Virtual Gourmet

March 20, 2011                                                                   NEWSLETTER

Click Here to return to John Mariani's Hompage

                                                                            Alfred Hitchcock, Gary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious" (1946)

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 John Mariani


  "My birthday began with the water -
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
  Above the farms and the white horses
         And I rose
   In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days"
            --Dylan Thomas, 'Poem in October' (1946)

    Except for my own birthday being in August, these lines by Wales' greatest poet describe perfectly the days I spent in Wales last fall, beneath gray, rainy skies above rolling and flat farmlands, hill towns and seaside cities.  Still, the bucolic beauty of even an inclement Wales was enough to make me want to return right now, in springtime, when its fields burst forth in flowers and greenery, when, as Thomas (right) wrote in another poem that year, "Fern Hill," he felt "young and easy under the apple boughs/About the lilting house and happy as the grass."
    Not least of Wales' charms is its seeming remoteness, not so much by geography (you can be there in about three hours by train from London) but by its indigenous and independent spirit.  Wales, like Scotland and Ireland, had its rough times with England over centuries, and the region is still fairly bilingual, with about 22 percent of its three million people speaking their native tongue, and street and business signs throughout the country are in Welsh, a Celtic language with long inscrutable words full of double consonants and northern and southern dialects, so that in the north, the question "Do you want a cup of tea" is "Dach chi isio panad?" while in the south it's  "Ych chi'n moyn dishgled?" Fortunately, everybody speaks English as well.  And I found everyone I met extremely cordial to a visiting Yank.


Wales is about the size of Massachusetts.
There are four sheep for every person in the country.
Wales has 641 castles.
The annual World Bog Snorkeling Championships are held in late August.
The city of Porthcawl holds an Elvis Festival each year.
More of Wales is inside the boundary of a National Park than any other part of the UK.
Parts of the films "Robin Hood" (2010), "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (2010), "Die Another Day" (2002), "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" (2003), and "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) were shot in Wales.
St. David is Wales' patron saint.
Richard Burton, Tom Jones, Glynis Johns, Ray Milland, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Augustus John, Laura Ashley, Mary Quant, T.E. Lawrence, Shirley Bassey, Spencer Davis, Bertrand Russell, and Ken Follett were all born in Wales.
For complete info on Wales go to

