Virtual Gourmet

November 2, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Aureole 20 Years Later by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE SPIRITS LOCKER: Añejo Tequilas Make Better Margaritas
by John Mariani




by John Mariani

     Until I've visited every great city in the world I won't know for sure if Rome is my favorite, but were I to be hit by a camel tomorrow while touring Khartoum,  I suspect a sigh over never seeing Rome again would emerge as my life passes before me.
       Italians like nothing more than to dismiss the gastronomy of Rome as too excessive, too rich, and too expensive.  Of course, Italians in every city say similar things about every other city too, but when it comes to Rome, I think the rest of Italy is just plain jealous.
     Rome has a much deeper, broader gastronomy than any other Italian city. Indeed, the old adage that all roads lead to Rome might describe the infusion of meats, seafood, and vegetables that pour into the city night and day.   Rome has a wide-ranging indigenous cuisine that includes beloved dishes like abbacchio (baby lamb with mint)  coda alla vaccinara (braised oxtail), carciofi alla giudea (fried baby artichokes)  trippa alla romana (stewed tripe),  spaghetti alla carbonara (with eggs and bacon) and cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino cheese and black pepper), while  happily welcoming other regional specialties to its belly, so that you can get first-rate Sicilian, Tuscan, and Abruzzese cooking in the city’s restaurants.
     I will admit that the wines of Rome’s region of Latium are only beginning to distinguish themselves, despite 26 D.O.C. appellations—few of which you will ever run across in the city’s enotecas.  That failing aside, Rome has the best of everything--hotels, food, wine, not to mention history and art.
       And now, with the euro weakening, a good splurge may be the best thing to consider before the world crashes. And remember: In Italy service and tax are usually included in the price of the food, although some trattorias now leave the service out. Look for the words "servizio incluso" on the bill or ask if it is not.

Hotel Eden
Via Ludovisi 49
06-478 121

   A pleasantly narrow street off the broad Via Veneto, nearly a cul-de-sac, leads to this quietly secluded hotel, whose mix of fin-de-siecle architecture and fine modern amenities makes it ideal for both business and for getting away from the rush of Rome's seemingly mindless traffic. The modestly sized lobby offers a purer sense of Roman hospitality, for the greeting is genteel and warm, and everything clicks into place immediately. 
     When my wife and I arrived, quite late, thinking we might have missed our reservation for a dinner table upstairs, we were calmed by the manager, told that whenever we were ready to dine, no problem.
Since we'd arrived after the closing of the local rental car office, the doorman told us they would happily return the car the next day, and also arranged for us to take a house car out to the airport at a price (about 45 euros) at or below what a taxi would cost.
So we eased our way to a very beautiful room with its own leafy terrace, which we put to good use the following  morning at breakfast, just as the city was waking up to the sounds of thousands of water and wine bottles being carted away.
You might well book a table at La Terrazza dell’Eden simply for its stunning panoramic view of Rome from the sixth floor of the Hotel Eden (right). But in fact this is one of the finest restaurants in Rome and understandably booked just about every lunch and dinner. The room itself is subdued in color and décor, but the excitement is on the plate, with Brescia-born chef Adriano  Cavagnigni showing a delicate balance of the old and the new in the same dish.  Thus, you might begin with zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta and taleggio cheese, black olives and cherry tomatoes, or a creamy artichoke risotto with the finest pecorino di Fossa cheese, then for a main course indulge in a swordfish steak with sweet-and-sour spinach, tomato fondue, and roasted root vegetables, or spiced breast of guinea fowl in an herb crust with onion fondue and a light mustard sauce. I’d also argue that his pineapple raviolo  with a lime-and-rum sorbet is the best dessert in Rome right now.
      Incidentally, this is one of the few prestige hotel restaurants that is frequeted as much by Romans as by visitors.
      La Terrazza is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Main courses 26€-59€ ;  fixed-price menu 100€.

