Virtual Gourmet

June 22,  2008                                                        NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue

ROME DINING, PART TWO by Edward Brivio

NEW YORK CORNER: Porcão Churrascaria by John Mariani

by Mort Hochstein




by Edward Brivio
Photos by Bobby Pirillo

     Our favorite Roman neighborhood is the historic Campo dei Fiori, especially at dinner time. One of the gems here is Osteria al Bric (Via del Pellegrino 51; 06 687 95 33). A window display of perfectly ripened cheeses on straw mats invites you in. Wine-case end panels decorate the walls: here again, you’ve stumbled upon a wine lover’s dream, run by third- generation wine merchant, Roberto Marchetti.
     Excellent bruschetta quickly disappeared as we looked over the menu. Mezze maniche, “half- sleeves” (the appropriate name for pasta shaped like truncated rigatoni), came dressed with chestnuts, guanciale, and pecorino di fossa, i.e., a pecorino from Sogliano sul Rubicone in Romagna that’s been wrapped in cloth, then stashed away in caves from mid-August until St. Catherine’s day (November 25th), giving the cheese a sharp, intense flavor much superior to our mundane romano. The wide swaths of pasta known as pappardelle call for dense, earthy sauces, especially those based on game, either lepre (hare), or, as here, cinghiale (wild boar), a combination that’s never disappointed me here in Italy.
     Brandade de morue seems to have emigrated quite successfully from France to Italy, and al Bric’s brandade di baccalà is, on its own, well worth a trip to the restaurant. The reconstituted cod, blended with potatoes, cream, and the right touch of garlic, was bland yet rich, unassuming yet superb, highlighting its seamless, silken texture. I couldn’t resist a dish listed on the menu as Sarcofage Bretone, not only because of  its connection with the movie "Babette’s Feast," but also because, as the menu went on to explain, it was actually cubes of tenderloin à la Stroganoff, in a Barolo-based brown sauce, garnished with shards of nicely-grainy Parmigiano.
      Every meal we’ve eaten here over the years has been memorable. There are no second-class citizens among the menu items. Creative recipes, careful preparation, and service at once attentive and joyous seem to be the order of the day, and we’d never think of traveling to Rome without at least one visit.
     And then there’s the spectacular wine list, and the fabulous—in the etymological sense of something unreal, unbelievable—wine prices. Remember, in Italy wine isn’t a vice, with its concomitant surcharge, as it is here in the States.
I indicated to the waiter (in Italy waiters are usually their own sommeliers) a couple of wines on the list I was familiar with, and asked if he could recommend something out of the ordinary in the same price range. We were rewarded with a Vigna Mortilla 2001 from Odoardi in Calabria for 30 Euros. When was the last time $45 bought you a bottle that knocked your socks off?  It is made from a blend of Gaglioppo (45%), Greco Nero (15%),  Magliocco Canino (15%), and a combination of Sangiovese and Nerello Cappuccio making up the remaining 25%.  The Vigna Mortilla showcased dark fruit flavors at once intense yet refined, hints of spice and vanilla, and a nice tannic finish.
       Dinner for two with cocktails, wine and a bottle of water  came to 112 Euros.

      Almost directly across Via del Pellegrino is another must visit: Grappolo d'oro "Zampano" (Piazza della Cancelleria 80; 06 689 70 80), whose movie-loving owner named it after the circus strongman in Fellini's "La Strada." Either the selection of salumi, or an aptly named insalata di polpo--just about as good as octopus gets--or creamy brandade di baccalà all did better-than-yeoman’s work as starters.  Pastas included tonnarelli (square cut spaghetti) cacio e pepe, and fresh fettucine with guanciale, carciofi, and pecorino moliterno,  another variant of pecorino from the town of Molino in Basilicata, that’s actually made with a small portion of goats’ milk as well.
      Simply heavenly maiolino, roast suckling pig as beautiful to behold as it was to taste, paired with broccoli Roman style--quickly sautéed with a touch of garlic--was so  outstanding that I ordered it two nights in a row.
      A 2003 Chianti classico riserva, “Il Grigio da San Felice” (25 Euros) worked beautifully the first night, while a Casale del Giglio, 2003 Madreselva (19.50 Euros), a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from Lazio, was rich and firm enough to complement both the suckling pig and the robust fettucine.

