Virtual Gourmet
October 1,  2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"Atalanta and the Golden Apple" By Galina Dargery (2015)


By Misha Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



By Misha Mariani


    While trying to decide where we wanted to go on our most recent vacation, my wife got lost in a myriad of places that we wanted to visit. But at the end of the day, we were drawn back to Europe, specifically Italy and France, where we hadn’t visited since we got engaged in Florence four years ago.  (By the way, that's her as the model for Atalanta in the painting above.)
    This time we wanted to venture to regions and towns where we had never been before. We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to solely Italy, so we decided why not explore southern France for a bit. This led us on an excursion starting in Milan and bringing us all the way to St. Tropéz and Ramatuelle and then back to Milan.
    After we touched down in Milan we settled into the Four Seasons Hotel (left) located in the heart of the fashion district on Via Gesù, also home of top fashion designers and luxury brands such as Thom Browne, Versace and Rolex. The Four Seasons was a 15th century convent that has been transformed into one of the top hotes in Milan. Much like some of the company’s other properties, specifically their property in Florence, where I also had the pleasure of staying, the Four Seasons Milan houses its own private garden, nestled into the center of the hotel and surrounded on all sides with many rooms and suites looking down into it.
    The property has, of course, been refinished and renovated, and has been done over in a style that is modern yet timeless, highlighted with touches of vintage motifs and décor. Chairs and lamps hint at a time going back to the 1950s but are set among 21st century counterparts and aesthetics closer to the current Milanese style. Soft colors and fabrics set the tone that you are at home and in your own posh quarters. And the structure of the building still retains its 15th century charm with surrounding arches in the garden, pebble walk ways and a sense of seclusion away from a bustling city.
      The Four Seasons is also home to one of Milan’s more exceptional restaurants, La Veranda (right), where my wife and I enjoyed the first meal of our trip. La Veranda has seating inside and outside on the  terrazza, where we enjoyed our evening.  Chef Vito Mollica (below) oversees the restaurants at both the Milan and Florence Four Seasons Hotels and proudly carries a Michelin star. We embarked upon a four-course menu that included dishes such as sweet scallop carpaccio enriched by creamy burrata and Calvisius Siberian caviar. Perfectly al dente risotto was studded with Iberian chorizo and Pamigiano-Reggiano, while properly gamey quail was stuffed with apricot and accompanied by goose liver and celeriac. Delicate turbot was emboldened with cheek bacon and creamed lettuce, and for dessert, almond crémeux came with tart rhubarb sorbet. All of this was impeccably served with an exquisitely executed wine pairing that showcased the complementing characteristics of wines such as Travaglino Riesling "Campo della Fojada" 2015; Vermentino di Gallura "Riccaìa" 2013 by Masone Mannu, and a Colterenzio Sauvignon "La Foa" 2015.
    In addition to La Veranda, the hotel also has the Il Foyer lounge in the lobby, where you can sip handcrafted cocktails and nibble light bites, or settle into the courtyard/garden outside in one of their cozy lounge arrangements and enjoy some sparkling wine and bar snacks.
    After our lovely stay in Milan, which set the standard pretty high for the rest of our trip, we rented a car and drove a little over two hours to the  Ligurian coast and the charming town of Portofino, which originated as a small, modest fishing village but after the war quickly became the go-to destination for artists, celebrities, vacationers, and the just plain wealthy.
    Despite the demand tourism created, Portofino has retained all of the charm and glory that originally made it such an attractive destination. Much of this has to do with the government protection in place that has put a limit on development and preserved the natural habitat and parks that make up this quaint little town. Its tiny port is lined with colorful buildings and homes that have become a trademark of Portofino’s allure.         While Portofino isn’t that large it does have a number of hotel accommodations to chose from. But take it from me, there is only one place to stay and that’s Hotel Splendido (right), now owned by Belmond Hotels, which is increasingly known for destination high-end luxury hotels located all over the world, in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, North and South America and throughout Europe. One of those is Villa San Michele, where I proposed to my wife overlooking all of Florence.

