Virtual Gourmet

December 31,  2006                                                       NEWSLETTER


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In This Issue

The Sort of  Secret Pleasures of Trento by John Mariani

NEW YORK CORNER:   kobe club by John Mariani

Beaujolais Non-Nouveau Deserves New Respect
by John Mariani


The Sort of Secret Pleasures of Trento
by John Mariani

      T rento. . . T rento. . . now where exactly is T rento?
      More than likely that is the response most people have when you say you are returning from a magically beautiful land of mountains, glaciers, valleys, medieval towns, and 297 alpine lakes in the northeastern most part of Italy, right above Lake Garda.  For millennia the region has been famous as a place to be restored by a visit to a spa, for its waters are rich in sulfur, and the air  is among the most pristine in Europe, thanks to the concerted efforts of the people to maintain their region's ecological balance.
       Trento is the capital center of Trentino and a good place to stay put while exploring the region. It is a romanesque city, lovingly restored, with an historic center closed off to traffic, so you can stroll with the locals to your heart's content beneath the gaze of the Fountain of  Neptune in the Piazza Duomo with its 13th century cathedral  surrounded by ancient homes whose exteriors are frescoed. The city is probably most famous, or infamous, as the location of a 16th century Council called by Pope Paul III to launch the Counter-Reformation. After a brief occupation by Napoleon, Trento was under Austrian control until 1918, when Italian troops took the town and it reverted to Italian nationality.
      0000We stayed at the 126-room Grand Hotel Trento (left; 1/3 Via Alfieri; 0461-271-000), 
which, though opened a century ago, is probably the most modern and best run in the region. Our room was nothing to rave about, but the concierge and staff were efficient and helpful. We arrived in the evening, tossed our bags onto the bed and went strolling the piazza in the moonlight, stopping for dinner at Scrigno del Duomo (29 Piazza del Duomo; 0461-220030), which is set on two levels, with a lively casual wine bar upstairs and a beautiful subterranean restaurant (below), built on an ancient Roman well, and whose Senesi Room is named after the artist whose graffiti (in the best sense) are etched in the walls here.
     The winelist  here is one of the finest I've seen in Italy, specializing in the varietals-- of the area, including Lagrein, Marzemino, Nosiola, and Traminer, tipping towards northern grapes like Sylvaner and Riesling. Everything is done with refinement, including very  beautiful stemware;
they also have delicious grissini (breadsticks) to nibble while you admire the exquisite show plates here.
     We began with complimentary glasses of prosecco with a puree of duck liver with greens and a touch of balsamic vinegar, along with a fillet of triglie (mullet) with a salad of zucchini.
      Our pastas were wonderfully northern in style, like saffron-flavored matagliati with rabbit and asparagus, and ravioli packed with roe deer meat and glossed with butter. Cannelloni with a leek puree and wonderfully sweet, just barely stewed tomatoes, though a slice of anchovy didn't help the dish at all. Typical of the region were canerderli--fried dumplings with plums and a surprisingly good grapefruit sorbet. With these courses                                                  
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
we  enjoyed a 2000 Bastie Alte blend of cabernet and merlot.                                                                                                                
     T he main courses were delicately cooked bass with wild fennel and potatoes, and fat quails on crispy polenta.  We still had room for dessert and shared a warm apple puff with strawberry coulis and luscious vanilla ice cream, along with petits fours of butter cookies, chocolate brownie-like cakes, and little coconut cakes. It was a fine, innovative meal and to emerge to walk around the piazza and back to our hotel added to the romance of the evening.
       A meal here should run about $60 per person, with tax and service.

     4444Osteria Due Spade (11 Via Don Rizzi; 0461-234-3430 ) has its own ancient charms, though they date back merely to the 16th century, when this was already considered a fine place to stop for a meal.  It is rustic and elegant at the same time, with a lovely outdoor patio under a canvas canopy; the small dining room has fine woodwork and an old Majolica stove.

