Virtual Gourmet

  August 30,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Roger Moore as James Bond


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By Mort Hochstein


Part One
By John Mariani

    The otherwise powerful U.S. dollar has yet to make a dent in the pound sterling, so prices have not made London quite so easy to love these days as Paris, Rome or Madrid.  Nevertheless, a recent trip to London indicated that restaurateurs and hoteliers are more sensitive to price in order to compete for the record 17 million people who now visit the city annually (NYC gets 55 million).  This means more hotel package deals, a lot more creature comforts, and better fixed-price meals.
    London’s older hotels seem perpetually in a state of renewal and change owners frequently, depending on which Arab sheik is in the mood to pick up a city trophy.  The cherished dowdiness that once characterized some of the classic London hotels like the Savoy, Connaught and The Ritz has all been swept away while trying to maintain the original character of historic properties.
    One of these is the Hotel Café Royal, which was opened in 1865 on the curve of Regent Street (left) by a French émigré wine merchant who Anglicized his name to Daniel Nicols.  Within the hotel he built what was said to be the world’s largest wine cellar of its day.
    Over the next century the Café Royal had more than its share of celebrated visitors, everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle and Graham Greene to Brigitte Bardot and Louis Armstrong.  It was here, in 1867, that the original National Sporting Club founders, the Earl of Lonsdale and the fifth Marquis of Queensberry, set down “The Queensberry Rules for Boxing.”  The hotel even had its own boxing ring.
    Since the 1970s the property has had its ups and downs, and in 2008 the hotel was shuttered,  its fittings and furniture sold at auction.  Fortunately, Alrov Properties bought the building, poured money into it, and transformed it into one of the most modern luxury hotels in the city’s center, just off Piccadilly.  It re-opened in December 2012 with 160 rooms, including 49 suites and six signature suites,
high-tech meeting rooms, spa and a large lap pool.
    Landmark buildings are always under scrutiny in London, by both  commissions and critics, and
David Chipperfield Architects have deftly managed to retain the grand historic public rooms of the 1860s and 1920s, while the new rooms are done in sleek finishes of mahogany veneers, copper and stone, with large bathrooms and top-notch electronic amenities.  Bringing in veteran hotel manager Anthony Lee (formerly of  The Mayfair and The Connaught) eighteen months ago shook things up in the most genteel way, after early reports of sluggish service and unimpressive food.  Lee has brought Hotel Café Royal to where it was intended to be from the start, and he’s always around for you to pester if it isn’t.
    The resplendently gilded Grill Room here has been left in much the shape and Louis XVI style it was a century ago, when Sam Harris told his friend Oscar Wilde not to proceed with his libel case against the Marquis of Queensbury, which in the end resulted in Wilde going to prison for the crime of homosexuality. Today the room is named after Oscar Wilde; Tuesday through Saturday evenings it offers a program of live entertainment and, on occasion, cabaret shows.  There is also a much-sought out private Club at the hotel with its own eclectic dining room called Domino.
    The main, informal restaurant (for three meals a day) is named Ten Room (left), where executive chef Andrew Turner focuses largely on modern British fare under the influence of French tradition.  Thus, you may begin with a Paris mushroom and truffle soup (£7) or a finely crafted terrine of foie gras and smoked magret of duck (£14).  Given the quality of the ingredients used, the dressed Cornish crab (£14) is the ideal way to begin a meal here in this wide, classy room with walls the color of café au lait and some of the most comfortable chocolate-colored banquettes in London.  (They were once lipstick red with red carpets, which seemed to sun-blind the London critics.).  Table settings are of prime quality, with flowers on each, and the room is well set for conversation, which makes it rife with business people at breakfast and lunch. 
    There is a flavorful wild sea bass ceviche treated to chili, coconut and acidic lime (£13) among three raw items on the menu.  Lobster Pompadour (£30) is something of a colorful throwback, full of English cream, butter and saffron, yet somehow not really very heavy, since Turner aims for lightness in his cuisine.  Seared wild bass fillet came simply with olives and peppers (£30), and a grilled veal cutlet was equally simple, sided with a tangy-hot caponata (£28).  Best of the dishes I had was chicken “Royal” with a confit of chicken leg, and a brisk, sprightly salsa verde, a dish that can serve one or two people (£24).  The prices here are fairly modest for such refinement and location, certainly lower than at competing luxury hotels.
      You may well and wisely be tempted by the selection of French and British cheeses (£12), but I wouldn’t want you to miss the honey parfait with soft toffee and Earl Grey cream (£8) or, especially if you have an American sweet tooth,  the chocolate brownie with caramel popcorn and Muscovado ice cream (£8).
    Incidentally, this month Café Royal debuts a tiger-inspired art exhibition, to raise funds for  the
"Save Wild Tigers" global conservation initiative, which couldn’t happen at a more opportune time.
    After dinner,
from the terrace of your room, all of Piccadilly lies spread out before you, which, after a night on the town, gives you a tremendous sense of just how gloriously bright this once-foggy town truly is.


