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  April 9, 2023                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 



"Still Life" by Adrian Coorte (1660)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. April 12, at 11AM EDT,I will be interviewing Jazz musician Judy Carmichael. Go to: The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.



By John Mariani



      The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) was Ian Fleming’s twelfth and last Bond novel (published posthumously), and it was fairly limp (and poorly reviewed) by comparison to its antecedent, You Only Live Twice, in whose ending the British spy was recovering in Japan from amnesia and needed to go to Russia to jog his memory. The Man with Golden Gun slides over whatever happened there, opening with the news that MI6 presumed 007 dead for more than a year, only to find him return so brainwashed by the Russians that he tries to assassinate his boss M with a cyanide pistol.
      After being “de-brainwashed,” Bond is back on the job, sent to Jamaica (a frequent Fleming location) to kill Francisco “Pistols” Scaramanga, a paid assassin of several British agents. He is known as "The Man with the Golden Gun" because his preferred weapon was a gold-plated Colt .45 revolver with solid-gold bullets.
            Bond is said to be still drinking too much, but there are few references to his appetites in the book; he still favors bourbon over Scotch and Champagne over all. M, over lunch at his club Blades, orders an Algerian wine called Infuriator, which Bond loathes. Scaramanga prefers Jamaican Red Stripe beer.
       Bond masquerades as Scaramanga’s personal assistant at his bordello in the Thunderbird Hotel, where 007 is welcomed with a meal of eggs Benedict and a bottle of Walker’s Deluxe bourbon. Bond learns that Scaramanga is involved with a syndicate of American gangsters and KGB agents. Not much of a world-shattering threat here: Scaramanga and his investors want to increase the value of the Cuban sugar crop, run drugs and prostitutes into the U.S.
            Over lunch with Scaramanga, Bond orders Beefeater’s pink gin with “plenty of bitters” to go with shrimp cocktail, steak and French fries.
     Bond meets up with his CIA friend Felix Leiter, pretending to be an electrical engineer in Scaramanga's meeting room, where Leiter learns that Scaramanga plans to kill Bond. At dinner in the hotel dining room, the meal consists of  “desiccated smoked salmon with a thimbleful of small-grained black caviar, filets of some unnamed native fish (possibly silk fish) in a cream sauce. A
poulet suprême’ . .  . and the bombe surprise.”
      After a KGB agent exposes them, Leiter and 007 manage to kill many of the bad guys and hop aboard Scaramanga’s train, where Bond, even during a gunfight, fantasizes about a meal of cold lobster salad, cold cut meats, pineapple and local fruit, roasted in a stuffed suckling pig with rice and peas, and champagne, rum punch and Tom Collins cocktails. Both Bond and Scaramanga are wounded, and Scaramanga limps off into the swamps. When Bond finds him, he is eating a boa constrictor and drinking its blood, offering some to Bond, who replies, “No thanks. I prefer my snake grilled with hot butter sauce.”
      The villain offers  Bond money—he refuses—and asks Bond not to kill him in cold blood and to allow him a moment to pray—“I’m a Catholic!” he declares—but then pulls out a golden derringer with a snake venom bullet and shoots Bond, who returns fire, kills his foe, then collapses in pain.
      It takes weeks for Bond to recover fully, and then M offers him a knighthood, which 007 mulls over, saying it makes him shudder at the thought of being called Sir James Bond.   