    I began my trip by taking the train from London to Swansea on the southwest coast, Dylan Thomas's home, which he called an "ugly, lovely town," which is not entirely inapt, although he would be rightly proud of the superb Dylan Thomas Centre (right) opened in his honor, with videos, recordings, first editions, and letters all beautifully displayed in a fine yellow building. The town was once a Viking outpost and during the Industrial Revolution was so famous for its copper smelting that it was dubbed "Copperopolis," though the decline of that industry led to a period of debilitation, not helped by German Blitz bombings in World War II that pretty much leveled the city, though the Cathedral survived.
    Surrounded by uplands and farms, Swansea is indeed a city on the sea, its maritime history stretching back to prehistoric times, and the Marina is  now a thriving residential area.  Oxford Street is the main commercial conduit in city center, whose old, sometimes shabby buildings are a trove of art deco façades. The city's cultural attractions include the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, the Swansea Museum, the National Waterfront Museum, and the Grand Theatre, a Victorian beauty now  in its 144th year. In summer, outdoor Shakespeare performances are given at Oystermouth Castle. Pubs abound, as they do throughout Wales. There is also a sprawling food and merchandise market where you can get your first taste of a variety of meat-filled tarts in very flaky pastry, which makes for a hearty lunch all on its own.
    After hiring a car and anxiously maneuvering onto the left-hand side of the road--we snapped off one rear view mirror within ten minutes--we drove out of town and settled into a darling 18th century inn with the Peter Pan-like name of Fairy Hill (left), set on 24 acres of parkland in nearby Gower. With its fireplaces (very welcome in autumn), eight cozy rooms, and an excellent restaurant (which I shall be reporting on next week about the food of Wales), the inn seems quite removed from the 21st century, a virtue that may in fact be cherished by some guests, but for others like myself, the TV and Wi-Fi were very good to have available. 
    The next day we took the M4 highway (a GPS is essential in navigating Wales) to
the small village of Trapp, which also has a historic castle called Carreg Cennen set on a crag above the Brecon Beacons National Park, then across a small stone bridge to Llandeilo in the graceful Twyi Valley, whose river is the longest in Wales and whose surroundings include  the high moorlands, said to provide excellent hunting grounds. The town dates to Roman times, and the Britons built the high-up Dynevor Castle. The town is little more than a narrow main street but lined with small shops, restaurants, and stores, all colorfully painted, all looking freshly sprung from 19th century stones in Carmarthenshire. So, too, the town of Llandovery appears similarly frozen like some Welsh Brigadoon, still with a weekend cattle market. Next was Aberaeron, home to the Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival in July, and on to the great University city of Aberyswith (right), with its wide arc of seaside barriers and stately houses looking out on the windswept coast of Cardigan.
    When I was in graduate school years ago, I visited Aberyswith to do research for my dissertation on a Welsh poet named Walter Savage Landor, and back then I found its wild and rugged coastline thrilling, its fiery sunsets flashed with fleeting banks of clouds. It was good to come back and see the city little changed, its narrow streets curving in and around each other, its Victorian architecture sober but now colorfully painted, and the beautiful University on the hill, its research facilities far more modernized and digitalized than when I went there carrying pencil and notepad. Here, too, is the fine National Library of Wales and the Aberyswith Arts Centre.
    That night we stayed at the oddly named Ynyshir Hall (left) in Eglwysbach, once owned by Queen Victoria (she may even have known she did), nestled in leafy forest land off some of the most bewilderingly winding roads in Wales on the Dyfi Estuary, surrounded by low-lying mountains sung of in Welsh folk ballads where demon lovers dwell and carry off their earthly lovers. The clouds parted that evening, and as promised in this luxury hotel's own brochures, the sky is so dark and far from city lights that the "Milky Way shines like a diamond bracelet."
    Our last night in Wales was spent at Tyddyn Llan (below) set on 14 acres at the tip of Snowdonia, where owner Bryan Webb , who calls his place a "Restaurant with Rooms," proudly boasts a Michelin star, with three grades of rooms including the Garden Suite, overlooking the tidy greens with their walls and gravel pathways. The rooms range in size from comfortably small to fairly commodious; the bathrooms can be chilly in the middle of an autumn night.  But simply to breathe the night air, faint with sea salt, in complete, utter silence is to feel very close to the faraway spirit of Wales, faintly exotic and the lure to draw me back in sunnier, warmer days. We left the next morning and drove into the English city of Chester, whose own Georgian and Victorian architecture suggest entry into a town slightly more tilted towards the late 19th century.  Wales seems  still contentedly tied, even tongue-tied, to an earlier time, with an alluring patina of the antique and a sense of time out of time. As spring now begins to creeps over the moors and the forests and gardens begin to bud, it's time to go again.

Part Two, on the food and restaurants of Wales, will appear next week.



Setai Hotel
500 Fifth Avenue (near 36th Street)

