Virtual Gourmet

  JULY 26,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Masciarelli Winery, Abruzzo, Italy


BY Dotty Griffith

By John Mariani


By Mort Hochstein


BY Dotty Griffith

        If you’re a fan of Black Sails, you know it’s in reruns until season three starts early next year. The Starz network historical drama about real pirates of the Caribbean, set in Nassau as a prequel to Treasure Island, has me hooked. So does the real Nassau of today. Though the swashbuckling days are long gone, the beauty of the island with its crystalline beaches, the bluest of water and an intoxicating mix of native, historic and contemporary influences gives Nassau its charm and vibrancy.
       The food is just as intriguing--a mix of today and long ago, upscale and street scene, indigenous and colonial.  Influences include Spanish, West African and British culinary traditions. Dine at casual beachfront cafés, celebrity chef restaurants, fast-food spots, seaside bars and grills as well as world-renowned resorts.
       Hilly Nassau is the capital and largest city of the Bahamas. It lies on the island of New Providence, with neighboring Paradise Island accessible via Nassau Harbor bridges. It retains many of its characteristic pastel-colored British colonial buildings, including pink-hued Government House. Restaurants and accommodations run a wide gamut, from luxe resorts to historic properties.  So, too, do the food options.

     At a resort like Sandals Royal Bahamian, guests may dine in flip flops at casual venues or in resort evening attire at Gordon’s on the Pier, where your table overlooks the water (right). Available to guests in butler suites (or for $140 surcharge), Gordon’s is one of the most romantic and beach breezy experiences at this resort.  Rillettes of smoked salmon, mahi mahi and trout served with garlic crostini teased the appetite before we dined in the Crystal Room on braised lamb shank and herb-crusted rack of lamb. We took dessert, molten chocolate cake with Bailey’s vanilla ice cream, at the fire pit under vibrant stars in the Caribbean sky.
       A can’t-miss feature of a trip to Nassau is the Tru Bahamian Food Tour, a three-hour guided tasting and cultural walking excursion in historic downtown Nassau.  You’ll experience classic Bahamian cuisine at local spots like Bahamian Cookin’.  Don’t miss the conch chowder and conch fritters. At Van Breugel’s Bistro and Bar, European-inspired and created by third-generation chef Freddy Van Breugel, the cuisine is nonetheless Caribbean with coconut curry conch chowder, yet with very European offerings like Wiener schnitzel as well.
     Even if you don’t go on the walking culinary tour, stop by Graycliff Chocolatier  at the historic Graycliff Hotel, which dates to 1740, when it was a private residence. It was converted to a hotel in 1973. In the chocolate factory delicious and delicate chocolates are made and decorated under the direction of expert chocolatier Erika Dupree Davis. Don’t miss the white passion fruit bonbons. Many of the confections are made with various spirits, including beer, rum, wine and port. Interactive tours are available.
       In addition to chocolate, the Graycliff restaurant (left) is justifiably known for its wine cellar, being on the Wine Spectator Grand Award list since 1988. The wine cellar has an inventory of 250,000 bottles from more than 400 vintners in 15 countries. The inventory ranges from such wines as an 1865 Château Lafite to the oldest and one of the most expensive bottles in the world, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller in the "Rheinghau" Region, priced at $200,000. Of course, there’s a large selection of today's popular vintages that complement the Bahamian-influenced Continental cuisine served in the restaurant.

     Atlantis is one of Nassau’s premier resorts, with a full range of activities, including a water park for families, Aquaventure, and the privileged access adult-only pool area, Cain at the Cove. It includes private cabanas, daybeds, a café and an outdoor gaming pavilion. If there’s ever a place to let down your hair and sip a rum-based beach cocktail or two, this is it. After all, you’re in the land of “yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum."
      The restaurant lineup at Atlantis boasts some big names, including Olives by chef Todd English.  Our meal at Olives focused on the enticing raw bar with spiny lobster, oysters and clams. Do not miss the conch ceviche.  The seafood menu is extensive. Grilled tuna, native grouper or Florida snapper will satisfy your briny longings. Of course, steak lovers will also find big plates like the Tomahawk Ribeye for 2.

