Virtual Gourmet

  December 9,  2018                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter in "Downton Abbey"


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa

    Although God told Noah after the flood that He’d never destroy Earth by water again, the people of Saint Barthélemy must have had their doubts last year when Hurricane Irma obliterated the French-Caribbean island. With losses exceeding $1.4 billion, St. Barts lost much of its infrastructure, water, electricity and phone service. Roads looked bombed out. Plants and trees washed away. Houses and hotels destroyed. All tourism—the island’s only industry—ceased.
   Yet, flying in from St. Maarten over the choppy Caribbean last month, I saw St. Barts today looking tranquil, its red roofs restored, the island turning green again.  If not back to paradisal levels, St. Barts is alive and well.  All it took was tons of money—in this case euros—which is something St. Barts has plenty of, despite levying no income tax. Refusing to wait for the grinding bureaucracy of the Mother Country to send aid, St. Barts’s citizens, municipal authorities and investment companies got to work. Today 70% of the island’s phone and electrical lines are underground; within months they expect that figure will be 100%.
    “Very little money came from France for the reconstruction,” Nils Dufau, vice president in charge of tourism, told me over lunch at Nikki Beach, “but France did waive the annual payment of €2.9 million we pay for services.”
    True, many of the main roads are still damaged and impassable, so déviations over narrow, rutted side roads are numerous, which makes driving for a visitor as hair-raising as in an Anglo country where they drive on the left side of the road. When you rent a car, they heartily advise you to get the extra insurance, and you’ll probably need it.
    As of this writing, there are four of the deluxe resorts open—Le Toiny (below), Christopher, Manapany and Le Barthélemy (right), though this last is brand new and was due to open this fall anyway. Only Eden Rock will be closed for the entire season. Many smaller hotels and villas, out of 800 on the island, have also opened. Many are already sold out for the season.
    Eleven flights a day from St. Maarten have resumed, though St. Maarten’s main terminal is still not operational, so passengers must check in through un-air-conditioned tents. Meanwhile, on Gustavia’s Rue de la République, lined with high-end boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Hermès showing sportswear designed just for St. Barts, Dolce & Gabbana opened last spring with a wildly painted surfboard in its window.
    Getting building materials to St. Barts was difficult but, according to Anne Jousse, President and CEO of B Signature Hotels & Resorts, which owns Manapany, “It’s expensive but available at a price. The smaller family-owned hotels and villas had to get open as soon as possible to recoup losses from last season.” When I asked if the insurance companies were slow in responding, she said, “No, but then we own an insurance company, so it was not a problem.”
    Employing staff is another problem. There is no unemployment on the island, but French citizens willing to come to the island will always find jobs in the resort and restaurants industry. Owing to the expense of real estate, however, staff members find it difficult to afford lodgings.
    So resilient are St. Barts’s residents and entrepreneurs that they were able to mount a gala Gourmet Festival in the first week of November this year, after cancelling it last year owing to the hurricane. (I’ll be reporting on this event and the dining scene on the island in a future article.) For the weekend, Air France flew in six Michelin-starred chefs, plus their assistants and family members, to work alongside resort chefs.
    When I asked Pierre Augé, chef at La Maison de Petit Pierre in Béziers, how difficult it was to bring in every ingredient they needed, he shrugged and said, “When money is no object, it is not so difficult. We got everything we wanted shipped in from France.” Local fish were not as easy to come by.
    Water supply, however, has always been a problem on the island. There are no wells, so all water comes from non-potable rainfall or from a huge desalinization plant using thermal energy just outside of the capital of Gustavia.
    “Water is very expensive here,” says Luc Lanza, General Manager of Hotel Le Toiny. “We take very quick showers and I don’t even wet my toothbrush before brushing.”
      Tellingly, though St. Barts is a French island, the luxury hotels did not install bidets.



By John Mariani

222 Lafayette Street (near Spring Street)


    My avoidance  of restaurants big and small south of Houston Street is based on way too many experiences in rooms unconscionably cacophonous, shrill, clamorous and ear-shattering, owing to raucously loud patrons and owners who refuse to baffle the sound but instead add to it with boom box pounding speakers.
    So it was with some trepidation that I visited Bocaphe in SoHo, which from the outside looks very much like one of those decibel-busting eateries. I was so happy to find that this small, colorful, very cheery Vietnamese restaurant was not particularly loud at all, despite a near-full crowd.
    The look of the place is enticing, not least the potted plants hanging upside down from the ceiling, Asian figure wallpaper,  and a striking wall image of a Vietnamese woman painted over newsprint.
    I claim little knowledge of Vietnamese food, except what I’ve eaten in America and read about in authoritative cookbooks like Saigon-born Nicole Routhier’s The Foods of Vietnam, in which she describes the centuries-old influences of Chinese and French cuisine on Vietnam kitchens. “Vietnamese dishes are generally light in nature, using little fat, even in stir-fried foods,” she writes. “Oil- and starch-laden sauces are virtually unseen.  Indeed, the Vietnamese like their foods as fat-free as possible, and use vegetable oil instead of lard for frying.” The use of chili peppers is also restrained.
    Thus, those going to Bocaphe expecting the fire of Thai or Sichuan cuisine may be disappointed not to find it. Expect subtlety, less sweetness.  (There is a bottle of Thai Sriracha sauce on the table, but, after using a dash on one dish, I immediately knew it was an error that compromised the balance of flavors.)
    The categories on the menu are appetizers, bao buns, crispy spring rolls, vermicelli noodles, pho noodle soup, rice bow, entrees, bao burger, and salad. We started off with shrimp tempura ($9), tender and crisp. A bao bun of eggplant ($5.50) was velvety and served with pickled vegetables and cilantro on a soft, steamed bun.
    The “classic” pho ($16) is a big bowl of rich broth, brimming with tender noodles (you can also have zucchini noodles), while the chicken and ginger bo bun of rice noodles, vegetables, lettuce and peanuts ($16) was a meal all in itself. An alternative big bowl is made with fragrant jasmine rice cooked tandoori style and seasoned with turmeric that adds color, served with beef and lemongrass ($17). Salmon and Thai basil ($19) is also available.  The only disappointment were the taro fries, cut like French fried potatoes and seasoned, but without much flavor at all ($7).
    The wine list is small and the dessert list negligible. Still, Bocaphe may be an education for those not as familiar with Vietnamese cuisine as with others from  Southeast Asia. I was quite happy to be educated.




