Virtual Gourmet

  November 9,  2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

Hawaiian Village Restaurant menu, Waikiki, circa 1960



I have just posted a trailer video for my new Christmas novella,
The Hound in Heaven.  I hope you watch and enjoy it.



By John A. Curtas

By John Mariani


A Conversation With Jean-Bernard Grenié,
of Bordeaux's Château Angelus
by Andrew Chalk


By John A. Curtas

Church Street, Charleston

    My mother and sister are both big fans of Charleston. "The Boston of the South" is how sis puts it. "An island of gentility amidst a sea of rednecks" is how my no-nonsense, ninety-year-old mom describes things. Being as they both live a few hours up the road in Athens, Georgia, they know of which they speak.   
           Chez Nous (
6 Payne Court; 843-579-3060 is one of those teeny tiny hideaways that can only exist in a food-mad town. Teensy is also the theme of the menu -- just six items a day are cooked -- meaning everyone who isn't dining solo is pretty much going to eat everything on it every day. That menu is hand-written in Chef Jill Mathias's script, which is as indecipherable as an internist's.  Lucky for diners, the waitstaff provides helpful (and immediate) translations of food descriptions that sound as tasty as they are visually obtuse.
       Chez Nous (left) means "our house," and owners Patrick and Fanny Panella make you feel right at home, with a meal that could come straight from an intimate dinner party. Precise technique, clean flavors and French-Mediterranean ideas are the focus of this kitchen, with a little Italian thrown in for good measure. Our meal of bruschetta topped with cotechino sausage and pickled radicchio (below) was the perfect starter on a day so sticky even the humidity was complaining. In the same vein, the lightly dressed tuna and rice salad was a downright palate refresher. The main courses were equally splendid, with strong flavors and careful cooking showing a fine piece of flounder and roasted quail to their best effect. Only a hard, chunky orange mousse disappointed, having spent too much time in a freezer, but the plum tarte Tatin more than made up for it, tasting as if you stumbled upon a farmhouse in southern France.

   If Chez Nous puts you in mind of someone's home, Two Boroughs Larder (186 Coming Street; 843-637-3722) feels like a country store of decades past, albeit one stocked to the gills with exquisite local provisions. It also has a fine young  cook in the kitchen. John Mariani had  a somewhat tepid reaction to the meal he was served here over a year ago, so when another chef -- Louis Osteen, who is considered restaurant royalty in this neck of the woods -- beckoned us to meet him for lunch there, we were more than a little intrigued.
      Two Boroughs Larder (left) clearly represents a labor of love for Heather and Josh Keeler. He cooks his heart out in a closet-sized kitchen, and she runs the front of the house, doing everything from ringing up sales of local meats and milk to opening wine bottles. The food coming out of that kitchen is a high-wire act to be sure, but most of it is pretty nifty.
         Keeler favors offbeat combinations and ingredient-heavy recipes, but we tasted nary a misstep in plowing through the entire 14-item menu. From his impeccable oysters with Concord grape vinegar mignonette to local clams swimming in a pumpkin-miso-chanterelle broth and to a first-rate, housemade charcuterie platter, everything was served à point and was well-nigh perfect. Speaking of salumi, his pork terrine and cheddar wurst (rough-grained sausage laced with cheese) both deserve a place in the cured meat hall of fame.
         Some might accuse Keeler of playing too much with his food, but fried veal sweetbreads were a unique and natural match with lime yogurt (and edible flowers!), and his corn velouté was intense and lofty on its own, but the addition of charred peppers, tomato jam and sour blueberry curd took it to the stratosphere. Poached eggs and polenta (right) are just perfect for brunch.
        TBL is not the sort of place you go to looking for the same great thing you had the last time. It is adventuresome food, writ small, presented according to the whims and well-considered musings of a restless chef. How long the Keelers can keep up this sort of intuitive cooking is anyone's guess, but Charleston has responded well to this down-home-locavore-meets-upscale-ingredients approach. You may occasionally scratch your head (octopus choucroute garnie with dill, lovage and avocado), but you won't be bored and you’ll always be fascinated.

