Virtual Gourmet

  November 8,   2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Bar at the Folies Bergère" (1882) By Édouard Manet


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Salisbury, Connecticut

By John Mariani


       There seems little reason to encourage readers to visit well-known, upscale New England inns in early autumn because the leaf-peepers have already booked all the rooms.   But right about now, with the foliage falling, the idea of a trip to a cozy Connecticut inn with excellent food seems a capital idea, with an eye towards the December holidays.
    The White Hart Inn in Salisbury, CT, is open year-round, just two hours from New York  and about three from Boston and two from Providence.  The structure dates back to the mid-19th century and was recently restored to a facsimile of its original décor, but with all modern amenities and a very fine restaurant. Its location allows guests to visit antiques shops and bookstores, ski at Mohawk Mountain, less than 30 minutes away, go ice and fly fishing, or hiking and biking the Appalachian Trail.  There is also race car driving at nearby Lime Rock Park.  And this fall the Inn itself is holding a series of talks by well known authors.

    The small town of Salisbury, population 3,700, grew around the Inn with little to suggest its colonial character, but the White Hart endured as a weekend getaway until a sudden closure in 2010, even as it was undergoing a renovation. Fortunately, the new owners, Conley and Meredith Rollins, Malcolm Gladwell, and British chef Annie Wayte (right), have joined a line of caretakers that have included Edsel Ford and tea producer John Harney, and the renovations allowed the Inn to open just about a year ago.
                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo by John Gruen

     So the White Hart now has 16 beautifully furnished rooms, some adjacent to the main three-story building, whose porch overlooks the village green. Inside, amidst polished wood and painted wainscoting, an array of unexpected modern art by artists Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Terry Winters and Tom Levine on the walls.
    The casual dining option here is the Tap Room, a pub serving “British comfort fare” (daily for lunch and dinner) that includes duck shepherd's pie, Scotch egg, tuna burger, and chili.  There is also a breakfast room that, while sunny, could certainly use some color and décor, for it now has none at all.        

        On the other side of the building is the restaurant, itself quite casual but with a more serious menu that shows off Annie Wayte’s considerable finesse with both traditional and modern cookery. Paul Pearson is Executive Chef.
    The 20-seat dining room mimics the colonial décor elsewhere, with a roaring fireplace and a long, centrally situated wooden table topped with seasonal bounty. They have sadly ditched the white tablecloths in the photo for wrinkled, abbreviated gingham.
    Right off the mark, Wayte’s leek and goat’s cheese raviolo with corn, chanterelles and brown butter ($14) seemed the epitome of autumn, well textured and luxuriant in its simple saucing.  I hardly expected pastrami to be on the menu here, but it was really very good, served with beets, cucumber-mustard crème fraîche and slices of pumpernickel ($14). 
One of our main courses was a perfectly rosy breast of duck with a nice layer of fat and crisp skin enhanced with a rich foie gras custard, kale, and piquant raspberries ($34).  The big option here is the hearty confit of pork belly with cured cabbage, mustard-glaze kohlrabi and sweet blueberries ($29)—a really masterful marriage of disparate flavors, accents, textures, and heat.
    My wife and I could not refuse a cheese course ($16) from New England artisans, then ended our splendid meal with a warm plum clafoutis and hazelnut ice cream, served for two ($12), and an old favorite rarely seen much anymore, peach ice cream with a raspberry compote and Graham cracker ($8)—all by pastry chef Gaby Rios, whose puffy Parker House rolls have been a big hit at the Inn.                                                                                                 

      It would be hard to come by a better meal on a cool November evening, each element based on what is seasonably and locally available. You go off to bed, perhaps after a glass of Port or Cognac, with a sure feeling of well-being.  At the moment, however, you may dine at the restaurant only on Fridays and Saturdays.
    The guest rooms (starting at $225) are all lovely and all different, done by NYC designer
Matthew Patrick Smyth, known largely for his residential work.  The number of rooms has been reduced to provide far more space, ranging from standard rooms to suites with two and a half baths and a small living room area;  the largest “John Harney” suite is composed of two king bedrooms, a kitchenette and a living room area with a pull-out couch. All the linens are by Frette, which gives the White Hart a luxury few New England inns even attempt to match.
    Cozy hardly does justice to the White Hart Inn.  It is that, albeit in a very elegant way, but it’s also representative of how likeminded people of finely tuned taste and respect for history can turn something quaint into something truly remarkable.


