Mariani's Virtual Gourmet Newsletter

May 15, 2011

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"After Eve Ate Apples" by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery (2010)

This Week

Iceland: Brave New World, Part One
by John Mariani

New York Corner: Pier 9
by John Mariani

Man About Town: 5 and Diamond
by Christopher Mariani

Notes From the Wine Cellar: Making a Case for Big Bottles
by John Mariani

Quick Bytes

Announcement: This Friday, May 20,  John Mariani will appear at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, for an "Italian Dinner at Pricci – How Italian Food Influenced Southern Fare." with  Chefs Jamie Adams and Piero Premoli.  Guests will dine on rustic dishes and enjoy a lively discussion with Mariani about Italian influences on Southern fare.   John will sign copies of his new book How Italian Food Conquered the World.  For tickets, click here.


 Brave New World
Part One

by John Mariani

          I have often wondered what my last words on earth would be, and now I know:  “Oh, shit!
That’s what I screamed as my SUV started sinking into a torrential river on the far side of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull (below) that carved Iceland several new ones when it blew last April in Iceland.
         My guide, whose name was Ingi Thor, had crisscrossed this territory a thousand times, but this was a new river, flanked by thousands of acres of muddy tundra onto which the great god Eyjafjallajökull had tossed rocks that ranged from the size of basketballs to haystacks.  Ingi rolled over them all, then decided to ford this new river, telling me not to worry because the truck had 46-inch wheels.
         Down the edge of the river we went, into the icy water, only to find ourselves carried along, sinking fast, in the fast flow.  Then, a few long seconds after I shouted my last words, the tires caught hold of the river bottom and dragged us to safety.  Ingi shook his head and said, “Vell, I’ve been through vorse.”
         “Oh yeah, when?”
         “Oh, maybe fifteen years ago.”
         I screamed at him, “You mean this is the second worst river crossing you’ve ever been through?”
         “Vell, maybe dis vas just as bad. You just never can tell vit dese new cracks in the earth.”
         Ingi then set about testing the depth of the water at different points by throwing big rocks in the center. “If dey make a big splash or if you can count to three before hearing dem hit bottom, it’s too deep to cross. If black sand comes up, it could be quicksand.”  After tossing about ten rocks into the river, he gave up. ”I think ve take anudder route.”
         Back in Reykjavik, steadying my nerves with a drink of the local cumin-flavored liquor called Brenbin (which means “black death”), I had time to think about my near demise, but it was nudged out of my mind by the memories that day of seeing the eerie beauty that Eyjafjallajökull had wrought after blowing a new crater in its side, gushing down blue-green glacial ice (left), causing floods known as
jökulhlaups to create new rivers, causing electrical storms, and spewing so much ash into the sky that air travel was disrupted in Europe for a week.  Later on that fall, farmers in and around the volcano had their best crops ever, owing to the rich mineral ash that covered their land.
         I had climbed one of the older glaciers earlier in the day, with cleats on my feet and a spiked walking pole in my hand, with a harness tied around me so that, as Ingi said, “If you fall in a crater, we can pull you out.”  After an hour, I’d had it with crunching my feet into the sheer ice and we headed back—over that dark, raging river I almost drowned in.
         While those may be my most vivid memory of Iceland, all others were of astounding beauty amidst endless desolation, which included 250 miles of black sand beach (below), which was like stepping into cold poured asphalt.  The cloud patterns seem ferocious and in autumn shadows move furiously over the hilly land over which run woolly wild horses. Then come the sunsets, whose own beauty is but a prelude to the mystical Northern Lights that sometimes play across a jet black sky.

