Virtual Gourmet

  December 10, 2023                                                                         Newsletter

Founded in 1996 


The staircase at the Cavalieri Rome



By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

Lobby of the Cavalieri Hotel


      In his first century AD Satires the poet Juvenal (left) wrote of his hometown, “Here our smart clothes are beyond our means, here at Rome/A little bit extra has to be borrowed from someone’s purse./It’s a common fault; here we all live in pretentious poverty,/What more can I say? Everything in Rome comes at a price.”
      Little, it seems, has changed since then, for in Rome, despite its captivating eminence as Italy’s capital city, there is much about the city that is shabby and, as with the Visigoths, Saxons and Germans who invaded and occupied it, Rome is now overrun by tourists who make moving around the monuments an exhausting effort. There are, however, still hotels of great luxury and fine restaurants in Rome where paying top dollar is well worth it, if just to avoid the crush of the maddening crowd of tourists tumbling off buses and dropping their luggage in the cramped lobbies of lesser hotels.
      The Rome Cavalieri (Via Alberto Cadlolo 101) has been under the Waldorf Astoria aegis for fifteen years, though corporately owned by Hilton, so many taxi drivers still call it “the Hilton,” for which this was the chain’s first European hotel back in 1963 and quite a departure in modern style and location from the established hotels in the city center. Set well above the city, the reclusive premises’ luxury begins in the grand foyer, with its sweeping circular staircase to the floor below. Checking in at a long reception desk has its own dramatic appeal. Rooms are among the most sumptuously decorated in Europe, very quiet and overlooking the stately greenery and sparkling blue pool.
      There are two main restaurants, one the renowned La Pergola (below), where Heinz Beck has held three Michelin stars (rare in Italy) for many years, manifesting tasting menus of great creativity (€270 to €320) marrying tradition to modernity in dishes like char and razor clams in milk with elderberry powder; carpaccio of scallops with pomegranate and grilled cauliflower; and a ricotta-sweet cherry tart. À la carte is also available. The wine list is one of the finest, deepest, broadest in the world. (La Pergola is currently closed and will re-open in the spring of 2024.)
      On my last visit to the Cavalieri, my wife and I dined by full moonlight by the pool at Uliveto, which is somewhat moderate in its pricing for this level of casual chic, serving dishes like tagliolini with red mullet (€31); risotto with red cabbage, steamed oysters and Sichuan pepper (€32); tournedos of beef with Piemontese wine sauce (45) and several vegetarian items.
      On Christmas Eve Uliveto
will serve a five-course dinner paired with sommelier selections (€120), and on Christmas Day, Sunday Brunch in the Garden Lobby with traditional Italian cuisine and an appearance by Santa Claus (€190; €95 for children). For New Year’s there will be a cirque-style live performance and a gala five-course wine and champagne-dinner (€415 per person). Those who need recovery the next day can afford themselves the Cavalieri Grand Spa Club, which is showcasing the Natura Bissé Mediterranean Journey treatment. (€270).