      The 1974 film made from The Man with the Golden Gun  was the ninth, and Roger Moore’s second appearance as the British agent. The plot had nothing to do with the book’s, as became the standard practice in subsequent Bond films. There is little reference to food and drink, though right at the movie’s beginning Scaramanga’s midget assistant/henchman Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) brings a tray of Moët Champagne and a bottle of Guinness Stout with oysters to Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and his moll, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams).
      Bond is sent to find Scaramanga (who is known to have a third nipple) after MI6 receives a golden bullet etched with “007” on it. Bond retrieves another golden bullet from a belly dancer’s navel. (She, too, is partial to Moët; Bond orders Dom Pérignon at his hotel; both are Moët brands, which tells you something about product placement). The bullet is traced to a gun maker in Macau.
      Accompanied by Andrea, Bond goes to Hong Kong and checks into the Peninsular Hotel (left), then goes to the Bottoms Up Club, where Nick Nack steals a high energy device called the Solex Agitator. Bond is arrested for pulling his own gun outside the club, but the Hong Kong police, led by Lieutenant Hip, bring him to meet M and Q onboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which, after a fire in 1972 capsized and was left rotting in the Kowloon harbor. There he is ordered to retrieve the Solex Agitator.
Posing as Scaramanga (complete with fake nipple), Bond flies to Bangkok to meet entrepreneur Hai Fat, who had the scientist who created the Solex killed. Bond’s plan fails when Scaramanga himself is found to be operating at Fat's estate at Dragon Garden, Castle Peak Road, Castle Peak. Bond is then captured and sent to a  martial arts academy at Muang Boran, where students are instructed to kill him.  Bond fights two of them and is then rescued by Hip and two teenage girls trained in martial arts.     
Fat’s men follow Bond, who escapes on a  motorized
 sampan on Bangkok’s canal system. He reunites with his assistant Mary Goodnight, with whom he has a dinner at the Oriental Hotel, where the waiter offers them a bottle of Phuyuck ’74 (the same year as the movie) wine. 
Scaramanga kills Fat and obtains the Solex. Anders begs Bond to kill Scaramanga, and promises to get the Solex, but she is murdered at a Muay Thai
 boxing event at the Lumpini Stadium the next day.  Bond does obtain the Solex with the help of Goodnight, who is kidnapped by Nick Nack, with Bond in pursuit, not, however, in his usual Aston Martin but instead in a borrowed AMC Hornet.
      Bond takes a seaplane to Scaramanga's  private island at Phang Nga Bay, where Nick Nack receives him with a bottle of Dom Pérignon ‘64 (Bond says he prefers the ’62). Scaramanga destroys Bond’s plane with his Solex laser, then, over a lunch of mushrooms and other delicacies, Bond comments on his host’s choice of wine, “Hmm, slightly reminiscent of the ’34 Mouton.”  Scaramanga says “I must get some for my cellar.”
      He then proposes a duel on the beach. After pacing off, 007 finds Scaramanga has vanished. Nick Nack leads Bond back to Scaramanga’s house, which has a fun house of mirrors and diversions. Bond manages to kill Scaramanga and retrieve the Solex, blowing up the island and taking his foe’s Chinese junk to escape with Goodnight for an eight-hour sail to Hong Kong. 





