Virtual Gourmet

  March 2, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Henri Serre, Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner and Vanna Urbino in "Jules and Jim" (1962)





by John Mariani


                                    Il Salviatino             

                                                                    by John Mariani 

         Is it reasonable to ask of a hotel in Italy set within a majestic historical building to compete with a brand new hotel built in Dubai to be state-of-the-art in everything from bathrooms to WiFi? 
         Not long ago, the answer was no, for in the past so many deluxe hotels in Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples would never meet the five-star criteria taken for granted in cities like London, Paris and New York. 
    For one thing, historic buildings--especially in Italy--are so protected by bureaucracies, preservationists and art societies as to cause a developer endless delays, permit problems and the expenditure of millions of Euros that a brand new structure would not require. In the past, Italian hoteliers seemed to believe that their antique charms more than made up for claustrophobic shower stalls, mis-matched furniture, and 40-watt light bulbs.
         What changed all that was the opening of the Four Seasons Milan in 1993 in what had been a 15th century convent. Its modernity, efficiency and hospitality were at a level no other hotels in Italy offered at the time, and others had to quickly catch up, so that today hotels that were once egregiously outdated are now on a par with what the Four Seasons Milan set in motion.
         Nowhere is this more evident than in Florence, where a slew of superb hotels, including a new Four Seasons, set in a Renaissance palazzo, the Hotel Lungarno, and Villa San Michele are now among the finest hotels in Europe.  Now add to that list the new Il Salviatino in the hills above Florence in the quiet town of Fiesole.  Back in the 15th century the estate was a banker’s palace, a century later taken over by wealthy wool merchants named Salviatis, and expanded and improved upon by successive owners, who added a crenelated tower, gardens and a conservatory.  From 1973 the building housed Stanford University’s overseas branch, with student dormitories.  Lucky students.
         In 2007 hotelier Marcello Pignozzo, a 40-year veteran who once ran InterContinental’s Asia Pacific division, bought the villa in a state of dereliction, poured 15 million Euros into restoration under award-winning architect Luciano Columbo, and brought 11 ½ acres of greenery back to verdant life.
         Il Salviatino now encompasses 45 rooms, many with 19th century frescoes and older mosaics, along with exquisite paintings and harmonized antique and modern furniture.  And, yes, the bathrooms are as large as any in a California hotel suite.
          You pull up to the porte cochere at Il Salviatino and are ushered up steps into a grand lobby, which itself leads to a magnificent staircase fit for a Medici prince.  Long red-carpeted hallways with chiaroscuro lighting lead to widely separated rooms with high beamed ceilings and windows looking out over the Fiesolan hills and down onto the glorious Duomo and bell tower of Florence's Basilica (above, right).  Unlike French or English gardens, Il Salviatino’s have a romantic, carefully crafted wildness to them, and when you open the draperies in the morning, you will be struck by the same brilliant light and sky that were painted by the Florentine Renaissance artists like Botticelli and Piero della Francesca.
         There is luxury in every corner of Il Salviatino, as well as WiFi that works (Grazie, Dio!), and one of the most splendid and quiet rooms is the grand library.  The staff is comprised of “Service Ambassadors” who act like personal concierges.  There is, of course, a pool, and a completely modern spa on premises, overseen by the Dr. Vranjes Laboratory, which offers something called “emotional polysensorial voyages”--which sounds positively daunting. And, if you want to go to town, the hotel has a shuttle throughout the day leaving from the porte cochere and letting you off just behind the basilica and its imposing Duomo.
         There was never any question that the restaurant at Il Salviatino would be anything less than deluxe, but neither it is overly formal, so families feel at ease dining here.  During the summer, meals are served on the terrace (below), while in winter the dining room Le Serre (left) is the principal venue.  Cooking classes can be arranged, too.
         When I dined there recently I was surprised to find Chef Carmine Calo’s menu prices somewhat less than I expected for this degree of luxury.  There is an extensive tasting of eight antipasti, including polenta with porcini mushrooms, a savory pumpkin pie, and Tuscan bean soup for 30 Euros, while pastas like risotto with chestnuts and crepes gratin run 20 Euros each, and main courses like beef stew with potatoes, Swiss chard and chestnuts 30 Euros. A tasting menu runs 70 Euros.  Not cheap, but in similar hotel ristoranti in Italy, like Il Palagio at The Four Seasons in Florence and La Pergola at the Rome Hilton, the tabs would be much higher, by at least 10 Euros per dish.
         So, too, depending on the time of year, one can get a beautiful room for two, including breakfast, at the hotel for about 340 Euros, which is remarkable for this level of posh and considerably below competitors’ prices.
         Fiesole has long been a retreat for travelers, including quite famous ones like Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Gertrude Stein, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and, despite Florence’s inexhaustible artistic treasures, Fiesole--birthplace of the master artist Fra Angelico--is well worth wandering for its Etruscan and Roman ruins, 11th century Badia cathedral, the monastery of St. Francis, and various villas like Il Salviatino.
         If the BBC needs a setting for a adaption of an Italian novel of manners like Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady,  it might well be filmed at Il Salviatino, for in its grand spaces and amidst its extravagant gardens there is the lingering spirit of aristocracy, now happily receptive to anyone who wants to bask in such luxury with all the modern amenities.