     The One & Only Ocean Club is, relatively, as small and quiet as the two aforementioned resorts are big and high energy. Internationally known chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten designed the menu at Dune (right), an open-air dining room on the beach known for its French-Asian cuisine infused with local herbs and Bahamian influences. I enjoyed only  breakfast at Dune, but the dinner menu features dishes as enticing as crunchy soft shell crab with sugar snap rémoulade.
     No visit to Nassau is complete without a trip to a rum distillery. John Watling’s Distillery  (below) is an easy walk from the cruise ship port. Housed in the historic Buena Vista Estate, founded in 1789, the distillery offers tastes of its white, pale and amber small-batch rums. Watling’s daiquiris are masterful.

West of downtown, the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay is the Bahamian version of a food truck park. Rather than food trailers or vans, however, Fish Fry is an assemblage of local restaurants and bars serving very fresh, very authentic Bahamian fare out of pastel-colored shacks along the waterfront. Many with outdoor patios, these local eateries beckon with the aroma of fried shrimp, conch fritters (right) and grilled lobster tails. You’ll want to join in the fun while sipping a local Kalik beer or experiencing a Sky Juice cocktail, a mix of gin, coconut water and sweetened condensed milk. I didn’t experience Sky Juice till near the end of my Nassau stay. Probably a good thing but still a source of lingering regret.      
Whether you’re in Nassau for quiet fun in the sun, pampering at myriad spas, water adventures and sports, or sightseeing and history, the dining and food options are a big part of the experience.  If, like me, you’re a Black Sails follower, you’ll get a better understanding of the Old World fascination and avarice that made the islands of the Caribbean a colonial grail.


By John Mariani

Streetbird ROTISSERIE 

2149 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (at 116th Street)

    The best thing I had at Streetbird Rotisserie was the bloody Mary ($9)--here called “Sippin’ on Tomato Juice”--which I do not mean as faint praise.  For this was by far the very best Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted, spiked with Streetbird Hot Sauce. So, if not everything else on the menu came up to that level, a lot of the food at this very casual corner eatery in Harlem was good fun, not least the “Return of the Mac,” a mac-and-cheese dish of rigatoni lavished with cheddar and Parmesan, then sent out crisp on top and bubbling inside (right).
    They like to play on words here, not least the restaurant’s title, which is a turn on the Southern country term "yard bird," for chicken.  Indeed, many of the items sound like those you’d find in the kind of eatery Guy Fieri visits, with names like “Hot & Messy,” “Mash It Up Potatoes,” “Tick Tack” and “Ying & Yang Fries.”
    Streetbird Rotisserie is one of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s enterprises, along with Red Rooster (also in Harlem), Norda Bar & Grill in Gothenburg, Sweden, and, as of this month, Marcus in Bermuda.  I note Samuelsson’s celebrity status because these days he seems to have become more of a fashion plate than a presence in his kitchens.  His story is well known: Born in Ethiopia, adopted by Swedish parents and raised in Scandinavia, he made his rep in NYC for haute Scandinavian cuisine at Aquavit before leaving to open, and quickly close, an African restaurant in Manhattan.  Red Rooster was a leap of faith by locating in Harlem just as that long-troubled neighborhood was gaining some traction and, now, gentrification, and the restaurant has had an admirable part in that.
    Red Rooster’s menu was largely Southern soul food, whereas Streetbird Rotisserie’s is all over the globe, with dishes like “Swediopian” ($12.50) made of Ethiopian doro wat and injera with cheese, eggs and greens.  There are “Block Party” items like “Bruce LeRoy sandwich” ($11), named after a black kung-fu actor.  And a whole lot of chicken--“Bird Land”-- from the large open rotisserie.
    The 68-seat room is a riot of colors and art inspired by hip hop and street culture of the 1970s and 1990s, including graffiti by Cey Adams, a floor collage of Harlem life by Anthony Vasquez, old boom boxes, West African fabrics, church pews, quilted stainless steel, white subway tiles, lighting fixtures made from cassette tapes, and a subway door, all of which makes the place an instant micro-museum of Harlem history.  It also makes it a very, very loud place to eat.  Best bet is to try to snare a table by an open window on 116th Street, where you can also watch modern street life pass by.
    The kitchen is overseen by Chef Adrienne Cheatham. They take no reservations but the charming women at the host station will do everything to make your wait and evening enjoyable.
    The menu is a folded piece of paper (take-out on the back), which also contains a wine list of 15 bottlings (only two under $42) and eight beers, along with house cocktails.
    The prices for large portions of food are easy to digest, with a whole rotisserie chicken at $18, half at $9.50, and chicken and waffles $12.50 (the same dish at an assembly line IHop costs $9.49).    
    On a recent summer evening our party tucked into a pork taco ($8.50), which for some reason encases the meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, white cheese, and cilantro within two taco shells (right). It was okay, not radically different from one of the neighborhood’s better taco shops.  Hot & Messy ($12.50) certainly lived up to its name--a pile-on of toasted cornbread (a little dry), pulled chicken, fried egg, avocado, peanut butter and bacon. What’s not to like?
    Blackened catfish with chutney and white cheddar grits ($14.50) was a good dish, if somewhat overcooked, and the Americano ($12.50) was a bland frittata with pulled chicken, crispy bread and pickled onions (below), which could really use some of that hot sauce.
    We ordered the whole rotisserie chicken, which was well cooked but the flavor of the chicken itself was nothing special, about what one might expect from Costco, which sells a better seasoned bird.  It also didn’t have that sizzle as a bird straight off the skewer should.  

