Virtual Gourmet

April 19,  2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                                       Erroll Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)



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IMPORTANT MESSAGE: There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week, April  26, because Mariani will be traveling to a place in the sun.  The next issue will be May 3.

In This Issue




by John Mariani

     Okay. Taxes are done. Now you know just how badly off you are. And maybe you're just not up for the 72-day cruise around the world, the pilgrimage to every three-star restaurant in France, or a summer's rental of a palazzo in Tuscany. But there are always reasons to celebrate something--birthday, anniversary, getting through tax time with some money in your pocket--and if you're cutting way back on your expenditures for pleasure, there are ways--and a lot more than there were a year ago--to spend a thousand bucks and truly revel in all that you've enjoyed.  This week, my colleagues Everett Potter, and Kyle McCarthy of our joint venture "The Art of Living," are writing separate articles on how to do just that--spend a grand in the pursuit of the Art of Living.

     Here are my suggestions--for two people--for days you won't ever forget in various cities--airfare not included. By the way, as every professional in the industry will tell you, don't ever accept the first "rack" rate for a room. You need not be William Shatner to negotiate a deal (though is good at that), and while a rare chain like the Four Seasons insists they never discount, they now offer more and more amenities free of charge and upgrades are not that unusual to come by anywhere these days.
     Psssst! Actually if you follow the advice below, you can can spend way below $1000.

NEW YORK: Checking the on-line sites like and others, I found that some of NYC's top hotels are unheard of bargains, especially on weekends, e.g., Millennium UN Plaza, $202; The London, with Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, $279; The New Yorker (on top of Madison Square Garden, if you're going to an event there), and the Kitano on Park Avenue ($188), which offers an excellent sushi lunch at $32.  . . . In the morning go to the Museum of Modern Art (tix $20 for adults, free for children under 16), then dine  next door at the wonderful restaurants at The Modern (below)--Bar Room (below), with appetizers $12-$16, main courses $17-$28, or the main Dining Room (one Michelin star) for a 3-course lunch at $48.  My colleague Ryan Sutton of Bloomberg News currently lists a slew of great deals for dinner at some of NYC's top restaurants right now, incl.Matsugen, Eighty-One, Apiary, Artisanal, L'Absinthe, and others for under $40. . . . If you want to go to the theater, head for TKTS,
in Times Square, which sells unsold tickets on the day of performance for all Broadway shows for 25-50% off the box office price ($3 service charge). . . . At evening's end, you could go to a score of jazz or music clubs around the city pretty cheaply, and Tues.-Thurs. you can sit at the bar at The Café Carlyle for $50 and listen to the best cabaret singers in the business, from Jane Monheit and Judy Collins to Ute Lemper and Barbara Cook.

LONDON:  My very favorite boutique hotel, centrally located in London is 22 Jermyn Street (below), run by the incomparable Henry Togna. Right now, for a double room, the price is £220 (about $319), but, as the hotel's site notes, "
Occasionally we have special offers and promotions. Please insert your dates in the Reservations Page and you will be offered the best prices available." . . . Once you've arrived, stroll Jermyn Street itself, where the city's finest haberdashers, incl. Pink, Harvey and Hudson, Jaeger, Chas. Tyrwhitt, and many others line the thoroughfare--every one always offering remarkable sales on men's and women's clothing.  . . . To eat well, head up the street to the new and wonderful St. Alban off Piccadilly, a bright and very colorful 140-seat restaurant with art that includes work by Damien Hirst,  and a modern menu by  Chef Dale Osborne, formerly at The Wolseley, with starters run ₤6.50-₤19.50, main courses ₤8.75-₤29.50, and a winelist with scores of bottles under 35₤. For my up-to-date report on current London dining at very reasonable prices, click here. . . . The British Museum is free, though they request a donation; The National Gallery is free, as is the National Portrait Gallery. . . . As in NYC above, London theaters have a way of getting half-price tix to shows at the Society of London Theatre Ticket Kiosk on Leicester Square . . . . And pubs are always a good, inexpensive way to get into the swing of things.

