Virtual Gourmet

  November 2,  2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Double Trouble" by Galina Dargery (2013)



By Christopher Mariani

By John Mariani


By Andrew Chalk



By Christopher Mariani


    After dining around town at some new places,  my last meal in Boston before heading home to New York on a fall weekend turned out to the best of the entire weekend. We had packed the car and driven downtown to Beacon Street for brunch at Mooo, located adjacent to XV Beacon, one of Boston’s premiere hotels. The restaurant, after a couple of mutations, is now well-established, excelling as a modern day steakhouse with a stellar wine list, impeccable service staff and one the best brunch menus I’ve ever seen.
    XV Beacon occupies the site of what was once the Bromfield Mansion, built in 1722 by Boston merchant Edward Bromfield; the present building was replaced in 1903. Designed by Boston architect William Gibbons Preston, who also did the city’s Museum of Natural History  in Back Bay and the International Trust Company Building, the new edifice  served an array of functions over the years,  as the Boston Transit Commission (1905), the Rapid Transit Commission (1906),  The Boston School Committee (1923-99), and then as  the posh 60-room hotel it is today, retaining all the building’s stunning Beaux Arts design.
    Originally the restaurant here was called The Federalist, featuring contemporary New England cuisine.  Then in 2007 Chef Jamie Mammano, who also runs several of Boston’s best restaurants, including the very fine Mistral, changed it into Mooo. . ., primarily as a steakhouse, but you will still find several New England specialties on the menu, not least lobsters in many forms. Executive chef David Hutton is at the helm here, having worked with Mammano at Mistral.
     Upon entering, we found the restaurant screamed elegance, with an air of sophistication, simple lines and a soft beauty that is as welcoming to women as men—not always the case in steakhouses. Large, throne-like seats surround some of the VIP tables, while soft beige tones blanket the entire space. High-ceilings with broad white moldings display massive cylindrical chandeliers that delicately light the grand dining room. The service pieces, glassware and table displays exemplify the vision and standards set by general manager Alexa Demarco.  Servers are as cordial as any successful restaurateur and his guests could hope for. Their food knowledge and service mechanics are clearly the result of meticulous training and practice.
    The beef-centric dinner menu incorporates excellent cuts of  porterhouse, filet mignon, sirloins, dry-aged rib eyes, along with a Japanese Wagyu sirloin, all served with roasted garlic and bone marrow butter.
The dinner menu also lists Maine lobster bisque, grilled Faroe Island salmon with more lobster, and skillet-roasted Cornish game hen.
     I did not have the opportunity to eat here for dinner, but, based on my steak and eggs Wellington at brunch, I can attest that Moo. . .’s steaks are top-notch.  We started off with two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice and two hot coffees, served within  moments of our arrival. After we briefly reviewed the brunch menu, our server approached us and recommended the beignets. We happily accepted the suggestion, and soon after, a tall pile of piping hot beignets came right from the fryer, lightly coated with sweet sugar and cinnamon, filled with a deep purple blueberry puree that oozed out from the sides. We could have easily ordered another plate of them and refilled our coffee cups with great satisfaction, but we decided to explore the entrée options.
    Two filet mignons that appeared to be six-ounce each sat on top of  buttery puff pastry, topped with thick slabs of seared foie gras, sided by sautéed spinach and a rich brown jus that soaked into the pastry. Presentation and the high quality of ingredients is what made for a very memorable beef Wellington. I was unable to finish the dish but had no remorse paying $32 for this brunch feast. We also shared an omelet, slow-cooked at a low heat with butter, filled with sautéed spinach and cheese. The right proportions were used, and it was easy to detect that the eggs were cooked with lots of care, with not a millimeter of the omelet burned. There are also selections of raw oysters, corned beef hash, Wagyu steak frites and Belgium waffles.
    It is one thing to offer terrific service or exemplary food and even an outstanding décor; but to bring all three elements together is what makes for a truly great restaurant, and that is exactly what Moo. . .  is achieving. The entire team  cuts no corners and it pays off handsomely.  I am delighted to see such craftsmanship and attention to detail during a time when so many restaurants are deviating from the very foundations of American hospitality.

