Virtual Gourmet

  August 9 ,  2020                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 



By John A. Curtas


By John Mariani



by Geoff Kalish



       By John A. Curtas

    Las Vegas boasts its share of forgettable pasta palaces, but these newcomers—aiming for authenticity over the ersatz—were re-setting the quality paradigm when the Covid crisis hit in March. Each opened in 2019, and all were just hitting their stride when everything was shut down. Now they appear to have weathered the storm and have re-opened for business, serving versions of Italian food far superior to most of their competition. As with everywhere else, the Covid crisis has been brutal on Las Vegas restaurants, but thanks to places like them, we are starting to eat well again.


3555 S. Town Center Drive Ste 105


        Mediocre Italian restaurants are as common in Las Vegas as slot machines. So it’s big news when an off-Strip restaurant opens with ambitions of doing Amalfi Coast tasting menus, Roman-style artichokes and pitch-perfect Neapolitan pastas. Throw some superior seafood into the mix and you have a recipe for being packed five nights a week and impossible to get into for Sunday brunch.
    Gina Marinelli is the talent behind these menus, and she’s been serving them for over a year from an open kitchen in one of the sleekest rooms in town. Her knack with noodles has made her a celebrity among local pasta hounds, and her facility with fish is not far behind. She travels all over the Italian map, keeping her food seasonal and her customers intrigued, unlike few, if any, local Italians ever have.
   Showing her range, Marinelli offers a first-rate fritto misto with calamari and rock shrimp alongside rigatoni Bolognese, Lombardian scarpniocc and Tuscan shortribs. Octopus is sparked by Calabrian peperoncino, while her tricolor salad (salami, mortadella, pesto, tomatoes) somehow manages to makes a kitchen sink of ingredients work well.
      Everyone sources Nigerian prawns these days, but Marinelli dresses hers up without overdoing it by floating them in a lobster broth of just enough intensity and letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Dressings on the salads are equally demure, whether they be a sweet-sour accent to crunchy panzanelle or bitter frisée greens enhanced with a subtly tart vinaigrette and an unctuous poached egg. The Witch’s Garden of fresh veggies, to be dipped in whipped chickpeas, is at its peak in summer, and looks almost too good to eat.
    Pastas change with the seasons, as does most of the menu, but the rigatoni is gut-busting in all the right ways, no matter what time of year. It hews close to a classic Bolognese, while some of the lighter offerings— spaghetti pomodoro with blistered tomatoes; linguine vongole with Manila clams, preserved lemon and chives (left)—tweak the recipes just enough to peak your interest without losing the soul of what made them famous. When available, the bucatini Genovese—a tangle of dandelion pesto, potatoes and green beans–—is a lip-smacking example of how Marinelli innovates without losing the subtlety of Italian cooking.
    Big proteins are well represented: roast chicken with rapini, whole fish (usually branzino) stuffed with herbs, the obligatory sirloin—but it’s in the appetizers, pastas and salads where this kitchen really shines. Pizzas subscribe to the more is more philosophy of toppings, but there’s no denying the quality of the cornicione crust.
      Back when bars were allowed to act like bars, this was one of the liveliest in the ‘burbs. The craft cocktails are just as good these days, only now you have to take them at your table. You won’t find much to complain about on the wine list, either, being manageable with prices well below what you pay for the same bottles twelve miles to the east.
    The cannolis filled with house-made ricotta are worth a trip all by themselves.

La Strega is open for dinner Tues.-Sat. and for weekend brunch. Appetizers and salads are priced from $7- $20, pizzas and pastas are in the $15-$25 range, big proteins run from $26 (chicken) to $72 (sirloin), and $8 for dessert.


