Virtual Gourmet

  July 29, 2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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by John Mariani

The Sweetest Lobster in the Sea
           Comes from a Tiny Nova Scotia Town

               by Mort Hochstein

by John Mariani



                     A DINER'S MODERN DICTIONARY
                                                                        by John Mariani

Taste:  Flavor; Also, the ideas of a culture in regard to what is harmonious or beautiful. Among so-called “hipster foodies” the latter is considered a wholly antiquated concept.

Contrived: Obviously planned or forced, artificial, strained. See “Modernist Cuisine.”

Modernist Cuisine. Also “molecular cuisine.”  The contrivance of cooks for whom good taste is secondary to mere sensationalism. Also, the deliberate manipulation of an ingredient to be unrecognizable as food.

Manners: Polite standards, still confusing for or ignored by many American diners and therefore no longer expected at most restaurants.

Service: Duties performed by a waiter or restaurant employee to make a guest feel welcome and happy.  In current usage, it often means the least amount of attention and interaction between guests and waiters.

Tip: A payment to a restaurant employee for work his employer refuses to pay for. The colloquialism “greasing the palm” means to pay the maître d’ or manager to insure he will suck up to a guest, usually proffered by people with a low sense of self-esteem or lack of manners.

Reservation: A table at a restaurant requested in advance and held for the guest for at least fifteen minutes. Although usually honored by most restaurants, they are commonly laughed at by managers of NYC steakhouses or not taken at all at the newest hot spots.

Background music: Soft, soothing music to provide mood to a restaurant without intruding on a room’s natural conviviality. Currently, this has changed to the playing of “house music” so deafeningly loud that only the bass and drums can be heard.

Dress code: Once a reasonable request that guests dress appropriate to the style of restaurant, i.e., fine dining, eatery, diner; now considered an insult by those for whom t-shirts, jeans and flip flops are good enough for any public room anywhere, often expressed as “Nice clothes don’t make the food taste any better.”

Tablecloths: A thousand-year-old amenity used to provide a sanitary, sound-absorbing, light reflecting soft surfaces, now considered wholly unnecessary and antithetical to a “design statement,” i.e., a cheap restaurateur trying to cut out linen costs.

Host/hostess/reservationist: A person at the front desk whose job is to make guests feel welcome, acknowledge their reservations, and show them to their table. Often, however, this job is now left to a highly attractive young woman whose only job is to recognize celebrities or restaurant critics and swoon accordingly.

Tasting Menu: An endless sequence of chef’s choices designed to overwhelm your judgment and to get you to order more wine.

“A” list: A list kept by the maître d’ for regulars, celebrities, Russian billionaires, critics, and palm greasers. “B” list is everyone else.

Wine pairings: A sommelier’s matching of appropriate wines to a tasting menu; also, a way of using up the wines from last night’s tasting menu.

Gouging: A way restaurants extort money from a guest without his knowing it, e.g., charging extra for a cocktail served straight up rather than on the rocks, or by promoting bottled water.

Seating plan: A way to make sure every waiter gets an efficient workload for the evening. Also, a way for maître d’s to put people in their place.

Siberia: A mythical space in restaurants where anyone not on the “A” list believes he is seated.

Supplements: Extra charges above a fixed price menu for certain items, justified for caviar alone, but not for smoked salmon, foie gras, lamb, risotto or soufflés.

Small plate menu: A menu designed to encourage customers to order too many dishes that add up to an unexpected large bill.

Locavore: A person or cook who eats only food grown or produced within a certain mileage from the dinner table.  Exemptions commonly include wine, all seasonal fruits and vegetables, meat and fish.

Bread: Except in Asian restaurants, the service of bread is a worldwide amenity (once incurring a cover charge), now brought to the table only after guests have ordered their meal, in case they fill up on bread and cut out an appetizer or dessert.

Vegetarians: People who for ethical, religious, dietetic, or philosophical reasons do not eat meat but who do not usually make a fuss of it.

Vegans: People who for ethical, religious, dietetic, or philosophical reasons do not eat any food that once had a face and flaunt their fanaticism in everyone else’s face.





