Virtual Gourmet

  November 20,  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

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.
This Week:
The Top Chef Recap


by John Mariani

    The Fall season for publishers is really the pre-Christmas season when they expect to sell their best titles of the year and make the most money from them, a cheery idea when the whole book publishing biz is in such flux and under such pressure to innovate or cave in to Kindle.  When it comes to food, drink and travel books, publishers usually go for their big names, a host of Food Network stars (who, given their schedules, may or may not have had much to do with the writing of the books under their names), and glossy gift books that inevitably find their way onto coffee tables, remainder tables or on the re-sell listings on Amazon.  There are, however, some books that go in new directions or are just terrific to read.  Here are several I'll find time to spend time with.

A Toast to Bargain Wines  by George M. Taber (Scribner, $15)--At a time when the global wine market is in a frenzy to find enough First Growth Bordeaux to supply Chinese millionaires and Russian billionaires, the need for a book like this, by one of America's most commonsense wine writers, is great. needed.  But this is not simply a screed of favorite wines--though about half the book are Taber's worthwhile picks;  it is a look at how and why the global market got so completely wacky and how a few iconoclastic winemakers changed outmoded ideas of taste and tradition, leading to far more good and diversified wines to choose from, not least from, you guessed it--China.  Perhaps Taber's most salient comment is that "All the world's major wine-producing countries are now selling surplus wines at reduced prices, operating in the unregulated and little-known bulk market, where tanker ships or wine are daily bought and sold."

Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (Little Brown, $50)--The book weighs six pounds and costs fifty bucks. Not much you can do about the former but it's already selling for half price on amazon and similar sites.  That said, this is clearly a coffee table book for professional chefs who need to keep up with do-able modernist concepts like gels and can spend time prepping nine-step recipes for celery cream (which includes 4 cups fish fumet).  It's not a book for home cooks, but it is so beautiful that your foodie friends would be ever in your debt if you bought them a copy.  Gorgeously illustrated, Chef Daniel Humm's compendium of haute cuisine shows clearly why Eleven Madison Park is now a Michelin three-star restaurant.

A Vineyard in My Glass by Gerald Asher (U. California Press, $29.95)--I cut my teeth as a wine lover reading Gerald Asher's romantic but solidly grounded reports on wine regions in Gourmet at a time when that magazine was intended for a very sophisticated audience.  No one in the field has ever  provided more sound information in more elegantly written sentences than Asher, essays that truly made you sense the work and traditions that go into making a fine wine.  From his takes on white wines of the Southern Rhone to a whole chapter on Soave, Asher convinces the reader that snobbery is the truest enemy of wine and, like the best, most erudite of teachers, he knows how to entertain and enlighten in a way that both educates the reader and sends him to the vineyards out of sheer pleasure and delight.

The Great American Cookbook by Clementine Paddleford, edited by Kelly Alexander (Rizzoli, $45)--Soon forgotten after her death in 1967, Clementine Paddleford--who had the perfect name for a food writer--has been reclaimed by young readers and cooks who realize that the former New York Herald-Tribune columnist was at least as influential as James Beard and never so self-promotional as he was.  She would investigate everything about American food, held few prejudices, and was as familiar with Boston Marlborough pie as with Maryland stuffed ham; all these, among 500 recipes, are included in this massive, beautifully formatted book of a kind that makes the idea of cooking from a computer screen seem robotic.  Paddleford was not a fastidious Junior Leaguer or worldly rover, for as Molly O'Neill states in her intro, "She was a woman grounded in the real world, a Kansas farm girl whose people fought in the American Revolution.  Her mother warned her not to `grow a wishbone where a backbone ought to be.'"  If the word "wholesome" has gone out of style, this book may very well bring it back in.

40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering by Alice Waters (Potter, $55)--Those contemporary foodists who love nothing better than to trash the reputations of their betters, not least Alice Waters, may well change their tone after reading through 40 Years of Chez Panisse, which is as much a chronicle of that quirky Berkeley restaurant's history as its is a narrative of how and why good food developed in this country and had such influence on the rest of the world.  Growing out of the Free Speech Movement, Chez Panisse never aspired to be great, only to be good in the best sense of that word, and Waters was the prime mover, the one who asked why ingredients could not be better, why culinary techniques had grown dated, and how the sheer enjoyment of food had in American become suspect.  The early photos of the restaurant's opening in 1971 will make those of us who remember those days wonder if anyone could be that young and idealistic--Chez Panisse hemorrhaged money its first year--but Waters never wavered, and we all have her to thank for the direction food in America, even the world, has gone in the 21st century.