In Rome’s center the InterContinental Rome Ambasciatori Palace (Via Vittorio Veneto 62), just opened last May, should bring back the luster of the Via Vento in its 1960s heyday, when the serpentine avenue was lined with great hotels and cafés where everyone from Maria Callas to Tennessee Williams sat down to Campari and espresso to regard the passing parade of Felllini-esque characters who epitomized the la dolce vita of the film of the same name. That glamour had faded but the re-opening of the Ambasciatori gives Rome one of its great modern luxury hotels with the framework of historic elegance.
fin de siècle building, by architect Carlo Busiri Vici, opened in 1905 to host visiting ambassadors who would have been impressed by the Renaissance cast; after World War II it became  the American Embassy Library. The hotel’s décor had become dated, felt heavy and was ill-lighted by the time InterContinental began its rehabilitation in 2018. The first order of business was to re-work the grand staircase (which had somehow been painted yellow), stylizing it à la the Rome opera house, complemented by polished columns and  Murano glass chandeliers by Vistosi.
      There are  now 160 very spacious, brightly lighted rooms and suites (61 with balconies), with furnishings by IA Designs, which painted the hallways in seductive dark colors with swirled marble floors.
      The restaurant, curiously, is a branch of the U.S.-based Scarpetta and has quite a casual style for breakfast, lunch and dinner, done in burgundy, brown and terracotta tones with several very comfortable booths. Our lunch included a crudo of amberjack with ginger and chili oils and pickled red onions (€20); tagliolini and plump red shrimp with tomato, bottarga, pistachio and basil (€26); agnolotti packed with succulent short ribs (€26); a spigola bass impeccably grilled with a sweet-sour sauce (€34); espresso budino custard with hazelnut gelato (€15); and a light cheesecake with berries (€14). There is a €33 fixed price for lunch, à la carte for dinner.           
Adjacent is the Anita Lounge & Bar, while on the rooftop, with a fabulous panorama, is the shadowy Charlie’s Bar (named after the figure “Goodtime Charlie”), with a good number of small plates to go with the excellent cocktail list, including a torchon of creamy foie gras with brioche, marmalade and almonds (€35); short ribs and bone marrow sliders with horseradish cream (€24); and lobster with caviar, red onions, cherry tomato, coriander and sriracha (€27).
You will recall that Rome is built on seven hills, and on top of one of the highest, is The Hassler Hotel (6 Piazza Trinità dei Monti), which  will remind you of all those gorgeous 1950s films shot in Rome, including “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Roman Holiday,” during whose filming Audrey Hepburn stayed at The Hassler.
        Owned by the Wirth family for six generations, The Hassler once served as the U .S. Army Air Force headquarters during World War II and re-opened in 1947 with a posh, new post-war Italian décor and an international clientele.  
    There are  now 84  rooms and five suites at the Hassler, ten deluxe suites and three Presidential suites, one of which was occupied by John and Jackie Kennedy, whose table is still pointed out by the maître d’ at the Imàgo restaurant, with its Rooftop Terrace allowing you to gaze out over the Spanish Steps and all the glowing marble domes of Rome’s churches and St. Peter’s spread across the horizon.
      You choose from a menu of modernized Italian cuisine  via chef Andrea Antonini, who offers a tasting menu at €210 that mixes Italian cuisine with international flavors, as in his tuna “Niguiri”; artichokes and sweetbreads; scampi with green peppercorns; seabream “cacciatora”;  spaghetti lavished with smoked sea urchins and pecorino, and squab with turnips and fragrant chamomile.
         Staying at any of these hotels relieves the stresses of contemporary Rome. Dining at them shows Roman cuisine at its loftiest level.




245 East 44th Street
By John Mariani

         The dramatic space that was until recently Mifune is now Wano, under the same management, Tokyo Restaurant Factory, and now features Japanese fine ding via a kaiseki tasting by chef Ryota Sakaba. It was good to see the company has retained affable general manager Ayana Mazon and beverage director Daniel Eng.
         The restaurant was designed by Katsunori Takeuchi, who fashioned it into two rooms: one, up front, a well-lighted, 11-seat counter, the other a large, high-ceilinged main room done in traditional natural wood. Tables of polished dark wood are of good size to allow spreading out the lovely food, which might be even lovelier if they trained overhead lights or table lamps on it.
      Sakaba trained in kaiseki cuisine at Hana and become a  “vegetable sommelier,” trained in over 60 types of vegetables, and his expertise shows well at Wano.    
The menu is long and has many categories, so three of us simply let the chef choose the meal, stipulating that we were most ravenous for sushi and sashimi.  But first we began with a warm dish of sea urchin with salmon roe chawanmushi ($15) that was a proper entry to the fried prawn tempura of a fine crisp exterior and moist inside ($25). Miso cod ($40) was as velvety and sweet-fleshed as any I’ve had this year.
        Of course, the requisite for good sushi and sashimi is not just its impeccable freshness but that the various species have their own distinct flavor, and on that score Sakaba really delivers. Nigiri sushi included kampachi ($15), the silvery amberjack; salmon ($7) that tasted of the river, not the farm; botan ebi ($12), the soft-shelled Japanese shrimp; ikura salmon roe ($10), Japanese scallops ($12) and more. None tasted like another, and the rice was moist and at the right temperature. We also enjoyed a hefty spicy tuna roll ($15).
         There are many other options, as well as tasting menus, and wagyu beef puts in appearances in both appetizers and hot fishes. There are five fried items, and for main courses abalone (when available), foie gras (unusual) and duck breast.
         As is often the case, Japanese desserts lack the creamy enticement of western sweets, and the green tea panna cotta ($12) was bland.
         Eng, who is a certified sake master, offers a few cocktails based in Japanese spirits, but he doesn’t stock much in the way of western liquors, so you’re out of luck if you want a Manhattan or a margarita. There are the usual Japanese beers, quite pricey with Suntory Malt Beer (not easy to find everywhere) at $14 a can.
         Suntory was quiet when I dined there, happily so, but things went slow for a while. Wano is probably better when it’s in full swing and there’s a bigger staff.
         I would go back to eat pretty much anything the chef recommends, believing that seasonality and rich flavors make Japanese cuisine as special as it is at Wano.


Lunch Tues.-Fri.; dinner Tues.-Sat.


