Virtual Gourmet

  October 22,  2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"Downton Abbey"



By John A. Curtas


By John Mariani




There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week (October 29) because Mariani will driving around Normandy and Brittany for his readers' edification.



By John A. Curtas


Grant Achatz (center) at Alinea, Chicago

    In the past decade, restaurant going has become a sport, and the prize is bragging rights. Like Big Game hunting, it doesn't take much skill to pursue this hobby, just money.
    Most restaurant hunters focus on the biggest game—the most exclusive, hard to get to, hard to get into, restaurants on the planet. The wholly obtuse “50 Best Restaurants” is their Field & Stream, and the salons of social media are where the hides are hung.  As with all trophy seekers, innate pleasure is secondary to tangible achievement.  In this arena, there is no such thing as the private, visceral enjoyment of a sensual pleasure. If you didn't get a picture of it, did it really happen?
       Once, only the Michelin Guide had that kind of clout; now it is the fodder of the internet.  But the rise of social media, starting around 2009, when most grownups discovered Facebook, and a phenomenon known as FOMO (fear of missing out) fueled the current mania. Once a well-heeled show-off learned that there was social currency in being able to boast about where and what you were eating, the game was on. Suddenly, thousands of foodies around the globe started putting restaurants on a pedestal far out of proportion to what was actually happening in them.

    Chicago’s Grant Achatz was perfectly situated to capitalize on this  phenomenon when he opened Alinea (left) in 2005, and his timing couldn't have been better.  Between the hagiographic slobbering the media was doing over Ferran Adria’s molecular cuisine in Spain and similar praise for Thomas Keller for his endless tasting menus at French Laundry and Per Se, it was time to turn up their ideas by introducing to the Midwest the glories of marathon meals composed of unrecognizable food.
    It was the height of the economic boom—which  was about to go bust—and for several years Achatz and his restaurant were the media darlings of foodie America. The Chicago media treated him like a saint no one dare criticize. 
    Alinea’s ten-year anniversary called for a re-boot, so the restaurant now  boasts a downstairs main room and an upstairs salon with a slightly shorter menu. Dinner is now more like fifteen courses than twenty-five, though it's still a three-and-a-half-hour slog, and the price is still a hefty car payment, exclusive of tax or tip. There is no bar. Indeed, there is barely a storefront (above), only an address on a building.
    My meal at Alinea 2.0 began with Achatz’s signature black truffle "oreo” (below)—a dish that is supposed to dazzle with its ability to intensify and combine the flavors of two iconic ingredients, Parmesan cheese and truffles, but for me managed to taste of neither. It looks like one thing and tastes like something else. And that's about all it tastes like, thus setting the tone for most of your meal.
       There are all sorts of gee-gaws (19th century cocktail shakers, candy bar balloons, molecular disguises) put in place to elicit oohs and ahs, but what is missing is flavor—the taste of things as they are supposed to be, not what they've been manipulated into. Thus, a spear of rhubarb with avocado and coriander barely hints at any of those;  continue directly to a "Pea, Parmesan, Meyer Lemon Swirl/Apple Lemon Balm Yuzu" that was an odd soup, attended to by a mass of acid with some powdered something beside it. (Do people still think reducing food to dust is über-cool? In Chicago, apparently yes.)
    To Achatz’s credit, his Thai coconut with black bass actually tasted of those ingredients, but I'm still trying to figure out what was going on with a barely there “Rouille Nori Paper” in a small bowl of olive oil-slicked broth. The words "langoustine" and "Bouillabaisse" appeared in the title but never arrived on the palate. Likewise, a pork belly with curry mango could've come from anywhere, and (to keep the clichés coming) the short rib was loaded with smoke. As with most of the menu, the advertised flavors (e.g., hamachi, blueberry, lapsang souchong, morel steam, rosemary, kombu) never rang out, perhaps because there were so many of them per dish that they canceled each other out.
         Whether you like the Impressionist painting mess they call dessert here (left) pretty much depends on your capacity to suspend your disbelief in how something so convoluted could be so much less than the sum of its parts.
    Alinea surely had its place in bringing such consumable convolution to the Midwest a decade ago, but these days it's little more than chefs doing cartwheels in the kitchen and pirouettes on the plate, and not very well at that. Respect for ingredients isn't the watchword here—the ability to manipulate them is all that matters.  Did Achatz lose his palate or did this restaurant lose its mojo?  Belt-notching gastronomads don't care, but anyone with all their taste buds ought to.

