Virtual Gourmet

  October 30, 2011                                                                                               NEWSLETTER

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The 5th Annual Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival will take place this year from Dec. 9-13, with a star-studded, epicurean extravaganza hosted on the resort island playground of Palm Beach. Join James Beard Award-winning chefs, Food Network personalities, authors, winemakers, mixologists and a plethora of local talent in an unforgettable series of dinners and parties that will saturate your senses in the most anticipated culinary event of the season. Chefs include Michelle Bernstein, Daniel Boulud, David Burke, Clay Conley, Scott Conant, Dean Max, Michael Schwartz,  and many more.  John Mariani is proud to be Honorary Chairman. For info click here.


by John Mariani

by John Mariani

by Christopher Mariani



By John Mariani

    Thanks to an increase of rich South Americans, free-spending Russian zillionaires, and euro-giddy Europeans, South Florida doesn’t really have much of an off season any more, which in turn leads to more restaurant openings and more consistent service.  But the chilly weather is upon much of the USA, and it snowed in NYC this week, so you might be thinking of a Miami escape. If you’re planning a trip there this fall or winter, here’s where you’ll want to eat.



2550 NW 2nd Avenue
    As always, developer Tony Goldman has selected a down-on-its-heels neighborhood and made it hip (and profitable) by taking over several warehouse buildings in what is generously being called the “arts district.” He’s had them painted by internationally famous graffiti artists, including Shepard Fairey in the bar and lounge, and in the dining room two vast abstract canvases by Berlin artist Christian Awe, with an 11-foot sculpture by David Benjamin Sherry.  Run by Goldman's daughter Jessica Goldman Srebnick, WK&B is as much a destination for its interiors and exteriors as for Chef Miguel Aguilar’s global-Latino cooking, which includes mussels with chorizo, celery and caramelized onions; skirt steak with black beans and roasted scallions; and pork tenderloin with apple, jicama slaw and shallot gravy. For dessert try the chocolate bread pudding with coriander crème anglaise or the minted mojito semi-freddo.

Photo by Mark Raskams 

3470 North Miami Avenue


    If you like loud and you like late—5 AM on weekends--Gigi, in Midtown,  is the place to get it, along with remarkably tasty casual dining, from snacks like grilled corn with tofu to buns filled with crispy chicken skin and aïoli to BBQ ribs with hoisin sauce. There are raw seafood offerings like tuna with yellow watermelon and celery, and noodle bowls like Caribbean shrimp pad Thai. And you've got to order the cornbread with honey-bacon butter, which deserves the contemporary foodster cliché "awesome." It’s all cement walls, floors, closely set tables, and big windows. Spend an hour here and you’ll see that everyone at every table seems to know at least one person from another.  And it's open daily, serves breakfast, brunch--which is big here--you named it. They aim to please, and they even keep the wine prices low.  Billecart-Salmon Brut Champagne at $56 is a great deal.


270 Biscayne Boulevard Way

    This London (2002) offshoot--with branches in Dubai, Istanbul, and Hong Kong--is the best and most sophisticated Japanese/Asian restaurant in downtown  Miami, and it’s caught on with those who definitely go for Chef Rainer Beck’s izakaya-style menus food. It’s been a big draw for sports and entertainment figures, including local girls Gloria Estefan and Maria Sharapova. Start at the bar—there are 40 sakes there—then go for some of the favorite dishes like rice hot pot with wild mushrooms; miso-marinated cod wrapped in hoba leaf; and fried softshell crab with wasabi mayonnaise. Signature dishes include a ribeye with wafu sauce and garlic, and roasted lobster with shiso-ponzu butter. It's all extremely beautiful, with all natural earth tones, granite throughout, and rice paper panels on the ceiling, with dining tables made of Indonesian wood and a robata grill.


