Virtual Gourmet

  July 21, 2024                                                                       NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica while filming "Marriage Italian Style" (1964)




By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



                                                                                    2 Rue Vivienne


                                                                        By John Mariani


         The other night my wife and I settled in to watch the 2003  Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton rom-com “Something’s Gotta Give,” whose ending takes place  at a brasserie named  Le Grand Colbert on a rare night when it is snowing in Paris. The movie is as delightful as ever and it reminded me of how romantic—and how very good—Colbert still is. 

         Those who have never set foot in Colbert sniff that the movie made it into a tourist trap, and the management makes no secret of its association. But this is one of the city’s classic brasseries, and its primary clientele are Parisian—most of them from the  Second Arrondissement, just around the corner from the beautiful Jardin du Palais Royal and near the Bourse.

         In 1828 the Gallerie Colbert, named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, minister for Louis XIV,  opened and within was a novelty store called Au Grand Colbert. But it  wasn't until 1900 that it opened as a restaurant and for 85 years was under the same ownership, until taken over by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Today the premises have national landmark status, and you will see why as soon as you enter in the glory of impeccably preserved art nouveau premises with its tall mirrors, fin-de-siècle murals, zinc bar, brass railings, bentwood chairs, shiny silverware, starched linens, gorgeous mosaic tile floors and effusions of green plants. Its current owners took over in 1992 and polished everything to a bright sheen.

      The menu seeks to break no culinary ground, although it is “vegetarian friendly” and offers gluten-free dishes. Aside from à la carte, there is a very well-priced Le Bistrot menu is €29 for three courses, and a Menu Parisian for €55 for three courses. (The nice things about Colbert’s website is that many of its dishes have accompanying photographs to stir your appetite.)

          The last time I visited Colbert I was with my son, then about thirty years old, both of us just off a flight from New York, jetlagged and in need of sustenance. We walked through the Jardin and there, as always, was Colbert with its neon sign, tall windows and red velvet curtains, its ancient door opening onto that glorious brasserie setting. It was early but guests began arriving by one o’clock, many greeted by name. We, unknown, were treated just as cordially, despite our fumbled attempts at speaking French.

         It’s customary to begin with shellfish at a brasserie, and Colbert has a large selection, with six oysters (at dinner €23-30), cheaper at lunch), an assiette of shellfish (€38) and the Grand Colbert Royale with half a lobster and shellfish (83). Individual species are also available.

         There are a dozen or so appetizers, each perfected over decades, like to frogs’ legs à la Provençale (€25), a terrine of foie gras of duck (28) and of course onion soup gratinée (€14). There is even a plate of burrata and roast tomatoes (€23).

         Next come the fish: sole meunière (€75), daurade royale with saffron sauce and vegetables (  42), and that wonderful throwback of dauntingly rich quenelles of pike with lobster sauce and basmati rice (€29).

         If it’s meat you’re after here’s a châteaubriand for two with Bearnaise and frites (98), boudin noir with onions (€28) and, to show they’re up to date, linguine with truffle cream (30). One would imagine their roast chicken with thyme jus and frites would have been on the menu since the beginning, but it was actually its being praised in the movie “Something’s Gotta Give” that put it there, and now it’s one of the most popular dishes.

         The cheese trolley offers three for €15, a good way to finish your wine from a list with prices in every range.

         For dessert I’m helpless when shown profiteroles with chocolate sauce (€16) or baba au rhum with crème Chantilly (15), a delicious flaky tarte of apples (€14) and a bowl of prunes in Armagnac (€14) and, if you’re really in the mood, they still do flamed crepes Suzettes  (17) tableside. Omelette norvegienne (   17) is the French name for baked Alaska. The “Patisseries Maison,” made on premises include a chocolate dome ( 13) and buttery Parus-Brest   (€15).

         There are so many delectable brasseries and bistros, both old and modern, that are maintaining traditions that never go out of style, but Le Grand Colbert is one of the most beautiful and for that, timeless in Paris. Once you see it, you’ll understand why they filmed a romantic comedy in its midst.


Open for lunch and dinner daily. The restaurant will close for holiday after the Olympics end.








