Virtual Gourmet

  September 10,   2023                                                                                           NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


JP Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man (1955)



IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter next week because Mariani will be in Austria looking for wonderful places and wonderful restaurants for my readers to visit. But, since many people might not survive with their weekly chapter of Going After Harry Lime, I'm giving you two chapters this week to tide you over.



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

CHAPTERS 39 and 40
By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani



           Three years ago I wrote that the re-opening of Johnny’s Reef restaurant on City Island in the Bronx had signaled a return to normalcy after the deprivations of the pandemic. There, under blue skies and beside the lapping Long Island Sound, thousands of people come every day and night to gather on the outdoor patio or under a new summer roof to feast on impeccably fresh seafood—steamed or fried, with corn on the cob, frothy piña coladas and ice cold Coronas. Afterwards, some will head up to Orchard Beach for Salsa Sundays.
          Having myself returned to Johnny’s last week, I found it as bustling as ever, set at the very tip of that remarkable one-mile finger of land jutting out into the Sound and within sight of the bridges and skyscrapers of Queens and Manhattan. City Island, called Minnewits by the local Indian tribe, is still a maritime neighborhood with 19th century captains’ and yachtsmen’s houses tucked along the main thoroughfare and side streets. It was there from 1935 to 1980 a dozen America’s Cup yachts were built.
      Johnny’s Reef was opened by the Karikas family in 1974 as an open-air seafood cafeteria of a kind now rare in New York, or even New England. Open from March 1 till end the end of November, it is thronged by Bronxites—Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, Italians, Irish, Jewish, Albanian, Slovenian, as well as people from Manhattan, Queens, Westchester and Connecticut, along with foreign tourists who have heard about its All American largess. It is as close to being  in a true melting pot as any institution in the five boroughs.
        You can sit inside, or under the canopy, or in the sun, after getting a tray and ordering from any number of veteran counter men and women whose facility in getting your food to you within seconds has always amazed me for its efficiency and the guarantee, by virtue of turnover, of very fresh seafood. You get your drinks at another section—beers still go for just three to five bucks a bottle—and with your appetite in full tilt you sit down to share your food with friends and family.
         Johnny’s menu is long but focused. All the seafood may be ordered fried or steamed, from crisp, golden shrimp ($17) and scallops ($23) to fillet of sole ($17), porgy ($17), snapper ($22), whiting ($17), frogs legs ($12) and softshell crabs ($29). There also are Littleneck clams ($13 for a dozen), Cherrystones ($13), linguine with clams ($18), onion rings ($5) and a first-rate lobster roll ($24). There are also chicken wings ($13), fried chicken ($11) and a hamburger for five dollars. Having checked my article from three years ago, I see that most of these prices haven’t budged from 2020.
         It’s always difficult for me to decide what to order, so I bring my family and one of us gets the sweet shrimp, another the sole, another the calamari—all come with a mountain of excellent French fries—but this year I ordered a lobster roll, which is actually two frankfurter rolls piled high with lobster meat, mayo and seasonings. At a time when a lot of places are charging upwards of $35 for a far lesser example, Johnny’s is an amazing bargain.
         The secret of the fried items is in the delicate balance of batter to flesh so that the crisp, golden crust is not in the least oily and allows the true flavor and texture of the seafood to come through. This is especially true of the nonpareil onion rings. Bite into others’ and you often get oil-soaked batter with little taste of onion; bite into Johnny’s and the onion is sweet and has its own velvety chew.
         The rest of the island has a slew of restaurants, mostly Italian, most serving seafood similar to Johnny’s, but rarely with the same focus. They bank on banquet crowds and catering, and it too often shows in careless volume cooking. And every season there is turn-over.
      Still, there is the charming City Island Diner, done in clapboard and shingled roof, with a menu of America down-home fare like roast beef dinner, pastrami on rye, chili, meatloaf, a range of omelet and breakfast favorites. (It’s also open year-round.) There’s a modest Chinese eatery, as well as the handsome Ohana Japanese Hibachi Seafood Steakhouse. Ray’s Café has good Mexican fare, and The Black Whale is a comfortable tavern with outback patio evocative of the island’s seafaring heritage. If you’re in the mood for chicken and waffles, head for Archie’s. And everyone sooner or later drops into Lickety Split for its homemade ice creams and milk shakes. 
I grew up just south of City Island, so it was very much a part of my family’s summer rituals. For anyone not as lucky, visiting this historic village across the bridge from New York’s largest park, Pelham Bay, puts any stereotypes of the Bronx to rest. Here, all is greenery and water, reeds and leaves, winding roads and Orchard Beach, boat slips and fishing docks. And Johnny’s is a very beloved part of all that.