    The granite foundation of downstairs Wine Cellar has a double-vaulted ceiling; a caged-glass walls hold wines ranging from today’s notables to the most obscure “cult wines,” as well as a notable collection of rare Cognacs and Scotches.  This cellar is used as the functioning wine cellar for Mooo… and as a private dining room for those who seek intimacy or seclusion.

    Boston has only two first-rate indigenous steakhouses--the classic Grill 23 and the Italian style Davio’s, as well as all the usual outsider chains.  But for me, Mooo. . . , despite a name that’s way too cute, delivers a casual elegance that fits right into the neighborhood of Beacon Hill.

Mooo. . . is located at 15 Beacon Street; 617-670-2515;; Open daily for lunch and dinner; brunch on weekends; Brunch is à la carte, with appetizers $8-$15, eggs $12-$24; dinner appetizers run $12-$90 (for shellfish platter( and for entrees $38-$160.


By John Mariani

331 West Broadway

         At a moment when there have never been so many new steakhouses in NYC—Davio’s, NYY Steak, Angus Club, Charlie Palmer’s, Strip House Midtown, American Cut, and the re-opened Gallagher’s, all this year—the classic Italian restaurant Il Mulino is tossing its hat in the ring and doing so with a good bit of modern dash for such a conservative genre.
         For one thing, Il Mulino Prime is down in SoHo and for another its décor is as far from the macho look of most other beef emporiums around town. It’s a pretty small room, too, with just 50 seats and six at the bar. Neither does it look like the original Il Mulino in Greenwich Village and its newer sibling in midtown.
         Over three decades, Il Mulino was the ultimate expense account Italian restaurant, the place New York businessmen took their out-of-town clients; the place where Barack Obama and Bill Clinton chewed the rag for lunch in NYC; the place famous for setting out complimentary dishes of Parmigiano, sausage, and other antipasti; and, not least, one of the most expensive Italian restaurants in America.
         In 2001
Brian Galligan and his partner Jerry Katzoff bought Il Mulino from brothers Fernando and Gino Masci, and  soon planned out an expansion of the brand, from New York to Las Vegas and Tokyo.  Il Mulino Prime is their first steakhouse, and,  I suspect, the prototype for others to follow.
         I like the fresh, white look of the place and the congenial greeting. A painted buffalo head and other antlers hang on brightly lighted brick walls. The black ceiling is hung with clear glass globe lamps and a rear wall is stenciled with observations by littérateurs (right) like Ernest  Hemingway, including the last line from The Sun Also Rises: “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”  None has much to do with eating at a steakhouse, but it’s fun to try to guess the sources.
         The clientele seems a mix of beefy guys from the finance sector and casually dressed locals out for a splurge.
        The menu is a mix of Il Mulino favorites from the past 30 years, along with all the requisite chophouse items.  Prices certainly match any of the midtown steakhouses, with chopped steak at $36, an 18-ounce ribeye at $48, and a one-kilogram—that’s more than two pounds--porterhouse at $125. (A similar rendering of côte de boeuf at Minetta Tavern runs $145.)
         Jumbo lump crabmeat ($24) lived up to its weight class, as did jumbo shrimp ($28), but I encourage your table to share a platter of excellent beefsteak tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella ($24), provided the kitchen can still get tomatoes at this season of a kind I had at the end of summer.
         The “Modern Italian Classics” section lists a lobster mac-and-cheese, the mac in question being fusilli ($32), a pricey dish, but a very good one.  Run-of-the-mill linguine with white clam sauce at $32 was not worth the money.  What’s not to like about short ribs ravioli (left) with mushrooms and black truffles in cream (and the white truffles are coming in right now)?
A veal chop parmigiana ($45) was easily as big and a whole lot better than the notorious $50 version at Carbone.  “English Dover sole” (market price) is a redundancy, but it was a delicious, well-fatted fish with a nice tangy meunière sauce.
The beef is all dry aged USDA Prime, some, like the American Kobe ($60) and the bison ribeye ($54), served off the bone; the fine 16-ounce New York strip ($50) is an excellent piece of beef in every respect, with a robust aged flavor and good chew.  Odd then that the ribeye ($48),  a juicier part of the steer, didn’t seem to hit the plate at the advertized 18 ounces and was cut in a puzzlingly thin slab.  When I asked the chef about that, he said I could ask for it thicker—but how would I know until it arrived?
         As the photo of the ribeye shows (below), the steaks get the grill marks treatment, but overall the exterior lacks a real, overall char.  Next time I’ll ask for it “Pittsburgh,” steakhouse slang for black outside, red within.
         The menu lists the usual sides, like spinach with garlic or mascarpone (take the latter) and truffled French fries--all a steep $14 a piece, especially since uptown competitors like Davio’s charges $10-$12, and Charlie Palmer $9-$11.
         Not unlike the dated desserts at the original Il Mulino, those at Prime should be more than run-of-the-mill.  Limoncello tiramisù was poor and the tartufo ice cream ball as horrible as it ever was.
         Il Mulino Prime’s wine list is amenable to the restaurant’s genre of restaurant, and there are some judicious selections below $50.
         It is curious that Il Mulino Prime is one of the first steakhouses to debut in this neck of the Manhattan woods, where new hipster places are opening right and left of it all the time. So, if you choose wisely--and bring a wad of money or expense account plastic--you’ll satisfy your craving for Prime beef here in a room that shows you can cut across the grain.  