We also always hit Maurice's Piggie Park (
1600 Charleston Hwy), now with 14 locations, in West Columbia, SC -- for some hors oeuvre 'cue -- whenever we're in the Gamecock State.  Maurice Bessinger (who died in February) had been a polarizing figure for years because of his Confederate flag waving, but as barbecue maven Mike Mills told us: "You may have hated his politics, but the man sure could smoke a pig."
    We're happy to report his kids can smoke one too. Our breakfast (yes,  breakfast barbecue just seems like a good idea in these parts), was a wonder of juicy pulled pork and ribs, being tender enough to barely stick to the bone and possessing a smoky-sweet finish that lingers longer than alimony. This is mustard (as in bright, yellow mustard) sauce country, and a healthy schmeer of the tangy stuff is just what the piggy ordered to send you to hog heaven.





By John Mariani 

    One of the least heralded of NYC’s most successful restaurateurs probably likes it that way.  While David Ghatanfard is intensely involved in each of his four restaurants—two in Manhattan, one near Greenwich, CT, one in Scarsdale, NY--he stays behind the scenes, overseeing and making sure all goes as he wishes and as his guests desire.  Rare is the request that his staff won’t grant.  He courts a high class clientele, and they come to expect extra T.L.C. at his restaurants.
    All his restaurants are quite similar in menu, a combination of steakhouse, Italian, Mediterranean,  and a bit of French cooking, all based on the best ingredients he can find in whatever market they exit, some of which are on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  I know where he buys his meats and fish, and how he cajoles the owners to put aside the best cuts of meat and the most pristine seafood for him, so that it is unlikely you’ll find colossal lump crabmeat anywhere the size of those at Ghatanfard’s restaurants.  The beef will be well marbled, the fish wild.
    His Manhattan dining rooms—Valbella in the Meatpacking District and Valbella Midtown—are always jammed, and his Valbella near Greenwich (1309 E Putnam Ave.,  Riverside,  CT; 203- 637-1155) is famous for its parking lot full of  Mercedes, Porsches, Ferraris, and Maseratis.  The region teems with old money and new, and it is spent lavishly at Valbella.  The Connecticut unit (above) is the oldest--20 years now--set off an exit of the New England Thruway (about 50 minutes from Manhattan), with the look of a leafy, posh country club with its white brick façade, shade trees and umbrellas in warm weather. Its spacious, well-set dining rooms, napery and wineglasses are appropriate to the level of the food, wine and clientele. Manager Elva Chiu keeps even the busiest nights seamlessly orchestrated.
       Downstairs resides one of America’s truly grand wine cellars (above), with some of the world’s most expensive wines, including many in magnum and larger bottlings, slumbering in mahogany racks until ready to be drunk—and Valbella's audience, after a period of cutting back, is now spending freely again. The wines have been waiting there all along.
    The standard menu is appended with several recited specials each night geared to whatever is best at the moment—the white truffles have come in. Because of the quality of the various ingredients, it is best to go simple here.  This means beginning with fresh, quickly seared foie gras with figs ($25)  in a Port reduction, or a platter of steaming baked Littleneck clams ($21). An almond-crusted langoustine  ($25) in a white wine butter sauce is a rarity in restaurants, unless you are willing to pay for the best of them; here they are delicious. Best of all is the glistening shellfish tower, which can be as large as your table wishes, piled with the meatiest lobster, clams, mussels, oysters and scallops available, arrayed like bons bons on ice.
    Pastas are largely made in house, and the seafood varieties are  highly regarded, like the risotto with shrimp scampi, langoustine and sea bass in a rich lobster bisque sauce ($40, as a main course).  But I’ve always loved their lusty pappardelle alla Emiliana, with peas, porcini, and burrata in a veal Bolognese ($32). I mentioned those white truffles are now in, and they shave them liberally--at a price--over fettuccine.
    As I said, stay simple, especially with main courses: complex sauces are not the kitchen’s forté, and there are a lot of ingredients on the side, a generous gesture but one that takes too much prep time to plate.  I go with the massive grilled veal chop ($53) or the full rack of baby lamb ($47), while the Black Angus shell steak ($48) is always first-rate and expertly cooked.
    Desserts run along classic lines and are easy to share in size, from the crispy napoleon layered with whipped cream, to the blow-torched, crunch of crème brûlée.   
    Valbella is the kind of smart, civilized restaurant that used to line the Gold Coast of Westchester and Connecticut, but with two decades behind it, everything has been honed to a fine edge of service.