Venetian Hotel and Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South

    Matteo’s aims to take you on a culinary tour of Italy in a streamlined fashion. Without the pedigree of Cipriani, what it does it does well at a friendly price point with lots of options. It began its run in Las Vegas as an offshoot of The Factory Kitchen, a popular Los Angeles Italian eatery once located in an actual abandoned factory. What was groovy and hip in LA made no sense in Vegas, so, less than a year after opening, the name was changed to give more of a clue to the Italian cuisine served.  Thankfully, they didn’t change a thing about the food, which includes some of the best pasta in town.
    The wine list is of manageable size and almost entirely Italian, with well-chosen bottles priced to drink rather than to soak the high rollers. There are plenty of interesting bottles in the $50-$100 range.
    The next thing you'll notice is the olive oil, the real deal from Liguria, with herbaceousness to burn and a long, soothing, back-of-the-throat peppery finish. The soft white bread that comes with it is rather bland (just as in Italy), the better to serve as a carrier for all of those earthy notes from the oil.
    The menu is full of dishes you may never have heard of— ortolana; peperú; mandilli di seta set beside those you have—carpacciofritturapappardelle, branzino,  all of them eye-popping and mouth-dropping (and  all are translated into English). Over a dozen starters are offered, covering the Italian map from north to south. Surprises abound, such as the sweet and spicy, soft-cheese-stuffed peppers (peperú), and the tangle of bright, fresh field greens with watermelon, radish and champagne vinaigrette (ortolana), or beer-battered leeks with chickpea fritters (frittura).
    As good as those are, the two starters not to miss are the prosciutto fanned out in slices sitting beneath a mound of stringy-creamy stracciatella cheese, speckled with pepper and drizzled with more of that insanely good oil. All of these sit atop crispy fried sage dough, making for a picture perfect amalgam of crunchy, creamy, salty and sweet.  The dish represents the sort of flavor/mouthfeel gymnastics that Italian food achieves effortlessly when the ingredients are right. It may be the most expensive antipasti ($25), but it also feeds four as an appetizer.
    The other starter is the "sorrentina," Chef Angelo Auriana's homage to the seafood salads of southern Italy. Grilled calamari, chickpeas and fava beans are enlivened with just the right spark of chili in the lightly-applied dressing.
    Most of the dishes sound more complicated than they are, but there's nothing particularly simple about plancha-roasted octopus with garbanzo puree, roasted carrots and cotechino sausage. The trick is in using good ingredients, and knowing how to balance flavors on the plate.
    The signature mandilli di seta (handkerchief-thin noodles bathed in almond-basil pesto) will be a revelation to those who’ve spent any time in
the Cinque Terre. The seafood-filled ravioli are like pillow-y surprises straight from Naples.  Pastas are all fairly priced ($21-$31) and meant to be shared.
    You may probably stuff yourself on those pastas, but, if self-control takes hold, save room for the lamb chops, which are superb, as is the branzino, the veal, and the 16 oz. ribeye.  And get the cannolis for dessert. They're made in-house and fantastic.

Open for lunch and dinner, with starters $10-$25; pastas $21-$36; main courses $32-$54. The wine list is heavily Italian, organized by regions, and marked up far less than its competition.



