Virtual Gourmet

  December 17,  2017                                                                                            NEWSLETTER


Christmas Wreaths in Salzburg, Austria (2017).
Photo by Galina Dargery


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani





The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) by John Mariani 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. 



The Plaza-Athenée

By John Mariani


    Little that happens in Europe seems to affect the super deluxe hotel market in Paris.  True, there was a downturn after the economic crash of 2008 and the terrorist attacks had a momentary impact, but Paris is nothing if not resilient and Parisians are dedicated to the proposition that life must be lived to the hilt at hotels like The Plaza-Athenée.

    The hotel underwent a 200 million euro ($268 million) expansion and renovation, and the day it re-opened in 2014, every one of its 154 rooms and 54 suites were booked. By integrating with three buildings that surround the hotel, including two luxury townhouses, The Plaza-Athenée has added 14 sumptuous guest rooms and three event spaces.  Outside, its famous bright red awnings are fresh and new, its geraniums in full bloom.

      The hotel debuted in 1913, managing to stay open during the First World War and expanding in size in the 1920s. In 2001 it was acquired three years later by the Dorchester Collection, whose properties include Le Meurice in Paris, The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London, Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, Hotel Eden in Rome and the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel–Air in Los Angeles. Each is geared to its location, so that the Plaza-Athenée, set squarely on the Avenue de Montaigne, made sure during the restoration that dozens of rooms and suites have dramatic views of the Eiffel Tower.  And every night throughout the year, the Tower lights up and sparkles for ten minutes at a time. What better vantage point than a terrace at the Plaza-Athenée?

    As at all the grand palais hotels of Paris—the Crillon, Ritz, Le Bristol, and others—restoration and enlargement were needed at Plaza-Athenée, not just to bring back what had been a regular, if aging, clientele but also to attract a younger generation for whom light, color and every modern amenity for the business traveler would be available.  (I recall that some years ago most of the  deluxe hotels actually charged for Wi-fi, which struck many as the height of penny pinching; today Wi-fi is free.)

    There is new white Carrara marble in the grand lobby (above) of the Plaza-Athenée, and heavy curtains have been removed in order to let in the natural light. The place is awash with huge displays of flowers, while roses of every color are everywhere. In 2008, the Dior Beauty Institut was opened at the hotel (left).
lain Ducasse’s namesake restaurant (three Michelin stars), which was once quite staid back in 2001, now shimmers with pale gray and white colors, curved mirrored installations, sparkling crystal snowfall chandeliers and dramatic dining alcoves, while the tables are now polished wood, all punctuated by works of art by Pierre Tachon, Shinichiro Ogata, Rina Menardi, Gérard Crociani and Tina Frey (right).

    I did not have a chance to dine at Alain Ducasse this time around, but he has taken a sharp new direction with his menus, inspired by what he calls “the fish-vegetables-cereals trilogy,” with chef Romain Meder. The natural flavors of  unusual ingredients are the menu’s focus in dishes like hemp seeds, leaves and butternut squash and pumpkin (95€); green lentils and caviar, with flavored  jelly (190€) and sea scallops, cauliflower and Comté cheese in pastry crust, with white Alba truffles (195€).  There is also a “Menu Garden-Marine” of three-half dishes and dessert at 390€.
    Head sommelier Gérard Margeon classifies his wines by generation, ten years, 15 years and back to 55 years, rather than region.

      Because the hotel’s more casual, and less expensive, Le Relais restaurant (left) is a historic landmark—opened in 1936 and used as a cafeteria for American soldiers after the Liberation of Paris—the room still looks much the same, but everything about its original art déco posh has been brightened and better lighted. Chef Philippe Marc features contemporary bistro cuisine.  (Ducasse runs both restaurants.)

    At Le Relais my wife and I enjoyed a dinner that began with excellent duck foie gras mi-cuit with figs (34€) and risotto with black truffles (72€), then moved on to a succulent roast chicken from Landes carved tableside (48€) and crispy pork belly with creamy polenta and olives (34€), ending off with a superb baba soaked in aged rum (20€) and a pecan-studded, cream-filled Paris-Brest (20€) by pastry chef Angelo Musa.  There is also a very well-priced three-course for both lunch and dinner at 54€.