                                                                                    309 East 5th Street


By John Mariani


      The first course I tasted at Rynn was wholly unexpected: a bowl of icy cold summer sweet strawberries in a spicy dressing ($13), which I might have thought was a dessert. Instead, along with some Thai cocktails, it was a dish whose sweetness, sourness, seasonings and iciness was a fine spur to the palate and for all that was to come. I was hungry before I tasted it, then I was ravenous.
         Rynn, located amidst the myriad storefront restaurants in the East Village, is the labor of love conceived by Natchaya K., Serena T. and Hataichanok P., who serves as chef. I’m no longer surprised to find all female-run restaurants in New York, and this is evidently a very personalized space, with Natchaya and Serena hosting, serving and advising on a menu full of familiar and novel dishes, showing the same genteel rapport with guests I experienced in Thailand.
         The name Rynn “
รินน์” means memories, specifically the three women’s memories of growing up in Thailand, which are translated in the colors and imagery of the dining room, right down to the dishware and glasses. A white pot of big flowers is set on the table. There are sea blue banquettes and bentwood chairs, a short bar to the right as you enter, where Serena concocts excellent cocktails, and a mural of a Thai couple enjoying one of them. It’s a small place and I was there when the place was fairly empty, so I couldn’t gauge the noise level, except to say that playing western pop music is hardly conducive to memories of Old Bangkok.
         Our party of four asked Hataichanok to make up a menu for us, family style, and we were richly awarded from the start with an array of beautifully presented and highly colorful foods, all in various ceramic plates.
         Fresh tender shrimp and pork la tiang were sauteed and cuddled in a delicate, pretty mesh of egg seasoned with pepper, coconut palm sugar and fish sauce  ($15). The dish is based on an 1800 poem called Kap He Chom Khruaeang Khao Wan, composed by the crown prince (who would become King Rama II) in praise of many savory dishes that evoked his love of Princess Bunrot.
         Frying is a delicate craft in Thailand, as done here with the crispy, garlicky chicken wings peek gai with a roasted rice dressing ($13). A delicious, plump steamed dumpling called kanom jeeb ($12) was filled with minced shrimp, crab and chicken. Rice crackers are swept with roasted chili paste ($10) and go well with everything.
         The broth of tom yum ta lay ($24) with shrimp, calamari and fish was not particularly flavorful, though helped by adding seasoning on your own.
         If you must have beef, almost always imported in Thailand, the nua yang jaew ribeye, a dish from Northeastern Thailand, takes well to its sweet-sour marinade and basil sauce ($30), but I loved the pang ped of roasted duck with pang curry and roti ($26). On the same level of high flavor were the fat crispy softshell crabs pu karee ($32) with a sumptuous golden yellow turmeric-colored crabmeat curry. Crab fried rice ($22) is another terrific dish using the crustacean. Maybe, just maybe, best of all was the rich,  wonderfully flavorful braised pork belly ($26), braised for five hours with anise-like five spices and shiitake mushrooms.
         For whatever reason, there are some self-appointed aficionados of Thai cookery who say that the ubiquitous pad thai of shrimp and noodles is a westernized cliché. But when I dined around Bangkok I found nothing could be further from the truth. Pad dishes were everywhere and beloved for their variety the same way pasta is in Italy. At Rynn there are four (all $18), with shrimp in tamarind sauce; pork and wide noodles in sweet soy sauce; kee mao with shrimp and calamari; and kua gai with wide rice noodles in light soy sauce. It’s tough to choose among them.
         Desserts at Rynn are pleasant at the end of the meal, the best a plate of ripe mango with butterfly pea sticky rice ($15).
         Whenever I’ve been away from Thai food for too long, I think of certain dishes I’ve always enjoyed. When I think of Rynn and the women who work so hard to define their cuisine, they and Rynn will now always be a part of my own memories of Bangkok and Thai food.


Open daily for lunch and dinner.