    Geologically and geographically, Iceland is listed as the world's eighth largest island, with 3,100 miles of rippling, ragged coastline and fjords. Settlements date back to the ninth century AD when Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson arrived, though others had visited but not stayed on.  Denmark and Norway (its closest European neighbor, 178 miles away) battled over the country--and which religion should be imposed--from the 13th century till the 20th. There was considerable emigration to Canada in the 19th century, owing to a worsening climate, with only about 15,000 staying behind, but by mid-century an Icelandic independence movement took hold, and in 1874 Denmark gave the people its own constitution and some home rule, with full independence as of 1918. Although declaring its neutrality on World War II, the country was occupied by British, then American troops.  As of 1944 the linkage to Denmark was finally voted void and Iceland became a republic. And even though it has no standing army, Iceland later became a member of NATO.
    Industry, once driven solely by fishing, increased in many diverse areas, with a good deal of Hi-Tech.  I had a chance to visit the Icelandic Glacial Water Company, which claims now to produce the purest water on earth, drawn from the
Hlíðarendi Spring,  formed during a massive volcanic eruption more than 4,500 years ago.
Everything about Iceland—which had so little snow recently that the ski resort was closed—draws you outside the towns, for what looks virginal and primordial is also brand new, a brave new world of  hillsides and mountains, glaciers and seashore continually being molded by Nature, sometimes softly, sometimes by violent volcanic eruption, so that any drive or any trek from one year to another can reveal new astonishments that remind you how transient even the oldest things on earth can be, like clouds moving over the yawning hills and quiet little seaside towns



by John Mariani
Photos by Vanessa Tierney

802 Ninth Avenue

    Good seafood restaurants tend to have a fairly long life, whether it's the grand Le Bernardin or a fried shrimp place like Johnny's Reef on City Island.  Pier 9, set where Agua Dulce used to be on Ninth Avenue, is just what this Hell's Kitchen neighborhood needed--a handsome, casual, full-service seafood house that fits impeccably into the second decade of this century.  Unlike the new John Dory Oyster Bar, which is a dark, drop-in, no-rez eatery, Pier 9 has is a spacious restaurant with plenty of natural lighting and colors of the sea.  Plastic chairs glisten and the white tablecloths reflect light and warmth. There's a very popular bar up front, and the service staff is as cheery as the atmosphere.  Outdoor seating right now is much sought out.
    Chef-partner Eric Hara (below) is well known in NYC dining circles, having most recently been at the Oak Room at The Plaza hotel, and before that with David Burke's restaurants. He first opened 9 next door, then Pier 9 last month, and business has been predictably good at both places.  He has put together both a solid menu and staff , including Chef de Cuisine David Valencia, formerly at The Modern and Adour, so there's something for everyone here (even the requisite New York strip steak) among all the piscine species.
    Start off with an exquisite razor clam ceviche dressed with olive oil, cilantro, mint, and olives. Ceviches need that extra spark that sushi rarely provides, and Pier 9's  are stellar.  So, too, I find it impossible to believe anyone could not love his mini "laughing bird" shrimp tacos: with tomatillo and cucumbers.  There is, of course, a raw bar with the season's best oysters, clams and mussels, and hot appetizers include a wonderfully creamy and happily rich sweet corn and lobster bisque. Lobster "Mac n Cheese" (below) is not what you might expect, actually a tad frou-frou, as cheese-filled pasta cylinders with big chunks of lobster, but it is absolutely delicious. There are also several mussel items; we enjoyed the green curry version with shiitake mushrooms.

    "Simply Prepared" describes the excellent choice of grilled whole dorade, grilled Spanish octopus, and scallops cooked on the griddle, and then there are the American seafood "Classics," which includes a "Chicago-style [?] lobster hot dog" as well as a traditional east coast lobster roll, and Southern fried Chatham cod, which was all right, if not singular. And if you still can't decide, there are nightly entrees like big-eye tuna au poivre with onion puree and spinach, and horseradish-crusted Scottish salmon with melted leeks and eggplant caponata. Don't miss the scrumptious, crispy French fries or the roasted corn with asiago cheese. You can get three sides for $15.
    "Happy Endings" is the cutesy category for desserts that sound silly but are terrific, like the s'mores doughnut holes with marshmallow filling, and the chocolate-covered pretzel sundae with tapioca pudding and caramel sauce.  You'll love them.