Open for lunch and dinner daily.



By Andrew Chalk


Gruet Winery this  year celebrates twenty five years in New Mexico since the release of their very first wine. The Gruet family is mighty proud and they have every right to be. In that short quarter-century the winery has won countless awards across the United States and Europe, achieved distribution in 49 states as well as Japan and Nassau-Bahamas and has received critical acclaim in all of the wine tasting publications. It now produces around 130,000 cases of wine a year, making it a medium-sized winery on the global map.
       Gruet has not just put their family on the map as a sparkling wine producer in the Champagne style. They have single-handedly put New Mexico on the map as a state capable of growing world-class grapes. In fact, the state has an expanding wine industry, now over 50 wineries, producing better wine every year. While no other state wineries have yet emerged on the national stage, Gruet silences critics who might otherwise say that is impossible for a New Mexico winery using New Mexico grapes to do so.
       It is instructive to see how Gruet got where it is today. The founder, Gilbert Gruet, was something of an entrepreneur. In the hardscrabble years after World War Two in France, he saw an opportunity to make money making Champagne by growing and sourcing grapes from the southern part of the Champagne region. Purists scoffed at growing grapes in that part of Champagne, but he persisted and quickly rode the growing demand for Champagne that followed postwar prosperity. Initially, he founded and participated in the local grower cooperative but in 1967 founded G. Gruet et Fils  to make and brand his own product.
       His evangelism on behalf of his wines took him on sales tours of the United States, where he was profoundly moved by the open space and the business opportunities. Land was just a fraction of the price in France, and he believed the climate for grape growing often better. The 1980s was a time when many Champagne houses set up shop in America. The list, including Moët et Chandon, Mumm, and Roederer, was a cavalcade of top names, but they all went to California.
    Gruet, as of 1952, carved his own course.    He took his son, Laurent, and his daughter, Nathalie, to help him plant grapes in southern New Mexico near the town of Lordsburg. Aside from the problems of dust storms, incredible heat, rattlesnakes and tarantulas, the children did not speak English. While at the vineyards, they stayed in two trailer homes next to the fields. The whole scene in the New Mexico desert was in stark contrast to their family home back in benign and verdant temperate northern France.
       In 1988 they moved the vineyard north near the town of Truth or Consequences, where the soil was better and the altitude higher. At 4.300 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest vineyards in the United States. The altitude meant diurnal shifts of 30 degrees between day and night, enabling the grapes to cool and take longer for the sugars to rise to ripeness levels. That extra time allowed the grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness, not just ripe sugar levels. Gruet has 350 acres in the area (and now also boasts the spaceport of Virgin Galactic) .
      The first harvest was in 1987 and the first wine release in 1989,  Gruet Brut N.V and Gruet Blanc de Noirs, N.V.  As Laurent remembers, it was scary to have 80,000 bottles of wine in the warehouse and no buyers. However, he entered them in one of the country’s toughest wine shows, the San Francisco International Wine Competition, and brought back two medals.
       With the population of all New Mexico less than that of Dallas-Fort Worth, big sales had to come from outside the state. That meant distribution was key. An early adopter was Monterey Bay Wine Company 
in the person of Joe Kimbro. After tasting the wines, he ordered 50 cases - a huge order for that stage in Gruet’s life. In the far larger New York market, respected California winemaker Randall Grahm  of Bonny Doon Vineyard) recommended the wine to Michael Skurnik of Michael Skurnik Wines, and an>  order of 900 cases followed shortly.  It sold out so quickly they had to air ship the next order in.

