Virtual Gourmet

  JUNE 26,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Give and Take" (2012) by Galina Dargery


Part One
By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By John A. Curtas


VERY SPECIAL EVENT: On July 7 Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center in NYC will host a Sugar Snap Pea Dinner,  with special guest, pioneering botanist and inventor of the snap pea back in 1979, Calvin Lamborn.  Chefs Marco Canora, Wylie Dufresne, and Justin Smillie will join Lincoln Chefs Jonathan Benno and Richard Capizzi to cook a five-course dinner highlighting the selection of peas.  It will be a rare evening offering guests the chance to taste several varietals of the peas, and meet the extraordinary man known as the ‘Snap Pea Sensei.’ 5 Course Dinner $150 pp. (plus tax and gratuity).   Lincoln Ristorante, 142 West 65th Street; 212.359.6500.


Part One 
By John Mariani

Concierge reception desk at Rome Cavalieri Hotel

    By now the high season is in full swing in Italy, producing debilitating crowds and long lines everywhere, which is why, when traveling anywhere, choosing a hotel with a eminently knowledgeable concierge can be crucial in planning your schedule.  A good concierge is not just helpful getting restaurant reservations, but can wave you away from particular museums and monuments at certain times of day when the crowds would be prohibitive.  He may also know of special tickets that allow you to buck the lines, can arrange for you to have a driver or  how to use the subway in Rome, which is still (slowly) expanding.
    That said, the best concierges in Rome are in the best hotels, where having such a job is extremely prestigious and well-paying.  They pride themselves on quickly making difficult doors open for their guests, and, as the saying goes, the impossible takes a little longer.   So here are two of the top hotels in Rome.

Via Alberto Cadlolo 101

      Among Rome’s few five-star hotels is the Cavalieri, now part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel company, which has invested heavily in the property so as to update completely every aspect, from the rooms to the pool and spa, while maintaining the sprawling hotel’s unique 1960s grandeur.  From the beautifully landscaped entryway to the extravagant reception area (left), with its winding staircase to the lower floor where a state-of-the-art Grand Spa is located, housing the city’s most beautiful indoor and outdoor pools (open for a fee to non-guests), everything looks fresh yet part of another era, when the names Fellini, Mastroianni and Loren were known to every American.
    Perched high up on Monte Mario, with a view of the vast city of Rome and the Vatican,  the Cavalieri was designed as a respite from the day-time madness below. The comfort of the rooms ranges from high luxury to eye-popping elegance.  All the rooms are sound proofed, each with a living area, and with all of the finest amenities, including WiFi (that really works!); on the top two floors are the hotel’s grandest Imperial Rooms, with their own separate check-in and elevator access.
    More than any other hotel I know in Rome, the Cavalieri offers its own “experiences,” which include children’s activities and for adults afternoon tea in the Tiepolo Lounge, with its magnificent 1725 triptych by the artist. Indeed, the hotel has one of the world’s finest private art collections dating to the 16th century (right), including an infant’s
crib commissioned by Napoleon for his son, a coiffeuse table designed for Marie Antoinette, Bacchanalian frescoes,  and the famously rare Beauvais tapestries. You may arrange for a private tour of the collection.
    There are some fantasy offerings, including learning gladiatorial combat to satisfy one’s inner Spartacus, and something more contemporary:  the chance to rent either a Lamborghini or Maserati sportscar so you can chase James Bond’s Aston-Martin around the nightime streets of Rome. 
The hotel’s concierge can also arrange for you to take a 90-minute tour of the highly restricted
Vatican Gardens—the Pope’s own private walkway—then a further tour of the Vatican Museum, without enduring the endless lines.  The hotel can also arrange for a round of golf at the Rome Golf Club, five minutes from city center.
    Throughout the day there is a complimentary hotel shuttle that takes guests down to stops at the Via Veneto and the Piazza Barberini; otherwise it's a steep walk down and back.
Of course, it is tempting, especially after jetlag, simply to spend the day at the hotel, beginning with a splendid breakfast of warm brioche and cappuccino on the terrace, lunch al fresco at L’Uliveto or the Pool Bar, and later on, dinner at one of Italy’s finest restaurants, La Pergola, whose uniqueness is such that I will soon be devoting an entire article to the experience.

Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6
39 06 699340

    In the  historic center of Rome, adjacent to the Spanish Steps, is the magnificent Hassler Hotel, one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that may well turn into a habit whenever you visit Rome.  For once you are received and greeted here by Roberto E. Wirth, President, General Manager and second generation owner of The Hassler, you will experience a graciousness and personal concern that marks everyone’s stay here.  By the time you get to the concierge desk it seems everyone in the hotel knows you by name. 
    The Hassler has been in the Wirth family since 1921.  Just before World War II Oscar Wirth demolished the original building and, after the war began,  its replacement would become the Rome headquarters for the
U.S.  Air Force, re-opening to the public in 1947.
    Since then, The Hassler has remained at the top of Rome’s five-star hotels by maintaining its singular traditions, both architecturally and hospitality-wise, and its consistent clientele includes just about every international movie star and head of state, dating back to John and Jacqueline Kennedy’s visit to Rome in July 1963 (left).
    There is probably no one in Rome who is better connected to the international community of travel than Roberto Wirth (below), who serves as consultant to other hotels, is active in many charities, and currently is
President of the Spanish Steps Association; in 2005 he was named "Independent Hotelier of the World" by Hotels magazine, and a year later was awarded the Prize for Economic Achievement by Rome’s City Government  and the "Marco Aurelio Prize for Tourism.” Wirth also has received several Honorary Doctorates in Humane Letters, and is one of the eight deaf recipients of the Deaf Nation Inspiration Award (for Hotel Hospitality). Two years ago Wirth was awarded the “Leading Legend Award” by The Leading Hotels of the World.
    I mention all these honors because in a hotel world where owners are fickle and general managers come and go, Wirth has forged and refined his own brand of style and hospitality so that The Hassler remains unique in Rome and very rare anywhere else. Aside from the expected amenities in the rooms, there is same-day laundry service (tough to find in Rome), complimentary shoeshine service (rare now everywhere), a business center, and VIP shuttle service.
    Its spectacular eminence next to the Trinità del Monti church and the Spanish Steps gives The Hassler a sense of being in the center of things—it’s just steps from the Keats-Shelley Memorial, Via Condotti and Villa Borghese—while seeming separate from the swirling carousel that is Rome. 
    The Wirths also own the smaller four-room Il Palazzetto (left) astride the Spanish Steps, which  has the feeling of being its own boutique pied-a-terre, with access to all The Hassler’s services.
    Our room in The Hassler was one of the more recently updated (below), with a modern, white-silver-and-black décor, a wonderfully roomy dressing area and stunning, large marble bathroom. (I recall the days when bathrooms in Rome, even at the five-star level, were cramped and uncomfortable.)
    As with the Cavalieri’s great restaurant, La Pergola, I will be reporting on The Hassler’s marvelous Imago terrace dining room in the near future.  You may also dine at the riotously colorful Salone Eva with its adjacent bar (favored by the late Princess Diana) or the outdoor Palm Court Garden Restaurant & Bar.  Wherever you allow yourself to drop after a day of sightseeing, you’ll feel cushioned against all the world’s follies and foibles, content to drink a Martini or Negroni on a tufted banquette in view of a marble fireplace and bookcases, wondering when Signore Wirth may come by to greet his old friends and his new acquaintances, to make sure everything is being done for your comfort.
    As I wrote some years ago on my last visit to The Hassler, “t
hrough its revolving doors has come the whole world, and the hotel’s concierges perform more miracles than the Pope,  at the request of guests who are as demanding as they are eccentric.  From your room you can see the hokey grandeur of the  Victor Emmanuel II monument and the splendor of the Piazza Navona,  the cool greenery of the Borghese Gardens and all the glowing marble domes of Rome’s churches and St. Peter’s spread across the horizon.”

    At twilight the intense blue of Rome’s sky softens into a band of pink and fiery orange punctuated by the city’s steeples and spires. The lights of Rome’s monuments come up to mimic the incandescence of the moon, and everyone in the streets seems in the throes of la dolce vita until the church bells toll at midnight.


By John Mariani


62 Main Street

New Canaan, CT


    “But this is New Canaan, not Manhattan!”  
    So say many of chef/restaurateur Prasad Chirnomula’s customers, whining about the prices at his superb Indian restaurant in one of Connecticut’s wealthiest communities, where the median family income is $230,000.
    “I ask them, why?” says Chirnomula. “The price of food is the same, my labor costs are the same, and in New Canaan I’m paying as much or more for rent.”