    Life is too short to be confused by your food.


    It’s hard not to admire what Chef David Chang has done with Momofuku (“Lucky Peach” in Korean). What began as an eight-seat eatery in lower Manhattan in 2004 has spawned an empire that now stretches from Soho, New York, to Sydney, Australia.  It’s also not hard, after eating your way through Momofuku, to sometimes wonder what all the shouting is about—shouting from the rooftops being what the influential New York food media has done almost from the day Chang opened. Once they laid the groundwork, social media took over, and for well over a decade foodies the world over have been inundated with tales of Chang’s influence and ground-breaking cuisine.
    When other chefs and restaurants went into recession hibernation in 2008, Chang (right) kicked his expansion into high gear, opening noodle bars, Vietnamese restaurants and impossible-to-get-into joints in NYC, expanding his brand while taking full advantage of the rise of the Millennials and their need to have something tasty (and Instagram-worthy) to eat. There are now five Momofukus in the world, more are planned, and to the delight of his fans, Las Vegas finally has one.
      In the beginning, the entire Chang oeuvre consisted of barely a handful of items. Because of its small size, the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in lower Manhattan featured a few bowls of ramen, a couple of appetizers and some stuffed bao buns and that was it. On such bare bones was a food empire born.
    The genius of what Chang did was in upgrading those noodles, enriching the broth, and loading smoky bacon onto classic Korean and Japanese items that, until he came along, most Americans wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot chopstick.  He also cooked and seasoned the Korean fried chicken like a real chef and made a big deal about using better ingredients. No bottom bin ham for him. He used real Virginia country ham, Kurobuta pork, and the fluffiest bao he could find. He cured his own pickles too (a big deal in 2004) and made sure everyone in the food media knew about it.
    Most of all, though, Momofuku became all about umami—the word for the intense, savory quality that only the densest, saltiest, most amino-acid rich foods (like steak, cheese, smoked meats and soy sauce) possess.  In the Chang universe (then and now), it’s all about overwhelming your palate with this fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). His food does this at the expense of delicacy and refinement, but his audience doesn’t seem to care one bit—subtlety being as important to a David Chang meal as dialogue is in a Vin Diesel movie. Thus will most of your meal be so umami-drenched that your palate will be screaming for mercy after several plates, each overloaded with whatever miso-shoyu-smoky-kombu concoction Chang can’t help incorporating into every bite.
    If smoke is your thing, you’ll be in smoked hog heaven. By all means then, don’t miss the pork meatballs swimming in (you guessed it) plenty of smoked black-eyed peas.  Is Momofuku’s pork ramen soup good? Yes, but it’s also so smoky that three sips in you will want to run up the white flag. Ditto the oysters Momofuku, whose seafood essence is obliterated by smoky bacon bits. There’s also a smoked pork chop and roasted mussels on the menu, with the mussels being festooned with (wait for it) plenty of smoked Benton’s bacon! The food is so smoky it ought to be sponsored by Marlboro.
    When Chang and his troops are through pouring on the smoke, they find many other ways to up the umami ante. Sichuan rice cakes are thick stubby rice noodles smothered with pork sausage, while chilled spicy noodles get a heap of sausages and cashews to effectively overwhelm the interesting starches and spices beneath them—pork sausage and cashews being the belt and suspenders of the umami-overload universe.
    After three trips around this menu, I threw in the towel. There are some good things to eat here—the spicy cod hotpot using quality fish, well-treated; the katsu chicken with an old-fashioned mushroom cream sauce—but by the time you get to them, you will have been drowned by a tsunami of umami.
    By all means get the pork belly buns (the ones that made Chang famous), but skip the chicken karaage version, which is sadly stringy. The vaunted rotisserie chicken comes with deep-fried bones (some edible, some not), and is not as good as it sounds.
    What is good is the seating. You may have trouble getting one, but that’s only because every under-40 in Vegas seems to be beating a path to this second floor location in The Cosmopolitan these days. What they find is a large restaurant fronted by a long bar that itself is five times the length of the original operation. Beside that bar are a number of high top tables for waiting, drinking or overflow dining, and beyond them a huge open kitchen that looks like it could feed an army base. For its size, the room is remarkably comfortable, the tables well spaced, and the noise level relatively civilized. Service is also top notch, with management and waiters who are well versed in the food.
  The wine list is sinfully overpriced, and the sake/sochu list woefully sparse.
    David Chang deserves a lot of credit. He made this food safe for aspirational foodies and non-Asians alike—folks with limited resources who wanted to hop on the foodie bandwagon and expand their knowledge of chewy noodles, miso broth and various edible esoterica. All of this was a treat when you were ducking into a teeny tiny noodle emporium for a quick fix of soup and a bao bun. To put an entire meal together from this food, however, after your taste buds have been bludgeoned into one-dimensional submission,  is a big-box experience of a different order. If you still use “party” as a verb, and don’t mind that everything on your table tastes the same, you might feel right at home amongst all the umami. Nothing about Momofuku is as good as its reputation, but in this day and age, that’s enough.