St. Regis Grand Hotel
Vittorio E. Orlando 3

     Starwood Hotels has poured $35 million into renovating this dowager of a hotel, and they've done so without ruining the true original majesty of the place.  Niknety percent of romance os good lighting, said Noël Coward, and throwing soft lights on the gilded lineaments of the Grand's architecture, including the once gloomy reception area, has done wonders for this famous and historic hotel, which was opened in 1894 by the illustrious César Ritz, who brought in the equally illustrious chef Auguste Escoffier to whip the kitchens into shape.
      Today it is still an awesome sight to push through  the revolving doors and see the spectacular lobby here, proceeding into the space beyond, surrounded by potted ferns and hung with a glorious chandelier reflecting the gold cupola above it. The improvements have been subtle on this, the ground floor, but the rooms have all been refurbished to a high degree of polish. Some rooms' bathrooms remain small, however.
      The hotel has recently introduced "E-Butler service," with your personal butler carrying a wireless handheld device so you can e-mail your wishes straight to him from any location in the city, which means you can finish up your sightseeing around the Pantheon or Sistine Chapel and have your bath drawn by the time you get back to the hotel.
       The restaurant here is called Vivendo (below), a very smart double room with impeccable service and a fine cadence to the evening.  When I dined here a year ago I thought Chef Francesco Donatelli was trying a bit too hard to be innovative, but a meal just last month indicates that he has refined his creativity within traditional forms of Roman and Italian cuisine, resulting in elegant, very delicious food.    
       I began with marinated tuna filet in a Sicilian orange reduction with a Roman puntarelle green salad--the play of sea, salt, sweet, and vegetal in exquisite harmony. Sautéed goose loie gras came graced with the sweet Moscato di Pantelleria wine and some raisin bread with pineapple chutney, finished off with a little scoop of foie gras ice cream that balanced the sweet flavors by chilling the palate slightly.  One clear example of Donatelli's marrying of the old and new was a dish of prawns gratinata on warm eggplant parmigiana given a dressing of celery and bottarga dried roe.
       Our pastas were both superb: Light cannelloni filled with rich ossobuco meat on saffron potatoes with a lemon-rosemary gremolata, and a simply wonderful--and wonderfully simple--tagliolini with fresh porcini and melted Parmesan fonduta.  My companion, who is vegetarian, ordered a main course of zucchini tartlet with the vegetable's orange-green blossoms on a leek and potato cream--a lustrous dish for anyone's palate; I carnivorously tore into thick slices of fine beef in a reduction of red wine and honey, served with capers, and a rosemary-scented potato fritter.
     The ubiquitous soft-centered chocolate tartlet has found its way to Vivendo in fine form, but I would urge, after a splendidly lavish meal like this, the gelati and sorbetti.
      Vivendo's winelist is very good, with both Italian and international selections.
      Vivendo is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner Mon.-Sat. Antipasti run 18€-28€, pastas 18€-24€, main courses 22€-34€. There is also a 8-course "Experience" tasting menu at 90€, with five wines 135€. Service and tax included.

The Westin Excelsior
Via Veneto 125
06 47081

     The most visible and familiar hotel on the Via Veneto, the Excelsior has played host to countless movie stars since the 1950s when Rome was a cinema capital.  Actress Anna Magnani and playwright Tennessee Williams (left) stayed here at the time she starred in "The Rose Tattoo."
      After a $7 million rehab, the Excelsior has  retained all the glamor with none of the archaic notions of Roman excess.  The 287 guest rooms and 32 suites have all been brought up to contemporary standards, from flat screen TVs to large marble bathrooms. It also has a very beautiful swimming pool and up-to-date fitness center.
     A tedious flight from Palermo and a taxi ride through Rome at rush hour roughed us up a bit, so plopping down on the king-size bed in a silken room of brocade and fine carpeting was the best balm we could imagine in order to relax into a good nap before dinner.
    Do not miss visiting the ORVM bar here (right)--a splendidly sophisticated place, all light and color, but do bring plenty of euros. A round of cocktails cost me 28€ one evening! You may also eat lightly here: the place is open from 10 AM onward.
      The dramatically designed restaurant of the Excelsior is Doney, which is well known for its grand buffet at lunch, and the black-and-gold dining room, with shimmering curtains opening onto the Via Veneto is a very romantic and festive venue, where chef James Foglieni (below) takes in the whole Mediterranean for his men, which might include Catalan lobster, Alaskan crab, and foie gras with Sauternes.  Some of his specialties dishes from "Mare Nostrum" (our sea, which is the Mediterranean) which includes a tomato and oregano “risotto” with raw scampi and buffalo burrata; a ceviche of true scampi and red king prawns marinated with dry vermouth, and  Breton lobster in tempura.