       Federico Paterlari is a young chef well on his way to high repute (like Scrigno del Duomo, Due Spade has a Michelin star). He changes his menus seasonally, keeping them to just five antipasti, five pastas, and six main courses, delighting in dishes of autumn and winter with game, truffles, and sweet-sour flavors mingled with tuber vegetables. He lards pheasant with black truffles and does a napoleon of potatoes and artichoke with thin slices of bresaola made from a local specialty, horsemeat. Desserts are more Austrian than Italian, and all the better for it. Dinner will cost about $70 per person, with tax and service included.
     Somewhat more staid, with white columns, stucco ceiling, red velvet chairs, and soft lighting is Ristorante Chiesa (
9 Via Marchetti;  0461-238-766; right), known for its very old traditional Trentino recipes and its apple menu.  We chose an antipasto of Speck ham, a light and delicate cheese strüdel not unlike a quiche, and a crostino (puff pastry) of herring mixed with apples still ripe and firm to the bite. .  3`2The pasta was housemade macaroni with sausage and cabbage, followed by veal scaloppini in a Vin Santo sauce with tender potatoes and carrots.  The dessert was a crunchy meringue filled with soft chocolate and a warm chocolate sauce.  As is obvious from the ingredients in such dishes, the German-Austrian influence on the cuisine has been deep, although everything we tasted still had Italian style to it, as did the wines.                                   Photo: G. Stepanoff-Dargery

     One caveat about a former favorite in the area. Pizzeria Laste in the nearby village of Cognola seems to have drifted from serving one of the best pizzas in northern Italy to serving only a pretty good one.  And for what it takes to find the place, which doesn't look like much, we hesitate to suggest you make the trek. It used to be worth the effort, but not now.

    From Trento you may head out through the Dolomites and explore the gorgeous lake country, and because of its proximity, trips into Switzerland and Austria are easy enough.  And in so doing you can see--and taste--how the cultures have overlapped, and, however much things may change in the world, good food and wine endures.

by John Mariani
Photos by Michael Katz

kobe club
68 West 58th Street

   gg4 The explosion of steakhouses serving Kobe and Kobe-style beef is nothing short of astonishing--not only because one has to wonder where it's all coming from but because, for decades, American beef was the nonpareil standard by which great beef was measured.  The finest grade, USDA Prime, well aged and shrunken so that the flavors intensify, have a flavor no un-aged French Charolais or Italian Val di Chiana or Argentine pampas-raised beef can approach in flavor. So, from a marketing standpoint,  in order to distinguish themselves from other steakhouses, entrepreneurs had to find something more extravagant to serve than the usual New York strip and porterhouse associated with places like Peter Luger's, Smith & Wollensky, and the Palm, not to mention out-of-town interlopers like Morton's and Ruth's Chris, and innovators like BLT Steak and Craft.
       Kobe beef (the name is a misnomer for wagyu beef that was originally raised around the city of Kobe) is, as everyone now knows, cut from highly pampered steers fed a specific diet meant ot build up massive amounts of fat with the muscle tissue. It was difficult to obtain and very expensive.  The USDA banned wagyu from importation for years, only allowing it in again as of December 2005. In the meantime American and Australian farmers built herds of steers similar to the original Japanese breeds, which are--or should be labeled--Kobe-style beef. So, how, suddenly, can so many American steakhouses now claim to have wagyu beef?
     Yet it has entered the market, and if people are willing to pay in excess of $100 a pound, you can get it.  Last week I reported on the excellent, buttery Japanese Kobe beef at Megu Midtown, and you can now find the same beef in an increasing number of places in New York, Las Vegas, and  L.A. (the best I've tasted was at Cut in L.A.).

