Virtual Gourmet

  December 14, 2014                                                                                             NEWSLETTER

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Lesley Nicol and Sophie McShera in "Christmas at Downton Abbey" (2012)


By Misha Mariani


BY John Mariani


 Part One
By Misha Mariani


    It was eight years ago that I walked through the doors of my first job as a young, ambitious, carefree line cook at The Modern in NYC, just the beginning of my career in the food and hospitality industry, but what I didn’t know when I started that day was that this would be the job that would jump-start the greatest journey one can embark on in life.
    I had been introduced to a dark-haired, dark-eyed girl with a heart and soul so genuine and sweet I had to question whether she was real. This girl later became the woman I would marry this past September. 
  Being that both of us are in the restaurant business--she's a pastry chef--there has been little time for vacations,  so when the time came to discuss where we wanted to go on our honeymoon, we agreed that we needed to go somewhere warm, beautiful, relaxing, white sanded, blue watered, with plenty of outdoor activities, and somewhere where we were going to eat well. It didn’t take much deliberation before we decided that Hawaii, more specifically Maui, fit the bill, and that it would be our honeymoon destination.
         Our wedding day was a glorious and memorable day. But weddings are a lot of work, so we could hardly wait to board our flight to Maui. Ten and a half hours later we touched down to the warm sun and blue skies of the Islands of Hawaii. We rented a car, rolled down the windows, slipped our sunglasses on,  and with warm wind in our hair, drove off,  zipping down oceanside roads and past sugar cane fields, finally arriving at the Grand Wailea Resort (right), where we were warmly welcomed with an “aloha” and the always charming offering of a lei around our necks, Priscilla’s made of orchid flowers, mine of kukui nuts.
    We then entered the sprawling open air plaza (above), adorned with orchids in every direction we looked,  with a shallow pool with a traditional Polynesian kayak settled in the middle of it, open to the Pacific’s blue waters.  We checked in and were quickly escorted to our room, where we settled in and took our first real breath of total relaxation.

       The Grand Wailea Resort, opened in 1991 (now a Waldorf Astoria property), is well named, for it is nothing short of grand, with luxurious design  in every detail, an abundance of sprawling open spaces, top-notch hospitality, and a plethora of amenities to take advantage of.  Room accommodations range from the  standard to suites with amenities such as dedicated concierge and access to two private lounges, even to your own private villa.  All rooms are elegantly appointed in a fashion to make you feel happy and at home, with their beige or cream colored walls, modern wood furniture, warm lighting, spacious bathrooms, comforting ceiling fans, and a marvelous view of the beach and water.
      After a restful night that took the edge off our jet lag, my new wife and I stopped by the resort’s Café Kula (above), one of  its grab-and-go dining facilities, and with coffee, bagels and smoothies under our belt, we headed to the Wailea Beach to settle in for a couple of hours of soaking up some Hawaiian sun  before heading back to the resort to indulge in some time at the spa.
      The Grand Wailea’s Spa is, hands down, one of the most luxurious and extensive spas I have experienced, with spacious steam rooms, saunas, cold baths, hot tubs of varying temperatures, waterfall showers, massage showers and a five-step salt bath. The options offered seem endless, and we spent a good deal of time pampering ourselves before we were led away for our couples massage, which began with some robed relaxation sitting out on a  balcony overlooking the ocean (right) and sipping freshly brewed iced tea. We were then escorted to our private room, picked out what scented lotions or oils we wanted to breath in as we settled into our hour-long session of uninterrupted pampering.
        Other amenities offered at the Grand Wailea consist of scuba lessons—I’d actually been certified here 20 years ago—and an elaborate spool water slide that winds around the pools. This vast resort has numerous dining options, such as the outdoor humuhumunukunukuapua (below)—named after Hawaii’s state fish.  Yes, it is a mouthful to say, so everyone calls it Humu for short.  Built over a million-gallon saltwater pool in which swim Hawaiian spiny lobsters that you can pick out for you dinner, the restaurant has a rustic design of dark wood with a thatch roof and looks out onto one of the most beautiful sunsets on the island.
     The menu is Hawaiian cuisine, utilizing local ingredients and prepared with a talented hand. A crudo of kampachi served with an avocado puree, ponzu, ginger and cilantro had a hint of smokiness with a pick-me-up from the citrus and great depth of flavor. Hawaiian prawns served with tapioca & shiitake mushrooms were a true regional delight to the palate.
       Humu’s wine list is a modest one with respect to its number of selections, but they are very reasonably priced, mostly California labels. The Bar opens at five p.m. nightly and reservations for dinner are available seven nights a week.
       Early one evening in our room, we popped a bottle of Champagne, poured two glasses, toasted to our new life together and got ready to head out to dinner at a restaurant in the Wailea Marriott called MiGRANT, where Chef Sheldon Simeon (below) is at the helm of the kitchen. Native to the Islands and trained at the Maui Culinary Academy, Simeon quickly acquired local recognition for his talents.  He spent some time in New York, where he expanded his knowledge of Asian cuisine by exploring all the top-notch noodle bars and ramen shops the city has to offer, then returned to Hawaii to lead a new venture called Star Noodle, which earned him multiple accolades, including more than one James Beard Award, for his unique and inspiring renditions of dishes based on Hawaiian ingredients and preparations.
       When we arrived at MiGRANT, we were whisked to our table on the terrace and greeted by an enthusiastic, well- versed, hospitable server, who we later learned had followed Chef Simeon from Star Noodle out of admiration for him.  That night we just put ourselves in the chef’s hands.
      To start, a large bowl of chicharrones  with Hawaiian spicy water was gobbled up as soon as it hit our table. A salad of local kale
(below) bruised with Hawaiian sea salt to tenderize it exceeded expectations for flavor through dried white figs, crunchy pumpkin seeds, refreshing Japanese cucumber and slightly sweet miso dressing.
        For someone who doesn’t particularly care for oysters, I was delighted with an oyster shooter with kalamanzi juice, olive oil and a kick of spice to excite the palate. Well prepared with outstanding ingredients, if not so exciting, was a ahi tuna tartar with avocado, soy sauce and samba.