    La Galerie is yet another venue, this one for breakfast, a light lunch, afternoon tea and from now until December 31, a repast of pastries, sandwiches and cakes along with the hotel’s special hot chocolate for 48€.

    Most glamorous of all is the new Le Bar, with its violet blue ceiling clouds of fabric, transparent resin bar, an array of signature cocktails, and a menu of club sandwiches and sushi, all accompanied by live jazz.

    My wife and I, just off a ten-day trip through Brittany and Normandy, sank deeply into our beds in a Junior Suite, which had one of the longest marbled bathrooms I’ve seen in Paris.  The colors of taupe and shades of violet, the delicate furniture, the vase of pink roses, and the view of the Eiffel Tower all contributed to a sense of 21st century elegance such hotels never had back when what was old was venerated and what was new was suspect.  Yet, no one would ever mistake the Plaza-Athenée for any other hotel, not even in Paris.        
     Those lipstick-colored awnings stay with you and bring back memories, and that view of the Eiffel Tower at night is something you never forget.


By John Mariani


346 Lexington Avenue (near 40th Street)


    Nirvana is a handsome, two-story, skylighted, brick-walled restaurant, now ten years old, that lies just outside of what is called Manhattan’s Curry Hill, the streets in the 20s that flank Lexington Avenue and are filled with Indian restaurants and food markets.  Like Nirvana’s location, owner Anin Amin is joining a trend to get away from the Mughal menus that once blanketed Indian restaurants from New York to London. That cuisine was rich, its sauces heavy, and the influence of the British Raj was rife in dishes like mulligatawny soup and various curries.

    Downstairs at Nirvana is a sleek 14-seat bar and more intimate lounge done in vermillion colors; upstairs is the dining room, where vermilion is also accented along with well-lighted Indian artwork that includes a bas-relief bodhi tree beneath which sits a serene Buddha statuette. Tables are nicely set with double cloths. The lighting throughout is seductively soothing, and the noise level in the restaurant is quite civilized.

    Chef Peter Beck has a high profile among NYC chefs, having won praise for his cooking at Chola and Tamarind, and at Nirvana. He is now showcasing more Southern Indian cooking and vegetable dishes.

        You can still find mulligatawny and other Mughal dishes at Nirvana, but they are of less interest than the regional fare Beck serves, like a starter of brijwasi tikki ($9; above) made with “hung yogurt” that concentrates its taste and texture, blended with ginger and cumin.  Chicken 65 ($10) is a hotly spiced South Indian stir fry (right) , and I’ve never before eaten calamari bhajia, coated in a spiced batter, fried and served with crisp fritters ($12). Tamer by far was tawa machi, a semolina-crusted whole sea bass ($14); and achari mushrooms in pickled seasonings grilled in the tandoor ($11) made for a nice, if bland, bite at the beginning of the meal.  Seared tiger shrimp tadka ($14) came to the table not entirely cooked through, so it was whisked away and made right within minutes.

    Not to be missed is patli ranee ($26), a massive spice-rubbed lamb shank braised in a masala broth that makes the meat fall from the bone; it served four of us handily.  Then there was the Bengali dish dab chingri, shrimp with assertive mustard, curry spices, coconut water and milk ($24).

    Beck has always featured a large number of vegetable dishes, and I recommend his aloo rabi mytter bangali suzi ($17), quite a mouthful figuratively and literally, composed of potatoes, cauliflower, peas, cumin, onion and seed spices ($17). Saag paneer is a very traditional dish of Indian cheese in garlic, ginger and herbs with spinach ($17).  I only had a chance to try one bread, garlic naan ($6), which was all right, but I wish I’d had tasted a wider variety.

    Desserts are no more unusual than you’d find elsewhere, but they are freshly made.


Open for lunch and dinner daily.




