Virtual Gourmet

  April 12,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Cary Grant in "Suspicion" (1941)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By Mort Hochstein


By John Mariani


   If it’s springtime in America, there are few places lovelier to be than Lexington, Kentucky.  The city by that name is well worth visiting, but it is in the surrounding hillsides that you find the soul of the place, especially between April and October when this Horse Capital of the World” showcases thoroughbred racing by the world's finest horses and jockeys at Keeneland Race Course, which this October will host the 2015 Breeders' Cup World Championships.
    It is also a region rich in history, including
Ashland (right), home of the great and brilliant 19th century statesman Henry Clay, which is set on a 20-acre wooded estate with an English parterre garden.  Guided tours are given six days a week to this bucolic spot, of which Clay wrote: "I am in one respect better off than Moses. He died in sight of, without reaching, the Promised Land. I occupy as good a farm as any that he would have found, if he had reached it; & it has been acquired not by hereditary descent, but by my own labor.”
    One can also walk the
African American Heritage Trail, created by sociology professor Doris Wilkinson based on her original brochure "A Guide to the African American Heritage in Downtown Lexington, Kentucky."
Kentucky’s native spirit, bourbon, is proudly boosted around the region, with six of the most popular distilleries along the Bourbon Trail within five to thirty minutes of the city center.  Both Wild Turkey and Four Roses have new visitor centers.

It would be wholly wrong to characterize Lexington’s gastronomy as awash in grits and barbecue, though you can readily find both at Billy’s BAR-B-Q (here since 1978). But there are also the marvelously evocative Holly Hill Inn in an 1838 ante-bellum mansion, an excellent family-run restaurant featuring traditional and modern cuisine at very good prices; a charming, family-owned Japanese restaurant, Yamaguchi’s Sake and Tapas; and an always convivial fine dining restaurant named Dudley’s on Short, located in the  stately Northern Bank Building, built in 1889, whose owner, Debbie Long, knows well the meaning of personal and culinary largess.

    Certainly unique is the restaurant that is oddly called the Trustees’ Table at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, which is the largest restored Shaker community, with 2,900 acres of farmland and 34 renovated 19th century buildings. Examples of the distinct Shaker design can be found in every house and piece of furniture, as it is in the restaurant--where you need not be a trustee to dine. And the food, whose ingredients come largely from local gardens, largely reflects the kind that the community once would  have consumed, starting with hot corn sticks and a cole slaw that is far more addictive than the sober-sided Shakers might have wished.
    There are plump, hot chicken croquettes chock full of mushrooms, onions, chives and parsley ($13.95), served with a rich cream sherry sauce, corn pudding and baby green beans in dill butter.  I loved the potato and ham soup ($2.95 or $4.95) and slow-roasted pork on brioche bread ($12.95)--as juicy and delicious as you’ll find in any local barbecue spot, only here they add fontina cheese and a sweet pepper relish.  Dining within the walls of this darling restaurant adds measurably to one’s appreciation of the whole enterprise at the Village, where, as the old hymn says, it is indeed a gift to be simple.

The Trustees’ Table is open daily for lunch and dinner.

        One of the favorite dinner spots in Lexington, in a refurbished landmark building dating to 1938, is Coles 735 Main, where just about everybody seems to know each other, not least the management and wait staff that greets you.  The interior has history on its side, including three restored English hunt scene murals that had been painted for the restaurant in 1949 by local art teacher Theresa Newhoff, who put local people into the scenes of the “Blessing of the Hounds.”
        Native-born chef-owner  Cole Arimes has had long experience at some haute cuisine restaurants outside of Kentucky, and it shows in his precision and in the way he imbues old dishes with bright flourishes.  Even a somewhat questionable idea like panko-crusted fried avocado worked, not least because it came with a meaty crab salad and lemon-saffron aïoli ($10).  It was also so good to see that Arimes knows well how once-dismissed Iceberg lettuce is supposed to work--with real crunch--under hard-boiled egg, chives, tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and barrel-smoked bacon dressing ($8).  A pork belly confit with micro salad and red onion vinaigrette ($12) seems right at home here, and, if tuna sashimi ($12) seems far afield, it’s still a pretty good rendering.
        Pastrami short ribs are cured and smoked in-house, with wasabi-spiked whipped potatoes, kimchi, and a delightful sorghum Pommery demi-glace ($30).  Best of all dishes I tried was one urged on me by the waiter, who promised it would be one of the best steaks I’ll ever eat.  And it was, a Black Angus strip (left) of admirable marbling and good minerality, seared perfectly and oozing red juices, all accompanied by smoked garlic grits and compound butter--a steal at $33.
        All desserts I sampled were up to what preceded them, from bourbon ball flourless chocolate torte with smoked pecans ($6) to a Key lime pie with Chantilly cream ($7). Coles is all about pleasing the customer, not by merely giving him what he thinks he wants to eat but by engaging him to try what he’s going to end up loving.

