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  July 13, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Gérard Departieu on "Vatel" (2000)





By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in "La Dolce Vita" (1960)

         Right about now, Rome is overflowing with tourists glued to guidebooks and iPhones, rather than actually looking at the city’s grandeur, statues, churches and paintings.  The streets in and around St. Peter’s will be thronged with tour groups following leaders holding signs and flowers and puppets, and they’ll all go to have a postcard stamped at the Vatican Post Office.  The Spanish Steps will be  littered with both people and trash, while gawkers move endlessly down the Via Condotti past the designer fashion stores.  The restaurants will start seating people at 5 p.m., if such people are crazy enough to eat that early, and the Roman nightclubs will be pouring limoncello till four in the morning.
         It’s just not the time to go right now, mid-summer, and in August most Romans close up shop and leave town.  But, if you can wait till after Labor Day or, as I did this year, go in early spring, you may not have Rome all to yourself, but it will seem more like a civilized city than an amusement park.
         I actually had only a couple of days in Rome this time, for I was on may way to Campania, Basilicata and Apulia, but landing at Rome’s now quite modern airport and taking the easy-to-ride train straight into the center of the city, arriving at the vast Railway Terminal, was a way of simply renewing my affection for the vast, sprawling city, whose streets seem to obey no logic and whose monuments and churches and piazzas are testaments to all those who occupied or ruled over the city for the past two millennia.
         My wife and I checked into the historic Mediterraneo Hotel on the broad Via Cavour, which is very conveniently just one block from the Terminal.  Built in 1936 by architect Mario Loreti and set high on the Esquiline Hill, the ten-story, 251-room (each individually decorated) Mediterraneno is considered one of the finest of Rome’s art déco hotels, motifs of which are found throughout all the public rooms, staircase, and drawing room.
        The first of two rooms my wife and I stayed in was in that classic but dated-looking art deco style, the furniture old and the fabrics somewhat threadbare. I much preferred the beautiful, more modern rooms (right) with a contemporary Roman elegance in the furnishings, as well as a glorious view of Rome from our balcony. Free WiFi, installed just this spring, is available throughout.
        The hotel and the smaller Massimo d’Azeglio Hotel right across the street are both owned by the Bettoja family (as well as the Hotel Atlantico and Hotel Nord), who have maintained a critical balance between Roman tradition and modernization. The Mediterraneo has a rooftop restaurant (above) with a large  continental and Italian menu, and a panorama view of the city best appreciated at twilight. Some dishes, like king prawns flamed in cognac, are prepared tableside. You may sample an assortment of antipasti for €13. For pastas,  I recommend the rigatoni alla carbonara (with egg and guanciale bacon) and the bucatini cacio e pepe (cheese and black pepper), both quintessential Roman dishes.
        Downstairs they serve a very lavish buffet breakfast in a room called the Sala Taverna, decorated with Vetri ceramics.
        The century-old restaurant at the Massimo d’Azeglio (below) has the refined look of museum-quality artwork and furniture, with its polished wood floors and wicker backed chairs, wood wainscoting and glowing wall sconces, and beautifully draped embossed pink linens.  On the wall hangs a 19th century painting of Count Emilio Cavour, one of the key figures in Italy’s Risorgimento.
      The modestly priced menu is tilted more to Piedmont cuisine, with specialties including meat ravioli with scallops sauce; orecchiette pasta with broccoli and ricotta cheese; tonnarelli with seafood (€13); risotto with smoked provola cheese and Speck (€12); crusted pork served with apple sauce (€16), and--for a true Piedmontese feast--a gran bollito misto, which is a rich amalgam of four or five meats boiled in their own broth and served in two courses.
        The wine list is solid, with thousands of bottles, some uniquely rare, dating back to the 1900s, and you may see for yourself by organizing a private meal in the cellar,  surrounded by ancient stone archways, old wine urns,  candles, and rustic chairs and tables set with red-and-white checkered tablecloths.
        Ravenous upon arriving in Rome, we headed for Trastevere--“across the Tiber”--in search of the kind of trattoria this old  neighborhood, with its winding streets and quiet passageways, has plenty of.  Two of those we sought out were closed--you can never tell when this will be the case in Rome--but happened upon the open door of Hostaria da Corrado, now in its forty-fourth year here, from which the aroma of good cooking issued forth.
    The cooks are two charming women who have clearly perfected the few dishes they offer each day, the tables are topped with paper, the wine comes by the half or full liter, and the clientele are clearly locals, including a good number of workmen who certainly take more than an hour for lunch.
        The cooking at da Corrado was everything we wanted, especially so because hunger demands satisfaction, not fuss.  There was no menu, so we just went with the manager’s recommendations--fresh fettuccine al pomodoro with a simple tomato sauce that showed up in other seasoned versions on bucatini all’amatriciana (right), with onions, pancetta and pepperoncino, and all’arrabiata, pungent with chile peppers.  Ravioli were simply dressed with butter, sage and pecorino cheese. We also enjoyed involtini rolls of breaded pork, and excellent side dishes of steamed chicory and broccoli.
        On the way out we gave effusive thanks to the chefs, who seemed genuinely delighted we had stopped by to eat their hearty Roman dishes.  Lunch, for four of us, with wine, was about $70. (Remember, it is not necessary to tip at restaurants in Italy; a service charge is included in the bill.)