  623 Ninth Avenue


             By  John Mariani   


     No one is sure how Hell’s Kitchen, the neighborhood bound by the Hudson River on the west, 30th Street on the south and 59th Street on the north, got its name. Some say it’s a tangling of the name of a 19th century German restaurant, Heil’s Kitchen, others because of its disrepute as a crime-ridden area. Yet, even though real estate developers dub it “Clinton,” no New Yorker uses that name.
      Whatever its origins, Hell’s Kitchen has long been a section teeming with restaurants of every stripe, not least the Jewish delis of the Garment District. These days it is more diverse than ever, with a slew of new Latin American restaurants that add measurably to the area’s gastronomic clout.
         La Pulperia is very much one of those showcasing a panoply of regional cuisines, based on the creativity of Executive Chef Miguel Molina, who hails from Guerrero, on  Mexico’s west coast. He arrived in New York in 1996 and worked in French and Italian restaurants throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, and now creates his own ideas from a long career that began on his parent’s farm restaurant.
        The interior of La Pulperia has a maritime motif throughout, but I wish that the designer, Andres Gomez, had put more thought into the acoustics, for this is a very loud restaurant with booming music, whose 88 decibels equate to the sound of a bulldozer coming through the room.  I happened to be dining with an interior designer, who said the room had not a single soft, sound-absorbing surface or anti-buffering components that would lessen the noise and heighten the joviality of the place.
        That said, the food is terrific. Tuna con Tomate (right) is a twist on the simpler, traditional pan con tomate found in Spain; pan-seared tuna is sliced thin and placed on toast with a spicy salsa made of grated heirloom tomato, lemon zest, garlic, parsley, chives and aleppo peppers ($20). Croquetas de Bacalao stay more traditional and are wonderful to bite into as long as you know they are piping hot, filled with salted cod and served with citrus aïoli ($15). Smoky sun-dried tomato tapenade is the base for a yellowtail h
amachi tostada, with avocado, jalapeños, and radishes, topped with crispy fried leeks and ancho chile powder ($20).
           The ceviches are glistening fresh, and the mixto ($19) is the best way to sample the range, as a cocktail made with shrimp, white fish, squid, jalapeño, red onions, cilantro and avocado. Parsnips add a sweet flavor to grilled octopus, along with a dash of white truffle oil, shaved fennel and caramelized onion (($27).
     Another mixto of seafood (right), cooked as a main course and intended for two or more, is a Brazilian favorite composed of abundant squid, langoustine, mussels, white fish, scallops, clams, cod and peppery Spanish chorizo in a dandelion-based broth, topped with green coconut-cilantro rice ($38). Argentina adds to the menu with a huge parrillada (priced for two at $110, but it can feed three  or four handily) of New York strip sirloin, skirt steak, short ribs, chicken, chorizo, morcilla, salsa criolla, papas à la Provençal, and a green salad spiked with chimichurri. The simplest entrée is the day’s whole fish, expertly deboned (market price).
         Desserts ($12) include a “Volcano Chocolate” lava cake exuding dulce de leche, topped with orange mascarpone cream. I can never refuse hot, fried churros fritters, which are eaten throughout the day in Spain, and are served with a rich, warm dulce de leche.
         You’d expect an array of fanciful cocktails and won’t be disappointed, along with both white and red sangria. They also stock dozens of tequilas and mezcals that would take weeks to go through.
        La Pulperia is one of those New York Latino restaurants that show a range of  foods and ingredients you’d have to travel throughout Central and South America to find with such radiance and creativity.


Open for dinner nightly; brunch Sat. & Sun.


By  John Mariani

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



         Joseph Southey called Leonid Lentov to ask if he’d see the two Americans and was not surprised when the Russian said he would be very happy to do so.  David followed up and was equally surprised when Lentov did not even ask why David was calling, saying only, “Yes, yes, Southey told me about you. Come over whenever you want. I may have some good stories for you.”
         As a detective David was always suspicious of people who too readily volunteered information, not least those who might have something to gain from being so readily open to questions. He also knew not to trust everything any spy would tell him because such people were trained liars, and often intertwined fact and fiction after many re-tellings of so many “good stories” that the truth was often no more than a kernel in a rotted-out cob of fictions. 
Still, David was one of the best at clearing away the outright fabrications of informers and cutting closer to what probably happened. David knew that the more a person spoke voluntarily the more likely he was to provide good leads while trying to embellish his own importance. The more they gave an interrogator, the more informers believed they would be believed. But with spies—and David had no particular experience interrogating them—the game was different. Agents—especially double agents--were trained to undergo interrogation, even torture, knowing full well that they only needed to hold up as long as it seemed plausible that they could stand no more pain. Of course, the interrogators were well aware of this, too, which made the whole thing of questionable value.  And the informers always had good stories set to be told, some actually the truth, some even exposing their colleagues to danger, just enough to make them sound cooperative. It was all part of the training.
         David was well familiar with such tactics, but he always asked himself, what’s in all this for the person under scrutiny? Is he really giving up under duress? Or is he begging for mercy in order to spread dis-information? Or does he really want to get free of his criminal past and gain protection from the interrogators?  It could be a combination of all of those reasons, but saving one’s dignity never had anything to do with any of them. Sometimes money did.

