Founded in 1996
Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train" (1951)
IN THIS ISSUE
WHAT'S NEW IN LAS VEGAS
By John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER
LOVE AND PIZZA
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
WINES OF SEREGO ALIGHIERI
By Geoff Kalish
On the next video episode of Celebrating Act 2 on January 6, I will be speaking with hosts John Coleman and Art Kirsch about the origins and types of PIZZA. Go to: CA2
WHAT'S NEW IN LAS VEGAS
By John A. Curtas
new on our restaurant scene?
YU-OR-MI SUSHI BAR
100 E. California Ave.
Prices start in the
high teens to $34 for the Grandma Supreme, but
the round pies come in small and large
($14-$24), and the big rectangular boys
($24-$30) will satisfy 6 hungry adults. Entrees
are in the $15-$20 range.
design or happenstance, all three of these
restaurants have an inviting familiarity about
them. Each reminds you of small, personal
restaurants shoehorned into intimate spaces in
large, impersonal cities. Restaurants like these
give metropolises their warmth and livability.
They are human scale, not profit-scaled by real
estate developers. There are no anchor tenants to
block out the sun, nor ginormous parking lots to
traverse. Cars drive by at civilized speeds, they
don't whiz by in a hurry to get to the secluded
glory of a gated stucco farm.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
LOVE AND PIZZA
Since, for the time being, I am unable to write about or review New York City restaurants, I have decided instead to print a serialized version of my (unpublished) novel Love and Pizza, which takes place in New York and Italy and involves a young, beautiful Bronx woman named Nicola Santini from an Italian family impassioned about food. As the story goes on, Nicola, who is a student at Columbia University, struggles to maintain her roots while seeing a future that could lead her far from them—a future that involves a career and a love affair that would change her life forever. So, while New York’s restaurants remain closed, I will run a chapter of the Love and Pizza each week until the crisis is over. Afterwards I shall be offering the entire book digitally. I hope you like the idea and even more that you will love Nicola, her family and her friends. I’d love to know what you think. Contact me at email@example.com
To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue).
LOVE AND PIZZA
By John Mariani
Cover Art By Galina Dargery
After the July Fourth weekend, the fashion industry went into sleeper mode, and Nicola was enjoying the time off, some of which was used looking for an apartment somewhere around Columbia University.
The neighborhood directly surrounding the huge campus was relatively safe, though above 120th Street or below 110th Street, it would have been inadvisable for a woman alone to take an apartment. But just a block west, right on the Hudson River, Riverside Drive was considered prime real estate, with stately, mansion-like pre-war apartment buildings with doormen and police patrols. These apartments were fairly expensive, but since Nicola had her scholarship and a fine bank account from modeling, there really was nothing to stop her from moving into one of Riverside Drive’s very roomy apartments with that grand view of the Hudson.
She also thought she might move to SoHo, an area in Lower Manhattan that was quickly gentrifying but still offered bargains for large spaces, including lofts. Though not as convenient as Riverside Drive, SoHo seemed a good investment for the future, she was told often, not least by Steven Holtz.
So, when the phone rang two weeks into July and Steven was on the line, Nicola assumed he’d gotten a tip on an apartment near the SNAP offices, which would certainly be convenient for SNAP’s booker.
“Find a great apartment for me, Steven?” asked Nicola.
“No, but if the news I’m about to tell you works out, you’ll be able to buy any condo in New York, Nikki.”
“You sitting down, Nikki? I just got a call from one of the big ad agencies that just got the account for a new Italian make-up and fragrance line called Vivace. The agency convinced them they should break out with a very specific image. Apparently the line is aimed at young women, so they need a young woman as the `Face of Vivace.’ And can you guess who they want to be the `Face,’ Nikki?”
Nicola almost didn’t dare answer, then asked, “Me?”
“Yes, Nikki. You. And do you know what that means?”
“Not really. Tell me.”
“It means that if you become their exclusive icon and spokeswoman, you—and I—will make a lot of money.”
“What’s a lot of money?” Nicola asked, holding her breath.
“If I can't get them to sign a $500,000 contract, I wouldn’t be much of an agent.”