         Pier 9 is very much a place really to enjoy yourself, with good food, wine, and service, but beyond that it is not trying to be trendy or gastro-pub-ish, a genre that's getting real tired real fast.  In a sense Pier 9 is a return to the older style of New York seafood restaurants,  like Gage & Tollner, Gloucester House, and Grand Central Oyster Bar,  but brought into the present with real color and definite  panache.

Pier 9 is open for dinner nightly. Brunch on Sat. & Sun. Starters range from $6-$14, entrees $17-$29 (with many items at market price).




by Christopher Mariani

5 and Diamond

2072 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (near 113th Street)

Photos by Sandy Margolis and Marcelo Montealegre and Chris Davey 

    It was an absolutely gorgeous day, 75 degrees and sunny, as I drove north on the Westside highway, headed for Harlem, after picking up my lovely girlfriend Katrina. Although we could’ve gotten off on 110th Street to cut over, we decided to get off on 96th so we could drive along the Park, budding with spring flowers and smiling New Yorkers out for a stroll on this close to perfect day.
    Harlem’s restaurant scene is growing vigorously and is the home to an array of fashionable new and old restaurants, each rightfully earning very high praise, including the year-old bistro Chez Lucienne, the soulful Sylvia’s, the longstanding Rao’s, Marcus Samuelsson’s new,  always packed Red Rooster, and now, the one-year and three month old 5 and Diamond located on Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, just two blocks north of the now lush green Central Park. 5 and Diamond opens its doors nightly, literally, as large glass doors stay propped open while diners sit inside listening to  Motown Soul along with the faint sound of Harlem’s bustling streets in the background, it is entirely charming. There are also a handful of small tables outside when the weather permits.
    Inside, the walls are brick, the tables are oak, set with beautiful glassware, and though the bar seats no more than ten people, more than ten people were present. There was a very eclectic crowd in the small dining room the night I dined, fairly typical according to owner Lia Sanfilippo. An older couple sat to my right, in the corner sat a table of five women in their 30’s chatting as if they all had in ear plugs, men and women in business suits stopping by for a quick post-work dinner and a handful of brawny men sat at the bar knocking back cold brews and crispy appetizers. 5 and Diamond is clearly a neighborhood restaurant, yet according to Sanfilippo, New Yorkers from downtown come uptown for the food and experience. Duke Ellington’s signature theme said, “Take the A Train, Soon you’ll be in Sugar Hill in Harlem”—but Sugar Hill is where the famous Cotton Club stood, is a bit farther north of 5 and Diamond; instead you can take the B, C, 2 or 3 subway lines, to 110th Street and walk over two blocks to the restaurant.
    Sanfilippo and Selene Martinez are the sole proprietors and have lived in Harlem for the last ten years. Prior to opening, many friends told them Harlem is not the place to open a restaurant, but they didn’t listen. Sanfilippo told me, “I know this neighborhood well and I know the people who live here. This is where I live and this is where I wanted to open a restaurant.” So she did.
    Now, a little over a year later, after a slightly slow winter, 5 and Diamond is picking up steam and most of the credit must go to executive chef David Martinez, formerly cooking at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. The menu is small and to the point, seven appetizers and ten entrees. We started with a subtle chorizo soup, a rich mac’ and cheese filled with large chunks of luscious lobster tail, and an order of the savory seared scallops (above), two per order, laid over a bed of delicate truffled cauliflower puree, sliced Gala apples and a crunchy frisee salad. The service was bit off during the beginning of our meal as our waiter seemed to forget we were there, but quickly redeemed himself before the main courses hit the table. My girlfriend, whose family comes from Jordan, ordered the braised lamb shank served over sweet corn, hen of woods mushrooms, and a creamy polenta, humbly stated that the lamb is the second best she’s ever had. (Her mother’s is obviously at the top of that list.) For my entrée, pork tenderloin (left) came wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, wild mushroom and sliced white grapes. Chef Martinez has a real knack for blending fine seasoning with rich ingredients and making sure each mouthful has a dynamic taste. He plays with the palate by using crunchy textures while never jeopardizing the overall root flavor of the dish. Desserts include a warm molten chocolate cake topped with fresh whip cream and a gooey pecan pie surrounded by a buttery crust.
    The wine list is growing quickly and is comprised of very affordable wines. I foresee a very busy summer at 5 and Diamond and couldn’t be happier to see a section of NYC that was once frowned on beginning to flourish.       