       Now comes China Grill Management with a bold statement that the specialty of the house is the name of the house--Kobe Club, which takes over the flubbed Alain Ducasse restaurant Mix on this site.  Decor-wise everything has been radically transformed:  The premises are now dark and shadowy, the tones black and gray, the lighting low, and the ceiling hung with 2000 samurai swords that put you in mind of a sleek Goth meeting place.   The 60-seat dining room has been drawing a young, casually dressed crowd that seems as interested in the sexy bar upfront as the dining room to the rear, and you can count on loud disco music to add to the decibel level at Kobe Club.  When I visited it looked like a lot of people were blowing some of their Christmas bonus money at the restaurant.
      The press release contends the "vibe at Kobe Club is reminiscent of spending time at a private party or a speakeasy dinner club," and this seems to be true.  Executive chef Russell Titland could easily have done little more than to grill robotically the selections of beef here, but, with competition around town like Quality Meats (which is right across the street), he and management know they have to offer more, and they give it in spades. Thus, you may also be served a Kobe pig-in-a-blanket to nibble on, and it's very tasty indeed. Don't miss the terrific crispy "Crab Cake Double Stuffers,” (below) meaning jumbo crabmeat married to lemon zest, chopped chives, breaded with panko crumbs,  dry mustard,  and mustard seed; this is mixed with  diced cornichons in a warm sesame-chile aïoli into two crab patties: it is one helluva starter.333gg
       Kobe Club offers three styles of its signature item--Australian Wagyu, "produced by crossbreeding indigenous cattle with 100% Japanese Wagyu"; American wagyu from Oregon; and Japanese wagyu, in addition to American Prime. The extensive menu allows you to order some of each if you like, as "flights," each portion stuck with a paper flag of the nation from which it comes.  The "Samurai’s Flight," for instance, is a  an entrée served for two, with a combo of four  ounces each of American, Australian and Japanese Wagyu filets; or  six ounces of American Prime filet. The "Emperor’s Flight," offers Japanese Wagyu with four ounces each of filet and sirloin and ten of ribeye. Several other combos abide.  These are impressive pieces of meat, if your criterion is excessively well-marbled beef, and the real Japanese import is easily the best and most identifiable as Kobe.  The thing is, you simply can't eat much of this beef before becoming completely sated, unless you are in a competition with friends who dare you to eat the whole damn thing by yourself. There are also several non-steak items, including a not very convincing pear-shaped chicken dish that looked odd and tasted bland, despite the addition of black truffles.
         rqffqThe accompaniments are as special as the meats, including a number of sauces you may or may not wish to increase the  heft of the meal.  Hash Browns, served with caramelized onions or topped with lobster, chorizo and crème fraîche, very buttery whipped potatoes with generous morsels of lobster, and excellent creamed spinach are all winners; sake-and-white truffle creamed corn is unctuous and cloying.
       Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the desserts here, and as someone who has long dreamt of finding a  baked Alaska that is anything but childish fluff,  I found that Kobe Club's version amazingly good--delicious ice cream wrapped with sweet meringue that begged to be polished off by the entire table.
      Kobe Club's winelist had more than 250 labels, with a good selection that won't break the bank, along with a reserve list that gives the bonus babies of Wall Street something to splurge on.
      Make no mistake: This is one of the most expensive restaurants in the U.S., where you can easily spend $200 a person--a half-pound slab of Japanese filet runs $190, and a 28-0unce Australian porterhouse $390--but you're getting top quality. It is an extravagance and one that can only be digested in small quantities.  Kobe Club has to decide what exactly it wants to be--a notable restaurant with a distinctive signature or a hang-out place for people to come and drink and splurge on expense account.  I doubt it can be both, but right now, you'll eat very well here if you truly love this kind of extremely rich fare.

Club is open for dinner Mon.-Sat. Appetizers run $11-$24, entrees $25 - $39 (excluding Wagyu Bee and Lobster).