         In the case of Leonid Lentov there was no question of offering him money, first, because there was no money to offer and, second, unlike in police dealings with criminals, bribery was completely forbidden under the journalistic code Katie lived by. The most she could do was buy a source a meal or a few drinks.  Money was never promised or passed in an envelope. Lentov didn’t sound like he expected any.
         Southall (above) was a suburban part of London not in line for gentrification. It was poor, with a large enough complement of Indians to earn the nickname “Little India.” For that reason, the storefronts were crucibles of aromas floating out into the street air—scents of cumin, fenugreek, cardamon, roasted peanuts and sesame seeds, the same smells David remembered from the Indian restaurant he’d eaten at on Brompton Road. The grocery store signs were written in Punjabi, the DVD stores were plastered with posters of Bollywood stars, and a pub called The Glassy Junction even accepted rupees. 
         In every way the settling of Leonid Lentov in Southall was a form of secluded banishment by MI6. For, although he was in no danger of being assassinated by the Soviets, shunting him out of the center of London was both prudent and a deliberate snub to a man for whom MI6 had no further use, much as the KGB did with Kim Philby. Out of sight and mind.
         There was no tube station at Southall, so Katie and David took a train out of Paddington Station, a fifteen-minute ride, arriving at a small brick-clad station with bilingual signs in English and Punjabi. Lentov’s flat was about five blocks away, but he’d asked the two Americans to meet him at The Glassy Junction on South Road.
         The pub was in a nondescript three-story building topped with a sign saying GLASSY JUNCTION in English and a larger-than-life cut-out of a mustachioed, turbaned Sikh above the entrance. Katie and David went inside to find the pub looked like so many others, except there was a Sikh behind the bar, a painting of cows above the bar and Indian pop music playing. From a rear corner table a large man was gesturing to them to come over. Though bearded, the man was clearly not a Sikh.
         “Welcome!” the man said in a booming, accented voice. “I am Leonid Lentov, and you must be the Americans who called me.”
         Katie and David introduced themselves and sat down in the booth where Lentov had been drinking a pint of ale. He got up to greet them, six feet-four inches of him, with a beard somewhere between Rasputin’s and Andrei Solzhenitsyn’s in length, gray and unkempt, as was his rough tweed jacket.  Lentov’s face, however, showed no trace of peasant blood: Very handsome, with high cheek bones, thick black brows and eyes that had the glint of a fox rather than a wolf in them, as if you had to pay strict attention to see if they ever blinked. It also seemed clear to Katie and David that alcohol had worked its way deep into his demeanor and physical appearance.  A century before he might have been White Russian but he was born under the U.S.S.R. and grew up a good Communist. 
          “So how do you know my friend Southey?” he asked, signaling the bartender to bring two more ales.
         David explained how they’d come to meet Southey through Frank English, and how Southey had said Lentov would be a good source for Katie’s story.
         “So you are a journalist,” he said as a statement to Katie, “and you, sir, are an ex-New York City policeman?”
         “I was chief detective investigating mob activities there, yes.”
         “Italian Mafia, correct?” Lentov’s English was excellent—he had been in the diplomatic corps—with just a slight rolling of his r’s and hard s’s.  “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about them in New York anymore. The Russian Mafia will push them out. Armenians and Albanians, too. They are the worst of all. Kill their own brother for nothing.”
         David needed to save face, saying, “Oh, yeah, they were in my sights, too.”  He then rattled off the names of some of the eastern European gang leaders. “Armen Kazarian (left), Razhden Shulaya (right), a lot of other creeps. I retired a few years ago, so I haven’t kept in touch.”
         Lentov smiled and leaned back on the tufted banquette. “So, what do you want to know? About Graham Greene? I knew him a little. Burgess and MacLean? I was just entering service when they escaped. Philby, him I knew well.”
         Katie and David had discussed beforehand that they would allow Lentov to tell his own story before getting into the one they were pursuing. David suspected that this was not Lentov’s first drink of the day and that the Russian would be more forthcoming as the afternoon went on. David paid for Katie’s and his ales and gave the bartender a fifty-pound note, indicating he should keep the pints coming. Katie was supposed to charm Lentov before asking the questions she needed answers to.
         “Just to fill in some background, Mr. Lentov,” she said, “I’d like to know more about your own career and how you got to this point in your life.”
         Lentov finished his glass and called for another. “Beware such questions—may I call you Katie?—because Russians like nothing more than talking about themselves, especially when their lives were, shall we say, put in jeopardy. We all grow up believing we are guilty of something.”
         “We have all day,” said Katie, thinking that her own Catholic upbringing had instilled the same feelings of guilt.
