Virtual Gourmet

January 2,  2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

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This Week

Georgia's Burger Wars
by Suzanne Wright

New York Corner: Benoit
by John Mariani

Man About Town: Benjamin Steak House White Plains
by Christopher Mariani

Wine: Argentine Adventure
by Brian Freedman

Quick Bytes

GOOD NEWS! now has a new food section  called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA.

By Suzanne Wright

 You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect melding of concept and neighborhood than  Farm Burger in Decatur, GA.  A hit since its April opening, it’s the antithesis of another new burger place in Atlanta, Richard Blais’s self conscious FLIP.  As suggested by the name, Farm Burger features a sustainable menu, including local grass-fed beef.
    FB (right) is kid-friendly and the interior is appealingly bare bones: whitewashed brick walls, picnic tables topped with a roll of paper towels, condiments and silverware, brown paper placemats stamped with a cow, self-serve iced tea.  The beer list includes Pigslap and Miller High Life (also used to batter the onion rings), but I opted for a delicious adult float made with JK Scrumpy’s cider.  Among the starters are $3 fried chicken livers served with a grainy mustard vinegar, seasonal pickles (daikon, cauliflower, carrots and cucumbers on my visit) and bright purple eggs pickled in beet juice and served in a glass jar. Sadly, they were sold out of beef marrow the day of my visit.
    You can build your own burger or opt for the “blackboard” burgers.  My only “beefs”  here are that the kitchen takes a temperature on your burger, then fails to deliver on it (mine were both slightly overcooked and a tad greasy) and the buns, from Masada Bakery, are a bit insipid.  My favorite burgers were the Foodie, a patty topped with braised pork belly, onion rings and pickled jalapeños (sherry-date BBQ sauce adds a sweet-piquant note), and the No. 6, with a sunny side up egg, house-cured bacon, salsa verde and pepper jack cheese. There’s also a veggie quinoa burger, and a vegan burger is under development.  The fries (sadly, limp) and excellent onion rings are served with smoked paprika mayo, an excessive flourish but its exuberance is likable. Word to the wise:  avoid prime-time hours unless you relish waiting in a line that snakes out the door and down the sidewalk.
    I found the burgers at Yeah! Burger, in Westside (the town’s of-the-moment dining destination) more straightforward and, ultimately, satisfying than those at Farm Burger; I’d add that the overall vibe is more whimsical and less earnest.  Seasoned pro Sean Doty (Sean’s in Inman Park) owns YB, open since June. Business has been booming. The crew seemed tired but happy; franchising is already being discussed.  
I saw fewer kids here than at Farm Burger and more workers from the nearby industrial parks and hipsters from the ‘hood. With exposed ductwork and stainless steel stools, the room has a loft-like feel. The huge patio is welcome when the weather turns warmer.
    All burgers (above) are cooked medium, a smart decision in such a bustling place (takeout is also available). Notably, YB succeeds in two categories I usually dismiss: turkey and veggie burgers.  I’ve never eaten a turkey burger like this one, though--juicy and well-seasoned with the surprise of tarragon; unlike most sawdust-tasting concoctions, the veggie, made with organic sea island peas, was inspired and texturally pleasant. Though a confirmed carnivore, I would order both again.  Buns, from Holeman & Finch (Linton Hopkins’ bakery), are divine, combining the right ratio of fluff to compression. I adored the double stack grass-fed beef burger topped with a fried egg, turkey bacon and pimento cheese, and I was blown away by the Southern (beef) hot dog with hot Alabama relish and grilled Vidalia onions.  Be sure and order the bacon jam, a smoky-sweet smear that transforms every burger.
    Among sides, the Napa coleslaw made with soy mayo, mint and cabbage was tasty, light and refreshing. My only quibble is that French fries, in comparison to the stellar Vidalia onion rings, were a bit forgettable.  If you’ve got room for dessert, try the black cow —cherry soda and vanilla ice cream—or a "concrete," vanilla soft serve ice cream with mix-ins like house-made almond bark.
    Todd Ginsberg’s Bocado is just down the road from Yeah! Burger and shares a similar design aesthetic.  The ingredients-driven menu shines in the small plates.  "Chicken liver goodness" (you read that right) is based on Todd's mom’s recipe and  unlike any other I’ve had: chunky liver mounded on bacon onion toast.  The genius touch?  The sweetness of applesauce for balance.  And it’s a real bargain at $6.  Sugar snap peas with whipped ricotta were lively in the dish and on the tongue (a dash of salt would further amp the flavor) though dearly priced at $11. Ginsburg’s deviled eggs are elegant and benefit from the acidity of pickled red pearl onions and saltiness of prosciutto.  The wonderfully light and silky chilled corn bisque with Georgia shrimp was ideal on a hot night, the dice of chives and arugula providing a bright note. Only Georgia peaches with pistachio and arugula pesto, local blueberries and duck prosciutto felt a bit one-note. Though each element was in peak form, the combination lacked sharpness.
    Among the mains, the burger with house-made pickles (left) is a good choice, but the flounder, served with zucchini succotash, while perfectly cooked, faded from memory with every bite.  I had high hopes for the roasted poblano, pimento cheese, bacon and fried green tomato sandwich, but it didn’t live up to its promise:  it arrived a lukewarm, sloppy mess, though the accompanying warm tomato bisque was terrific.  The kitchen rebounded with dessert, in particular, the blueberry Betty. With a slightly dry texture (in a good way), it was not too syrupy or sweet.  And while I wish the bittersweet chocolate pudding with caramel whipped cream was served in a parfait glass—the Mason jar is too folksy and tough to navigate without a long-handled spoon—I confess I gobbled up every bite, finding the surprise of bananas at the bottom.

