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The Dining Room on the German Airship Hindenburg (1937)



By Marcy MacDonald

By John Mariani


By Marcy MacDonald

        The Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago have been invaded countless times over the centuries. In Port of Spain, the capital, there is a huge sign that reads "Invader's Gate" -- a sort-of  'where to' for modern day invaders in what is now the center of town. So, when jetBlue, which has been lobbying for more destinations in the Americas, offered me a ride on their inaugural flight to Port of Spain, just in time for the big daddy of all Caribbean celebrations, Carnival, I jumped at the chance.
        Instead of the usual JetBlue arrivals terminal offerings of biscuits, nuts and ear phones, a huge Trinbagonian spread was laid out near the gate, complete with a steel band and mercifully brief speeches. Everything that reflected 'real' island cuisine lay before us -- according to the group of Trinbagonians on JetBlue's staff being treated to a round-trip flight home -- particularly the callaloo, a stew that has run through the veins of every Trinbagodian since long before Columbus arrived.
        The two islands are very, very different. Trinidad has always been a business-and-party island, while Tobago has always been laid back and,for some, title contender for several of the best beaches in the world. They share the fact that both broke off from South America a few billion years ago. The topography is different than most islands of the Caribbean -- more mountains and hills, but the capital city’s savannah is flat downtown, although it is hilly a few streets away.
        One of those streets climbs up to the Hilton, called the “upside down" hotel  because the penthouse is on the lowest floor, down mountain, with a staggering view.  One of the first "big box" hotels on the island, it's still one of the best, with a first class poolside restaurant that rocks at night with tall, gorgeous women in brief apparel chaperoned by low brows who can afford the fare.