         And so for the next hour and a half Leonid Lentov spoke of his life, one that had come to a dead end too early, especially after enjoying the perks of being in the Soviet diplomatic corps in London after the war, where he'd lived off and on in the 19th century Victorian mansion, in Kensington Palace Gardens, the largest building on the street (left). 
      In so many ways Lentov seemed destined for the kind of life most Russian could barely dream of. His family had, indeed, been white Russians—the name given to those who opposed the Communists during the Civil War—but bribery had brought them through the worst of it, and Lentov’s father, who spoke perfect French and English, worked his way up into the diplomatic corps, where his son Leonid was expected to follow. Highly intelligent and ambitious, Leonid Lentov rose quickly within the Soviet system, even as he clung to the idea that he was superior to all his communist superiors.
         Another round of drinks arrived.
         “I knew that eventually I would be tapped by the K.G.B. to work as an agent in London,” he said. “Everyone was. It was no secret. The British knew we were all spies to one degree or another, and we knew that many of our opposites in Moscow were MI6. It was all a game. Very few people got hurt.”
         “So, you mean, if you or your opposite were discovered to be a spy, you wouldn’t be executed?” asked Katie.
         Lentov laughed. “Of course not! We were too valuable alive. That’s why it was such a tremendous shock and embarrassment for the Brits to lose not just Burgess and MacLean but also their handler, Kim Philby. It was a farce and many heads rolled at MI6—figuratively speaking, of course.  The only time anyone was executed was if one of your own people was found to be a double agent, like those three were. They all would have hanged if they’d been arrested.”
         “So catching you was something of a coup, then,” said David, using a slight bit of flattery.
         Lentov shrugged. “I was not a big fish. But I would rather have stayed in London once I was found out than go back to Moscow, where I would be living like a peasant for the rest of my life.”
         Lentov looked around the pub and said, “Of course, living the way I do out here is not what I expected, but it’s a much better life than I would have had in Moscow, or wherever the Soviets would have sent me.”
         “So, you were offered a deal by British Intelligence,” said Katie.
         Lentov nodded and said, “It was probably time for me to jump anyway. By the 1980s I’d become completely disillusioned with the Communist ideologues running my country—Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko. Philby would rage at the TV every time Brezhnev (right) would come on. Men of no intelligence, mere bureaucrats with no idea of what was going on in the rest of the world. Gorbachev did, of course, but by then I was working for MI6 as a double agent.”
         Lentov described how the Brits had shoved him into a car, brought him to MI6 and confronted him with the evidence that he had been responsible for the arrest of two of their agents in East Germany and threatened him with a life sentence in prison if he did not cooperate.
         “The choice was easy,” said Lentov. “I was getting older, I enjoyed my life here in London, had no family, and came and went pretty much as I wished. My spying for the Soviets rarely involved anything as important as my exposing those two British agents—for which I was highly praised by Moscow but got nothing from it—and the Brits were only asking me to stay put in the Soviet Embassy here and feed them information.”
         The arrangement didn’t last long. After three years Lentov was due to be re-assigned to a post in Pakistan he had no interest in taking.
         “I’m sure the Soviets were on to me by then,” he said, “so I told my MI6 handlers the game was over.  And here I am, living in Southall, drinking in an Indian pub, telling my sad story to two Americans.” He raised his glass and toasted in Russian, “Nasdrovia!”
         Although David was well familiar with why turn-coats—whether against the crime mobs or intelligence agencies—were spared assassination, though it was not clear to Katie.
         “So you never felt you had to look over your shoulder after the Soviets found out about you?” she asked.
         Lentov chuckled.  “Thank you for your concern, Katie, but in my line of work, I was always looking over my shoulder. Now, like so many other former spies, I am a toothless dog. I know nothing, I have access to nothing, and, like Kim Philby, I am worth nothing to anyone. And the Cold War is long over. We are all good friends now, correct?”
         That was Katie’s opening to begin her line of questioning about Philby, or anyone else that Graham Greene might have known in the K.G.B. right after the war.
         “Well, then,” she began. “As someone who was in London all that time and knew all the agents and double agents, as well as Philby and Graham Greene, can you throw any light on what I’m looking for? I assume you’ve seen the film The Third Man?”
         It was clear that the alcohol was having little effect on Lentov but he seemed very happy to tell Katie and David whatever they wanted to know—although David suspected Lentov might also tell them a lot of what he thought they’d want to hear.
         “The movie was very close to the way things operated after the war,” said Lentov. “Greene had been in MI6, you know, so he got the details right.”
         “Would that include criminal activities like selling bad penicillin on the black market?” asked David.
       “Very probably,” Lentov answered. “But that would be what you call chicken feed compared to other drugs.”
