Virtual Gourmet

  May 15, 2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER



By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By Geoff Kalish


By John Mariani

U.S. Naval Academy Bancroft Hall  Dormitory, Annapolis MD

    For a city of only eight square miles—one of them water—Annapolis has a remarkable mix of the historic, the quaint, and the majestic.  The first of those may be segmented into Colonial,  Revolutionary, Civil War, and twentieth century periods, one very different from the other, so that Annapolis’s architecture is a hodgepodge of slatted wooden houses (left) and mansions like the striking Hammond-Harwood House built in 1774, said to have "the most beautiful door in America"; red brick Georgian government buildings, including the high-on-a-hill Maryland State House (below)--the oldest capitol in continuous legislative use since 1772; and the expansive buildings of the sprawling U.S. Naval Academy, whose majestic Chapel, which holds the crypt of John Paul Jones, was dedicated in 1908.  Everything at the Academy has been enlarged and modernized over the centuries.
    There is history at every corner of the city. Annapolis was the nation's first peacetime capital of the new United States after the signing of the Treaty of Paris  in 1783, ending the Revolutionary War,  and where General George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.   It was not until 1845 that the Naval Academy was founded here, beginning with ten acres, now spread over 338 impeccably maintained acres of campus, classrooms, a vast sports center, and a dormitory of daunting size and architectural Beaux Art beauty; Bancroft Hall houses 4,000 midshipmen in 1,700 modern rooms, many appended to the original design as recently as the 1960s.
    It is thrilling to visit this exceptional campus--which they call "the Yard"-- to see the Midshipmen in their variously colored uniforms, men and women from every state, race, national background and creed, studying everything from mathematics, science, and liberal arts to the history of war and the strategies of generals going back to Alexander the Great. Their curriculum is in many ways tougher than at even the most prestigious universities, for aside from requirements to pass strenuous physical tests of strength and stamina, the Midshipmen must also maintain high academic standards.  Many grads who are commissioned as officers.  go into the Navy, some the Marines, others the air forces of those two arms.  It is a difficult school to get into and tough to get through. Time off base is restricted.  All must live by an honor code. No one pays tuition.
    Preble Hall (left) houses the Naval Academy Museum, containing 6,000 prints depicting European and American naval history from 1514 through World War II and one of the world's best ship model collections, with many made entirely of whalebone.  Nimitz Hall is the Academy’s library.
Maryland was a border state and Annapolis was a Union stronghold during the Civil War so it suffered no damage, although 24% of the Naval Academy officers joined the Confederate cause, many serving in the South’s meager navy.  As a result, many of the city’s colonial and ante-bellum houses still remain intact, with approved, color-coded plaques next to their doors explaining their role in the city’s history or what famous personage once lived there.  Streets retain their 18th century English names—Duke of Gloucester, King George’s, Hanover—and, although the city lost most of its commercial maritime industry to Baltimore by the 1780s, this is still very much a port for recreational boating.  Indeed, just a month ago the downtown port was completely renovated at a cost of $6.1 million, with a new seawall and widened boardwalk.
    The city radiates out from the port, which is ringed with eateries, taverns, antique stores, and boutiques, including an LP record store and an old-fashioned barber shop, and there has always been a vibrant professional and community theater scene within the historic district, including the Colonial Players—its musical staging of “A Christmas Carol” is now an annual event— and the Annapolis Summer Garden presents outdoor productions each year.  There is even a small Shakespeare company I managed to visit that was rehearsing Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
    What I love best about the city, which I think of more as a large town, is that it’s so pleasingly walkable.  It was not designed on some rigid grid pattern—from the air it looks like a maze—instead retaining centuries’ old  narrow streets and corridors, mews and alleyways, some little more than cul-de-sacs, others that were once pathways for driven cattle.   The round-abouts at Church Circle and State Circle slow everyone down to a civilized pace, and steepled churches pop out from unexpected places; there is also a memorial to Kunte Kinte, the real-life person who first set his shackled foot in America and was the inspiration for the slave hero of Alex Hailey’s novel Roots.
    One of the most remarkable of the old mansions is the beautifully restored, five-part Georgian mansion called William Paca House and Garden (right), reclaimed from what was barely a shell of a 19th century entrance to a hotel and named after a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Today its impeccably reconstructed two acre garden grounds now frequently used for weddings and other celebrations.
      One spot I almost overlooked is the Historic Annapolis Museum Store on Main Street, just across from the  City Dock. Inside the solid brick structure is a shop full of souvenirs devoted to local craftspeople, and upstairs is a small but very impressive exhibit entitled “Freedom Bound: Runaways of the Chesapeake” (left) which relates the sad but inspiring stories of nine servants and slaves who tried to escape bondage between 1728 and 1864. Through documents taken from the city’s Maryland Gazette along with dramatic voices and visuals to tell their tales, the people tell their stories again, including the astonishing romance of an Irish-American girl whose love for an escaped black slave was so strong that, upon his capture, she chose to join him on the slave plantation rather than to live her life as a free woman without him.
    You are never far from such echoes of history while walking the streets of Annapolis,  cut into by the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay, discovered by Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524.  The Bay still flows for 200 miles to the Atlantic, that rough ocean so many of the city’s immigrants, many not by choice, once sailed so many centuries ago.