      After a three-year closure the magnificently restored Savoy Hotel, set off the Strand right on the banks of the Thames, is more glamorous than it ever was in the days when Fred and Adele Astaire danced here.  The hotel originally opened as a venue for Richard D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company, and with hotelier César Ritz and chef Auguste Escoffier onboard, the Savoy could claim eminence with the finest hotels in Paris at the time.
    Post-war complacency and change of fashion brought The Savoy to the brink of irrelevancy, until 2005, when it was purchased by a consortium headed by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud that hired Fairmont Hotels and Resorts to run it. Two hundred twenty million pounds later, the Savoy re-opened, as declared by Prince Charles on November 2nd 2010, and last year it celebrated its 125th anniversary.
    Today there are 268 elegantly appointed rooms and suites done in either Edwardian or Art Déco style.  There is a spa, a 24-hour gym, and a private pool.  Just driving into its cul-de-sac entryway gives you a sense of why The Savoy was once a hub of celebrated, theatrical excitement, and the walls are lined with those stars who stayed here--Gershwin, Sinatra, Lena Horne, Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Ava Gardner and Humphrey  Bogart. The Beatles came later.
    There are three restaurants at The Savoy, including the legendary Simpson’s on the Strand, Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill, and Kaspar, a glittering seafood restaurant (left) named after the hotel’s black cat sculpture, which since 1927 is seated at a table with 13 guests to ward off bad luck, after diamond magnate Woolf Joel chanced fate to dine at such a table in 1898 and was shot dead soon afterwards.
    I dined at Kaspar with my wife, enchanted by its 1920s art déco design of black and gold and royal blue, its marble oyster bar, and satin-finish floor inset with stylized fish scales.  Sitting at the bar or a table, the thing to do is to order a plateau of iced shellfish (£38-£48), or a platter of smoked and cured fish (two for £15, four for £22), which may include star-anise scented salmon, beetroot-cured halibut, and peppered monkfish.
      The excellent quality of the seafood here is due to its coming from British and European waters on a daily basis.  For that reason my wife and I stayed with some classic dishes: Lobster Thermidor (market price), so easy to mess up with a cloying sauce, was delicious, the meat very tender, the reduction of cream and brandy perfect, served with buttered spinach, while plump Dover sole with a brown butter caper sauce--at a not unreasonable £38--was everything I seek in a British restaurant of this caliber. There are also some meat items, but I can’t imagine anyone but a piscaphobe would order them.
   The wine list is not huge but more than suitable for a seafood dinner, but mark-ups are high, often by a whopping 300% over retail.
    Also check out the beautiful new Melba pastry and sandwich shop for very stylish take-away.