         “And so you think Greene would have been right to think the Soviets would provide a safe refuge for Harry Lime in their sector?”
         “Absolutely! As they say in the movie, everyone in Vienna was involved in the black market, but the Soviets had the means and power to make it flourish and to take their unfair share of the profits.”
         “So, in effect,” said Katie, “Harry Lime was working with and for the Russians.”
         Lentov nodded and said, “But let’s remember that Lime was a fictional character, Katie. But, if he did exist, yes, the Russians would in all likelihood be his benefactors. They would take their cut, yes.”
         “So,” Katie asked slowly, “do you think Greene based Lime on anyone he knew in Vienna? Could it have been Kim Philby?”
         Lentov reminded the Americans that Philby was not known to have been anywhere near Vienna in those days, and, he said, “It’s difficult for me to believe that he could be acting as a double agent somewhere else and still have time to run a drug operation in Vienna.”
         “True,” said David, “but we’re not looking for an exact identification with Lime. If Greene already knew—or even suspected—that Philby was a double agent while continuing to befriend Greene, do you think it possible that it could have been the case that Philby was involved as well in the black market in Vienna, or anywhere else in Europe, after the war.”
         Lentov sat back, breathed deeply, looked at his watch, then called for another pint.
         “Let me tell what I know of Philby, before and after his escape from Beirut,” said Lentov. “You know, before I was outed as a spy, I could travel back and forth to Moscow and, since I’d known him in London, I was able to visit him at his flat. I found him almost as fascinating as Greene did, but Philby and I both used Greene as a mouthpiece. He was such a gullible man. When Greene died, I felt rather sorry for him.”
         Lentov went on to describe Philby as a master of disguise—not make-up and wigs, but in changing his physicality to put a person at ease upon meeting them while at the same time impressing them with his personal charisma. Philby was handsome, well read, well traveled, and, among his colleagues at MI6, deeply respected for his insight. How many times had he saved comrades’ lives by his ingenuity, getting them out of harm’s way with uncanny precision—as he had with Burgess and MacLean! How fine a family man he was when he married for the second time and fathered five children! A drinker who never seemed to get drunk! A man who could speak with authority on the best hotels, the best hunting rifles, the best coffee in Venice, the finest restaurant in Istanbul! Yes, were a novelist to choose the ideal British spy, Kim Philby would have been ideal.
         “Philby’s greatest gift was to appear to be your very good friend,” said Lentov. “ I thought he was to me. Even after I became his opposite—a Russian who spied for the British—we had a marvelous relationship. It’s not all that unusual among retired spies, you know. Rather like RAF pilots buying drinks for Luftwaffe pilots they shot down in the war and vice versa. Philby never accused me being a turncoat. He knew how the game worked. Mostly we just talked about the old days. Of course, his old days were far more exotic than mine.”
         Katie interrupted, “Is it true that—at least from all I’ve read and gotten from others—that, although he insisted he never gave up his ideals about communism, he was a very sad, disillusioned man at the end of his life.”
         Lentov shook his head and said, “Philby ended up like me. His ideals? I don’t know. His benefactors at the K.G.B. certainly did not treat him the way he had hoped. He became a heavy drinker.”      
         Lentov told of how Philby had expected full military honors on his return to Moscow, and perhaps a position high in the senior rankings of the K.G.B.  Instead he was ignored, and, with his third wife—a Russian twenty years his junior—he lived in a small, dreary flat near Pushkin Square, with little or no access to the outside world except via mail—all of which was censored, coming in and going out, including Graham Greene’s many letters. The K.G.B. told Philby they had information that MI6 was going to try to assassinate him, so he needed full-time guards to protect him. 
         When visitors—Lentov excepted—sought to visit Philby, they would be met at the Moscow airport and put in a taxi whose driver pulled a curtain and was not allowed to speak except by a car phone with authorities.  At Philby’s address, the visitor was greeted by a K.G.B. agent and escorted upstairs to the flat.  At an exact, pre-appointed time, the visitor was required to leave, first frisked to see if Philby had given the visitor something to get out of the country.
         “I saw him perhaps six times in all those years before I myself was moved out here to Southall,” said Lentov. “Then I was allowed no contact with him whatsoever.  Greene might have before he died.”
         Katie and David seemed drained by everything Lentov had told them. Katie even felt a little sorry for Philby, while David knew that was part of Lentov’s intent. Yet, despite it all, they were still no closer to Harry Lime than before.
         Katie thanked Lentov for everything he’d shared with them, then said, “Well, I suppose this is still very much a mystery. If only we could actually talk to Kim Philby, have him shed light on it all.”
         “Well,” said Lentov, “that would be very difficult to arrange.”
         “Especially since Philby’s dead,” said David.
         Lentov smiled, paused, then said, “Oh, Philby’s not dead.”

