mustard potatoes and pecorino.  Chicken seared under a brick was crisp and wonderfully juicy, while a hefty lamb shank was equally succulent, served with sweet parsnips, Swiss chard and pickled red onion.
      A side dish of broccoli took on welcome new flavors of pine nuts, breadcrumbs and salmoriglio, a garlic-rich green salsa.
       The dessert we liked best was a honey-whipped ricotta-filled donut.
       At meal’s end we were asked if we wanted to try a warm cordial called rakomelo, a kind of spiced raki, which was a good send-off to the kind of meal that made us push back from the table and groan in satisfaction.
     One caveat, though I don't think it will much change what I've said above: there is a new chef at Amàli who replaced the one there when I dined at the restaurant two weeks ago, but the menu remains intact and still focused on the kind of dishes I've reported on.

Amàli is open for lunch Mon.-Sat. and nightly for dinner. Appetizers run $6-$25, pastas $18-$23, and main courses $28-$30, with some served for the entire table; fish is market price.



Uruguay's Time to Shine with Wine

by John Mariani

    In just a single decade South America’s wine industry has revamped, even revolutionized, the way they make their product, not least by starting nearly from scratch. As much as lack of capital, bad, often dictatorial, governments have made it difficult to invest in and improve an agricultural industry without the means to modernize or market.
    But, with more political stability has come breathtaking progress, first in Chile, then in Argentina and Brazil, and now in Uruguay, a country most wine lovers probably never gave any thought to at all until this past year.  Now, there is a trickle of good Uruguayan wines coming into the American market and they are priced to compete with other Latin American wines.
    As recently as 2005, Uruguayan production was only about 17 million gallons, but in just the past year that number has tripled, according to the association Wines of Uruguay. Wine grapes are grown on more than 20,000 acres. There is even a tourism site, Uruguay Wine Roads, offering visits to more than a dozen modern wineries.
    While vintners have been planting a wide variety of European grapes, including chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and merlot, the workhorse is tannat (right), introduced to Uruguay in 1870 by Basque immigrants; the varietal now represents one-third of all wines produced in the country. Tannat is a big-bodied, tannic red, an earthy wine that in the past, made in bulk, had lacked much refinement or complexity.  But modern vinicultural techniques have made tannat into an impressive contender as a wine that doesn’t taste like the homogenized varietals in the global market.
     I’ve been tasting and drinking a range of Uruguayan tannats recently and have come away with the belief that, while there are still some dank, unyieldingly tannic bottlings, there are others that go very well with contemporary cooking styles, especially red meats with plenty of spices.  Most are will priced, though some are pushing the edge for wines not yet well established in the stores.
     Wholly delightfful was a Bodegas Carrau 2011 Tannat de Reserva ($12), which had the fruit and tannin balance right, reminding me of the wines of Madiran in southwest France, one of the few other regions where tannat flourishes, though usually blended with other grapes.  The Carrau family was making wine in Spain in the 18th century and moved to Uruguay in the past century. Its Reserva spends 18 months in new French oak, and another year in bottle.
     I found the reservas shook themselves free of harsh tannins, as in the Bodegas Castillo Viejo Catamayor Reserva 2008, which, at only 12.5 percent alcohol, had amazing body and brightness of fruit.  Catamayor also makes a superb cabernet franc and tannat blend, 2008, a very smooth, velvety wine with a faint fruited sweetness at the finish.  The winery dates back several generations to 1927, and the photo below shows two of them involved in its evolution.
    Also quite enjoyable was a Bouza Tannat “A8” Parcela Unica 2010 ($39), its grapes picked from choice vineyards, and with 14 percent alcohol is an ideal big red with beef grilled over charcoal.
    When the alcohol rises to 15 percent, as it does in the Artesana Tannat 2011 ($20), made in the Canelones region of Uruguay, the spiciness manifests itself, with fruit up front but a heavy ballast of tannins underneath. It could easily go head-to-head with even some of the famous labels of California cabernets of much higher price.
    As I noted, not all the Uruguayan wines I’ve tasted in recent weeks were winners, but most are cleanly made, and some show their terroir with flavors you won’t find in other South American varietals.