The city has a brand new website for travel info:

    Just a few miles outside of Annapolis' Historic District is an enchanting little winery, Great Frogs Vineyard, where, inside  an old tobacco barn house, you can schedule a tasting of seven wines paired with artisan cheeses at $45 per person (without cheeses $25).
     Set near the Chesapeake Bay on land farmed since  1691, the vineyards have a soil rich in oyster shells, and the proprietors use all the grapes grown on the property (and buy others) to make Bordeaux-style wines, like a Limited Reserve Chardonnay at $30 and a Meritage Reserve at $40.  Expatriate Californians Nathanael and Andrea O'Shea (right, with their dog Finn McCool) had  Midwest farming genes in their family, and, without even knowing Maryland even had a wine industry (there are 70 vineyards in the state), they founded Great Frogs Vineyard in 1999, on land where the cool Chesapeake breezes protect the vines from the kind of frost, heat and humidity otherwise found inland.
        I found the wines to be as impressive for their varietal character as for the terroir they came from, proving that East Coast wineries, whose history dates back to colonial days, are quickly catching up to the quality of the best coming out of the West Coast.


By John Mariani

405 East 52nd Street (near First Avenue)



    I have written about Le Périgord several times over the past four decades—it opened 52 years ago—and I find that I could pretty much reprint what I said four years ago or ten years ago about this great bastion of French cuisine in NYC, whose competitors once numbered a score of such places with names like Lutèce, La Caravelle, Le Cygne and Le Pavillon, all long gone. Only the venerable La Grenouille survives and thrives along with Le Périgord, leading to the conclusion that such restaurants are wholly out of fashion.

    The truth is, those other restaurants—what used to be called the “Le and La crowd”—closed for various reasons that range from impossible real estate hikes (when Le Périgord opened in 1964 its rent was $600 a month) to the retirement or death of the owners.  There is no question that more modern styles of French restaurants opened in their wake—Daniel, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin—and NYC is still rife with French bistros like Benoit, Cognac Brasserie and La Mangeoire, but Le Périgord sails on against prevailing fashion, and it is as certain that you will meet owner Georges Briguet today as you would have in 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2000.

    The word redoubtable seems created to describe Monsieur Briguet, as affable a Swiss host as you’ll ever find, ever in a tuxedo and pleated shirt (as are the captains), smiling broadly and greeting old and new friends, and always trying to find a way to make you come back again and again.  Joined by his son, Christopher, Monsieur Briguet now works at his beloved restaurant simply because he loves it more than anything in the world, and he gets antsy when he takes vacations or even days off.  Madame Briguet must be a very understanding woman.

    The premises differ considerably from the dated look of old-line French restaurants with their scarlet banquettes and crowded-in tables in a favored front room; instead the dining room is done in warm tones of gold with track lights and mirrored columns, with well-separated tables set with roses, and the lighting flatters everyone from the front of the restaurant to the rear and along every wall.  There is a marvelous array of cold hors d’oeuvres (below) as you enter—from smoked salmon and poached asparagus to pâtés, terrines, and cold shellfish with mayonnaise ($22)—next to an equally tempting cart of desserts and a guéridon for carved roasts.

    Le Périgord still maintains a clientele from Sutton Place and the nearby U.N., and on a recent visit a number of representatives from Singapore dined happily at a long table in the main dining room, while a group from Goldman Sachs was in the rear party room.

    You sit down to find the tablecloth thick, the pats of butter abundant, the bread made in house, the wine list full of old vintages whose prices haven’t changed in years, especially the collection of Burgundies.

    Longtime Chef Joel Benjamin has honed every dish on the menu to rigid classic standards, so recommending the Dover sole (below) à la meunière ($50), or the quenelles of pike in sauce Nantua, is always a sure bet.  Monsieur Briguet insists with total justification that Benjamin makes the best lobster bisque ($12) in the city—not too thick with cream, carefully passed through a sieve, tasting of nothing but lobster and the faint smokiness of its roasted shell.

    The foie gras, from D’Artagnan, has a perfect little rind of yellow fat around it and glistening cubes of Sauternes gelée ($22).  Meaty but tender sweetbreads are dusted with Moroccan harissa and sweet Bell pepper ($18), while escargots are served out of their shell, as a fricassee with hazelnut butter and wild mushrooms ($18).  As many times as you’ll have rack of lamb in NYC, you’ll rarely find it so perfectly cooked, so perfectly fatted, and so generously portioned with a fresh thyme crust as you will here ($46).

    When was the last time you had roast duck ($40), its skin as crisp as parchment, carved in front of you, pieces then placed on a warmed plate and drizzled with an impeccably reduced jus fragrant and sweetened with orange?  This dish seems to be making a comeback in some quarters of NYC, but Le Périgord’s version is still far out ahead.

     You must order soufflés ($8) in advance and, whether chocolate, hazelnut, Grand Marnier, or other, they will also exhibit how practice makes perfect in the way they achieve the ideal rise above the rim, the careful melding of egg whites and flavorings, and the pour of sauce or ice cream in the steaming pierced top.