15 Undermountain Rd. Salisbury



By John Mariani

80 Madison Avenue (near 27th Street)

     The cuisine of the Levant is certainly well represented in NYC, though rarely does it receive the panting praise lavished on those fleeting darlings that the food media is infatuated with at any given moment, which right now seems to be Southeast Asian and Mexican.  Yet, the food of the Middle East, especially Lebanon, sails on, oblivious to trends and consistent year after year.

    Among the most practiced is Byblos, whose longtime  restaurateur/chef Sabeh Kachouh, with his charming wife Sonia, has never wavered in his dedication to providing an exceptionally wide variety of delicacies, not least a table groaning with color-bright mézès.  He is an educator, intent on teaching guests just how deep and broad the cuisine of his native country really is.
    The  90-seat restaurant has its own brightness, fronted by a 12-foot long, L-shaped marble and cherry wood bar, which has a very good selection of Lebanese wines (many by the glass).  The restaurant is an incarnation of the original premises in Murray Hill, where Byblos (named after one of the oldest cities in the world) opened in 1990.  A fire destroyed that building so the Kachouhs shifted west to the Flatiron District three years ago.  The new, long, wide and airy room is done in creamy colors, rough stone walls, dark accents, and fine lighting over generous tables with white linens.
    You need that generosity once the mezzes start coming out. We asked   Kachouh to bring out whatever and as many dishes as he liked from a menu of fifty options, and I think we were served every one, from delectably creamy varieties of hummus to the lovely baba ghannouj of charcoal grilled eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Then came labaneh, a thick cheese dressed with olive oil and dried mint, and there were the inevitable grape leaves, here stuffed with rice and chickpeas.  Muhammara was a spicy red pepper dip mixed with walnuts, and balila were fat chickpeas dressed with garlic, lemon, olive oil and Lebanese seasonings.  The Lebanese names for their dishes are as euphonious as they are enticing.
    We’d only just begun. Out came kibbee naye tartare mixed lightly with wheat and spices, as well as a simmered chicory called hindby.  Our appetites were roaring now, delighted with the arrival of falafel fragrant with coriander served with tahini sauce, and one of Byblos’ specialties: marinated, grilled quail and makanik lamb sausages. Batata harra were cubed potatoes with chopped cilantro, garlic, and pepper, while jawaneh were plump chicken wings sautéed with the same seasonings and herbs.
    Somehow we were not yet on the wane, so we gobbled up arayess, a dish of toasted pita filled with minced meat, and deep-fried  rikakat with halloumi cheese. Then there was a variety of flaky zaatar pies, scented with thyme, sesame, olive oil and sumac.
    Oh, and there were charcoal grilled kebabs and succulent stuffed lamb breast entrees, five seafood dishes, including the fried Sultan Ibraham fish, and much more, including delicious Lebanese desserts—flaky, honey-drenched pastries.
    Whatever the Lebanese word for “uncle” is, we cried out that we were full, washing it all down with well-rendered Lebanese coffee.
    That Byblos can turn out so many dishes—albeit with many repeated ingredients—of such obvious freshness, tenderness, juiciness, and color is testament to decades of perfecting everything while pleasing guests who may come for a few favorite dishes, then go on to find there are so many more at this ebullient and highly familial venture where too much seems just about right.

Byblos is open for lunch and dinner daily; 3-Course Prix Fixe Dinner $48,  Mezzes $6-$18, main courses $22-$32.
Saturday, Lebanese music and belly dancing.