    Actually, Chirnomula’s prices are not high at all—the most expensive dish on the menu is $28—but it’s not surprising to hear such comments about Indian restaurants anywhere, because American diners have come to think of them, as with so many other ethnic restaurants, as being cheap eateries and they know that Manhattan charges the highest prices for everything.  This, despite the fact that so many higher-end Indian restaurants have moved far from the stereotypical curry houses of the past, whose gravies vary little and whose ingredients are not always of the highest quality. 
    Modern Indian restaurants in NYC like Junoon, Awadh, Utsav and Tamarind can compete in food, service and décor with the best of any stripe in Manhattan, and, as anyone who knows even a little about Queens can tell you, the Indian restaurants there cater very strongly to a demanding Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi customer base.
    Chirnomula is well aware that his four Connecticut restaurants may not have the clientele that can distinguish among the myriad cuisines of India, but the chef, who is from Hyderabad in the south of the sub-continent, is committed to changing the preconceptions among Americans that an Indian menu is little more than tandoori, mulligatawny soup and thirty variations on curry.  His New Canaan restaurant  shares some of the favorite menu items at his two Thali vegetarian branches in New Haven and Stamford, drawing on well-established connections with Hudson Valley growers for his provender. But in its spaciousness and décor, and for Chirnomula’s signature dishes like turmeric and spice marinated salmon (below) with a creamy dill sauce and beet chips ($28) and Belize king prawns with ginger cream, red quinoa and crisp okra ($28), the New Canaan location is his flagship.
    India is located in a splendid 150-year-old building on Main Street that has been home to several other restaurants.  Right now you may wish to dine al fresco in the pretty adjacent patio; inside there are three sections: a small dining room, a bar, and a larger rear dining room, all of them comfortable enough, except that the very low lighting plays against very dark colors of black and brown, accented with a rose-colored wall band.
        The service staff is affable and the food comes out at a civilized pace.
    The menu is segmented into vegetarian, signature items, tandoori breads, kababs, classic fare, and desserts, and our party chose a wide assortment, beginning with a basket of mini-breads to be spread with luscious condiments.  The smoky naans, paratha, and onion kulcha breads were to follow (any three breads $12), essential to mop up the rich sauces.  Chirnomula is a subtle master of spicing, revealing layers of flavor and heat (heat levels may be adjusted on request), and such delicacy is as evident in a dish of grilled vegetables tossed in fennel, fenugreek and nigella seed ($10) as it is in the plump potato-and-pea-stuffed samosa (above) pastry triangles ($6).
    This approach to subtlety turns a dish of Konkan crab into a triumph, with a tangy coconut-lemon sauce and unusual gooseberry patties ($14), as it does with the marinated  salmon dish, not one I’ve run across in any other Indian restaurant.  The tandoori dishes come out of that fierce clay oven steaming, but not dried out or blackened with charring ($19-$24), while the always—and intentionally—spicy lamb vindaloo ($21) reveals an array of spices that otherwise might easily get lost in the heat.
    I love savory lentil-based dals, and here makhni dal ($8 or $12) is slowly cooked with fresh ginger and turmeric to turn a lovely yellow-orange color, which also tints marvelously rich chicken tikka masala (right; $17).  The only disappointing dish was shrimp in a classic spinach sag sauce ($19), which was too bitter and smothered the flavor of the crustacean.
    There’s good reason to order dessert at India, for, unlike so many other renderings  elsewhere, the rose-water tinged ras malai, with tapioca pearls for texture, and the kulfi ice cream were just sweet enough to allow nuances of flavors to emerge.
    India stocks a very long IPA-dominated beer list (with most bottles and cans $5-$9), which makes up for a very small wine list, and about a dozen special cocktails with names like Goan Spritz and Mumbai Rye.
    From how Chirnomula described his hard work and his frantic workday, his ability to keep so many restaurants running in three different Connecticut towns is owed to consistency and constant attention, which doesn’t leave much for his golf game or new house.  So I hope he might slow down a little, content that his long-time concern for guests and hospitality and his innovative cuisine have been in the vanguard of changing people’s minds bout Indian food and Indian restaurants.


Open daily for lunch and dinner.




