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  October 12,  2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Boston Dining Part One
By Christopher Mariani

By John Mariani


Boston Dining

Part One

By Christopher Mariani

    Boston, a rather small city  for such a large presence, one you can literally walk the length of in one day, is arguably one of the country’s most densely packed in regards to terrific restaurants. In the mid-90’s Boston was put on the map with talents like Lydia Shire, Jasper White, Ken Oringer and Jody Adams, and their culinary progeny have made it all the more exciting.
    Here are some of some of the newer restaurants I dined at during a recent weekend getaway to this lovely city.

Precinct Kitchen + Bar
Loews Hotel

154 Berkeley Street

     Located inside the impressive Loews Hotel (right), the former Boston Police Headquarters, Precinct Kitchen + Bar occupies the lower level that once housed the city’s liquor and narcotics squads, dating back to 1926 and Prohibition. The seven-story Italian Renaissance-style structure operated as  Police Headquarters up until 1997, then in 2013, Loews took over the space and, after major renovations, opened its doors to the public as one of the city’s premier luxury hotels.
      Loews Boston is in the center of Back Bay, a short walk on a sunny autumn afternoon from Fenway Park, the Boston Opera House, the Museum of Science, the New England Aquarium, Quincy Market and the city’s famous North End.

    After spending two nights in the hotel, I am quick to say there are few others in the area of this caliber. The service you receive, from the moment you pull your car up in front to the warm welcome upon entering the main lobby,  is as good as it gets in the U.S.  The space is very upscale, the décor simple and tasteful, upholding the integrity of the original landmark building. Guest rooms, all 225 of them, are modern in design and complemented with spacious bathrooms and great views of the city below.
     Precinct Kitchen + Bar is a relatively large space dressed in light wood furniture, white brick walls, beige banquettes and dim lighting at night. The restaurant has a main dining room, chic bar and an outside patio with comfy couches and chairs, a perfect space for cocktails. Here, Chef Olivier Senoussaoui’s charcuterie board is a must order.  Senoussaoui hails from the Dordogne region of France and joined the Loews Hotels in 1999, arriving in Boston in early 2013 to run the food operations for the entire hotel.
       We dined indoors and peered into the semi-open kitchen while enjoying thinly sliced Berkshire prosciutto, Napoli salumi, creamy duck parfait and sliced chorizo, starting off with two glasses of Champagne. There’s also a terrific tuna crudo served with hearts of palm and a garlic chili paste, along with my favorite dish, the burrata crostini sided by roasted peppers, mint and Marcona almonds.
    The service team, supervised by General Manager Matthew Sentas, is well versed on the menu; they are sophisticated but never come across sounding scripted; they never give overly detailed food descriptions, as too many contemporary restaurant waiters do, blurring rather than making the menu clear.
    For entrees, the hanger steak with French fries is a great option, chewy and flavorful, as is the succulent crisply roasted chicken, served on the bone, with a tasty herb jus. Sides include abundant sautéed wild mushrooms with tarragon butter, olive oil-laced  mashed potatoes and garlicky broccoli di rabe.
    If there’s room for the dessert, try chef Senoussaoui’s play on the Boston cream pie or his sweet, warm and buttery brioche toast topped with strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

 Starters $12-$16; main courses $22-$28' clam bake $24 per person; Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.


