Virtual Gourmet

  April 15, 20012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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ANNOUNCEMENT: On Wednesday, April 18, John Mariani will host a book signing dinner at Via Vanti restaurant at 2 Kirby Plaza in Mount Kisco, NY.  Five-course meal at $85 per person, including signed copy of How Italian Food Conquered the World.  Call 914-666-6400. Click here.



Kuşadasi, Turkey
by John Mariani

Brasserie Pushkin
by John Mariani

Calming Down Those California Pinot Noirs
by John Mariani



    Big cities demand a traveler's commitment to stay put for several days, or, as has been said of great cities like New York, Rome, London and Paris, if you spend a week there you'll know the city well; if you spend a lifetime, you'll realize how much you don't know. Smaller cities, however, can be visited with pleasure for a day or two, to take in the principal sights and determine if you want to return for a longer stay.  In fact, I find such visits extremely enjoyable and, more often than not, make me hungry for more. This article is another in a continuing, occasional series I call "Day Trippers," intended to give the reader a quick, broad overview of a city where I was delighted for just a day or two. --J.M.


by John Mariani


    Kuşadasi is not on most people's first destination stops in the Aegean, unless you are an archaeologist, in which case it would be the prime purpose of your visit.
    Kuşadasi's history is as ancient as any in the Middle East, dating back to 3000 B.C., the end of the Neolithic Period, a time when the legendary city of Troy was said to have been founded and when Stonehenge was begun. Today its most historic site is the broad ruins of Ephesus, one of the glories of Aegean archaeology, a huge expanse of temples and markets built on over milennia by the Leleges, Aeolians, Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Christians.
    From 1086 on, Kuşadasi, called bird’s island, became Turkish, an important stop along the trade routes from which to sell and ship goods.  The caravans had stops every 25 miles or so--the distance a camel can travel in a day--where a caravansary, some quite large and elegant, were built. You can still visit the 300-year old inn, the Kervansaray Club (the fortress-like structure in the photo above), now a hotel, on Ataturk Road.    
    Soon after World War I the city was captured by the Greeks and not returned to Turkish rule until 1922; its location and good weather have made it a tourist destination since the end of World War II, but it’s never been overexploited, so that the thousands who roam the ruins of Ephesus are largely day trippers who have gotten off the cruise ships.
    Kuşadasi’s most visited spots include a Castle built by the Genöese, now, oddly enough, a disco, and the two-domed 14th century Isa Bey Cami mosque (right).  St. John Basilica, built by the emperor Justinian and said to hold St. John the Evangelist’s body,  is now but a ruin, after being destroyed by an earthquake.  Yet, within its open-air site, in the shape of a cross, you can still readily admire the elegance of its slender columns, the keyhole shape of the Baptistry, and the remains of 10th century frescoes.
    Ephesus  itself  (left), which has been undergoing some major excavation and stabilization work, contains the column  of what remains of the Greek Temple of Artemis, once famous as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The site also has an extraordinary, huge stadium that sat 70,000 spectators and once served for gladiatorial combat, and a theater (below) that held 25,000 people, still used today for performances of drama and dance. Poetry readings were held at the odeon. The Library of Celsius has enough intact to indicate how beautiful Ephesus once was, and for an impressive view of a Roman residence, you can now climb secure walkways in and around the Terrace House, whose interior frescoes are still in very good shape. From the great Gate of Ephesus the road is lined with columns from and to which travelers and traders would come and go for centuries.
    For many, the legend that the Virgin Mary lived in Kuşadasi is good reason to pay homage at her house (below), whose parking lot is now packed during the season with tour buses.  Pilgrims pin their prayers to a wall set up here, and there are plenty of religious geegaws to be bargained for.  Yet the house itself is very pretty, very calm, and it is from here it was said that Mary's virginal body ascended to heaven from this quiet, once secluded spot in the cypress hillsides.
    For more mundane excursions there is shopping in downtown Kuşadasi, including Turkish carpets and jewelry, and, this being Turkey, haggling with the seller is expected.  Euros and dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere, though the exchange rate is never in your favor.
    The food of Kuşadasi is basically Turkish, with influences from Greece, and  close to the Middle Eastern models of mezes, excellent fish, and sweets. There are other cuisines in the city, but why a visitor of short duration would want to go to a place called Yucca Mexican-Chinese-Turkish Restaurant or Michael’s Steak House is beyond me.
     Typical but considered one of the best traditional restaurants in the town of Selçuk is Selçuk Köftecisi, an unprepossessing eatery off the main track, with   a cool outdoor patio much favored by the local felines.  In fact, it’s said that in Kuşadasi, “every cat has his restaurant.”
    Here we began with an array of freshly made mezes (below) that included smoked and fried eggplant, potatoes, thick yogurt, and paprika peppers. The specialty here is grilled meatballs of veal (köfte), rich in flavor but not heavy, and we enjoyed an impeccably grilled sea bass (often, overcooking mars a great deal of Middle Eastern seafood cookery).  The dessert was called keskül (some call it the Temple of Artemis), a custard with sweet grape syrup, layered with sesame paste and minced walnuts.
    For our day in Kuşadasi we had a delightful guide, a middle-aged woman who said she was proudly Muslim but wore no headscarf--she wore her blond hair loose, with a short-sleeved shirt and skirt--or anything that would indicate she was.  She told us that while that are murmurs in Istanbul about Muslim conservatism gaining strength, the majority in Turkey have neither animus nor bias against any of their neighbors. “We get along very well with Christians and Jews,” she said, “and we respect their religious beliefs.  What people don’t understand is that within Islam—and not all Muslims are Arabs—here are many, many different views. The strictest keep to themselves and want only to be allowed to practice as they wish.  But others are very modern, including women like myself, who are as interested in true democracy as anyone in Europe.  For you know, that is the age-old preoccupation of the Turks: Are we Europeans or are we Asians? It is not a question likely to be resolved soon.”
    Meanwhile ports of call like Kuşadasi rely on all the world’s people to support its historic grandeur.  Tourism is a great leveler in that regard, and places like Kuşadasi, not most people’s first choice to visit in the Aegean, holds surprise after surprise for its beauty and richness of character.

