Virtual Gourmet

  January 15. 2023                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Connie Stevens and Robert Conrad in "Palm Springs Weekend" (1963)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. January 18 at 11AM EST,I will be interviewing Noah Isenberg on his book about Hollywood director Billy Wilder.  Go to: The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.



By John Mariani

Victoria & Albert at The Grand Floridian Resort


          Tiffins has re-opened within Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park,  and in its design and exotic theme it is one of the most impressive within the parks and outside of a resort hotel,  dedicated to “seafarers, fortune hunters and vagabonds.” Different dining rooms’ walls are hung with African elephant art; a ceiling arches over carved wooden totems, with artwork inspired by the actual notes and field sketches (on display) by the creators of the Animal Kingdom, who spent months in Africa, India and Asia doing research. The name Tiffins refers to the light lunch served in tiered containers and consumed by working men in India.
            There’s also a bar/lounge with rattan chairs and couches, where a number of specialty cocktails with names like Snow Leopard Salvation and Tempting Tigress are served, along with wine and beer tasting flights. 
During the pandemic chef Camilo Velasco, from Colombia, and his team had the time to create, change and fine tune dishes derived from many cuisines, which begins with a bread service with coconut curry and guava sauces and ginger pear chutney ($14).  Seasonings are not held back where warranted.
        The salad’s young lettuces and vegetables are grown at EPCOT’s Land Pavilion, and served with walnut-roasted tomato Mohammara dip from Aleppo and the Middle East, along with garlic bread crumbs, feta sumac and citrus vinaigrette ($13).  The spiced chickpea falafel with mint pistachio pesto, cumin-scented garlic raita yogurt and pickled vegetables was a superb mélange of flavors for an ingredient that easily can be bland ($10).
        There is also a nicely charred octopus with grilled corn salsa, chorizo,  a dash of tequila, and a mole negro with pickled onions and cilantro ($18).  Although listed as an appetizer, the honey and chili-glazed pork belly with chorizo, goat’s cheese biscuit and spicy hot tasso ham is further enriched with a poached egg ($15) and could readily serve as a main course.
      Among the mains, there’s a whole fried fish of the day, all from sustainable species, with coconut fried rice, green and red curry, a Thai green papaya slaw and crunchy peanuts ($44).  Tofu is another ingredient  that needs help to make it delectable, and here it is chermoula marinated and suffused with North African spices, seasonal vegetables and tomato chutney ($32 ).
        Tiffins’s version of  surf and turf is composed of South African spiced beef tenderloin and seared scallops cooked on a South African braai grill, with a potato parfait, coriander butter and cola demi-glace ($65). Veal is similarly spiced and served with a creamy mushroom ragôut and truffled polenta and black garlic ($52). Although a dish called “butter chicken” ($39) was enjoyable, sided with a chickpea croquette, English peas, young squash and pickled onions, it is not what most people would think of as typical Indian butter chicken with its rich tomato-cream  sauce. 
Deserts are more western in style, though they keep thematic names like the Lion King ($15), made of  luscious caramel mousse with a chocolate brownie and strawberry mango sauce; lemon meringue pie is wonderfully American, with ginger-lemon curd, lemon gel, buttery madeleine cake, graham cracker cookie and a lemon basil sauce ($13).



        Inside the Hollywood Studios is the beguiling replica of the famous  Brown Derby restaurant. Owing to my nostalgia for Old Hollywood and not having been around in those days when the original Brown Derby opened in 1926 and had a movie star clientele whose caricatures lined the walls, I have always enjoyed Disney’s evocative version of this legendary restaurant.
      The story goes that at a time when Hollywood restaurants had fanciful names like Kit Kat Club, Monkey Farm and Coconut Grove, Gloria Swanson’s ex-husband, Herbert Somborn, quipped, “You could open a restaurant in an alley and call it anything. If the food and service were good, the patient will just come flocking. It could even be called something as ridiculous as the Brown Derby.” He himself thereupon did so, opening in a brown building shaped like a derby hat.
         Inside the Disney version enormous care has been taken to reproduce the look of the original, with its archways, dark wood and buff color, roomy booths, chandeliers, brass fixtures and hundreds of caricatures of Old Hollywood stars.
         The menu also brings back some of the famous dishes, like the chopped salad named after owner Robert Cobb in 1937 that, along with the Caesar salad, is one of the greatest American contributions to gastronomy, here made with spit-roasted turkey, bacon, boiled egg, tomatoes, and blue cheese ($22). Crab Louis ($17), which comes from San Francisco’s Solari’s restaurant as of 1914, is faithfully rendered at Disney.
        There are classics like smoky roasted bone marrow with gold mustard seeds and fig bread crostini ($17) and duck à l’orange with broccolini and leg confit ($38) is a reminder of how good this dish used to be, as does the meaty coq au vin with pan-fried tomatoes, trumpet mushrooms, smoked bacon and a red wine reduction ($35). Tomato risotto ($31) seemed like the out-of-character dish on the menu and lacked a depth of flavor.
         For dessert you can even get New Orleans’s bananas foster on an apple cider cake ($12) and a good old-fashioned chocolate coconut cake with hazelnut ice cream ($12).
         The Brown Derby has a serious wine list, with plenty of good bottles under $70, while its “cocktails of the Stars,” and flights of martinis and margaritas are impressive.


