Virtual Gourmet

  September 10, 2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Claudia Cardinale



By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

                                                                                        Les Jardins de 'Éspadon
                                                                                                             photo Vincent Leroux
    Like all great cities, restaurants change with the seasons, and Paris is not immune to turnover, which brightens the gastronomic landscape with new young chefs doing new young things in their kitchens.
    More than most cities, Paris is bound to revered culinary traditions, so that some of its most endearing pleasures are to return to a favorite old bistro that might very well date back to when Jean-Paul Sartre and James Joyce dined there.  But to stay in synch with the innovations of global gastronomy, Paris’s established restaurants have had to re-think their style without losing their unique spirit, not least in established hotels. For, if a leopard cannot change its spots, it can certainly gain in focus as it grows older.  Here, based on a trip this summer, are favorite  spots that show off such change in the City of Lights.
    (Remember, in France, tax and service are included in the bill.)


The Ritz Paris
15 Place Vendôme

    The fame of The Ritz has been spread as much by American writers like Hemingway (right) and Fitzgerald as by Hollywood movies like “Love in the Afternoon” with Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn. Its client list, since opening on the Place Vendȏme in 1898 under César Ritz, has included everyone of importance in European society, from Marcel Proust to Coco Chanel.  Princess Diana had the last meal of her short life at The Ritz before her fatal accident.
    Many regular visitors would have been happy had the Ritz never changed anything at all—it even stayed open during World War II—but owner Mohammud Al Fayed knew that the time had come to upgrade every inch of the hotel and restaurants without altering the overall elegance of the huge space.  He closed it in 2012, not re-opening until 2016, after designer Thierry Déspont renovated everything from top to bottom, rooms to restaurants, banquet rooms to spas.  On the Rue Cambon side of the hotel, guests can enjoy a drink or an informal meal at the new Ritz Bar, and everyone is cheering that the Bar Hemingway is back in business under the eye of veteran bartender Colin Field (below).
     Within months its fine dining L’Éspadon Restaurant garnered two Michelin stars and the adjacent, more casual Les Jardins de L’Éspadon received one. It was at the latter that I had lunch this summer with the man whose opinion on all things Parisian I most respect, Alexander Lobrano, an American ex-pat who writes the most insightful reports on what’s going on in town.
    Within the airy atmosphere of the sunny orangerie-style room we left ourselves in the hands of Chef Nicholas Sale (the tenth in The Ritz’s history) and sommelier Estelle Touzet, who poured us glasses of Bollinger Rosé Champagne to go with the starter of cooked and raw radishes.  We asked Sale to prepare two different four-course meals so that we could try more dishes.
    The dishes at Les Jardins are lighter and less complex than those at the formal L’Éspadon dining room but no less savory for that. Green peas of the sweetest variety were combined with an onion mousse studded with veal bacon bits, while a snowy filet of whiting came with potato cream given an acidic brightness by capers and lemon.
      French chefs for years now have felt it incumbent to add a pasta dish to their menus, and at The Ritz,  with a delicious Domaine Gavoty Clarendon 2015, we enjoyed cannelloni stuffed with langoustines, with green cabbage and a sauce reduced with Meursault that Sale claims as his signature dish.
    Roasted breast of squab (right) came with more pasta, Swiss chard and ricotta, the pigeon supremely tender and lightly gamey, the chard bitter and the ricotta sweet and creamy.  With this we drank a perfect match-up wine—a Domaine Stéphane Ogier Côte Rotie 2014.  A selection of impeccably aged cheeses came next, with a 10-year-old Sercial Madeira, and to finish off was a glazed yuzu lemon meringue with rice pudding and citrus pearls, which, to our surprise, was served with sake. An old-fashioned vanilla millefeulle (left) did seem to have a thousand layers of buttery pastry so light they seemed to levitate.
    Such dishes as these show just how advanced French cuisine in Paris can be,  even in the staunchly classical Ritz, where time marches on, but now to a different tune.    
    A two-course meal at Les Jardins is €95, three €120, and four €145. In the main dining room, L’Éspadon, appetizers run, á la carte, €60-€190,  and main courses €110 to €240.