Suzanne Wright is a writer living in Atlanta and founder of

photos by  Mike Piazza


60 West 55th Street


     From a wine red banquette at Benoit I watched as two young French women at another table, their scarves artfully tied, sipped Sancerre and nibbled on gougères. One of them tapped the crust of a cassoulet with a spoon to release its steamy aroma. They gobbled up the hot frites with abandon, then ordered a baba au rhum for dessert, all the time leaning in towards each other to gossip and giggle.
     Such a scene would be wholly unremarkable at Benoit in Paris, which opened on the Rue Saint-Martin back in 1912, but this was in New York, where global restaurateur Alain Ducasse, who also owns the Paris original,  opened an evocative branch of Benoit on the premises that had once been the legendary La Côte Basque. When Benoit NY opened in the spring of 2008, the enterprise was received with thunderous yawns by the New York critics.  My own view of Benoit at the time was that one could easily find similar but better food at any number of New York bistros like La Goulue and Payard Bistro--both now gone.   Ducasse admitted to me then that, “I like taking a beating in New York because it makes me think harder, which is why I visit once a month. I’m never afraid to admit mistakes. New Yorkers have discerning palates and I pay attention to their complaints. Yes, at the beginning Benoit was inconsistent, and it took time to develop the staff. I replaced many, including the chef.”
    Now, with a fine new chef, Philippe Bertineau, who had distinguished himself at Payard, has come aboard, and Benoit NY finally emerges as one of the best and sexiest  bistros in the city.  You enter, as you do in Paris, through a revolving door--the décor is very much the same--and to your right  is a station with lovely, very cordial hostesses; to the left is a handsome, jaunty little bar (right) with a light menu and an array of aperitifs.  As in Paris,  The main dining room is done up in golden-blond wood, tile floors, and wall scones, though in NYC you also get an enchanting trompe l'œil cloudy blue sky above you. For some reason they've turned down the lights at night, which seems all wrong, robbing the room of its vitality. It's more fun at lunch, when the room is lighted as it is in the photo above.  The tables, once bare,  now have bright white cloths on them, thank God, which gives  the ambiance a buoyancy and softness it heretofore lacked.   Located above Benoit is The Officine, a stunning 10-seat private dining room set with an original antique 19th century pharmacy imported from Bordeaux.
    Bertineau's résumé is long and far-reaching, from a childhood in the Poitou Charentes region of France to stints at the Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz, Restaurant Vanel in Toulouse,  and Restaurant  Daniel in NYC before becoming  Executive Chef of François Payard’s Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro, then, most recently, as Executive Chef of Keith McNally’s Balthazar. The Ducasse Group has also brought in manager 
Bruno Jamais, an ebullient host whose own namesake restaurant had a swank crowd that has now taken up residence at Benoit.
    The menu toes the Parisian line, starting off with appetizers like leeks in a tangy vinaigrette; good and garlicky cod brandade; rich and creamy rillettes; and a crisp, fatty pied de cochon. Of course, there are escargots and pâtés, and a fine duck foie gras terrine. The appetizer not to miss is the twice-baked upside-down Comte cheese soufflé. I remember when every French restaurant in town served a cheese soufflé and charged absurd prices or surcharges for an amalgam of a few eggs and shreds of Swiss cheese; Benoit's soufflé is a marvel, decidedly rich, luxurious, and velvety, hot on the first bite, heaven on the second, and even at $14, it's worth it.
    One of the best bargains in NYC is Benoit's choice of thee hors oeuvres for $15 or five for $16, with just enough for two to taste.
    Main courses are kept  to a dozen or so, with hearty winter items like calf's liver with sweet onions and Lyonnaise potatoes, filet mignon with a bracing peppercorn sauce, steamed loup de mer with lemon and lavender, and a textbook perfect roast chicken for two, which is brought to the table for your inspections and delectation, its aromas  of fat and garlic and rosemary wafting across the table. You swoon, the appetite races, and you count the moments while the waiter plates the pieces of chicken (two people might well take some home), then plunks down a generous portion of fabulous frites, which you will definitely not take home because you will demolish every last one of them.
    My one disappointment with the menu is the removal of the quenelles of pike with Nantua sauce, once a famous dish at La Côte Basque and originally on the menu at Benoit, now, sadly, gone. (Psst! They still make quenelles at the new Millesime and Lyon Bouchon Moderne, both of which I shall be writing about soon.)
     Desserts have a century or so of history and favor behind them, and Benoit does them all with respect for their lineage, from a succulently rummy baba au rhum to a crisp tarte Tatin for two, along with light, puffy profiteroles and a little sauce pot of hot dark chocolate.
      The Paris Benoit puffs along with a very similar menu, though, given the strength of the Euro, prices are much higher over there. And while I am no fan of cloning originals, I wouldn't mind there being a Benoit in every city in America, if only to remind people how enduring the vivacity and honesty of a good bistro truly is.

