Virtual Gourmet

  November 5,  2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


"Drinkers" By Vincent Van Gogh (1890)


By Misha Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


Part Two
By Misha Mariani

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief" (1955)

            When considering Italian vacation spots, the usual suspects always come to mind. Sicily. Portofino. Venice. Rome. Florence. But what and where is Alassio? A small town located on the Italian Riviera that never seems to be part of the conversation, it is the home to one of the most marvelous estates and scenic views you can find in Italy.
            In the late 19th century, two Scottish noblemen took up residence there for their entire winter vacation. Quickly recognizing the beauty of this small town, they bought two pieces of land along the hillside and began constructing what would end up being one of the most beautiful and breathtaking natural parks and landscapes I have ever set eyes on.
            The property has changed hands a couple of times over the past century and quarter, but what was always a major focus and commitment by all of the owners was the appreciation of and dedication to preserving this estate’s aesthetic landscapes and gardens. What began as an infatuation with horticulture owing to travels around the globe led to the planting of hundreds of exotic plants amidst the region’s indigenous varietals. What was created was a natural park of such beauty that just to walk the grounds for a day is worth a visit to 
Villa della Pergola .
            My wife and I weren’t just lucky enough to tour the grounds and admire the beauty that makes up this natural landscape; we also had the good fortune to stay a night and dine at its  exceptional restaurant. Villa della Pergola (right), as well as Villino della Pergola and La Casa del Sole, has a number of different suites all dedicated to different residents who might have stayed at the estate over the course of history or were once owners who perpetuated its glory.  The night we stayed there, we were shown to the Thomas Suite (below), also called “the blue room,” dedicated to Sir Thomas Hanbury, a British businessman who at the age of 25 created the great botanical gardens at Capo Mortola in Ventimiglia.
    The walls were painted a soft periwinkle blue with white crown molding. Furniture was adorned with plush white quilted cushioning, a bow window looked out over the gulf of Alassio, and 19th century portraits of Sir Thomas hung over the bed’s headboard, paying homage to the estate’s history.
            Villa della Pergola isn’t home to just beautiful gardens and luxurious suites. It also has Restaurant 
NOVE, which served up one of the best meals we  had over the course of two weeks of travel. My wife and I settled in for lunch at a table outside in the garden underneath what I believe is one of the oldest trees on the property. The tables were adorned with dove grey linen tablecloths, white linen napkins and fine silverware.
    We started off with a glass of Champagne and then moved into a multi-course menu showcasing Chef Giorgio Servetto’s impressive talents. The cuisine at NOVE is definitely elevated and takes a page from more modern techniques and philosophy. But what can often get lost in such an approach, as happens with too many young chefs
in an effort to dazzle, is a focus on the food itself. At NOVE, the essentials of good cooking don’t get lost.
     First came an assagio of creamy burrata enrobed in tomato jelly over a dollop of basil spuma, a beautifully successful rendering of the old classic “Caprese salad.” This was followed by verdure con bagna cauda, a dish of raw or barely blanched vegetables with a “warm bath” of anchovy dip and a touch of heat (right). Albenga zucchini was presented in perhaps our most memorable dish of the year, with what looked like a colorful camouflage of dried and powdered fruits and vegetables —a display of modernism in cuisine as tasteful as it was visual appealing.  This was followed by al dente risotto made with seppie ink and a touch of lemon and a besugo, a local fish, with spring pea puree, pole beans and quenelles of tomato confit. All of this was finished off with a perfectly made espresso, and a hazelnut mouse sandwiched between a thin sheet of chocolate and passion fruit gelato (left).
            Villa della Pergola proved to be one of the top-notch estates in Italy, and I’m grateful we had the good fortune to experience it. It’s never easy saying goodbye to somewhere you love and found so much enjoyment in, but it was time to travel on and we said our bittersweet farewells and continued along the Riviera.
    Our journey then took us along the Ligurian coastline and we finally hit the French border. Our drive took us past the gastronomically acclaimed Menton in France, into Monte Carlo for two nights at the Metropole, and then into St. Tropéz, where the famous and über-wealthy dock their yachts and head into town to splurge on clothing, dining and partying till the wee hours of the morning. For me, St. Tropéz wasn’t what I had expected. Whatever romantic idea I had of it was quickly spoiled by the mainstream tourist trap restaurants along the harbor and even down the small side streets, where you would hope to find a quaint little local place. 
    While disappointed, we were happy some locals recommended 
Plage des Salins, which is 600 yards of beautiful sand and crystal waters with such a high salt content swimming to the bottom is a challenge. We dined at the exquisite restaurant La Voile in the La Réserve resort (right) located just outside the small hilly town Ramatuelle, which is what most people must imagine when they think of countryside towns in the south of France. The town resides with winding pedestrian streets that traverse homes that go back to the Middle Ages. But La Réserve is no Middle Ages structure. It is an elegant, refined, modern, state-of-the-art property that boasts tranquility, relaxation and a state of mind that connects you to the beauty of the ocean and its coastal views all accessible throughout the property.
    In addition to the regular room and suite accommodations, La Réserve also has a number of private villas that can be rented. La Voile, the restaurant, stakes its claim in the center of the resort, with open floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the ocean. This is where we had lunch. I remember the feeling when I sat down. It was this immediate moment of calm and relaxation, much like that feeling you get immediately after your first sip of a cocktail after a long day, only the drink wasn’t necessary this time to obtain that feeling.
         The man responsible for the menu at La Voile is Chef Eric Canino. With the mission of La Réserve (left) to be a health and tranquility resort, his cuisine runs parallel to this effort. His dishes and cooking are dairy free, and the only fat used in his preparations is olive oil. Up until this point, as a former cook and someone who puts as much butter as eggs in his scrambled eggs, I would frown on or dismiss such a non-dairy idea. Nevertheless, Canino has accomplished a delicious surprise; his food is laser focused, entirely committed to quality of the ingredients, much of which comes from the onsite garden, and so perfectly balanced I marveled at the talent of this chef.
         For our lunch, we started off with an amuse bouche of tender artichokes cooked in a barigoule with a fine herb vinaigrette 
and shallots cooked with sakura vinegar. Octopus (below)  was perfectly braised and served with peeled new potatoes, roasted baby peppers, herbs from the garden and extra virgin olive oil. The most pleasantly surprising dish was a quinoa salad, which my wife ordered,  that was accompanied by pomegranate, cucumber, avocado and a chimichuri sauce. Perhaps it was my narrow-mindedness, but I hadn’t had high expectations for the quinoa salad (right). That changed immediately after my first taste. The olive oil and avocado added the richness and fat depth typically lacking it other examples, and it was all perfectly balanced with bold flavors of the sauce and a striking acidity to bring it all together.
    Following our appetizers, I thoroughly enjoyed the grilled whole Dover sole with riz japonais au basilic thaï, spiked with just the right amount of sakura vinegar, Thai basil and dressed with a touch of brown butter, capers and tiny toasted croutons. This complemented my wife’s suprême de volaille rôti et légumes de saison, roasted breast of chicken with seasonal vegetables.
     Dessert was no less impressive—a mille-feuille à la vanille de Madagascar,  perfectly brittle to add texture to the vanilla-hinted pastry crème and accented with toasted hazelnuts.  Tarte au citron meringue et gel yuzu (left) was delicious, exciting the palate with its citrus dimensions. And allow me to remind you that this was all enjoyed while sitting next to the open air and looking out onto the sea.