Area Four
500 Technology Square

  Just across the Charles River in Cambridge, two blocks north of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a very popular  breakfast-to-dinner pizza, coffee, bakery and local beer-focused restaurant hitting on all cylinders. At first glance, the concept seems a bit scattered, but once you eat there for lunch the idea is simple; have fun while enjoying a great artisanal beer and a specialty pizza or simply a quick cup of terrific coffee and a fresh Danish from the bakery.
    The restaurant itself, whose name derives from the neighborhood called  Area IV,  is a very stripped down, modern design, with floor to high-ceiling windows and a great view of Hi-Tech Kendall Square. There is outside dining,  but the real action is inside the glass walls. Wood-fired pizza ovens blaze across from the counter tops as guests watch with delight as cooks knead dough, lay down handfuls of fresh mozzarella, and constantly remove bubbling pizza pies from the wood burning ovens. The energy is high and the space in constant motion. Servers are casually dressed and always on the move. You can tell the people who work there believe in the culture of the restaurant, a quality now priceless in the restaurant industry. Hot pizzas whiz by the table as you eagerly stretch your neck in the hopes that that particular pie is yours. You won’t have to wait long if it is not, because the kitchen is on point with a fast-paced rhythm in place to give people just the right amount of excited anticipation. The master-mind behind the Area Four brand is Chef and co-owner Michael Leviton while the actual kitchen is run my Chef and partner Jeff Pond.
    I haven’t been here for dinner, but I would have to assume my brunch experience is a driving force of this growing brand. We started out with an order of the buttermilk biscuits served over breakfast sausage and thick brown gravy, a dish I would go back for again and again. There’s also the pan-seared cornbread, which comes hot out of the oven, accompanied by a rhubarb compote and whipped sweet cream. The brunch menu doesn’t stop there. Macaroni and cheese come with a rich croissant crumble topping (add bacon for only $2) and there’s even a dish called The Hot Mess, a plateful of eggs, home fries, baby spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions, cheddar and a pickled banana pepper relish. The cooks are clearly having a great time.
    Save room for the pizzas because they are damn good, especially the “Carnivore” topped with loads of mozzarella, soppressata, sausage and bacon (right). The table next to ours was devouring a pie full of caramelized onions, Gorgonzola, peppered walnuts and chopped scallions. Side either of these with one of local beer offerings or the “La Pistola” tequila brunch cocktail and you are in business.  There are a dozen rotating taps for local beers and 12 wines by the glass or liter.
    Area Four has another location in Somerville, MA,  an expanding catering business, and even a trendy food truck feeding and touring the country to promote the brand.


Small Plates: Pizza: $6- $10; Large Plates: Sides: $12 - $15; Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Eastern Standard
528 Commonwealth Avenue

    Masculine, grand and bustling would well-define Boston’s very own Eastern Standard, an American Brasserie. Tradition and consistency have kept this sprawling space one of the city’s big culinary draws for the past four years. Walk through the entrance and you will see what a lively restaurant should look and feel like. The ceilings are impressively high and the energy is radiant throughout the entire space. The long white marble bar counter (left), overseen by Naomi Levy, is packed with diners as a crowd of guests two-deep are either waiting for a table or just enjoying a cocktail in this city’s place to see and be seen.
     The connecting dining room is filled with dark wood and mahogany while red leather banquettes are a staple of the décor. Servers wear white shirts underneath black vests;  at times they struggle to navigate this vibrant restaurant. Guests range from romantic couples to men of self-importance at tables for twelve, consuming big red wines and hearty steaks.
    The restaurant’s broad menu  constants boasting a canny blend of terrific seafood selections and some of the city’s best cuts of beef.  It is hard not to start off with the shellfish platter, a mix of oysters, clams, a half lobster and jumbo shrimp served over ice. Appetizers gain sumptuousness with roasted bone marrow, veal sweetbreads and a foie gras and bacon pâté. For entrees the bone-in ribeye is full of flavor, well-fatted and exactly what you would get at a top-notch NYC steakhouse. The restaurant also offers daily specials, like Monday’s braised lamb shank or Wednesday’s roasted whole branzino.
Desserts include a rich sweet potato pie topped with pecans and poached pear;  butterscotch bread pudding comes with praline ice cream and salted caramel.
    The 110-label wine list has a terrific selection of French wines, both white and red, while not gouging the guest on pricing. Most bottles are under $100 and there are plenty under $50, a rarity in this caliber pf restaurants, with so many similar places in town, where wine and booze do not come cheap,  forcing their clientele to purchase expensive wine because that’s all they offer.
    For an education on classic Boston hospitably dine at Eastern Standard.