     The days when chef/owners stayed in their restaurants cooking every night are far from over--I would even say the high majority still do--but in the era of the celebrity chef, the lure of big money, expansion, and recognition have pulled many out of their kitchens and on to TV or food festivals or faraway new venture, leaving their restaurants in the hands of trained crews.
    I am still very much of the mind that a restaurant can be a very different place when the chef/owner is not around, and in many instances, it shows immediately and with dire consequences.  But I also must admit that in a very small number of cases, as with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, and Alain Ducasse,  the quality of food and service at restaurants within their mini-empires is very high.  There is, of course, no way of knowing how much better they might be if those chefs were on premises  every single night, but I would have no qualms about dining at most of their restaurants  even if those chefs were off doing whatever they do elsewhere.
    Michael White (right) seems to have joined this prestigious group, now owner or partner in Marea, Morini, and restaurants in New Jersey (he recently split from partner Chris Cannon and the now closed restaurants Convivio and Alta), with plans abroad. But his absences do not seem to have measurably affected the service and quality of his restaurants.  One might argue that Marea, now almost two years old, can  easily sail on an even keel and that Morini, being a lusty Emilia-Romagnan trattoria, rolls along with brio each night, but the proof of White's apparent ability to hire the best people to man his kitchens and dining rooms is evident in the impeccably run, very new Ai Fiori in the Fifth Avenue Setai Hotel, which opened only weeks after Morini downtown.
    Ai Fiori's location, on the second floor  is not ideal 
(there's not much of a view) and some have carped the dining room has too much of a corporate hotel look, with which I don't entirely disagree.  But it is handsome, at night a bit low lighted, and all the amenities of fine dining--linens, china, stemware, flowers, and comfortable seating--are in full flourish, and the waitstaff, plucked from some of NYC's best restaurants, blends just the right amount of familiarity with professionalism.
    Chef de Cuisine Chris Jaeckle conceives and plates his food with just the right balance of color, flair and good taste, beginning with the appetizers of lustrous line-caught fluke, sea urchin, Ligurian lemon oil, and caviar. A light but very flavorful plate of blue crab, creamy avocado, grapefruit,  a touch of tarragon, and  crispy farinata for texture is a delight, and if you love sardines have them here with and tangy-sweet tomato confit, and chickpea napoleon.  "Mare e Monte" (surf and turf) is a lovely idea--scallops with celery root, black truffles, thyme and luscious bone marrow.

    The foie gras "au naturel" comes with spiced figs, an Ormeasco mostarda and brioche toast, and there's more foie gras in the form of a croquette with perfectly roasted breast of squab in a sauce of Madeira, with tender quince. A decadent choice is the slowly poached egg with lobster, sweetbread, and "nuage layon."
     At this point you may wonder if White and Jaeckle are really cooking Italian food, but with food of this caliber and modernity, it is a point not much worth discussion.  White's most strictly Italian restaurant is Morini, while Marea is a homage to the finest seafood restaurants along the Italian coastline, but with his own New York notions.  Ai Fiori may have an Italian name, but is is very much an expression of White's American ingenuity. 

      There is a lot of Italian brio going on in the pasta section, though, starting with
a Ligurian crustacean ragoût of cuttlefish,  scallops,  and spiced breadcrumbs. Tender ravioli are filled with ricotta and  mascarpone with  boschetto cheese and a lovely red wine glaze, while  rice incorporates snails, parsley, Parmigiano, garlic chips and cotecchino--a bit overblown, and the snails get lost among stronger flavors. The most traditional pasta is the agnolotti with braised veal,  butternut squash,  and a rich sauce of black truffles. Gnochetti are saffron tinged and scented, which plays off well with crab and a delicate form of sea urchins.

    The seafood and meat courses are properly few in number, and are more Pan-Mediterranean in their style: black bass alla plancha with mussels, chorizo, piquillo peppers and saffron is good, but butter poached  lobster (above) with a root vegetable fondant made with a sauce from Château Chalon--one of the "yellow wines" of the Jura--is a triumph. Not so Dover sole with  salsify, beurre noisette, lemon, and parsley, which oddly enough needed more fat from the fish itself and maybe even more  butter sauce.
    My favorite among the meat dishes was a perfectly cooked roasted guinea hen with tomato confit, Taggiasca olives,  and lemon-thyme jus. Braised beef cheek daube with pommes purée, olives, and orange zest  comes definitively from the French side of the Riviera, while a rack of lamb  en crêpinette with Swiss chard crochetta shouts Provence.

    The desserts, across the board, are exquisitely conceived, generous in  their components and enchantingly plated, like the chocolate tartlet with grapefruit, anise, and hazelnut gelato, and a baba al rhum with passion fruit coulis and cream of coconut.
    The refinement and range of Ai Fiori's menu is an indication of White's very special and continually evolving talent for big favors done with finesse.  The concerns about his whereabouts outside his restaurants are legitimate, but for the moment, his NYC restaurants are among the very best of their kind.