3252 NE First Avenue #107
Photo by Victor Sanabrais

    This new Midtown hit has one of the city’s best-balanced American menus via Chef Alejandro Pinero, whose approach to his ingredients gives the restaurant its name.  It’s a grand space, lighted to show off its guests, with a mangrove rib-cage wall, cypress benches, and open kitchen.  The snack food--soft pretzels accompanied by wholegrain mustard and orange blossom honey; pigs in a blanket served with spicy mustard; and fried chickpeas in herb-infused oil—is as good across the board as hearty main courses like BBQ grilled quail with Brussels sprouts, cipollini onions, and mustard-horseradish cream; and wreckfish served with cannellini beans, escarole, chorizo, and clams.  Oh, and the “wet fries” are drizzled with bone marrow gravy. For dessert? Key lime crème brûlée.


Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel

4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach


Photo by Brett Hufziger


Two hundred twenty million dollars have brought back Miami Beach’s art deco glitz to the Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel, designed in 1956 by the weirdly great Morris Lapidus as a place where, in those ring-a-ding days, Frank, Dean, and Sammy ran boozy riot and Nat King Cole and Streisand played the Café Pompeii. This being Miami Beach 2011, current management knew it needed a big deal, first-rate steakhouse at 1500˚, but by hiring Brazilian-born chef Paula DaSilva also gave the city its best new restaurant of any kind in years.  It’s big, it’s splashy, it’s got a poolside patio, and faux-zebra fabric banquettes—perfect place for a Guess? Jeans photo shoot.

DaSilva bases as much of her menu as possible on the bounty of Florida farms and waters, so start off with a ceviche of Florida wahoo with peppers, onions, cilantro and lime juice. The 1950s-style grilled peach salad with blue cheese, candied pecans, and truffle vinaigrette looks as delectable as Esther Williams on a plate.  For a steak, go with the Brazilian cut of Prime sirloin called picanha, and for dessert, the Homestead blueberry shortcake with ginger mascarpone cream and Florida corn ice cream will give you sweet dreams.



by John Mariani

236 West 56th Street (off Eighth Avenue)

    If Frank Sinatra had ever hosted a TV talk show back in the 1950s, I bet he would have done it sitting at Patsy’s, his favorite Italian restaurant, which has been in New York’s Theater District since 1944. The TV camera would bring you through the door and you’d be greeted by Patsy Scognamillo or his son Joe like old friends, past walls hung with black-and-white photos of every show biz star of the day, then draw in on a corner table where Frank is sitting with Dean Martin, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett Don Rickles, and Ernie Kovacs, nursing a Scotch on the Rocks and telling his pals how terrific the clams arreganata are, how the mozzarella in carozza will melt in your mouth, how the rigatoni sorrentino is groovy, and the sausages pizzaiolo with peppers ring-a-ding-ding.  Old Blue Eyes would ask Rosie to sing “Come On-a My House,” and Dean to do a few bars of “That’s Amore,” and then they bring the fabulous cheesecake, drip-pot espresso, and a bottle of sambucca with coffee beans.  Frank thanks everybody for watching and says, “See you tomorrow night with guests Charlton Heston,  Ava Gardner, and Sophia Loren.”
       And that’s pretty much the way it’s been at Patsy’s since opening—the ultimate Broadway Italian restaurant with an unstinting devotion to the best Italian-American food, now prepared by Joe’s son, Chef Sal Scognamillo.  You still get the old-timers coming in, and Nancy Sinatra is still a link to her Dad’s era.  
    You're welcomed warmly by Joe or his partner Frank.
You also get deferential captains in tuxedoes, waiters in white jackets, a bartender named Rocky Guerrero who knows how to make a great Martini, and Neapolitan food that is better than ever, thanks to the explosion of the fine imported Italian ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar wholly unavailable back in the ‘50s.  You like tripe? Patsy’s makes it hearty, with onions, prosciutto, peas, and tomatoes.