        The time we had to sight-see on our brief stay sent us off to the nearby church San Pietro in Vincoli (“St. Peter in Chains”), said to possess the very chains with which Peter was imprisoned in Jerusalem.  But the real and magnificent reason to visit this quiet basilica--well known but not much trafficked by tourists in the morning--is the extraordinary statue of Moses by Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1505 for his tomb, but not completed until 1545, long after the pope died.  Holding onto the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a powerful, angry Moses with a voluptuously flowing beard looks sternly to his left, and from his head spring what seem like two horns, part of a legend that Moses brought the tablets down from the mountain with his head glowing with divine light.
    The Moses is, with so much else Michelangelo did in his long life, a masterpiece of realism bursting with spirituality from the gentle giant of a man with the visage of God himself.




By John Mariani

         My admiration for the work of New York chef/restaurateurs David Chang and others and April Bloomfield is exceeded only by that for New York magazine’s restaurant critic Adam Platt, whom I consider the best in the New York media and who this past week wrote an article entitled “The Chefs That Changed America: A Decade of David Chang and April Bloomfield.”
         Knowing that editors usually write the titillating titles for authors’ articles, I shall take the hyperbole with a grain of salt, although Platt does say that, despite the importance of New York restaurants like Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns (in Tarrytown, N.Y.), Masa Takayama’s Masa and Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, “none of these landmark establishments ended up being quite as influential, or as subtly subversive, as Chang’s original Noodle Bar or Bloomfield and Friedman's snug, unassuming little pub,” The Spotted Pig, all opened in 2004.
         Platt credits Chang (right), who owns Momofuko Ko and several others,  and Bloomfield, who owns The Spotted Pig and The Breslin,  for causing restaurants to “grow smaller [and] louder,” the food “heartier and heavier.” They were “the first to break down the age-old barriers between the front and the back of the house and to officially introduce the kitchen culture (tattoos, hip-hop in the dining room, pork belly) that had been hiding until then, in the shadows, to a new generation of eaters.” He credits--if that is the word-- the two with creating byzantine reservation policies, or taking none at all, and, in Bloomfield’s case, for pioneering the gastro pub.  Platt even goes so far as to contend that because of Chang's and Bloomfield's massive media exposure many of America’s best chefs “felt empowered to follow their own tastes and instincts, rather than endlessly repeat the lessons of the grand French masters.”
      He sums up his hyperboles by writing: “You can thank them for a food world that’s more democratic, more accessible, and generally a whole lot more fun than the one these two young cooks, coming from different worlds, stumbled into, ten long years ago, in the summer of 2004.”
        Now some of Platt’s assertions have weight, but the gorilla-like domination he awards Chang and Bloomfield really has more to do with the power of the New York media, the same ones who coined the fatuous word “Brooklyn-ization” to describe how chefs and restaurateurs in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston suddenly fell over themselves to copy a handful of Brooklyn restaurants’ brick wall décor, ear-splitting playlists, and tasting menus-only policy.  Which was nonsense. 
         Of course, the New York food media often exalted novelty for its own sake, because that’s what news media do, and it was their myopia--having rarely eaten anywhere else but New York--that caused them to credit local chefs with every advance in American gastronomy over the past decade.  Those who do not learn from restaurant history are bound to inflate it.
        Chang’s “pre-ordered fried chicken dinners” are exalted by those who’ve never eaten fried chicken in New Orleans (like the one shown at right from Willie Mae Scotch House) or Nashville or Kansas City.  His steamed buns are considered epiphanies, without critics sampling the best in New York’s Chinatown--a neighborhood the media almost totally ignores.    The same goes for Bloomfield serving pork belly, which Chinese restaurants have always had on their menus.
         I’m not sure what to make of Platt’s insistence that Chang and Bloomfield made food “heartier and heavier,” when anyone seeking out just that kind of fare could go to hundreds of Italian, Thai, Indian and other ethnic restaurants all over the city. Think of the food at Mario Batali’s Babbo and you’ve got the idea.