Benoit is open daily for lunch and dinner.  Benoit also offers a prix-fixe lunch menu for 2 courses for $22 and 3 courses for $28;  prix-fixe dinner menu  from 5:30 pm to 6:30pm with 2 courses for $28 and 3 for $38.  A bar menu is served daily until midnight.


by Christopher Mariani


610 West Hartsdale Avenue

White Plains, NY



you  to ask me where to find a great steak in Westchester County,  NY, I would start by saying there are only a handful of restaurants worth a drive--Nick Vuli’s Flames Steakhouse in Briar Cliff Manor, David Ghatanfard’s Tutta Bella Trattoria in Scarsdale and Port Chester’s The Willett House.  Beyond these three, Westchester lacks quality steakhouses. So when I heard NYC's Benjamin Steakhouse was coming up to White Plains (about a 45-minute drive from Manhattan), I must say I was intrigued. And after dining at Benjamin this past week, I am pleased to say, my small list of great steak houses is beginning to grow.
    Owner Benjamin Prelvukaj started his career in Brooklyn at the legendary Peter Luger’s steak house, where he clearly honed his skills as a restaurateur and developed a keen eye for obtaining the best beef available. Benjamin opened his first namesake restaurant in Manhattan, located on East 41st, between Madison and Park Avenue, and, just recently, in Westchester's most dynamic city, White Plains, taking over the space previously occupied by Mighty Joe Young’s.  While I dined at Benjamin, it was evident that Prelvukaj and cast have already found their groove, serving some of the best USDA Prime steaks I’ve tasted in a long time, comparable to those found at Michael Lomanaco’s Porter House and the famous Ben Benson’s in NYC.

