Virtual Gourmet

  December 17, 2023                                                                         Newsletter

Founded in 1996 




VIENNA, Part Two

By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


VIENNA, Part Two

Motto Brot

    There is hardly a street in Vienna—especially during the current holidays—where you will not be drawn in by a window festooned with pastries, chocolates and Christmas breads. Of course, those shops are always there in profusion, along with wine stores, butchers and outdoor markets that draw on the bounty of Austria itself. These specialties are enough to tantalize any visitor, but Vienna is very much an international city where you’ll find as many ZARA and H&M stores as you will department stores like Peek & Cloppenburg and vintage clothes at FLO.

        This global reach extends to the restaurant scene in Vienna, where it is as easy to find a pizzeria and sushi bar as it is a traditional Würstelstand or Gasthaus. Of the latter there are scores of places serving the old beloved dishes like Wiener Schnitzel and Tafelspitz. One of the prettiest and best known and very popular is Plachuttas Gasthaus (Walfischgasse 5), near the Vienna State Opera, with a good feeling of old Vienna (left).

        I found a new one to me in the trendy, youthful Mariahilf district lined with boutiques of every kind. We stayed at the uniquely furnished, 49-room boutique Hotel Josefine (Esterházygasse 33) with its 1896 art nouveau appointments, impressive pillared staircase and an abundant use of the color purple (right), with a delightful downstairs breakfast room.


Just around the corner is the charming, very cordial Gasthaus Steman (Otto Bauer-Gasse7), with outdoor tables in good weather. This serves very traditional, moderately priced, well prepared fare including a splendid, crispy fried Wiener Schnitzel (€24) and very hearty Gulasch with a plump Kaisersemmel roll (€10.50). Warming Rindsuppe (beef soup) comes to the brim of a white ceramic pot (€5.50), and a big platter of Eiernockerl (egg dumplings) with chopped greens makes both a hefty course or a side dish for two (€13). For dessert share the pancake-like Kaiserschmarren (€10.50).

        The owners of Steman also run the popular Café Jelinek across the street, where you may relax over coffee and pastries.

      A most unusual restaurant named Ludwig Van (Laimgrubengasse 22), run since 2015 by the ebullient, highly opinionated Oliver Jauk, is located on the ground floor of what was once Ludwig van Beethoven’s residence, now preserved. It has the feeling of a country tavern inside, and there is an extensive wine list that Jauk puts to good use for his tasting menus paired with wines (extra), which are always changing.        

     We began with an amuse of tȇte de veau with white beans and red onions, followed by a series of savory dishes (four course €79, five €89, six €99) like finely chopped beef tartare with smoked capers, radish and crouton; a consommé of mushrooms with egg yolk and truffles; cod in a rich, ivory-colored beurre blanc with sweet potato tinged with orange; delicious and tender veal with a buttery fondant of potatoes and wild broccoli; rosy lamb with spiced rice, fig and pistachio (which showed off the chef’s Turkish heritage); for dessert a Mont Blanc with candied chestnut and tangerine; and a delightful gingerbread with honey, apple and walnut. It is a sumptuous meal, but dishes are kept to a moderate size, so you might even indulge in the four varieties of local cheeses before your petits-fours.

     Jauk, who says he is more a marketer than gastronome, nevertheless knows his wines, and he’s to be trusted with his choices matched to his sophisticated take on modern European cuisine.

     In the mood for Italian food, my wife and I sought out La Tavolozza (Florianigasse 37), a pleasant looking trattoria with white tablecloths and candles (right). They serve a fine array of thin-crusted pizzas, and the antipasti include a skewer of scampi, tuna and scallops (€19); a bright orange carpaccio of tuna and salmon (€17); and soft polenta with calamari (€14). Pastas are colorfully presented, and we enjoyed penne with funghi porcini that were just coming into the season (€14) and potato gnocchi with a verdant pesto and arugula (€14).

    We made not the least dent in Vienna’s international offerings, and since one cannot eat Wiener Schnitzel every  night it’s good to know that a sudden hankering for anything from nigiri sushi to spaghetti alla carbonara is close at hand.


A few words about dining out in Vienna:

*  Just about every restaurant has a menu in English.

* Dress, as everywhere in Europe these days, is casual, but at the more traditional restaurants and cafés you will want to dress a bit conservatively, although bluejeans are everywhere.

* There is no smoking inside.

* Service is unfailingly courteous, and in the cafés very efficient.

* As for tipping, VAT tax and service are already included in the meal’s price, and many list a cover charge. But tipping is not requisite, and leaving more than 10%, if you wish, is generous.