By John Mariani

    If Paola Lanzavecchia (below) has her way, Barolo will soon be a wine ranked alongside the best names in Burgundy.
    As winemaker and owner of Villadoria Winery in Italy’s Piedmont region, she represents the fourth generation of the Villadoria family, who have been making wine since 1959, when Pietro and Pietrina Lanzavecchia planted their first vines.
    Back then Barolo and its sister wine, Barbaresco, were barely known outside of Piedmont, at a time when Americans who drank Italian wines knew only Chianti in a straw-covered bottle and Soave in a green bottle shaped like a fish. If Barolo were to be found in a wine store back then, it sold very cheap and had little reputation.
    Barolo gained respect when, in 1980, it was one of only three wines awarded the government’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata Garantita. Barolo got an enormous boost when the pioneering Angelo Gaja raised the quality and the prices for his wines—his “Sperss” label sells for $300 and up—followed by producers Renato Ratti, Bruno Giacosa and Giacomo Conterno. So successful did Barolo become by the 21st century that there are now more than 500 labels shown on And, according to Lanzavecchia, an acre of vineyard land in Piedmont can sell for $1.4 million.

    Modern producers of Barolo like Villadoria are aiming more for finesse than for the traditional powerhouse style of a century ago, when grapes might be macerated for 90 days or more to produce highly tannic wines that took years to smooth out. These days that maceration style and aging in large barrels have declined, with wineries using instead smaller barrels made of new wood called “barriques.” 
    Villadoria’s Tenuta Cappallotto vineyards enclose about 50 acres in the hills of the prestigious terroir of
Serralunga d’Alba.  The winery is state-of-the-art, and an historic farmhouse is still there, with a tasting room for visitors.  Nebbiolo, the approved varietal for Barolo and other Piedmont wines, is the most widely planted, but Villadoria also grows Merlot and Muscat vines.
    Today the winery is led by Daniele Lanzavecchia, 65, son of Pietro and Pietrina, and his daughter, Paola, a graduate in enology from Turin University, where she specialized in viticulture and oenology. Today the company has vineyards in three different MGAs (menzione geografiche aggiuntive)— Cappallotto, Lazzarito and Mariame, which produce three distinctive crus.
    “My father (below) was the best teacher,” says Paola, who came aboard in 2005. “At first I had to go slowly for three or four years, but we were always innovating, making refinements every year, looking for the flavor differences in the individual terroirs.”
    Over dinner in New York, I tasted three examples from the 2015 vintages. The Barolo Serralunga ($37) was lush with fruit and needs only a few years to fully mature. The Sorí Paradiso ($60) showed more minerality, and the Lazzarito is not yet available in the market, so I tasted a barrel sample that was brawny and tannic. “This is our ‘big boy,’” said Paola, “made for 20 to 30 years of aging.”
    As for all winemakers in Europe, global warming is a challenge. “It’s not so much a question of a rise in temperature,” she said, “although we’ve seen a one-degree rise in just the last ten years. The more troubling aspect is that we are seeing more and more extreme weather we’ve never had before. In 2014 we got hit with a water bomb of rain and had to select the grapes manually. But 2017 was completely different, very dry and very hot.”
    Ironically, it’s easier to make big-bodied wines in warmer weather than more delicate, refined wines. For the moment, Villadoria is exemplary in recognizing what needs to be done.



YUM YUM. . . . . . NOT

Chef Mei Lin of Nightshade in Los Angeles has been testing other dishes like a Nashville-inspired hot chicken served with Japanese milk bread and octopus that will "deliver the familiar flavors of General Tso’s chicken," adding,  “I’m just using everything I’ve learned and applying it, experimenting — whether it’s a French, Italian, Asian, or an American technique. Whatever."


“Over the course of a two-week period I ate at Nobu in Hawai‘i, Nobu in London, Nobu in New York, and Nobu in Los Angeles,” said Andrew Zimmern. "
They’re exactly the same. That’s the brilliance of Nobu.”



Wine Column Sponsored by Banfi Vintners


   Wine is a joy year-round but in cooler weather one grape varietal has really taken center stage in my daily activities – that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese, and its ultimate expression – Brunello di Montalcino.
    From mid-September through mid-October, the Sangiovese grown for our various styles of red wines are be harvested, culminating with the top selection for Brunello di Montalcino.
    Second, cooler weather here 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, benefitted 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:

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.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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