Ciao Italia Family Classics by Mary Ann Esposito (St. Martin's, $40)--PBS deserves a great deal of applause (and your donations) for the high quality of its food shows, especially in the face of the screaming junk that so overwhelms Food Network and the Travel Channel.  Paramount among PBS's gold standard has been Mary Ann Esposito, who has, for three decades, produced her unassuming, ever helpful, always delectable show "Ciao Italia," and this, her eleventh cookbook doesn't stint in showing how these things should be done, with 200+ recipes ranging from chickpea fritters and Sicilian rice balls to wedding soup and lasagne verde Bolognese style, from baked ziti casserole with meatballs to rabbit in balsamic vinegar. The culinary notes have the same intimacy as does Mary Ann's rapport with her TV audience. You may well cook your way from page one straight through.

Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna by Kurt Gutenbrunner (Rizzoli, $50)--Perhaps the world has not been crying out for a big $50 book on Viennese cuisine, but Kurt Gutenbrunner, who heads several NYC Austrian restaurants, is certainly the one to turn our attention to a neglected region of the world for culinary inspiration.  Vienna's cafe culture is certainly well known and its pastries have influenced all others, including France, Italy and America.  Anyone who has dined around Vienna will recognize classic dishes among these recipes--spaetzle, Christmas goose, veal Schnitzel, bread dumplings, and Linzertorte, to name a few--but it is from the ingredients themselves that Gutenbrunner fashions a Neue Cuisine, from lobster with cherries and fava beans to monkfish with chanterelles and Jerusalem artichokes. It's a beautifully produced book and instructions are very clear, even for a home cook attempting some of the more complex recipes.

Seeking Sicily by John Keahey (St. Martin's Press,  $27.99)--No one not born in Sicily is ever likely wholly to understand its soul, but John Keahey has done more than dogged homework trying to find out.  He has learned the conflicting histories, well aware of the conflicts within a society that thrives on breaking rules yet abides by stultifying traditions, and has learned enough local dialect to be accepted. The inevitable chapter on the Mafia is as good a short history as you'll find of an enduring stain on the Sicilian fabric, and his essay on the island's food is bright with the sun of the Mediterranean.  He is a good guide, not one to rave about ravishing beauty or  condemn squalor,  and he is  temperate in his judgments about a highly secretive people who have learned over millennia to be suspicious of outsiders.  This is no Under the Tuscan Sun reverie; it's a book about how things were and are and may be for a long time to come.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak by Randy Fertel (U. Press of Mississippi, $28)--I knew the redoubtable Ruth Fertel a little when she ran the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse chain, but until this well-named book came out I didn't know the whole story of this remarkable woman and her highly colorful first husband Rodney, who once ran for mayor of New Orleans on a platform that promised a gorilla for the local zoo. If the South seems improbably full of eccentrics, the story of Ruth and Rodney adds measurably to the notion that pluck, backbone and not a little finagling are as Southern as Scarlett O'Hara's survival instincts. Ruth broke the racial line by having black customers, and didn't like anyone telling her what to do, including her husbands.  Her son Randy Fertel authors this wild family history without making anything up. Why would he need to when you have parents this extraordinary and a tale to tell played out against a New Orleans history full of scalawags and hustlers? He shows a sure command of understanding why Ruth was able to build one of the great restaurant empires from nothing. This is no teary-eyed memoir of the good old days, it's a fine history of an era by a very fine writer.

The Country Cooking of Italy by Colman Andrews (Chronicle Books, $50)--Another big volume for the coffee table, except that paging through this marvelous new, always authoritative volume by Colman Andrews should have you dragging it into the kitchen for weeks on end. Andrews, long one of America's finest and most indefatigable food writers, always bring enormous gusto to his projects, and he has an ability to make you envy his far-flung experiences and share his delight in them at the same time.  He wears his considerable scholarship lightly but in every recipe tells you something you never knew--about the "snail towns" of Italy, what Montaigne thought of Italian bread, why pig was called "signore," and why a seafood stew is called "soft snow"--and he really does focus on the cooking of regions beyond Rome, Florence, and Venice for recipes like red mullet ravioli from Chiavari, lemon risotto from Lake Garda, and sopa caoda from Treviso.  As usual in Andrews's books, the superb photography is by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food During Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents, edited by Matt McAllester (U. of California Press, $27.50)--Though Ernest Hemingway was arguably the best food writer of his day, he was not alone in the trenches and deserts where he got his inspiration, and this splendid volume of reports by journalists who spent time smack in the middle of the action at Kandahar, Haiti, Pakistan, and other hot spots will give you a greater appreciation of whatever it is you eat at your dinner table tonight. There's a lot of quirkiness to these stories--how could there not be when one is titled "How Harry Lost His Ear" in Northern Ireland?--and there are gristly tales of the horrors and deprivations of war.  But it is in the ingenuity and the hunger pangs of people trying first to survive than not to starve that you find how important a meal--not just sustenance--is to the human spirit.