    To wrap up our trip, we hopped in the car and headed back to Milan. But before doing so, we picked up a freshly baked baguette, some French butter, and a small wedge of cheese so that we could make ourselves a little lunch without stopping. Despite all of the luxurious meals and dining experiences we'd had, there is very little that measures up to the perfection that is a truly great sandwich made from such glorious French products.

            With our bellies full and being fully caffeinated by espresso (only in Italy can you get a perfectly made espresso in a porcelain cup in a highway gas station), we landed back into Milan where we settled into the über-luxurious Baglioni Hotel Carlton, located on the innermost ring of via Senato, central to everything you'd want to see and just a five-minute walk from the Duomo di Milano, La Scala Opera House, the Brera Gallery, the Galleria Emanuele and the heart of the fashion district. You couldn’t be better situated to take advantage of what of the city offers.

             Our suite was styled in a traditional décor of patterned hard wood floors, heavy woven draperies, decorative crown and wall molding, ornate ceiling chandeliers and a coffer ceiling (above). Some of Baglioni’s other suites and accommodations are done with a bit more modern/contemporary flare, with deep, bold red velvets and clean, hard lines. Regardless of your taste in interior design, you will find yourself pampered throughout your stay.

            The Baglioni isn’t just a place to rest your head, as they have a full accoutrement of amenities from fine dining at the upscale clubbish restaurant, ll Baretto (left)--particularly popular before the opera--to casual bites and cocktails in the Art Déco Caffe & Terrazza, to pampering yourself in the health & wellness spa. It's also a good business traveler's hotel, with comfortable public rooms to meet in.  A lavish breakfast is inclusive, and the hotel features a number of special offers, like "Stay an Extra Night" and discounts of rooms booked a week in advance, making it one of the less expensive deluxe hotels in Milan.