Il Salviatino re-opens in the middle of this month. Call 011+39 055 9041111 or  (888) 482-8642  (U.S. & Canada toll free).



By John Mariani


The New York Palace Hotel
455 Madison Ave (near 50th Street)

        It is very rare that I so radically disagree with my colleagues’ reports as I did with a recent thrashing by the NY Times restaurant critic Pete Wells of Chef Michel Richard’s Villard in the New York Palace Hotel. Reading it, I could not believe he and I went to the same restaurant or ate the same food.  (For the record, the staff at Villard knew each of us on sight on our separate visits.)
        Wells is as aware as any gourmand how highly regarded Chef Richard (below) is, winning every accolade possible in his long career. So Welles rightly wondered if Richard’s working with an imposed union staff might have affected the food and service. (I know very well how those unions can wreak havoc with a chef’s best intentions: their obstinacy drove a previous tenant at The Palace--Le Cirque--to leave as soon as its contract ran out.)
    Yet on my two visits--one to the large dining room that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; the other to the Gallery (above), which serves only dinner--I had meals in every way reminiscent of those I’ve enjoyed at other Richard-run restaurants over four decades.  Nothing I tasted at Villard indicated that Richard and a dining room staff of veterans were coasting on laurels or intimidated by the union workers there.  (There is also the Pomme Palais market, open all day serving breakfast, lunch and light dinner options.)
    Born in Brittany, Richard learned his craft in Paris, moved to Los Angeles, where he first ran a patîsserie, and, in 1986, opened Citrus, a bellwether California-French restaurant of its day.  He later opened what many still consider to have been Washington’s finest restaurant, Citronelle (shuttered when the hotel itself closed).  There have been a few missteps along the way, but Richard never compromised his cuisine or changed his witty, winking approach to prole food--most evident at Villard in his splendid fried chicken, which is brined, coated in a chicken mousse, breaded and fried to a succulence I’ve never before encountered, served with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and glazed baby Brussels sprouts.  His short rib sandwiches are made from beef marinated 72 hours; and his tuna burger with a soy dressing on brioche bun with potato tuile, confit tomato, and ginger mayonnaise shows what happens when a master chef applies his precise sense of balanced flavors.
        In the more casual side of Villard--though it is a riot of Gilded Age filigree (left) and a spectacular glass wine cache--I enjoyed an extensive lunch that included dishes only a carefully trained kitchen could render with such delicacy, not least perfect puff pastry (below) enclosing shiitake mushrooms with butter and parmesan; or a simple frisée salad with lardons of bacon, croutons, and creamy poached egg in which every element was crafted with the same degree of care.  Another classic bistro lunch dish,
ham and cheese quiche--so often a leaden bore-- was here a cogent argument to bring it back to favor.
        In the Gallery, which is landmarked and cannot be altered in any way, oversized photos of French and American actresses lean against the walls, and a glowing light comes from under the tables.  My wife and I had the four-course dinner ($140; there is an eight-course dinner at $185 and vegetarian dinner at $140) with many options. We feasted on rich foie gras that was brûléed with a sweet crackling sheen.  Striped bass came with a sunchoke puree, parsnip chips, lobster butternut squash emulsion, while cuttlefish-colored fettuccine was showered with white truffles ($20 supplement).  Beautiful plump, rosy squab was made more luscious with a Port wine reduction and an unexpected cherry-cocoa sauce.  Muscovy duck breast was accompanied by its own confited leg, pumpkin, crispy spaghetti squash, and a spiced fig sauce that was as perfect a winter’s dish as might be imagined.
        Desserts proved every bit as impressive, not least a crème brûlée napoleon, a raspberry vacherin, and a dense chocolate bar with crispy chocolate base and chocolate mousse (left)--the kind of dish that made Michel Richard famous when he first came to the U.S.
        From all I tasted, Richard is at the top of his form, and though I worried about his commitment to being at Villard--he lives in DC--he insists he is in New York five days a week, overseeing those details that need constant attention, especially in a union shop.