By  John Mariani


            Katie’s next visit was to a woman named Sharon Burns.
         “She’s a prostitute,” Sara Garrison told her. “Strictly a call girl, though, not on the streets. Goes under a false name, works for a pimp, one of the nicer ones, I hear, if there is such a thing. She was once quite beautiful, but she’s been knocked about over the past ten years and knows her time in the sex trade is goin’ to end someday soon. She told me she’d like to set up her own house, said she wanted ‘classy girls’ who needed her help.”
         “And was she badly treated in the Laundries?” asked Katie.
         “Yes, but more important to her story is that she got pregnant by a priest who’d visit the Laundries. The baby was, of course, taken away from her. Nothin’ happened to the priest. He’s still in the parish.”
         Katie met Sharon Burns at her two-bedroom flat, which she shared with two other women, paid for by their pimp. The flat itself was in fair shape, cheaply decorated but clean, the way the pimp demanded it be maintained for visiting clients.
         “The other girls are not here, so we can talk,” said Sharon, who looked older than her mid-thirties, the same age as Katie. Sharon was about five-six, her hair bright red—“The clients like that real ‘Oy-rish’ look,” she said—and she wore little make-up besides lipstick. She was dressed in sweats and a Guinness t-shirt.
         Sharon launched straight in, before Katie actually asked a question.
         “So you want to know about the murders, or about me? I know you’re writin’ an article for an American magazine, so you’ll need some colorful local characters like me, right? I’ll tell you what I know, but I’m not allowin’ any fuckin’ photographer in here.”
         “I’ve got nothing to do with photographers.”
        "No Jimmy Olsen hangin’ on your arm? You married?”
         “Seems a shame, girl like you. For me marriage was never an option. Anyway I learned to hate men a long while ago.”
         “And women?”
          “Case by case basis. You want some tea or somethin’?”
         Katie shook her head and asked, “Well, can you tell me about your own experience at the Laundries?”
         “By now you’ve heard it all, if you’ve been talkin’ to Sara. You’ve seen other girls?”
         Katie said she had and mentioned their names.
       “I knew some of the younger ones. Names are a little foggy. We all suffered to different degrees at the hands of the bloody Sisters of Charity. I got in there ass backwards. I wasn’t a whore—just caught in bed with my boyfriend, he was an altar boy—and I didn’t go in pregnant, I got pregnant while I was in the Laundries. Good Father Edwin Donnelly, the fat fuck! Of course, he was not the only one who—what do people say when they’re being polite about fuckin’? ‘Had his way with me?’”
         “Can I ask how many priests?”
         “Over the six years I was there? I don’t remember, maybe ten. They came from outside of Dublin. Some of them from other countries.”
         “And this went on right under the Sisters’ noses?”
         Sharon laughed, but only a little.
         “Well, Katie, I’ll tell you. They had this little game they played where they’d make each other believe there was nothin’ wrong with fuckin’ a Laundry girl since she was already spoiled meat. That’s what one of the good fathers called me. We were going to go to hell anyway, so fuckin’ us was what we deserved, part of our penance.  The good Sisters turned their backs and let the bastards have their way.”
         Having read and heard of such behavior, Katie found herself becoming nauseous when faced with a woman who had repeatedly been through it.
         “You said you thought some of these priests came from outside Dublin and Ireland?”
         “Absolutely. They spoke like Aussies or Americans or Brits. The nuns told us, ‘Oh, we have a visitor comin’ today from far away.’ Then we‘d be left alone with them in a room assigned to them for the night.  Some of them would bring us lipstick, told us to put it on, even tellin’ us we looked like angels. Then they’d hold us down and always tried to muffle us so we wouldn’t scream. I once bit one bastard’s fingers so hard he had to go to the hospital. Wish it had been his prick!”
         “I know this is going to sound condescending,” said Katie, “but you’ve got every right to loathe these people. Did you ever tell the police?”
    Sharon laughed again. “The Garda? There were a few of them in on the whole bloody thing! They’d tell us, ‘That nice Sergeant O’Rourke is comin’ over today, ladies, and you’d be lucky to marry a man like that if you ever get out.’ Bunch of snortin’ pigs. So, my answer to your questions is, no, tellin’ the Garda what was going on was like pissin’ in the wind.”
        “And how did you get out?”
       Sharon turned glum. “After the baby arrived, the Sisters decided it would be some kind of sin to be lettin’ the priests back in to fuck me. The priests knew it too. Must’ve felt guilty. Time went on and I think the times were closin’ in on them. Better to let me go and hope I wouldn’t make a royal stink on the outside.”
         “And how did you turn to the life you live now?” said Katie, who couldn’t bring herself to use the word prostitute.
       “You mean become a whore? Why, Katie, I’d been well trained for it! Knew all the positions! All the ways men like it! Either that or get a job in a laundry—maybe self-service, open one myself someday. ‘Twas easier to become a whore and make a lot more money quickly.”
       Katie sensed that Sharon knew the days were growing short for her to make any living in the sex trade.
        Sharon said, “It’ll all be over soon, but I’ve got some money saved up. I've been trying to help some of the girls out on the streets. And I’ve been able to live long enough to see three of the good Sisters sent to hell. That’s been something I never thought I’d see. Thought they’d just die a natural death in their bloody convent, with all the candles around them and the other old hags sayin’ their rosaries over them.”
        “So you have no thoughts as to who might have committed the murders?”
      “A hundred thoughts! When you’ve got a hundred enemies, you’ve got a hundred suspects. I don’t envy you findin’ the ones who acted on their hatred for those nuns. They’ve made a good start.”


