Virtual Gourmet

  March 15,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Carciofi Turinesi," by Galina Dargery (2013)


By John Mariani

Polo Bar
By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani

The Panorama from a Room at Grand Tremezzo on Lake Como, Italy

    A great resort is an amalgam of ten thousand details, most of them never even noticed by a visitor too busy taking in the most obvious of them.  For beyond the architecture of a grand hallway, the panorama from one’s terrace, the rich fabrics of the draperies, and the superb food and wine, there are so many unnoticed details that en masse enhance all the rest, from the replacement of flowers in every vase to the condition of every carpet, from the way tables are set and the services performed as if by silent magic.
    To take in every one of the details at Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the western shore of  Italy’s glorious Lake Como would take weeks and weeks at your leisure,  so let me tell you of some of the unique wonders of this exquisite place, which Greta Garbo’s character in the 1932 film “Grand Hotel” referred to as “that happy, sunny place.”  (Her preferred room, now Number 113, is named in her honor.)
   The hotel dates to 1910 at a time when Europe’s leisure class went on their grand tours for months at places like the Villa D’Este and Serbelloni, but Enea and Maris Gandola wanted something smaller, more secluded and more intimate for guests, who, after World War I, increasingly came to the area for health and sport. In the 1930s ownership passed to the Sampietro family, who managed to keep it open during World War II, and the post-war growth of international tourism, not least American, made Tremezzo famous as a place of unpretentious luxury and Italian savoir-faire.
    The local De Santis family then bought the hotel, and last year a granddaughter, the ebullient and very sophisticated Valentina De Santis, was appointed CEO to work on those ten thousand details and bring a more youthful cachet to the property.  There is now a state-of-the-art spa and three swimming pools. The rooms, each different, all with a view of the lake, have LCD flat screen satellite TV, free Wi-Fi,  Aquae di Como toiletries, and very large bathrooms; mine had a marble, six-foot wide double sink in the center of the room, whose wide window looked out over the water. She is even experimenting with bed sheets created from processed wood that have the softness and luxurious feel of linens with the highest of thread counts. One hundred service professionals keep all such details impeccable.
    One can drive from Milan to Grand Tremezzo in an hour, but I prefer to arrive by water. A fast train to Como then a smooth boat ride reveals all the majesty of Italy’s lake region, past little towns and old villas (including the rather modest one George Clooney and his new bride, Amal,  own).  Arriving at Grand Tremezzo, my bags were taken as I ascended an elevator that opens onto the gorgeous art nouveau-style lobby done (above) in vibrant colors of fuchsia and ocher, with walls covered in silk. This is not an atrium to dazzle you but to make you feel warmly welcome.  A butler/concierge is located on every floor.
    My room (left) was done in velvety, dovelike shades of gray and gray-green, accented in gold, with a terrace where it is possible to block out the whole world except the mountains and flow of Lake Como lighted by the soft Lombardian sun.
    The extravagant breakfast buffet in the Regina Room, with its own broad terrace, is rich in everything from Italian cheeses and charcuterie to a variety of breads, croissants and jams, with eggs cooked to order and coffee brewed as only Italians know how.  By the time you come down for breakfast, an array of international daily newspapers will have been displayed in a library with a remarkable collection of books on gardening.  In fact, the hotel itself is set adjacent to the Villa Carlotta, now an art museum with a four-acre park.
    I shall leave for another article the attractions of the Lake Como area, crisscrossed by ferries, and stay focused on reasons for staying put at Tremezzo, which includes a splendid 19th century, scarlet-colored billiards table.  A floodlighted clay tennis court overlooks the lake, Seven golf courses are nearby, and bicycling along the flat shoreline is a capital way to see the area.  Just strolling or sitting among the azaleas and bougainvillea should bring down one’s blood pressure by ten percent.
    There are three restaurants at Tremezzo, all of which serve the hotel’s signature cocoa-and-almond cake named Torta Valentina.  All the food service is overseen by Chef Osvaldo Presazzi, here since 1992, after stints at illustrious restaurants like Les Ambassadeurs at the Hotel Crillon in Paris, Il Teatro in Milan, and the restaurants of master chef Gualtiero Marchesi in Erbusco and Milan.  Indeed, for 2015, Signore Marchesi will be involved in the development of menus for Tremezzo’s restaurants, which will include his famous dish of risotto with edible  gold foil (below).
    The fine dining room is called La Terrazza (right), with an extensive menu of local and regional dishes drawing as much as possible on the provender and larder of the lake country and Lombardy.  Thus, I feasted on dishes like
scallops with a sauce of lettuce (€32);  foie gras terrine graced with true balsamico tradizionale (€32);  ring-shaped pasta called anelli made into savory pancakes filled with ricotta and spinach (€22); a luscious lobster and macaroni (€48);  roasted young local rooster with potatoes and spring onions (€26); most of the fish come right from the lakes. Desserts far exceed what is usual in Italian restaurants, and the menu is accompanied by an array of fine regional wines.  Sit there at twilight as the staff lights the table candles, sip a negroni or glass of Lombardian sparkling wine from Franciacorta, and you may not get up from the table till the moon finishes its rise in the night sky.
         L’Escale (below) is a casual, subterranean fondue and wine bar that also offers a wide array of charcuterie and cheeses, as well as meats and shellfish that you cook at your own table.  The raclette (€22), made with Swiss cheese from the Valais, is melted on a hot stone and eaten with gherkins, while the fondue (€32-36) involves dipping skewers of bread, fruit and meats into either melted cheese or boiling oil.  With red wine from the Valtellina, this is a delightful evening.
    For snacks and pizzas there is the TBar, and every Monday night they hold a candlelit poolside pizza party that is extremely popular. 
    Staying put in Grand Tremezzo, with walks along the lake, a visit to Palazzo Carlotta, and a sojourn down to the town of Como can easily take up one's weekend. But the ferries that crisscross the lake make exploring the area easy and the sights are eye-opening--these I shall be writing about in a future article.     