Le Bristol Hotel
114 Rue Faubourg

    Le Bristol has long been one of my favorite Paris hotels, certainly grand but, despite its high fashion clientele, with an intimacy others of its ilk miss.  Part of its homey charm is the resident Fa-Raon, the beautiful white cat who roams the lobby at will and seems to regard visitors as her own guests.
    Like all the great “château” hotels in Paris in this century, Le Bristol, now part of the Oetker Collection, closed for extensive rehab, adding a wing. I have written more than once of my great meals at the hotel’s deluxe restaurant, Épicure (three Michelin stars), under Chef Eric Fréchon, who also oversees the adjacent, far more casual two-story 114 Faubourg, now seven years old and as bright and colorful as any in Paris, with its elegant winding staircase, gilded columns, Matisse-like murals, and an atmosphere that sets a standard for a modern Parisian brasserie.  Its three-course €56 lunch menu is one of the real bargains at this level of cuisine.
    I asked restaurant manager Patrice Jeanne to have the chef prepare a lunch for my friend and me. It began with a lovely presentation of King crab meat in an eggshell (left) touched with ginger and lemon mayonnaise, and, since the white asparagus were in season, we were served the sweetest in the market.  Fat Dover sole was wonderfully simple in order to best show off the excellence of the fish, served with spinach and rich with clarified butter and accompanied by an exquisite Puligny Montrachet 2010. 
    This was followed by squab, equally fat and succulent, set in a verbena-laced broth with asparagus and plump foie gras ravioli. For dessert there was a classic Australian-inspired Pavlova with crisp meringue and ripe summer fruits and a very French vanilla millefeuille laced with bourbon and sweetened with salted butter caramel.
    The pleasure of 114 Faubourg is in the interplay of color, casual chic, great cuisine and a true bonhomie that makes dining there always fresh and new.

Gare Saint-Lazare
Rue Intérieure

    When I first visited the city at the age of nineteen, my very first meal in Paris was at a bistro in the Gare du Nord, and it made an enormous impression on me, not just for the food—a big  steaming casserole of blanquette de veau—but for its atmosphere of such French vitality within the bustle of the huge train station.
    Those Paris stations have always had good, solid bistros to service those coming and going, and Gare Saint-Lazare, one of the largest and now a commercial center, is now home to one of the best.  Lazare Paris is the new brasserie opened by Le Bristol’s Eric Fréchon (see above), and he has poured his heart into it.  Despite its location within the vast station lined with boutiques, newsstands and cafés, Lazare is a thoroughly modern space, with al fresco access to the plaza outside.  It’s all done in buffed wood, with tile floors, a white industrial ceiling, shelves full of white china, very comfortable gray banquettes and marbleized table tops.  There is a blackboard menu and a broadsheet whose drinks and wines are listed on the back,  itself testament that you can order very good regional bottlings in Paris for well under €50, and apéritifs cost only six.
    The young, affable staff works briskly but cordially, ever attentive to just how much time you have to spend.  My friends and I had the whole evening to enjoy and by ten o’clock the place was emptying out.
    We began with tender calamari cut like spaghetti and sautéed in olive oil with chorizo and hot espellette peppers (€15), and one of the best tuna tartares  (left) I’ve had in Paris, nestled with sesame-scented guacamole (€18).   Equally good was a beef tartare, hand chopped to the perfect size, with pommes pailles, what we’d call shoestring potatoes (€23), oddly limp that evening.  A sweet cake of crab came with haricots verts and mimosa coraille (€24).
     I didn’t care much for an expensive, soupy risotto with pesto of girolles mushrooms and arugula (€25). Lamb chops (right) were grilled to rosy red, perfumed with thyme and sided with a soft polenta with zucchini and basil (€37).
    In good brasserie fashion there are daily specials—chicken fricassée on Monday, cold salmon on Tuesday, roast lamb on Wednesday, and so on, all at a very easy-going €19 euros.
    Desserts stick close to the established traditions of  French home cooking, from îles flottante (left) with dark caramel and toasted almonds (€7) and a bittersweet chocolate tart (€12) to poached cherries with pistachios and vanilla ice cream (€13) and puff pastry profiteroles in a rich chocolate sauce (€9).  There are, of course, a selection of cheeses of artisanal quality. 
    In look and style Lazare is a far cry from the art nouveau bistro in the Gare du Nord of my salad days, though I hope one day to return to find Fréchon has added blanquette de veau to his versatile menu.  
    Lazare has an all-day menu that includes an €11 breakfast of coffee or tea, fruit juice and tartine or Viennese pastry, as well as a tea break at €14 with hot beverage, a slice of lemon cake, a slice of chocolate cake and fruit juice.



By John Mariani

Channa Masala at Swagat

    No American city can claim any longer to be the best when it comes to Asian restaurants.  Houston can brag about its Vietnamese neighborhoods teeming with restaurants large and small; Los Angeles can brag about its Koreatowns and there are Chinatowns in every major city.  But only New York can claim to be an umbrella city to so many Asian restaurants in so many different neighborhoods, from the “Curry Hill” eateries in Manhattan to the Colombian storefronts in Jackson Heights.
    Two disparate examples of family-owned spots serving very good food for very modest prices—one on the Upper West Side, the other in Astoria—only hint at the offerings in a city that has 45,681 “eating and drinking locations” and counting.


