Virtual Gourmet

  October 18,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Julia Child on set for "The French Chef"



By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


       The first time I took my first-born son to dinner he was three weeks old and strapped to my chest in a Snugli.  Frankly, I would have preferred to be out alone with my wife after 21 days of sleepless nights and constant fretting, but since we couldn’t get a sitter and desperately needed a night out, he came with us.  It was a very good Chinese restaurant and he slept through the entire meal.
         We later took him to restaurants in France and Italy, carrying him in an open straw basket, praying he wouldn’t wake up just as the sommelier was opening the wine. We found out quickly that Italians adore having babies and children in their restaurants, while the French love having dogs but abhor having children in the dining room.
         I recall one Italian restaurateur in Alba picking my fifteen-month-old son up and handing him to his wife, who was also the chef; she, in turn, plopped him down in the kitchen where other females delighted and fed him while we dined blissfully for the next two hours pretending to be unaware that he’d disappeared into the steamy, wonderful aromas of the kitchen.
    After that, he rarely balked at going out to dinner with us. Nor did his brother, born four years later, when the two of them were actually old enough to sit at a restaurant table and behave in some primitive fashion.  I don’t know why it is, but American parents seem challenged by the idea of taking their kids to dinner—as opposed to a fast food joint of the kids’ choosing—while in Europe and Asia, parents believe such activity is crucial to a child’s education, health and well being. 
    That said, here are some tips for taking (American) kids out to eat.

avor Italian, Mexican or Chinese restaurants because invariably the kids will find something crispy, fried, or with cheese melted on it.

Don’t let them order. Just choose several items, especially those they are not familiar with, and have the waiter set them all on the table family style. When they ask, “What’s that?” just say, “Try it.” If they say, “What if I hate it?” reply, “Then don’t try it.” I can guarantee their appetites and salivary glands will propel them to try something, maybe everything, as long as you don’t try to force them to. And they will like it and become more and more adventurous.

Tell the manager or waiter to get something to nibble on to the table immediately—bread and butter, Mexican chips, Chinese noodles. Kids blood sugar levels cause them to be cranky if not fed when hunger strikes.

Be prepared to order quickly for the same reason. Don’t dawdle or let your wife declare, “Oh, everything looks sooooo good, I don’t know what to choose.” The one-minute-forty-five second rule should be enforced that everyone has to make a choice within that time frame.

Ask for a table near the rest rooms and one you can get up from easily. You know why.

Small children might be allowed small toys at the table but stifle their mania for playing video games at the youngest possible age. Same with iphones and Blackberries.

See if you can get a waitress rather than a waiter. The former tend to be much more patient, even maternal.

Dessert should be a reward for good behavior.

If you must take children to a fancy, deluxe restaurant, alert the manager and tell him you will be in and out in a civilized 90-minute span. Get the check when you order dessert. 

The cut-off age you can expect kids to behave at a restaurant is twelve, after which teenagers are impossible to please because they can think of nothing more repellant than to be seen eating out with their parents.  It’s also when they start to concoct their own idiotic diet requirements and suddenly find everything you’d suggest from a menu abominable or inedible.  Wait till they’re eighteen—at least your daughter—then try to coax them out to a fine restaurant. 

If a kid has gone vegetarian, just check the restaurant’s menu and tell the management. In most restaurants it’s not a problem at all. But if the kid has gone vegan (where did you go wrong?), there is no way in hell you will ever please him, so just forget going out entirely.