Wynn Hotel and Casino
3131 South Las Vegas Boulevard

    You don't go to Cipriani because there's some hot new chef at the stoves. You aren't there for pirouettes on the plate or cartwheels in the kitchen. You didn't just stumble by the place on your way to somewhere else (the pool, a nightclub, blackjack, etc.). Here, cutting-edge is not part of the cuisine vocabulary. The reason you walk through the door is because you can't find this experience easily except where the Cipriani group has located restaurants.
    The restaurant is there to serve you but has nothing to prove. It knows itself like a high soprano knows an aria from Madame Butterfly. In its original incarnation Cipriani in Venice had been doing the same thing in the same way successfully for decades. All that is left is for you to submit to its charms and history and to discover that, through decades of refinement, it serves a menu of subtle perfection like most Americans probably have never tasted before.
    Before we get to that food, a little history is in order. Cipriani Las Vegas is the latest in a chain of Italian restaurants that traces its lineage to Harry's Bar in Venice, founded in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani—the grandfather of the family—and became famous as a watering hole/restaurant for European nobility,  celebs and American literati including Ernest Hemingway (left, with Giuseppe Cipriani) in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Giuseppe was fond of saying he deliberately made Harry’s Bar, which is located down a narrow street away from San Marco, hard to find, because he wanted people to go there “on purpose.”
    Las Vegas is now the 19th Cipriani-run restaurant in the world, stretching from London to Singapore—New York currently has three—and the business is still family-owned. Las Vegas’s Cipriani references the look of the original but spruces it up more than a bit to give the premises a flashy sense of urbanity the original has only by way of reputation. (Rubes visiting Harry's Bar in Venice often walk through the almost-hidden side door, look around and say, "This is it?") Where the original boasts only a modest eight-seat bar and ten low-slung tables on its first floor, faded furniture, pale yellow walls and a few windows you can barely see out of, the "copies" around the world polish things to a fare-thee-well. The tables are still low, but the bold tan, white, and dark blue color scheme bespeaks a nautical, unpretentious elegance that you will slip into like a pair of well-worn Ferragamos.
    First-timers may find those low tables take a little getting used to, but they are a definitive part of the Harry's/Cipriani brand, so get used to them you will. Arrigo Cipriani, Giuseppe’s son, in his written history of Harry's Bar, explains their design as reminiscent of the low tables he sat at as a child, where he always had more fun than at the taller, stuffier "grown up" tavola. Sit at them for a few minutes and you will see how they promote a certain intimacy among your tablemates. For larger folk, there are a number of plush booths (also lower) where you can spread out with lots of comfy pillows.
    Eighty-nine years on, the details still matter. Those tables will always be covered in starched white linens, the flatware is modestly sized and the staff is one of the most smartly outfitted in the business. Liquids are served in short, stout glasses (even the wine) and the sleek and sexy décor—all polished woods and gleaming brass—makes everyone feel like they're in a Cary Grant movie.
    Before you get to the menu, you will first have a Bellini (right)—a small glass of Prosecco and white peach juice invented because Giuseppe looked around one day in the summer of 1948 and said, "What the hell am I going to do with all of these white peaches?" He then named it after the 15th Century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.  They cost $17 in Vegas, more in Venice, and they're pretty small, but an essential part of the experience.
    After your Bellini, yo
u'll have the carpaccio, the other world famous invention of Giuseppe Cipriani, this one from 1950, stemming from some "ravishing countess" whose doctor said she couldn't eat cooked meat. Cipriani simply pounded a raw filet paper thin and dressed it with a white, mustard/mayonnaise sauce, naming it after the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio, whose works happened to be on exhibition in Venice at the time.
    With those preliminaries out of the way, you will be free to peruse the wine list as you nibble on addictive short grissini (breadsticks) or some rather forgettable bread. The list is of modest length and actually rather approachable, with plenty of decent choices of Italian white wines from multiple regions in the $65-$100 range.
    By now, it will be time to dive in. Certain dishes separate the men from the boys as it were, when it comes to the food of the Veneto: polenta, salt cod, cuttlefish, veal with tuna sauce and, most of all, calf's liver "alla Veneziana." None of these is what springs to mind when most Americans think of "Italian food."
    Of things not to be missed are the baby artichokes "alla Romana" and the Bacalà Mantecato (whipped salt cod, served with fried polenta). Americans usually resist the allure of the second dish, even though salt cod is no fishier than a tuna sandwich, while serious foodies love its airy, whipped refinement, which echoes the sea.
    Tuna of a more refined sort makes an appearance in a mayonnaise-like emulsion covering thin slices of cold Vitello tonnato, an umami-rich, meat-meets-sea antipasto much beloved by Italians in the summer. Salads of endive and radicchio and lobster with avocado are offered, and they're perfectly fine (if a bit boring), so you'll want to lean more towards the prosciutto and bresaola, which are top shelf and sliced right.  Seafood lovers are equally well-served by the plump shards of sweet-sour anchovies, and the seppie in tecia—a thick, black stew of ink enveloping tender cuttlefish strands that's as far from fried calamari as foie gras is from a chicken salad sandwich.
    Pastas are where things get heftier. But the portions easily feed two to four and are so good they should come with a warning label that repeated exposure could become habit forming. It's doubtful you've ever had a veal ragù as light as the one dressing thick strands of tagliardi, and you'll wonder if cream, ham, peas and cheese have ever matched better with tortellini or been baked more beautifully as a crust for thin, egg-y tagliatelle (left), another signature dish. Knuckle-sized gnocchi come dressed with tomato cream one day, Gorgonzola cream the next, and are surprisingly light.
    They do a beautiful Dover sole "alla Mugnaia,” wonderful langoustines "al forno" and a rib-sticking braised short rib, but if you really want to eat like a Doge of Venice, tuck into the calf's liver alla Veneziana (above) a dish the Venetians claim to have invented, though, as Waverly Root wrote in his The Food of Italy, "It seems so natural a combination that it need hardly be pinned down to any single point of origin.”
    Pizza makes an appearance (just to appease Americans, no doubt), and they are quite good, but going to Cipriani for a pizza is like going to La Scala to see the Book of Mormon.
    Desserts are remarkably light and white: Dolce Vanilla Meringue Cake, a Napoleon with vanilla cream, vanilla panna cotta, and the thickest, creamiest, silkiest and most vanilla-y gelato you have ever tasted.
   Cipriani is neither crowd-pleasing nor elitist. It is Italian style made accessible; simple, sophisticated food served with panache. There is a seductive, reassuring quality to its flavors and atmosphere. Nothing overpowers, but each bite beckons another; every visit inspires a return. The cuisine is born of nuance, and the service has been honed by almost a century of tradition. But Cipriani is not for everyone. You have to go there on purpose.