Driving into Portofino, we careered around winding, narrow roads where
oftentimes you have to stop and hug the road just inches from the nearly vertical hillside walls so that the oncoming traffic can get through. But as I looked out of my driver side window, there was the glorious sight of the deep blue, white-capped Ligurian Sea with its many little coves where rowboats anchored so that their occupants could take in the golden sun. Those winding roads continue into Hotel Splendido’s private entrance via a winding adventure up a hillside garnished with endless varietals of foliage, flowers and Cyprus trees to where the hotel is perched hundreds of feet above the city and looks down into the harbor.
    Hotel Splendido is a former Benedictine monastery, and just like the hillsides around it, it is also under historical protection. This might seem like a hurdle to many expanding hotel brands, but one of the core principals Belmond was founded on is respecting and preserving its community and improving it through their occupancy. This is evident in the design and alterations made to the property. There is tranquility and historical beauty radiating throughout the premises.
    Immediately after checking in, my wife and I took advantage of one of Hotel Splendido’s many amenities, its salt-water infinity pool overlooking the harbor. We settled into one of the perched terraces just above the pool, laid out our towels, ordered a bottle of San Pellegrino, donned our sunglasses and breathed in the salty fresh air blowing in from the sea. We had found perfect happiness right then and there. My wife even said to me at that point, let’s get a home here. She wasn’t kidding.
    Annexed to the pool is one of the hotel’s two restaurants, La Terrazza (right). During the day, you can dine by the pool on wood fired pizza, housemade pasta, fresh seafood, bowls of tiny Manila clams steamed open with white wine and garlic, or simply have some crudo di pesce to keep it light before you embark on the town in the evening for a more substantial dinner. La Terrazza extends down to the pool area, as well as up a terrace level where you can enjoy a superlative breakfast in the morning, have an Aperol spritz in the afternoon or listen to live piano music in the evening during cocktail hour, then have dinner in the dining room or outside on the terrazza looking down on Portofino.
    Splendido’s second restaurant—Chuflay (below)—is down in the harbor, set less than 50 yards from the water. Here we settled in to enjoy a lovely dinner while watching people come and go and fishermen docking their boats as we sipped a Ligurian Vermentino and set our gaze on the hillside, where Castello Brown, a house museum, is located.

Photo: TripAdvisor

    Staying at Hotel Splendido for us was geared more around relaxation, and if this is what you seek, take advantage of the Spa, salt-water pool, wellness center, dining amenities or just stroll their tranquil estate. But if you are looking for some more physical activities, the hotel has a grass tennis court on property, can arrange a tee time at a nearby golf course or take you motorboating in the Liguria Sea.
    It would be difficult to pick a better name for Hotel Splendido than it already has, and I applaud Belmond for applying the same standards of luxury here as elsewhere around the world. Like the Four Seasons brand, Belmond does deluxe with a consummate refinement.


By John Mariani


23 Vanderbilt Avenue
Grand Central Terminal


    A few weeks ago I wrote that Porter House Bar & Grill, overlooking Central Park, had a uniquely New York location as well as terrific food. But in a wholly different way Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse NYC is one of  the city’s true icons, for the restaurant is set on the balcony of Grand Central  Terminal’s Main Concourse, which, since its renovation was completed in 2007, is one the greatest public spaces in the world. Its stunning astronomical ceiling, the elegant ticket booths and marble staircases, the arched mullioned windows and glorious chandeliers, and its central bronze information booth set with a four-faced clock (said to be worth $20 million) are all a perfect expression of the city’s immense heart and soul. 
     Up one of those broad, brass-railed staircases is the bar that leads to
Michael Jordan’s (I’ll call it “MJ”), which has been here since 1998 and named, obviously, after the great basketball player. (There are also branches in Chicago, DC and Uncasville, Connecticut.) The NYC restaurant is owned by Penny and Peter Glazier, he as CEO and founder of GlazierWorks, she as marketing director. Designed by David Rockwell, the 160-seat dining room is set overlooking the Main Concourse, and it’s tough to take your eyes off the bustle of people running to catch trains and how, as the evening goes on, that bustle slows down. Indeed, with those high ceilings and all that marble, MJ was once a very loud restaurant, but the Glaziers somehow persuaded the Terminal’s managers to stop those constant arrival and departure announcements that boomed into the echoing hall every few seconds.
    The waitstaff is full of veterans, including Chef Cenobio
Canelizo, who came up from the ranks. The wine card is not a trophy list, like some other NYC steakhouses; it’s a good selection but could sure use a lot more labels under $60. Mark-ups on popular bottles are not too bad. A Clos Du Val Cab 2014 than runs about $45 in the store is $90 at MJ.  There is a short bar menu and a $29.95 Fast Track Lunch.      
 Our table of four started off with an excellent New England clam
chowder ($13), not too heavy and riddled with plump clams. The crab meat cocktail ($20) did indeed have Colossal lump crab, while the pan-seared Jumbo lump crabcake ($19) was wonderfully seasoned, with barely any binder and a light tartare sauce—it’s one of the city’s best. A good old-fashioned, very crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce was generously laced with bacon, onion, carrots and Russian dressing ($14), and tuna tartare was nicely cut, served with sweet avocado, crispy wontons and a sesame seaweed ($18). And you really should go whole hog with MJ’s signature warm garlic bread covered with a Gorgonzola fondue ($9).     
      We split a massive porterhouse for two ($98) among the four of us, as
well as a thick, medium-rare veal chop ($42) as flavorful as any I’ve had in a long while. We were lucky to be there on one of the two nights (Wednesday and Thursday) MJ serves a dry aged Prime Rib (market price), which is ceremoniously wheeled to your table for your delectation. It was a great slab of beef.    The side dishes (all $10) have all been perfected over the years, including Michael’s macaroni & cheese, the buttered mashed potatoes, thick cut French fries, and the asparagus gratin.
    Like many NYC steakhouses now, MJ has its own pastry chef, who
renders a welcome banana tart ($10), a brick of a very moist brownie ($10), a sea salt caramel cheesecake ($15), and classic baked Alaska ($11), said to be Mrs. Jordan’s recipe (right). It’s really good.
    Then you have a cup of coffee, maybe an after dinner drink from a
solid list that includes 13 Ports, and look out on that spectacular concourse, thinking you’ll take take a later train than you had planned. There’ll be another along in a half hour.