 Benjamin has a typical steak house design: white walls and ceilings with a thin wood trim, dark brown leather chairs, polished wood  floors, and a grand fireplace  guests can dine beside while receiving terrific service by an all-male wait staff dressed in white shirts and black bow ties.  Upon entering the restaurant, all guests are greeted by Benjamin’s gorgeous hostess, Linda Liolla, who was recently chosen as Esquire’s hostess of the week.

         Sitting directly in front of the fireplace, I enjoyed a perfectly made Manhattan cocktail. For starters, the crab cakes come two on a plate, made with large chunks of lump crab meat; shrimp cocktail, served with either four or six shrimp, sided by a house-made cocktail sauce spiked with horseradish and spice; a lush strip of juicy Canadian bacon; and a creamy lobster bisque soup, full of flavor and generous in size, but lacking lobster chunks, any if at all.
In between courses, I ordered a nice bottle of Carneros pinot noir wine from Benjamin’s impressive wine list, offering varietals from almost every corner of the earth, with prices that go from affordable to very expensive.  The wines themselves are stored within an elegant glass wine room (left)  directly across from the restaurant’s bustling bar, by designer Emilio Escaladas.

         Executive chef Arturo McLeod has been with Benjamin for many years and the two work in a harmonious tandem, as the front and back of the house  run as efficiently as a steak house needs to be.
The steaks come from Strassburger Meats and are the obvious highlight of Benjamin’s menu, thick, well-fatted cuts of USDA Prime beef.  We ordered the porterhouse for two (above), which , in the style set long ago by Luger's, came on a sizzling hot oval plate, the meat seared just right on the outside and medium-rare on the inside.   For sides, we shared the thick crispy steak fries, an order of the creamed spinach (a bit salty that night), and a plate of sautéed mushrooms mixed with chopped garlic, all large enough for a party of four.
        For dessert, the tiramisù and chocolate cake were accompanied by whipped cream; both stand an imposing three to four inches tall.

         Benjamin Steakhouse may be the new guy on the block here in Westchester County, but from what I saw of the packed house on a Tuesday night, it's quickly becoming a favorite among locals and those who have heard about a great new steak house north of Manhattan.      

Benjamin is open for lunch Tues.-Fri, and for dinner Tues.-Sun. Appetizers $9.94-$23.95, Entrees $32.95-$41.95.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



by Brian Freedman

         Walking toward the old San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires with Felipe Carvallo, of the excellent wine producer Valle de la Puerta, we heard trumpets and drums in the distance. Then, with no warning except the crush of people massed ahead of us, we walked straight into the Bolivian festival (left), a parade of dozens of groups of Bolivian dancers and musicians whose exuberant costumes and performances could rival the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade.
         Turns out that this was a perfect introduction to Argentina, which I toured this past October on a trip sponsored by Wines of Argentina. Because no matter what you’ve heard about this huge country, it is invariably more than that: More diverse, more exciting, more downright tasty. (You will most likely return home with serious addictions to Argentine beef, dulce de leche, and, unexpectedly, Fernet-Branca, not to mention the wines, of course.)    
        Over ten days, we tasted more wines than I could count. But what struck me most about them was not just the overall quality, which, as any fan of the wines of Argentina knows, is typically quite high, as well as fairly priced, but the sheer range of styles and grape varieties being produced. Indeed, though generous, affordable malbec has been the catalyst for Argentina’s skyrocketing reputation on this side of the equator, it is far from the only variety with which Argentina stands to move forward to bolster its name internationally.  From concentrated, expressively idiosyncratic malbecs sourced from single vineyards in the often higher altitudes to bottlings that lean on varieties most of us don’t associate with Argentina, this is a country whose future is not only bright, but far more varied than most consumers realize.
         As I’ve pointed out before, one of the great advantages of wine travel is having the chance  not only to taste bottlings not yet being exported but to experience them in the context of the regions that produce them and alongside the foods that marry best with them. As such, our experiences in Buenos AIres (where our tastings focused on the wines of the north), Patagonia, Mendoza, and San Juan provided a crystal-clear pastiche of exactly how much potential and excitement Argentina promises in the coming years and decades.   