Coles 735 Main is open Mon.-Sat for dinner.


        For a charming night out, at a restaurant smack in the middle of a vineyard, head for Jean Farris Winery, whose husband-wife owners produce a wide range of bottlings that include everything from Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to “Vintner’s Blended Reds” like Tempest (Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) and Hell Hound, a mongrel mix named after their dog Hades. 
The dining area is set in a barn-like space--the patio (right) is particularly lovely this time of year--and it’s casual, with plenty of encouragement to try the estate’s wines by the glass, which match up splendidly with starters such as the Butcher’s Board of house-made charcuterie like duck rillette, pȃté, white fish, truffled lardo and Kentucky cheese ($16). In addition, there is a selection of cheeses (one for $6, three for $14), many of them from the state’s thriving cheese industry.  Too bad that on the night I was there all cheeses came to the table cold.
        For a main course I went with a fine pork loin with sweet potato chips, blue cheese, bacon, Brussels sprouts, and a pepper jelly demi-glace ($26) and a sous-vide slow-cooked duck with kimchi lentils, orange suprèmes, and sweet soy reduction ($26), which honorably married the best of east and west flavors.
        For dessert the chocolate bourbon tart was good, but the raspberry cobbler was a reminder of how cooked fruit and streusel epitomizes class homespun cookery.

Jean Farris Winery & Bistro is open for dinner Tues.-Sat.; The Bar is open Tues.-Sun.;  Sunday Supper is served noon to 7 p.m.



        For something even more down home but seeming very much up to the moment, try County Club Restaurant, located within a renovated garage by owner/chef Johnny Shipley. It’s a very friendly, very laid-back place, with roomy booths, concrete walls and black Formica tables--none of which helps to muffle the booming ‘70s music.
        The menu is largely Kentuckian in style, with some added comfort foods like French-Canadian poutine--a mound of French fries with gravy and cheese curds ($12).  The requisite burger ($10) is a winner—a quarter pound of nicely assembled beef
with bacon jam, sharp cheddar, smoked portabello mushroom and gochujang ketchup (below).
     The  chopped pork sandwich made with smoked shoulder ($8) shows off Shipley’s skill at slow-roasting and smoking, and his complex sauce is very important to the final outcome.
        Given the low prices for so much goodness here, the portions of so-so ice cream at the end are paltry, but then, they’re not the point of coming here. You just go, you settle in, you eat, you grin, you vow to come back soon, and you do, soon.

County Club Restaurant is open for lunch Fri. & Sat., Brunch on Sun.; Dinner Tues.-Sat.