To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to




Making a Case for Big Bottles
by John Mariani

    Connoisseurs—very rich connoisseurs—will pay big bucks for a case, even a bottle of a rare wine, but the biggest trophies at wine auctions are the so-called large format bottles.
    At last year’s Auction Napa Valley, an eight magnum vertical of Colgin Cellars’ Cariad bottling and dinner for six went for $250,000, then owner Ann Colgin offered to replicate the lot for four bidders to bid $250,000 each. This March in Chicago, Hart Davis Wine Company Auctions sold a single imperial of 1982 Lafite-Rothschild for nearly $42,000.
         The appeal of these bottles--most named after long-lived Biblical figures, like Methuselah, who lived 969 years (right)--is clearly their impressive size: a magnum holds two regular, 750 ml bottles; a jereboam, four; rehoboam, six; an imperial or Methuselah, eight; on up to a Nebuchadnezzar, 20, and beyond. An added virtue is that such bottles are said to age more slowly because of the ratio of wine to oxygen in the neck.
    “People who entertain a large group frequently favor big bottles out of convenience,” said Peter Meltzer, auction correspondent for Wine Spectator and author of Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting (Wiley) in a phone interview. “In the fine wine auction world, sales of large format bottles are considered a reflection of the economy.  When times are good, people won’t hesitate to uncork a big bottle, but during a recession they scale back on purchasing them.  When the economy improves, they can either drink up or re-sell the bottles.”
    This assertion is backed up by Piero Selvaggio, owner of Valentino restaurant in Santa Monica, CA, where he cellars 75,000 bottles, with 250 in large formats. “When the economy was booming, I once sold a Nebuchadnezzar to a party,” he told me, “but the recession has blunted that kind of extravagance. These days some customers want to bring their own big bottles, and I charge a $50 corkage fee.”
    For the most part large formats are made by the most illustrious Bordeaux and Burgundy estates, which usually grab the highest auction prices. A few California cult wineries also make some big bottles, in most cases donated to charity auctions.
    At restaurants large bottles offer a more festive atmosphere at the table. “I tell my customers that a magnum is an ideal size when dining with six to eight people,” says Linda Gérin, partner and wine director at Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, CT. “One bottle is not enough and as long as you’re having two, uncorking a magnum has a real glamor about it.”  
    In fact, big bottles can be the most sensible way to go for certain celebrations. “Las Vegas is the perfect city for large formats,” Jennifer Eby (left), wine manager at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas told me. “We serve our food family style, often to large tables, and I suggest a large format as being easier and more festive.” Asked about what wines comped high rollers order, Eby said, “The hotel wants to look after those guests and they drink whatever they want, but they really don’t take advantage by ordering big bottles.  Our Asian guests almost never do and tend to be very modest in their consumption of wine.”
    The more dedicated to stocking huge cellars a restaurant is, the more large format bottles it will carry.   The cellar at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago holds more than 130 large formats, including one of only five imperials ever made of Penfold 1990 “Grange.” At Valbella in Riverside, CT, wine director Nick Zherka offers a Methuselah of 1996 Richebourg for $22,000 (right).  When I asked if that was negotiable, he said, “Well, maybe $21,000.”
    For the individual there are big risks in buying big bottles as investments. Rarely would the investor get a better price re-selling to a wine store or restaurant—and then only in a state where it is legal to re-sell wines.  Auction houses post estimate prices at the going rate.  Crucial for the seller, says, Meltzer, is that “whatever you do, you must keep the wines in a professional, temperature controlled facility, so that an auction house can vouch for how it had been stored.”
         There’s no real way, shy of opening and tasting them, to know if the wines will be sound in years to come, or if in vertical vintages, any one of them may have gone bad.  Which is why so many large format bottles are just sold and re-sold and never drunk at all.  In which case, you are selling an artifact, not a work of art.
         It makes more sense to buy a big bottle at a retail store for a special occasion, as I did when my sons were born, in 1980 and 1985 respectively.  I put the bottles away for their twenty-first birthdays, when the magnums made quite splash. Rarely had I enjoyed a wine more and it was money very well spent.