By John Mariani


    Back in the ‘90s, by the time the late Dr. Atkins had declared carbohydrates the Great Satan of weight gain, an obtuse book editor rejected my proposal for an Italian cookbook by saying, “Nobody’s eating pasta anymore!” Since then about a thousand Italian cookbooks have been published, and there seems no end in sight, for good reason. Fad diets aside, people everywhere just out and out love Italian food, and, Grazie Dio!, more and more authentic regional Italian cookbooks are coming out.  Here are some new ones I like very much, most of them first published in Italy, so they have some backbone.


AUTENTICO: Cooking Italian the Authentic Way
by Rolando Beramendi (St. Martin’s Press, $35)—Despite the simpleminded translation of the title into a subtitle, this sturdy volume pretty much lives up to its claim.  Beramendi has a refreshing viewpoint: He’s founder of the Italian fine food importing company Manicaretti, so he’s wholly familiar with the best and the worst products available to make authentic Italian cuisine, both the familiar, like cacio e pepper and farro soup, but more unusual dishes like canaroli rice custard wrapped in chard leaves and Abruzzese fish stew.  The instructions are clear and concise, the photographs excellent.


I HEART ROME: Recipes & Stories from the Eternal City
by Maria Pasquale (Smith Street Books, $35)—Another dubious title, but Maria Pasquale’s passion for Rome is palpable in this finely illustrated volume that sticks to real Roman dishes, from fried artichokes and puntarelle to coda alla vaccinara and cassola cheesecake.  There is good advice on Italian markets and lively profiles of expert cooks and purveyors. The cooking directions are longer than they need be, which can be off-putting for simple biscuits like brutti ma buoni.


SICILY: The Cookbook By Melissa Muller
(Rizzoli, $40).  Now, there’s a straightforward title, and the book delivers.  The author has opened three Sicilian restaurants in New York and has migrated to a farm in Sicily to pursue her great love for the vast, fertile island.  She wisely shows how Sicilian cuisine and chefs have come squarely into the 21st century without losing any of the region’s soulfulness, so you’ll find recipes for grilled octopus and chickpea puree, seafood risotto with mint pesto, grated pasta with pumpkin and ricotta, and sweet and sour swordfish.  Typical of Rizzoli, it’s a beautiful work.


SICILIA: The Cooking of Casa Planeta
By Elisia Menduni (Mondadori Electa,  $35)—How many Sicilian cookbooks do you need? One or two or three or more.  The Planeta family has a long heritage—their award-winning wines and olive oils are described in the appendix—and Italian journalist Elisia Menduni has a deep respect and affection for the family’s traditions, especially the cooking of the Planeta women, evident in simple dishes like eggplant cutlets and chickpea fritters, stuffed peppers and stuffed meatloaf.  The pastas, like caserecce with fava beans and ricotta, are hearty and seasonal, and the pastries  show the versatility various food cultures brought to an island as Greek and Moorish as it is Italian.  


CORSICA: The Recipes
By Nicolas Stromboni (Smith Street Books, $40)—Yes, I know,  Corsica is a French territory, but only because they robbed it from the Corsicans, who themselves freed it from centuries of Genoese rule. So, the island is much more Italian in its cooking than it is French, as Nicolas Stromboni, a wine merchant based in Ajaccio, clearly shows in a volume that begins with charcuterie like coppa, prisuttu and pancetta.  Vegetables figure largely in Corsican cooking, as in lentils with figatelli sausage, and the cheeses of the region are highlighted.  Corsica is an island, so seafood abounds in wondrous dishes, like fish soups and mussels with peas and artichokes.  Pastas, however, are few--cannelloni with whipped brocciu cheese is very local.  And, once you make the very simple Corsican cheesecake called fiadone, it will become a treasured favorite. 




By John Mariani

    Christmas is upon us and, while my family’s menu choices have not been pinned down, I yearn at the thought of roast goose and prime rib with Yorkshire pudding at Christmas.  Our family doesn’t do the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” that Italians do on Christmas Eve, but there are some fabulous Peconic bay scallops in the market these days, so I have some thoughts on what to drink with those, and other holiday fare.