      After a mere 90 years, the space that is now Colbert (formerly Oriel) on Sloane Square has expanded from one to three rooms to accommodate both a constant barrage of clientele and a ballooning number of art works, posters and photographs that take up every inch of wall space.  It’s a popular place both before and after attendance at the Royal Court Theatre next door.
     The owners also run the still fashionable Wolseley on Piccadilly, and, wrote the ever-snarky critic for The Telegraph, Colbert is “so Chelsea it’s almost a theme park,” whose diners wear “
tweed blazers with velvet collars, well-cut cords, autumnal scarves featuring cute animals just begging to be hunted.”  Cute, if not entirely accurate, for Colbert gets a cross section of Londoners and visitors from abroad, who come for all-day service daily from 8 o'clock in the morning to 11 at night.
    Actually Colbert, which I assume is named after Napoleon’s most faithful general, would easily fit into any corner of Saint Germain in Paris. The look is the same—tile floors, closely set tables, red banquettes, bentwood chairs, and art déco stylizations, a look that never grows old.  Yet, it is all very new looking, without that patina of scruffiness that characterizes so many Parisian brasseries.  The waiters are in long aprons and quick on their feet, and the wine list is moderately priced (for London), with nine Champagnes and about 30 each of red and white wines. There are several all-day egg items, including a generous portion of nicely runny eggs Benedict (£14.50).
    A toasted croque Provençal with grilled zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, tomato and goat’s cheese was a bargain at £8.50, and large shrimp were nicely grilled, available either at £18.50 or £29.75 (many dishes are available in small or large portions).  The hearty French classic cassoulet, which should be richly flavorful, was here anemic, with too little garlic and not enough fat (£16.75).  Pommes frites were as good as expected (£4).
    The bar is busy, the hostesses are gorgeous, and the people watching is wonderful, all at a pretty fair price.  And you can pretend this is not Chelsea but Montparnasse, if you like.




                                    DARK, QUIET RESTAURANTS

By John Mariani


    The continuing debate about modern restaurants with the easily verifiable decibel levels of a jackhammer is so full of nonsensical statements about how “young” people love loud restaurants and old “fogies” hate them that I think it worthwhile to demolish them.
    I was reminded of this upon watching a report on CBS Morning News (Aug. 22) with Gabe Stulman (right), owner of several intentionally loud restaurants in Manhattan, including Perla and Bar Sardine, and New York magazine’s excellent restaurant critic, Adam Platt (left), who said (perhaps as a joke) that he already had hearing loss from going to such restaurants for the past ten years.
   It was Stulman’s contention that his customers consider the noise as entertainment ("soulful interactions")  and that he was never happier than when a guest is nodding her head to his playlist while eating his food.
Platt contended it was a generational issue, saying that it began when downtown rents in New York got so high that restaurateurs ripped out all soft surfaces like carpets and tablecloths to save money, which is only partly true: many established downtown restaurants have kept those very accoutrements, including Il Mulino on West Third Street, Il Cantinori in Greenwich Village, Golden Unicorn in Chinatown, Odeon (left) in TriBeCa and Delmonico’s on Wall Street. None would be considered remotely quiet.
Platt and Shulman both insisted that young people would go screaming from "hush, darkened little parlors," which might be true if there were such places.  For, although there are a multitude of “fancy restaurants” (an odiously vague term), there simply are none filled with "old people who pine for the murmuring conversation."  And there never really have been.  If there were, why might some people request “a quiet table in the corner?”
    The fact is, the dark, quiet restaurant is an urban myth.  In all my years of dining out, I have never dined in such a place except twice: once in Paris twenty years ago, at an Alain Ducasse hotel dining room with a funereal atmosphere where patrons spoke in a whisper. Today, none of Ducasse’s many restaurants around the world--not in Paris, London, Las Vegas, or the Far East--are even remotely dark or quiet.  They have excellent lighting and a buoyancy that comes from the effect of light on people’s demeanor. 