The Sweetest Lobster in the Sea
Comes from a Tiny Nova Scotia Town

by Mort Hochstein

    It pays to have connections in the hospitality business, particularly when it comes to acquiring specialty food items that make the difference between ordinary and great. USDA Prime beef, for example, is in short supply, and allotted primarily to  the finer steakhouses, while consumers are limited to lesser cuts in the supermarkets.
   And then there are lobsters, notably the Fourchu lobster, available for only a few months of the year and primarily at restaurants in NYC. When Parke Ulrich, executive chef of Waterbar in San Francisco, came East for a guest appearance last spring, he used the kitchen at the International Culinary Center in Manhattan.  
  Emily Luchetti, his executive pastry chef, is also a Dean at the school, and she introduced him to  Dorothy Cann Hamilton, CEO of the ICC.  A frequent visitor to her ancestral home in Nova Scotia, Ms. Hamilton has been the nation’s foremost advocate   of the Fourchu lobsters, from waters off a little Nova Scotia Island. When she sampled the rare breed for Ulrich, he had to have them.
Till now,  Ulrich’s   Waterbar on the Embarcadero overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, is the only restaurant in San Francisco regularly serving this Kobe beef of the crustacean world.  Chef-proprietor David Kinch at Manresa in Los Gatos, CA,   is also a fan of the Fourchu lobster, but offers them only on special occasions.
      Dorothy Hamilton (below) unrestrainedly proclaims the lobsters from the icy waters off the town of Fourchu as the world’s greatest, and many New Yorkers share her  opinion.  Ms. Hamilton’s  grandfather, Sanford Burton Cann, was born in Fourchu and she visit the tiny fishing village frequently. A few years ago, she contracted a Manhattan sea food distributor to bring in 10,000 pounds a week during the 10 short weeks that the lobsters can be caught.    At her prompting, about a dozen top flight Manhattan dining palaces such as Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, Corton, and Oceana  serve the prized lobsters when they are available during the summer. L’École, the showplace restaurant (below)  partially staffed by students from  the ICC, has them for a short  period of exclusivity, before they are offered  elsewhere.
   Geography, or "meroir" as local fishermen describe their hunting grounds, is one reason for the appeal of the Fourchu.  It’s a play on terroir, the French   phrase for prized grape-growing land, la mer being the Gallic  word  for sea. Fourchu’s meroir  is  fed by frigid waters that plunge down from the Arctic Ocean. Seafood fanciers know that  crustaceans from icy seas are firmer and fuller-flavored than those from more southerly climes.  Think, for example of a briny, complex, firm-fleshed Belon oyster from the North Atlantic compared to  soft and sweet oysters from the  warmer waters of  Louisiana or the Chesapeake Bay.
      From that  tiny fishing village on Cape Breton Island,  about a dozen boats troll local waters, down from four times that number  a generation ago. Harvesting of the Fourchu is limited to a 10-week period in the late Spring and licenses, priced at well above $300,000, are not easily acquired.
   The harvest  begins  in late May, just before the lobsters molt, shedding their shells to grow a hardier mantle, just when their meat is  firmest and   most flavorful. If you can find them in in NYC markets, they run about $18 a pound.
To my palate, the Fourchu is slightly sweeter than the average lobster, with a subtle, more nuanced  and complex brininess than usual.  Chefs who have grown to appreciate the Fourchus say they show a clear and unmistakable difference when compared to  a classic Maine lobster, likening them to  Montrachet wine from Burgundy which is complex and minerally in character as opposed to California Chardonnays, often sweet and buttery.  At a chef’s tasting, Dan Barber of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Stone Barn Farm in upstate New York observed, “If it’s sweetness you’re after, I think there are lobsters, especially softer shells from Maine that will deliver, but maybe that’s not what we should be looking for here. The Fourchus have this rich, meaty sea flavor that is also sweet enough.” Jonathan Waxman, chef and owner of Barbuto in Manhattan's West Village,  seconded  Barber: “With a lot of lobsters there’s a sweetness I dislike. But these boys had guts and power. They really were toothsome and delicious.”
     Robert Mondavi, the pioneering California winemaker, promoted his own label,  but also became a spokesman for the state’s wine industry in the seventies and eighties.  Dorothy Hamilton’s heart lies with the pedigreed lobsters from her ancestral home  but, like Mondavi, she also aims to make consumers more knowledgeable about  lobsters in general, removing them from the common  perception of the delicacy  as   simply a commodity, albeit an often expensive one.
    She argues that, just as wine tastes differ depending on vineyard sites, lobsters   take on unique qualities from varying breeding grounds. In promoting the special appeal of lobsters from specific sites, Hamilton   hopes the public will grow to appreciate differences and seek product from delineated bays or communities, giving fishermen more control of their own future in the world of marketing.