By John Mariani 

        You can tell from his enthusiasm and energy that 26-year-old Elia Pellegrini (far left) must have made a great pro soccer player in the Italian Leagues before joining the family business in Bolgheri, a region famous in the past for cheap Chianti and, more recently, for extravagantly priced “Super Tuscan wines,” a hyped name that the better wine producers of the region now disdain.
     Over dinner at NYC's Lincoln Ristorante, Elia said,  "Our family is fourth generation here and we are the only ones left who are from Bolgheri," despite there now being nearly forty members of the Bolgheri Consortium, spread over 2,650 acres. “The Consorzio Bolgheri is mainly  for the protection and the promotion of the Bolgheri DOC.”
        Indeed, so many outsiders—even from outside Tuscany—bought up land in order to capitalize on the Super Tuscan surge of the 1990s that today, according to Pellegrini, “There’s no longer any profit in building a new winery in Bolgheri. It’s become far too expensive.  Only because we have been here a long time can we afford to buy two hectares recently in which to plant cabernet franc and petit verdot. We will also have a new agrotourism villa in 2018—six rooms where people may stay and eat and drink—along with an aging cellar and vineyards.”
    Under their Aia Vecchia (“Old Barn”) label, the Pellegrinis produce four wines, three reds and one white, made from two estates comprising 118 acres, with 74 acres under the Bolgheri DOC by winemaker Nicolo Scottini.
    Tuscany is not known for its white wines, but I find Aia Vecchia’s Vermentino 2014 ($12), made from 95% vermentino and 5% viognier for its aromatic effect, is one of the most delicious made in the region.  It’s fruitedness and good acid make it fine for an aperitif, for it is very fresh, spending four months in stainless steel, none in oak barrels, and two in bottle.  It is made to be enjoyed right away, especially with a platter of Italian salumi and Prosciutto, or scampi cooked in the wine itself.
      Lagone  2013 shows far more character and depth that its modest $15 price indicates.  The blend of 60% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 10% cabernet franc ages for 12 months in oak barriques, developing wood and tannin but, because it is mostly merlot, it has a soft ripeness that makes it perfect for autumn dishes and most robust pastas like lasagne alla bolognese as well as a grilled veal chop.  Its components will remind you of a very fine wine from France’s Saint-Émilion region.
      Aia Vecchia’s top-of-the-line red, Sorugo 2010 ($35), made from 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, and 5% petit verdot  is labeled merely as “Bolgheri Rosso Superiore,” which barely hints at its complexity and elegance.  Aged in new French oak for 18 months, then in bottle for another year, the wine’s body comes from the cabernet sauvignon, the merlot mellows the wine, the cabernet franc gives it further depth, and the petit verdot provides aroma and a nice cut of acid that knits it all together. It is as a red wine highly suited to  dishes like rack of lamb, Prime rib of beef, and winter’s game dishes.  Decant this wine in the vicinity of sliced white truffles, and you may faint from the perfume of the marriage. 




Actress Tori Spelling sued Benihana Japanese steakhouse after she tripped and fell backwards onto a hot grill at one of the locations in Los Angeles, saying she was badly burned and is seeking more than $25,000 in compensatory damages for lost earnings. Her husband, Dean McDermott, told the press that she had to get skin grafts, although earlier, when asked if he would press charges, said, “I don’t know. It was an unfortunate accident. She had a little burn.”


"This [bouillabaisse] was acidly metallic, with a plate of flabby face-cloth fish that was as cold as a proctologist's finger."--AA Gill, "Bouillabaisse," The Sunday Times Magazine.