VERMENTINO CAMPO ALLE COMETE 2016 ($20)—A Tuscan white of great charm, which is not so much a rarity as it is a relief from so many dull examples. This 100% Vermentino comes from the region around Livorno. The name comes from an antique toponym from this area, meaning “guiding star” or “comet" in Italian. Its citrusy, grapefruit-like notes and light sweetness make it a fine match with scallops or shellfish.


MCBRIDE SISTERS COLLECTION CENTRAL COAST CHARDONNAY 2016 ($24)—Bi-continental winemaking siblings Robin, in Monterey, California, and Andrea, in Marlborough, New Zealand—who only met when they were adults—may live thousands of miles from each other but they share the same philosophy of crafting finesse from Old World traditions. This Chardonnay has a touch of sweetness and good body, but the acid is sufficient to meld it together, so that this would go very well with oilier fishes like salmon, and, if you are so inclined on Christmas Eve, eel.  I did have to laugh at Robin’s description of the wine’s bouquet as having “white flower and face-powder to round out a nose.”  See what you think.


ÉMILE BÉRANGER POUILLY-FUISSÉ 2015 ($40)—It gets tiresome to explain that the reputation of the lesser Burgundies has been restored by small producers, as is the case with Emile Beranger, whose family has been involved making Pouilly-Fuissé for two hundred years. They know the terroir, so the wines they make show the characteristic flintiness of the soil.  I haven’t a clue what one wine scribbler meant by calling the wine “shiny yet demure,” but it does have a lush texture not easy to find in the wines of the Maconnais.


CHÂTEAU POUJEAUX MOULIS-EN-MÉDOC 2010 ($40)—As a blend of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot and touches of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, with 14% alcohol, this is everything a Bordeaux fan will love without breaking the bank. The château itself dates to the 16th century, but the vineyards have been restored and improved since 2008 under new owners, the Cuvelier family, who also own the better known Clos Fourtet in St. Émilion. Hang times are a bit longer and biodynamic philosophy rules. It would be ideal with prime rib of beef for Christmas for it’s got the body, the softened tannins and the acid to complement the fatted meat.


TENUTE ASINARI DEI MARCHESI DI GRESY NEBBIOLO MARTINENGA 2015 ($20)—No wine deserves a name this long, so suffice it to say that this is a very authentic expression of the Nebbiolo grape from the Barbaresco region, though not labeled as a true Barbaresco, which would be quite a bit more expensive. This has a lighter body and spends little time in oak before release at 13.5% alcohol, so it’s very versatile and easy to drink with game birds and turkey.



DOMAINE DE JAVERNIÉRE CHÂTEAU PY MORGON 2016 ($20)—A good price for a very good Beaujolais Cru made from the Gamay grape. Morgon’s vineyard area occupies only about 4.5 square miles, and the wines are usually the most robust of the ten crus. I like the spice here and the definite taste of the Gamay.  Even though young, this is already a wine to enjoy with roast goose, chicken or turkey, and it’s particularly good with goat’s cheeses.



CHÂTEAU GREYSAC CRU BOURGEOIS MÉDOC 2012 ($13)—Sometimes you get more than you pay for, and this delightful Bordeaux, which sadly must go through life called “bourgeois,” is the kind of sturdy red wine, at 13% alcohol, you could drink with pleasure night after night. The blend of 65% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Petit Verdot provides a good deal of rich flavor, if not much depth on the finish. Drink it now.





"In the Aeneid, Virgil  put forward a prophecy founded on proto-pizza consumption, which foretells where Rome shall be built. ‘When hunger shall drive you, landed on unknown Shores, to eat the tables at your frugal meal,' Aeneas recalls his father telling him, `Remember to place your first buildings there.' These ‘tables,' Aeneas later realizes, falling to his knees, are plates made of hard bread off which his band of Trojan refugees eat lunch.”--"Camillo" by Carolyn Kormann, The New Yorker (11/27/17)


Ryan Vermaak and Fabio Di Cosmo, t
wo white owners apologized after
they named their fusion restaurant 
in Johannesburg, South Africa, “Misohawni.”




 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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