      The tab for two was 86 Euros the first night, and 73 Euros the second.

     Our old favorite in the neighborhood is Hostaria Farnese (Via dei Baullari 109), especially when the weather allows for dining out front at a handful of tables and watching the ebb and flow of passersby between Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Farnese. Long an inviting, homey mom-and-pop operation, with La Signora in the kitchen and husband Francesco making everyone feel at home in the dining room. Mamma (right) has finally moved on to a well-deserved retirement. Now her son Luca has joined his father in the front of the house, and the welcome is as warm and friendly, the prices as easy-to-take, and the cucina casareccia as reliable and satisfying as ever.
      What can I say? The best saltimbocca –with fresh sage and a light white wine gravy—I’ve ever had; carciofi alla giudia, aglow with olive oil and flavored with that delicious local mint that grows only in and around Rome; a massive osso bucco as hearty as it was tender; trippa alla romana –with just the right zing of vinegar--to bring an offal-lover to his knees.
      Pasta include delicious tortellini and lasagna, and tiramisù that more than justifies this simple dessert’s universal popularity. I almost forgot the equally delicious bresaola, arugula, and parmigiano starter.
     There must be a wine list, but we’ve never seen it, relying instead on the vino della casa, a lovely red from the predominantly lily-white Castelli Romani DOC at 10 Euros the carafe.
       The  meal tariff for two: 83 Euros.

      Finally, anyone who hasn’t been to Rome in several years will be happy to learn that not only have Termini and its immediate surroundings been successfully cleaned up, but those very unpleasant (always keeping in mind that actual bodily harm was never in question) though largely inept, roving bands of larcenous gypsy children, ages 8 to 14, that made certain neighborhoods and certain sights uncomfortable to visit, have somehow been gotten rid of.
   They will also find that traffic noise on even the busiest of Rome’s  Corsi or Vie is nowhere near as god-awful as it once was, now that those swarms of  two-stroke, seemingly muffler-free  Vespas  (“wasps”, indeed, very loud, ubiquitous ones) have been outlawed. There are still plenty of Vespas, as well as other brands of mopeds—they are, after all, the best motorized way to get around the city— but all would now appear to have fully functioning mufflers.

"Roman Holiday" (1953)




by John Mariani

Porcão NYC
360 Park Avenue South
(at 26th Street)
212-252 7080

     It's been a good idea since 1975, when the first Porcão opened in Rio de Janeiro, then expanded to other Brazilian cities, then to Miami and New York.  And it's a very simple one: You get to stuff yourself at a set price--$35.90--on all the salads and appetizers you can get onto successive plates, then, when you've polished that off, waiters bring long skewers of meats to your table and slice off however much you desire, again and again and again, until you turn over a green disc to reveal its red underside--STOP! It's a helluva lot of fun, a real gorge on the Gargantua-Pantagruel scale. It may well be a "guy thing," but plenty of women also love the concept, and they keep up--caipirinha for caipirinha.
      The first time I went to a churrascaria was in Rio, and I thought the idea would catch on like wildfire in the meat-loving U.S.A. And it did, with other non-Porcão churrascarias popping up around the country.  Porcão's is certainly the most identifiable and familiar, for they do it all with real dash and splash, and the décor in the NYC operation has a shadowy glamor, with dark recesses within a vast, pillared space, huge windows on two sides, a lively bar, and lights focused on the salad and appetizer bar.  There are tablecloths and thin wineglasses.  Make it a table for two or twenty-- they have plenty of room--yet (I was there on a slow night) the noise wasn't deafening, and the Brazilian music was a refreshing change from the Techno-crap played elsewhere in such big venues.
      And so we began. You don't  want to seem overly anxious to hit the app bar, so you order a cocktail--the caipirinhas are made fresh in front of you by a waiter--and fiddle with the green-red disc and make small talk,  and then, when you can't stand the pangs of hunger any longer, you hit the bar, amazed at the range of offerings--40 of them--from salad greens and mozzarella balls to shrimp and beans and sushi and pasta and on and on.  You load up your plate foolishly because you can't help yourself, even though you know the main event is coming up.  So you nosh on the starters, eating way too much (management is well aware that you will, so you won't be eating nearly as much meat as you thought), and then take a deep breath and summon the skewer bearers.  Sizzling cuts of beef, lamb, pork, sausage, turkey, chicken thighs, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, and other meats, all perfectly seasoned,  are paraded by you one at a time, and they start to slice as you help pull the meat off with little tongs.
      True, it's a show, and, true, the whole thing is a formula. But the meats are of very, very high quality, and the way they are cooked, in such volume, throughout the night, means they get to you in impeccable condition, even to the desired temperature or color you prefer.  You go on and on, half thinking you don't want to eat any more, half believing you'll be thought a wimp if you turn over your disc.
And if they can stand the parade of meat, you can even bring your vegan friends. And your wineloving friends will be delighted with the selection from Spain, Portugal, and South America.
      So you get up, settle your center of gravity, and pat your stomach. To say no one leaves hungry is to state the obvious. To promise everyone will have a good time is the key to understanding the flamboyance and jollity of Porcão.