     He also does a torta of baked  ricotta cheese with cinnamon, Indian figs, and bresaola, and a rich but light soufflé  alla Parmigiano, well filled with white truffles and porcini. His pastas consist of lovely ideas like risotto with codfish baccalà, aromatic saffron, and bone marrow gratin; spaghetti with sea urchins and Swiss chard; and tagliolini with Sicilian pistachios, scampi, lemon and rocket salad.

    To be sure, the seafood  at Doney is some of the most enticing in the city: sliced corvina fish with lime, blue lobster salad, and Pienza pecorino cheese; grilled  sturgeon  with asparagus salad and crayfish; and roasted monkfish with vanilla, potatoes and almond biscuits--unusual dishes that push the edge of la cucina di pesce moderna in Rome.
     Meat dishes tend to be hearty, like his braised veal cheek with Cesanese wine sauce, polenta and Lombardian bagòs cheese; and his loin of rabbit with fine herbs,  and a Spanish “Empanada” stuffed with hazelnuts and “Chorizo” salami.

Doney is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Antipasti run €19-€60, pastas €16-€26, main courses €24-€32, with a 5-course tasting at €55.

Il Palazetto
International Academy of Wine
Vicolo del Bottino 8

    My friend Ian d'Agata runs the International Wine Academy here on the Spanish Steps, which also houses Il Palazzetto, a small, very charming, very elegant boutique hotel that is part of the larger Hassler Hotel at the top of the steps. Built in the 1500s, Il Palazzetto retains the aristocratic taste of its former owners, a noble family of Rome, and its situation could hardly be better.
    The rooms are exquisite, and, depending on your affection for such things, the fact that the windows open onto the comings and goings of the throngs that come to the Spanish Steps gives you a unique look at life in Rome, even if, as for centuries, it is occupied by foreigners.
     The Academy opened in 2002 and  Ian is its indefatigable host, director, connoisseur, gourmet, and teacher, holding wine tasting courses, wine tours, (in Italian, English, and French), select wine tastings featuring the best producers from Italy and around the world, as well as “Meet the wine-maker” and “Great Chefs” dinners, in which a winemakersor chef is invited to the evening and presents his or her wines or culinary creations. (Ian also has a terrific new book on Italian wines coming out that I shall be writing about later this year.)
     Il Palazzetto Restaurant is a refined, small venue here that's both part of the program and open to the public for dining. It is particularly enchanting when the outdoor garden terrace is open in good weather. Inside is a lovely Library room (right), where I recently sat down with Ian for a true Roman lunch, which began with a beef carpaccio simply dressed with olive oil and Parmigiano. My first meal in Rome that day, I immediately went for the spaghetti alla carbonara, which came with golden noodles that must have used up an entire henhouse of eggs in the pasta, mixed with the traditional guanciale bacon, eggs that are cooked by the heat of the pasta, and pecorino cheese--a great restorative, making me able to walk up and down the Spanish Steps to have an espresso at the historic Caffé Greco, here since 1760,  on the Via Condotti. (Psst! Have your coffee at the counter; sitting down at a table will cost you a lot more.)
     I also enjoyed sliced steak, good and rare, with mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms, and a breaded veal cutlet with spinach and a squirt of lemon juice. Desserts were a delight, including one of the best tiramisùs I've ever had--lighter and every bit as good was a carpaccio of pineapple with chocolate ice cream.
     Il Palazetto restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tues.-Sun. Antipasti run €7-€12, pastas €12-€16, and main courses €18-€25.