          Chef Simeon showcases his talent throughout the entire menu, but his main dishes really shine: such as his take on Korean Fried Chicken, perfectly crisped batter and a Filipino Kare Kare sauce;  his Filipino sweet pork with guava jelly and pickled onions;  Ay Kudesh! Garlic Noodles, of which the menu warns you about being overbearingly spicy, actually showed Simeon’s skill at balancing his flavors when accompanied with  his exceptionally prepared pork belly with tomato, red onions and shiso.
     The menu is in three sections: pupus, main and noodles.  Though a little limited in its selections, every dish is focused and carefully thought out so as to ensure you will not be disappointed with any choice.
         After dinner we retreated back to our room, trusting that the days of our honeymoon to come would be just as enjoyable as our first night.

      The island of Maui is filled with exciting new restaurants and ambitious, talented young chefs, and a restaurant that exemplifies this is  Ka'ana Kitchen (right) in the Andaz Maui at Wailea, a Hyatt property, that even has its own farm.
   Right inside the entrance is a table manned by bartenders/mixologists ready to prepare inventive and creative cocktails to satisfy any serious cocktailer.  Just behind them is an open kitchen, where we watched Chef Isaac Bancaco  and his staff diligently preparing our evening’s meal. Bancaco, Maui born, ventured out to other culinary cities in the continental U.S. to expand his repertoire and to hone his skills as a cook. Then he returned to Maui, first to take over as chef at the Grand Wailea’s Humuhumunukunukuapua, then to add to his résumé the title of Executive Chef at Ka’ana in 2013.