By John Mariani

136 Ninth Avenue (near 18th Street)

    Since cutting back a bit on my out-of- town travel and my impulse to check out every new restaurant in NYC, I’ve been able on occasion to go back to favorite places I’d almost forgotten about, like Salinas, which seven years ago I put on my list of Best New Restaurants in America. So when an opportunity to dine with a German hotelier came along, I thought he’d enjoy something as unusual and imaginative as this colorful modern Spanish restaurant on Ninth Avenue and 18th Street.   
     I said modern, not modernist, for while owner Luis Bollo is one of the
most highly creative Spanish chefs around, he has never gone over the edge of concocting molecular fantasy food in the tradition of Ferran Adrià and his acolytes. Bollo knows all those tricks but uses only his more traditional culinary skills to create dishes where everything is quite beautiful, sometimes complex but always tasting of the primary ingredient on the plate.
    For instance: I do not like fishy seafood, too often the result of an
ingredient not of the best or freshest quality. But Bollo knows how to treat seafood which of its very nature has a strong flavor, so, in the case of his dish of fresh white anchovies, he marinates the little slivers of fish in cava sparkling wine, whose acid, he said, cuts the fishiness. He then serves it on crunchy multi-grain toast with pomegranate caviar, and a sweet Bell pepper vinaigrette ($12). The result is as fascinating as it is delicious. Anyone who has ever eschewed anchovies should taste this dish (right).

        Croquetas fundientes ($13) are addictive creamy Iberico ham and corn croquets with a lush cumin aïoli, while panceta con castañas ($15) is a lusty dish of slow-roasted Berkshire pork belly with Idiazábal cheese and chestnut parmentier potatoes dashed with an Oloroso Sherry reduction.
    Pulpo tinta ($19) is a Galician octopus crusted with popcorn, fried in flax seed oil and tossed in a dark squid ink aïoli spiked with preserved lemon. Every flavor note hits on its own while enhancing the brininess of the octopus. Similarly, puntillas al yogurt ($16) is a dish of crispy baby  calamari, roasted coriander-citrus yogurt, pickled purple pear onions and the pepper condiment called pimentòn de la Vera.
     One of the most wonderful dishes at Salinas is the coca de morcilla y hongos ($17), a flatbread from Balear, made with rice-studded blood sausage, lobster mushrooms and sweet PX Sherry made into an onion marmalade. Black Catalan rice, arroz negro, is cooked a la plancha till crispy, as it is at the bottom of a paella pot, with grilled red black Catalan rice and grilled local calamari, Marcona almond ajoblanco and a dill gelée ($23). Nothing modernist about it but admirably modern and typical of Bolo’s ingenuity.
    Next came a plate of meloso de carabineros, Spanish red prawns with bomba rice, Manila clams and chanterelles in a light, saline shrimp reduced broth ($43). Juana de pato ($34) is a duck dish (left) enriched with foie gras and fragrant arborio rice, seasonal mushrooms and baby roots suffused with an octopus-duck broth.
    At this point we cried “Tío!”—knowing dessert would follow: a dark, flourless chocolate-pistachio tartin with salty pistachio brittle, Sicilian pistachio ice cream and a little olive oil ($12) . Also, migas andaluzas ($12), a mélange of Seville olive oil cookie crumbs, crispy cocoa-flavored  meringue, Marcona almond praline, double chocolate ice cream and an accent of  gold sea salt. One could hardly have a Spanish dinner without  custard; Bollo calls his “Flan 2.0” ($13), which involves a foamy vanilla emulsion, dried mandarins and caramel bubbles—not really molecular, just playful for dessert.
    The wine list is not all that long but it represents many of the finest Spanish bottlings now coming into this country, all at reasonable prices. The two dining rooms are warm and the service staff very cordial in every respect.
    Spanish cuisine of this depth and breadth would be rare even in Barcelona, and in coming to America Luis Bollo gave us his great imagination and his hard work to produce something never seen before. That’s what immigrants so often do.