The Beautiful Dark One: A Super Tuscan Retrospective

By John Fodera, Tuscan Vines

    About 15 minutes south from the center of Montalcino, in the bucolic Tuscan countryside, sits Castello Banfi gracefully perched on a hillside surrounded by sloping vineyards. Home to the leading Brunello producer in Montalcino, Castello Banfi crafts an array of estate-grown wines. One of those wines is BelnerO, a project personally spearheaded by co-CEO and family proprietor Cristina Mariani-May. According to her, BelnerO is special because:

“The years of pioneering research that Castello Banfi has undergone has helped create a Sangiovese that is so unique and specialized to our terroir and a counter statement to our  Brunellos. The expressions of Sangiovese are very diverse and we are proud that we are able to experiment on our estate with various clones of Sangiovese, terroirs, and winemaking techniques. I love BelnerO because it represents all that Castello Banfi is: innovative, based on years of dedicated research, pioneering, an outstanding value and bearing a taste profile that many consumers love.”

    Loosely translated as "Beautiful Dark One," BelnerO is predominantly Sangiovese produced from vines specifically identified in Castello Banfi's clonal research project as being optimally suited for the microclimate. BelnerO is almost entirely Sangiovese, but typically has a small percentage (less than 10%) of Merlot or Cabernet blended into the wine.  Fermentation takes place in Castello Banfi's patented hybrid fermenters and the wine is then aged in French barrique, only 30% of which are new, for 14 months.  At least 6 months bottle aging is employed prior to release.First produced in 2005,  it is easy for me to see the development in this wine since that time.  As the vines mature, the wine has grown to show more complexity, more finesse and more elegance. Recently, I tasted the three most recent vintages of BelnerO; following are my tasting notes.

2009 Castello Banfi BelnerO: 

In the glass, the wine is a dark crimson red with violet overtones.  At once the nose is redolent with crushed berries, flowers, and a lovely dusty "Tuscan road character".  It evokes an image. On the palate, the wine carries itself broadly, with long lasting waves of crushed black cherry fruit that are spicy, juicy and well delineated. It has a tinge of black olive and a tobacco-like sweetness.  Shows lots of freshness in this hotter than optimal vintage.  90 points. 

2010 Castello Banfi Belnero:  

From what is fast becoming a legendary vintage in Montalcino, the 2010 is deep purple in the glass trending toward a saturated garnet ruby color.  The aromas are gorgeous with ample crushed plum, warm road dust, cured olive, and fresh tobacco. Really interesting to smell and it kept me going back to the glass. On the palate, the wine is much more primary.  There's a solid core of elegant black plum and berry wrapped in spices and a pleasing black olive notes.  Hint of rosemary on the finish.  The balance is wonderful and the ripe tannins assert themselves on the finish.  This is delicious but needs cellaring to round out the tannins and develop more complexity.  An interesting comparison side by side against the more advanced 2009. Give it 3-5 years in the cellar.  92 points.  

2011 Castello Banfi BelnerO: 

On the heels of 2010 comes 2011, a vintage that not many are paying attention to at the moment.  However, in Chianti Classico and Maremma the weather was wonderful and many have rated the vintage on par or ahead of 2010.  Time will tell how it bears out for Montalcino but if this wine is any indication, things look promising. The 2011 BelnerO is a gorgeous deep ruby color with violet highlights.  It seems "brighter" than the previous two examples. In the glass, the aromas are penetrating. Crushed red fruits, fresh flowers, exotic baking spices, and sweet tobacco are perfumed and persistent. On the palate, the wine is elegant, fresh and vibrant.  Juicy red fruit flavors are accented with dusty cinnamon, pipe tobacco and a slight touch of mocha.  Balanced well, this is approachable right now but will easily cellar for 5-7 years.  91 points.  

    In wrapping this up, I think an important take away from these tastings is the absence of a notable flavor profile from the international varietals in the blend.  These wines behaved like classy Sangiovese and represent a singular expression of the Montalcino microclimate that is notably different from Brunello. The vagaries of each vintage were easily discernible in the three wines and in better years like 2010, BelnerO achieves a level of complexity and power that approaches Brunello. That brings us to the value aspect. For a multitude of reasons pertaining to the oddities of the wine market, pricing fluctuates widely on this wine, so shop around. While it's a relative bargain compared to Brunello at $30, it's an absolute steal compared to similar Sangiovese wines under that price.




 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: FIVE MYTHS OF THANKSGIVING TRAVEL

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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