         For decades, Disney’s flagship restaurant has been the Dining Room at Victoria & Albert in the Grand Floridian resort. Windowless, it was once a circular room of Victorian posh right down to the uniforms of the staff. It was all a bit too kitschy, but the menu, formerly under chef Scott Hunnel, was a stunning example of how high the company wanted to aim in order to compete with the finest restaurants in America. It was very extravagant, very expensive and always booked for dinner months in advance.
         And since re-opening, with Chef Matthew Sower (left) in the kitchen, it still is, with two tasting menus, a $295 set menu of nine courses and $375 for eleven, and a truly extraordinary wine list. One can also book a prized single table in the kitchen itself, where you can watch your meal being prepared, though I much prefer dining in a proper dining room, with all its decorative appeal and the pleasure of being surrounded by other guests.
         As re-cast, the room has a beautiful central rotunda whose light spreads onto the tables and whose perimeter is ringed with large sprays of flowers. Outside that perimeter are the rest of the tables, though the lighting there, on pale gray walls, is low, detracting from guests being able to appreciate the beauty of chef Sower’s careful plate presentations.
         You need to be prepared for a three- or four-hour meal whose individual dishes are described by a captain who will detail every ingredient and sauce down to its microgreens, as will the sommelier with the wines, which adds up to a lot of time (although Scott Hunnel has since told me this dated procedure is being tweaked).
        That said, Sower’s cuisine is as stunning as his predecessor’s, as is the work of pastry chef Kristine Farmer.
        I haven’t the space to list everything among the tasting menus my wife and I enjoyed, but we began with Belgian caviar with a cauliflower puree and lustrous Danish hiramasa (yellowtail) with carrot and Okinawa potatoes. (There are a lot of foreign ingredients used.) Wild turbot from Portugal was scented with fennel and baby leeks, while toothfish came with charred mushrooms and a spicy Asian sambal. Among the meat courses were Rohan duck with Black Mission figs and a balsamic vinegar to cut the sweetness, and Colorado bison with maple-glazed potatoes.
         Farmer’s desserts were as lovely to look at as to eat, including a “spectrum” of chocolate (right); and crème fraiche ice cream with a warm crème brûlée cookie.
         This is cuisine of a high order, based on rare ingredients and attention to detail. I do hope some of the effusive presentations will be cut back, but this would be a very special night out anywhere.




FOR 2023

By John Mariani

Margot Robbie and Leonardo di Caprio in "The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)

            As I predicted, the New York restaurant industry is on a soaring trajectory post-pandemic, despite fears of recession and, most important, a continuing lack of qualified staff, both in and out of the kitchen. Not only are restaurants in New York full—especially during the recent holidays—but significant new ones open every week with no sign of stopping.  Hope springs eternal in the New York restaurant sector, for as soon as one place closes, another one opens, and with so many landlords desperate to fill office buildings they have been willing to make good (well, at least reasonable) deals with restaurateurs over spaces the realtors cannot afford to stay empty. Restaurants are both an anchor and a draw for a building, as well as manifesting a vitality.
        So here’s what I believe will be the trends in New York restaurants for 2023. The rest of the country may not show such resilience, but no one should ever doubt the draw of Gotham’s gastronomy.


Travelers are back.  Like a bursting dam, foreigners and out-of-towners are booking hotels and restaurants post-Covid. Pent-up desire and held-back money—despite a strong dollar—are bringing in the Europeans and South Americans, though Asians have been slow to respond. Also, foreign travelers are as ravenous as domestic visitors to eat at restaurants they can’t find back home. The city expects to attract 61.3 million visitors in 2023, up 8.6% from last year, when international visitors more than tripled.


Fewer tasting menus. If you counted the number of people who even like 12-course tasting menus, I doubt you’d find more a thousand seats per night filled at such restaurants, where four-hour meals of tiny morsels and too much wine go for extravagant prices. Few restaurateurs are going to take the chance to find their audience to plan out the intricacies of such a meal’s ingredients, service and even the china.