    TuttaBella (754 White Plains Road; 914-725-0566), for a dozen years now atop a little hill in Scarsdale across from Lord & Taylor, has evolved from a steakhouse to a moderately priced Italian restaurant with great steaks, and it’s all to the good.  It’s a handsome restaurant with expanses of windows on all sides, arched hallways, and nicely separated tables.  The terrace here is a lovely place for lunch or cocktails.
    The staff here has also evolved into one of the most cordial and fleet-footed in the area. Manager-partner Sergio Gashi and manager Rosie Kalayjian  never miss a beat any day or night of the week.  They seem to know most of their guests, who largely come from the surrounding 'burbs of Scarsdale, Hartsdale, Bronxville, and Tuckahoe.  Parties are legion and this is very much a family gathering spot, so prices are kept in check.
    Indeed, my high school alumni group has been holding its annual dinner here for many years now, and the service staff now seems to know everyone’s drink preference and how they like their porterhouse cooked. And it’s a really fine porterhouse ($39/$78, for one or two persons) at that—perfectly trimmed, very juicy, lots of good aging on it, and well charred on the outside. The garlic-rich sautéed spinach is essential as a side dish.
Of the antipasti, the gargantuan shellfish platter is a marvel of lavish goodness. Usually, the fried calamari are crisp and tender; sometimes not.                      
TuttaBella’s menu is heavier with pasta than Valbella’s, and the addition of a new pasta chef has improved once disappointing dishes like penne alla vodka ($16) with some real bite,  cavatelli with garlicky broccoli di rabe and sausage ($16), and bucatini all’amatriciana with bacon, sweetly caramelized onion and tomatoes ($16).  Those are full course prices, and they are easily shared as starters.
        Here, too, as at Valbella, the simplest entrees are the best—all the grilled meat items, including the signature porterhouse, and the crisply fried veal with arugula and tomatoes ($23).  And now that it’s become the Italian retro-dish of the moment, try TuttaBella’s terrific veal alla parmigiana ($23),  rich with mozzarella and a fine tomato sauce. If you ask for the pollo scarpariello ($18) on the bone with plenty of garlic, you’ll be very happy with the dish--the bone helps retain the meat's  succulence, and the dark meat is where the flavor is.
    As noted, Mr. Ghatanfard has very high standards for his seafood, so the branzino (market price) with asparagus, capers,  and cherry tomatoes has tremendous flavor, cooked to a perfect turn (below).

            TuttaBella’s desserts are straightforward, so, as ever, go with the fine Italian cheesecake.
    TuttaBella’s wine cellar (above) is a delight, cozy, and fit for 20 people for a dinner party; the wine list is not nearly as extensive as Valbella’s, but it has some good bottlings at reasonable prices. Indeed, you can see across the board that moderate prices distinguish the food of this quality, and the regular customers know it.


Both restaurants are open daily for lunch and dinner.



A Conversation With Jean-Bernard Grenié,
of Bordeaux's Château Angelus

by Andrew Chalk

    Jean-Bernard Grenié (left, in the middle, with co-owner Hubert Boüard de Laforest  and his daughter and managing director Stéphanie), of Château Angelus, the Saint-Émilion wine producer that in 2012 was elevated from Premier Grand Cru Classé (B) to Premier Grand Cru Classé (A), the highest classification in Saint-Émilion. This means that, in Saint-Émilion terms, the château is now on the same rank as the first growths of the Médoc such as Château Lafite and Château Margaux.
    M. Grenié recently visited Dallas to conduct a vertical tasting of the château wines at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. I was fortunate in being able to interview him during his visit.  I took the opportunity to ask him about a broad range of subjects--from how becoming a first growth has changed Château Angelus, to the reasons for changing wine styles over time, to the trade in fraudulent high-priced wines. 