Appetizers:   $7 to $14;   Entrees:   $18 to $32; Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.



By John Mariani
Photos by Dan Krieger

43 East 20th Street (near Park Avenue)

    Artists first, and restaurants second, are the true reclaimers of derelict neighborhoods.   Artists set up studios in old buildings, then come the art galleries, then good places to eat, then boutiques, a rush of new tenants, and before you know it the once down-and-out neighborhood becomes the place to be. There is light on the street.
     Nowhere was this more evident back in the 1980s than in New York’s SoHo, once a fashionable 19th century neighborhood that had fallen on hard times by the mid-20th, acquiring the moniker “hell’s hundred acres.”  It was in 1979 that Chef David Waltuck (below) and wife Karen opened a new style of fine dining restaurant ,whose emphasis on minimal décor manifested both the Waltucks’ budget and their intent to focus on the food.  Chanterelle, named after the mushroom, did for SoHo what Drew Nieporent’s Montrachet (now Bâtard) did for TriBeCa--both opened in culinary wastelands while competing with the finest French restaurants in Manhattan.  Neither was inexpensive, both were packed for years.
    Chanterelle’s success, both critical and popular, gave the go-ahead to other hesitant restaurateurs like Keith McNally, who opened the enormously popular Balthazar, then Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen.  Tiny by comparison, Chanterelle needed to expand and did so into TriBeCa for a long, rewarding run, but then, five years ago, the Waltucks closed their restaurant for a good long rest.
    But the urge to do it all again has caused David, this time without Karen’s presence, and co-owner George Stinson (who had been manager at Chanterelle) to open a new restaurant called Élan--uptown in the not-at-all-derelict Flatiron district.  The duo sought to take the kitchen in a new direction, and Élan seemed a sprightlier name than Chanterelle. The cooking was to be more global, never fussy, and always grounded in the most proven techniques.
    The new décor (at what was previously Veritas) features a revolving display of contemporary artists--many the Waltucks’ long-time friends--and at the moment that means five huge, rather grim, self-portrait paintings by Chuck Close (above) staring at you across the bar. The rear room (below), done up with white brick, ceiling ductwork, mirrors and gray banquettes, is plain but comfortable, the noise level civilized, the service well mannered.  The wine list--at Chanterelle one of the grandest in the city--is now down to about 80 labels geared to match up with Waltuck’s cooking.
    The first signal that Élan is not a reverential dining experience is the arrival of “everything” pretzel bread, heavily seeded like a bagel, and mustard butter.  One bite, you smile, you relax, and ask what’s next?
    Cold foie gras lollipops ($4 each) with fig and pistachio coating is not a novel idea, but always a delight. Guacamole was not enhanced by the strong taste of sea urchin, wasabi and fried taro chips ($16), but a classic country terrine of pork, chicken liver and herbs ($16) would be most welcome anywhere.
    These were called “starters,” for the appetizers were to follow. Excellent gazpacho enriched with morsels of lobster ($16) was a dish I wanted more of; so, too, the grilled seafood sausage with sauerkraut in a velvety beurre blanc ($19), a dish revisited from the Chanterelle menu. Zucchini blossoms came with a tasty tomato confit and lemon crème fraîche ($17) but the night I ate there they were very salty.  By comparison, simple market vegetables à la grecque ($16) were just plain bland.    
    For main courses, I recommend the perfectly cooked mackerel, a fish that can often be too strong but here was perfectly meaty and flavorful, done in a clam-dashi risotto and yuzu ($27). Fettuccine with sea scallops ($16 as an appetizer, a whopping $32 as a main course!) needed more of the duck fat in the saucing to bring it alive.  The best of the entrees I tasted was a mixed grill of duck ($33) with a balanced duck fat Bearnaise, the kind of dish that hearkened back to the French kitchen at Chanterelle.  And there’s more duck fat in the delicious hash browns ($8), and probably a shot of it in the wonderful side order of wild mushrooms (market price).
    Even before opening Élan, word was out that Waltuck was going to do his version of General Tso’s chicken but with sweetbreads ($18/$30), along with leeks, orange and chilies, but I doubt Chinese cooks anywhere will be trading their recipe for this rather mild rendition.
There are superb desserts ($12) from Diana Valenzuela, including a coconut panna cotta with strawberries and lemon grass; succulent blackberry-blueberry tart; and chocolate mousse with raspberries and a touch of fennel.
    Critical applause has, thus far, been respectful, and I share that sentiment. Élan is a restaurant both of its time and of another era, when precision and refinement counted above novelty for its own sake.  If Élan’s global approach doesn’t always result in eureka moments, the evolution of the menu should be fascinating to watch.