All photos (except the Kusadasi harbor and mosque) by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery.



Brasserie Pushkin
41 West 57th Street (near Fifth Avenue)
Photos by Francesco Tonelli

    In the current issue of The New Yorker, a contemporary Russian food writer named Maksim Syrnikov laments that when Russians eat out, they favor Italian and Japanese food, and that most of the foods people think of as Russian aren't: “I did an informal survey of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and asked them, ‘Name some traditional Russian dishes,” Syrnikov said. “What they named was horrible: borscht, which is Ukrainian, and potatoes, which are an American plant.”  He goes on to insist that "real Russian food" was composed of grains, dried fish, dairy, honey, cucumbers, turnips, cabbage, apples, mushrooms and berries.  Yum.
    Syrnikov's contentions don't really amount to much in the real world of Russian cuisine.   For to take potatoes out of Russia one might as well take them out of all European cuisines, remove tomatoes from Italian cuisine and chile peppers from all of Asia, because all those foods and more entered the world's larders via the Americas in what was called the post-1492 Columbian Exchange.
His rant reminds me of the old Russian proverb, "If the poor did not provide the food, the rich would have to eat money."  High class Russian food is just as Russian as that of the commoners.
    It is, however, well worth noting that the food served in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg in Tsarist Russia was heavily influenced by French cuisine, whose impact on all the aristocratic courts of Europe was enormous. French was the language of the Russian court.  Even a dish of raw, seasoned beef called "beef tartare," which only appeared in Paris restaurants in the last century, has nothing to do with the cooking of the nomadic Turkic people called Tatars. So it's natural that so many French-style dishes would appear on Russian restaurant menus, which tend to be festive and celebratory, as it is today, Russian Orthodox Easter, when, after midnight Mass, Russian break their Lenten fast with meats and other rich foods.
    All of this is worth keeping in mind when you visit the extravagantly decorated, new Brasserie Pushkin, with its huge chandeliers, carved moldings and ceilings, polished inlaid wood floors,  gorgeously lighted bar (above), and Russian motifs that date back to the 19th century and the Beaux Arts era. (The drab brown tablecloths are hardly what you'd call festive, though.) The only thing out of synch is the playing of American jazz music rather than Russian, but that might be for the better.  Otherwise, civilized conversation, even of the romantic kind, is happily possible.
    You are greeted warmly by a bevy of beautiful Maria Sharapova-lookalike hostesses; the staff, some of whom are Russian, is cordial if as yet still on a learning curve for American dinner service.  The management and waiters spend way too much time convening at the bar or in front of the computer, their backs to their guests, but I trust this will be corrected soon enough. Currently, Moscow chef Andrey Makhof is on premises to train a largely American kitchen, led by chef de cuisine Jawn Chasteen.  When Makhof and the other Russians now employed here return to Moscow is anybody's guess but I was told they are due to leave at some point.
     Brasserie Pushkin is owned by One Percenter Moscow restaurateur Andrey Dellos, who has several similar restaurants in Russia and one in Paris, as well as a large chain of fast food eateries called Mu-Mu. He has, obviously, spared no expense in making the NYC operation (most likely a prototype for more to come) his showcase, and its location just east and across the street from that venerable NYC landmark The Russian Tea Room (1927) seems calculated to show that Russian cuisine can be highly refined yet retain its lusty links to the past.  (It should be noted that many of the same items, at more or less the same prices, appear on both restaurants' menus.)