Ai Fiori is open for breakfast daily, brunch Sat. & Sun., Lunch Mon.-Fri., and dinner nightly. Dinner appetizers are $17-$27, pastas (full portions) $18-$55 (with black truffles), and entrees $32-$49; four-course tasting menu $79.



by Christopher Mariani


        Just last week it was back out to Vegas for another wild weekend. Besides dining around the Aria hotel, partying at a number of cool clubs and taking a few chances at the roulette table, the reason for my visit to the majestic city in the desert was to attend the annual Kingsford University class of 2011, hosted by world champion pitmaster Chris Lilly. The event was held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each year Kingsford puts together different events to share the latest grilling techniques and tailgate tips to contest winners, 'que lovers, and grilling enthusiasts.
After meeting some of the Kingsford team Friday night, along with three contest winners brought out to Vegas all expenses paid, it was off to the racetrack bright and early Saturday morning for some good old-fashioned American tailgating. The speedway is a good 45 minutes from the city, placed directly next to the Las Vegas Nellis Air Force Base where F-16’s soared above and cut through the sky, showcasing breathtaking aerial maneuvers and insane raw power as their impressive engines muffled the rumble of forty-three 750-horsepower stock cars
ripping up the pavement at 185 miles per hour.
    Once at parking lot five, we  entered our private tailgate section filled with white tents, multiple grills and the tantalizing aroma of barbequed beef, chicken and pork. It may have only been 10 AM, but I was ready to start eating the second I got there. Chris Lilly (right) and cast were manning a custom-made grill and smoker put together by the fine gentlemen from, Texas-based George Shore and Victor Howard (above). This was no ordinary Weber grill, this monster was as bad as they get, fit with car-size wheels for transportation, two separate grills with over eight feet of cooking space, a huge smoker oven where our juicy beef brisket had been cooking for hours, a prep station, and a massive HD flat screen television that rose up from behind one of the grills. This green machine was releasing smoky clouds of beef brisket, entire racks of ribs and whole chickens basted with dry and wet rubs, barbeque sauce that molded to the skin, and sat in small trays of its own mouth-watering jus. All heat and fire was produced by the use of Kingsford coals, no gas allowed here!

Here are  a few interesting facts about Kingsford coal and its history
-In the 1920's Henry Ford learned about the process for turning wood scraps from the production of Model T's into charcoal briquets. He built a charcoal plant and invented Kingsford charcoal, a company formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford's, brokered the site selection for  the new manufacturing plant. Today, Kingsford remains by far the leading manufacturer of charcoal in the U.S.. Each year more than one million scraps of wood scraps are converted into quality charcoal briquets each year. With the use of more wood char and the deeper grooves resulting in a lighter product, the new briquets also produce less ash, meaning less waste going to the landfill. The new formula uses 57 fewer tons of coal per day, or 10 percent less non-renewable resources per year.