Porcão is open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner is set at $35.90.  Business lunch, $22.90.



by Mort Hochstein

    Really: A few weeks back, Barefoot Wine, a group whose name tells all, sent me a batch of bubbly, half a dozen bottles of fizzy types. The Barefoot people, non-elitist, always casual and disdainful of accepted doctrine, call their line "Champagne," a designation which does not bring joy to the French who have lobbied and legislated to keep that term all their own, even clamping down on Gallic winemakers operating outside of the small Champagne district.
    Call them sparklers or call them Champagne, Barefoot’s bubblies, like all their wines, make no pretensions, other than providing inexpensive, easy drinking.  Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio Sauvignon Blanc, Muscato, even a sparkling White Zinfandel bubbly, they are   just plain delightful, any-occasion choices.
     Unlike French Champagne and unlike many other  prestigious non-Champagne labels (e.g., Roederer, Iron Horse and Domaine Chandon in the United States) Barefoot Wines are made in huge batches, with none of the delicate and costly care  involved in fine Champagne. At about  a ten dollar retail suggested price, often discounted down to $8, who can quibble while  enjoying   light, airy, fruity fizzies that go with just about anything? If you’re one of those who reserve sparklers for special occasions, forget about it: you can enjoy these anytime and the price is certainly right.

    Proceeding  from simple to sublime, I went soon afterwards to the opposite extreme as I helped  celebrate the 200th anniversary of one of the great   French houses, Champagne Henriot.   At The Modern, the posh restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, Stanislaus and Joseph Henriot, members of the founding family, brought out a handful of treasures from their ancient cellars, 60 feet below the cobblestone streets of Reims. Henriot is one of  the few remaining family-owned major producers and father and son promised us they would resist the lures of the conglomerates which dominate the Champagne trade.
     Our tasting, with many of the wines arriving in oversized bottles, primarily magnums, one from a jeroboam, the equivalent of  four normal bottles, took us on a great ride, from  1959 through 1996. Evident through the stretch was a certain austerity, almost an aversion to the fruity, lush, easily approachable style so popular today. It’s as if the earliest Henriot was still around, commanding his descendants to make a serious, uncompromising sparkler and damming  today’s market-driven fashions.
   The Henriots are wines to be studied as much as enjoyed.  The wines we sampled were  a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with ratios differing according to the harvest.  The ’96 Brut Millesime, 53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, was surprisingly fresh, with mineral and spice tones, and an attack that lingered long after the glass was set down. In contrast the 1990, poured from a jeroboam, was more complex, the vanilla of wood barrel aging showing up front and yielding to scents of fig and dried fruits on the nose, fresh and balanced on the palate, with a bundle of scents lingering after drinking.
     We tasted four Cuvées des Enchanteleurs, and those of us who  thought  Enchanteleurs had a romantic  derivation found we were wrong: Joseph Henriot explained that chantel  referred to a barrel stacking arrangement in   Champagne cellars and  the chanteleurs,  the crew that stacked the barrels were, in days gone by, permitted  to assemble their own blend. Eventually, Henriot execs realized that the crew was making the best possible wine  and  appropriated the name  and style for the leading blend of the house.
     Joseph Henriot, now the senior member of the family, made his first  Enchanteleurs in 1959, and we tasted it from magnum. It was disgorged fairly recently and came across very clean, refreshing and surprisingly young and intense. The bubbles held well, and the wine was  appealing on the palate, with a long aftertaste.  It’s too bad there isn’t more of the ’59 outside of the Henriot library.