      With the passing of Gilbert suddenly in 1999 control passed to Laurent who maintained his father’s outward-looking perspective. Today, Gruet is a familiar label in fine wine stores and supermarkets. As demand has grown, they have raised their prices and created a second label Domaine Saint-Vincent for the banquet hall market.  They have also have had to source some grapes from outside New Mexico (Washington State and Lodi, California) as they wait for additional plantings to come on line. They are already sourcing from another New Mexico grower in the Deming area and have a long-term vineyard project with the Santa Ana Pueblo.  In that thirty acre plot, are plantings of the Pinot Meunier, a  grape variety widely used in Champagne.
      They have broadened the product line as well. There is now a set of vintage sparkling wines, a reserve tier, and still wines made from Pinot Noir and Syrah. In fact, still wines now account for 20% of total output.  The non-vintage wines, Brut and Blanc de Noirs, have sales levels that require the use of the out-of-state grapes. Hence, the ‘American’ appellation has replaced the ‘New Mexico’ appellation on the label.


There was a hiccup in 2011 when Laurent Gruet bid for bankrupt Cap Rock Winery of Lubbock at auction but then failed to follow through. A suit by the bankruptcy trustee led to Laurent filing personal bankruptcy (the winery did not file for bankruptcy protection and was not part of the bid for Cap Rock). Eventually the trustee’s suit was settled." 


     The vintage wines all carry New Mexico appellations, meaning at least 75% New Mexico fruit. At a tasting at the winery I worked my way through the 2010 Blanc de Blancs, the 2010 Grande Rosé and the 2007 Grande Reserve. The vintage wines have more intensity of flavors and, as they get older, acquire the characteristic yeastiness of aged Champagne so prized by collectors, particularly in the U.K. The Grande Reserves are all fermented and aged in French oak, promoting vanilla and autolyzed flavors.  Placing Gruet in the Champagne style spectrum is fairly straightforward. The reserves are heavier than the light, fresh, style of Perrier-Jouët, but lighter than the imposing presence of Krug. The middle position between these two, perhaps a touch closer to Krug, would be right. Perhaps the Charles Heidsieck typifies this.
      In celebration of the 25th anniversary, the winery has produced the NV Blanc de Blancs 25th Anniversary wine. They suggest that you think of it as the little brother of the vintage Blanc de Blancs. I agree, and look forward to the 50th anniversary of this remarkable winery.

For a complete list of New Mexican wineries and map, go to



Forgive Her Such Prose: Her Parents Named her Bambi

"Well! Perhaps `Posh Diner' would accuse me of NOT being posh. I say wake up and smell the coffee, lambchop. This place is fabulous. They have a very current bar (I had a Grey Goose). Then I went and had a delicious dinner - the Octopus appetizer was sensational baby, and the truffle mac and cheese was not your blue box Kraft. I was left absolutely stunned. I walked in without a reservation, but perhaps my attire, bling, Ostrich stilettos, and spritz of Glow perfume rolled the red carpet out. If you're fabulous and you know it clap your hands. I flirted, fed, and finally left utterly satisfied. The busboys were a little anxious about taking plates, but this woman over 50 has cougar instincts that tell her they just wanted to be close."—Bambi Ambrosino, "Waverly Inn," Menu Pages.



Zurich-based retailer Migros has recalled several thousand mini-creamer packages that were issued to commemorate a  cigar band series that once used portraits of Hitler and Mussolini on them.  Production of all dictator lids has been halted. 



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.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


 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." 

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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