Cipriani is open for lunch and dinner daily. Appetizers and pastas run $14-$34, main courses $30-$64.  The $29 prix fixe lunch is a steal.


By John Mariani


    Since, for the time being, I am unable to write about or review New York City restaurants, I have decided instead to print a serialized version of my (unpublished) novel Love and Pizza, which takes place in New York and Italy and  involves a young, beautiful Bronx woman named Nicola Santini from an Italian family impassioned about food.  As the story goes on, Nicola, who is a student at Columbia University, struggles to maintain her roots while seeing a future that could lead her far from them—a future that involves a career and a love affair that would change her life forever. So, while New York’s restaurants remain closed, I will run a chapter of the Love and Pizza each week until the crisis is over. Afterwards I shall be offering the entire book digitally.    I hope you like the idea and even more that you will love Nicola, her family and her friends. I’d love to know what you think. Contact me at
—John Mariani

To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue.


By John Mariani

Cover Art By Galina Dargery


The day after the funeral back home, Nicola did indeed receive a business class plane ticket on Pan Am from Willi magazine and it brightened her mood.  She had been trying to take her mind off everything—the loss of her grandmother and the offers from the press and model agencies, even Giancarlo—and plunged back into her studies, finishing a short paper on Renaissance landscapes in advance of her flying home for Easter.
    Catherine had been a good and quiet friend all through the week’s turmoil, taking Nicola for pizza at Paper Moon, making sure their other friends stepped lightly around Nicola, and hoping that soon Giancarlo might actually call Nicola back. 
    Catherine, who like apparently most young women who met Giancarlo, was a little infatuated, but she truly believed Nicola’s meeting him was fate.  She’d stayed away from the subject of Nicola’s “clearing her head” by going to bed with some nice Italian guy, but Catherine thought that a romantic attachment with Giancarlo would be the very best thing for her in so many ways.  But she didn’t dare ask Nicola if he’d called.
    And then he did.  It was on Thursday and he said he would love to drive down to Milan—it was less than a two-hours’ drive on the A4--and he wanted to know if he could have—how do you say it?—“the  rain check?”  Eight o’clock at Savini on Friday night?  Fantastico! He said he couldn’t wait to see her and that he’d call when he got into the city.
    Nicola hung up the phone and called Catherine in another room to tell her. “Okay, Catherine,” she said, “let’s plan on what I’ll wear. I’ve never had a date with a Marchese.”

Parco Sempione


Her friend sniffed and said, “I’m sorry to say neither have I!”
    Having passed by Savini numerous times, Nicola knew she could go as dressy as she wished, but she also sensed that Giancarlo was not expecting her in an opera gown.  She also remembered that he might have seen her in the navy and white dress she’d worn to the Armani show, so that was out.
    Much discussion followed, joined by Mercédes, Jenny and Suzanne, each with a different opinion. Nicola said, “I think I should go very simple, not too sexy.  Nothing with sequins.  Definitely not black.  A dress, not an ensemble.  Not a suit. Maybe a clingy knit.  God, I wish I could afford Missoni!”
    Catherine smiled devilishly at her.
    “Catherine,” Nicola said slowly, “don't go getting any dumb ideas.”
    “Who, me?”
    “What colors is Savini done in?” asked Jenny.
    “Mostly cream colored walls with big red brocade curtains,” Nicola answered.
    “That doesn’t help,” Mercédes said. “Too bland, too old fashioned.  We've got to work with your colors, Nicky.”
    “I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” said Catherine, then,  “I’ve got it!  Nicky, I know you don’t like black but if you play red off black, like with a sash or a flower or a scarf …”
      “Or a headband?” asked Jenny.
      “Or a headband. The colors will not just complement you but will work inside that stodgy old décor.  You’ll stand out like a rose!”