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.



Commercial artist and entrepreneur Clay Butler has created Canna Col,
which contains THC, the psycoactive ingredient in marijuana,  which he
 sells for $10 to $15 for a 12-ounce bottle. He is also making
Dr Pepper-like Doc Weed, lemon-lime Sour Diesel, and Orange Kush.


"On pages 5·133 and 6·38, the recipe for Toasted Oat Jus should call for 200 g of pigeon wings with a scaling of 80%, 300 g of sweet onions with a scaling of 300%, 45 g of grape seed oil with a scaling of 120%, 10 g of garlic with a scaling of 19.2%, 750 g of brown pigeon stock with a scaling of 300%, 300 g of red wine with a scaling of 120%, 650 g of rendered foie gras fat with a scaling of 26%, 50 g of cognac with a scaling of 20%, 30 g of steel-cut oats with a scaling of 12%, 20 g of sherry vinegar with a scaling of 8%, 13 g of sugar with a scaling of 5.2%, and 2 g of black peppercorns with a scaling of 0.8%."—One of the 368-plus corrections just issued for the six-volume tome, Modernist Cuisine


Mariani's Quick Bytes
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Comme Ca
On May 18, Chef David Myers’ Comme Ca in West Hollywood, CA, is hosting dinner to benefit relief efforts in the Japanese prefecture of Ibaraki. Guest chefs Michael Voltaggio, Roy Choi, Jordan Kahn, Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo will join Myers to cook a multi-course tasting menu. $110pp. Call 323-782-1104 or visit
Tattered Cover on Colfax
On May 31 at Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver, CO, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. Tattered Cover 303-322-7727, or visit
TWENTY6 Restaurant
On May 19 in Palm Springs, CA, La Quinta Resort & Club¹s TWENTY6 restaurant will host a 4-course California Craft Beer dinner with Lost Coast Brewery based in Humboldt County which makes some of the best microbrews in the country. Price is $30pp. Call 760-564-5720 or visit

Tibetan Aid Project
On June 1 at the Arader Gallery in New York, NY the Tibetan Aid Project will host the benefit gala Taste & Tribute in efforts to support the cultural and spiritual heritage of Tibet.  Guests will enjoy an exquisite four-course meal prepared by a superbly talented team of New York chefs including Missy Robbins, George Mendes, Gavin Kaysen, and Michael Laiskonis.  There will also be a live auction which will feature Tibetan artwork and luxurious getaways. $475 pp. Visit

World Culinary Showcase
From May 21 through May 24, the World Culinary Showcase will take place at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, in Chicago, IL, where top culinary masters and celebrity chefs will perform live on stage. $90, $149pp. Call 312-853-2525 or visit .
Powell's Books on Hawthorne
On June 6 at Powell's Books on Hawthorne in Portland, OR, Melissa Coleman will read from This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, a memoir that takes place during the early days of the natural living and organic food movements. Powell's 503-228-4651, 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  linked to 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: WHY YOU NEED A VACATION; TREKKING IN NEW ZEALAND.

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).

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.

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