By  John Mariani

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



         Katie thought it best to get back to New York as soon as possible, but the information and color she would get from spending a day or two in the city where The Third Man took place would be invaluable.  In fact, the concierge said she could buy a map at the newsstand with all the locations in which Carol Reed shot the movie.
         She and David were delighted that one of the first stops on the map was nearby the Sacher, the stunning Café Mozart—that year celebrating its 100th anniversary—where Martins met Lime’s devious friend Kurtz, although they learned at the Café that the actual scene was filmed elsewhere. 
Now fully recovered and glad to be alive, David was blissful strolling the beautiful majestic city with Katie, seeing its great Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and its grand Neo-Renaissance-style Vienna State Opera House (right). 
“It’s such a wide open city,” he said, “there seem as many plazas as there are streets, and the traffic looks light everywhere. Nobody seems to honk their horns.”
          They walked to the baroque Palais Pallavicini on Josefsplatz, where Lime lived and where, in front of its ornate entrance, he was said to have been hit by a truck and died, his body quickly carried away.  The map noted that the Casanova Club, where Martins met another of Lime’s friends, Popescu, was still on Dorotheergasse, but had since become a modern coffee shop not worth visiting. The building denoted as number 8 Schreyvogelgasse (below) was where Lime hid in the shadows of the doorway, revealed by a cat nibbling at his shoelaces. The huge cobblestone square Lime ran into and mysteriously disappeared within a kiosk leading to the underground sewers looked exactly as it did in the film, except for the kiosk itself, which had been only a movie prop.
         So, too, did Hoher Market, Vienna’s oldest square, look the same as in the movie, where Lime agreed to meet Martins and again disappeared into a sewer (below), pursued by the English and Austrian police and eventually shot and killed by Martins, with Lime’s fingers shown frantically squirming through the sewer cover.
         “We’ve got to get out to the amusement park,” said Katie, who remembered that it had been in the Russian sector in the movie.  “I hope we can ride up to the top of the Ferris wheel.”
         They were happy to find the park open for the Christmas holidays and the Riesenrad in operation. Slowly each car of the huge wheel was loaded with passengers; luckily Katie and David got a car all to themselves.  As the car rose and rocked gently, Katie and David saw Vienna begin to spread out below, with the wide ribbon of the Danube and the Ringstrasse  that encircled the entire city.  At the top David said, “So this is where Holly and Lime found a neutral zone where they could both speak freely.”
         Only the high sound of a slight winter’s breeze was heard outside the car. Katie and David stared at each other, smiling. She said, “It’s really like we’ve come full circle, isn’t it? I’m glad we ended rather than began here.”
         “Yeah,” said David looking out over the city, “I can see why Greene chose it for the scene. Two old friends, one an American looking for explanations, the other a complete bastard, maybe thinking of pushing Holly out the door, getting him out of the way. Lime always thinks he can get away with anything.”
         “It’s amazing to think that Greene might’ve come up here with Neame. You think he did?”
         “I guess I’d like to think he did,” said David. “Makes me wonder how soon afterwards they met that Neame got out of Vienna. Greene must have known Neame was one of the bad guys.”
         “Maybe that’s why Greene kills off Lime at the end of the story,” said Katie. “We were thinking Philby had been the inspiration for Lime, but Greene forgave his old friend everything, even after Philby betrayed his own country. Greene could kill off a guy like Neame with pleasure.”
         “Being up here sure clears the head, doesn’t it,” said David, smiling broadly at Katie.  
Since it was then too late for them to tour the sewers, Katie and David’s last stop was the Zentral-Friedhof cemetery, where Lime was supposedly buried and where Holly Martins first meets the English intelligence officer Major Calloway.
         “Here’s where it all began in the movie,” said David.

         “And where it all ends,” said Katie, who during their walk-through had been amazed to come upon the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Salieri, Schubert and Johann Strauss.  “Remember Calloway saying, ‘Next time we'll have afoolproof coffin’? That reminds me that Kim Philby was like Lime in one respect: he managed to be both dead and buried and still very much alive all this time.”
      “And for the time being,” David responded, “so is Neame, who managed to be reborn as Gorgo Toth. I wonder if Greene ever knew that.”
      “Well, Philby did—he was the one who told us—so we’ve got to suppose he told Greene before he died. Make himself look better in Greene’s eyes.”
      “And you’re going to be the one to tell the world about all of them. I’m sure Philby will feel vindicated, at least of people thinking he was a pathetic criminal like Harry Lime.”
      “I’m not sure how I’m going to handle all that,” said Katie, “trying not to make Philby into a sympathetic character. The guy was an unrepentant traitor. Was Neame worse? I guess he was if children died because of what he did. And we would have been next.”
      David interrupted. “Have you forgotten how many people were murdered because of Philby exposing them, including British agents?  To me it’s a toss-up of two kinds of monster, both of them trying to hang on to some shred of dignity.”
      Katie sighed and said, “It’s all very, very complicated.  I’m supposed report things as objectively as possible—which is tough when your subject almost murders you. I’m not one of those actors who plays a villain and says he has to find a way to understand the guy’s psyche.  But the truth is, everyone has many shadings, many colors to them.”
      “Yeah, and some are blood red.”