By John Mariani

                                                                                                                Le Bernardin 

    I’d be the last to recommend Zagat as a reliable ratings system, whereby a burrito stand gets the same number of points as an haute cuisine French restaurant and no restaurant rates lower than “good to very good.” But if the highest number of people give the highest points for food and décor to a restaurant in such a survey, it is worth taking seriously as an indicator of excellence.
    In that respect, it is well worth noting that in this year’s edition of the Zagat NYC guide 2016, the ten restaurants that scored highest in both food and décor are, with the exception of Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn, all high-end haute cuisine restaurants, and very expensive for that.  The list might be eye-widening if half the restaurants on it were storefronts on the Lower East Side or a ramen noodle joint in Bensonhurst.  But, no: Despite all the food media rants about the demise of fine dining in NYC, the Zagat list suggests otherwise.  Not only is fine dining, with all its attendant décor, capital investments, service staff and extensive menus, alive and well but clearly and convincingly registers at the very top with those who vote in the guide. 
    It is, then, something of a disconnect when magazines like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, GQ and Esquire’s best new restaurant lists for 2015 almost never include such establishments (though they have no problem with cramped, unattractive, sterile restaurants serving $200 tasting menus) and the NY Times critic gives three stars to a vegetarian hamburger eatery, that traditional fine dining does not just survives but thrives at the very top of popularity among the dining public.  Not surprisingly, the list bears strong resemblance to the three- and two-star rankings in the recently released Michelin Guide to NYC.
    This wealth of fine dining establishments may not be as evident in many other American cities, like Los Angeles, Houston, Miami, and Atlanta, whose dining public has largely abandoned traditional fine dining.  But it is still very true in NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas.
    Here then are Zagat’s best-rated restaurants for 2015 in NYC. They well deserve the honor:

1. Le Bernardin (food: 29; décor: 28)

2. Bouley (food: 29; décor: 28)

3. Daniel (food: 29; décor: 28)

4. Jean-Georges (food: 29; décor: 28)

5. Gotham Bar and Grill (food: 28; décor: 26)

6. Peter Luger Steak House (food: 28; décor: 17)

7. Eleven Madison Park (food: 28; décor: 28)

8. Blue Hill (food: 28; décor: 23)

9. Per Se (food: 28; décor: 27)

10. Gramercy Tavern (food: 28; décor: 26)




By John Mariani

      While the "hot" neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the Lower East Side keep the food media busy lavishing every scuzzy storefront with praise, there are other restaurants a little off the beaten track that offer fine food and far lovelier surroundings for a civilized meal.

Hugo Hotel
525 Greenwich Street (near Canal Street)

   Il Principe is a stunningly good looking one-year-old restaurant in the Hugo Hotel, wedged in between TriBeCa, SoHo and the West Village, just across from the blocks-long UPS garage, in a quarter dubbed Hudson Square. Architect Marcello Pozzi has done a superb job of marrying the elegance of wood and industrial materials throughout, including the glass-enclosed lobby, the restaurant bar and a Rooftop Bar with a glorious 360-degree view of the city and the Hudson River.  The lighting in the dining room bespeaks elegant modernity of a kind you’d find in Milan right now, the walls hung with striking black and white photos, the soft gray fabric chairs are very comfortable, and in the rear, beyond a glass wall, is an ivy-walled patio that seems miles away from the city’s hectic pace, noise and UPS trucks.
    Manila-born Chef  Kristine Mana-ay, who has done stints at Waverly Inn and The Lion,  is doing a fine rendering of Italian classic cuisine with considerable finesse, evident in her silken beef carpaccio dressed with Parmigiano ($14). Bluefin tuna tartare ($16) comes with avocado, a pinch of peperoncino and some refreshing mint.  There is also a good pizzette ($18) of the thin-crust variety, with caramelized onion, fontina, a touch of thyme and a brushing of truffle oil.
   The pastas were all excellent, from veal canelloni—a dish you don’t see much anymore but should—in a light, creamy besciamella ($22, as a main course portion), and perfectly cooked garganelli with veal sausage ragù, white wine sauce and truffled pecorino cheese ($22).  Rarely will you find the Piemontese signature pasta agnolotti del plin  (left) on a menu this side of Turin, but, although Mana-ay’s are considerably larger than the traditional thumbnail-sized nubbins of pasta, the dish as a whole is absolutely wonderful, with spinach, ricotta and a dressing of good butter and sage ($17).
    For a main course I recommend the simple dish of impeccably cooked, flaky branzino with lemon, olives and capers ($27), or the chicken alla diavola ($26) with crushed peperoncino that makes this “devilishly” hot, potatoes and lots of garlic.  In light of all this goodness, I was very disappointed in a ribeye ($35) ordered medium rare, which came out barely pink and tasted more like pork than beef.
    The desserts don’t fall far from the usual listings, such as tiramisù ($12), chocolate torta ($12) and panna cotta ($10), but they are well made, and I particularly liked the flaky sfogliatina of caramelized puff pastry,  milk gelato, red wine-poached figs and caramel sauce ($12). Each dessert comes with a recommendation for a dessert wine.
    The wine list itself is of moderate size and very high priced, with far more bottles above $100 than below.
    I am always careful not to make too much of poor service on any given night, but, owing to the dining room being nearly empty, I would have thought more attention to the few occupied tables would be paid so that I wouldn’t have to ask the waiter to come over or ask if the wine I ordered was going to come before I finished my appetizers.  A busier restaurant is almost always a better one, so I hope this is the case at Il Principe, which deserves a wider audience.