456 Greenwich Street


By John Mariani



         Since 1899 the name Fouquet’s has evoked images of cranberry red carpets, trimmed green hedges and broad red awnings on the east side of the broad Champs Élysées (below). Ever since the opening of the avenue’s first cinema in 1928, the hotel has drawn the movie crowd and since 1976 became host of the annual gala for the Cèsar Awards, France’s version of the Oscars. The hotel itself has been splendidly modernized in the past decade, but the restaurant has long retained its gorgeous mahogany paneling by Jean Royère, and has gone on to earn the prestigious Inventaire des Monuments Historiques. It’s always been an al fresco pleasure to dine on the terrace. By the way, Parisians know to pronounce the name as “Foo-ketts,” not “Foo-Kays.”
         As a self-described brasserie, Fouquet’s menu has always been predictably simple and solid, and now, with the consultation of Pierre Gagnaire (below), it has been transplanted into several branches around the world, last year opening in New York. The hotel’s location on a dark, narrow street in TriBeCa has none of the cachet of the Champs Élysée, but the similarity of décor and colors of the original is obvious. The walls are the same color wood, though not hung with movie star photos as in Paris. Time will tell.
         The table settings and table lamps are first-rate, the wineglasses thin, and the bread (which we had to ask for) was an excellent selection. The wine list, as you might expect, is very strong, but top heavy with bottles well over $100.
       The original's bar is in a separate room; here it is in the main dining room (left). Of course, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, it’s a lot louder than in Paris, and here unwarranted music is, alas, pumped into the dining room. Fouquet’s gets a fairly well-dressed crowd, but management does not enforce a dress code, so that a middle-aged lout was allowed to wear a baseball cap at the dinner table one evening.
         The prices are about the same in both cities, and, having dined a few times in the original, I found the preparation of the food in New York quite on a par, starting with the very best onion soup gratinée (below) I’ve ever had this side of the Atlantic ($24)—a perfect amalgamation of intense broth with slowly cooked sweet caramelization and suffused bread, copiously topped with three kinds of thick, bubbling, browned cheese. I could never return to Fouquet’s and fail to order this glorious classic of bistro cooking.        
Within the same heritage are escargots with parsley and green velouté ($26), and a beef tartare with garlic chili paste and egg yolk sauce, accompanied by fat coin de rue (“street”) fries ($30/$45). Unique to New York is jumbo lump crabmeat seasoned with espelette pepper and chives set on a lime-tinged sweet avocado puree with thin wafers of radish ($42) —elements wholly complementary in buoying the flavor of the crab.
         Why can’t French chefs ever learn to restrain themselves from lavishing extraneous ingredients on pasta, as is never the case in Italy? The potato gnocchi at Fouquet’s were nicely made, but their flavor got smothered in pea puree, sugar peas, mint and lemon zest ($33).
         A generous one-and-a-half-pound lobster ($78) came as a hearty fricassée with sautéed spinach, roasted carrots, a Cognac-laced bisque and a white rice pilaf, the kind of dish the French excel in (left). Fouquet’s buys the best lamb from Elysian Fields, cooks it perfectly to one’s wishes, enriched with a Provençal reduction of juices and sided with Israeli couscous, herbed tabbouleh and crisp gaufrette potatoes. I should mention that one of the menu’s most popular items seems to be the Fouquet’s cheeseburger ($30), as ordered by all six twenty-something women at the adjacent table.   
For desserts there are all the classics you’d hope for at a brasserie, including a plate of fat profiteroles lavished with chocolate ganache ($20), enough for two, and fragile, cream-filled millefeuille pastry with a variety of macerated autumn fruits ($16).
         Near the main dining room is the far more casual but very handsome Par Ici Café within a glassed-in garden, whose menu is largely vegetarian with salads and pastas but also with caviar, roast chicken ($29), salmon ($35) and butter-poached lobster ($46). 
TriBeCa needs a fine dining room like Fouquet’s, though its prices are high for the neighborhood ($100 for sole meunière is the highest I’ve seen in New York). Filled as it was midweek when I visited, there are apparently enough people who find the ambience and vibrancy of the restaurant and its history very good reason to eat and drink there.


Dinner nightly; Brunch: Sat., Sun.