PARIS: One can stroll the boulevards of Paris endlessly for free and that might be the most luxurious pastime imaginable for many.  But you do have to eat and stay somewhere. By staying away from the Michelin star restaurants and palatial hotels, you can have a fabulous time in Paris without busting the budget, and everyone is offering bargains just to stay in business. Indeed,
according to France’s Union of Hotel and Restaurant Owners, the number of cafés, hotels and restaurants that filed for bankruptcy in the first nine months of 2008 rose 25 percent from the comparable period in the previous year. The Left Bank still offers the best value, and, for many, the most charm. The Hôtel Grandes Ecoles near the church of St. Genevieve is absolutely darling, painted pink, with country furniture and wallpaper, and current rates of 113-138€ euros (about $145-$180), while the Hôtel St. Jacques, done in Empire style furnishings, was the setting for Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn's love affair in the film "Charade" (left). Its website offers a double room starting at 110€ euros, up to a deluxe at 189€ euros, with various promotions worth asking about. . . . Dining at the bistro level in Paris is always the way to go for wonderful food, and prices are still remarkably fair: For three of my favorites, old and new--Café Moderne, DeVez, and Chez Georges, where you will feast for two people, with wine, for under 75€ euros, click here. Also, be aware that the Michelin Guide lists dozens of bistros and restaurants called "Bib Gourmand" where you can eat for under 30€. . . Many of France's national treasures, their churches and museums, are free of charge, and there are often free musical concerts held within their storied walls. . . You can attend free student recitals at the Salle Cortot Tues. and Thurs. . . . You can attend the National Opera for between 15€ and 25€. . . .There are plenty of jazz clubs and they don't charge very much to get in or drink, like the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club and Bar le Houdon in Montmartre.

ROME: Tourism in Rome, as well as Venice  has been down for the past two years, and they are feeling the pinch
(though Florence is still jammed and very expensive), so there are plenty of values to be found in enchanting hotels and in the trattorias from Trastevere to the Spanish Steps. The River Palace, next to the Villa Borghese, is going for about $239  (breakfast included); The Hotel Columbus (right), once a 15th century cardinals' home, with frescoes by Pinturicchio, has an interior garden and striking architecture throughout, with rooms at $193. . . . Check out last week's Virtual Gourmet for two delightful restaurants in Rome that won't make much of a dent in your wallet.
The city is increasingly filling with wine bars--enotecas--where you can eat cheaply and drink well.  Pastas at all but the most expensive ristoranti still run about $10-$12, and while seafood is expensive, meats are not, and wine is always a good deal, not least the house wines, which many Romans do indeed drink. . .  .One hint for saving some money: never sit down at a table at a café and order espresso or cappuccino--it will cost you double, or more, what they charge if you just have it at the counter. . . . Of course, the monuments of Rome are almost always free, including the Pantheon, the Coliseum, and St. Peter's, and the Borghese Gardens are absolutely glorious in spring. . . . The most expensive shopping street in the city is the Via Condotti, lined with big name designers, but on the flanking streets of Via Borgogna, and Via Frattina, prices are much lower.

NEW ORLEANS: New Orleans is not and never has been a particularly expensive city, and its whole atmosphere and good vibes make it a wonderful place for a short hop.   Hotel prices are very reasonable these days and all the restaurants are offering special deals. And frankly, it's not a city you're going to spend more than a couple of days in anyhow, for after a tour of the French Quarter and maybe the Aquarium here, you'll run out of things to do.  And tourism, which is crucial to the economy, is down.  So, book yourself into a very good hotel at unbelievable rates: The Marriott, in the French Quarter, has rooms for $89; the Ambassador in the Warehouse District, $59; The elegant Montenapoleone, $129; and the new W next to the Casino, $149; even the Ritz-Carlton runs $199, and the city's best hotel, the Windsor Court (left) is currently charging between $149 and $335, and the latter is for a Club Full Suite. . . . So, too, restaurants are offering big deals on their menus, from a $49 steak dinner at Morton's to 3-course jazz brunches at Commander's Palace for as little as $27. Or you can gorge at the oyster bars around town, fill up on a huge muffaletta sandwich at Central Grocery, and, for breakfast really pack it in at Mother's, so you won't want to eat until dinner.

LAS VEGAS: As everybody knows, you can lose your shirt and your soul in Vegas, but you don't have to spend all that much away from the gambling tables to do it.  Given the dire downtown of tourism in this city with nothing else to bolster it, Vegas hotels and restaurants are offering every promotion they can come up with to entice you to stay and eat at their place rather than the next casino/hotel over. Midweek they are really dying, so that's when it's best to book. The posh Wynn Las Vegas has rooms for $199 (ask for an upgrade midweek), Caesar's Palace runs $120, and the troubled MGM starts at $80, with a Celebrity Spa Suite at $190! . . . In the past the cheap-o buffets in the casino served pretty awful food en masse, but now they all compete mightily to offer a wide variety--from pasta to sushi--in beautifully designed buffet spaces where the bargains are tremendous: At the Bellagio, lunch runs $19.95 and dinner $27.95 for the full gorge, and weekend Champagne brunch is $28.95. Luxor dinner is only $19.99. If you want a truly fine dinner, there is an early evening 3-course dinner at the posh Fleur de Lys (right) for $59. . . . What's free around Vegas? The glorious scenery outside of Las Vegas, not least the great Hoover Dam and the stunningly beautiful Red Rock country--both worth renting a car for $37 a day and taking off from the Strip.