    The menu comes as a folded broadsheet on brown paper, with old prints (and a few lame Russian jokes and antiquated historic notes) of dishes, pots and pans. It's a lavish screed, and there are plenty of delicacies here you won't find elsewhere in NYC.     Of five salads offered, we tried the "vinegret," with beets, pickled cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, very hearty, generous, and delicious.  Among the appetizers is one of the finest beef tartares I've ever had--impeccably fresh beef, chopped to just the right mince, well seasoned and mixed with quail egg on a crouton.  Tuna tartare would have been its equal had the horseradish foam not been so tame--which is always the demerit of a foam sauce.
    My wife, Galina, who is two-thirds Russian, had to admit that the buckwheat blinis were excellent, feathery light, with a good buckwheat flavor, topped with crème fraîche (
the fancy French name for sour cream), eggs, chives, and salmon roe (or, for $135, with osetra caviar).  Stickler though she is, Galina also nodded vigorous assent as to the ideal texture and taste of the pelmeni, a kind of Russian ravioli stuffed with pork, beef and lamb.
    Among the entrees, I was particularly delighted with chicken pojarsky, a breaded cutlet that may often come off as heavy and dense.  Here it is as fluffy and juicy as a well-wrought omelet, light and very flavorful.  Blintzes, which most New Yorkers will associate with heavy Jewish deli food, show themselves here to be refined, with a crispy skein of dough wrapped around succulent braised veal, with crème fraîche.
    Among the four seafood entrees, sterlet (above), a  small species of sturgeon, is served whole to retain its juices, accompanied by piped potato puree, baked cherry tomatoes, and a lush crayfish sauce (curiously enough, here spelled "crawfish," Louisiana-style).  Also pristine in its whiteness was Casco Bay cod that took on a touch of sweetness from an apple-rosemary puree, Brussels sprouts leaves. and a fine reduction of Muscat wine.
    Desserts are intentionally lavish but oddly don't come up to modern standards.  "Café Pushkin" is the name given to an old-fashioned layer cake with blueberry and raspberry jellies, toasted almonds, raspberry sorbet (too firm), pistachio mousse and a vanilla-orange coulis--a dish too fussy and too fussed with. A hazelnut meringue dome (right) with ice cream filling, saffron-apple marmalade and sheer sheets of apple is a reminder of why baked Alaska went out of fashion, and the profiterole was one big softball of puff pastry sandwiching praline-coriander ganache with a chocolate lime sauce--the kind of over-the-top presentation that might make you think Russian food is a bit on the excessive side.
    For a new restaurant, the wine list has immediate heft, depth and breadth, but it is astonishingly top heavy in very high end bottles, with few whites below $75 and few reds under $100.  A bottle of Château Montrose '05 will run you $135 at a store; here it's $545. Patz & Hall Pisoni '08 runs $60 retail, here $208. Flowers Camp Meeting Ridge '08 is $60 versus $164.  There are a number of specialty cocktails and house-infused vodkas.
    Brasserie Pushkin should evolve into a real enchantment when everything hangs together and comes into focus. It's beautiful, it's fun to be there, and the food can be enlightening about what Russian cuisine once was and now is again.

Open daily from
11:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Brunch Sat. & Sun. Appetizers $15-$29 (caviar more expensive), main courses $21-$48.