Château Lagrézette

    Malbec is certainly not an unfamiliar grape—it’s usually third or fourth down the list of varietals in a Bordeaux blend—but, even more than with Merlot, it’s not one to leap to mind when most wine drinkers pick a bottle from a restaurant list or shop shelf.
    To be sure, Malbec (also known as Cot or Pessac) is that soaring star of vineyards in Argentina, but in France its flame glows brightly only in the Bordeaux region of Cahors (left), where, given the grape’s density and dark fruit, it has long been known as “the black wine of Cahors.” Elsewhere, plantings of Malbec are down from 20th century levels; indeed plantings in Cahors itself have dwindled.
    The Cahors vineyards had been wiped out by phylloxera in the late 19th century, and to this day the vines struggle, for the soil they grow in is largely composed of sand and limestone, and local producers argue over the best way to make a wine from Malbec, sometimes mixing in Tannat and Merlot. Only a handful of producers—Château du Cedre, Maison Cosse Maisoneuve and Château Lagrézette—have really put money and muscle behind the varietal and the results have been impressive.
    Which is why I was delighted to find that an old friend, Claude Boudamani (right), has taken over at Château Lagrézette as Directeur General and Enologist.  A tall, robust fellow, Boudamani had been winemaker and VP of Clarence Dillon Wines at the illustrious First Growth Château Haut Brion, afterwards joining Francois Lurton—a true pioneer in Argentina and Chile—as VP of sales. We recently met over dinner at The Pool in New York. “The wines of Cahors used to be sold in bulk in supermarkets,” he said, “but then 70% of all the wines in France are now sold in supermarkets.  The image of being a `black wine’ didn’t help Cahors, and Lagrézette’s vineyard had itself been pretty much destroyed.”
    The estate’s modern reincarnation took place when Alain Dominique Perrin (left with his daughter Julie) took over the 500-year-old, seven-acre property in 1980, though he didn’t produce his label called Le Pigeonnier until 1997.  He planted 83% Malbec, 16% Merlot and 1% Tannat, then enlarged his holdings in Cahors to include 24 acres in Rocamadour, where he now also grows Viognier and Syrah, and in 2006 bought 49 more acres in the Lot River Valley, which he named after Marguerite de Massaut, who produced the first wine of Lagrézette back in 1503.  Cédric Blanc is the Château’s winemaker.
    “Malbec deserves the same attention as any other varietal in Bordeaux,” said Boudamani. “So we are meticulous about leaf pruning and harvesting by hand.  We use no herbicides. We have a prolonged cold  maceration, then the wine is aged in new French oak from 18 to 28 months.” The new cellars themselves have been designed to allow “a non-interventionist vinification process” through natural gravitational pull, whereby the grapes are crushed and de-stemmed on the third floor, sent to stainless steel vats on the second, and then the wine goes into oat vats to make the final cuvée.
    As one who has worked with Malbec in Argentina, Boudamani said that there they have the virtue of altitude, so that individual terroir is not as important as in Bordeaux or at Lagrézette, where the make-up of the soil and the micro-climate are critical aspects of determining what grows best in which vineyards.
    Boudamani gives enormous credit to Perrin, 75, for bringing back Cahors’s reputation, saying “Everybody has followed his lead with Malbec.”  Perrin’s current reputation as an innovative winemaker was preceded by his re-casting and development of Cartier International, with a line of “Must de Cartier” items and by consolidating the various stores in different parts of the world, as well as creating the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in 1984.  He was appointed the President of the Public Establishment of the Jeu de Paume museum and is a member of the International Board of London’s Tate Gallery.  He is not a man who would merely dabble in wine making. At Lagrézette, Perrin is out to shake Cahors from its somnolence.