199 Main Street
White Plains, NY

      The first Via Quadronno opened on Madison Avenue and 73rd Street in NYC in  1999, named after a street in Milan whose Bar Tabacchi became a pilgrimage spot for its panini sandwiches, and now there are VQ branches in Soho, the GM Building, Tribeca, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and, the newest, in White Plains in Westchester County (about 40 minutes from Manhattan).  Each of the units is a bit different in size and  décor; the  White Plains  restaurant is L-shaped, with a sparkling pastry counter, bar, and  two seating areas with well-set, linen-draped tables sturdy chairs, and richly textured banquette fabrics, enhanced with Italian food posters and windows overlooking this thriving city's Main Street.
      The original VQ was a sliver of a place near the Whitney Museum, specializing in small plates, panini and gelati, but the concept has grown according to people's tastes and desires, so the White Plains unit is a full-fledged restaurant with a finely tuned menu that begins with ten appetizers, including very generous salads that might be enjoyed as a lunch main course, along with dishes like tender grilled baby octopus in a garlic and rosemary dressing. There is a selection of charcuterie here, including air-cured bresaola with fennel and lemon, carpaccio of beef with shaved parmigiano and hearts of palm, and Prosciutto di San Daniele with caramelized figs.  A plate of any of these and a pasta makes for a full meal, and the pastas are first-rate.
     I particularly enjoyed Chef Elio Tome's ravioli stuffed with sweet pumpkin and glossed with sage butter.  The fettuccine all'amatriciana has an assertive sauce of onions, pancetta, and tomato, while the orecchiette with a lamb ragù and dousing of pecorino cheese is the ideal casalinga-style hearty dish. They make a tender, creamy risotto of the day, and the gnocchi are pillowy, light and laced with black olives in a cherry tomato sauce.  If you have a strong hankering for lasagna--the comeback dish of the year in Italian restaurants--VQ's is a signature dish, with rich besciamella and tomato, and oozingly melted cheeses.
     I'd go light with the main courses,  perhaps beautifully cooked fillets of orata simply dressed with olive and lemon, or a medallion of monkfish topped with prosciutto and sage in a white wine sauce.  If you're feeling more in a mood for meat, there are grilled Colorado lamb chops with a goat's cheese and fresh thyme fondue, worth every penny of the $38 charged here. Pan-roasted veal chop in butter and sage is also a wise choice, though a bit pricier at $42. NB: Since I visited a month ago, QV's prices in fact seem to have dropped considerably, now with entrees in the mid-$20s.
       The desserts are numerous and turn over all day long here, so go for the freshly made crespelle filled with coffee custard and caramelized pears or the superb tiramisú, which is one of the best I've had of a sweet too often a gummy mess.  The Verona torta is an Italian version of Austria's Sacher torte, and here it is much more moist than the original.
      The people who run VQ are very attentive and, like any good restaurateurs. they want to win you back against the competition, which in Westchester, among Italian restaurants, is fierce, including Zanaro's across the street, and Osteria Mazzei and Tarry Lodge in nearby Port Chester. What distinguishes QV is the style of the place, a little Milanese, a little New York, and a little suburban relaxation.

Via Quadronno is open only Thurs.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. Appetizers run $14-$22, full portions of pasta $12-$24, main courses $20-$34.



The ever-inventive People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an attempt to persuade children that fish are too cute to eat, has come up instead with the words “sea kittens” for fish.


"Now I know there are plenty of veg*ns who have no desire or taste for faux animal products of any kind, but I'm not one of those veg*ns. I loved eating these mock fish sticks and the creamy vegan tartar sauce too.But when I get a hankering for faux fish sticks or faux shepherd's pie or any number of other things that I don't normally get to eat? I know just where to go."--Elisa Camahort, "Loving Hut," Silicon Veggie (Jan. 9. 2009).



To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Mother's Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.