         Johnny’s Reef Restaurant is located at 2 City Island Avenue, Bronx NY. 718-885-2086. Open daily, until Nov.  




196 Malcolm X Boulevard


By John Mariani

         For a quarter century now Settepani has been on the corner of Malcolm X (formerly Lenox) Boulevard and 120th Street, yet to pass it you would think it just opened weeks ago as part of the ongoing gentrification of this part of Harlem.
     Settepani was founded by Ethiopian-Eritrean immigrant Leah Abraham and her Sicilian husband chef Nino Settepani, who also run the Settepani Italian bakery in Williamsburg. With their effervescent daughter Bilena and son Seyoum, they have become beloved neighbors with a faithful clientele that come for the pastries displayed up front in the brightly lighted storefront as well as the wonderfully personalized Italian and Mediterranean food served in the adjacent dining area. These days you can also dine on the sidewalk and watch and hear all of the vibrant color and music of the locals.
Nino, born in Sicily, came to America as a teenager and worked in a bakery, then attended NYU and the French Culinary Institute, opening his own bakery in Greenwich Village. Leah’s family came from Eritrea and she grew up amidst Harlem’s broad streets and Lenox Avenue’s varied architecture of stately brownstones and denominational churches.
      Bilena is herself a pastry chef, though she sought a career in fashion. When the pandemic hit, she dropped everything to help her parents, and would attend the Institute of Culinary Education. Seyoum, with an M.A. from the University of Richmond, is the restaurant’s general manager.
      Settepani’s menu is ambitious for a small space, much of it devoted to the well-lighted pastry counter. Panini are offered only at lunch, but at dinner there are ten antipasti, ten pastas, six pizzas and seven main courses.  Opting for pizza is a good idea, and I thoroughly enjoyed the one with prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella and basil ($25). It is thin crusted  and light, so you can also share dishes like crisp calamari fritti ($22), a plum, cream-rich burrata with fresh tomatoes ($22) or a mix of prosciutto, crostini, cheese, olives and fruits ($28), enough for at least two people.
      As you’d expect, the housemade pastas are outstanding, especially the bucatini alla Trapanese ($24), a Sicilian pasta with a tomato and almond pesto. Lasagna ($26) was a special one night and had all the right textures and leveling of flavors, while the risotto ($28), a little overcooked one evening, was creamy with fresh peas and sweet shrimp. Most interesting was a pasta made from teff, a plant whose seeds are used to make a flour in Eritrea and Ethiopia, here made into gnocchi alla sorrentina ($25) in a tomato, mozzarella and basil sauce.
      The ubiquitous branzino (35) was nice and fleshy, pan-seared with a sprightly lemon sauce, vegetables and roasted potatoes. The pollo alla milanese ($26) of breaded chicken breast had the right crispness to it without losing the flavor of the meat.
      You should certainly be tempted by those beautiful pastries in the counter, but to stay within the traditional, there is tiramisu ($12) and cassata, sponge cake lavished with ricotta and candied fruit ($12).
     On the summer’s night when we dined at Settepani most guests were outside enjoying the al fresco coolness, and, since the avenue is so broad, the outdoor tables make Settepani seem much closer to European cafes than most in New York. While the interior dining room was near empty, it was hard to judge the service, except to say that the family all pitches in along with the enchanting and ebullient waiter LaToya Clark, whose smile and street smart bling lights up every inch of the restaurant as the epitome of Harlem cool right now.
      There are restaurants for serious dining and restaurants for trendy noshing, but restaurants like Settepani manifest, yet again, the importance of being a tight family in the service of people who can feel their sincerity and their desire to please and make their guests very happy and satisfied.  


Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.



By  John Mariani



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


“A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man. It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous.”—Graham Greene, Ministry of Fear (1943).