        You could, however, hardly be blamed for not ever leaving the property of Grand Tremezzo for days, for it is tempting to practice what Italians call “dolce far niente”--the sweetness of doing nothing.  It’s an art well worth learning in a place so sincerely dedicated to that proposition.

Grand Hotel Tremezzo is located at Via Provinciale Regina, 8, Tremezzina.
Phone:+39 0344 42491


By John Mariani


1 East 55th Street (off Fifth Avenue)


    Growing up in the Bronx in the same era as did Ralph Lauren,  I never thought our paths would cross until he announced he was opening Polo Bar, set adjacent to  his new flagship Fifth Avenue store. 
Of course, there's been much clucking in the media about what kind of place it would be--long on promotional designs for his company, short on a commitment to fine dining.
But one would be a callow fellow indeed to blame him for using the restaurant as a showcase of RL style, from the polo player logo to a mass quantity of equestrian artwork, as if a branch of a Louisville Breeder’s Country Club had opened on the corner of Fifth Avenue and East 55th Street.  

        Polo Bar, whose name reeks exclusivity, is Lauren’s third restaurant (his first, RL, is in Chicago; Ralph’s is in Paris), and, according to its website, it is inspired by “classic New York establishments” with dishes that are his “personal favorites.” It's a fantasy that's part Scott Fitzgerald, part Frank O'Hara, and part Peter Arno, but with fresh polish. (Le Bernardin's Eric Ripert has said the dining room is "the best lighted restaurant in New York.")  Of course, the classic establishment that leaps to mind upon entering Polo Club is `21’ Club, three blocks away across Fifth Avenue, whose own décor includes some equestrian art and whose menu set a template decades ago for the kind of food power people want to eat, or at least order, which includes a whole lot of red meat.
  for a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx, née Ralph Lifshitz, these were not the kind of restaurants or clubs where Mr. Lauren would have once been welcomed; in fact, the subterranean space of Polo Club used to be home to the original La Côte Basque, a  notoriously snobbish WASP watering hole (satirized in a famous short story by Truman Capote) that opened after its French owner at the time, Henri Soulé, refused ever to give his landlord--fearsome Hollywood mogul Harry Cohn--a good table at Le Pavillon because he was Jewish; Soulé thereupon lost his lease and opened La Côte Basque nearby.  Now, in the long tradition of the American Dream, Mr. Lauren occupies the same space with his own restaurant where he can come dressed in RL jeans, even a cowboy hat, whenever he wishes.
    There’s plenty of saddle leather at Polo Bar, the requisite Henry Koehler mural, and expanses of woodwork that look as if buffed with bees’ wax and lamb’s wool. There are charming little lamps on the tables, signature green-rimmed china, thick tablecloths, but, oddly, no flowers.   Once inside, you enter  a cramped brass-topped bar leading to a small, intimate room with a fireplace a few steps up.  Cocktails are pricey: For the $18 Ridgway Margarita you'd expect the bar would use Cointreau rather than cheap curaçao. Bar food like pigs in a blanket, shrimp cocktail and crudités are available.  You half expect Don Draper and Roger Sterling up there knocking back Manhattans.  