* On April 23 the 19th annual Epicurean Affair will be held poolside at the Flamingo Las Vegas, featuring 100+ top restaurants and bars. VIP ticket holders $150,  General Admission $100, with proceeds to benefit the culinary educational programs of the Nevada Restaurant Association and the Nevada Hotel and Lodging Association. Visit

* On April 23 in Berkeley, CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto has announced “One Fermented Night,” by Spenger's Chef Devon Boisen, 4 courses showcasing  halibut paired with California wines. $69.95 pp. Call 510-845-7771. Visit . . . Spenger's and McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood Restaurant in San Francisco honor National Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on April 23, with free lunch entrée and beverage for all children. Call 510-845-7771.

* On April 23 in Menlo Park, CAMarché will host a 4-course dinner  to feature 2006 Burgundy wines.  Chef Guillaume Bienaimé will showcase the exceptional wines chosen by Sommelier John Sanders.  Marché will also offer the menu April 24  & 25  as a Chef's Tasting Menu. $195 pp. Call 650-324-9092.

* In Carmel, CA, Thomas Perez, wine director at Aubergine, announces a wine dinner series by chef Christophe Grosjean. For full info call  831-622-5907. Overnight accommodations available at a special seasonal rate. April 23: Emmanuel Kemiji of Miura Vineyards; May 7: Robbie Meyer of Sage Vineyards and L’Angevin Wines; May 15: Chris Weidemann of Pelerin Wines; et al.

* On April 27 in NYC, Convivio holds a Louis/Dressner 6-course wine dinner at $85 pp. with cuisine by Chef Michael White‚ with winemakers as Alessandra Bera of Bera Winery, Arianna Occhipinti of Occhipinti Winery, Francesca Padovani of Campi di Fonterenza Winery, Cristiano Guttarolo of Guttarolo Winery and Mauro Vergano, a noted Chinati producer. Call 212-599-5045.

* On April 27 the Westchester Italian Cultural Center in Tuckahoe, NY, will continue its Signature Wine Dinner: Sapori D'Italia as a 5-course dinner by Zuppa Restaurant and Lounge in Yonkers, hosted by restaurateur Robert Leggio/\\, owner of Zuppa Restaurant and Lounge. Members $95; Non-Members $110. Call 914-771-8700.

* On April 27 in Beverly Hills, CA, Club Culinaire of French Cuisine will hold its "Springtime in Bordeaux" 5-course dinner at JAAN restaurant in Raffles L’Ermitage Beverly Hills paired with specially-selected wines from the region. $105 Club Culinaire Members / $115 Non-Members. Call  310-385-5302. Visit

*  On May 1 in Oakland, CA, Five Star Night, the 21st annual fundraiser for Alameda County Meals on Wheels, will take place at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, with a champagne and fine wine reception, silent and live auctions, gala dinner by 15 of the Bay Area chefs, and dancing with Salsamania.  $250 pp.  Call  510-577-3580 or visit

* On May 2 in Westport, MA, Westport Winery will hold a 20th Anniversary Founder’s Day Dinner, at the  Long Acre House Wine & Food Education Center, hosted by founders Bob & Carol Russell. For menu and info call 508-636-3423.

* On May 3 in Chicago,  Susan and Drew Goss of West Town Tavern hostthe 13th Annual Girl Food Dinner to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository with a 5-course dinner with paired wines at  $150 pp. Chefs incl. Nadia Tilkian - Maijean Restaurant; Jill Barron - mana food bar; Karen Armijo - The Gary Comer Youth Center; Jessica Oloroso - Black Dog Gelato. Call 312-666-6175. Visit

* On May 5 in NYC, Toloache Bistro Mexicano & Tequila Bar celebrates Cinco de Mayo with live Mariachis from 7pm-11pm. Chef Julian Medinaoffers family-style dishes ($22-$39).   Call 212-581-1818.

* On May 6 Morello Bistro in Greenwich, CT, will hold a wine dinner  with Ornellaia and Masseto wineries, with guest Wine Maker Axel Heinz. $395 pp. Visit

* London's Le Pont de la Tour celebrates its
18th anniversary with  an £18 lunch of 3 courses from their à la carte menu.  Visit


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: IS THIS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND IN MAINE?; THE BEST DEAL ON THE HIGH SEAS THIS SUMMER?; SAILING ON A MAINE WINDJAMMER; FLY FISHING MAINE -- AND BEYOND -- WITH L.L. BEAN


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:

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, Bloomberg News, 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 2009