       Katie and David’s task was now to get that appointment with Toth without spooking a man who might well have been a black marketer back in Vienna.  They again turned to Boyer and Spollen for advice.  Boyer said the Times had a stringer in Budapest, a Hungarian fellow who filed stories on a regular basis and could quickly be assigned to cover anything that broke in Eastern Europe.  Spollen said he’d check if there was anyone at The Guardian who covered the pharmaceutical industry in Europe; he found none.
         Katie felt that Professor Passmore had provided her with all he knew but put in a call to him anyway and was provided with a colleague’s name at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (above).
         “I think we should pack so we can hop on a plane as soon as we hear from Toth,” said Katie.
         “And what if he doesn’t respond at all?” asked David.
         “Then we’re screwed. Or we go to Budapest on our own and try to flush him out.”
         “Meanwhile let me see if I can get in touch with that Times stringer to see if he has any information on how to get to Toth.”   
The reporter’s name was János Frankel.  Boyer said he was a veteran journalist and, at least since Hungary left the USSR, could be counted on for solid investigative work.  He had studied and learned English in England and was fluent in several languages.
         Katie reached him at his home in the Buda part of the city, and she was flattered when he said he knew her name from both the Al Capone and Vermeer stories in McClure’s.
         “Boyer called me on your behalf,” said Frankel, with only a mild Hungarian accent. “He said you were interested in interviewing Gorgo Toth? You picked a very controversial figure in Hungary.  Toth has always had a shadowy past and you probably heard the rumors he was actually British.”
         “Does he speak Hungarian with a British accent?” asked David on speakerphone.
         “Yes, though he’s very guarded and rarely speaks in public.”
         "When you say has a shadowy past, what do you mean?”
         “The word is that he was an entrepreneur who worked closely with the Soviets to achieve where he is now.  His company is probably owned, at least most of it, by the Soviets, and I’m sure he’s stayed at the top after the fall of the Soviet Union by having decades’ old contacts in Moscow, with the KGB and now FSS.  You know, I actually interviewed him once a few years ago, not for the Times but for a German business magazine called Manager.”
         “You got in to see him?” asked Katie. “How tough was that?”
         “Not very. He knew the article would be a puff piece, a straight question-and-answer he had the right to approve before publication.”
         Katie knew that the Times would never have made that promise.
         “He was guarded in all his answers,” said Frankel. “Said very little beyond how well his company was doing and then ticked off the philanthropies he donates to. He’s a principal behind the Heim Pái Children’s Hospital (below) here in Budapest.  He is not immune to flattery.”
         “Did you do the interview in English or Hungarian?” asked David.
         “A little of both. He’s wholly fluent in Hungarian but tended to use English expressions.”
         Katie asked if she could get hold of Frankel’s article, and he said he’d be happy to fax a copy to her hotel.
         “So, any advice on how to get in to see Toth?” asked David.
         “Again, he takes to flattery, so if you say you’re doing a story on illustrious business tycoons he may well allow you to see him.  Or maybe ask you to send him questions. He will not do so if he thinks your story will put him in a bad light. Oh, and he has a beloved collection of antique cars—European and American.  Mention that in your letter of introduction.  I didn’t see them but I hear it’s a pretty spectacular collection.  He keeps it at his estate outside of Budapest. I really haven’t kept close tabs on him but the local financial media seem to suggest he’s been in a struggle to stay at the top of Hungary Pharm.”