Not-So-Fizzy, Dry, Elegant Lambruscos Demand Respect
by John Mariani   

     Until this month I have never ordered a bottle of lambrusco in Italy. With memories of those sweet, fizzy, soda-like imports of the 1970s like Riunite Lambrusco—“Reunite on ice—so nice!”--in my head, I had no interest in revisiting such wines, even in Emilia-Romagna, where lambrusco comes from. (For the record, Riunite, now about $6 a bottle, still sells a million cases a year, more than any other import.)
         But there I was on a hot summer’s day in Parma, so the thought of a chilled, low-alcohol local wine with my lunch of the region’s more admirable products—Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano—seemed appealing enough. I ordered a bottle of Otello Nero di Lambrusco, with 11.5 percent alcohol. It didn’t make a fizzy sound as it was poured but it did have a slight effervescence—what the poet Keats called “beaded bubbles winking at the brim”--and a rich, deep purple color.  I inhaled the full-fruited bouquet and sipped: it was brisk, only slightly sweet, and, served chilled, immensely refreshing.
Right then, I made a vow to order only lambruscos for the rest of my week in Emilia-Romagna, the region reputed to have the best, and richest, food in Italy, beginning with its famous green lasagne alla bolognese, tortellini pasta, balsamic vinegar, and mortadella salume. In fact, it’s often said the fizzy lambrusco helps cut the fat in Emilia-Romagna’s food, a virtue you would certainly not claim for a heady red wine like Piedmont’s barolos or Tuscany’s brunello di montalcinos.
         My regimen became revelatory. Bottle after bottle I was delighted, often impressed, by the quality and variety of lambruscos, which can range from a true rose color to a dark magenta. None rose above 11.5 percent alcohol, most were less, which meant I could easily drink my usual half bottle at dinner and not rise from the table swooning.
         Lambrusco is a wine with four Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) appellations in Emilia-Romagna (below). While some are classified as rosatos and others as rossos, they are all to one degree or another a little effervescent (“frizzante” in Italian), and may be made secco (dry), amabile (semi-sweet) or dolce (sweet), from a variety of lambrusco grapes.  The sorbara variety, grown mainly in the north, produces the most refined examples, as I was to find in my explorations of lambrusco. The grasparossa variety (above) produces fuller bodied wines. I particularly liked the fairly foamy, very dark and pleasingly dry grasparossa from La Battagliola winery.
         In Bologna, where a new, 32-year-old chef named Riccardo Facchini has restored the reputation of the old ristorante Pappagallo, I drank a 100 percent sorbara-based lambrusco from Leclisse Paltrinieri (below), a medium-bodied, rosy wine that went perfectly with both a light pasta with mantis shrimp and mussels and a glorious, five-layer lasagne alla bolognese rich with meat ragù and besciamella cream.
         At Biassanot in Bologna, a trattoria whose name is local dialect for “night owls,” I ordered gnocchi with Gorgonzola and beef with porcini mushrooms, so I chose a big lambrusco, made from the maestri varietal, Ariola's Marcello, which in 2011 was selected as the best sparkling wine in the world at the International Wine Challenge in London, and won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Vinitaly Exhibition in Verona.
       Where did the week go? Lunch at quarter-century old Trattoria Anna Maria, run by chef Anna Maria Monari, was a plate of the lightest egg tagliatelle I’ve ever had, enjoyed with Lambrusco Terre Verdiane, whose label likes to tout the wine’s vivacity to the music of Giuseppe Verdi—“sparkling, vivacious, perfumed and full of color like our region. . .  a song among friends . . . emotional force. . .,” and so on (my translation).
My last bottle of lambrusco in Bologna was Sant’Agata, another from the Paltrinieri estate, a superb example of the finesse found in the sorbara grape, here macerated for two days before fermentation to give it body. I’m pretty sure I drank the whole bottle, with enormous pleasure, over a sumptuous dinner at I Carracci, the splendidly posh restaurant at the Majestic Baglioni Hotel. With some culatello ham, a lasagne with Parmigiano fondue, and veal scalloping with sauteed spinach, somehow the two hours sped by, before dessert, of course.
         As a big believer that you should always drink the local wine and eat the local food anywhere that wine is made, I couldn’t have been happier to find such pleasure in a wine I had for so long neglected out of hand. Now, with most of the better labels selling outside of Italy for less than $16 a bottle, it’s hard to imagine summer going by without it.

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.



(Selections from the dining guide of San Francisco Magazine, July 2012).

“Kale, which cameos in ricotta, moves on to star in its own salad.” 

Bar Jules
“Ling cod lay naked and confident with English peas and baby carrots.”

Rose Pistola
“The pepperoni pizza was [perfect], too, but this town is filthy with solid thin-crust pies.”

Umami Burger
“The burgers here, ground hourly, arrive as juicy as celebrity gossip.
Their wardrobes are elaborate.”

Wayfare Tavern
“A salad of black-eyed peas and feta was built around tomatoes so mealy
that an Inuit in winter would have sent them back.”

One Market

“The menu balances conservative conventioneer favorites with
Cal-Med flashes that aren’t so fanciful that the boys back
at the office would call them fey.”

“The first thing you notice when you walk into Leopold’s is the welcome.
Instead of a skinny, bitchy twentysomething, you’re greeted by a sweet
lumberjack of a man.” 

“A meal here is as smooth and uneventful
as a ride in a Lexus set on cruise control.” 

Beast and the Hare
“A beautifully fried chicken and braised greens [is]
enriched with enough pork fat to prompt a bump in local Lipitor prescriptions.”

“The snug, subdued dining room feels like a place
where everyone’s eavesdropping.  But mostly what you overhear is “My God, did you taste that?”


GONE WILD, NO. 2,445

Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, told media the new list of topics that "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students" on standardized tests include  pepperoni, because  "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in."




 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--Now in Paperback, too--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:

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).

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 2012