Parco Fornalini

“I don’t know,” said Nicola, then she snapped her fingers. “Wait a minute, what about a slinky black dress with lots of roses printed on it?”
        All the girls looked at each other as if Nicola had something there.
        “It sounds great, Nick, but where are you going to find that by tomorrow night?” asked Suzanne.
      “I’ll tell you where,” Nicola said, grinning. “At my old friend Patrizia Palma’s studio!  She had a dress like that on the rack and it was gorgeous.  Not girlie.  Very chic.  Something I’d expect Sophia Loren to wear to seduce Marcello Mastroianni.”
        “But I thought you were Claudia Cardinale,” said Suzanne.
        Nicola shook her hair. “Suzanne, I was Claudia Cardinale for one hour.  I’d kinda like to go back to being me.”
        “Or Sophia Loren.”
        “Well,” Nicola replied, “Maybe Sophia Loren ... for one evening at Savini.”
        “This is starting to sound like ‘Cinderella,’” said Jenny, and all the girls started fluttering around Nicola like the mice and birds in the Disney cartoon, sewing and pinning Cinderella’s dress to wear to meet the Prince.
        And so it was decided.  Nicola called Signora Palma with her request, and, with Catherine sharing the phone’s handset, they heard the designer say she could not be happier.  Bella, you going to look fantastic in that dress.  You have the curves—though you know, the dress is tight on the thighs.  I have it sent over to you.  No! Aspett’! You come here, we fit you so it look perfetto.  Giancarlo—come si dice?—he not gonna  know what hit him.”
        “Oh, Signora Palma, thank you so much.”
        “Eh, bella, you no have to thank me.  Everybody today they talk about you as ‘La Nuova Ragazza,’ the New Girl, the one who look so beautiful at the Patrizia Palma show.  They ask me where I find this beautiful American girl.  Now you go to Savini with the most handsome man in Milano tomorrow night and everybody see you in my dress. Then everybody want to buy the dress! Perfetto!  I send the car to pick you up.”
        Twenty minutes later the BMW was downstairs, and twenty minutes after that Nicola and her friends all arrived at Patrizia Palma’s studio. The girls loved everything they laid their eyes on. Catherine asked if the samples were for sale. One of La Signora’s assistants had been made wholly aware of why Nicola was there, saying, “Signora Palma is out on business, and I have to say, business is very good after last week’s show. So she tell me to take the best care of you.”
        With that, the chosen dress was pulled from a rack, the plastic cover removed, and the radiant, sexy beauty of the design was obvious to everyone.
        Suzanne looked at Nicola and said, “Il Marchese doesn't stand a chance.”
        Catherine, shaking her finger tips and imitating Signora Palma, said, “He’s-a not-a gonna know what hit him!”


                                                                                             *        *        *        *


        By then it was the end of March in Milan and, despite the best efforts of the cold Apennine winds and the nebbia, the city had emerged from winter with its skies a defiant blue.  Flowers had sprouted and the Parco Sempione and Parco Forlanini were beginning to bloom, with fastidious giardinieri clipping and shaping bushes and trees to look artfully natural.  The city had nothing to approach the breadth and depth of the Bronx Botanical Garden, as Nicola was wont to point out, but Milan’s parks made for what they lacked in diversity of plants in statuary and antique structures.
        Sadly, no one could ever recall anyone having written a song about Milan in springtime, or any season for that matter, nothing like “April in Paris” or “On an Evening in Roma” or “Autumn in New York.”  And movies had not been much kinder in showing the city’s romantic side.  When director Michelangelo Antonioni sought to portray romantic love as  something thoroughly depressing in his film “La Notte,” he chose Milan to have his  characters—played by Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni—admit they don’t love each other anymore by having sex in a golf course’s sand trap (right).
        Nevertheless, anyone standing in the piazza outside the Duomo that March night, looking through the soaring archways of the Galleria, with twilight fading and a full moon rising over the city’s eastern horizon, would find abundant reasons to find Milan romantic.  The mere sight of so many lovers, young and old, strolling arm in arm during the early evening hours—a nightly ritual called the passagiata—proved that the Milanese soul was truly and always deeply Italian.


John Mariani, 2020




by Geoff Kalish

Katherine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi in "Summertime" (1955)

    While keeping us out of restaurants, the coronavirus situation has afforded the opportunity to experiment at home with a range of wine and food combinations without having to deal with the “marked up” price of the wines. What I have found is not too surprising. Some wines are just too bland to match well with most food. For example, many Pinot Grigios, Petite Chablis and even some “restrained” Chardonnays added little to the flavors of even mild seafare, like striped bass and branzino.
    And it’s not just whites; too many “soft” Merlots and even Cabernet Sauvignon-based brands  are just too dull to add to the enjoyment of grilled beef or lamb dishes. On the other hand, not unexpectedly, some whites, like very oaky Chardonnays, highly spiced Gewürztraminers and too grassy Sauvignon Blancs overwhelmed even the most flavorful seafood like swordfish, tuna and octopus. Also, the power of some coat-your-teeth Amarones, Ripassos and very high-alcohol Zinfandels tended to drown out the flavor of even the most garlic-laden or rosemary-spiced fare.
    Thankfully, there’s a middle ground of just flavorful enough whites and reds to mate with a wide range of fare, enhancing the enjoyment of both the wine and the food. And below are discussed some of the wines enjoyed recently that met the bill with some choices for fare to optimize the flavor of the match.