        It’s certainly possible that when Pete Wells dined at Villard the cooking did not reach the heights that I experienced, but I can guarantee that when all is going well, Villard ranks with the finest of New York’s fine dining rooms right now. 



The Odd History of the Bloody Mary

By John Mariani

    When you think of the few “classic” cocktails that bartenders even know how to make anymore, none has a more storied past than the Bloody Mary. In fact, if it weren’t for the 18th Amendment and the Russian Revolution there would be no Bloody Mary.
    While the origin of its name and recipe may be disputed, the birthplace of the original drink is not—except by one man, Colin Field of the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz Hotel in Paris, who happens to be the world’s best bartender but who refuses to believe that what is now called the Bloody Mary originated around the corner at Harry’s New York Bar at 5 Rue Danou.
    Harry’s (which is in no way associated with Harry’s Bar in Venice) was opened Thanksgiving Day 1911 by Harry MacElhone after an American jockey had a New York bar dismantled and shipped to Paris. This novel New York-style bar became such a welcoming destination for liquor-starved Americans during Prohibition that they learned to tell the Parisian taxi drivers “Sank Roo Doe Noo!”—which for a long time now has been painted on the bar’s window.  
      Around 1920, émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution began arriving in Paris, bringing with them vodka and caviar, so Harry’s bartender, Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot, began experimenting with the new spirit, which he found tasteless.  At the same time Petiot was introduced to American canned tomato juice, which back in the dry days of Prohibition was called a “tomato juice cocktail” on menus.
       Over a year’s time Petiot made vodka drink after vodka drink until finally he mixed it with the tomato juice and some seasonings, and, voilà!, a new cocktail was born, called the Bucket of Blood, christened by visiting American entertainer Roy Barton after a West Side Chicago nightclub of the same name.
   The drink became popular among Americans visiting Paris in the '20s, so when Prohibition ended with the passage of the 21st Amendment, hotelier Vincent Astor brought over Petiot to man the King Cole Bar at the St. Régis Hotel in New York, famous for its 30-foot nursery rhyme mural by Maxfield Parrish.  The drink caught on--particularly as a supposed cure for hangovers—but under the less sanguine name “Red Snapper,” which is what it’s still called at the just-restored King Cole Bar (below).   (Originally, black peppercorns were steeped in a pint of vodka for six weeks to create a mixture called “liquid black pepper,” a dash of which gave the vodka itself a real blast of flavor.)
       Here is the current official recipe from the King Cole Bar, which sells about 850 Red Snappers each month:
The Red Snapper Original Recipe:
1 oz. Stolichnaya vodka
2 oz. Tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes salt
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Garnish with a lemon wedge and celery stalk.
    Exactly when other bars around town began calling it the “Bloody Mary,” with reference to Mary Tudor, Mary I of England and Ireland, who was known for her bloody reign against Protestants, is vague, but in a 1939 ad campaign for American-made Smirnoff vodka, first made in 1934 by Russian émigré Rudolph Kunnetchansky, entertainer George Jessel claimed to have named the drink after a friend, Mary Geraghty. Recipes under the name Bloody Mary date back in print at least to 1946.   Butch McGuire’s Bar in Chicago claims to have added the celery stick as a flavorful stirrer.
    Ernest Hemingway (far left in photo, in Paris), who likely knocked back a few Red Snappers on his visits to Harry’s New York Bar in the 1920s, wrote in a 1947 letter that he had introduced the Bloody Mary to Hong Kong in 1941, an act he said “did more than any other single factor except the Japanese Army to precipitate the Fall of that Crown Colony.”  (Hemingway also claimed to have “liberated” The Ritz in August 1944, actually arriving a few hours late.)  Papa had very specific instructions on how to make a Bloody:
“To make a pitcher of Blood Marys (any smaller amount is worthless) take a good sized pitcher and put in it as big a lump of ice as it will hold. (This to prevent too rapid melting and watering of our product.)  Mix a pint of good russian vodka and an equal amount of chilled tomato juice. Add a table spoon full of Worchester Sauce.  Lea and Perrins is usual but can use AI or any good beef-steak sauce.  Stirr. (with two rs) Then add a jigger of fresh squeezed lime juice.  Stirr.  Then add small amounts of celery salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper.  Keep on stirring and taste to see how it is doing.  If you get it too powerful weaken with more tomato juice.  If it lacks authority add more vodka.”