                                      *                *                *                * 


         By the time Katie and David left Vienna for New York the next day, the news that Gorgo Toth had been kidnapped made the Hungarian papers, though only the English-language Budapest Times had it on the front page, but not as the lead article.  All the stories referred to Toth as Hungary’s top pharmaceutical industrialist but noted that it was believed Hungarian Pharm had significant Russian ownership in the company. The official statements by the Hungarian police said only that they were following promising leads as to who had kidnapped the magnate but offered no suspects.
         Otherwise, the European papers, including The International Herald Tribune, which picked up the story from Reuters and Associated Press filings, paid scant attention to Toth’s arrest. It would be the European business weeklies and the pharmaceutical industry magazines that would eventually do in-depth stories about Toth, noting that he had been a controversial figure dating back to his dealings with the Soviets.
         In fact, it was the Russian newspapers that announced Toth’s kidnapping as an arrest by Russian police—they didn’t say if it was FSS—on corruption charges that required his removal so that he could stand trial in Moscow. There was a brief flurry of objections by the Hungarian government and a protest by its ambassador in Moscow but nothing came of them. No mention by any quarter was made of Toth’s previous activities as Harold Neame.



John Mariani, 2016




                                    WELL WORTH THE WAIT:
                          Some Terrific Red Wines Now Fully Matured

                                                                            By John Mariani


         It is assuredly not true that all red wines age well in the bottle after being released in the market, which is all the more reason to drink them upon their appearance in your wine shop. Some, of course, like the great Bordeaux and Burgundies, are held back from release because they very definitely are not ready to be drunk after bottling. The trouble is, older vintages are not always around to sample, so the following, now in the market, are worth ferreting out for the pleasure to be gained by having waited to mature so well. By the way, the prices are approximate, for many standard retail prices are heavily discounted by competitive wine stores and on-line.


COTO DE IMAZ GRAN RESERVA RIOJA 2016 ($33)—I know nothing about this winery (nor can I find out anything), but I’m among the many wine media who are raving about this very finely made Rioja Reserva, which means it must age three years in barrels and six months in bottle. You can see its age in the russet color and taste how seven years have melded all the elements of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano to become a very rewarding wine to go with all red meats and would be wonderful with Spanish ham.


BLACK STALLION TRANSCENDENT 2010 ($120-$150)—The boldness of Cabernet Sauvignon, mellowed by 11% Merlot, has been tamed in this Napa Valley red, its first vintage for Black Stallion from the volcanic soil of Atlas Peak. It is aged for 26 months, and now, after a decade, it is in its prime, with years to go. Still in the market are vintages from 2014 and 2015 as well.


BERTANI AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO 2012 ($125)—Bertani has long been the leader and standard for Amarone della Valpolicella, and this is a masterpiece that combines the tradition of a wine that is husky and slightly sweet by allowing the Corvina Veronese (80%) and Rondinella (20%) grapes to achieve near-raisin status by drying them in warm lofts before pressing, then slowly fermenting them for more than 50 days in cement tanks, then at least six years in Slavonian oak and another year in bottle. The result is one of the great red wines of Italy, with levels of nuance and wholly identifiable as Amarone and nothing else. Superbly matched with pork.


RAMOS PINTO PORTO ADRIANO BAUES PINTO 2000 ($90-$100)—More than a century old, Ramos Pinto has been innovative and always in the vanguard, which is perhaps why Champagne Louis Roederer is a majority shareholder. The company’s Ruby and Tawny Ports are excellent, but this 2000 vintage shows why vintage Ports, only made in exceptional years, are so very special, though relatively inexpensive. Its vines average 40 years of age, planted in the traditional terraces in patamares as well as vertically, called vinha ao alto. The Quintas of Bom Retiro, Urtiga and Evradmoira in the Douro Valley provide the Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Sousao and other grapes for the blend, and, after two decades, it is in prime harmony, soft, not too sweet, and very elegant. It goes perfectly with all cheeses, not least blues, or with roasted chestnuts, so you can appreciate all the qualities that make this such a rarity.



"Kale can upset your stomach. Here’s how to make it easier to digest" By Trisha Pasricha, MD. Washington Post (11/20/23).



 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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