Il Principe is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.



Caffé Storico
New York Historical Society
170 Central Park West (at 77th Street)

    The Upper West Side continues to grow in gastronomic clout but not, thank God, with the same frenzy as downtown.  Of course, you’d expect a restaurant set within the New York Historical Society to have a certain refinement, and Caffé Storico has plenty of that, fitting snugly into  the museum’s north corner.  Its stately windows let in the Central Park  daylight against  milk white walls and wood, a gleaming historic brass chandelier, lemon yellow banquettes, a marble counter, open kitchen and a window into the sculpture arcade.  At night (if they don’t inexplicably turn the lights down) the setting becomes soft and comforting.
      Fifteen-foot shelves are set with antique chinaware from the museum's vast collection, giving the large space a cheery, homey look, if your home was arrayed with such a bounty of beautiful objects.  The restaurant and menu were brought to the city three years ago by Philadelphia's restaurant maestro Stephen Starr (who also translated Buddakan and Morimoto to New York).
      There’s a new chef here, Edward Crochet, but he’s toeing the same line of light Italian fare,  and you can nibble on antipasti and pasta to your heart’s content and not make a dent in the entrees. The burrata ($15) here is as creamy as it should be, with heirloom tomato and a little basil, and the ricotta and chickpea crostini ($10) come as they would in Italy, with a thin slice of lardo. It’s a good idea to share the salumi board ($19) meant for two or three, with sweet fruit mostardo and grilled bread.
    Among the pastas the spinach and ricotta strozzapreti (“priest stranglers”) were tender and delicious, just touched with a hint of dill butter and sesame ($15), and the corn-plumped tortelli ($15) were very delicate, with chilies and breadcrumbs for heat and texture.  Lamb lasagna ($18) is the lustiest of the pastas, with bitter-salty broccoli di rabe.
    I’m not sure why this menu features tilefish with tomato dashi, bok choy and olives ($27), which seems out of style here.  The stuffed rabbit loin ($25) is very good, with fennel and onion mostarda, but the pork loin with shishito peppers, peaches and cilantro ($26) was rather dry.
    Desserts ($8-$10) offer some very good housemade gelati, along with a peach crostata scented with Thai basil gelato, and a richly satisfying coffee cake with dulce de leche and chocolate.
    At lunch Caffé Storico gets a crowd of visitors from the Historic Society and Museum of Natural History across the street, and at dinner an admirably local bunch of regulars.  Everyone basks in the radiance of the place, which is as expressive of what is so unique and very fine about a museum as cherished as the New York Historical Society.  

Caffé Storico is open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for dinner nightly, for brunch on Sunday.