 Ying & Yang Fries ($4) made from sweet potatoes and garlic fries with Parmesan were seriously addictive at our table, and the Mash It Up Potatoes ($5) came in a close second. 
    Oddly, there are only two desserts on the menu, and on the night we were there only one was offered--a big chocolate-peanut cookie with toasted marshmallows ($3) that amounted to a guilty pleasure.    
    One might expect a bit more culinary innovation from someone of Samuelsson’s credentials, but, overall, Streetbird Rotisserie should not be taken too seriously; it is what it intends to be, a local drop-in kind of joint with a diner-like menu and a whole lot of good vibes.

Streetbird Rotisserie is open seven days a week from 11:30 am through 10:00 pm.  Tables are available for walk-ins only and there is a separate section for take-out only.  





By Mort Hochstein

    The servers, one in a brown suit, three others in gray, wafted around noiselessly, plates appearing on the table almost unobserved.  It was, after all, Per Se, one of New York’s most prestigious, most expensive dining temples. The  people at Pine Ridge Vineyards chose it for a tasting of their wines because even the most jaded members of the wine media would find it hard to say no to an evening at Per Se.
    So it was that a dozen journalists assembled on a warm summer evening under the tutelage of   Michael Beaulac, winemaker and general manager for Pine Ridge, one of the fortunate few on the hallowed slopes of the Stags Leap district  in Napa.
   Pine Ridge originated in 1978 under the far-sighted Gary Andrus at a time when few recognized the bounty to be harvested at Stags Leap.  He saw a steeply terraced hillside where he might be able to produce wines comparable with the greats of Bordeaux and went on to realize that goal over the next 15 years. Andrus also had another goal, to produce great Pinot Noir,  and for that  he had to go farther north. He left California in 1993 for Oregon, where he would  create award-winning wines at Archery Summit.  Andrus, now deceased, sold his interests in California and Oregon in 2001. 
    Michael Beaulac, not academically  schooled in viticulture,  learned his craft  the hard way,  swabbing tanks,  loading barrels and hefting hoses as a cellar rat at Murphy-Goode Vineyards in Napa.  He had been a wine buyer for a supper club in Portland, Maine, where Tim Murphy of Murphy-Goode, impressed by the young steward’s palate, jokingly offered him a job. A year after that chance remark, Beaulac began his wine career, doing scut work in Napa.
     “I'd been a history major in college and knew nothing,” he said. “I needed to learn how to hook up a hose and clean a tank. I didn’t know there was a difference in how you made white wine from how you made red wine. Each day I came in thinking I would be fired." 
The experience at Murphy-Goode led up the ladder to advanced positions and executive postings at Markham Vineyards and St. Supery and in 2009 to Pine  Ridge.
     “For me,” he said, “a lot of winemaking is intuitive, and at this time I can taste a berry and anticipate where that grape will be during fermentation. But a lot is chemistry and I’ve always been really lucky to have great enologists and assistant winemakers who can identify issues. Now I can review the analysis and see what I need to see, but for a long time I didn’t understand the stuff.”
      We tasted Beaulac’s first vintage, the 2009 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, a rich mouth-filling wine with supple black fruit flavors, absolutely luxurious and with many good years ahead. It is still available at suggested retail price  of $125. It’s a keeper, easily good for another ten years.
      We had started with the wine that keeps the wheels spinning  at Pine Ridge, the Chenin Blanc-Viognier, with 20% Chenin adding sparkle to the Viognier’s peach and jasmine scents and providing a more enticing palate taste.  The grapes come from  the Sacramento River Delta and make up the only non-estate wine in the portfolio.  It is the darling of Pine Ridge, selling 145,000 cases annually, retailing at about $15 a bottle.