   The ’64 and the ’95  Enchanteleurs (a mere child of a wine),  demonstrated  the same strength on the palate and good fruit, particularly the ‘95. The ’64 showed more of  a yeasty, brioche nose; both were rich and golden in color. Of the wines we tried, the  ’76 Enchanteleur was the most problematic,  a bit ascetic, smoky and   slow to unveil the floral attributes of its cellar mates.  All, however, showed the strength and persistence characteristic of the line. These are  wines to be taken seriously, almost with a scholarly approach,  sipped, studied and discussed.
       From the  Enchanteleur  line,   only the ’95   is available,  at 190. The  ’96  and ’98 Brut Millesime  sell  at $84 and the 2002 Brut Rosé Millesime goes for $91.  Also available are  a trio of non-vintage bottlings:  Brut Souverain, $50; Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay, $60,and Brut Rosé, $69.  Henriot wines approach maturity slowly in those deep cellars. The Brut Souverain rests  for two to three years before being released, the Brut Millesime for five to eight years and the Enchanteleurs for eight to 13 years before being disgorged   to meet the demands of the market.



A research team led by Tomas A. Prolla and Richard Weindruch of the University of Wisconsin reported in the journal PLoS One the oxidant resveratrol abundant in red wine may be effective in causing people to live longer lives.  In earlier studies of mice on treadmills, the animals were  large amounts of resveratrol that would have equaled  100 bottles of red wine a day, but the new report used a dose on mice equivalent to just 35 bottles a day. According to Dr. Weindruch "a mere four, five-ounce glasses of wine starts getting close to the amount of resveratrol they found effective."


“No please-don’t-go-on-or-I’ll-soil-myself lachrymose chortling at clunking Holywood anecdotage.  No Billy Connolly or Stirling Moss, no winsome flirting with Miss Piggy.”—Matthew Norman in a restaurant review in The  (London) Guardian.


* In Paris, Hôtel de Crillon has re-opened the Patio with a host of seasonal cocktails and an ice cream trolley available throughout the day. Chef Jean-Francois Piège has expanded C’est Chic (55 euros), Le Pic-nic! menu, with a Chic & Choc (35 euros)  menu of and a third for children, Le Petit Pic-nic (25 €). Visit

* On June 23 at Daniel in NYC a Taittinger wine dinner will be held with sommelier Philippe Marchal and master sommelier Olivier Masmondet. $395 pp. Call 212-933-5262. Visit      

* On June 26 Cuvaison Winery is hosting a wine dinner at The Sea Grill in NYC presented by Cuvaison Estate Wines President, Jay Schuppert.   $135 pp. Call 212-584-4323.

* From July 4-6 in Jamaica, the Pepsi Portland Jerk Festival at Folly Estate, Boston Beach, and Frenchman’s Cove in the resort area of Port Antonio, kicks off with the official opening and Children’s Fun Day at the Boston Playing Field and all-inclusive beach party, with  cuisine from Portland’s leading chefs and music by  Renaissance Disco. The highlight will be the “Big Show” on Sundayat the Folly Mansion ruins with more than 25 stalls showcasing the best jerked foods available on the island. Call 1-800-JAMAICA (1-800-526-2422). Visit

Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne has created a special 3-night Summer Spa Package, available through Sept. 30, priced from CHF 750 (approximately USD 720), including VAT and service charges, the special includes: 3 nights accommodations in a garden-view room;  buffet breakfast in the Salon Grammont or room service; Exclusive Jubilee treatment at the Cinq Mondes Spa (per person); Lunch at the spa's restaurant; 4-course dinner at La Rotonde; Free access to the Cinq Mondes Spa and the tennis courts, and more. Call 011-41 21 613 3333; or through The Leading Hotels of the World at:  1-800-223-6800; visit:

* From July 10-13 The American Institute of Wine and Foo (AIWF) National Leaders Symposium will bring together this organization’s principals and members in Monterey, CA, for a behind-the-scenes look at the region’s agricultural industry, fishing and wine industries, with custom-created insider visits, incl. a tour of the Salinas Valley, Monterey Peninsula wine tour, the Monterey Aquarium and Hopkins Marine Research Laboratory, as well as gourmet food and wine tasting excursions.   Participants can choose from a series of small-group Dine Around Dinners in Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach, capped by a gala “Passport Around the World” soirée in the private, members-only Beach & Tennis Club dining room at Pebble Beach.    Visit

* From July 12-30 in Los Cabos, Mexico, Pueblo Bonito Oceanfront Resorts & Spas Chef Antonio de Livier presents PacifiCooks, with some of Latin America's most popular Master Chefs, as well as culinary artists from Mexico. Chefs incl:  Enrique Olvera , Restaurante Pujol; Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain, Grupo Pangea;  Benito Molina .  La Manzanilla, Silvestre, and Muelle Tres;   Paulina Abascal, Pastry Shops and host of the TV show;  Federico Lopez,  Ambrosia Culinary Academy;  Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, Café Azul y Oro. visit or call  (800) 990-8250.

* On July 13 in East Hampton, NY, in celebration of Nick & Tony’s 20th anniversary, the 2008 Great Chefs Gala Dinner Dance will be held with 12 of NYC’s and East End chefs, hosted by Drew Nieporent, Toni Ross, and Nick & Toni's as a fundraiser for Bridgehampton's Hayground School. Chefs incl. Claudia Fleming of The North Fork Table & Inn, Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill, Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto, et al. For tickets and sponsorship info, call 631-327-0573; visit

* On July 14 New Rivers in Providence will hold the 3rd Annual Rhode Island Chef Smackdown to benefit the AIWF Rhode Island Patricia Tillinghast Memorial Scholarship at Johnson & Wales University and Days of Taste. Five Chefs from Providence and Five Chefs from Newport will duke it out culinary style. $125 pp. Call 401-683-2490.

*    From July 16 -20 The New Orleans Culinary and Cultural Preservation Society, will hold its annual Tales of the Cocktail, a culinary and cocktail festival on July 16-20, 2008, features award-winning mixologists, authors, bartenders, chefs and designers in the New Orleans French Quarter at dinner-pairings, cocktail demos and tastings, seminars, mixing competitions, design expos, book-signings and much more.  Visit

* From July 17-19 in Oakville, CA, the Robert Mondavi Winery’s TASTE3 will bring more than 300 guests that incl. Cary Fowler, Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust; Dan Barber, chef/owner, Blue Hill & Blue Hill at Stone Barns; Tea expert and vermicologist David Lee Hoffman, et al. Private winery dinners at Etude, Gargiulo, Hall Wines, Mumm, Quintessa and Rubicon Estate, and more. Conference registration is open at or call 707-967-3997.  A limited number of fellowships are available; details are at

* On July 17 in Chicago, Cafe Matou will host its summer Bière Night. Chef/Owner Charlie Socher and Wine Director James Rahn will present a Provencal-style summer 5-course meal featuring locally-grown produce and summer micro brews.  $67 pp. Call 773-384-8911;

* From July 18-Aug. 17 Messina Hof winery in Bryan, TX,s celebrating their harvest, when guests can experience the century-old tradition of making wine by picking and stomping of the grapes and rewarded for their hard work with a Harvest Cuisine Dinner prepared by Messina Hof’s The Vintage House restaurant. Other activities will be held throughout the summer. Visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with two excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: Jumel Terrace B&B, NYC; Abu Dhabi.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contrinbutor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio.  He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.


Tennis Resorts OnlineA Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored  two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to  Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. Click on the logo below to go to the site.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, 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.

My 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. It was 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

© copyright John Mariani 2008