Patsy's fan Tony Bennett with Joe and Chef Sal Scognamillo 

    You miss veal francese? You get three flavorful fillets lightly battered and sautéed in fine olive oil and white wine and graced with lemon slices. You love cannolis? Patsy’s makes theirs with homemade ricotta, sugar, orange peel, citron fruit, and chocolate chips.
      This is the food Neapolitans introduced to New York a century ago and refined with abundance over decades, even when it fell out of fashion in the 1970s.  But its honest goodness never fell out of favor at Patsy’s, not did the warmth of a family greeting that the Scognamillos still provide every guest, famous or first-timer.
    The celebrity faces have mostly changed--now you're likely to run into
Al Pacino, Placido Domingo, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks, Madonna, George Clooney, David Letterman,  Robert DeNiro, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld,  Liza Minelli, Kate Hudson, and Patti LaBelle, whose photos adorn the walls. (Patsy’s website has 20 pages of celeb photos) But Sal, Joe, and Frank are still the constant presences that keep Patsy's from changing. This goes, for the most part, with the menu, with many recipes included in Patsy’s Cookbook-Classic Italian Recipes From A New York City Landmark Restaurant (2002), which itself is full of good celebrity anecdotes, like the time Sinatra went into the kitchen to kibbutz and make his own pasta and the Thanksgiving Day the restaurant opened just for Sinatra, who dined alone there the night before. They even invited some other customers to fill out the room.
    But in fact Sal is always adding new recipes, new flourishes, no seasonal items.  One of the best new ones, which I had just last week, was pumpkin tortelloni in a sage, cream and butter sauce, which is about as luscious as these fat-bellied pasta nuggets get.  Also delicious that night was gnocchi of the perfect density, lavished with their finely seasoned tomato sauce.
    My friend and I shared an antipasto of mozzarella in carozza, once a staple of Italian-American restaurants, now a rarity.  Patsy's version is big, oozing with mozzarella wedged into bread slices that are dipped in egg and battered so as to be so crisp you crunch into them with a fork, then dip the morsels in either anchovy and oil or tomato sauce.
    Another special that night was pork rollatine stuffed with cheese and seasonings then wrapped in bacon and sautéed with a pan sauce and sided with sweet,  tender green beans glossed with olive oil, all of it beautifully rendered. Veal francese, a classic here, was the right thickness, lighter than most, with a nice citrusy tang.   
    We just couldn't make it through dessert, so our captain gave us some biscotti and small cannolis to enjoy at home. By then, about ten o'clock, the crowd was thinning out, and I could see that everyone had had a wonderful, wonderful time at Patsy's. It's impossible not to.

  Chicken contadina with red peppers and mushrooms

Patsy's is open for lunch and dinner daily. Antipasti run $10-$19; Pastas (full portions) $20-$27; main courses $27-$39; Pre-theater menu $50.

This article appeared in a shorter version in
Saveur Magazine.


by Christopher Mariani

The Pierre Hotel and Le Caprice

     It was a sunny afternoon, the cool air was beginning to show signs of autumn and the streets of NYC were filled with pedestrians whizzing by in almost every direction. The summer heat had faded and Central Park was more beautiful than ever. The trees’ leaves were just beginning to turn, displaying bright yellows and hues of deep red. The brisk air had a distinct aroma full of bark and grass and leaves.