Trendy Shrimp restaurant in Hangzhou, Cina, is giving discounts based on women's breast size--the larger the breasts, the bigger the discount, as advertised on a poster placed outside the restaurant that reads, “The whole city is looking for BREASTS,” with an accompanying image of animated female characters with varying breast sizes and a table showing how much of a price cut a woman would get based on her bra size.


"All across the country, even as the market becomes more saturated, restaurateurs and titans of industry are gunning to create the next fast-casual behemoth — and lately, it seems lots of them have their sights set on Italian food. Specifically, `Italian food' that is all-but-guaranteed to appeal to as many Americans as possible: pasta and pizza.--"Is Italian Food the Next Frontier of Fast-Casual Eating?"--Chris Crowley, New Hampshire Magazine (9/21/17).



Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


   From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino. Cooler weather means it is time to start enjoying more red wines and especially Sangiovese based wines.  That includes Banfi’s cru of Brunello, Poggio alle Mura, literally the cream of the crop of our Sangiovese vineyards. Alongside our Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino, this year we introduced two more wines from the cru Poggio alle Mura – a Rosso di Montalcino and a Riserva of Brunello.  Rosso is sort of like the younger brother of Brunello, also made from 100% Sangiovese grapes but usually a selection from younger vines and the wine is aged only two years compared to the four required for Brunello.  The Riserva, on the other hand, is an even more selective harvest of Sangiovese, and ages for an additional year before release.
    What is so special about this cru Poggio alle Mura?  Well, it is the result our over 30 years of ongoing research at my family’s vineyard estate, Castello Banfi.  When we first began planting our vines there in the late 1970s studies from the University of Bordeaux indicated which strains of many varietals we should plant, based on the soil type and microclimate of each vineyard.  But when it came to the region’s native Sangiovese, there was only local lore, no scientific research.  So we took it upon ourselves to figure out this vine, and set off on three decades of incredibly detailed research. 
    We started with 600 apparent variations on Sangiovese, because it is so susceptible to variations in weather and soil, and narrowed that down to 160 truly genetically different clones.  We planted a vineyard with two rows of each type, made wine from each of them, and charted the differences – remember, you only get one chance a year to make wine, so this took time. 
    It took about ten years to get some concrete results, though we continue to experiment today and always will – you never stop learning in science and nature!  Once we determined which were the best, complementary clones that could be planted together to make the best Brunello, we chose to plant them in what we determined to be the optimal vineyard sites.  Coincidentally, the best soils and climate conditions are in the slopes surrounding the medieval fortress today known as Castello Banfi, known since Etruscan times as Poggio alle Mura – the walled hilltop.  Hence the name of our most special “cru” of Brunello, representing a synthesis between tradition and innovation.
    Though the focus of this study was our Brunello, all of our Sangiovese-based wines, including the super Tuscans SummuS, Cum Laude, and Centine, benefited from this work.  And that’s the third reason for celebrating Sangiovese this month, for the range of wonderful reds that usher us into autumn!  One wine in particular was inspired by our research – the BelnerO, a Sangiovese dominant blend with what I like to call a kiss of Cabernet and a whisper of Merlot.  We grow the grapes a little differently for BelnerO than for Brunello, make the wine with less oak aging and released it earlier from the winery, providing a counterpoint to Brunello and a lovely terroir-driven wine in its own right.
     If you know Italians, you know that by nature we are multi-faceted, varying in mood, and always passionate.  As a nation, we span from the hot sunny beaches of Sicily near the African coast to the rugged mountains and Alpine ski slopes of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north.  Sangiovese is grown in almost all of Italy’s regions and reflects the unique nature of each; it is most famous (rightfully so) in Tuscany, yet even there it reflects the nuances of each hilltop, valley and subzone.  It has something a little different to say in Brunello than Chianti, Morellino than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Rosso di Montalcino than Super Tuscan blends. 
    Here is a smattering of Sangiovese-based wines that you may wish to get to know better, reflecting a spectrum that appeals to every occasion, every taste, and every budget.  We can assure you that the conversation will never become boring.