       Ka’ana is a sleek, newly designed restaurant that is not only redefining serious fine dining on the island but setting a standard as well. The modern design of the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor dining. The interior captures the living room feel of being at a friend’s home, with open kitchen.  The staff wears gingham attire. The dining room is very beautiful, lavished with dark wooden floors, a number of lightly upholstered banquette seats and dark leather strapped chairs [PIC 7]. Shaded hanging lights add a warm glow to the room and the activity from the kitchen keeps you entertained and adds an energy to your experience.
      The word Ka’ana means “to share,” and that is the concept behind this exciting restaurant,  with a menu built around that family-style concept. It is broken down into six different categories, e.g., Kona Cold Lobster or Kula Country Farms, with each one comprised of three dishes that represent its classification.  Grilled octopus (left) with local goat’s cheese, frisée, asparagus and grilled bread was a combo I had some trepidation about ordering, but Chef Isaac proved how well he conceived the dish, with its smoky notes and layered flavors. Abalone risotto with a poached egg was a dish I was excited to try and glad I did. With its complementing textures of the perfectly al dente risotto and subtle bite of the abalone, its creamy rich flavor and the slight brininess of the seafood, it was a justified hit.
      Were you ask me my favorite cut of steak, the answer would be a ribeye, mostly due to the generously marbled cap that wraps around the eye of the loin. Anytime I go to the butcher, I always ask for it to be cut closer to the shoulder side because that’s where the thickest part of the ribeye cap is. Chef Isaac must have known I was a sucker for this and had broken down his ribeye and offered it in two different preparations, Ribeye cap and eye of Rib-eye. Which do you think I chose? Yes, the ribeye cap. Wonderfully striated and grilled to a perfect medium-rare, the cap was accompanied by peanuts, green papaya and enokitake mushrooms, with an acidity that perfectly cut through the richness of the cap.
      Other dishes that are a must are Chef’s Hawaiian Lobster with grilled pineapple, mushrooms and fresh mint, and his Ahi Tuna with a fennel and citrus salad, bulghur wheat and baby carrots.

      Ka’ana delivers on all fronts, from professional and well-informed service, to exquisite food and an enjoyable ambiance. For those looking for a sophisticated, higher level dining experience without the pretense, Ka’ana Kitchen is a must.
    Part Two of this story will appear shortly.

Grand Wailea offers several Wedding Packages, which includes use of the Wailea Seaside Chapel and gardens and Hawaiian procession.  

Misha Mariani and Priscilla Scaff
were married on September, 26. 2014.




BY John Mariani

1555 2nd Avenue (at 81st Street)
212- 861-7660

    A few weeks ago I heaped high praise on the 22-year-old midtown Italian restaurant San Pietro,  whose owner, Gerardo Bruno, has long been one of New York’s premier hosts.  Upon writing that, I realized that it’s been at least a decade since I’d dined at his brother Giuseppe’s restaurant, Sistina, located on the Upper East Side for 30 years now.
    So, on my return to Sistina, I was happy to find that they are quite different restaurants in their menus but share the same degree of generous professionalism that has kept their dining rooms full at lunch and dinner with the kind of faithful clientele younger restaurateurs would kill to have.  (The brothers also run Caravaggio, also on the Upper East Side.)
    Upon entering Sistina, I was immediately greeted by Giuseppe Bruno with an ebullience that distinguishes the two brothers, a balance of real warmth, congenial humor, and sincere respect that immediately wins people over.  (And, after meeting Giuseppe’s son that evening, I suspect the next generation will be getting in on the act soon.)  The dining room and kitchen staff have gone through the motions so many times for so many years—at least one waiter has been here since the restaurant opened—that flawless delivery is pretty much a given, from the moment you sit down and breadsticks and focaccia are brought over to the deft shaking of a cocktail through the last service of espresso.  (Giuseppe imparted his method of getting his staff to stay on for so long: “I tell them to buy a house. Then they have to stay with me to pay their mortgage!”)
    The place looks wonderful, more sprightly than ever, with charming cartoons of fish, golden lighting throughout, well-set tables and very comfortable chairs—the kind of things too often forgotten in new restaurants where buzz replaces bonhomie.
    Sistina’s printed menu hasn’t changed radically in thirty years, but there are so many nightly specials that regulars need not even look at it.  My friends and I just told Giuseppe to serve us all the night’s specials, which began with excellent Italian charcuterie made for the restaurant according to Giuseppe’s instructions, a big platter served with
pickled vegetables, a red wine reduction and English mustard.
    A salad of Treviso, tartivo, and Castelfranco olives with persimmons, toasted walnuts, dates, olive oil-mustard vinaigrette and shaved Parmesan is a starter but would make an ideal lunch on its own, and I can’t say enough about the luscious Parmesan tortino with chanterelle mushrooms.  But the most applauded surprise that evening was the holiday pork sausage known as zampone—a specialty of Modena in which the pork is stuffed into the pig’s trotter and served with lentils and mustard fruit. With these we drank a fine Greco di Tufo by Petilla from a global wine list built with care over many, many years, with some bottlings dating back to the 1960s and an extraordinary number of Grand Cru French wines. 
    The nightly offerings are always geared to the season, so of course Sistina now has the most aromatic white truffles, which are served over what Giuseppe insists is the best risotto in New York—an opinion I must now share after tasting this marvelous rendition. Of course, a generous shaving of white truffles doesn’t hurt.      Maccheroncini were lavished with a rich veal ragù, wild mushrooms and spices, while wide, tender pappardelle came with shreds of long-simmered venison.
    The short season for bay scallops is well noted at Sistina, the fat sweet nubbins sautéed quickly and served with a cauliflower puree.  There was a Prime rib-eye with root vegetables, red wine and truffled sea salt, the beef as fine as at any New York steakhouse, and wild red leg Scottish partridge with porcini, black truffle salsify and partridge jus, which had just the right amount of gaminess, a virtue it shared with venison filet with butternut squash and red wine sauce.  Our red wine was a Bricco del Uccellone Braida Barbera.
    We had dined heartily and with great gusto, but we could not refuse a dessert of chocolate polenta lashed with Grand Marnier over blood orange segments with orange zest and raspberry sorbet; a perfect, flourless, almond-studded  torta caprese;  a ricotta  and pear cake;  and  gattopardo, a ricotta layer cake speckled with pistachios, whose name means “leopard.”
    This was as grand a holiday meal as I’ve ever had, and when I say it mirrors the best in Italy—and the Bruno brothers are from the Amalfi Coast—it is very rare praise on my part, because however many excellent Italian restaurants there are in New York, very few match the flavors back in Italy.
    Marry that to a hospitality that has been honed over thirty years, and you have a template anyone thinking of opening an authentic Italian restaurant in America should take necessary heed of.