Fewer trophy wine lists. A cogent, well selected wine list is more impressive than one that carries hundreds of label names (with perhaps one bottle in the cellar), because it indicates what wines go well with the chef’s food. The capital expenditure for a trophy list is now outrageous, with fewer Chinese and Russian billionaires around to show off.


No ethnic “food of the year.” Media feel the need to declare a kind of food the trendiest of a year. Remember Nordic cuisine? Last year it was Mexican. The year before Korean. This year I predict there will be no single cuisine that stands out because of media hype.


A surfeit of steakhouses. To a sure degree, opening up an expensive steakhouse is a no brainer, and in the past two years they’ve popped up everywhere, and all do good business. But this year that trend will slow, mainly because there is now a surfeit of them and too much competition, especially in Manhattan. In just the last couple of years COTE NYC, St. Anselm, Gage & Tollner, American Cut, Bowery Meat Co., Hawksmoor, Valbella and Ramerino Tuscan Prime (left) all have been added, so it’s not clear how many more the city can absorb.


More seafood. The supply of first quality seafood is never going to be adequate, which is why every restaurant in the city now serves farm-raised branzino. Still, New York does not have a plethora of seafood places below the paragon of Le Bernardin. But I think there will be some proliferation along the riverside neighborhoods on the Hudson and East River that will offer a wide variety of seafood.


Harlem Boom. With residential home sales soaring in Harlem and the expansion of Columbia University into the Upper West Side, which will have tens of thousands employees, students and apartment dwellers who want to eat locally, restaurants in Harlem should boom this year, especially west of Park Avenue. Places like Harlem Public, Fumo Harlem, Fieldtrip Harlem, Melba’s, Renaissance Harlem and Oliva Tapas (right) have proven to attract people from all over the city.


Vegetarian options. Instead of more vegetarian restaurants, more and more menus will offer more and more vegetable dishes outside the usual spinach and broccoli, not least more regional pastas and Asian restaurants using Asian greens. The switch of Eleven Madison Park to an all-vegetarian menu hasn’t spurred others to do so.


Regional Italian. You’d think that New York would have just about every region of Italy covered, from Trieste to Sicily, but the vast majority of the city’s Italian restaurants cover the boot, with favorite southern and a few northern dishes. Now, though, I expect to see more menus reflecting regions like Abruzzo, Liguria, Puglia, Sardinia and others that will distinguish them from their competitors.


Moderate French. New York may well have a sufficient  number of grand French restaurants, even though some food media have been predicting their demise for decades. But in the next year I see a return to bistro and brasserie interest, with comfortable, cozy atmosphere and the kinds of classic French dishes that never went out of style, as evidenced by new places like Corner Bar, La Brasserie (left), Le Rock and Daniel Boulud’s Le Gratin.


Prices. The great inflationary spiral may be peaking, after causing everything from rutabagas to Prime beef to soar. But, while diners continue to eat out as much as they do, restaurateurs are always sensitive to price and rare will be the one to increase prices if the other guy’s don’t budge. Based on my eating around NYC for the past year, I find that full portions of pasta now average $25, steaks $65 and desserts $14, not to mention $20 cocktails.


Outdoor dining. Although the municipal authorities have dragged their feet on rules and regulations, it seems that outdoor dining is here to stay in NYC. And restrictions on simple tables on the sidewalk have gotten easier for smaller storefronts.