         The day started with a few meat carving demonstrations as we learned about the different cuts of beef, the best way to cook them, and some great grilling techniques. Around noon, the talk of barbeque had left me craving the taste of meat, and thankfully lunch was near. Our first bites of the day were succulent mouthfuls of roasted chicken topped with caramelized onions, grilled peppers, tangy 'que sauce and spicy salsa. There were also trays of grilled corn, bowls of fresh guacamole and homemade spicy pickles. With the sun shining and the food in abundance I was a very happy man. I don’t recall much conversation during that meal, just the sounds of pleasurable moans that came from the belly of each attendee.
         After lunch we toured the maze-like parking lot of RV’s and tailgate setups, where I witnessed Christmas trees decorated with empty Bud Light beer cans, lots of racer Jeff Gordon memorabilia and hoards of Nascar fans charging up for the long weekend. That afternoon, executive chef of Snake River Farms, Alan Turner, cooked up some beautifully marbleized Wagyu beef as he began his demonstration with a hilarious Rodney Dangerfield impersonation. Next, we all watched in amazement as an entire pig was carved up from start to finish separating every cut of meat from the original carcass in a fast 45 minutes, although he contends that, uninterrupted, he can do it much faster.
         As the sun began to set, we began our mixed drink competition, judged on flavor, presentation, creativity and the use of the grill. Teams quickly assimilated and made use of every ingredient possible, with Four Roses bourbon as the base of every the drink. I will tell you, after tasting cocktails with ribs sticking out of them, others with soggy bacon floating around the glass and some with chicken wings, judges Chris Lilly and mixologist Josh Perry from Oakland, California’s Pican restaurant deserve a lot of credit. I figured I would take it easy on the guys and create a simple hot toddy using bourbon as the base, a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a touch of apple cider vinegar and then rim the glass with sugar and cinnamon. I guess that’s why I won the award for “most creative cocktail.” I got a piece of paper as a prize.
    That evening under the moonlight we finally got a chance to try Chris Lilly’s savory beef brisket that had been cooking in its own juices for hours. Sweet ribs and crispy chicken wings hit the table, along with juicy grilled sausage and slices of well-fatted skirt steak. The feast went on for hours and the food kept coming. It wasn’t until around eight or nine PM that we all rolled back onto the bus and took a snooze before heading out for a long night in Vegas.
         The following morning was an early one as we shuffled back onto the bus and headed to the track. We toured the entire speedway and even made our way down to the pits where we had the opportunity to meet some of America’s best Nascar drivers, including Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kingsford’s own, Bobby Labonte #47. That afternoon we sat upstairs in the Kingsford suite and watched as these unbelievably powerful cars roared around the track at top speeds of 190 miles per hour.
    As the weekend wrapped up, I realized I was at one of the best tailgate parties to ever take place. I mean, what else could a meat lover ask for? I was out in the desert  drinking bourbon while barbecuing with one of the world's greatest pitmasters at a NASCAR race, the absolute mecca for tailgate parties.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Now That St. Patrick's Day Is Over,
Don’t Waste Expensive Irish Whiskeys in Irish Coffee

by John Mariani

   A new book entitled 101 Whiskeys to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton  should keep connoisseurs busy both drinking and debating the merits of this bibulous bucket list of worldwide whiskies. It’s a good selection, but I’m disappointed that so few Irish whiskies made the cut, at a time when both sales of “Oy-rish” are soaring.
     Back in 1988 Irish Distillers, when Pernod Ricard bought it, was selling less than half a million cases a year. Last year its Jameson brand alone passed the three million case mark,  with 22 percent growth in the U.S. alone.  Meanwhile Diageo, since acquiring the Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery in 2005 for £200 million, has invested more than £6 million in the facilities and brand. A report by IWSR (International Wine and Spirits Research) forecasts to 2012 that it is the non-Scotch sector of the whiskey market is among the fastest growing.  Ireland drinks up about 6 million bottles of its whiskies a year, with France the next biggest consumer.
    Just three large distilleries--Midleton (owned by Pernod-Ricard) in Cork, Bushmills in Antrim, and Cooley in Louth (the only one Irish owned)—produce nearly every bottle of Irish whiskey, via dozens of labels. The minuscule rest is made by Kilbeggan Distillery, re-opened in 2007 and owned by Cooley.  Each year all the brands compete mightily to come up with a “new” whiskey, which in fact may be from very old casks. Most Irish whiskies are made from a mix of malted and unmalted barley and other grains. But the stand-out new products are the single malts, made from only one type of malted grain, barley, distilled at one distillery, usually in pot stills.
    Cooley’s Coonemara brand alone now makes four small batch whiskies—a 12-Year, a Single Cask, a Cask Strength, and the heavily peated Turf Mor labels. Most of these small batch whiskies, like the romantically named Irish Tears, never leave Ireland. Some are even sold exclusively at The Irish Whiskey Collection at Dublin Airport, including a Midleton Single Cask that sells for £250. At these prices, they’re better sipped than as the spike for Irish coffee.
    Yet as much as I’d like an excuse to go out and buy all the new Irish whiskies in the market, I can’t say enough new items comes into the U.S. market each year. One brand new release causing justified excitement is a 16-year old Knappogue Castle "Twin Wood" single malt ($100), the oldest release by this producer so far, spending 15 years in old bourbon casks, followed by 9 months in oloroso sherry butts. With only 1,900 numbered bottles released so far—happily most of it goes to the U.S.--this may well be the new cult whiskey. It is a beautifully crafted whiskey, the malt and oak in equal measure to a sherry-like sweetness and a faint, lingering smoky burn at the end.