Al Ceppo
Via Panama 2
+39 6 841 9696

       Ian D'Agata took my wife and me here for Saturday dinner, perhaps with some reluctance, because he doesn't want the place to be known to too many people. But, since the pleasingly elegant, wholly unstuffy Al Ceppo has been here in the Parioli district for nearly four decades, run by generations of women from the Marches, and since the restaurant is easily found with high praise in every worthwhile guidebook to Rome, there isn't much chance of my telling you about it causing a meltdown of new clientele.
    Despite its duration in business, Al Ceppo is fresh looking, beautifully lighted with fine napery and stemware, polished wood, thick draperies, an open rotisserie-grill up front, very fine portraits of women throughout, and a bonhomie of welcome that is not always the case in Roman restaurants.
      We began conservatively enough with some flavorful culatello di zibello ham with figs, and little croquettes of trippa (tripe) alla romana with tomato, pecorino and mint--both true appetizers in that we were ravenous for more easy-to-love food. An insalata of fresh porcini with celery and Parmigiano helped clear the palate for a ravioli of potato with a wild mushroom sauce; a tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and toasted breadcrumbs scented with Roman's favorite herb, mint; and tagliolini made from a type of wheat flour called kamut with baby calamari and cuttlefish with fresh tomato sauce.
       We were feeling in fine fettle with such food under our belt, but there was nothing to stop us from forging ahead with veal sweetbreads with buffalo mozzarella and an intriguing millefeuille of spinach with coffee sauce. Tender and full-flavored was a pork fillet with pepper and honey and Belgium endive braised with a little orange--a very lovely idea. Crisply cooked veal with herbs was the last of the meats and the simplest.
       Some superb Italian cheeses followed with which to finish our wine--Al Ceppo has an amazingly fine list--and we still had a little room for wonderful desserts like a warm tartlet of pears with pineapple sauce and yogurt gelato, and a tart of bitter chocolate with chestnut snaps and coffee sauce.
      This is sophisticated and very refined city food, the kind that distinguishes a great ristorante from a very good trattoria. It is also the kind of restaurant the Michelin Guide would never award a star to because it is not fussy or French enough for their Gallic tastes.  Rome doesn't have nearly as many restaurants of this caliber as it should, and for a lesson in hospitality it has even fewer.  These women of Al Ceppo know how to take good care of their guests.

Al Ceppo is open Tues.-Sun. Antipasti run €15-€20, pastas €16-€18, and main courses €21-€30.



by Mort Hochstein

    On a recent trip to Rome,  my quest for the best pizza in Italy resumed in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Our  exploration  took us to  Città del Gusto (City of Taste),  a culinary academy in the Marconi district on the south side of the city, far from the usual tourist trails, with dense blocks of apartments and bustling business avenues that reminded me of Queens in NYC. The hostaria  we targeted is in  the school operated by  Gambero Rosso, a food and wine publishing house and shares space in a converted warehouse with  a huge cineplex.
     There was little to prepare us for the pleasures that lay behind the undecorative entrance.  Any hesitancy about the spare, functional  entry area vanished when we took an escalator to the second level to enter a chic, minimalist restaurant with uncluttered tables, and few decorations other than shelves of books and tools of the  trade  for students  and amateur chefs. The focus, embellished by the familiar smells of a working pizza parlor, was on an attractive kitchen where the chef and his team worked.  The  sheer variety of pizza was overwhelming, so we delegated choice to the chef.  He started  us off with a fluffy, soft crusted focaccio's, loaded  lardo, pig fat cured with rosemary and other spices, a peasant staple now becoming popular in NYC restaurants.
    The highest price was 10 Euros,  for a ten-inch pie, about what we’d been paying  for a slightly larger version at John’s or Lombardi’s in NYC.  Surprisingly, the style was Neapolitan, not the thin-crusted, scorched bottom  Roman variety we’d been hoping for, but hardly deep-dish Chicago style.  The  pizza, puffy alla napolitana,  soft with a  somewhat sourdough-like  yeast aroma,  exuded a lovely smoky flavor.
    On entering, we had seen no other  patrons and that raised early doubts. But we, the sole American tourists in the room,  were eating on our normal schedule. The Romans arrived  about an hour later and soon the place was packed with families, young people on dates and  groups of  happy eaters. We were in pizza Shangri-la  and our only complaint was that our gluttonous gorging left little room for desserts.  We dug in, however, with one final effort. My wife Rollie and I shared a plate of fresh fruit and my grandson Matt, never sated, put away a globe-sized chocolate-covered, ice cream ball, anointing it and the four-cheese pizza as two of the best dishes he’d tried in Rome.
    Afterward we went up two flights to a totally new world, the Teatro  del Vino (above), an elegant and  sophisticated winebar, all polished wood and gleaming modern furniture, a total departure from the area we had just left. The sleek winebar  overflowed  with the best wines in the land, no surprise considering that the Gambero Rosso people are the  ranking  wine mavens of Italy, awarding Tre Bicchieri  (three glasses) to  the country’s best wines annually in a book that becomes a bible for aficionados  throughout the wine-loving world.
      The winebar, which has an Eiffel Tower-like  view of the city from its terrace,  offers a grand selection of  artisanal  cheeses and salami sourced from outstanding producers, including prosciutto carved off the bone in its dining area. We taste-tested a platter of cheeses, all new to us--Blue del Moncenisio, Pecora della val Pusteria and Robiola from Piedmont,  all nicely mated with   Castello Banfi’s Summus, a velvety marriage of  Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The elegantly  professional winebar,  as sophisticated a room as any to be found  in Rome, and the pizza marathon  in much simpler surroundings, are   definitely  worth   an excursion  from the inner city.