By  John Mariani



“A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.”—Graham Greene


            Katie dug into the background research she always did first: primary sources, secondary sources, then requests for interviews with people she thought might lead her into further inquiries. She told David of the arrangement with Dobell, and David was happy to help any way he could, although it was not clear how much help he could be in what was initially to be a literary investigation.
            “Tell you what,” said Katie. “You seem to know a lot about the movie, so while I’m chasing after Graham Greene, how about you find out what you can about the movie?”
            “Katie, I’m no film scholar. I wouldn’t really know where to begin.”
            “Pretend you’re looking for clues to Mafia mob behavior by watching and researching mob movies out of Hollywood and Italy.  You always said mobsters like John Gotti copied the behavior and style they saw in the movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas, right? Y’know, life imitates art?”
            “That’s a pretty thin line of investigation,” said David, “but, hey, it’ll be fun. I’ll get a DVR of The Third Man—they probably have a copy at Blockbuster—and watch it over and over for clues. What are you up to?”
            “I’m reading all I can get my hands on about Greene. There’s a recent two-volume authorized bio of him by a guy named Norman Sherry, and a collection of Greene’s letters just came out this year. I love that kind of research.”
            “I know you do. Okay, see what you come up with and I will on my end.”
            Katie had every intention of reading every page of Sherry’s two 500-page volumes, but first she just checked the index for any references to The Third Man, Carol Reed, Orson Welles, and Harry Lime to get some background. She figured that, since Greene wrote the novella in 1948 and the movie came out a year later, Sherry’s first volume, covering Greene’s life from 1904-1939, was going to be useful only as a peek into what made Greene tick as a young man. The second volume, from 1939-1955, covered the years most pertinent to Greene’s spy career and The Third Man. Katie felt a third volume, on the years leading up to Greene’s death in 1991, wouldn’t be very productive, nor was the final volume likely to appear any time soon (the time between the publication of the first two volumes had been six years).
            Katie would read a chapter of the bio while checking to see if there were any relevant comments by Greene in the published letters.  She skipped around the letters when this or that name came up, and, remembering that Harry Lime was involved in selling bad—actually,  diluted—penicillin, she was excited to find a 1950 letter by Greene written to a Roman Catholic chaplain in London who’d insisted that there was no evidence that diluted penicillin was dangerous, chiding Greene by asking, “Is the story—as it seems to me—just a leg-pull?”
            “Dear Father Harrington,” Greene wrote back, “the penicillin story is not a leg pull as it was a definite racket of which a description was given to me by the chief of police in Vienna. The same kind of racket took place I believe in Berlin. The point of danger and using diluted penicillin is the fact that even if you injected somebody with plain water the chances would be that you would cause death, or so I am told by doctors. It was the other point that in cases of meningitis very quick treatment with penicillin is needed, and in the case of the children in Vienna the diluted penicillin was not strong enough to work and it was too late for any other remedy, but in the case of the children losing their minds I am told that this might of been caused by the polluted water. I feel sure that there are several medical inaccuracies in the story but the general idea is based on fact.”   
Finding out more about such drug sales seemed a good place to start in her research, beyond the Greene bios, so she called David to ask whom they might speak to about such criminality going back to the post-war years in Europe.
            “That business with the bad penicillin is gruesome stuff in the movie,” said David over the phone. “That scene in the children’s hospital: All Reed had to do was show Holly Martins’s face to see how horrified he was at what his friend Harry Lime had caused.”
            “I remember watching that and cringing,” said Katie. “So do you know anyone who would have knowledge, or even records, of such activity right after the war?”
            “I can see if Gerald Kiley has such info,” said David, referring to the Interpol agent he and Katie had worked with on the Vermeer case.  “I think Interpol was founded before World War II, and they must have been pretty busy right after it.”
            In fact, Interpol, under its original name of the International Criminal Police Organization, was founded in 1923 with the mission to coordinate
all worldwide criminal police authorities in dealing with international crimes ranging from organized crime and drug trafficking to war crimes and genocide. It took the name Interpol in 1956.
            Gerald Kiley had been of enormous help on the Vermeer case and David felt Interpol’s files should contain info on the illicit drug trade in Vienna in the post-war years.
            David met Kiley at his office near the U.N. building.
            “So you haven’t retired yet?” asked David, remembering that a year before Kiley had said he would be by then.
            “I will, just not yet,” said Kiley. “Y’know, the older I get in this job the more I’m intrigued by the vast number of truly despicably evil people in this world who need to be put behind bars.”
            “Glad to hear it,” said David, “because I’m here to ask you about one of the worst in post-war Europe.”
            “Who would that be?”
            “Harry Lime.”
            “Harry Lime? Wasn’t he the villain in The Third Man movie?”
            “Same guy.”
            “But he was not a real person, David.”
            “True, but Katie Cavuto has a notion that it would fun to try to find out if Graham Greene, the author, based Lime on a real person.  Greene had been in the British Secret Service during the war. Katie thinks there’s a good story in trying to find out if there not only was a real Harry Lime but that he might still be alive somewhere.”
            “And, as with the Vermeer article, she’s basing this on sheer supposition, without any evidence?”
            “More like wish fulfillment. But, hey, wherever Katie goes, I’m happy to follow.”
            “I figured that out a long time ago, David. So, how am I supposed to help you this time, with a bad guy who never lived?”
            “Well, do you know if Interpol would have info on any such drug crimes after the war?”
            “That was long before my time, or anyone else’s in the department, but I guess I can ask around and see. We’ve been building a good database over the past several years, so I’ll see if there’s anything there. Otherwise, if there is info on that period, it’s likely to be in our headquarters in Lyon, France (left). I doubt very much stuff that old has been transferred from old paper folders to computer discs. I can ask.”
            “That would be great. I’m sure Katie wouldn’t mind a trip to Lyon.”
            “With you in tow, I suppose.”
            “Never occurred to me.”

To read previous chapters of GOING AFTER HARRY LIME go to the archive

John Mariani, 2017



 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.



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


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2023