     One way or the other a Bloody Mary possesses plenty of authority, so to celebrate the octogenarian cocktail’s coming to America, went to the King Cole Bar (right), ordered a Red Snapper and drank it with excellent grilled prawns with a smoked aïoli and a chopped salad with arugula, chickpeas, cheese and avocado.  I drank a toast to Pete Petiot, to my wife's Russian family, who emigrated to Paris in the 1920s, to Vincent Astor (whose face is that of King Cole in the mural), and to the end of Prohibition on Dec. 5, 1933, which opened the way for the advent of the Bloody Mary in this country eighty years ago.
    And when you go to the King Cole Bar, discreetly ask bartender Mike Reagan about the secret every regular knows about what’s going on in the painting.   



Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
Reliable Old Friends

by Cristina Mariani-May         
co-CEO of Banfi Vintners America's leading wine importer

    As wonderful as it is to try new things and expand one’s horizons, sometimes life throws so many complications at us that sometimes the virtual gourmet in each of us just needs to fall back on a reliable standby.  In the world of wine, examples of such touchstones are what we call “seminal” wines, recognizable brands from simpler days gone by.  Perhaps it was the wine that a regular guest brought to Sunday dinner at Grandma's, or the one that we ordered at our favorite neighborhood restaurant with a special someone.  They may not be the latest varietal discovered or hail from the hottest region, but they are consistently good.  Sometimes it is not the job of the wine to bring an audience to its feet, but to keep it happy in its seat.  The job of a good table wine should be to let the meal or the company stand out, subtly complementing but never stealing the thunder.
    A few years ago, my family’s portfolio of imported wines was enhanced by two such brands – Bolla and Fontana Candida.  These are classics, wines that have always been on the scene.  So many friends have since told me of personal memories of these as their first experiences with wine.  Going back to them is like putting on that comfy sweater or the well worn sneakers.  They go well with a wide range of foods and occasions, and they are consistently unfailing in their ability to deliver exactly what you expect of them.  Sure, the sommelier is not going to recommend them and the wine list may offer more exotic choices, but have no fear of going with old reliable.  We all know about comfort foods – these are comfort wines!