The other time was very recently at the Fearrington House Inn in North Carolina, where the dining room was so low-lighted as to stifle conversation.  I actually asked the manager if it were possible to turn up the lights just a touch, he did, and you could feel the ambiance and level of conversation immediately rise.
    Sticking just to NYC, as per Platt and Stulman’s discussion,  I would defy them to find a “fancy” restaurant in the city, uptown, midtown, downtown, with “darkened” lighting and off-putting “quiet.”  It’s as simple as visiting any of the following restaurants to prove my point: Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, Daniel (below), Marea, Bouley, Lincoln Ristorante, Gramercy Tavern, `21’ Club, Per Se, Aureole, The Four Seasons, Batârd, Juni, Il Gattopardo, Ristorante Morini, Le Cirque, Oceana (see article below), Cipriani, and many more.  No one would ever accuse such places of being “darkened,” although some can be fairly loud--from conversation, not from booming music.  Indeed, the designers of these restaurants work hard to provide a level of light that creates conviviality, laughter, and conversation.  (And all these, for what it’s worth, are listed among the “Most Popular” restaurants in NYC in Zagat; none of Stulman’s restaurants is on that list.)
    Not even that bastion of French fogeyism, La Grénouille (below), opened in 1962, is dark or quiet.  Instead, the lighting is golden and the flowers, carpets, tablecloths soak up noise, yet there is still a palpable sense of ebullient enjoyment within the dining room.
    Even if Platt and Stulman were thinking of fancy restaurants twenty, even thirty years ago, their fantasy of them being dark and quiet is nonsense. The last time restaurants were dark, though not necessarily quiet, was before the invention of the electric light bulb, when candles or gaslight had to provide enough light to make it possible for people to walk to their table without bumping into another’s.  Note that the lighting of dining rooms in “Downtown Abbey” changed as electric lights were added.
    I’m looking through a 1971 copy of Forbes Magazine’s Restaurant Guide and find that there are precious few restaurants that might in any way be considered dark and quiet back then.  Among those given the highest ratings (four stars)--Café Chauveron, La Caravelle, Lafayette, La Grénouille, Lutèce and `21’ Club—none was dark or quiet.  Lutèce, then considered by many as the finest restaurant in the U.S., had a charming orangerie-style dining room with coral-colored walls and a barrel vaulted ceiling and perfect lighting, allowing you to see the celebrated guests who came through the door.  The famous bar room section at `21’ Club, with its white stucco walls and hanging toys, threw deliberate light onto its tables, so everyone could see everyone else.  (There, one might ask for a quiet table in a corner and be obliged.)
    And if you moved out of NYC across the country, the dark, quiet restaurant was just as non-existent. A 1960 copy of Great Restaurants of America by Ted Patrick and Silas Spitzer exalts those dining rooms where good fellowship and fine lighting are paramount to their excellence, including places like Galatoire’s in New Orleans, London Chop House in Detroit, Maisonette in Cincinnati, Ernie’s in San Francisco, Perino’s in Los Angeles, and Mario’s in Dallas--all of them known for their atmospheric ebullience.
    Finally, as to the notion that young diners crave high noise levels, I’ve never seen nor heard evidence to support the claim.  I have inquired of many young people (under 40) if they liked the noise in a loud restaurant and have never heard anyone say he or she did.  Many say it’s their first and last visit, and, mind you, a lot of young foodies traipse from one buzzy restaurant to the next without ever a repeat visit: been there, done that.  Those restaurateurs who insist their guests do in fact love the noise never seem to produce evidence that they do, except those who say they bear it or grudgingly accept it for the overall vibe.  Just last night at a very good but extremely loud new restaurant in NYC, our  waitress confessed the addition of bombastic music wore her out by night's end and that without it, people would clearly enjoy themselves and the food.