         Katie and David asked for any other suggestions, and Frankel said he’d be happy to call Toth’s right–hand man "to tell him you were interested in seeing his boss.”
         “That would be so terrific of you,” said Katie.
         “By the way, why is an American magazine like McClure’s so interested in a Hungarian millionaire—I don’t know, maybe he is a billionaire by now—whose name wouldn’t be known to your readers?”
         “Janós,” said Katie, “I’m going to have to keep that from you for now. I mean, I assume they don’t bug journalists’ phones anymore in Hungary.”
         “Who knows or cares? I keep a low profile.”
         “All I can say is that we do have a more serious reason to interview Toth and it has to do with his past.  I can swear that after we see him, I’ll tell you everything I can about what happened, but for now, all I can do is thank you profusely for your help.  And you’ll get back to me with that right-hand man’s contact?”
         “Yes, I’ll put it in the fax.”
         Frankel wished them good luck and made them promise they’d take him out to dinner in Budapest when they got there.  Katie and David eagerly agreed.
         “I promise you the best Hungarian food and wine you’ve ever tasted,” said Frankel. David said to himself, it would be the first Hungarian food and wine he’d ever tasted.
         Within an hour Katie and David had Frankel’s fax with the article and Toth contact.  As Frankel had said, there wasn’t anything particularly revealing about Toth in the Q&A, mostly just boastings about his managerial skills and future plans for Hungary Pharm.  And there was mention of his car collection and his charitable donations.
         “I find it a little ironic that Toth seems so involved in that Children’s Hospital,” said David. “If he had been selling bad drugs back in Vienna to polio victims, the way Harry Lime did, maybe he’s trying to atone for his sins.”
         “Wonder if he’s Catholic,” said Katie. “Atonement is certainly good for the soul for a man who wants to change his image and pave a path to heaven through shelling out a lot of money.”
         “Y’know, Katie, it always amazed me how many gangsters I went after who considered themselves nothing but businessmen.  The killing, the drugs, the extortion—they never saw it as criminal or even immoral. Then there was that other side to them—the ideal family man who kept his business out of his own household.  The women in the family were given everything—even when their husbands were banging girlfriends on the side—the children were spoiled, sent to Catholic schools, Catholic colleges. These vicious killers would cry at their daughter’s First Communion, and they always, always gave money to the Church.  Sometimes they had to funnel it through someone else if the Church refused to take it from a known mobster. A lot of the time they didn’t want it known where the money was coming from.  They certainly weren’t claiming it as a tax deduction.”
         Katie shook her head and said, “Y’know it’s not all that different from the creeps in politics I cover.  They take gobs of money from lobbyists and drug companies and the N.R.A. then boast their votes are a noble defense of the Constitution.  They act holier-than-thou, and the more Right Wing Christian they are, the more hypocritical they are.”
         David smirked and asked, “Who said, ‘The rich are very different from you and me?’”
         “F. Scott Fitzgerald was supposed to have said that to Hemingway, and Hemingway was supposed to say, ‘Yeah, they have more money.’ Which I always thought was a pretty inane retort.”
         “What he should’ve said was, ‘Yeah, they’re all a bunch of freaking thieves.’”
         “Someone else said, ‘Behind every great fortune is a great crime.’”
         “Who said that?”
         “Balzac (right).”
         Katie never wanted to sound condescending towards David, and said, “Oh, an obscure French writer back in the 19th century. I had to read him in college.”
         “Well, Balzac was right on the money. Off with their heads!”
         “Who did say that?” asked Katie, laughing.
         “I think it was the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I saw the Disney cartoon in grammar school.”