        The Carib Indians first invaded the islands and renamed them “land of the hummingbird” -- now the official bird of Tobago -- followed by Columbus, Spain's sailor-in-chief, who named Trinidad after the Holy Trinity. (He did not visit Tobago.) Many invaders followed -- the French,Portuguese, Dutch and other Europeans, East Indians, Syrians and Middle Easterners, Chinese, Africans and, finally, the English -- who all came, saw and conquered their desire to return home. There's even a Hindu temple, called Temple of the Sea (right)  on an island off the coast.
    All these people filled their pots and pans with New World ingredients and began to develop a new cuisine culture that has resulted in diverse multinational plays on dishes found throughout the Caribbean as well as specialties of each island.
       "Eventually, they found they could grow anything but wine," says veteran actor Geoffrey Holder, a New Yorker by way of Trinidad.   Enter the national dish, callaloo (below). Every family has a favorite recipe, as does local television news presenter Nellon Hunte. "Callalou is 'dashing bush,' a plant with huge leaves, dasheen or taro -- which some may call 'the callaloo bush' -- mixed with okra, coconut milk, chili peppers and cilantro and garlic, onions, potatoes, so it's thicker than water. And that's before you add the crab or salted meat to the stew.  Some like it chunkier, they don't cut up everything as finely as others do." Hunte, however, is a vegetarian, so he forgoes the seafood or meat in his callaloo.
        Other local ingredients like plantains, fufu, yams and others began to be added to already spicy stews like callaloo just for extra kicks. Literally. The cooks follow Amerindian customs of smoking fish over wood and leaves, known as barbacoas. Traditional barbeques and callaloo are “T&T rituals," but for Hunte without meats or shellfish.
       "Bull," exclaimed Holder, a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor who left the islands decades ago, although the islands never left him. "You can't have callaloo without the shellfish, or Bake-and-Shark without the fish." It was as if the voice of God had spoken.       Bake-and-Shark (below, right)  is another traditional dish, although often kingfish is a substitute for the shark. A drive to Maracas Bay brought me to a cove with a fishing village and a string of Bake-and-Shark shacks across the road from the water. "Bake-and-Shark is the most famous street food on either island," said our guide, "with shark so fresh you'll be happy you've bitten it before it's bitten you."      
     At Annie's shack, which has somewhat more ambiance than some of the others, she takes a bigger-than-hamburger bun and bakes it to give it the Trinibagodian crunch. Into the bun goes a hot, deep-fried wedge of shark. An enormous selection of add-ons is nestled on a huge table and includes sliced pineapple, chutneys, vegetables, nuts, chickpeas, salad creams and dressings with additional temptations like pepper sauce so hot it will make you weep. Then you dab your eyes and shuffle off to Annie's two enormous fridges full of a wide variety of drinks, including a "banana fruit juice" that contains not a molecule of fruit or natural juice, banana or otherwise.
    With the multitude of cultures here, with roots in Spanish, French, Asian, Indian, African and Amerindian, the juices and sauces are always a surprise. TV food show host Ted Nelson swears by the stalls around Chaguaramas National Park. "There is a small Syrian population in Trinidad and Tobago and they run a series of street food shops along the main drag in the Woodbrook neighborhood on Ariapita Avenue. I have never had such amazing gyros before. For about five or seven dollars, you will get a tight, tasty wrap of awesomeness. I will never forget the tongs grabbing a generous portion of lamb meat dripping with juice and laying it on the bread. Then they covered it with sauce and other extras before dripping some spicy pepper sauce."
        Artists like Dionne Warwick are frequent travelers to the islands, and not just for celebrations. Carnival or no, every Sunday evening Tobago rocks with “Sunday School,” an enormous outdoor party that erupts at Buccoo at about 8 p.m.  The Buccooneers steel band plays everything from dance hall to hip hop on the beach.
        There's some superb dining in Port of Spain, including 51 Degrees on Cipriani Boulevard.  The Crew's Inn has a wide ranging menu of tempting seafood and sumptuous deserts, but yachties still love Sails in Chaguaramas, which offers dockside fare, plus a range from shepherd's pie to stuffed jalapeno peppers, served in an air-conditioned pool room.
        Romance tops the bill at The Lure as you view turtles, sharks and kingfish in a saltwater environment. (Dine on the terrace.)  For diversity, you can't go wrong with the Seahorse Inn in Black Rock  on Old Grafton Beach Road, with a long menu that includes seared tuna with garlic mash  and the old classic lobster Thermidor.  Their Creole pork chops stuffed with pine nuts or duck breast with pineapple sauce and potato roti are amazing. Roti is a split pea-infused bread wrapped around curried meat, shrimp or vegetables; lamb is a national favorite.
          There are many other traditional dishes popular throughout the islands. Pholourie is a split pea doughball with tamarind sauce. Pows are taken from the Cantonese pao-tzu: steamed, wrapped buns filled with both sweet and savory meats (pork is a favorite). Chicken geera, which originated in East India, are pies of beef, cheese, fish and aloo (the Hindi word for “potato”), seasoned with cumin.  When these are rubbed in clarified butter and grilled until crisp, served with a couple of fried eggs, they're called either “Buss-Up-Shut” (left) or  just breakfast.
         At trés chic Battimamzelle (below) haute cuisine is high on beauty. The menu changes weekly, and runs the gamut from kobe beef buljol to a red hot oxtail pepperpot, a meat-based stew highly spiced with Amerindian seasoning like casareep.
        Tobago is equally diverse, with restaurants like Shirvan Watermill for fine dining inside and outside of an old cut-stone watermill with a menu that features seafood of all descriptions, topped off with ginger cheesecake.
        The place to see and be seen, however, is the Hilton Pool Terrace Restaurant (below), where all of the women wear black and sport the highest heels and all of the men wear their pants too low.
       The center of the capital boasts hotspots like Flair restaurant, which serves experimental entrees with kale and quinoa salad as well as callaloo. Verandah restaurant, as do many within the center of Port of Spain, has a high, terraced patio. Weekly menus change in what owner Phyllis Vieira describes as "free style Caribbean" dishes.
        Wings Restaurant and Bar is a combo rum shop and restaurant near the university for cheap Indian food, blowtorch hot. Trotters is the sports saloon of choice with 20 gigantic screens; women just hate it.  On the other hand, women love lunch at Veni Mange in an old, traditional West Indian cottage, and its callaloo is one of the best on the island. Veggie entrees are many and varied.
        Business lunching doesn't get better than at Prime, in the ground floor of the BHP Billiton tower.
        In a place where the heat can top 100 degrees in summertime, it's surprising that More Sushi is so superb, particularly if you sit in full view of the entertainment, aka, the sushi artists.  Eco Lounge on Ariapita Avenue is a find for upscale night life in a 21st century plantation style house.
  The hottest spot for the young and responsibility-free is Drink! --a wine bar with reasonably priced snacks.  51 Degree Lounge is clubby and jammed with bad singers every Thursday night for Karaoke.  Warning: it's on Cipriani Boulevard, where it's difficult to park: it took us 40 minutes --with a guide.  
    And one of the best Italian specialty restaurants is on Tobago: LaTartaruga, for homemade pasta and killer deserts.   Cheapo? Blue Crab on Main Street in Upper Scarborough for Creole cooking, macaroni pie, fig salad and unsweetened natural juices.
    When the annual Lime Festival takes place, everyone wears white with just a touch of lime, and the party travels down mountain and across town to the soignee Hyatt Regency Hotel at the port to commemorate the art of  “'Liming,” or just hanging out to perfection (the French equivalent is the 'flâneur' -- with no visible means of support). At the Lime, one price covers everything, from Dom Pérignon to dry sherry, accompanied by the cuisines and the music of every nation, in the same place.  You promenade from booth to booth, sound to sound, drink to drink until you've had enough.