By John Mariani


10 Lincoln Square Plaza

    Naïfs still ask, “But what really is American food?” 
     The easy answer is, anything Americans eat, from Maine lobster to chile con carne.  But nothing is that easy. Assuming that, like everything else, American gastronomy gobbles up influences from all its immigrant cultures, there is by now a consensus of what an American menu looks like. 
    For a prime example, head to Lincoln Center. There you may dine at the 75-seat American Table Café and Bar by Marcus Samuelsson (an immigrant from Sweden via Ethiopia); the Munroe Film Center, where you can enjoy Indie Food and Wine; the Grand Tier Restaurant inside the Metropolitan Opera House; Lincoln Ristorante, a stylish Italian restaurant (my son is g-m there); and Avery Fisher’s Lincoln Center Kitchen, now overseen by Chef Ed Brown (left), who also runs Ed Brown’s Chowder House across the street.
    Avery Fisher Hall is due for a total rehab over the next four years, but Lincoln Center Kitchen, which has been on the premises for decades, will stay open throughout much of the construction phase. So, no need to rush over just yet.  For the time being, LCK is comprised of two open dining rooms and a lounge--you look out on the Plaza--with a large communal high-top table.  Three tree paintings by NYC artist Merle Temkin hang in the center room.
    Go now and you’ll immediately recognize the American aspects of the menu as well as global influences--executive chef Daniel Anconetani is from Argentina--like the best, meatiest, lump crab cakes in the country, with grainy mustard and palm cabbage slaw ($38). Appetizers include deviled eggs (below, right) with American caviar and crispy bacon ($14); poached shrimp are treated to a shower of spicy cashews and a saffron aïoli ($16).  A beet and goat's cheese salad (below, left) is artfully plated and fresh as April itself. Of course, there is the inevitable kale salad, laced with spicy yogurt, pine nuts and parmesan ($15).  Meh.
    But Brown always gives his strong, personal stamp to everything, so he makes a big, buttery, crisp and steamy popover, which he lavishes with wild mushrooms and fresh herbs.  What could possibly be more American than chicken pot pie? LCK’s version ($26) is as straightforward as they come, chock full of big pieces of chicken, white onions, mushrooms, carrots and peas, but what distinguishes it is the creamy sauce, as rich as you’d find in a blanquette de veau in the best Paris bistros.
    There’s a dish called “spaghetti-spaghetti” that incorporates whole wheat pasta with carrot, zucchini, yellow squash strips and good pecorino ($23) that really works in terms of texture, nuttiness, and springtime.
    Brown always has exciting specials--the night I dined there a black bass crudo with olive oil, orange, mint, radish, flowering cucumber and sea salt, everything in perfect, subtle balance. Black bass also figured as a main course, roasted with purple cauliflower, Sicilian tuna, garlic, a hit of chili, a spike of lemon zest, and nicely acidic lemon verbena. Braised shortrib was a lusty, dark, winey dish with unimaginably buttery pureed potatoes, and sweet Thumbelina carrots.  There was also a whole roast squab, cooked just to the point of pinkness that revealed the most flavor, served with red cabbage, kale, Fuji apple and the rich liver of the squab.

    You may have an American cheese plate with bread and figs ($16) instead of dessert, or a fine molten chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream  ($14). 
    So, if a friend is visiting from abroad--especially one with an interest in music and Lincoln Center--you can treat him to a very delicious lesson in American cooking at LCK, along with a good dose of American hospitality and some spectacular NYC architecture. And Broadway runs right by it.

Lunch is Sat. & Sun.; dinner Tues.-Sat..  There is a seasonal Chef’s Menu  offered for $47 per person.

Photos: Matthew Pisano




By Mort Hochstein

  I met Allen Shoup many years ago, when we tasted his line of wines in a modest tavern in Manhattan. Although he was the CEO of Stimson Lane, then a fledgling Washington state wine company, he was working the New York wine market like an ordinary street salesman, knocking on doors and trying to interest buyers in wines from a little known region.
    In those same years, Robert Mondavi was also on the road, campaigning to bring California wines to Eastern markets dominated by European imports. The pioneering ventures of Mondavi and Shoup raced along parallel tracks for several decades. In the same way that Mondavi attracted attention for California, Shoup made buyers familiar with Chateau Ste. Michelle and wines from Washington. California’s vineyards boomed in the '80s, and Chateau Ste. Michelle and its neighbors in the Columbia Valley also prospered. Today Washington rocks with 850 wineries, second only to California.
    In 1979 Mondavi created the super premium Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon in a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chȃteau Mouton Rothschild. Opus One brought international attention to Napa.  Shoup commented many years later, “Bob Mondavi realized that he could gain credibility for American wines by partnering with famous European houses. He was an inspiration to me.”
      At Chateau Ste. Michelle, Shoup adopted a similar strategy.  “At the time Mondavi created Opus One, I thought seriously about a similar project with May de Lecquesaing, owner of Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux. She loved Washington wines, and we tried for years to put together a joint venture à la Opus, but it never happened.” Instead, in 1996, Shoup induced Piero Antinori, a leader of the Italian wine industry, to partner with Chateau Ste. Michelle, producing Col Solare, a Bordeaux blend emphasizing Syrah from the Columbia Valley. Three years later, together with Ernst Loosen from Dr. Loosen of Germany, he created Loosen’s Eroica, which has been credited with popularizing Riesling in America, where until recently that varietal was often neglected. 
     In 2002, after building Stimson Lane Wineries and Estates into a giant house with multiple labels in Washington, Conn Creek and Villa Mt. Eden in California, and brand ventures in Chile, France and Australia, Shoup (below) moved on. He had another vision to pursue and spent the next two years inducing industry icons to join him in a venture to be known as Long Shadows Winery. Each member would be an owner-partner, making one unique premium wine from Washington grapes.  “I wanted to name our project after Bob Mondavi,” he recalled recently, “but we couldn’t overcome the legalities. So it became Long Shadows,  honoring him indirectly, since he cast such a long shadow over the American wine industry." At a well equipped facility in Walla Walla, Shoup’s all-star team of winemakers has produced a series of stylish wines that have won awards and high ratings since their inception. 
By contemporary standards, particularly for top-shelf winemakers, the Long Shadows line is moderately priced. The winemakers are Randy Dunn of Napa for Feather Cabernet Sauvignon ($60); Armin Diehl of Germany for Poet’s Leap Riesling ($20); international wine consultant Michelle Rolland for Pedestal Merlot ($60); John Duval, former winemaker for Penfolds Grange of Australia, for Sequel Syrah ($50); Napa pioneer and winemaker Philippe Melka for Pirouette Red, a Bordeaux-style wine ($60) and Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari of Italy for Saggi, a super-Tuscan red blend ($45). Gilles Nicault, resident winemaker, is general overseer for all these projects. He also produces a new world red blend, Chester Kidder ($50), honoring Shoup’s  grandfather, Charles Chester, and grandmother, Maggie Kidder. 