Città del gusto and Teatro del Vino, Via Enrico Fermi, 161; 06 55 112 21;
Open Tues.-Sat.

   Having arrived at Rome's Fiumicino Airport dozens of times, it was only on my last trip I learned something important about the taxis there. There are three options (aside from the very efficient train into the city center and the fairly efficient bus lines):  There are at least two different taxi companies at Fiumicino, both licensed. And they both have more or less the same decal on their front doors. But the taxi with the decal carrying the Roman acronym "SPQR" is the one you want to take, because the fare is set at 45 euros.  If you hop into a taxi with a decal that does not display "SPQR" you will be charged by the meter, which can run up to 55 or 60 euros. There are of course huckster drivers who will try to solicit your business, but as long as you settle on the same price as an authorized taxi will charge you--45 euros--you're O.K.--John Mariani

by John Mariani

34 East 61st Street (near Madison Avenue)

     Could it possibly be twenty years ago that Charlie Palmer opened Aureole in an east side townhouse between Park ands Madison Avenues?  Back then the anticipation was high for its debut, which took a while, for Palmer had already built a significant reputation as one of New York's brightest young chefs, having made his name as chef at The River Café in Brooklyn.   Aureole was very much a  restaurant of its time--fine dining was at its zenith and  there was no such thing as "little plates" à la Stuzzichini or "molecular cuisine" à la WD-50 or  three-star restaurants  with a counter and  14 backless stools à la Ko.  Fine dining meant  just that,  and Aureole was decked out to look the epitome of upper east side chic.
     I will not say anything more about the décor at Aureole because the restaurant is going to be moving in 2009 to the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, adjacent to the NY Public Library.  Now, that, in a time of recessionary terror, should be interesting. Not that Palmer hasn't been a gambler: he's opened up several other restaurants in several other cities, including a Las Vegas Aureole and where he has plans for a namesake hotel; just about all of them have been successes. 
      I would also be the first to point out that Palmer has become one of those chef-entrepreneurs who risks spreading himself too thin, although he has not, as yet, sacrificed his culinary commitment to the overwhelming demands of a TV series, which has truly overtaken the lives and careers of several of his colleagues.
       Several chefs de cuisine (currently Tony Aiazzi, below, with Palmer) have passed through Aureole as a result, and yet there has always been a consistency of style in the kitchen, so that many of the dishes made popular there years ago are either still served on occasion or echoed in newer, more contemporary versions. 
The scallop sandwich of sea scallops in a crisp potato crust with saffron pan juices, which was on the very first menu, is still one of the most popular dishes today. Which is why on a visit this month I felt so thoroughly encouraged by what I saw and ate.  If Aureole has not radically altered its cuisine, neither has it stood still.
      We began with sautéed sweetbreads with black trumpet mushrooms, green raisins, and a smoked almond froth, a dish typical of the balance of Aureole's past and present, and a very good starter for autumn. There is a fine selection of charcuterie, and a tuna tartare "arabesque" was rich, fat tuna with a charred eggplant puree, barberries, preserved lemon, and spicy mint oil, which you'd be hard put to find in even the best restaurants in the Middle East.  A salad of bitter greens with poached apricots and Dijon vinaigrette promised some duck confit, but it was not easy to find in there.
    From a tasting menu came thyme-roasted filet mignon of excellent quality, with wild mushrooms and wilted watercress, and black-pepper horseradish gnocchi that were toothsome but too soft. Caramelized sea scallops with fresh linguine, citrus and crab and a lemongrass emulsion was a nice light seafood offering, while butter-roasted lobster with sweet corn and chanterelle pudding and baby onions was the essence of autumn, though a very rich dish indeed. In the same autumnal mode was pan-roasted monkfish with lobster and an squash risotto with a vanilla infusion that worked beautifully. Pork tenderloin of good quality came crusted with country ham, though it was almost indiscernible, accompanied by shrimp and white corn grits and a classic sage and shallot jus.
 Desserts at Aureole, by Rachel Lansang-Hidalgo, hit that ideal spot where creativity and sheer good taste cooperate rather than clash, so that a blackberry and pluot (a cross between a plum and apricot) cobbler was almost perfect on its own, but the addition of fromage blanc sorbet and black pepper crème anglaise made it so. Also ideal for the season was a crème brûlée trio flavored with vanilla, lemon thyme, and toasted sesame seeds, and I was delighted with a caramelized Mission fig upside down cake with banana ice cream and nougatine. Misconceived, however, was a milk chocolate mousse and peanut crunch with grape jelly sorbet and salted caramel peanuts; the addition of salt to desserts, particularly caramel, is a smart contemporary addition but it's getting too salty in a lot of kitchens recently.
  Aureole's winelist, overseen by sommelier Justin Lorenz, is 700 selections strong.
      Two decades in the restaurant business is a very long time, but now, with its removal to new quarters, Aureole may be said to be  that over-used word, a survivor. More important, it has reached classic status, a very New York place, with a cuisine and service style that brings the word cosmopolitan into stylish focus.