By John Mariani


240 Central Park South (off Columbus Circle)
212- 582-5100

    I once asked a noted Italian restaurateur why a city like New York couldn’t have at least one restaurant where the seafood is every bit as good as I’d find in Italy.  His answer was distressing: “If I were to bring in the best quality seafood from Italy, I’d have to charge so much money no one could afford it, not even in New York.”
    Sadly, most Italian restaurateurs in the city use that excuse to serve inferior seafood like farm-raised branzino and salmon, frozen langoustines and scallops long out of their shells.  So, when Michael White opened Marea at Columbus Circle ten years ago, it soon became patently obvious that he could charge an appropriate price for the highest quality seafood and people would pack the place.  Since opening day Marea has rarely had an empty table, and it is the restaurant that made White an internationally known chef of real clout.

Photo: Noah Fecks
   Today, White’s Altamarea Group runs five restaurants in NYC, three in New Jersey and one each in Washington, London, Hong Kong and Istanbul.  I can only vouch for a couple of those in NYC, so I have no idea if a distance of up to 8,000 miles affects his operations, but I have certainly found that Marea, which means “tide” in Italian, has maintained its eminence as one of the city’s great Italian restaurants.  A recent visit did nothing to change that opinion.
    As for the prices, yes, à la carte, they are very high, but the fixed price of $109 for four courses is an outright steal—crudo, oyster or appetizer; pasta, entree, dessert.  Otherwise you might pay $25 for the crudo, $25 for an appetizer, $35 for a pasta, $47 for a fish and $16 for dessert.  By the way, Marea’s branzino is wild and salmon is a fish rarely put on the menu.

   The wine list, under Francesco Grosso, numbers 750 labels, largely to complement the seafood (Marea’s menu does have a couple of meat dishes), and features the best Italian white wines available.

 Photo: David Axelrod

   The menu begins with some crostini topped with anchovies and salsa verde or lobster with pickled tomatoes and smoked aïoli ($11-$15).  Then there are the raw fish—ten or more—any one of which is an example of what should be served elsewhere and so rarely is—Long Island fluke with candied ginger and apple; Pacific jack mackerel with fig and fennel and more.  It is crudi of this quality that has made crudi popular in Italy.
    There is a caviale (caviar) section, but none is from the Caspian Sea (whose fishing is forbidden under international law), and prices are brutal—$170-$385, a range once charged only for the best Russian or Iranian beluga and osietra.  This roe comes from China (I trust no food that comes out of China these days) and Germany (who knew?). Then there are several American oyster varieties offered (six pieces $24, twelve pieces $44).

    Appetizers are very much seasonal, and right now Marea is serving a confit of tuna belly, razor clam, pickled chili, hazelnut and saffron aïoli ($24), and excellent grilled octopus (right) with smoked potatoes, radish, pickled red onions, chilies and tonnato tuna cream ($25).
    Don’t go to Marea looking for the usual pastas found everywhere else. Executive Chef Jared Gadbaw and Chef de Cuisine Molly Nickerson are cooking up the kind of pastas you really will find along the Ligurian and Adriatic coasts, like gnocchetti with Atlantic shrimp, chilies and rosemary; squid ink conchiglie with pork and seppie sausage flavored with sage; and a consistently fine risotto with wild mushrooms.  All are impeccably al dente.
Marea stays fairly simple—as it should—with main course seafood like Pacific snapper with eggplant, cucumber, cipollini onions, lamb’s quarter and pistachio ($45); roasted halibut with ragù and smoked trout roe ($47); and whole fish and shellfish with four different sauces, intended for two people.
                                                                        Photo: Noak Fecks