Nicault, trained in his native France, has worked in Washington since 1994, most notably with the premier Cabernet house Woodward Canyon, and he now assists Shoup’s distinguished visitors. “While there may be some traditional methods,” he observes, “no winemaker is the same.” Shepherding the visiting winemakers at Walla Walla requires great flexibility to accommodate the variety of techniques and equipment needed by the owner-partners. It also requires them to adjust to the vast distances they must traverse to inspect vineyards and source fruit.
     Now in its second decade, Long Shadows has become one of Washington’s leading wineries. Before getting underway, Shoup sought Mondavi out and wanted to enlist him in the project. “Bob Mondavi’s encouragement,” he observed, “was critical to my decision to move ahead. He thought it was a no-brainer.”
     But, while Mondavi thoroughly approved, he resisted Shoup’s invitation to come aboard, saying, “I’m 90 at this point and would gladly participate if I were ten years younger.” The godfather of the California wine explosion lived to the age of 95, long enough to watch his pioneering Washington counterpart establish yet innovative project.            


MUNCHIES has just released a new documentary entitled MUNCHIES Presents: Insects, Testicles, and the Paleo Diet. In the video, Berlin chef Boris Leite Poço, who has opened the world's first Paleo restaurant, Sauvage, offers a three course meal that includes lamb testicles with parsnips and celeriac; a raw biscuit made from dried fruits, cocoa beans, hazelnuts and mealworms; and bone marrow with mealworm crackers.



An impatient Texan who couldn't stand waiting in the Whataburger drive-through line was arrested after he chose to impersonate a police officer by wheeling into the parking lot in a Dodge truck  he'd outfitted with sirens and flashing lights, forcing the other cars  to move out of the way. A nearby off-duty cop nearby  became suspicious and arrested the man who faces up to ten years in prison.



The Legend of Principessa Gavia

    Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a fair young princess named Gavia, daughter of Clodimir, king of the Franks and son of Clovis I. As young maidens are wont to do, she fell in love with a handsome young man who served as a guard in her father's court. The couple sought the king's permission to marry, but he refused to have his daughter wed out of her class. He forbade them to see each other. Desperately in love, the young couple eloped, fleeing to a distant part of the kingdom and settling in a sleepy village on the other side of the alps.
    For a long time, they eluded the king's troops who scoured the land in search of the newlyweds. Alas, one night after enjoying a generous amount of a charming local white wine, the groom became loose-lipped and confided their story to the local innkeeper. The innkeeper nodded and feigned sympathy, but after sending the groom off to bed he sent word to the king and collected a handsome reward. Troops gathered up the couple and brought them back to the king to face their punishment.
    By this time word of the romance had spread throughout the kingdom, and there were intercessions on Gavia's behalf by Alamasunta, Queen of the Goths, as well as Pope St. Hermistas. The King, of course, upon looking into his lovely daughter's eyes, could not help but forgive her. He blessed their union, and as a wedding gift he bequeathed them the town which they had chosen to settle in. In her honor he gave the name Gavi to the town as well as the charming white wine that was responsible for her husband's indiscretion.

It is said today that the romance lives on in each glass of Principessa Gavia Gavi.



 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."  THIS WEEK: ARUBA; CRYSTAL SPRINGS, NJ

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.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2015