Buenos Aires
         Simply put, Buenos Aires is one of the most vibrant, cosmopolitan cities I’ve ever spent time in. It’s a sprawling tangle of neighborhoods, markets, restaurants, cultural influences, monumental grandeur, edgier neighborhoods, and everything else you’d hope for in one of the great capitals of the world. As far as restaurants go, I’d include two Buenos Aires destinations as among the top five meals I’ve experienced in the past year.
         Chila (right) in the upscale Puerto Madero neighborhood, boasts an astounding menu that finds the perfect middle ground between Argentina and France, as rendered by Chef Soledad Nardelli. My appetizer of goat's sweetbreads with bacon, a miraculously subtle cabbage cream, and a perfectly delicate vegetable broth started off a meal of astounding depth and variety. And if the sweetbreads peddled in more delicate flavors, then the red deer loin found its footing on the more explosive side of the spectrum, its accompanying cauliflower puree a smart foil for the compressed sweet potato and apple and the sweet-tangy marron glacé. Our table overlooked the river and the high-rises sprouting on the opposite bank, and the entirety of the experience was utterly transporting.
     Tomo1 (left) in the Panamericano Buenos Aires Hotel by the Obelisco (and opposite the NH Tango Hotel where we stayed while in the city), was just as avant-garde. There, we were treated to a multi-course tasting menu that highlighted exactly why the food of sister chefs Ada and Ebe Concaro and executive chef Federico Fialayre is generating so much buzz. Here, a dish like the langoustines with crunchy pancetta and strawberries in vinegar showed just how exciting Porteño cuisine is these days. Wine service (which, for our meal, focused on the excellent wines of Luigi Bosca) and the overall ambience at both restaurants, alongside such stunning food, will easily warrant Michelin stars if the guide ever heads to BA.
         During our brief stay in the city, we focused mainly on the wines of the north, from regions like Salta and Cafayate. Expressive bottlings made from the aromatic torrontes grape variety, like the concentrated apricot and herb-tinged 2010 Laborum from Bodegas El Porvenir, and the more orange-, peppercorn-, and cantaloupe-driven 2010 from Valle de la Puerta, really stood out. On the more powerful end of the torrontes spectrum was the Bodegas Etchart Gran Linaje 2010, which demonstrated an almost Condrieu-like grilled peach and white flower aroma.
         The north is not only white wine country, however. Bodegas Etchart’s Cafayate Malbec Reserva 2009 showed fresh black raspberry, meat, and a very appealing minerality. Bodegas El Porvenir’s Amauta 2006, a malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah blend, sang with wild strawberries, blackberries, and chocolate, as well as a balsamic note that lent both depth and freshness. Bonarda also does well in the north, as demonstrated by a number of wines we tasted from La Puerta Alta.

         Few names on the map evoke images as remote and exotic as Patagonia. And while we stayed in the wine-producing regions toward the north of it--still a distance from the penguins of places like Ushuaia--this was still as wonderfully close to the end of the earth as I’ve ever come. It reminded me, in many ways, of what I imagine some sort of South American Montana to look like: The biggest sky I’ve ever swept my eyes across, and endless vistas of vineyards, unplanted land, and rivers. Here we stayed at the Valle Perdido, (above, right) an unexpectedly modern, beautifully constructed resort whose name, meaning “Lost Valley,” is as close to truth in advertising as I’ve ever experienced. From my room’s porch I had views, stretching out further than I could see, of a purple and orange sunset of staggering, humbling brilliance.
         Wine-wise, this is a region with serious potential, and depending on the producer, one grape or style or another will convince you that, yes, this is what will put Patagonia on the international wine map.     At the wonderfully named Bodega del Fin del Mundo, I was convinced that Patagonia’s future lay in sparkling wine. Their Extra Brut NV smelled of whole-wheat bread with strawberry jam and tasted of cherries and minerals. Then, after sampling the concentrated, endlessly complex malbecs and pinot noirs at NQN, we thought that these varieties would help make Patagonia’s name. Their Pinot Noir Finca La Papay 2010, with its spiced meat, cherries, and chanterelles, was a muscular, age-worthy red whose hint of flowers on the finish lent a beautiful sense of elegance. At Humberto Canale, it was merlot and cabernet sauvignon that won me over. At Familia Schroeder, the Saurus Pinot Noir Tardío 2008 charmed (yes, a late-harvest pinot!). We were also treated to a delicious lunch here at the Saurus Winery Restaurant (left), the huge glass windows overlooking the Patagonian expanse beyond; and the food was every bit as transfixing as the view.
         The moral of our trip to Patagonia was that it conjures images of natural wonders, but its vinous ones have the potential to be every bit as stunning.