411 Amsterdam Ave (near  80th St)

    The word “swagat” is Hindi for welcome, and this little slip of a restaurant wholly lives up to its name. The room in slender, the décor minimal—brick and ocher walls, deep red banquettes and wine shelves, which hold a very good array of bottlings that go well with Indian food, whose spices, rather than heat, are difficult for a wine to complement.  There are, of course, Indian beers offered.
    The menu is fairly extensive, with appetizers ($6-$10), soups and salads ($5-$7), tandoori dishes $14-$25), seafood curries ($18), lamb and goat curries ($16), chicken curries ($15), biryanis and basmati rice ($3-$18) and vegetarian curries ($13), which is not easy for a small kitchen to handle, but overall I found the various dishes distinctive, without the kind of overlapping curry sauces in so many dishes that end up tasting the same.
    Begin with Aloo Papri Chat, flour crispies topped with potatoes, chickpeas, flour straws and mint, yogurt and tamarind sauces, or the samosas (lamb or vegetable).  Lasuni gobi is a dish of tender cauliflower carefully fried and tossed with a garlic-tomato sauce, and shrimp balchao involves mustard seeds and curry leaves for a tangy but mild flavor. Shrimp figures in six more dishes, with only two other seafood items on the menu, which tells you something.
    So often vegetable dishes are the best ones on an Indian menu, and Swagat’s certainly are, including a luscious and rich channa masala made of chickpeas entwined in sweet onions, tomatoes and ground spices, and anything with eggplant, like the Hyderabad bhangare nainagu baby eggplant stuffed with spices and simmered in coconut  milk.
    Still you’ll be happy with the Adrak lamb chops marinated in red wine and yogurt and fragrant with cinnamon (right). I found the chicken kebabs of all white meat bland by comparison. The breads are addictive at Swagat, especially the naan not just flavored with garlic but stuffed with it.
    Desserts are run of the mill.
    Swagat is part of the movement to serve Indian street food, which has always been where the good stuff is, and at the prices charged, you can pick and choose and share with abandon.



3320 31st Ave (near 34th St)
Astoria, Queens

    Think about the name Enthaice a moment and it will come to you: “Thai” fits snugly into a misspelling of a word for temptation.  Now four years old, Enthaice  Thai Kitchen has found the favor of its Queens neighborhood, and its reputation deserves to grow beyond.
    Unlike the more famous SriPraPhai in nearby Woodside (with another in Manhattan), which is huge and packs people in, Enthaice is a quieter, more cordial spot in Astoria, run by two sisters who hail from Northern Thailand and feature the cooking of Chiang Mai and Phayao.  (For reasons I don’t care to know, the manager would not give me their names.) As at Enthaice’s competitors, the menu is far longer than it should be to insure consistency in every dish, so I tried to stick to the chef’s specialties as listed.
     These included “yum & yum” items (which has a double meaning of being yummy as well as a reference to hot Asian women), like tum yum shrimp in an aromatic broth with crushed red chilies ($6.95), and yum ped, a crispy duck salad tossed with red onion, pineapple and spicy lime dressing ($14.95).
    You can skip the crab Rangoon puffs made with imitation crabmeat (not unusual in Thai restaurants); instead order the BBQ ribs on a bed of string beans with a tamarind glaze (left). “Mango fish” is a delightful crispy red snapper with red onion, scallion, cilantro, chili paste, cashews and spicy mango salad ($27.95), easily shared by two or more.  And if you like things spicy, the masaman curry with potato, peanut and fried shallots in coconut milk will satisfy your cravings. There is, of course, pad Thai (right), a dish always pretty good but rarely wonderful, and Enthaice’s falls somewhere in between.   Tom yum fried rice is rather dull.
    Enthaice is a pleasant-looking corner restaurant with the inevitable brick walls and bare wooden tables.  Nice touches include flowers on those tables and a colorful Chihuly-style chandelier cobbled together from coffee cups, glasses and creamers.  The service is extremely cordial and helpful, and Enthaice does a very brisk take-out business.


Open daily for lunch and dinner.