This article also appears this week in



281 Church Street (at White Street)

    Two years ago Tuscan chef Matteo Boglione (right) opened a place at this same location called Il Matto, which meant "the crazy guy," and, while much of his menu was wildly inventive in the style of la nuova cucina, it was not what people were looking for when going out for Italian food in TriBeCa. Its decor, too, was far from the calmly casual style of most lower Manhattan trattorias; Il Matto's style ran to an S-shaped, mosaic glass-topped bar on an upper level, tall windows,  rosy colors and lighting, and very cool, rolling teacup banquettes under a large portrait of Boglione depicted as a mad octopus by graffiti artist Doze Green.
  It didn't seem to work.
    Now, since June, toning down the decor and modulating his cooking to reflect modern Italian cuisine with flair rather than fantasy, Boglione, who has the look of an El Greco Franciscan, has emerged as one of NYC's most resilient and most exciting chefs capable of seamlessly blending his own creativity into the simple precepts of fine Italian tradition. Meanwhile, bartender
Christina Bini is still having fun coming up with exotic cocktails.
    The single dining rooms seats 35, with space for 15 at the bar and 12 and 16 more at two elevated lounges. The bar has been moved into the dining room--a 15-foot long
beauty made of rectangular stone and mahogany. The 16-foot high ceiling gives the place spaciousness, as do the cast-iron Italian chandeliers, beneath which are set wood tables and chairs, wood floors, sage- and terra di siena-colored walls, orange curtains, and two communal stone and organic wood dining tables.  I was there on a quiet Monday night, but that did not stop them from turning up the Euro music to an intrusive level, which we asked them to turn down. 
    The wine list, though small, is thoroughly accessible, with most bottlings in the $40 range and many available by the glass or carafe.

    We began on a very, very high note with an extraordinary soup.  Why has no one ever thought of making a crème brûlée with sharp pecorino cheese (below)? Once tasted, you want to demand it become a classic, especially with Boglione's addition of red onion marmalade and balsamic reduction. Something seemingly as simple as stuffed olives is a revelation, for the stuffing is pork, veal, pistachio and mortadella salami, a wonderful surprise popped in the mouth. Artichoke croquettes, usually just fried up crisp elsewhere, are here enhanced with a lush saffron sauce, burrata, and shavings of black truffles--quite an ennobling of a homespun dish. He fried Gorgonzola (how, I don't know), and serves them with Martini-infused poached pears, with arugula and balsamic. Mini-meatballs take on the flavors of mortadella and the crunch of pistachios, in a light tomato sauce.  And that old Italian-American standy gets an enhancement of smoky scamorza cheese with tomato and basil.
    Burrata is also the filling for ravioli in a truffle sauce, but the real triumph here is
a buffalo mozzarella soup with diced fresh tomatoes, basil pesto.  This is a perfect example of an extraordinary re-thinking of Italian ingredients without in any way mutating them in the way of molecular cuisine. It tasted exactly like mozzarella that was enriched with the same ingredients you'd find in an insalata caprese, only more intense.
    Just as impressive was "carbonara two ways": the first was the usual spaghetti alla carbonara with its egg-and-pancetta dressing; the other mezzelune (half moon) pasta filled with egg, milk, parmigiano cheese and lots of black pepper, sauced with a parmigiano cheese fondue and finished with crumbles of crispy pancetta. Another winning pasta is Boglione's farfalle in a light fresh tomato sauce, with an arugula pesto, and pecorino cheese on the side, a lovely balancing act of flavors and textures.
    It didn't figure into my mind at first to try White & Church's burger, stuffed with macaroni and cheese, with tomatoes and beef jus, but having enjoyed everything else so much, next time I will. Boglione is one of those rare chefs who uses exceptional good taste to create new ones from old ones.  It's a difficult thing to do, and Church & White, which is pretty much a one-man operation, does it with remarkable finesse.

White & Church is open for dinner nightly. Brunch on Sun.  Antipasti run $11-$14, pastas $15-$18, entrees $14-$20.



by Christopher Mariani

This week the Man About Town is on assignment.

To contact Christopher Mariani send an email to


PETA (The Something-or-Other for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) suggested that the town of Turkey, Texas change its name to "Tofurky," which they contended,"
would send a clear message that delicious, savory mock meat is an easy way to celebrate without causing suffering--and give a bird something to be thankful for."


French bureaucrats have decreed that ketchup will now only be available with French fries, offered once a week. They also ordered schools must serve meals that include four or five dishes each day and unlimited baguettes.  Jacques Hazan, president of the Federation of School Pupils' and College Students' Parents Councils, insisted the changes reflect French heritage: "Food is very important here and we can't have children eating any old thing."


 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.

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: Wallenda Country, Sweden;  Berlin.

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