Recommendations for Celebrating Sangiovese   

BelnerO Proprietor’s Reserve Sangiovese – A refined cuvée of noble red grapes perfected by our pioneering clonal research. This dark beauty, BelnerO, is produced at our innovative winery, chosen 11 consecutive years as Italy’s Premier Vineyard Estate. Fermented in our patented temperature controlled French oak and aged approximately 2 additional years. Unfiltered, and Nitrogen bottled to minimize sulfites.   

Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino – Rich, round, velvety and intensely aromatic, with flavor hints of licorice, cherry, and spices. Brunello di Montalcino possesses an intense ruby-red color, and a depth, complexity and opulence that is softened by an elegant, lingering aftertaste. Unfiltered after 1998 vintage.   

Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino – Brunello's "younger brother," produced from select Sangiovese grapes and aged in barrique for 10 to 12 months. Deep ruby-red, elegant, vibrant, well-balanced and stylish with a dry velvety finish. 

Poggio all’Oro Brunello di Montalcino Riserva – A single vineyard selection of our most historically outstanding Sangiovese, aged five years before release, the additional year more than that required of Brunello including 6 months in barrel and 6 months more in bottle to grant its “Riserva” designation.  Incredible elegance and harmony. Intense with lots of fruit and subtle wood influence. Round, complete, well balanced with hints of chocolate and berries. Unfiltered after 1998. 

Poggio alle Mura – The first tangible result of years of intensive clonal research on Montalcino’s native Sangiovese grape.  Estate bottled from the splendidly sun drenched vineyards surrounding the medieval Castello from which it takes its name.  The Brunello di Montalcino is seductive, silky and smoky.  Deep ruby in color with an expressive bouquet of violets, fruits and berries as well as cigar box, cedar and exotic spices.

The Rosso di Montalcino is also intense ruby red.  The bouquet is fresh and fruity with typical varietal notes of cherry and blackberry, enriched by more complex hints of licorice, tobacco and hazelnut.  It is full bodied, yet with a soft structure, and a surprisingly long finish. The

Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is deep ruby red with garnet reflections and a rich, ample bouquet that hints of prune jam, coffee, cacao and a light balsamic note.  It is full and powerful, with ripe and gentle tannins that make it velvety and harmonious; this wine is supported by a pleasing minerality that to me speaks soundly of that special hillside in southern Montalcino.

SummuS – A wine of towering elegance, SummuS is an extraordinary blend of Sangiovese which contributes body; Cabernet Sauvignon for fruit and structure; and Syrah for elegance, character and a fruity bouquet.  An elegant, complex and harmonious red wine. 

Cum Laude – A complex and elegant red which graduated “With Honors,” characterized by aromas of juicy berries and fresh spices.

Centine – A Cuvee that is more than half Sangiovese, the balanced consisting of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Vinified in a firm, round style that easily accompanies a wide range of dishes, this is a smooth and fragrantly satisfying wine with international character, and a perennial favorite at my own dinner table. 

Banfi Chianti Superiore – The “Superiore” designation signifies stricter government regulations regarding production and aging requirements, as compared to regular Chianti.  An intense ruby red wine with fruit forward aromas and floral notes.  This is a round wine with well-balanced acidity and fruit.

Banfi Chianti Classico – An enduring classic: alluring bouquet of black fruit and violets; rich flavors of cherry and leather; supple tannins and good acidity for dining. 

Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – Produced from select grapes grown in the "Classico" region of Chianti, this dry, fruity and well-balanced red has a full bouquet reminiscent of violets.

Fonte alla Selva Chianti Classico – This is our newest entry into the Chianti arena, coming from a 99 acre estate in Castellina, the heart of the Chianti Classico region.  The wine is a captivating mauve red that smells of cherry, plum and blackberry with hints of spice.  It is round, full and balanced with very good acidity.  

Col di Sasso – Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Luscious, complex and soft with persistent notes of fruit and great Italian style structure.



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: LE DRUGSTORE, PARIS

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.

To un-subscribe from this newsletter,click here.

© copyright John Mariani 2017