By  John Mariani

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



A picture should end as it has to. I don’t think anything in life ends right.”— Carol Reed on the ending of The Third Man


      The smooth approach to JFK Airport over the white sand beaches of Fire Island and Jones Beach and the slow descent before touchdown is for everyone arriving from Europe equal parts excitement and relief, but for Katie and David, after all they’d been through, the end of the flight gave them a feeling of release. All their anxieties dissipated at the thought of being safe and being home in New York. 
      Even the long line through security gave them time to enjoy the familiarity of the arrivals hall and the customs agent welcomed them home with the crunch of his stamp on their entry forms. Then they walked the last fifty feet into the vast terminal hall, past the people waiting for friends and relatives and the card-carrying limo drivers and outside to the taxi stand.
         Katie anticipated David’s saying something like, “Well, I guess this is where we say goodbye,” by cutting in first with, “So, David. I’m going to need to see you in a day or two to go over everything and get your input before I start juggling everything in my head.”
         “Well, it’s not that I have a  whole lot on my schedule,” he replied. “Whenever you say, just gimme a call.” They parted with a short hug and a kiss on both cheeks, Katie got into a cab to the Bronx and David in one up the Hudson River. He had a longer drive to think everything over.
         On arriving home, Katie saw her phone blinking with dozens of phone messages she’d get to the next day. David had only a few, none of them important. 

                                     *                         *                         *                         *


         It was Christmas Eve when Katie headed for the McClure’s offices on Sixth Avenue, so she had a chance to see the magnificently lighted Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and pass by the beautifully decorated windows at Saks Fifth Avenue. When she got to the office everyone welcomed her back.  Several asked if she’d come close to getting murdered, and she’d just flick her hand and say, “Let you all know later.”
         Alan Dobell actually rose from his chair to greet her at his open door.
         “Back in one piece, I see,” he said, looking Katie up and down. “No bullet holes?”
         “No bullet holes. But almost a skin puncture,” she replied. “I’ll tell you about it later. Meanwhile, put your feet up on your desk and I’ll tell you what I’ve got.”
         Dobell retreated to his usual position and said, “I’m all ears.”
         Katie took out her notebook and began with a quick review of everything Dobell had already been told, then went on to tell what happened when David and she traveled to Budapest. Dobell was suitably impressed, rarely interrupting the flow of her narrative.  When she finished, he said, “Well, I really am glad you’re all in one piece. Sorry to hear about David though.”
        “Yeah, yeah, but it makes a better story, doesn’t it?”
         “Gotta admit it does,” said the editor, who then began peppering her with questions, asking if she had it all down in her notes or on her recorder. He asked about Chambers and how much of those conversations she could use. He asked if she’d be able to get in touch with Kovalyov to see what he’d confirm. He asked what parts of the story were the most salient and newsworthy.
         “I know you went over there to find Harry Lime,” he said, “but this turned into a much bigger story. There’s the Philby angle, then the Toth ending. I have to think this through to see what part should be the focus. Toth’s important—hell, he tried to kill you—but all the intrigue and cover-ups of the FSS and MI6, that may turn out to be the bombshell.”
         Katie said she’d be happy to go through everything again until they found the focus together.  At that moment one of the other editors tapped on Dobell’s door frame and asked to see Katie.
         “This envelope came for you yesterday,” said the young woman. “Not addressed to you but given to me by a woman—she had an accent—who asked it be given to you on someone else’s behalf.”
         “What’d she look like?” asked Katie.
         “About my age. Maybe a student. She sounded Eastern European.”
         “Maybe. Anyhow, here’s the envelope.”
         Katie opened the envelope to reveal a greeting card that had been handwritten in Russian. There was no signature. Katie asked if McClure’s Russia expert, Anne Barkov, was in the office. Dobell said she was and summoned her.
         Barkov was in her thirties, very tall, with green eyes. She was a journalist who’d won awards for her coverage of Russia, where she’d been posted for three years in the mid-1990s.  She welcomed Katie back and asked how she could help. Katie asked her to translate the card.
         Barkov skimmed it and said, “It seems to be an Easter card. Most of the text is from the Russian Orthodox Easter liturgy.”
         “An Easter card? Do the Russians send Easter cards at Christmastime?”
         “No, they celebrate Easter around the same time Catholics and Protestants do, but they use a different Church calendar, so usually it’s within a couple of weeks of one another; sometimes it’s the same date. But it’s always in the spring.”
         “So why am I getting an anonymous Easter card two days before Christmas?” asked Katie. “What does it say?”
         “As I said, it’s part of the midnight Mass liturgy, and the Russians all get together for a big meal afterwards and repeat this part of the liturgy when they toast Christ’s resurrection with shots of vodka.”
         Barkov began reading the Russian, line for line, then translated:

         Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered;
         let those who hate him flee from before his face!
         Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
          and upon those in the tombs bestowing life