John Mariani, 2016



By John Mariani


Given their rarity—usually by design—great wines are made to be expensive: the 2019 DRC’s Romanée-Conti is currently selling at $34,000, and it’s nowhere close to being ready to drink. But there are also too many wines whose makers think they should be getting prices above $100 a bottle merely on chutzpah. More sensible vintners know they will sell more good wine when it’s priced more amenably. Here are several that make very good sense and are worth every penny.


FULLDRAW FD2 2018 ($55)—This young Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA owned by Connor and Rebecca McMahon produces Rhône varietals, like this well fruited Grenache and Syrah. This is a boutique winery founded ten years ago on a 100-acre site with rich limestone that provides their wines with a brisk minerality. The price is just right for this caliber of Rhône Ranger, which are too often big bombs of little finesse.

This Barossa Valley Australian Shiraz is a collaboration between Managing Director Amelia Nolan, and consultants Alberto Antonini and Pedro Parra, as part of Napa-based New Frontier Wine Co.'s premium wine collection. It is a sumptuous Shiraz without any of the cloying pluminess of many from Down Under. Its herbaceous notes help mellow the tannins. The alcohol is about 14.2%. Excellent choice for game meats and duck.


FEL WINE ANDERSON VALLEY CHARDONNAY 2021 ($34)—I am among many who have long criticized so many California Chardonnays for tasting like candy-coated charred oak, but FEL enjoys the Anderson Valley cool climate to produce far more balanced wines sourced from Ferrington Vineyard. This Chard spends a long 10 months sur lie aging and fermenting in neutral French oak. Director of Winemaking Ryan Hodgins and winemaker Sarah Green insist on a "hands off" approach in the cellar, so the wine does not taste manipulated to taste a particular way, letting Nature takes its course instead.