John Mariani, 2018



 By John Mariani


It’s no secret that wine consumption worldwide is flat or declining, not least in France, where wine consumption has decreased by more than 50% since 1980 from 120 liters per capita to 47, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

Covid, which forbade travel and going out to restaurants, was a critical blow from which the wine industry is only now recovering. Add to that the Ukraine war and disruption of sales to Russia, plus an inflationary spiral, winemakers have to fight with price increases consumers don’t need right now.

The upside of all this negativity in the market is that French vintners and exporters are now selling a much wider variety of wines than ever before, when rigid tradition ruled the industry. The most illustrious wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy—the Prémier and Grand Crus—haven’t had any problem selling every bottle, but with so much wine below that level to sell, châteaus are expanding their offerings and doing so at more modest prices. Here are several examples of both traditional and innovative French bottlings well worth checking out, most of them under $40.  

G d’Estournel 2021 ($39). A superb, soft  Northern Médoc wine composed of a Bordeaux mix of 80% Merlot,  19% Cabernet Sauvignon and just 1% Cabernet Franc (with no Petit Verdot), its grapes grow on clay rich soils that gives it a voluptuous character with minty nuance. With all red meats this will show off Bordeaux’s continuing refinement. Since Michel Reybler took over the château in 2000 he has made “G” from acreage near the mouth of the Gironde Estuary that has a cool climate and has been replanted.



Ducru-Beaucaillou Madame de Beaucaillou 2019 ($26). Composed of 66% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot, this estimable Haut-Médoc wine is from a château (whose name means “beautiful pebbles”) dating to 1720  whose owners contend that Nature is a “subject of law” and that vineyards are entire ecosystems. Ducru uses no herbicides, and in recent years its production has deliberately been reduced from 16,000 cases to 8,000.   This special release, Madame de Beaucaillou, from St. Julien, pays homage to the estate’s women proprietors for over 300 years, beginning with Marie Dejean in 1720, now co-owned by Bruno-Eugèneorie and his mother Monique Borie. It spends a year in French oak and emerges at a perfect 13.9% alcohol.

Pagodes de Cos 2021 ($54).  I was very impressed with this wine as a true exemplar of what Bordeaux should taste like. There’s a good bit of dark fruit flavors, pleasant tannins and a citrus balance, made with 60% Merlot that softens the 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, with nuances added by 3% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot for spice. The wine has been made at Cos d’Estournel since 1994 from  40-year-old vines and yet it’s now wholly ready to enjoy or to hold for a few more years. I had it with grilled marinated chicken and it was a perfect marriage.



Les Lègendes Médoc 2018 ($27.99). One can easily be impressed by the fact that the Domaines Barons de Rothschild created Les Lègendes as a lighter facsimile of the family’s cherished Médoc style without paying a fortune. It only uses two grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from land on the left bank of the Gironde. Given its power, the press release for the wine recommends it be served “for boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting events,” though I’d rather luxuriate at home with the wine over a brace of quail or rack of lamb while watching “Gigi.”




Soleil Vin de Bonte Le Blanc  2022 ($17).  A well-fruited white wine from Provence, this is composed of 65% Piquepoul, 20% Terret Blanc and 15% Ugni Blanc, with a sensible 13% alcohol for easy drinking. The vineyard’s proximity to the Mediterranean gives it a pleasing salty underpinning, the sunshine brings up the fruitiness and the Ugni Blanc (a grape used to make Cognac) provides the acidic touch. Delightful to drink all summer long and excellent with shellfish.



Trimbach Gewürztraminer 2019 ($35.99). I am not a big fan of Gewürztraminers because too often the spiciness can taste artificial with an oily finish. But Trimbach in Alsace has been at it since 1626, with twelve generations always working to improve their wines. It is drier than most and makes for a stimulating apéritif with cheeses and charcuteries, and the spice works amazingly well to the difficult-to-match Indian food with its own variety of seasonings.








"Don't order as if you were ordering brunch at Soho House. Do you have any kimchi? Could you steam the fish rather than bake it in clay? Just a salad — but don’t you have avocado? Really ? Can you not do the tagine (sounds really heavy) but chicken with the sauce on the side? Alternatively, there is ordering in a “what’s this foreign muck?” manner. For example: have you got anything that isn’t fish? I really don’t like spicy … I really can’t eat … what do you mean brains? OMG you’re not serious? If they’re not gobbing in your food in the kitchen, you’re lucky."— Shane Watson, "Oh no, Brits Abroad! Here's What Not to Do and Say," London Times (7/4/24)



 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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