By John Mariani

  I wouldn’t call it a raging debate, but in Italy’s Piedmont region there are two schools of thought as to how to make one of its two most famous wines, Barolo, made from the Nebbiolo grape.  (The other is Barbaresco, made from the same grape.)
    On one side are the traditional Barolo makers, like Marchesi di Barolo, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Giacomo Conterno, whose long-aged wines have set a standard for big-hearted, mouth-filling, complex wines that are meant to be put away until they mature.  On the other side are younger wineries like Scarzello, Paolo Conterno and Cascina Ebreo Torbido, whose wines tend to be a bit lighter and are more ready to drink soon after release.
     Barolo takes its name from a Piedmontese village surrounded by vineyards, and the wine has been made as a dry, tannic red since the mid-19th century. As “The wine of kings and the king of wines” favored by the aristocratic families of Turin, Barolo always had a local cachet, and over the next century the Barolo production region was expanded to include five principal towns upholding the tradition of rich, highly concentrated, long-lived wines. 
In the past, fermentation and maceration could last up to two months, so that in big vintages the alcohol level could rise above 15%. Those made since the mid-1980s in a more modern style emphasize softness over tannins and an earlier release time over high alcohol.  Traditionalists argue that such wines are thin and tend to oxidize more quickly.
  Somewhere in the middle of these contrasting but complementary philosophies is Damilano Barolo, whose reputation since 1890 has put it in the highest ranks in the region. The estate is now owned and run by Mario, Guido and Paolo Damilano (left), who have expanded it and brought in the most up-to-date technology to make their wines while always keeping a very careful eye on their family’s traditions.  Production is now 322,00 bottles annually, the most prestigious being the Barolo crus—-Cannubi, Brunate, Cerequio and Liste; the first two are considered the most elegantly knit and complex.
      Over dinner at New York’s Lincoln Ristorante, Paolo Damilano focused on the Cannubi cru (about 50,000 bottles), considering the wine “a big responsibility” and noting that Cannubi is actually an older name than Barolo, dating back to 1752; it means  “a mix of soil” in the local dialect.  “They used to `fix’ other Barolos by adding Cannubi,” he said.
  Damilano is not alone in producing single-vineyard labels. Most of the 948 growers in the region now do, and recognized estates have been expanded in recent years to maximize name recognition. But Damilano owns ten of the fifteen treasured Cannubi hectares (above), on a hill that stretches from the town of Bra to the family’s estate. The land has been subdivided into 20 micro-areas whose vines produce distinctive qualities that go into their Barolo Cru and the “1752” Reserve.  The soil on the hill ranges from sand to limestone, with magnesium oxide and manganese part of the terroir.
   At their modern cellars in La Molla (left), the Damilanos use only natural yeasts, with fermentation between eight and fifteen days.  Maceration is prolonged and the wines are racked, and the cap of grape must is pushed down to provide a robust body and tannins to the wines. 
  “From the crus we can have an extensive palette to make our wines with,” Paolo said over a Piedmontese dinner of raw beef called carne cruda with a gratin blue cheese dressing and toasted walnuts, and a fritto misto of fried quail, sweetbreads, chicken livers and lemon mayonnaise.  “This is what we would be eating in Piedmont right now,” he said, and it was clear how much more enlightening it is when one drinks the wine of the region with the food of the region.
    We drank the Cannubi Cru from the 2008 vintage ($100), a beautiful and intense wine that shows the rich essence of the Nebbiolo grape. “The harvests are getting later and later,” he said, citing global warming. “It used to be in October and now it’s in November.  And we get hail, hail, hail every year!”  The vintage was one of the latest harvests in a decade.
    With the Cannubi “1752” (also from 2008) we enjoyed chestnut pasta with a wild boar ragù, porcini mushrooms and Parmigiano-Reggiano, along with braised shoulder of beef with sweet parsnips, chanterelle mushrooms, baby onions and a red wine sauce—-woodsy, hearty flavors that were wholly enhanced by the power and structure of the “1752,” which is only released as a Riserva after seven years, at 14.5 percent alcohol.  Only the very finest grapes, from vines 40 to 50 years old that grow deep into the sub-soils, are picked, then fermented on the grape skins for 20 days and left with the skins for another 30.  The wine will spend 60 months in an oak barrel, then 24 more in bottle before release this year.  It is priced at $275.
      Damilano’s willingness to wait—-and therefore sit on a major capital investment—-is indicative of the estate’s commitment to the long traditions of Barolo making, while its modern facilities are intended to keep the grapes and wines as healthy and bright as possible.
      Paolo was very happy because his wines showed so well with food with which he was very familiar, declaring Lincoln the best Italian restaurant he had eaten in in New York.  His family runs a fine restaurant named Massimo Camia on the Damilano estate that specializes in similar Piedmontese cuisine; it serves several dishes quite like what he enjoyed at Lincoln. 
“When you have such high quality of wine made with such passion and care as my family has,” he said, “you always want to marry it to food of the same quality, which is rare outside of Piedmont.  When you are as proud as my family is of what we do, we have to be patient.  We try to make the very best Barolo wines we know how to make, but also wines as fine as any in Italy or the world.”





“Nearly every dish at Gaia comes with plastic serving spoons and a crumpled foil trough full of freshly house-baked focaccia soldiers.”—Silvia Killingsworth, “Gaia Italian Café,” The New Yorker (June 22, 2015).




At 116 years old, Susannah Mushatt Jones (left) is the world’s certified oldest living person, who told the 
Guinness World Records, that her secret was sleep, but her own family suggests that the secret might actually be bacon.“She’ll eat bacon all day long,” niece Lois Judge said. "At a minimum, she will eat bacon for breakfast every day, along with some scrambled eggs."


 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:

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