Guest Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

New Year’s Wine Resolution: Drinking Less but Drinking Better
by Cristina Mariani-May,           
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners
America's leading wine importer

    The decorations are long since put away, holiday parties are but a distant memory (some foggier than others) and St. Valentine’s arrow is out of the quiver, but it’s never too late to keep up with your New Year’s Resolutions.  I was pretty well behaved this past season but must admit that little extra canapé here and that one more glass of bubbly had some “lingering” results.  Returning to the normal rhythms of life has meant some cutting back at the table and ramping it up at the gym.  But that doesn’t mean we have to give up wine!   My New Year’s Resolution was simply to establish a civilized pace, and my definition of civilized means moderation, not starvation or deprivation. 
So maybe I’ve been skipping the appetizer and having a nicer entrée, or skipping the entrée altogether and spicing it up with two or three small plates instead.  Maybe instead of ordering a whole bottle of something economic for the table we’ll get a few really nice wines by the glass; or maybe instead of a justifying a couple of bottles for our little dinner party, we’ll get just one that’s a bit more special.  Of course, we have learned our lesson about conserving, so value is still key here. 
We’ll call this exercise a micro-splurge, or better yet, stimulus in a glass.  We’ll spend a tad more than we normally would, but get great value for it.  Here are some excellent choices for using some of the cash we saved in all those great holiday sales:

Big White – Dropping over $20 a bottle retail for a white wine that’s not Champagne sounds a bit extravagant, but one or two sips of Luna Mater from Fontana Candida will calm your fears.  This is a very well-crafted wine from older vineyards in the outskirts of Rome that give a whole new meaning to the word Frascati and is a far cry from the simple light wine usually associated with the area.  It’s a complex wine that is a result of complex winemaking, blending tradition and innovation in a brilliant way.  Part of the grapes are picked early to contribute acidity and make the wine bright and zesty, and part of them are picked late when their sugar content is high and bring roundness to the wine.  Some of the grapes are even dried on racks (similar to the process used for Amarone) before crushing to concentrate their flavors, and others are left whole and added to the fermenting must (similar to the process used in Beaujolais) to add body and character to the wine.  The wine is fermented in barrels of Acacia wood to compliment the Malvasia grape’s inherent flavors on acacia flowers and honeysuckle, and after bottling the wine is aged in grottoes carved out of the volcanic stone beneath the winery.  The wine is a symphony of flavors, round and soft yet vibrant, bright and edgy. 

Bold New World Red – Value is relative; so while $34 might seem like a big chunk of change to drop for a wine from South America, Coyam from Emiliana delivers the value you would receive in a wine twice the price from California and nearly three times the price from Bordeaux.  This is a densely flavored, intense wine with old world sophistication and new world charm; an added bonus is that it is made from organically grown grapes.  For a bit more more ($92 retail), you can find Emiliana’s ‘Ge’, an even more intensely flavored, deep, rich, complex wine that is Chile’s first bio-dynamic offering (and this is not just for tree huggers!).

Old World Classics – Sometimes value requires comfort and familiarity, and if that’s the case then nothing provides assurance more than an old world classic like Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino at $65 retail, or its sophisticated sibling Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino at $82, made from selected vines in prime vineyards of the same estate.  Brunello is one of Italy’s most noble wines, long aged before release and worthy of lengthy cellaring for collectors but an impressive wine to drink at any stage – the 2008 is an excellent vintage and on the market now, with the 2009 to be released next month; if you are lucky enough to find the 2001, 1999, 1997, 1995 or older, you will see firsthand what “ageworthiness” really means and the value it delivers.

     Whichever of these beauties you choose, let’s raise our glass (just one) to a value-filled, impression-making year!

Note: Cristina Mariani is in no way related by family or in business with John Mariani, Publisher of the Virtual Gourmet.



A Pakistan International Airlines plane flying from Lahore to NYC, to New York City was delayed two and a half hours because the pilot demanded a sandwich be brought onboard.





“Chicago is a city that changes noticeably with the seasons. “—Freda Moon, “36 Hours in Chicago,” NY Times (Jan. 5, 2014).



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

The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. 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.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

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 2014