CHAMPAGNE GREMILLET ($40)—In the rarified culture of Champagne, where houses measure their esteem by centuries, Gremillet,  in Aube, is a late bloomer, having been founded only in 1978. Their blends come exclusively from the first pressing and have a longer aging process than the AOC rules suggest, i.e., 22 months for their non-vintage Champagnes, which is where the bargains are. Jean-Michel Gremillet received 30 acres of vines (most in Côte de Bars) from his mother, Lulu, and now his eldest son, Jean-Christophe, is cellar master.  Because they are not bound by old traditions, Gremillet still experiments year by year and now has an array of Champagnes in their portfolio, all costing about $40-$50.


BODEGA TRIVENTO RESERVE MALBEC  2021 ($11). I don’t know who pronounces such things, but April 17 has been declared Malbec World Day, which is a good enough excuse to enjoy this underrated varietal that grows well in Argentina. Trivento is the country’s best selling winery. With such clout it can appeal even to vegans because the wine is fined without using animal by-products. Whatever.  At $34 this is a remarkable Malbec, which is a dark blending varietal in Bordeaux but here shows nuance and levels of rich flavors that will go well with any red meat (which is ironic, vegans don’t eat meat and don’t know what they’re missing.)


MACROSTIE SPARKLING BRUT 2019 ($48)—The options for those who don’t want to pay Champagne prices for a fine sparkling wine are now myriad, and MacRostie’s 2019 is testament to advances made in the category. Following her reputation for making highly valued Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, winemaker Heidi Bridenhagen made this cuvée of those two varietals from San Giacomo Vineyards for the Chardonnay and Thale’s Estate for the Pinot Noir. Nature delivered a fine growing season in Sonoma in 2019, so delicacy could be achieved without sacrificing good fruit.  After tirage, the wine was aged for 30 months to develop flavors and aromas. It makes a fine aperitif with just about any first course as well as seafood.


CROSSBARN SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR 2020 ($37)—Paul Hobbs, whose namesake winery is among my favorite California estates, founded Crossbarn in 2000, beginning with Cabernet Sauvignon, and is now making a range of wines that include this well priced Pinot Noir . Balance is what I seek in Pinot Noir, which is a tricky wine to get right, but this one has the right fruit and acid in tandem with a structure of tannin. It’s interesting to find that Crossbarn’s website recommends this wine with pizza with sausage, bucatini all’amatriciana and five-spiced braised pork shoulder, with which I heartily agree.



NIPPOZZANO VECCHIE VITI CHIANTI RUFINA 2019 ($23)—The highly promoted virtues of Chianti Classico have become so hazy because of changes in the D.O.C.G. rules that backing away to sample some of the bottlings from the less well-known regions of Tuscany that make Chianti is all to everybody’s benefit—especially since Rufina itself is  now in the D.O.C.G. category. It’s made from Sangiovese and other local varietals and is a label with the famous Frescobaldi vintners umbrella. The wine spends aging time in both barrels and bottle, emerging at an ideal 13.5% alcohol to give it both body and layers of peppery flavors characteristic of Chianti.


DR. KONSTANTIN FRANK CÉLEBRÉ RIESLING CREMANTE ($25)—Dr. Konstantin Frank has been an innovator for many decades in New York’s Finger Lakes and this superb 100% Riesling displays the tantalizing quality of this tangy varietal. The grapes are very lightly pressed, with the secondary fermentation taking place in bottle for a minimum of 24 months. The slight sweetness is very appealing, as you’d find in first-rate Trocken German Rieslings. It’s good for a feast, not least with shellfish, fishes like salmon and blue-veined cheeses.



"One of Mr. Torrisi’s gifts is his ability to let you taste two ideas at once, as if he were playing a harmonic line under the melody. Some of his dishes remind me of Brian Wilson’s songs. They can have a gentle, lyrical and introspective feeling while showing a remarkable grasp of techniques that can be used to achieve new effects. (Mr. Carbone, in this scenario, is Mike Love, or at least his positive traits; the restaurant that most clearly bears his imprint, Carbone, is a master class in manipulating the appeal of shared memories, good times and fun, fun, fun.)." Pete Wells, NY Times (3/1/23)


 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.


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