[pBeaujolais Non-Nouveau Deserves New Respect
by John Mariani

    Most winelovers don’t give much thought to Beaujolais after the hangovers wear off from drinking Beaujolais Nouveau at parties held on its release each year on the third Thursday of November.  Indeed, since the 1980s, the annual release at midnight of the new pressings of the Beaujolais vintage that kicks off those parties around the world has had the effect of misleading many people to regard properly aged Beaujolais as an afterthought and a wine without much substance on its own.
       Nothing could be further from the truth. Aged Beaujolais is a deep purple wine made from the Gamay Noir grape on hundreds of small to medium-sized properties over 55,000 acres in southern Burgundy that mostly sell their wine to distributors called negoçiants. The largest negoçiant, and the man who made his fortune promoting Beaujolais Nouveau, is Georges DuBoeuf (below), who controls more than 10 percent of total production and still devotes more than a fifth of that to Beaujolais Nouveau--4 million bottles annually, with about 2.4 million shipped to the U.S. Overall the region produces about 13 million cases of Beaujolais annually. One-third to one-half can be Beaujolais Nouveau, of which Japan takes 11 million bottles.
      Beaujolais’ reputation has not been helped by its association as the ubiquitous “bistro wine,” cheap, low-alcohol wines drunk in carafes throughout France. And for decades up until the 1990s many of the vineyards were ill-tended, producing bulk wines for that bistro market.
      But the better Beaujolais have since the 1990s come from vineyards brought to modern standards of viticulture, especially in those appellations granted status as Beaujolais-Villages, whose wines must have a minimum of 10 percent alcohol and now constitute about one-quarter of total production. The best Beaujolais, whose alcohol tilts more towards 13 percent--come from ten regulated crus—Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliènas, Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Saint-Amour, and Régnié. By common agreement, Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be made from these crus.2f
      Distancing themselves from the Beaujolais Nouveau hysteria has become an important marketing point for these crus.  For one thing Beaujolais Nouveau is made by a process called semicarbonic maceration (which Burgundy winemaker Jean-Marie Guffens calls “carbonic masturbation”). This creates chemical compounds that give the wines their characteristic tropical lollipop flavors.
      Aged Beaujolais is made by traditional method of fermentation and aging, taking on nuances and balancing out flavors, acids, and oak. And while few other countries bother to trifle with Gamay, the grape shows its loveliest qualities in the crus of Beaujolais.
     The crus most certainly improve with age, but age is relative. While Beaujolais Nouveau should be drunk immediately, the crus develop best at two to three years old.  After that they become risky, either losing their fruit or tasting muddled. Some aficionados claim that some ten-year-old Beaujolais show amazing complexity, but very few connoisseurs would bother to cellar Beaujolais for such lengths of time.
     Over two dinners at my home I  sampled several crus that showed the distinctions among aged Beaujolais. One seemed most typical of the medium-body and grapey flavor of Gamay was the 2003 Domaine des Buyats Regnie ($12.99)—a translucent wine of 13 percent alcohol that went particularly well with a pasta dish of farfalle with funghi porcini, shallots, and garlic.  It was not particularly impressive with a main course of roast pork loin, which was much better with a heartier, darker, 2003 Georges DuBoeuf Moulin-à-Vent ($14.99), which had great vigor and roundness, with deep purple color.  I found a 2003 Fleurie Cuvée Prestige DuBoeuf ($16.99) one-dimensional and flat, too mellow, but it went nicely with a simple plate of fresh mozzarella and thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma.
     qrrrrfrThe next night, with a first course of trenette pasta with a vegetable sauce, the best Beaujolais was a 2002 Domaine de la Chaponne ($11.99), which had the signature flavor of Gamay. But after a single glass it lost its appeal.  On the other hand a 2002 Domaine de la Seigneurie, another of DuBoeuf's wines, showed very well with a very rare porterhouse steak. Here was a very pretty wine, a straightforward Beaujolais with levels of flavor brought up with the succulence and fat of the beef.
     As I drank the wine, I was truly reminded of those wonderful nights long ago in Paris when a steak with frites and a carafe of Beaujolais seemed like the best thing in the world. If Beaujolais cannot claim to be a great wine, it can certainly bring back into perspective the real joy of eating simply and drinking very well for very little.
For more information on Beaujolais, visit
John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg News, from which this story was adapted.