Aureole is open for dinner Mon.-Sat. The fixed price menu is $84; a 7-course tasting menu is $115, with wines $195.


Añejo Tequilas Make Better Margaritas
by John Mariani

      I have long been a believer that the better the booze the better it should be left out of a cocktail, because the other ingredients cancel out the subtleties of flavor in expensive spirits like $60 vodkas, $100 Singe Malts, and $400 Cognacs.
   Which is why, when ordering a margarita, I have always been content with using low-priced blanco (white) tequilas rather than the premium añejos (aged). I was recently buoyed in this belief when Silvana Salcido Esparza, chef-owner of the Barrio Café in Phoenix, insisted, “The agave fruit’s true essence is best expressed in a blanco tequila, and the orange liqueur, lime juice, and salt in a margarita will compromise the flavor of añejos.” She should know: Barrio Café carries 250 different tequilas, and her point seemed perfectly convincing as I sipped her superlative blanco-based margarita with her freshly made guacamole with pomegranate seeds.
     But last week I enjoyed a margarita made with an añejo tequila, Cabo Uno, and I was struck by how much better the cocktail was than with any blanco I’d ever had.  The drink became far more complex in flavors, with that identifiable smokiness of an añejo and the richness of a distillation made from 100 percent blue agave (above and right). (Mexican regulations allow a spirit to be called tequila if it contains a minimum of 51 percent agave-derived sugar, which is usually what blancos are.)
     Cabo Uno ($250) is the top-of-the-line anejo made by Cabo Wabo, which has been owned since 1996 by rock-and-roll singer Sammy Hagar. The company makes a full line of tequilas, but the Cabo Uno is made from 100 percent blue weber agave and matured in white oak barrels for 38 months, with each bottle signed and numbered. It is, to be sure, made for sipping, not knocking back with a lick of salt on your forearm. But I found it made one helluva great margarita, with the fresh juice of one lime, an ounce of Cointreau, and a light rim of sea salt.
      This Mexican epiphany forced me, for journalistic purposes, to try a range of premium anejos now on the market at a time when certain tequila brands, like Chinaco, El Tesoro, and Patron have gained cult status. Longtime producers like José Cuervo, Don Julio, Sauza and others have, therefore, been coming out with a range of small-batch, very expensive tequilas for a connoisseur’s market. They also put them in very beautifully designed bottles.
      I certainly agree that these are tequilas to be savored, just as you might a fine Cognac or Single Malt Scotch.  But because they are considerably lighter in body than those two spirits, with distinctive, delicate notes of light oak, caramel, and nuttiness, many premium añejos are absolutely wonderful in margaritas.
       Don Julio Real (once only available in Mexico) is quite pale in color, with an apple aroma, very smooth and elegant, well rounded; you might even serve it straight as an aperitif. Still, at $350 you may want to think about Don Julio 1942 ($125), which has more brawn and a long, heated finish, with good vanilla-caramel notes.  It’s a very good anejo indeed.
      Some añejos I tasted bore remarkable resemblance to whiskies: Milagro Añejo ($95), triple distilled, was warm, with a rich, sweet undertone, and medium heat rather than the sting of less refined tequilas.
     El Tesoro de Don Felipe Añejo ($50) is aged “two to three years,” yet it is quite pale. Both the nose and the follow-through have distinct, very likable black pepper notes, which I found added another dimension to a margarita.
     In some ways the most impressive, though the least typical, anejo was the José Cuervo Reserva de la Familia ($115), introduced in 1995 on the company’s 200th anniversary. Each year it comes in a wooden box designed by a well-known Mexican artist.  This is a tequila I would definitely not shake into a margarita.  The amber color goes deeper than any others I sampled, and the pleasant bite is far more like a briary Scotch whisky from Islay. It is truly a tequila to be enjoyed after dinner, preferably while listening to Diana Krall croon “Besame Mucho.”
     One more thing, if you do specify an añejo in a margarita, do not order a frozen one. The pulverized ice dilutes any of the virtues an añejo brings to the drink, and you end up with more slush than flavor.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.