    Knappogue Castle (right) is also offering a Master Distiller’s Private Selection 1994 vintage ($95) of 1,100 bottles. Vintage dating is still controversial in the whiskey world, since master blenders have traditionally drawn on many years’ whiskies to come up with a consistent product.  The spirits in this bottle are from various barrels, all from 1994.  It is remarkably pale, a little citrusy, with barley and oak providing a subtle peaty and sweet balance.

    With Midleton Very Rare ($125), bottled in 2010, you’re paying a bit for the package—the pretty oak wood box it comes in—but this whiskey, from John Jameson & Son’s, is labeled their “Supreme Selection,” the bottle numbered, with a printed signature of the master distiller, Barry Crockett. Only 50 cases are made each year. It’s a gorgeous pure gold color with a burry nose, a little hotter than I would have thought, with a piney-vanilla aroma and complex sweet flavors that ends with a long finish and takes a splash of water well.

    Redbreast Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey ($40), another of Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers’ brands, aged 12 years, has a niche following as an ideal expression of small batch Irish whiskey, claiming to be the “only 100% pure pot still” example on the market today. The label also says it’s “triple distilled,” but then, so are all Irish whiskies.  It has strong pepper in the nose, hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, with a lush caramel undertone and fine long finish. It’s quite a buy at just $40. There is also a newly released 15 year old ($65-$85) in very limited supply.

    The label of the tiny distillery of Kilbeggan, which the label dates back to 1757, though it neglects to mention that the distillery stopped production in 1954 and closed down in 1957. It only started up again in 2007, and won’t be releasing its own bottlings until 2014.  The Kilbeggan now found in the market ($20) is actually made by the Cooley Distillery and transported to Kilbeggan for storage.  It is very, very pale, with a pronounced sweetness and old-fashioned burn that makes this a good starter Irish whiskey, at least until the distillery releases its own three years from now.



John Mariani's 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.



In Savannah, GA, Girl Scouts are no longer able to sell their famous cookies outside the  home of the woman who founded the organization almost a century ago, Juliette Gordon Low, because  peddling on a public sidewalk is a violation of city ordinance.



In  South Bend, IN, a restaurant removed billboards that referred to the 1978 Jonestown cult mass suicides in which more than 900 people drank cyanide-laced punch.  VP of sales & marketing for Hacienda Restaurant, Jeff Leslie,  said,“We made a mistake and don’t want to have a negative image in the community.” The billboards included the statement, “We’re like a cult with better Kool-Aid,” over a glass of a drink, with the phrase “To die for!”





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

From March 21 through 25 in New York City, Barbounia presents Moroccan Spring Market at Barbounia featuring the sights, sounds and flavors inspired by this mystical North African country. The special Moroccan menu is also a spring tribute featuring lighter dishes inspired by the warm weather.  Executive Chef Efraim Naon, who has strong Moroccan roots, has prepared a menu of authentic sweet and savory fare that includes recipes passed down to him from his grandmother. For more information and reservations please visit or call 212.995.0242.

On March 22, Lockwood Restaurant in Chicago, IL, will host a Goose Island Beer Dinner. Brewmaster Jim DeBolt will lead guests through a five-course tasting menu prepared by Executive Chef Greg Elliott as expertly matched with a craft beer from the local brewery. $50. Call 312-917-3404 or visit

On Mar. 23 in Denver, CO The Ritz-Carlton's signature restaurant, ELWAY'S Downtown will host a Calera Wine Company four-course pairing dinner featuring a seasonal menu by Executive Chef Justin Fields and ELWAY'S Chef Robert Bogart . Attendees will get to meet the winemaker, Josh Jensen. Selected wines include Viognier -Central Coast, 2009, Pinot Noir - Central Coast, 2008, “Ryan Vineyard” Pinot Noir - Mount Harlan, 2007 and “Mills Vineyard” Pinot Noir -Mount Harlan, 2000. $100 pp plus tax and gratuity. Call 303-312-3107 or visit

On Mar. 23, in New York, NY, Alma 33 is partnering with Dallis Bros. Coffee to present a coffee pairing dinner, utilizing Dallis’ high-end Octavio Coffee line.  Two courses of Alma 33’s Argentinean-inspired dishes will be paired with a specially crafted coffee cocktail, while two desserts will incorporate coffee in them and pair cups of coffee brewed with different methodologies by Dallis Q grader John Moore.  $40pp.  212-380-8794.