     Otherwise you must  choose among desserts that seem to beam at you from their cart—deep dark chocolate mousse, golden Tarte Tatin, and my favorite, oeufs à la neige of whipped, cloud-like egg white puffs bathed in crème anglaise.  Ten dollars brings you a selection of several desserts offered.

    A prix fixe lunch is just $35 (also à la carte), and dinner, at $75 (with à la carte options, too), runs far below La Grenouille’s $138.

    One more touch that makes Le Périgord unusual: It’s open on Sundays for dinner, when many families will assemble for a fine, restful meal and gracious hospitality.

    Monsieur Briguet always seems to hint that someone might buy Le Périgord, but it’s difficult to imagine he would ever give up his labor of love and more difficult still to imagine Le Périgord without him.


Le Périgord is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch and nightly for dinner.






By Geoff Kalish


    Discovered in the United States by more than just the wine cognoscenti, a number of excellent, sensibly priced Sicilian reds, whites and rosés are now widely available across the country.  In fact, while just a few years ago many restaurant wine lists lumped bottles from Sicily into a “Southern Italian” grouping or as “other,” these same eateries now  provide far more than meager selections of vintages in a separate “Sicilian” category. And retail shops that once rarely carried more than a token bottle of Nero d’Avola, now offer shelves devoted to selections from the island. To gain insight into what the market has to offer, the  NYC-based Wine Media Guild recently held a tasting of more than two dozen of these wines with lunch. The following are which I thought were the six best.



    In general, I’m not a big fan of Italian white wines, feeling that many of them are very bland, one-dimensional products made so as not to offend the palate of even the least discerning consumer. On the other hand, of the nine whites offered, I found the 2014 Tenuta Rapitala Vigina Casalj Alcamo Classico DOC ($17) extremely enjoyable.   Made from 100% Catarratto grapes (the most widely planted white varietal in Sicily), the wine showed a bouquet and taste of ripe peaches and pears with undertones of sage and a crisp finish, perfect to pair with grilled tuna and pasta with seafood.



    With so many too sweet, low-acid rosés (rosati in Italian) on the market, the 2015 Tasca d’Almerita  Le Rosé di Regaleali Terre Siciliane ($13) was a welcome find. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, the wine had a salmon pink color, a fragrant bouquet of ripe cherries and strawberries, with a fruity taste that was crisp and dry on the finish. This wine makes an excellent aperitif, but it also mates well with salmon or pork.



    The four standout reds were from totally different Sicilian locales. The 2014 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($23), from vineyards outside the town of Vittoria, showed a bouquet and easy-drinking taste of ripe plums and apricots, with a long pleasant finish. This wine goes well with a wide variety of fare ranging from steak tartare to grilled veal chops to pasta with red sauce. 

    The 2011 Palari Rosso del Soprano ($59) hailed from the Messina area and is a blend of primarily Nerello Mascalese grapes (60%) and smaller amounts of five other indigenous varietals. Albeit pricy, the wine is amazingly Burgundian in style with a bouquet and taste of plums and spice and a bit more oomph than many reds from the Côte d’Or but not as overwhelmingly fruity as a number of California Pinot Noirs. Try it with grilled beef or lamb.
     A well priced 2014 Cusumano Nero D’Avola ($13), from vineyards in San Giacomo, exhibited a very fruity bouquet and concentrated taste of ripe blackberries and raspberries with a long pleasant finish. Pair this wine with hamburgers or pizza as well as dark-veined cheeses. 

    A 2010 Vivera Etna Rosso “Martinella” ($40), from the northest side of Mt. Etna —a blend of 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio–-shows the great aging potential for this category of wine. It has a bouquet and soft taste of plums and strawberries interlaced with exotic spices and a smooth finish with a touch of tannin. Mate this wine with grilled pork chops, ripe cheeses or rich pasta Norma.

And  those consumers who view Marsala as merely a cooking wine should try the Florio Targa Riserva Marsala Superiore Riserva Semisecco ($35 for a 500ml bottle) for a rich, sweet treat with flavors of dried figs and apricots and a vibrant acidity in the finish to enjoy with chocolate or mild cheeses.



According to a Google study/survey, here are the foods that are "risers" and "decliners" for those who give a damn.


Uncured Bacon
Bundt Cakes 

Overnight Oats
Smash Cake
Gender Reveal Cake

Vegan Donuts



Gluten Free Cupcakes
Evaporated Cane Juice
Wedding Cakes

Rainbow Bagels
Dutch Baby Pancake
Mulligan Stew 



According to The Economist, it is not easy being the only restaurant critic in Baghdad. “Before when I wrote, I would say when something is bad,” says Anas al-Sarraf, founder of the online Baghdad Restaurant Guide. “But I stopped six months ago because I got a lot of threats. Someone who is spending $2m to open a restaurant can spend $5,000 to order a hit on me.”   At a restaurant in Baghdad’s Sadr City, he once found himself surrounded by security people and had to convince them he was taking photos for a review, not to plan an attack.


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) 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 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: MONTREAL AND TORONTO; HAWAII AND HONOLULU

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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 2016