         Below the text were two large letters. Katie asked, “What do those letters mean. K and P?”
         “It’s actually supposed to be X and B, which stands for ‘Khristos voskres!’ and means ‘Christ is risen!’ It is odd that the letters look more like K and P. The rest of the handwriting is very good, old-style Russian.”
         Katie took back the card and looked at it for a long time, then her mouth dropped open.
         “What?” said Dobell and Barkov at the same time.
         “The letters were written that way on purpose,” said Katie. “KP stands for Kim Philby and the liturgy is telling us he’s died.”
         Barkov had no idea what Katie was talking about but Dobell was dumbfounded, saying, “You really believe that?”
         Katie kept nodding and said, “I think this is a note from Kim Philby’s wife Rufina informing me that her husband has died and that the liturgy text is reflecting her sentiment that he has defeated his enemies who said he had died by actually dying, and he’s trampling on those in the tomb where he was said to be buried.”
         Dobell asked, “Why the big mystery? Why didn’t she just contact you to tell you her husband died?”
         “Because Rufina knew that every phone call is monitored and every letter she writes is opened by the Russians. She must have given this unsigned card with no address on it to the woman to deliver here to the magazine. Rufina had no idea what my home address is but knew I worked for McClure’s, so this woman was probably just coming to the U.S. and was asked to drop off what looks like an Easter card.”
         “That’s going to be tough to prove,” said Dobell.        
“I know, but maybe this time the Brits will weigh in and confirm it. If Philby’s really and truly dead—finally!—they may be willing to do so. Better that than to lie about not knowing he was alive and kicking all those years.”

John Mariani, 2016




By John Mariani



        Was it only last week I was recommending red wines dating back ten and twenty years? Yes, indeed, but my rationale for that article was that I was able to find wines that had aged beautifully and matured into what they once promised. That is not usually the case.
         The fact is that it is a myth that wines “get better with age,” meaning beyond the point where the producer thinks it should be released. There are, to be sure, many illustrious wines whose reputation for aging dates back at least to 19th century, such as the Grand Crus Burgundies and First Growth Bordeaux. And, yes, I have had some red wines that dated back a half century or more and found them remarkably drinkable—which is not the same thing as saying they were wonderful.
        It was just that it was a surprise—actually more a relief—to find them still in decent condition, with acceptable color and modest oxidation. I’ve also had once-great wines that had not fared well over the decades and some—I’m thinking of a 1929 Château Lafite-Rothschild I was served—was pretty good on first sip, then sank like a plumb line within fifteen minutes.
         There are even fewer white wines that age well beyond three to five years, exceptions being a handful of white Burgundies and, as is intended, dessert wines like Sauternes (right) and German Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings. But it is a foolish notion to bank on most wines, red or white, to keep improving in the bottle when in fact they start to deteriorate as soon as the cork is put in.
         The fault is not just in the natural oxidation that occurs in the bottle, making the wine smell musty and chemical. Nor can it be blamed on faulty corks, although it may well be the case that five to ten percent of wines with cork stoppers may well be “corked.” Heat, or wide swings of intense heat and bitter cold, can affect a wine’s structure in the bottle, so that an apartment building registering above 80 degrees is far from ideal for keeping a wine sound. Which is why people who buy fairly expensive wines from an older vintage should really invest in a humidified, temperature-controlled unit. You can get a 24-bottle storage cooler for about $550 and they go way up from there.
        Wine preservers are hand-held gadgets that supposedly suck out the oxygen from a bottle that has been opened but not finished during a meal. Frankly, I don’t know how well any of these work—I have one I  bought for about ten bucks—but they are not intended to preserve the wine past a couple of days anyhow.
       How do you know, then, if a wine you purchase will age well, or needs aging at all? There is no foolproof way, despite claims in the wine media about this Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir that needs another five or ten years in the bottle. Only the long, documented tradition of a wine that has, year in and year out, shown that it needs further aging makes sense. The problem is that tastings by professionals are often from barrels, before the wine is even bottled. Obviously, with a wine like Château Margaux 2020 (the 2021s have not yet been released) selling for $1,000 or more, few connoisseurs are going to open a bottle every year for twenty years to see how things are coming along.
         Estimates for peak maturation are notoriously useless, especially when some excellent wines—like the vaunted 1997 Brunello di Montalcinos—go through what’s called a “dumb period,” when the wine tastes flat and hasn’t come together cohesively. But no one can predict that. Years later many were superb.
         The best rule of thumb, then, is, unless you are a very well-heeled person for whom a $1,000 bottle of wine is a fleeting pleasure, it’s best to buy your wines to be drunk within a year or two, which is very much what the producers would like, so that they can ship more bottles to wine shops to replenish their shelves. Otherwise, there’s no such thing as a pull date on a wine bottle.




"2021 Specially Selected Cairanne Cru des Côtes du Rhône, France. Set your alarms for Aldi’s festive gift to the nation: this excellent earthy, cracked black pepper of a southern red rhône that you’ll need to race to the shops for on December 11. It’s a turbocharged, grenache-led, unoaked wallop of a red, with a good slug of syrah and a dab each of mourvèdre and carignan."—"50 best red wines for winter (and the £3.49 bottle everyone should buy" by Jane McQuitty, London Times


 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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