Recommended Comfort Wines

Fontana Candida Frascati – A light, tasty wine with a dry, crisp finish that’s built on a zesty citrus backbone.  The grapes for this dry, clean wine are grown in the porous, volcanic soils located in the Frascati commune near Rome.  Easy to drink, it pairs well with salads, pasta, veal, chicken, vegetable soups, mild seafood dishes and mild cheeses.  Average US retail around $10.  Fontana Candida also produces two ranges up the scale, normally available only on restaurant wine lists --  Terre dei Grifi, a special selection of their Frascati from select vineyards, and Luna Mater, a very special bottling that combines age-old traditions with innovative winemaking techniques – and proves that the term Great Frascati is not an oxymoron, but a new entry to world class standards.

Bolla Valpolicella -
Made from handpicked grapes from the Veneto region of northern Italy.  This soft, sumptuous wine has flavors of berries, almonds, raisins and spicy black cherries.  Its full flavor pairs nicely with beef dishes, grilled meats and zesty pasta.  Average US retail around $9.  Equally reliable and savory are Bolla Soave and Bardolino as well as other classic varietals; the winery also produces some outstanding premium wines including single vineyard versions of its Valpolicella and Soave and, of course, its heralded Amarone. Proving that an volume producer can also take on the mindset of an artisan, Bolla offers its Tufaie Soave from a delimited zone of older, more prized single vineyards in Soave’s heartland; a Ripasso version of Valpolicella called Le Poiane, and a Super-Veneto called Creso, blending the dominant local grape Corvina at 70% to the international voice of Cabernet Sauvignon at 30%, but the latter made from dried fruit akin to the Amarone method – and therefore putting a distinct Veronese thumbprint on this very special wine.

 Cristina Mariani is not related by family or through business with John Mariani, publisher of this newsletter



A  Middle Eastern restaurant in Eastpointe, Michigan, has opened, called The Bomb by Syrian owners George and Rana Kasar, who contend the name refers to the slang expression and to their spicy food, including a dish called "Bomb Fajita." Rana Kasar says that the reaction has been scary: "They think we're terrorists now."




"The matzo-ball soup comes with bone marrow to stir in; a variant on the Happy Waitress, as New Jersey as a traffic jam, features not just a poached egg but also Taylor ham and a cheddar-cheese sauce resembling hollandaise."--Amelia Lester, "Empire Diner," The New Yorker (2/17/14).



The annual Charleston Food + Wine Festival will be held March 6-9, with more than 80 events and a stellar line-up of chefs and food writers including Frank Lee, Jeremiah Bacon, Anthony Lamas, Chris Shepherd, Frank Stitt, John T. Edge, Andy Ricker, Anne Quatrano, Natalie Dupree, Nancy Silverton, and dozens more. John Mariani will again host a Wine Cruise of Charleston Harbor on Saturday at noon.  For info go to:

The 10th annual Savor Dallas, March 20-22, 2014, celebrates wine, food, spirits and the arts in downtown Dallas and nearby locations.  "Savor the Arboretum"at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden kicks off the festivities with wine and chef cuisine in the gardens on Thurs., followed by the popular "Arts District Wine Stroll" on Fri.  Sat. features include a Winemaker Tasting Panel, a modern mixology seminar, The Reserve Tasting, and "The International Grand Tasting"
offering cuisine from dozens of the area’s top chefs and more than 400 premium wines, spirits and craft beers.  Prices for individual events range from $20 to $150…$365 for a cost-saving weekend package.  For tickets and more information visit or call 888-728-6747.



 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."  THIS WEEK: AMSTDERDAM

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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