Ying Fuming, a factory manager at the Fanchang Grease Factory in Taizhou, China, was arrested for recycling and selling grease from swill, sewage, pesticides, and industrial oil to make lard. Mr. Fuming swore to the Shanghai Daily his product met all safety standards.

Notes from recipes in White Trash Gatherings by Kandra Bailey Morrisx

-CLEAN LIVIN' BAPTIST PUNCH: You gotta break out the punch bowl for this delicious, alcohol-free punch (made with 2 packages cherry or strawberry Kool Aid) because it's a real showstopper.  Float plastic flowers on top for added decadence.

-MISS CYNDI'S WHITE TRASH SUSHI: The thought of eating  raw fish wrapped up in seaweed would certainly send my granny a prayin', but wrap a dill pickle in white bread and cream cheese and she'll be singing "How Great Thou Art" in no time.

-LOU LOU'S FRIED SQUIRREL: After you shoot up a couple of tree rats, make sure to clean 'em real good.

-MISS MADDY'S JAPANESE FRUIT PIE:  Don't let the name of this recipe fool you. There is absolutely nothing Asian in this pie unless you count the coconut, and according to my Aunt Maddy, that's enough to make it  Japanese.


* Starting Jan. 1, L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona will offer a “Red Rocks and Roses Romance Package” priced at $2,995, incl. 2 nights in a Creekside cottage with fireplace;  a pre-arrival consultation with the 'Concierge de Romance'’; hot air balloon ride at sunrise or a private sunset jeep tour for two;  a dozen roses, a bottle of Cristal with strawberries upon arrival, and a fireside dinner prepared by Chef Jonathan Gelman featuring  wine pairings; Couples Spa Treatment; a digital camera to record your stay; breakfast sin bed and a late check-out. Call  800-420-1806 or visit

* Chicago’s Café Matou will celebrate the cuisine and wines of a different region in France at a series of 5-course wine dinners and  offer menu specials all month long devoted to the featured region. First up is Normandy, which will be showcased Jan. 9.  $69 pp,  Call 773-384-8911 or visit

* On Jan. 10 Chicago’s Vinci features the Calabria region of Italy with Librandi Wines at a 4-course wine dinner. $45 pp. Call 312-266-1199.
* During January, in Charleston SC,  the Maverick Collection members of Maverick Southern Kitchens will feature its 5th Annual Winter Wine Fest,  when members of the  program enjoy discounts on bottled wines, Sun.-Thurs. at day, at Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton, and Old Village Post House , with all wines under $50 at  half price, and wines over $50 at 25% off.  At Charleston Cooks! Maverick Kitchen Store Maverick private label wines can be purchased at 25% off. For more info  call  843-724-3808.

* From Jan. 11-13 The Beaver Creek Resort Company has teamed with Anthony Dias Blue of Blue Lifestyle and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa for the Wine & Spirits Series, with complimentary seminars, an opportunity to sample award winning cocktails, and gourmet cuisine. The Wine & Spirits Series occurs once a month through March.  Each weekend features a guest chef selected by Bon Appétit magazine. January's event will feature Chef Martial Noguier of one sixtyblue in Chicago. Call 800-233-1234 or visit

* From Jan. 24-27 the 16th Annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival will take place at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Events include a Showcase of California Zinfandels,  panel discussions and tastings-seminars led by Zinfandel winemakers, "Terroir & Zin," a walkaround tasting reception showcasing 37 Zinfandels; Tix are available from  or call 530-274-4900.

* From Jan. 27-March 31 the 14th annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival will be held, with more than 500 restaurants, caterers, wineries, mustard and gourmet companies, artists, and sponsors presenting their finest products throughout the Sensational Season of Events. The Festival will raise funding for Clinic Olé. Chef Ayala Alejandro Ayala, Executive Banquet Chef at Meadowood Napa Valley, will serve as Host Chef, and the Ceja family of Ceja Vineyards, will serve as Host Winemaking family.  Visit


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

6y6My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. A beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

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copyright John Mariani 2006