R 39


         Katie sent Frankel’s fax info on to Alan Dobell, who wrote back an email saying it was encouraging and that the letter had gone out to Toth, explaining that McClure’s reporters were only going to be in Budapest for a day or two, so making a date and time to meet would be appreciated as soon as possible.
         Later that day Dobell received a request from Toth’s secretary asking for samples of Katie’s work to be sent to Hungary Pharm for evaluation. Dobell was certainly not going to send Katie’s two prize-winning stories, both investigations into criminal activities. Instead he sent a profile of a New York philanthropist she’d done a few years back, along with a Q&A interview she’d done with the head of a TV network. They were candid interviews but nothing that would cause Toth anxiety over the kind of access McClure’s was seeking. Dobell also sent a personal note saying he, too, was an aficionado of vintage automobiles and had read about Toth’s collection. Anything to butter the man up.
         Later that night—it was nine a.m. in Budapest, after midnight in New York—Dobell received an email reading, “If your reporter can be in Budapest this Friday, arrangements may be made to have a short interview with Mr. Toth. Please reply immediately if this is acceptable, and we shall provide details of the location and time of the meeting.”
         Dobell called Katie—it was already early Wednesday morning in London—and told her the news, saying he would be following up with some questions she should try to ask Toth, including some flattering ones about his auto collection. He told her Toth’s assistant would be sending the information regarding their meeting, which came as a fax to the hotel. They would meet Toth at nine o’clock on Friday morning at Hungary Pharm’s headquarters on Andrássy út in the Central Business District. They would be allowed thirty minutes for the interview.
         “That’s not enough time,” Katie said to David.
         “Probably not if you want to soften him up. Thank God we don’t have to translate back and forth.”
         “Maybe you should do the interview.”
         “I doubt Dobell would want that, but I’m willing to participate.”
         “I always wanted to ask you,” said Katie, “do the police really use that good cop-bad cop routine interrogating a guy, like in The Wild One where they beat up Marlon Brando?”
         “Well, we had to stop burning the perpetrators with cigarettes after they posted ‘No Smoking’ signs in the interrogation rooms.”
         Katie winced. “Are you bullshitting me?”
      "Yes, I am, and no, we did not play a stupid game like good cop-bad cop, although there was sometimes one cop in the room who wanted to go rough on a particularly unsavory character. We’d pull him off and send him out of the room. It probably had the same effect as a game of good cop-bad cop, but it wasn’t intentional. I like to think we were a lot more sophisticated than that in our interrogation techniques. Plus, we want a conviction, not a forced confession that might be thrown out in court.
         “The problem here,” David went on, “is that Toth doesn’t know the real reason we’re coming to see him and what we want to ask him. Flattery takes time to be absorbed by guys like him. We need to get under his skin, make him anxious, and that takes time.”
         “Can’t just launch right in with, ‘So, Mr. Toth, could you please tell us if you were a black marketer who killed babies in Vienna and the inspiration for Harry Lime?’”
            David shook his head and sdai, ""This ain't going to be says, Katie.. I’ll help all I can though. On the way over we can write down our questions and follow-ups, short and concise.”
             David had already checked flights from London to Budapest, and there was one on the Hungarian airline Malév that flew into Budapest Ferihegy International Airport, a two-hour flight getting in around seven. David called down and had the concierge book the tickets, then went to his room to finish packing. He met Katie in the lobby and they took a taxi to Heathrow, arriving two hours before their flight.
         “Think we should contact Frankel before we get there?” asked David.
         “Yeah, I do. Let’s take him out to dinner, if he’s available. I’ll call.”
         Katie dialed Frankel’s number, got a recording in Hungarian and English, and left a message that they were coming to town, hoping to be through customs and in Budapest by nine.  They were booked in the Intercontinental Hotel.
         On the plane, a Boeing 737, Katie and David were astonished to find that the non-smoking section was separated from the smoking section only by the center aisle and that almost everyone in the smoking section lit up as soon as they plane leveled out at cruising altitude. Having had a quick pub lunch, the Americans refused the trays of food, which looked like all the other airline food in the world, three gray or brown clumps of protein and vegetables together with a cube of plastic-wrapped cheese and an ice cold bread roll. David asked for a beer and got a Hungarian light lager called Borsodi Sörgyári, which wasn’t half bad.
         “Hungarian is one tough language,” said Katie, who was trying to memorize some words from a travel guide she’d bought. “You know how they say ‘thank you?’” She tried to sound it out: “‘koz-o-nom.’ ‘Goodbye is ‘viss-ont-latash-rah.’ I have a feeling I’m not even close to the right pronunciation. I hope enough people speak English.”
         David shrugged. “All we need is a taxi driver to the hotel, then maybe we can meet Frankel. Friday we go see Toth, and we know he and his people speak English.”
         “I guess we won’t starve if we can say ‘goulash.’”
         “And I just learned from this bottle that ‘beer’ is ‘sör.’ ‘Beer’ is always a very simple word in every language. So we’re good for forty-eight hours.”