2017 River Road Pinot Noir, Stephanie’s Cuvée ($30)—This elegant wine was made from grapes sourced from Green Valley of the Russian River Valley region. Following fermentation, the wine is aged in French oak barrels (20% new) before bottling. It has a complex bouquet and flavor of ripe cherries, crushed blueberries and vanilla and pairs perfectly with grilled swordfish or tuna as well as lamb or pork chops.


2017 Domaine Vincent Prunier Auxey-Duress ($39)—While not nearly as well known as other Côte de Or Burgundy regions, Auxey-Duress, about 5 miles southwest of the town of Beaune, has produced wine since the 2nd century BC.  And since Vincent Prunier inherited about 5 acres of vineyards from his father (now expanded to 30 acres), he has been producing superior wine from grapes that are planted and maintained to allow deep root growth to absorb as much flavor as possible. The wine shows a bouquet and taste of black plums with hints of cranberry, cherry and cedar that makes a great mate for hamburgers, grilled chicken or even hot dogs.

2016 Dominique Piron Côte du Py Morgon ($23)—Not your typical light, banana-scented Beaujolais, this bottle, now benefiting from a few years of cellaring, hails from an area noted for mineral-rich soil imparting an earthiness into its wines. It shows a complex bouquet and taste of cherries and ripe berries in addition to its earthiness that allows it to mate with heartier summertime fare like grilled sirloin steak, stuffed peppers and garlic-laden cold pasta salads. 

2017 Lloyd Cellars Pinot Noir ($50)—Fashioned from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from La Viña and Rio Vista Vineyards in California’s Santa Rita region, this wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks, then aged for 10 months in French oak before bottling. It shows a bouquet and taste of ripe strawberries, cherries and cranberries with hints of oak in its finish. It matches well with hamburgers, pizza, or charcoal-grilled steaks.




2015 Billaud-Simon Chablis Valorent ($54)—This lobster lover’s wine comes from the only Prémier Cru vineyard on the slope containing the Grand Crus. Following hand-harvesting and fermentation, the wine was aged in stainless steel for 18 months prior to bottling. It has a bouquet and taste of ripe apples and pears with notes of apricots and a vibrant finish with a lingering flavor of lemons and honey that complements the richness of lobster perfectly. In addition to lobster this wine makes great accompaniment to grilled salmon and Arctic char as well as milder fish like stripped bass or halibut.


2018 Jordan Chardonnay ($35)—After 43 years as Jordan’s only winemaker, Rob Davis stepped down a little over a year ago and turned the reins over to his assistant, Maggie Kruse. And the first wine she’s bottled is a blockbuster that benefits from a period of resting on its lees and partial aging in French oak. It’s bursting with bouquet and ripe flavors of apples and pears well integrated with toasty oak and shows a lively touch of citrus in its long finish. It pairs well with a wide range of fare from shrimp to grilled tuna, and even spicy chicken wings and grilled drumsticks.


2017 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Blanc  ($40)—Only 10% of the wine produced in Crozes-Hermitage is white and this one (made of 80% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne grapes) is a refreshing treat. It’s loaded with a bouquet and flavors of ripe pears and melon, with hints of pineapple and a long citrusy finish. It provides ideal accompaniment for grilled trout, branzino filets or turkey burgers.


2019 River Road Unoaked Chardonnay
While a great number of un-oaked Chardonnays, especially low-end products, often taste dull and washed-out, this wine has flavor galore  (maybe even too much for some), with a bouquet and taste of ripe apples and lemons and vanilla. It makes a great mate for grilled red snapper, soft shell crabs, oysters on the half-shell and even barbecued chicken.





2019 Bartenura Moscato d’Asti ($14)—Some might find this low-alcohol (5%) import from Piedmont, Italy, too sweet. However, beyond its effervescent apricot and honeyed bouquet and flavor it shows a lively acidity in its finish and mates harmoniously with a range of hors d’oeuvres such as smoked salmon, bruschetta, and pita chips coated with olive tapenade.


Sponsored by


 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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© copyright John Mariani 2020