Nicola’s jaw dropped and she had to shake her head to comprehend what Steven had told her.
“Are you kidding me? What do I have to do for that kind of money?”
“It’s a two-year contract and for that you do spring and fall ads, which they repeat throughout the season, like Chanel and Revlon. They may ask you to do some public appearances, open a Vivace counter at Bloomingdale’s or somewhere—for which you’ll be paid extra.”
“But what about my other modeling jobs?”
“Well,” said Steven, “that’s where the exclusivity comes in. They don’t want you appearing in other ads or magazines—although they may allow you to do some of the top fashion mags. They want you, and only you, to be their image because you supposedly represent everything wonderful that Vivace stands for.”
Over the preceding decade, the biggest cosmetics companies had been signing models to such contracts, which had become the gold ring for models. Margaux Hemingway had signed with Fabergé’s Babe perfume, Karen Graham for Estée Lauder, Christina Ferrare for Max Factor, Cheryl Tiegs for CoverGirl, and Shelley Hack for Charlie. And now it looked like Vivace might sign Nicola Santini.
“They like the fact that you have an Italian name,” said Steven, “though they prefer `Nikki’ to Nicola.”
“Jeez,” said Nicola, “For that kind of money they can call me Nuggie for all I care!”
“So you love it?”
“I love it.”
“Okay, I’m going to negotiate with them and get as much money as we can. Make us both a little richer, Nikki. Just don’t lease any apartments yet!”
Nicola promised she wouldn’t and hung up the phone, astonished by all she’d just heard. With such a contract she would have no worries about making money for a long while, and the exclusivity factor meant she would have all the time she needed to pursue her PhD. Once she attained her degree, say, four years from then, she figured her modeling career would be winding down, but if she made wise investments along the way, she could do anything she wanted, including stay in academia, or write books, or whatever, without having to worry about the cost. Why, she might even some day endow a scholarship in her family name at Columbia or another university.
For the moment she was feeling giddy, but before there actually was a contract, she thought it best to stay quiet and allow herself the delirious luxury of day dreaming. For, although she was not the first wealthy woman to get her PhD in art history—indeed, it was something of a social coup—she would most certainly be the first semi-wealthy woman from Belmont to do so.
Nicola didn’t have to keep quiet for long. The next day the phone rang and it was Steven.
“You sitting down, Nikki?”
“What, Steven, what?”
“How does a two-year, half-a-million-dollar contract sound to you?”
The phone on Nicola’s end seemed to have gone dead.
“Nikki? Nikki, you there?”
“I’m here, I’m here. I’m just floored by the news.”
“Well, you’ve earned it, kiddo. Now, listen, before the ad agency signs, they of course want to see you, then we’ll get the contract drawn up pronto. So, Nikki, you ready to become one of the most recognized faces in the world? Billboards? Ads in every fashion mag?”
“I don't know, Steven. I’ll need your help, I guess.”
Steven assured her, “I’ve got your back, Nikki. You’re a very smart girl.”
Nicola got off the phone and went into the bathroom to look in the mirror, praying to God that, please, please, just for twenty-four hours, no zits!
God was good to Nicola Santini that night. Her beautiful complexion was unblemished. The meeting with the ad agency went very well. Two Vivace executives were along and very pleased that Nicola spoke Italian. They said they were ready to move quickly to mount a campaign for the middle of autumn.
She would be photographed by one of the best fashion photographers in the world over a two-day shoot, headshots the first day, some outfits the second. They all shook hands and that was that. Steven would work out the details and get back to everyone.
Now, Nicola said to herself, I can tell everyone the news. First to know was Catherine, who screamed so loudly in her dorm room that some residents asked if she were all right. Catherine said, “Nicky, you are going to be great! I am so happy you are my friend. Wait till I tell everyone around here.”
“Well, don't oversell it,” said Nicola. “I don't want anything to change with my friends.”
The two girls hugged, then Catherine pushed back and said, “Oh, my God, Nicky! I forgot to tell you!”
“Forgot to tell me what?”
“Rhys Shit John!”
“What about him?”
“He was fired from Columbia for sexual harassment of a student. And he’s going through a really messy divorce.”