Sistina is open daily for lunch and dinner.  Antipasti $18-$36, pastas $22-$28, main courses $32-$52.



* On Tuesday, December 16th, Le Cirque restaurant in NYC celebrates its 40th Anniversary with an "Andrea Bocelli Humanitarian Award," with Mr. Bocelli (who may well sing!) attending. 
     The dinner, at $600 per person, will be prepared by guest chef
Fulvio Pierangelini of Forte Hotels, Chef Raphaël François  of Le Cirque, Chef Raphaël François "Le Cirque"and Chef Massimo Bebber  of NYC's Sirio Ristorante, Pastry Chef Josoon Seuk "Le Cirque" includes Aperitif and Canapés with Franciacorta “Vintage Collection” Brut, Cà del Bosco 2009; Sea Scallops, Potato, Artichoke and White Truffle  with "Tirsat" Viognier-Chardonnay, Gurra di Mare, Sicily; Cappelletti, Burrata, Chestnut Purée and White Truffle with "Poggio alla Guardia" Rocca di Frasinello, Tuscany; 7X Beef Waygu Ribeye, Beefcheek,Brisket Confit and Black Truffle with Rocca Di Frassinello, Jamaique Pepper and Radicchio di Treviso with "Rocca di Frasinello", Rocca di Frasinello; Poached Pear, Chestnut Crème, Pistachio Financier and Caramel Ice Cream with Passito Gianfranco Ferré Gewurtztraminer-Semillon Feudi del Pisciotto; Urbani Chocolate Truffle and Caffé. For details call (212) 644-0202.   




"While `heyday' might be the phrase your Granddad uses when laying out his old hockey glory stories in painstaking detail, it’s ALSO what you’ll be experiencing while feasting on rabbit terrine at this Twin Cities’ restaurant that manages to combine rock ’n’ roll (Replacements quotations scrawl across the walls, reminding people younger than your Pops where the name came from) with American Nouveau food and a whiskey-heavy seasonal cocktail rotation."--"Heyday: 21 Best New Restaurants in America," Thrillist


Toys "R" Us is now selling an unauthorized Guy Fieri costume,  dubbed a “celebrity chef wig and goatee” for  $9.75.



 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.  WATCH THE VIDEO

“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.

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: LA RESTAURANTS GO GLOBAL

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