By John Mariani


    A while ago I wrote that Viña Ardanza is, overall, my favorite Spanish wine, one that expresses everything the terroir of the territory it springs from is at its best. And, after a dinner held by the winery to celebrate its 75th anniversary (below), at The Grill in New York City, at which several vintages dating back to 1989 were sampled, I’m more convinced than ever that this is a wine that shows how far Spanish viticulture has come in the past thirty years. 
    I even recall, quite vividly, the first time I tasted Viña Ardanza. It
was at Café Boulud in New York about a dozen years ago with my wife and older son, who, being new to fine wines, was dazzled by the Viña Ardanza. I bought him a case for his next birthday. Since then I’ve had various vintages on many occasions and in many places, for it’s long been available in the U.S. and always at a remarkable price of around $30. If I see it on a restaurant wine list and it seems appropriate to what I’m eating, I’ll almost always order it, if the price is right.
The dinner was hosted by Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo, president of Viña Ardanza’s parent company, La Rioja Alta, S.A., and a fifth generation family member, who made a point to tell the attending wine retailers and media that “Our only desire is to leave the winery to our children. We make a small profit, but 90 percent of it goes back into the winery. We cannot follow fashion because its takes eight years to get our wines to market. We do not rush Nature, or ourselves.”
    Viña Ardanza was registered as the winery’s name in 1942 by
Leandro Ardanza, taken from one of the five families who founded the wine in the Haro Station District in 1890. Phylloxera had destroyed many of the vineyards of the region, and replantings along French viticultural lines were established, leading many of its early labels to read “Medoc,” “Sauternes” or “Burgundy” style. By the 1960s, however, Viña Ardanza had come into its own as one of the pioneers of La Rioja Alta, so that today the wines are a blend of Tempranillos and Garnachas, aged in American oak barrels (custom made by the winery). Only in 2008 were the wines made exclusively from the company’s own estates. (In Rioja, 90% of the vineyards still belong to growers, not the wineries.)
    The tasting began with a new wine in the portfolio called Torre de
Oña Rioja, made from 95% Tempranillo in a “new style” that I found unappealing, vegetal, even sour. The rest of the wines were traditional Viña Ardanza, though evolution was clear from vintage to vintage. The 1989 came from a substantial harvest and a hot autumn, so the Garnacha came in at 16% alcohol, though the final level was a more reasonable 13.5% for the wine. At that time about 5% white grapes—Mazuelo and Graciano—were added to the wines. I found this a delicious, medium body Rioja with a good acidic finish almost like cranberries. There was slight oxidation in the bouquet, which Agudo said was from too frequent racking done in those days.
    The 1994 had only a tiny amount of the white grapes and was
hand-racked by candlelight every six months, then bottled in November 1998, ending up at 13% alcohol. I found it had much more body than the ’89, smooth and delicious, though the finish was a bit short. This was the style of Rioja that truly made me fall in love with Viña Ardanza on first sip. The 2001 was a “Reserva Especial” from a low-volume harvest, made with 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha (no white grapes). At 13.5% alcohol it seemed to hit the sweet spot for a Rioja, super rich but not cloying, luscious from its first whiff through the long finish.
    Since Viña Ardanza refuses to make its wines in lesser vintages,
there was no 2002 and 2003 released, but 2004 returned to form, a little more austere perhaps but very identifiable as their style, this time with 13.6% alcohol.
    The most recent vintage tasted, now in general release, was
a 2008 from a “very moderate production,” blending 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha, for the first time using grapes from the estate’s new La Perriza vineyard (above) in Rioja Baja  (90% of Rioja's vineyards are owned by growers). I found it at this juncture a bit plummy, though only 13.5% alcohol, probably settling down and becoming better knit in two to five years, at which point it might well be the best Viña Ardanza produced in this century. So far.



Mechanical Engineer researchers at Utah State University’s Splash Lab spent “several hours a day, for two weeks” trying to find the peak dip time for an Oreo cookie:  four seconds. Tadd Truscott, who runs the lab, said that  the question about optimized dunking time “kept coming up” with colleagues. According to their study, the cookie will soak up 50 percent of possible fluids in just one second. By the fourth second, it’s “reached maximum absorption,” so is therefore “best eaten then.”




“We were drawn to the Bad Hombre burger. . . . We loved every sloppy bite. . . . We opted for boardwalk fries for an extra $2, instead of the standard kettle chips offered. . . .  We weren't expecting a boneless chicken breast from its description on the menu . . . .We chose cole slaw as a side for an additional couple of bucks." Suzanne Loudermilk,  "Humagalas restaurant in Bel Air serves pizza and burgers with Maryland flair," (8/25/17)







 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: The Leopard at Des Artistes NYC.

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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