Hans Locher,  owner of Storchen restaurant in Winterthur, Switzerland, is serving dishes containing 75 percent human breast milk,  obtained by taking out ads offering $5.40 for 14 ounces of milk.  “I first experimented with breast milk when my daughter was born,” says Locher. “One can cook really delicious things with it.  However, it always needs to be mixed with a bit of cream, in order to keep the consistency.” . . . MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE U.S.A: Having heard about Herr Locher's noble experiment the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has asked the owners of Ben & Jerry's ice cream to use human breast milk instead of cow's milk, insisting it would "lessen the suffering of dairy cows and heir babies on factory farms and benefit human health." Ben & Jerry's demurred, saying, "We believe a mother's milk is best used for her child."

“I first Visited Delhi in December 1993 [and] I didn’t leave for three weeks. Those 22 days still rank among the most soul-stirring of my life. On my second night in town, I walked the entirety of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s half-mile-long bazaar. . . . Stray cows lapped at the pavement. Visions burst out of the shadows. The mere act of walking down the street was as thrilling as a skydive. It certainly wasn’t easy: the pollution was overwhelming, the squalor so distressing that at times I thought I’d have to take the next flight home. But it was too late: on that night in Chandni Chowk, I had fallen in love with India.”—Peter Jon Lindberg, “Delhi’s New Beauty,” Travel & Leisure (October 2008).


TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes.

--John Mariani

*  In Sausalito, CA, from Nov. 11-15 Poggio’s Chef Peter McNee, will feature white truffle dishes along with specially selected Piedmont's wines, including Poggio’s own Nebbiolo and vintage Barolos and Barbarescos. Call 415-332-7771 or go to

* The  return of regional dinners at NYC’s Mercadito and Mercadito Grove with Chef Sandoval is offered from now until Feb. with five special menus at $30 pep, with the option of a $20 drink pairing. For schedule go to or call 212-529-6490.

* During November in Washington, DC,  Taberna del Alabardero features its 2nd annual Simply Seafood menu (meat and vegetarian dishes will also be available).Visit  Call 202-429-2200.

* The Taj Hotel in Boston begins a Bollywood Nights series on Nov. 19 and takes through March 2009,  complete with exotic lighting and décor with jewel-toned draperies, silk pillows, mood-enhancing candles, Bollywood clips on screens, dancing to entrancing international selections by a DJ and sip Taj Palace Cocktails, Thandai and Cardamom tea. Choose from Indian specialties created by Chef Prabeen Prathapan. $25 pp. Call 617-598-5255.

* On Nov. 20-23 Paris Las Vegas holds its 2nd Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Celebration, with  special events, tastings and Beaujolais Nouveau featured wine pairing menus at its restaurants. Visit;  call (877) 603-4386.

* From Nov. 21-23 InterContinental Hong Kong holds its first annual “Dramatic Wine & Dine Experience,” with Michael Fridjhon,  Pierre Lurton, of  Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Cheval Blanc; Thibault Liger Belair of Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair; Bernard Hervet of Domaine Faiveley and François Hautekeur of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame. Their wines will be paired with cuisine from InterContinental Hong Kong’s restaurants, along with  guest chefs from some of the world’s leading restaurants.  The package price for all four Wine & Dine events is $2,300 pp. Call   852 2721 1211;

*On Nov. 21 in Paso Robles, CA, Adelaida Cellars presents its Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Celebration to salute the first release of the 2008 Central Coast vintage. Chef Claude Chazalon of Safran Caterer will prepare traditional French peasant fare to accompany Adelaida’s 2008 Gamay Noir. $25 pp or complimentary to all wine club members. Call 800-676-1232 x19;

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with four 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: LEAVING IT ALL BEHIND.


Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor 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.

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. 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