John Mariani, 2016




By John Mariani


        As certain well heeled connoisseurs struggle to come up with $28,000 to buy a single bottle of the latest vintage (2020) of Romanée-Conti from Burgundy, or a 2020 Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley for $3,700 each, the rest of us wine lovers are now in a position where there is more wine and more choice of wines at better prices than ever before in the past fifty years.
         The principal reason is that there is an astoundingly large wine glut in the world, and several reasons why there is one. Australian wineries alone are sitting on more than 256 million cases of wine—more than two years of inventory—without a market. In June the EU gave France about $172 million to destroy nearly 80 million gallons of wine, with more funds to come this month. What will happen to all that wine? It will be distilled into pure alcohol to be used in perfume and cleaning supplies.
This so-called “Lake of Alcohol” is  nothing new—there’s long been a lot of junk wine to be dumped—and bulk wineries have looked upon the process as a subsidy. But now it is affecting some of the biggest wine companies around the world, with grape and wine prices dropping precipitously.
         The reasons are easy enough to come by. First of all, there are so many more countries producing wine for both local and export markets than ever before. Vineyards in France, Italy, Spain and Germany have now been joined by expansive production in many countries once held back by the Soviet Union, like Romania, Croatia, Hungary and Georgia. New World wines from South America, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have added billions of liters to the huge California, Oregon and Washington industry, joined now by Texas, Virginia, even New Mexico.
         Ironically, the tremendous technological advances in viniculture, like temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and genetic modifications have made good wines easier to make in so many territories where it would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. Equally ironic is that while climate change and warming temperatures are threats to the distinctive qualities of many areas’ terroir, it can actually spur cooler climate regions like the United Kingdom to enter the market aggressively (right).
         Next, the fantasy on the part of all wine companies was that Russia and China would offer limitless new opportunities to sell their wines. But,  as Denys Hornabrook of VINEX said in an interview with industry newsletter Meninger’s International, “
"Few Australian producers are taking the initiative to re-engage UK, and European buyers, which is very surprising  . . . [and] China and Russia have been two of the world’s largest markets to soak up surplus supply. Both are now off the table.” In the case of China, it’s due to lower demand in a falling economy—not to mention a falling birth rate; in Russia it’s the sanctions over the war in Ukraine that have stopped exports cold.
           Competition is, of course, a good thing for the consumer, so that lower prices at wholesale and discounts at retail for a wide variety of wines now overflow the bins of wineshops and restaurants, which were already devastated by the Covid closings.
           But the main reason—and it’s one that’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to change—is that Gen Y and Z are drinking less wine than in the wine boom years of the 1980s and 1990s. And it’s not only Americans of those generation who have cut back in favor of beer, spirits, soft drinks and flavored seltzers. The French and Italians are, too. Wine consumption in France in the 1920s was an average of 136 liters per person—little of it of high quality—while today that average is only 40 liters. Even the Italians on average drink only 56 bottles per year per person, which is little more than a bottle a week.
         Of course, the boom years’ upward spiral could not be sustained or improved in numbers, and it has been a mantra of the industry that people are drinking “less but better wines.” Some of the most illustrious wines like Prémier Cru Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundies and so-called  California “cult wines” will continue to sell every bottle they produce, which is, in many cases, limited by regulations. But that category is minuscule compared with those who drink wine even occasionally.
U.S. data from IWSR indicates a bounce-back of consumption since the low point at end of Covid in 2021, with 4 million more drinkers consuming wine in 2022. Yet, at the same time, overall wine consumption dropped 2% last year. The decline has been most precipitous in the Gen Z population. In 2015, 40% of those in that population drank wine, though only once a month. In 2021 only 25% did.
         So, the good news for those of us who love wine is very positive, with more choice and lower prices, but for the industry, which like all agriculture depends as much on weather as it does on supply and demand, the news is troubling. Decreasing production can mean destroying acreage or pouring wine into the Lake of Alcohol, and without a increase in demand, higher prices cannot be charged, despite the higher costs inherent to the industry. But to somehow create a sea change in a worldwide population that does not share the thrill of discovery the baby boomers had forty years ago seems like an impossibility. 
Arguments for wine being a healthful beverage never gained traction, and in the modern world those who can afford to drink premium wines ($10-$15) do not indulge at a time when excessive drinking is socially unacceptable and DUI laws are stiffer than ever—notoriously so along the highways in Napa Valley thronged with tourists visiting tasting rooms.
         The hope that the vast populations of Asia would want to become wine drinkers was an empty dream built on the headlines of Chinese and Russian millionaires consuming oceans of the world’s finest wines and spirits. A crack-down by Xi Jinping on that class put the kibosh on any such ideas about imported wine trickling down to China’s 1.4 billion people.
         I am confident that there will be plenty of good wine for everyone for decades to come. The industry’s woes are wine lovers’ big win.




"Why I love jet lag" By Carey Jones, Washington Post (9/1/23).


 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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© copyright John Mariani 2023