    Whoever chose the young staff for the restaurant has obvious familiarity with the look of the models in RL ads: every one, male and female, is fresh-faced, very good looking,  and impeccably dressed in RL clothes. Here’s one who looks like Audrey Tatou. Another like Julianne Hough. Another like Usher. They seat and serve a passel of  aging socialites and celebrities who fill the place at dinner (lunch is to come in a few weeks) the kind of people who, as Scott Fitzgerald put it, have "voices full of money.”
    What is most impressive is that the entire staff acts as if they had been born on some Gold Coast in the 1920s and never aged a bit, well mannered, secure in their own loveliness. They appear to have just arrived from summer service on a Bermuda yacht or on a Wellesley spring break.  How should you dress? Well, without pretense. This is not La Côte Basque.
       The dining room is down a not very wide staircase (right), and it quickly occurred to me that no one but Ralph Lauren could get away with seating his darlings in such a subterranean, windowless space. The room works because its segments and alcoves are arranged so that those who need to see and be seen are not disadvantaged, even if some social climbers fret about which are the “A” tables.  (I cannot imagine the agonies the receptionists must go through listening to people demanding tables when there are none and dropping names when their own  are not enough to count.)
    As noted, the menu strikes no new ground in American gastronomy, and Texas-born Executive Chef Sepp Stoner probably hasn’t much leeway to develop his own ideas just yet. But, with stints under Bob Carter in Charleston, SC, and Laurent Tourondel in NYC, he’s mastered the techniques that make mistakes on such a menu a rarity.
    You begin, as at Tourondel’s restaurants, with a fabulous, large cheese-enriched popover and good butter--fast becoming the bread roll of 2015--while you peruse a wine list that seems equally balanced between French (RL himself prefers Bordeaux) and California labels, and mark-ups range from very high among bottlings under $100 to more reasonable at the top levels. An Olivier Leflaive Meursault 1er Cru Charmes 2009 at $220 is almost a bargain.
    The best of the starters I tried was the “ranch house chili” ($15) with a warm pecorino biscuit almost as good as that popover.  Chockful of meat and a sensible amount of heat, the dish tells you that the chef was born in Texas.  Butternut squash soup with wild mushrooms and sage ($13) was a good choice for a very cold winter’s night, but tuna tartare got a little lost mixed with avocado, mustard greens and crispy shallots with soy ginger dressing ($18).  
       The crab cake here is an oddity.  When a high-end restaurant's menu in NYC lists a crab cake  it means a fat hockey puck of jumbo lump crab loosely bound; at Polo Bar it comes as a rather flat round, thinly crusted with what tasted like shredded wheat and served with a mustard bell pepper sauce ($17). 
    In addition to four “Steaks & Burgers,” there are eight entrees labeled “classics,” including “Ralph’s corned beef sandwich on marble rye” ($22), which I hadn’t a chance to try, and a finely cooked, well-fatted Dover sole with a delicious lemon butter sauce, which at $54 is somewhat lower than others around town at similar restaurants. 
    The beef (sometimes, it’s said, from RL’s own ranch) is USDA Prime Angus, so I was surprised that the bone-in ribeye ($55), sliced a bit thin, did not have the flavor I would have expected and was decidedly chewy, which ribeyes shouldn’t be.  It came with hand-cut French fries I had a hard time keeping my fingers away from. Sautéed garlic spinach was fine enough, and mashed potatoes with plenty of butter were irresistible. There is also a vegetarian menu available.
    An awful lot of items pin “Ralph” to their description—even “Ralph’s Coffee”—and that includes some very good coffee ice cream with dark chocolate shortbread cookies ($10). The brownie is, well, damn scrumptious, and the apple pie (“homemade”) with vanilla ice cream and warm caramel sauce ($10) is just barely bettered by the really excellent bourbon pecan pie with whipped cream ($14).
    And so, Polo Bar is what it was intended to be, and that is, very attractive, extremely hospitable, a show case for RL style, and at the moment tough to get into—bookings are already a month out. In fact, New York Magazine spent 650 words of pouty text on just that aspect, and the NY Times contends--wink, wink--there is a secret e-mail contact.  The food is dependable, of a kind your friends insist is surprisingly good at their country club but never is.  Polo Bar’s food is far better than that, and if you don’t go out raving about it, there is plenty of appeal to a restaurant this carefully crafted.
Polo Bar is open for dinner nightly.



By John Mariani

      Nothing makes drinking wine so appealing as the vast array of good, solidly made wines at good price points from all over the world.  Here are some I’m enjoying right now.


Rapsani 2012  ($6)—Greek red wines have turned somersaults in quality over the past decade, and whatever problems Greece must overcome economically, the prices of its wines make them very attractive.  This blend of organic grapes from northern Greece—one-third each of Xinomavro, Krasato, and Tavra—comes from Larissa.  With just 13.5% alcohol, it’s light- to medium-bodied, and the blend shows itself in layers of flavors, and the often harsh Xinomavro is tamed by the other varietals. 


Beyerskloof Chenin Blanc-Pinotage 2014 ($14)—A unique blend of 82% Chenin Blanc and 18% Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault that has been the most promoted of modern South African winemaking), is a very pleasant marriage by winemaker Beyers Truter, who calls it a “white Pinotage.” It has well balanced sugars and acid without the brash grassiness Chenin Blanc so often shows on its own.

SKW Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($48)—From the admirable Steven Kent Winery in Livermore Valley, CA (left),whose soils are similar to Bordeaux’s, comes this lovely wine that shows that California vintners need not pump up the alcohol (this one comes in at 13.6%) to provide body.  You get plenty of heft and equal elegance without overripe plumminess.  It could use a little more backbone perhaps, but it’s a wonderful wine with every meat or most pastas.

Copain Pinot Noir “Les Voisins” 2012
  ($42)—Here’s a Pinot Noir from the coolest part of Anderson Valley that shows you can share the best qualities of Burgundy without giving up a wine’s California terroir. There are lovely subtleties throughout, punctuated with rich, deep, sunny flavors kept in tandem at just 13.1% alcohol. It’s got years of liveliness ahead but quite delicious now.


 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  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.


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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