On Mar. 23, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse in Oak Brook, IL, will host a Cambria Estate Winery wine dinner.  Emily Oakes will lead guests through each selection of wine paired with a 5-course menu by Executive Chef Brian Key. $95pp. Call 630-954-0000 or visit

On Mar 24, Farm Burger in Decatur, Ga, Taking the Burger out Farm Burger Spring Supper.  A four course + Spring Supper featuring the animals and crops from our Farms and other local farmer friends.  Oxtail, chicken hearts, guancale, pork belly, greens, turnips, spring garlic goodness and even a treat from the Ga. Coast and nary a burger insight the whole night.  $38pp call 404-378-5077 or

On March 31, in Atlanta, RA Sushi is hosting a Maki Madness sushi-eating contest to coincide with NCAA March Madness.  The contest is organized into a bracket system and competitors will be eating RA Sushi’s signature Tootsy Maki.  The grand prize eater will win sushi for a year.  Food and drink specials will be available all day for guests.  Deadline to register is March 29, and the contest is limited to first 40 entries. No cost to register. Call 404-267-0114 or visit

On March 31 in Tow, Texas, Fall Creek Vineyards will host the Savor the Hill Country Luncheon, an annual sell-out of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. The luncheon will feature three of Texas' top chefs; Josh Watkins of the Carillon Hotel, Kent Rathbun of Abacus and Isaac Cantu of Francesca's at Sunset. Three extraordinary dishes will be paired with wines from three of Texas' leading wineries, Spicewood Vineyards, Llano Estacdo and Fall Creek Vineyards. $65 per person, visit to reserve/purchase.

Through March 31 in San Francisco, CA, Ozumo will donate 100% of the proceeds of their Kibou No Hana (“flower of hope”) specialty cocktail to Japan tsunami relief efforts. Call (415) 882-1333 or visit

On Apr. 1 and 2, Hop Scotch Spring Beer & Scotch Festival in Seattle, WA, features beer, wine, Scotch and tequila tasting at Fremont Studios. $25 pp. Call 206-633-0422 or visit

On Apr 5 in NYC, Maestro Steven Blier continues the spring season of HENRY’s “Sing for Your Supper.” An evening of great music provided from New York City’s rising stars of musical theatre and opera and Chef Mark Barrett’s famous Baked Veal Ricotta Meatballs featured in the 3-course, Italian-American prix-fixe dinner.  “Sing for Your Supper” will sell out, so please reserve your table now!  Call 212-866-0600 for reservations or visit

From Apr 14-17, Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, TX hosts the 7th annual Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit – showcasing Rhone varietals from France, CA, and TX.  Guest chefs Stephan Pyles of Dallas and Jacques Pepin and more. $35 -$500pp. Call 800.367.1721 or visit


Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My new book, How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan) is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

" A fact-filled, entertaining history [that] substantiates its title with hundreds of facts in this meaty history of the rise of Italian food culture around the globe. From Charles Dickens's journey through Italy in 1844 to 20th-century immigrants to America selling ice cream on the streets of New Orleans, Mariani constantly surprises the reader with little-known culinary anecdotes about Italy and its people, who have made pasta and pizza household dishes in the U.S. and beyond."--Publishers Weekly

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastornomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the imnpact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone iunterested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Espositio, hosty of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, min ds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.


FEATURED LINKS: 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."  THIS WEEK:
How to Avoid the 10 Most Annoying Travel Fees


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 Online 
A 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: TED HOEHN ADULT CAMP IN VERMONT; NEW ENGLAND TENNIS HOLIDAYS; PEAK TENNIS ACADEMY IN PORTIGAL.


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.



Click Here to return to John Mariani's Homepage

© copyright John Mariani 2011