    Kim Novak in "Vertigo" (1958) for which director Alfred Hitchcock        recreated the dining room at Ernie's in San Francisco.

    For the record, every host on CBS Morning News said they hated loud restaurants.  And just in the past year in midtown Manhattan, we've seen the opening of several high-end, gorgeously designed restaurants like Gabriel Kreuther, Chevalier, Polo Bar, and, soon, Vaucluse--none of them catering to "old people who pine for the murmuring conversation."
    So, let’s not defend noise enough to cause hearing damage with nonsensical claims that people under 40 run screaming from
"hush, darkened little parlors."  I might too, if I ever run across one.





By John Mariani

120 W 49th Street (off Avenue of the Americas)
212- 759-5941

    Ben Pollinger, executive chef at the 23-year-old Oceana, has a fine cookbook, School of Fish (Gallery Books, $35), that shows page by page how evolved seafood cookery has become over those years.  Of course, he was one of the pioneers of a movement that brought such cuisine out of the doldrums of a time when first-rate product was difficult for chefs to find, even in the NYC market (it remains so in most of the U.S.).  If the late Gilbert Lecoze of Le Bernardin was the very first to prove that very little need be done to perfect product, then Pollinger learned that lesson early on.
    As he details in his book, when he worked at Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco, he would “plead for” the locally caught bass to go through rigor mortis “just so I could get it filleted and into the pan on time.” He writes about shrimp in Genoa “still quivering” and how to cook only according to the season.  All that, and what he learned in NYC from master chefs Jean-Jacques Rachou and Christian Délouvrier, is invested in his cuisine at Oceana, and he passes that knowledge on to his readers.
    So the publication of  the book by this New Jersey native (left) seemed a good reason to revisit Oceana after three years’ absence. The 150-seat restaurant sits across from Rockefeller Center and Radio City, with a big marble raw bar up front and dining rooms done in polished cherry wood, marine artwork, and a beautiful glass-enclosed private dining space in the middle of the room.  Tables are spacious and well set, though for some mystifying reason four of them in the middle have no tablecloths.  Sound levels in the bar are high but wholly civilized in the dining room.
    Oceana is another of the Livanos family of restaurants, with managing partner Paul McLaughlin, so the attention to detail, even in a restaurant this large, is impressive. Wine director Pedro Goncalves, from Portugal, has expanded the list at Oceana to more than 1,050 selections, with 30 wines by the glass (none over $20) and starred selections “offer the best value.”  There are also six sakes. Goncalves is a man to consult on what's new and interesting.

    Our table of four tried to order from the various categories of a menu that need not be quite so extensive--Oysters, Chilled, Seafood Tower, Appetizers,  Main Courses (nine of them), Seafood Paella for two ($78), Fish in a Plate, Meats, Sauces, Sides, Vegetarian, and Desserts.  A little editing would not hurt a kitchen that can also do up to 500 people for parties.
    The array of oysters alone numbers eleven species, all from North America ($3.50-$4 per piece), and while you may also order chilled seafood on its own, there is a seafood tower for one ($28) to up to six ($145).
    Our party couldn’t resist ordering jumbo lump crab croquettes ($19; right) of remarkable lightness, a virtue also in the fried cornmeal-crusted calamari ($18).  Squid ink corzetti pasta (shaped like coins) with baby cuttlefish, radicchio and a pistachio-mint sauce ($21) were marvelously flavorful, without being in the slightest fishy tasting, as this dish often is if the cuttlefish are not in peak condition.  Unexpected on such a menu were some delicious, puffy stuffed sweet plantains  with bacalao, tangy lime cream and a house-made barrel-age fermented hot sauce ($17).
    All these were new tastes to my friends, winemakers from Slovenia, not least the last of the season’s crispy soft-shell crabs ($36), which amazed them when I said you eat the whole body and claws.  I also took the liberty of ordering a three-pound steamed Maine lobster ($35 per pound, which is a bit steep) with clarified butter and a romesco sauce. My friends contended there was no way they would finish such a huge crustacean, but, with a little help, they of course did with delight.                                                                                                    Photo by Paul Johnson
    Sea scallops à la plancha ($33) were impeccably cooked, and wild Alaskan King salmon with buckwheat, tomato, dill and cucumber jus ($46) proved yet again what an abomination farm-raised salmon are.  This fish had delicacy, near translucence, and a flavor that reminded me of what Pollinger had said he learned in Monaco and Genoa. French fries ($9) were excellent, as was creamed spinach laced with roasted garlic, lemon and crème fraîche ($11).
      Executive Pastry Chef Colleen Grapes turns out a wonderful cookie plate ($12-$21) and a rum-fudge sundae ($12), while there is also a commendable cheese selection (three for $14, five for $19).
    It’s difficult for me to conceive of anyone going to Oceana for a meat or vegetarian meal, which is like going to an exhibition of Rembrandt and only looking at his etchings.  There are great chefs doing great seafood all over NYC, but Oceana, along with Le Bernardin, Sea Grill, Milos, and Marea, is a paragon for the form and Pollinger an acknowledged master among few. 

Oceana is currently open for Breakfast and lunch Mon.-Fri., for dinner Mon.-Sat.