   The blend was the value wine at the tasting and was followed by the much more upscale Le Petit Clos 2013 Chardonnay ($75).  The Chardonnay comes from a small block, a shade under two acres, on a hillside near the winery.  Grapes are hand harvested at night in early September for optimum ripeness.  
Le Petit Clos is a lemony, creamy wine with slight minerality and a bit more oak than I would prefer and an almost alarming, but well masked, 14.9% alcohol level. It harmonized beautifully with my favorite plate of the evening, two poached oysters in a thick sabayon-style sauce, topped by a generous smattering of domestic caviar.
      The rich purple 2009 Cabernet ($125) was mated with Atlantic striped bass dressed with smoked bacon, summer pole beans, and a Dijonnaise sauce--delectable, albeit a bit precious. Plates were whisked away and the meat course  appeared, a small serving of Prime beef with caramelized onions and a few dabs of mustard and molasses.  It set the stage for the second red wine, the 2012 Stags Leap Cab  ($125), which at this tender age lacks the finesse of the 2009, hardly as smooth and silken and needing more time.
       It was followed by the Pine Ridge 2012 Napa label ($54), from a number of the winery’s own estates in the Napa Valley, Oakville, and Rutherford districts.  It’s somewhat lighter in color and texture than the Stags Leap bottlings, but definitely a match for hearty dishes such as steak, lamb or even, as Beaulac suggested, a cheeseburger. There’s a bit of cinnamon on the palate, a flavor I did not find in the  Stags Leap reds. Here, the wine showed well with a Bleu D’Auvergne cheese plate that included tiny bits of potato crusted leek, Bing cherries, sorrel and a black winter truffle puree.  
In an odd but comfortable pairing, Beaulac saved Fortis 2012,  the company’s heavyweight red, for the dessert stage. It accompanied the fancifully named  Manjari Chocolate Marquise, a combo of burnt honey ice cream and butterscotch plated with candied orange peel and a Darjeeling tea biscuit. Fortis ($175) originated in 2003 to show off grapes from the finest blocks of the Pine Ridge estate vineyards in Napa.
       Fortis is by design a big wine, an elegant Bordeaux blend, 14.5% alcohol, primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec. The grapes vary with each vintage. In 2012, the fruit came primarily from Stags Leap, Oakville and Howell Mountain, with a smaller amount from Rutherford. Although it is a far different blend, the Fortis, only slightly more complex, was very much like the 2009 Stags Leap, plush and dark with black fruit flavors. I preferred the 2009 Stags Leap but it would have been interesting to try Fortis with its true mate, good red beef.  Again, a few more years of maturity would change the wine favorably.
     The flagship reds are all limited production wines, often hard to find. The winery produces about 1,100 cases of the Stags Leap label each year, a little more than 1,000 cases of Fortis and 12,000 cases of the Napa blend.








 According to, The Cowtown Diner in Fort Worth, TX, is home to the world’s largest chicken-fried steak (left), and if you finish the 64-ounces of meat drenched in white gravy and bacon grease, with six pounds of mashed potatoes and 10 slices of Texas toast, your meal is comped, and you get a T-shirt and a picture on the wall.




“Ask any well-traveled chefs to name their favorite culinary destination, and more often than not the answer will be Peru.”—James Beard Events (July/August 2015)


 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.

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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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