 Mendoza and San Juan
         Mendoza is the most famous wine region in Argentina, and deservedly so: It is home to some of the most remarkable malbecs on the planet, though to assume that that great red grape is the extent of what Mendoza is capable of would be to miss the point entirely.   Trailblazers like Familia Zuccardi, Lagarde, and Clos de los Siete are leading the way, alongside other standout producers like Piattelli, Mendel, Dominio del Plata, Diamandes, Trivento, Serrera, Clos de Chacras, Catena (below, right), Casarena, and Doña Paula, as well as too many others to list here. (NB: Tasting notes from all the producers will be posted on the blog by in the coming weeks and months.) Tempranillo, petite verdot, syrah, bonarda, semillon, and many more grape varieties are being given utterly gorgeous expression in this region in the shadow of the Andes.
         North of Mendoza, in San Juan, less-well-known producers are starting to make their mark. The supremely soulful wines from Merced del Estero, which is right now exporting in very limited quantities, are poised to make a serious contribution to the reputation of this often-overlooked part of the country. Their cabernet and torrontes, as well as their malbec, are particularly lovely. And Casa Montes (no relation to the Chilean producer of the same name) is home to one of the top petite verdots (the Don Baltazar 2008 bottling) I tasted in Argentina.
         For all its great wines, Mendoza is a fantastic destination in its own right, a city that, with its leafy boulevards, endlessly green parks, and sidewalk cafés, reminded me, in more than a few ways, of Paris and Philadelphia.
         We stayed at the Diplomatic Hotel, a 5-star beauty whose grand, yet not overwrought, lobby sets the perfect tone. My room looked out over the mountains, and provided breathtaking views of the shifting colors of the sunrises and sunsets. And across the street from the hotel is La Barra, a carnivore’s Everest that is home to steaks and other meaty goodies that will likely be your base of comparison for all other flesh moving forward.
         My last night in Mendoza (my last night in the country, in fact), I met Carlos Tizio Mayer, general manager of Clos de los Siete, for an asado at La Barra. Over the course of three hours, we enjoyed everything from chinchulín (smoky, earthy grilled intestines) to ribs to an inches-thick steak that had been slowly grilled over the glowing embers of a fire by the owner himself. Paired with the excellent, intensely expressive Clos de los Siete, and enjoyed in the company of a virtual United Nations of travelers (Germany, Ireland, Italy, England, the United States, and more were represented), this was, in hindsight, the only appropriate way to end my trip to one of the most exciting, surprising, and eye-opening countries I’ve visited.
         I also strongly recommend Francesco Barbera Ristorante, an Italian restaurant helmed by the indefatigable, endlessly charming chef María Teresa Corradini de Barbera (left). Settle into a table on the open-air patio, order more wine than you think you’ll need, and soak it all up with, among other Italian standouts, what I’m comfortable calling one of the best lasagnas in the world.
         All told, Argentina, for all the buzz and acclaim its wines have generated, is a supremely rewarding, must-visit destination whether you’re a wine lover or not.  Nearly all of the producers I spoke with and visited made mention of their desire not to fall into the trap of being perceived as a one-varietal country. That sense of awareness, as well as their ability to produce world-class wines from any number of grape varieties and in the full range of terroirs afforded by Argentina’s geography and landscape, promise a very bright future indeed for this country whose wine story is just starting to be told in its entirety.

Brian Freedman is a food, wine, and travel writer, wine consultant, and speaker. He writes the blog for Wine Chateau, is  restaurant critic for Philadelphia Weekly, South Jersey Magazine, and Suburban Life Magazine, wine columnist for Affluent Magazine, and contributes to a number of other publications, including Philadelphia Style Magazine.