         Nor did Chang's and Bloomfield's chefs “empower” (the trendiest word of the decade) chefs to stop “endlessly repeat[ing] the lessons of the
grand French masters.” In fact, by 2004, chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten (left) of Jean-Georges, the late Gilbert LeCoze of Le Bernardin, Gray Kunz of Lespinasse, and David Bouley of Bouley had long before shaken up the rigidity of French haute cuisine, and that direction is as strong today as it was then.  Vongerichten also created Spice Market in 2004--big (not small), loud, and with a menu of Southeast Asian street food that includes spicy Thai fried chicken wings with mango and mint-- which didn’t need to be pre-ordered.
         Was Bloomfield’s modest Spotted Pig--bankrolled by Mario Batali, who brought in a high-profile celebrity crowd to a tiny space only they could get easy access to--the first gastro pub?  By no means; the word gastro pub itself has been in print since 1996, to describe modern London pubs like The Eagle and the Lansdowne, which by then were serving menus well beyond shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash.
         Back in 1989, I co-authored a restaurant guide to New York and could hardly keep up with the myriad new hot spots making waves as part of the rapid evolution of the city’s food culture.  There was the Odeon in Tribeca and Balthazar in Soho, opened by Keith McNally, one of the smartest innovators in the business; Montrachet, opened by another pioneer, Drew Nieporent (below); Da Silvano and Il Cantinori, which kicked off the Tuscan trattoria trend; Gotham Bar & Grill, still an iconic New York restaurant, with a chef’s chef, Alfred Portale; a grunge French bistro named Florent in the Meat Packing District; Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café, whose new style of cordiality changed everything about American hospitality; the beloved art déco Empire Diner, small, loud, with a counter just like Chang’s Momofuko Ko. There were many more--all of them downtown, long before Chang and Bloomfield made that area hip.
         The same vanguard spirit should also be credited to young chefs and restaurateurs in other parts of the country working long before Chang and Bloomfield arrived on the scene: Guillermo Pernot, who spearheaded the arrival of modern Latino food at ¡Pasión! in Philadelphia; Mavro Thalassitis, who did the same for Hawaiian-French cuisine at Chef Mavro in Honolulu, and Donald Link for modern Creole at Herbsaint and American charcuterie at Cochon; Michelle Bernstein, who created a wondrous Florida-Caribbean style at Azul in Miami;  Ming Tsai, who contemporized Chinese food at Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass.;  José Andres (below), who brought Spain’s molecular gastronomy to the U.S. at minibar in D.C.; and no one has had more of an effect on Japanese food that Nobu Matsuhisa, whose original sushi bar was in Los Angeles, before he opened his namesake restaurant to New York.
         I am not trying to suggest that Chang and Bloomfield have not had considerable influence on American gastronomy, but both have been hyped by the New York media all out of whack with the reality of what goes on in the rest of the United States. It's interesting to note that neither Chang nor Bloomfield ever made such claims for themselves, and Chang once said that when working for others, he always thought he was the worst cook on the line.
        While it is easy enough to make a case for the explosive mark music groups like the Sex Pistols and Nirvana made in their time, it would be difficult to compare their influence on contemporary music with that made by hip hop artists like Jay-Z, rockers like Bruce Springsteen, the concept albums of Paul Simon, and the jazz soul of Alicia Keys.

         As ever, time will tell about Chang and Bloomfield--two excellent, innovative chefs and canny restaurateurs--but did they actually “change
America?”  No, but they are a respected part of what makes America’s culinary culture the most fascinating in the world right now.



Fifteen employees at Austin, TX, restaurant Qui agreed to get a tattoo exactly like their boss's, chef Paul Qui


New Jersey cardiologist Zyad Younan spent $135,000 on his credit card at Scores gentleman's club in NYC but claimed he was drugged by strippers there.  Scores denied the claim, telling the NY Post, Younan "spent a lot of money. . . We have it on tape. Within two weeks he was here four times. So if he was drugged the first time, I guess he liked it."


 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,  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: Triple Creek Lodge, London Hotels.

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. Editor: Walter Bagley. 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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