AC: Château Angelus is now a First Growth, a title bestowed on châteaux like Cheval Blanc, Ausonne, Latour, Margaux, and others. How has that affected how you market Château Angelus?

JG: It did not change our marketing. We are not crazy. We did not decide to change the price in one day, because we knew that if we changed the price by 50, 70 or 100 percent there would be nobody in front of us to buy. You are aware that the classification [as a first growth] is made for ten years. This means that we really face a staircase now and we must walk up step-by-step.
The Village of Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux.

AC: What effect has the furor over the 2006 attempt to create a reclassification had on wineries in Saint-Émilion? I am referring to the court cases, legal battles,and so on by the wineries that disagreed with its results.

JG: I think that Angelus was not directly affected because we were not promoted in 2006. We stayed as a class B. On reflection, in a way, the cancellation of the 2006 ruling was a big opportunity for us to pass the exam [the tasting exam used to judge the wineries] and to become class A. That would not have happened before 2016.

AC: You are very experienced member of the Bordeaux wine trade. Have you noticed any effect over the time that you have been in the business from the global phenomenon known as climate change?

JG: We believe that global warming is real. It cannot explain, by itself, 100% of the rising degree of alcohol in wine, because people have such a range of techniques like green harvest and waiting later to harvest. All those things help to have a higher quantity of sugar and hence elevation of the quantity of alcohol. There is one classified growth B of Saint-Émilion, I won’t give you the name, that in 2010 indicated 16% alcohol on the label.

AC: That’s Port!

JG: Exactly.

AC: Do you think it’s possible for advances in winemaking to enable the satellite appellations of Saint-Émilion (Saint-Georges, Montagne, Lussac and Puisseguin) to make wines as good as Saint-Saint-Émilion?

JG: I think Bordeaux has wonderful terroir. The idea that I have thought in the past is that there could be general agreement between all the producers under which everybody could be called a Saint-Émilion. Everybody could produce Saint-Émilion Grand Cru but the classified growth could only be on the appellation Saint-Émilion. But I think the French farmers are too concerned with their own interests and are divided on this.  

AC: Do you see a trend towards more Asian ownership of Bordeaux Châteaux, and do you think there should be limits on that?

JG: I am not against the investment of people coming from outside. This was always the case in Bordeaux, which was invested in by the British, the Danish and the Americans. Château Haut-Brion has been American since 1931, and why not the Chinese today if they are here to invest and make better wine. Bordeaux has good terroir but some estates, especially small estates, have no money. Foreign money is an opportunity to have investors who are here to make great estates with high quality wine and I am sure the Chinese are an opportunity to Bordeaux.
     The question is of estates that are symbols in Bordeaux (Latour, Margaux,  and others). Suppose, hypothetically, that Corinne Mentzelopoulos decided to sell Château Margaux, and the highest bidder was Chinese. I do not know how that would work out. I think the government can say “stop.” I think that happened when Margaux was for sale in the 1975. There was a foreign buyer, I can’t remember the name, and there was a lobby to push Mr. Mentzelopoulos to buy Margaux because he was French.
On the other hand, Haut-Brion is American so it may depend on the bidder.
 [NOTE: André Mentzelopoulos was actually Greek but his wife was French, and his daughter Corinne was born in France.]

AC: We have heard a lot in the last few years about wine fraud. People putting forged Château Angelus labels on cheap wine. What are you doing to make your product more secure?

JG: We are doing things. We changed the bottle where it is an engraved Angelus select so that you cannot make a fake bottle. We have a special mark that I cannot speak about. The last time I was tasting in China, at the end of the tasting, I asked somebody to collect the empty bottles. We went to the kitchen and smashed them.



"The good news is that you still can't flush the toilet paper in Tulum."--Danielle Pergament, "36 Hours in Tulum, Mexico," NY Times (Nov 9, 2014).



Nearly half — 47 percent — of all Gordon Ramsay restaurants have closed, changed hands, or rebooted without the chef.  And  more than 60 percent of all restaurants featured throughout Ramsay's entire Kitchen Nightmares (2007 to 2014) run are now closed.


 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:

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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© copyright John Mariani 2014