By John A. Curtas
Nineteenth Century Map of the Saar and Mosel Wine Region

    Striking up a conversation with Sofia Thanisch is one of the easiest things in the world to do. The owner of Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch, she is the great granddaughter of the founders and oversees wines made from two of the greatest vineyards in Germany: the Bernkasteler Badstube and Berncasteler Doctor. She is also one of the most charming people in the world of wine, and an hour or so spent sipping vintages in her private tasting room in the village of Bernkastel is something that should be on every oenophile's bucket list.
    Four generations of women have controlled this estate (the Wwe. on the label means "widow"), and Sofia will recount the history of the weingut (wine estate) and her wine family (dating back to 1636!) over sips of her entire catalogue, starting with her entry level Thanisch label, a wine possessed of a convenient screw-top. To quote an internet wine seller's tasting notes: "Yeasty nose, some dried herbs, stone fruit and some citrus, hint of tobacco and smoked bacon, tart mineral notes. Sweetish and juicy on the palate, tart spice, good grip, ripe, polished fruit, some tobacco, polished, lively acidity, persistent and has some depth, slightly sandy, but ripe tannins, yeasty traces, fairly prominent tart spicy mineral notes, firm grip, fairly creamy, light vegetal traces on a very good, delicately sweet finish."
     I didn't get all of that from the bottle, besides the sweetish and juicy part, tinged with a nice mineral coating and a touch of herbaceousness, but I will say it's the type of wine you'd want to quaff with highly-spiced Thai, Chinese or Korean food, and will never tire of throughout your meal. All in all, it's quite a mouthful for a $24 bottle.
    As easy as it is to fall in love with Thanisch wines, vigilance is advised when buying them, because, as if things weren't complicated enough, there are two Dr. H. Thanisch wineries in the Mosel.  One has labels that look like the one above, except when it has labels that look like the one above it.  Got that? No one told you this was going to be easy. But then again, few worthwhile things in the world are.
    Back to Sofia’s wines: Look for the  Dr. H. Thanisch - Erben Thanisch wine label and you'll always find something ethereal, like Sofia's 2010 Berncasteler Doctor Spätlese ($50),  one of the richest, most precise evocations of the Riesling grape, all tropical fruits and spicy complexity, with a finish that goes on until next Tuesday. When you consider the flavor punch it packs for around 8%-9% alcohol by volume, you're getting more in your glass than any Chardonnay you can dream of.  Sofia proudly points to a framed picture on her wall showing that in 1959 Thanisch wines commanded a higher price in America than first-growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundies. My how times have changed.
    If you're nice—and nothing brings out niceness like glasses of crisp, bracing Riesling—Sofia may exit the room and return with bottles so wizened that the labels are a tattered, unreadable mess. Take it on faith that (at almost any winery in the world) when rag tag bottles with moldy labels appear, you know you're in for something special. In this case we tasted some of Thanisch's older Auslese labels.  These wines may not be available in stores, but when you get a sip of a 1996 Berncasteler Doctor Riesling Auslese , full of pineapple and tropical fruit aromas, palate-coating creaminess and a long, deep, shockingly fresh finish,  you will know why people go so nuts over this grape. And after spending an hour or so with Sofia Thanisch, you'll be nuts about her as well, and will have learned that German winemakers are every bit as friendly and approachable as their wines.

To read Part One of this article, click.



    According to the NY Times, "sausage-wielding attackers"  attacked patrons in a vegan restaurant Kiwi-Cafe in Tbilisi, Georgia. "It all started when they came into the cafe speaking and laughing loudly," said the owner, "and didn't care when we asked them to be quiet and not to disturb the people who came to watch the film. . . . [Then]  they pulled out some grilled meat, sausages, fish and started eating them and throwing them at us, and finally they started to smoke."  According to the restaurant, the protesters "were neo-Nazis. . .who support fascist ideas."


“On a stormy Monday night, three twenty-somethings headed west from their trendy stomping ground of Prospect Heights to sleepy Park Slope and its Santa Fe Grill, which the Times, in 1989, named “one of the hot nightspots among the young and restless.” Ducking in from Seventh Avenue, they found the Dixie Chicks playing on loop, and the long cherrywood bar populated by baby boomers who know where to find a generous serving of Southwestern kitsch, plus food that an abuelita would make if she read back issues of Gourmet: crispy Oaxacan chicken basted in honey-lime butter; charred skirt steak marinated in basil and chili paste; shrimp enchiladas made with delicate blue-corn tortillas, a smoky tomatillo sauce, and fresh Chihuahuan cheese.”—Daniel Wenger, “Santa Fe Grill,” The New Yorker (5/9/16)


 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:

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.

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