“My wife, Michele, had a funny thing happen before our first visit to Claddagh Irish Pub in Lyndhurst's Legacy Village. She stepped outside for a smoke, and met another smoker who was also about to make her first visit to Claddagh. After striking up a conversation, the other smoker remarked: `Isn't Irish food supposed to be crappy?’"--Bob Migra, “
Claddagh Irish Pub in Lyndhurst offers a hint of the Emerald Isle with a strong American accent,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer (11/23)


“My reaction is, ‘God, I've got to stay away from those hot dogs and nuts on the street corner and the ice cream!’ Like those trucks, I've never seen that before — trucks of ice cream. You have to stop and eat! I couldn't control myself, so [in] New York [I] put on like 10 pounds and then I'm pregnant with Kanye's baby.” —Kim Kardashian explaining how rumors she’s pregnant by Kanye West are the result of eating NYC street food.


Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

* On Jan. 15 & 16 in Sonoma County, CA the Wine Road   hosts its 19th annual “Winter Wineland” event, where wine enthusiasts can wander through the striking landscape and picturesque towns of Northern Sonoma meeting winemakers, tasting limited-production wines, viewing fine art, and learning about the art of winemaking. Advance tickets  $45 for both days, $35 for Sunday, and $5 for designated drivers and incl. tastings and viewings at all the participating , or call 1-800-723-6336.

* On Jan. 16 in Chicago, Cityscape Bar will host a viewing party for the 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards.  Patrons will enjoy themed cocktails for $6 each including: The Red Carpet and The Envelope Please. Free Admission. Visit .

* On Jan. 18, Quartino Ristorante in Chicago will host Jason Sharko of Castello Banfi vineyard for a reception and five-course dinner created by Quartino Executive Chef John Coletta. $49 pp.  Call 312-698-5000 or

 * On Jan. 22, Persimmon Creek Vineyards in Clayton, GA, will host a Saint Vincent's Day Celebration wine dinner. Saint Vincent is the patron saint of vine growers in Spain and France. A 5-course dinner prepared by an appropriately named chef (Vincent Scafiti) will be served with Persimmon Creek Vineyards estate grown wines. $95pp. 706-212-7380,

* On Jan. 23 in NYCCOCHON 555 kicks off its 10-city national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs and breed diversity.  The tasting event will challenge 5 chefs, incl. Brad Farmerie of The Public, Peter Hoffman of Savoy, Bill Telepan of Telepan Restaurant, George Mendes of Aldea and Sean Rembold of Marlow & Sons, to prepare a menu created from 5 heritage breed pigs, with wines from 5 different small wineries, incl. Scholium Project, Alysian Winery, Elk Cove Vineyards, Copain Wine Cellars and Failla Wines, as well as the opportunity to help select the “King or Queen of Porc.”  Guests will be treated to whole pig breakdown demos. $125pp;

* From Jan.  28 – Jan. 30, in Eugene, OR, the 6th annual Oregon Truffle Festival celebrates Oregon's native truffles with chefs, scientists, truffle dogs and artists for a weekend. Weekend Experiences range from $500 - $1,000. Call 541-913-3841.

* On Jan. 29 & 30, the Greater Boston Food Bank presents "Super Hunger Brunch." The city’s top restaurants, including Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger, Jody Adams’ Rialto and Tony Maws’ Craigie on Main, donate 100% of the proceeds from $25, $25 and $50 prix-fixe brunches to the Food Bank’s Super Hunger Month fundraising initiative. Call 617.427.5200.


GREAT LINKS:  I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked 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." THIS WEEK: SKI TOWNS WITH OLYMPIC FLAIR


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:

The Family Travel Forum  - A community for those who "Have Kids, Still Travel" and want to make family vacations more fun, less work and better value. FTF's travel and parenting features, including reviews of tropical and ski resorts, reunion destinations, attractions, holiday weekends, family festivals, cruises, and all kinds of vacation ideas should be the first port of call for family vacation planners.

Family Travel Forum

                                                                    ALL YOU NEED BEFORE YOU GO

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, 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.

 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

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© copyright John Mariani 2011.