By John Mariani 


        Technically, SD26 is five years old, but its story goes back a lot farther than that.  The “SD” stands for San Domenico, a totemic ristorante in Imola, Italy, where in 1970 Gianluigi Morini and Chef Valentino Marcattilii set into motion a modern form of fine dining Italian-style that had worldwide influence, not least on New York restaurateur Tony May, who 26 years ago opened San Domenico NY on Central Park South in homage to the Imola original.
        At that time, the only other Italian restaurant in NYC presenting such a refined cuisine in such elegant surroundings was Il Palio, which May also opened and later sold. San Domenico paid homage to Morini and Marcattilii by reproducing signature dishes like the uovo in raviolo with white truffles, and many of May’s chefs had worked in the Imola kitchen, including Paul Bartolotta, Odette Fada and Theo Schoenegger--all of whom went on to distinguished careers on their own.
         May’s own commitment to raising the image of cucina italiana dates back decades, including running a series of restaurants and helping create the program for Italian culinary studies at the Culinary Institute of America (for which he compiled the textbook).  So San Domenico was the highest expression of the way he saw Italian cuisine evolving.
        So no one was happy, then, when May closed San Domenico seven years ago over a lease dispute, but, with his daughter Marisa  (left) he opened a new version of San Domenico called SD26, on 26th Street and Madison Park.  Its contemporary design and size were expansive, the atmosphere more casual, with a long, well-lighted bar up front--manned by master bartender Renato--and a long, bright open kitchen and salumeria/formaggeria to the rear, from which you may order the finest Italian charcuterie--San Daniele prosciutto, culatello, bresaola, smoky Speck, mortadella--and an array of Italian cheeses that begins with imported mozzarella di bufala. A platter of four selections for two people runs $26.
        I had not dined at SD26 in about 18 months, so I was delighted to find, on its fifth anniversary, the food is better than ever, for the past three years under Chef Matteo Bergamini (right).
        One of the unexpected pleasures of SD26 is that so much of the menu is offered in appetizer or entree portions, and at the bar-lounge you can order an array of dishes from fried calamari to sliced steak on bruschetta, with nothing above $21. There’s also a five-course tasting menu in the dining room at a remarkable $70.
        The menus change with the seasons, but certain dishes have become classics here, from the famous uovo in raviolo to the grilled baby octopus  over fava bean puree, with sun-dried tomatoes and a rosemary gremolata ($16/$24).  For the truest taste of the Mediterranean, order the poached shrimp and calamari salad with zucchini, tomato confit and pink peppercorns ($26), and if you love baccalà, you’ll find the rendition here among your favorites, with a radicchio salad, caper dressing and potato crisps.
        On my latest visit I enjoyed the Piemontese specialty ravioli del plin stuffed with goat’s cheese, with a fennel puree and the lush addition of foie gras to gild the lily ($20/$34). The fettuccine with lamb ragù ($14/$26) has long been a staple that the kitchen dares not take off the menu, flavored with summer’s mint, favas and ricotta informata.  But the dish that took my breath away was a new one--Canaroli risotto (below) cooked in tomato water with crudo shrimp ($28)--a masterful amalgamation of very subtle ingredients (I thought the tomato juice was lemon) that bring out the best in each other.
        Our main courses were boneless roasted rabbit with favas, sheep’s ricotta gnocchi and Castel Vetrano olives ($22/$36), and something I almost always order: the slow roasted baby goat on the bone with rosemary potatoes and braised artichokes ($28/$42). 
        I sometimes skip desserts in Italian restaurants (especially in Italy) but never here.  The gelati and sorbetti ($10) alone are too delicious, and the panna cotta with a balsamic reduction and perfect strawberries ($14) is irresistible too.  And SD26’s tiramisù ($14) is the best in town.  You can also count on a perfectly made espresso here.
    The wine list, under sommelier, is finely attuned to the cooking and, aside from every major producer you’d hope to see, there are plenty of smaller estates well worth trusting her on.
    So, five years--or twenty years later--the San Domenico spirit that began so long ago in Imola is alive and well both there and in NYC, and the Mays have never wavered in their dedication to showing visitors from everywhere how extraordinary a balance of the old and the new can truly be.

SD26 is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch of Sat., and for dinner Mon.-Sat.



Six ex-"Daisy Dukes" and two others have filed a lawsuit against Johnny Utah’s restaurant in NYC (right) claiming that female employees are forced to work in a "hyper-sexualized work environment" including regular "propositions" and groping from customers, requiring the women to "sit on male customers' laps. . . take off their shirts when they ride the mechanical bull and kiss other female employees," and to wrestle with each other in a kiddie pool full of jellied cranberry sauce.


“Ms. Jackson’s food doesn’t have the buzz-cut professionalism of some restaurant food, which seems to have been produced by Adderall-chewing line cooks who practice their brunoise in front of a mirror while listening to `Eye of the Tiger.' "—Pete Wells,  A Recipe Book That Does Not Stray Far Restaurant Review: Delaware and Hudson,” NY Times (Aug. 18, 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,

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"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: 5 MYTHS ON ALL-INCLUSIVES

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, Andrew Chalk,  and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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