Photo by Noah Fecks



by Mort Hochstein

    They say every winery needs a story.   Aurelio Montes Sr. found his inspiration soaring  above the Andes as he watched the caiquenes,  an almost vanished species of  wild geese that fly over the towering pinnacles of the mountain range that runs like a spine between Chile and Argentina. 
Montes, winemaker and founding partner of Viña Montes in Chile, followed the route of the wild geese in 2001, when he purchased an ancient facility in Mendoza, Argentina’s primary viticultural region, similar to Bordeaux and Napa, though much more widespread than either. He named it Kaiken, and a dark aboriginal sculpture of the Kaiken presides over the wine barrels resting in the cellar of the estate.  The home estate has two historic plots, one of which is home to Malbec planted in 1913 during   the First World War, the other with Cabernet Sauvignon, first rooted in the 1930s.
        Aurelio Montes Del Campo Jr. (right) who trained at wineries in Australia, California and Europe, is chief enologist at Kaiken.  In addition to Malbec--Argentina’s foremost varietal is dominant in the area--he also produces the indigenous grapes Torrontes and Bonarda as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot and Syrah at other estate vineyards in the Mendoza region and from non-estate vineyards far to the north near the Bolivian border.  The northernmost vineyard sits more than a mile high, and its vines, largely Torrontes, have an average age of 80 years. 
    Montes Sr., with three decades of winemaking behind him, lives in Chile and leaves the basic management of the Argentine venture to his son. Though the two countries are close neighbors, they differ widely. “Chile,” he said, “is very like Switzerland.  It is very organized, the people work hard and pay their taxes, but can be very boring.  The Argentineans are incredibly passionate people.  They are a rich country, a land of contrasts and disorganized.”
        When he first moved to Argentina, he knew no one other than the winery employees. One day, a worker invited him to a barbecue. Montes was slightly shocked, telling a writer, “It is rare to invite a stranger to your home in Chile. You must get to know them first.  But the worker invited me with open arms and put on a feast.  In Argentina barbecues last all day long. You estimate about 2.5 pounds of meat per person, beginning at noon with drinking and eating and not finishing until well after midnight.”
         In New York with Aurelio Jr., I tasted six wines, starting with Kaiken Brut, made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, nurtured in the traditional champenois method. It is a spirited wine but a bit overly acidic.
        What wines go best with our main course of lamb?  Whatever you have on hand, Montes observed, so we had a flowery Torrontes, rich in orange and pineapple flavors,  to kick off a series of vegetarian plates that  began with heirloom tomatoes and farmer’s cheese, progressing to a vegetable escabeche of green and yellow beans, chickpeas, carrots and cauliflower, culminating in roasted new potatoes and green onions crema fresca. 
We transitioned to red, enjoying a 2012 Cabernet made in classic Bordeaux style with Malbec subbing for Merlot and a touch of Petit Verdot.   Red, dark and brooding, it went well with the veggies and was on point with the main course, an overflowing meat plate in the Argentine manner, featuring beef steak, chorizo and roasted lamb rack.
         I preferred the Cabernet blend to the reds that joined in the carnivorous festivities, a basic, spicy Malbec, loaded with black pepper accents, and two top-of-the-line reds, a 2012 Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2012 Ultra Malbec.   The Malbecs, both, of course, robust and hardy, were a perfect match for grilled meats; here again, I preferred the younger, less expensive version. Those last two have a suggested retail price of $25, while the preceding wines were near the current sweet spot of about $17, though all can probably be found discounted in the market.
     You hear from Montes an exposition common to winemakers: “We are committed to cultivating grapes that express the unique terroir and climate of our vineyards, whether from terraced plantings more than a mile high, sloping hills or low-lying plantations. We follow biodynamic practices almost religiously and aim for complete sustainability. We hand pick and do rigid individual sorting of the fruit, practically grape by grape.” 
    Only about 20% of the wine produced in Argentina escapes the local market, and Kaiken is among the top 20 export brands, reaching retailers and restaurateurs in much of Europe as well as China and other Pacific lands."




A Korean barbecue restaurant in the U.S. charges $18.99 for adults to access their all-you-can-eat dinners, while children must stand up against a measuring stick to judge how much they will pay by height, e.g., those Kids between 33 and 41 inches, or 2’9” and 3’5”, pay $9,  between 42 and 52 inches, or 3’6” and 4’4”, pay $11 and  4’5” and over are presumably charged like adults.




“Years ago, when I was making a barefoot pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, I met a small boy who was sitting on a rock. `What is the best sandwich?’ he asked me. At that moment I realized the world holds so many secrets I may never unravel. I also realized I’d never eaten the best sandwich. And that was because I’d never been to Clare’s.”—Molly Gore, “Clare's,” SF Examiner (8/6/15)



 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: 5 MYTHS OF ADVENTURE TRAVEL; PARMA, ITALY

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 2015