    You may opt for a plate of cheeses from list of six Italian or American selections ($18 for three; $32 for six), but you should not miss desserts (all $16) like a crostata with poached pear and a mascarpone semi-freddo, walnut and dark chocolate; bomboloni banana donuts with lemon cream and chocolate hazelnut sauce; and panna cotta with pinenuts, black mission figs, rosemary and brioche and sorbet.  Sixteen bucks is way too pricey for affogato, which is nothing more than vanilla ice cream with espresso poured over it, but you do get a cookie.
    Marea is a sophisticated dining venue, very much in the NYC spirit of fine dining, but it is unpretentious, its genial atmosphere set by veteran General Manager Sean Smith and a passel of long-time servers. The wine list is very comprehensive and tilts towards the very expensive.
    As you enter there is a beautiful lighted bar and a sushi counter, then, down a couple of steps, a moderate sized dining room beautifully lighted from above and set with fine table linens and exquisite stemware—the wineglasses don’t just ping, they chime. I recall in the past that Marea could be a very loud restaurant, but, on my recent visit, seated in the middle of the room, conversation flowed without raising our voices.
    It’s an adult restaurant, so it has a semblance of a “dress code,” however minimal—no shorts or open shoes for men—and most men do wear jackets; those few wearing t-shirts must have drifted in from a Seinfeld bus tour.
    So Marea, as Le Bernardin did with French seafood, proved that people will pay a good price for high quality, especially when the entire experience fits a distinct standard for fine dining in NYC. Oddly enough, few Italian restaurants around town, or anywhere else, have picked up that challenge when it comes to seafood—not when there’s so much second-rate product available to be sold at nearly the same prices.

Marea is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch; Sat. & Sun. for brunch; dinner nightly.



By John Mariani

     So far this year I’ve been impressed with the quality of books on wine and spirits being published.  They are authoritative, comprehensive, engaging and make good gifts for your connoisseur friends.  Here are some I’ve particularly enjoyed.

RUM CURIOUS by Fred Minnick ($25)—This is the second (his first was on Bourbon)   in what I hope will make a complete series on spirits by America’s premier writer on the subject. Minnick is an entertaining writer who puts enormous effort into research, both scholarly and on the ground, visiting, interviewing and tasting at scores of distilleries and rum companies.  Rum’s story is richer than any other liquor’s, beginning with the ignominious trade whereby African slaves were brought to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations to make rum to ship back to Europe, and continuing into the 20th century, when rum runners plied the American seacoast during Prohibition.  His detailed notes on scores of rums from different countries have the sense of a very dedicated connoisseur. 

THE COMPLETE BORDEAUX: The Wines, the Châteaux, the People by Stephen Brook, 3rd edition ($75).  I would not necessarily include a subsequent edition to a book that first appeared ten years ago, but so much has changed in Bordeaux, not least concerns about global warming and global marketing, that this thoroughly revised volume is requisite for anyone wanting to understand what is happening in a region that clings to tradition.  There are write-ups of 13,000 wineries, and Brook shows how changing hands—the Chinese now own more than 100 chateaus, including some of the most famous, like Château Fronsac—may mean changing ways.

THE BLOODY MARY BOOK By Ellen Brown ($18)—The indefatigable Ellen Brown has now turned her talents, focus, wit and palate on one of the best loved and most misunderstood cocktails in the world. As a staple of the weekend brunch, the Bloody Mary has suffered many watered-down indignities, so Brown gives a thorough report on how this classic became a classic in the first place.  She then adds in numerous but sensible variations on the drink and good advice on garnishes and some canapés that go well with a pitcher of Bloodys. 

STRAIGHT UP: The Insiders’ Guide to the World’s Most Interesting Bars and Drinking Experiences By Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley ($19.99)—The authors’ last book, Distilled, won the Fortnum & Mason Drink Book of the Year award in 2013, and this is a fine follow-up, providing plenty of sound advice on the best bars around the globe, from Singapore’s Jigger & Pony to L.A.’s Harvard & Stone. They give a description of atmosphere, crafted cocktails, and bar etiquette, along with profiles of bartenders, although mixologists come and go with the seasons.




"LA lays out a singular feast of worldwide cuisines (and remains my favorite food city in America), but like the rest of the country, it’s experiencing a surge of Italian restaurants — the kinds serving the carby, saucy, cheesy, herby, garlicky sustenance for which the human soul lusts."--Bill Addison, "Best New Restaurants of the Year,"




From Tom Jenkins's compilation of  restaurant chefs' "58 of the Stupidest Food Orders Ever" in FineDining

"Can I have a caprese salad, but with no tomato, no mozzarella."

"Is the ice cream soft or hard, I am allergic to soft ice cream."

A woman asked if I could remove the "sour" out of the sourdough bread we served.

"Cappuccino with the foam on the side.

"No burger, no onions, no tomato, no egg, no bacon, no pickles, no fries, no anything, Just buns."

"Paella without rice, please."

"I want the stuffed salmon. I don't like the taste of salmon though, so don't make it taste like salmon."

"Can I get the special with fettuccine? I'm allergic to penne." "You're allergic to a shape?"

The other day I got a ticket that read: “Cheese plate (no dairy).”


 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: PALM SPRINGS ARCHITECTURE

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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