By John Mariani

    It’s reasonable enough to expect that someone with my last name and background might tend to favor Italian wines, but there are actually many reasons for that, none purely nostalgic.
     Not that much wine was drunk by my parents while I was growing up, and when they did it was likely to be a straw-covered bottle of Ruffino Chianti. My own first interest in wine ran more to Mateus and Lancers Rosé on a date, graduating to French bottlings, which back in the late Sixties were amazingly cheap: A friend of mine and I splurged one day on a bottle of Lafite-Rothschild, pooling our resources to come up with $7.50.
    It was really only after my first wine-based trip to Italy in the mid-1970s that I discovered how delicious Italian wines could be—at least the reds back then—and afterwards how much variety there was among the regions.  At the time American wine aficionados were only starting to hear about and getting hold of fine wines like Barolo, Barbaresco, Amarone della Valpolicella and Brunello di Montalcino.  Chianti’s own image rose with the establishment of the Chianti Classico Consorizio, and the Italian government came up with regulations that tried to sort out what grapes from what region were in what wines, under the D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. appellations of origin.
    Later on those regulations became far too generous in ranking many mediocre regional wines of high quality while not allowing innovators like Angelo Gaja, Piero Antinori and others to add less familiar or less traditional varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, to their wines, which had to be labeled mere I.G.T—indication of geographic typicality.
    By the 1990s the huge, once-backward cooperatives of Sicily and the South began converting to state-of-the-art technology that made their wines fresher, finer and able to compete in the global market, while at the same time white varietals like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Soave, Arneis, and others improved to the point of being stocked in the finest Italian restaurants in Italy and America.
    So, when I say that I favor Italian wines, I am not admitting bias but instead championing the very variety of good wines that Italy now produces.  Twenty years ago I would never have sung high praises of wines like Sagrantino di Montefalco, Barbera d’Alba, Lambrusco, Coda di Volpe, Verdicchio and so many others.  Now I can and will.
    By comparison, no other wine-producing country comes close to Italy in terms of the number of varietals cultivated, even though there is some overlap in names like Pinot Bianco/Pinot Blanc or Primitivo/Zinfandel. The truth is, once you have noted the excellence of Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot, and the three workhorses of Burgundy—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay—and a few more from the Rhône Valley, you start to run low on wines to talk about beyond a good Alsatian Gewürztraminer or a Loire Valley Sancerre.
    California, to be sure, is planted with what seems every imaginable varietal, but beyond the most widely planted grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon—most experiments with European varietals have been disappointing.  South Africa does a nice job with a few local varietals like Pinotage and Australia is making outstanding Shirazes.  Spain is showing a great deal of progress with unfamiliar grapes beyond Tempranillo, while South America is more or less tied into Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmènére and Malbec.  As for Germany, thank God that He blanketed the valley with Riesling.
    Yet, I could spend pages writing about scores of Italian varietals of improved and stellar quality, made by a second generation of young vignerons who, with new degrees in enology, find that experimentation can dispel all thought that good quality is not to be found in the soils of Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, Abruzzo and Sardinia.  Wine makers, not all of them born in Italy, like Aldo Vajra, Axel Heinz, Cristina Mariani-May (no relation to this writer), Gaia Gaja (left), Gabriele Tacconi, Fabio Marchionni, and so many others are in the vanguard not just of Italian viniculture but as world leaders.
    The best book on the subject that proves my point is Ian D’Agata’s exhaustive Native Wine Grapes of Italy (2014), which at 640 pages is comprehensive and not afraid to shatter old myths.  Also, his Ecco Guide to the Best Wines of Italy, though outdated, is valuable to learn about the real pros in the industry now.
    So, while I am very happy to keep drinking wines from California, France, Spain, Germany, Greece and everywhere that viniculture has revolutionized the industry, I could easily stick to Italian wines and take a very long time to sample all that is now so worthwhile.



Researchers at UC-Berkeley  say they've discovered that smelling food before eating it could cause weight gain. In Cell Metabolism,  the team writes that the body’s sense of smell seems tied to its decision to store fat instead of burn it off.  Three groups of mice — a regular set, a set whose sense of smell was briefly disabled, and a third set of “super-smellers” — were all fed what the authors call a high-fat “Burger King diet,” but the mice with the disabled olfactory systems barely gained any weight at all.  The normal mice literally doubled in size, while the mice that couldn’t smell only put on 10 percent more weight.




“The great wave of Vietnamese restaurants that washed across the East Village late last year left casualties in its wake. . . . Thankfully, like seeds scattered by the storm, others have survived, thriving in what Eater has called a `great new era for Vietnamese food.’”—Nicolas Niarchos, “Pho Real,” The New Yorker (8/7/2017).



 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 (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, Geoff Kalish, Mort Hochstein, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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