Open nightly for dinner. Brunch on Sat. & Sun. 





“My husband, Adri, has turned his backpack inside out in our room at Hortel El Pati.  `I left all my other T-shirts at home,’ he says sheepishly.  He wears shorts and a gray Star Wars tee featuring Chewbacca.  One T-shirt, six days of hiking, five historical villages: This should be interesting.”--Regina Winkle-Bryan, “Hiking Spain’s Cinque Terre,” Delta Sky (Sept. 2014).



Air Food One and LSG Sky Chefs, the same people who prepare Lufthansa's Business Class airline food,  have started a subscription service that brings that same food to your door.  Meals cost about  $13 each, frozen.



Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

Harvest: Working With Our Hands, Thinking With Our Heart

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

  It is harvest time at my family’s Castello Banfi estate in Montalcino, Tuscany.  Whenever I read the reports about harvest in trade journals or wine columns, I chuckle because they seem to paint such an absolute picture of what is to come.  The reality is that the harvest is as dynamic as Mother Nature herself, ever changing, with more variables than some of the most complex science experiments. And what it comes down to are two simple things: what mother nature hands us, and how humans react to it.
    Right now, the fate of vintage 2014 at Castello Banfi rests on Mother Nature and her two adopted sons: Maurizio Marmugi and Rudy Buratti.  Maurizio is our agronomist, or vineyard manager: he is Tuscan by birth and by nature; stoic, matter-of-fact, and in touch with nature.  He advises me that “Mother Nature controls 75% to 85% of the game – it is up to us to manage the remaining 15% to 25%, so we better get it right!”
    Maurizio plays a constant game of cat and mouse with nature.  If Spring is wet and cool, he considers removing some of the leaves shielding the grapes from beneficial sunrays, but knows that if the weather turns too hot he cannot put the leaves back!  His pruning must be precise, leaving the right amount of branches (and therefore grape bunches) on the vine, but also think about what tendrils he will leave for the subsequent year.  At a certain point, about three weeks before harvest, he must decide how much of the fruit to “green harvest” or sacrifice so that the vine will concentrate its energies on the remaining fruit.
    When Maurizio has done all he can to best his 15% to 25%, he hands it over to Rudy Buratti (right), our chief winemaker.  Rudy graduated from Italy’s leading school of enology, San Michele all’Adige and, as a fresh graduate, accepted an opportunity to come work “a harvest or two” at Castello Banfi, as he puts it, “to learn something.”  Thirty-two years later, he admits that he is still learning!
    When he and Maurizio decide together when to harvest, Maurizio admonishes Rudy: “Okay, I’ve done the best I can to give you good fruit: don’t mess it up!”  Now, Rudy will be the first to admit that you need great fruit to make great wine… but he also is quick to tell Maurizio “you did your job, now leave me alone to do mine!”
    In the end, they both do their jobs exceptionally well – because they pour their heart, soul and passion into it.  “Wine is passion, love and sharing,” as my dear friend and colleague Remo Grassi, another Banfi veteran, points out, “and we know how to communicate all that!”
    In the end, its all about a great team of people working with our hands and thinking with our heart!

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


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

I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has just been published through Amazon and Kindle.  It is a Christmas novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring back his master back from the edge of despair.

“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

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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: 5 MYTHS ABOUT TRAVEL AGENTS

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,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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