         On the corner of 61st and 5th sits the Pierre Hotel, towering over the southeast corner of Central Park. The location is magnificent. If you are looking to experience a taste of NYC’s most luxurious hotels, there is no finer place in autumn to encounter such excellent service and beauty than at The Pierre.
         This past month I drove down from Westchester County on a Friday afternoon and spent the evening at The Pierre, where I dined at its two-year-old restaurant, Le Caprice. I parked a few blocks away and enjoyed a leisurely walk past The Sherry-Netherlands, The Plaza Hotel and FAO Schwarz before arriving at the Pierre, where I was greeted with a genuine smile by a tall doorman dressed in a black trench coat who kindly said, “Enjoy your stay.”
         Entering the The Pierre, now part of the Taj Group, is a like stepping back in time, when attention to detail was upheld and personal service was expected. Every employee of the hotel nods his or her head when you pass them by, giving you a pleasant welcome and a gracious smile. The main lobby is blanketed with glossy marble, bordered by rounded archways, broad white columns and a bright gold trim that is kept impeccably clean. The floors are checkered black and white and two glass chandeliers hang above.
       Upon arrival at the front desk, my reservation was pulled up immediately. The lean gentleman behind the counter had a French accent and was as amiable as one could desire. After checking us in, he proceeded personally to walk us up to our room, a very nice gesture not often performed, even at hotels of The Pierre’s caliber. Inside the elevator, the attendant smiled and kept the door propped open as we exited onto the 20th floor. I entered my City View suite and headed straight for the windows where I gazed out in awe onto miles of Upper Eastside rooftops. The view was gorgeous as was the room. In addition to the usual posh comforts and amenities, the 800 square-foot City View Suites have Les Clefs d'Or Concierge services available.
The bedroom is very roomy--especially in NYC--and offers a sophisticated elegance while still offering a casual comfort.
    The Pierre was the creation of immigrant Charles Pierre Casalaco, who worked his way up from the bottom at some of Europe's grand hotels, where he learned the craft of pleasing very demanding clientele, and at Louis Sherry's in NYC, where he did the same for the Astors and Vanderbilts. With financial backing, he opened The Pierre in 1930 at a cost of a then-staggering $15 million, with 700 rooms. Since 2005 the hotel has been a member of the Taj Group, and now has 189 guest rooms ands suites. Don't miss visiting the famous Rotunda, whose trompe l'oeil murals were done in 1967 by Edward Melcarth, who used NYC society models, as well as a young actor named Erik Estrada to pose as Adam.
          A fter settling in we got ready for dinner at Le Caprice (below), now, after two years, far more polished and congenial than when it opened.  The classic dining room and bar, an offshoot of the London original, are both decorated in light cream and black tones, keeping the room warm and cozy. Courtney Cowart, the maître d', can be found nightly strolling though the dining room, greeting guests and offering terrific recommendations. Edward Carew is the new executive chef--the third here--raising the standards and offering delicious menu items.
         We started off with a generous portion of veal tartare, shaped in a circle the size of a thick burger patty, packed with chopped onions, mustard and herbs. The French onion soup came topped with stringy, hot Gruyére cheese and was filled with sweet onions and soft chunks of bread saturated with the dark brown broth. For a mid-course, we shared an order of the pici pasta mixed in a wild boar ragù, with pecorino cheese.
         Next came a thick, well-fatted NY strip steak and a striped bass, delicately sautéed, sided by braised artichokes and warm lentils. Desserts included a rich peanut butter pie surrounded by a buttery golden brown crust and topped with a blueberry ripple ice cream. There’s also a surprisingly great sherry trifle served in a tall glass topped with fresh whip cream. We sat, finished our wine and eventually made our way back up to the room for a peaceful night's sleep.
         Next morning after checking out, we arrived back at Le Caprice for brunch, where happily, every gentleman in the room was wearing a blazer, even though they are not required. We started off with a two glasses of chardonnay and began with an order of smoked salmon with a toasted bagel, cream cheese and red onions. My girlfriend thoroughly enjoyed her rich eggs Benedict, as did I the Le Caprice burger, served with homemade mayonnaise and thin, crisp French fries. We finished off the meal with a subtly sweet honey semifredo served with caramelized mission figs.
         Le Caprice and the Pierre complement one another, setting the bar for luxury NYC hotels, by offering fine service, unparallel beauty and a location spectacular at any time of the year. 

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to



Former radio personality critic Frank DeCaro has published The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes by 150 Stars of Stage and Screen, taken from old cookbooks and magazines, including Lucille Ball's "Cheese-y Thing," 
Liberace's Sticky Buns, 
Bette Davis's Red Flannel Hash,  Gypsy Rose Lee's Portuguese Fish Chowder 
John Ritter's Famous Fudge, 
Andy Warhol's Ghoulish Goulash,  
Vincent Price's Pepper Steak
, Lawrence Welk's Vegetable Croquettes, and 
Sonny Bono's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce


After being told the wait for his food would be long and then given his money back at The Victoria pub in Leeds, England, Hussein Yusuf broke chef Roger Mwebeiha's leg by "grinding his heel in a kick into the chef's right shin."  Mr. Yusuf, described as enebriated, was arrested and sentenced to 15 months in jail.



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

My latest book, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their cofee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.


“Restaurateurs, take note: A resurgence in thoughtful, artistic menus is past due.”—Bon Appetit Magazine

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

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, 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 impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, 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: BEST AND WORST AIRLINES; LETTER FROM INDIA.

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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© copyright John Mariani 2011