Calming Down Those
California Pinot Noirs

by John Mariani

Rachael Taylor and Freddy Rodriguez in "Bottle Shock" (2008)

    If I wanted to get drunk fast, I need not knock back jiggers of whiskey. A couple of glasses of high-alcohol California pinot noirs will do the job nicely.  When cult pinot noirs of Napa and Sonoma get way beyond 15 percent alcohol, many in the American wine media give them high points ratings, glowingly characterizing them as “blockbusters,” “fleshy,” “muscular,” and “hedonistic,” which may be fine buzz words for Hollywood Roman gladiator movies but not what I seek in a good pinot noir.
Indeed, it would be a rare thing to find any of the great pinot noir-based wines of Burgundy at anything like those levels: Romanée-Conti, one of the richest (and most expensive) Burgundies, usually hits 13 percent.
  Any wine, red or white, must have its alcohol by volume printed on its label, though the bottle may in fact contain, by law, plus or minus one percent for wines over 14 percent, and there are tax penalties for underestimating those levels.
Still, those monster California pinots (Oregon pinots tend not to be so massive) gather accolades and awards, sometimes allocating their wines through subscription.  Finesse and balance are not their strong points. High prices are.

I have always been an admirer of the pinot noirs of Williams Selyem, whose wines stay between 13.8 and 14.1 most years, although they’ve made some whopping big chardonnays and zinfandels that break the 16 percent ceiling.
  Increasingly I have been drinking with pleasure a range of California pinot noirs below 15 percent, and they haven’t the high price tags of their brawnier competitors’. Here are some I’ve enjoyed recently, all under 14 percent.

Forest Glen Pinot Noir 2010 ($8)—Very easy to drink, at 12.8 percent, with very soft tannins and tangy acids. It’s actually made from 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent syrah to give it more berry flavors. The regional vineyards are not specified on the label. Not a great deal of depth here, but for eight bucks it will go well with a club sandwich or grilled salmon.

Vampire 2009 ($13)—The silly name tends to put off wine snobs, as can its website that reads “rumor has it that Vampire Vineyards are actually owned by a circle of vampires,” along with a company founder who’s an “entertainment lawyer from New York.” Still, while no one would call this pinot noir complex, it has a good strawberry nose and a hint of that “barnyard” taste pinot noir fanciers love. With 12.5 percent alcohol, it’s a lightweight that makes it a fine choice for veal or pork dishes, even fresh tuna cooked rare.

DeLoach Heritage Reserve 2009 ($13—This Russian River Valley example—a region from many of the best California pinot noirs now come--begins on the palate with plenty of fruit, clean, fresh, at 13.5 percent alcohol, and with true pinot noir flavor of a kind bigger examples obliterate. DeLoach  (below) prides itself on still using the old punching-down technique in the wine vats called pigéage in Burgundy. Not a long finish but it’s rich enough to go with roast lamb or any chicken dish imaginable.

MacMurray Ranch 2009 ($18)—There are violets in the nose, typical of fine pinot noir, and this Sonoma Valley bottling has both the body and spice that define the better aspects of sunny California pinot noirs from cooler terroirs. I’d happily drink it with smoky pork or a pasta dish with wild mushrooms.

Coppola Silver Diamond Label Monterey 2009 ($18)—The price is certainly right for this example from Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. It is bold and complex, with a sweet undertone you rarely find in Burgundian examples. It’s one of those rare pinot noirs that will go with tomato sauces, which I suspect winemaker and sometimes filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola (left)  had in mind all the time. The website also recommends it with take-out Chinese. 

Ramspeck Napa Valley 2009 ($17)—A wonderful bouquet that flourishes into a wine with some tight tannins, this will take on the char of a steak grilled outdoors as well as game dishes come this autumn.

Angeline Reserve 2010 ($17)—This is an interesting blend of pinot noirs, 36 percent from Sonoma, 34 percent from Mendocino, and 30 percent from the cooler Santa Barbara, all of which comes together in admirable balance, not least in the acids that underpin and refresh the tannic qualities. This one has some of that plummy character those who love big-fisted wines crave, and I’d as soon serve it with cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or a fine Cheddar as I would with the sweet flavors of Chinese food like Peking duck.

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.



"CORRECTIONS: A report last Wednesday in the Off the Menu column rendered incorrectly the name of a food and music festival planned for Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in May. It is The Great GoogaMooga, not The Great Googa Mooga."--NY Times.


According to scientists from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Granada, there is a direct relationship between eating fast food or commercial baked goods (doughnuts, cakes, croissants) and the risk of developing depression, with fast food fans 51 percent more likely to develop depression than minimal or non-consumers. Also, results of the study indicated that those who ate the most fast food and commercial baked goods were more likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits, as well as smoke and work over 45 hours per week.



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

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, 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 coffee 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) 
has just won top prize 2011 from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It 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: HALIFAX AND THE TITANIC.

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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