Nicola gaped, though she’d always thought it would come to this.
“Who was the student?”
“Hold onto your seat, Nick. It was Mercédes!”
“Mercédes! He sexually harassed Mercédes?”
“Well, he tried,” said Catherine, smirking. “But he messed with the wrong Brazilian.”
“How’d she prove it?”
“Well, remember how in freshman year, when her English wasn’t all that great, Mercédes got into the habit of tape recording all her classes? Well, apparently she also recorded all her meetings with professors, so she’d get down exactly what they expected in a paper or exam.”
“So she recorded St. John?” By then Nicola’s shock had given way to laughter.
“That’s our Mercédes. She just marched into the Dean’s office, played the tape, and Sinn Jinn was out the door.”
Nicola shook her head and said, “Did Mercédes give you any details?”
“No, you know how she is, Latina and all that. But whatever happened showed Sinn Jinn at his all-time worst.” “Frankly, I’m sorry about the divorce,” said Nicola, “but if there’s a place in Dante’s Inferno, Rhys St. John should be well on his way there.”
© John Mariani, 2020
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE WINES OF SEREGO
But, first a bit of history of the winery and some remarks about its vinicultural practices. In 1300 Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence for corruption as the head of the local government. Some 53 years later, his son Pietro purchased a prime vineyard just east of Italy’s Lake Garda in the Valpolicella region. And, now, 21 generations later, wine is still being made from the Serego-Alighieri family vineyard—in cooperation with the Boscani family (owners of Masi Agricola), who provide wine-making and cellaring expertise in general, the winery annually produces about 30,000 cases of wine from the vineyards that encompass about 300 acres on hills composed mainly of red soil that’s rich in limestone and clay. Of note, as much as possible the grape growing and winemaking processes are performed sustainably, with rainwater for irrigation, natural substances for fertilization and natural pesticides. Aging of wines takes place initially in large Slovenian oak barrels and then, rather unique to this winery, in smaller cherry wood casks. All wines are filtered prior to bottling.
Now for the wines. Five of those currently produced were tasted, and overall they were excellent, with long-lasting flavors that mated well with a variety of fare, and importantly they were well-priced in relation to their quality.
2019 Possessioni Garganega e Sauvignon
del Veneto IGT ($12) , made from
a blend of Garganega (75%) and Sauvignon Blanc
(25%), was an easy drinking white with a
bouquet and taste of pears and melons with a
touch of grapefruit in its finish, like a
toned-down New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It
made a great mate for scallops, shrimp and
grilled orate (gilt-head sea bream).
Possessioni Rosso Verona IGT ($12)
was made from a blend of Corvina,
Rondinella and Molinara (Serego Alighieri
clone) grapes and showed a bouquet and
straightforward taste of plums and cherries,
well suited to match hamburgers or
The 2013 Vaio
Amaron Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico
DOCG ($67), with an alcohol
content of 15.5%, was a bargain compared with
the many over-priced, high alcohol Amarones
around now. It was made by the traditional
method of using a blend of Corvina, Rondinella
and Molinara grapes that following harvest
were allowed to dry for 3-4 months on bamboo
trays before being fermented to full dryness.
The wine showed a bouquet and taste of dried
plums, mocha, cassis and hints of cherry and
licorice in its long, memorable finish. It
made excellent accompaniment for duck breast,
turkey or grilled steak .
And the n.v Casa dei Ronchi Recioto della Valpolicella Classico DOCG ($65 for a 500 ml bottle), also produced from a Blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes that following harvest were allowed to dry on bamboo for 3-4 months and then fermented, with fermentation stopped to allow the wine to retain some sweetness. It had an intense bouquet and taste of ripe cherries and walnuts and a slightly sweet finish with notes of plum jam and exotic spices. It paired perfectly with aged cheddar, biscotti, even baked apples.
Best Recipes to Cook This Week, According to Eater
Staffers Who Actually Cooked Them"—by Eater
Staff , Feb 19, 2021.
YET ANOTHER REASON WE DON'T READ YELP REVIEWS
to Yelp ratings, using "data
science team also balanced geographic
representation by including an equal share of
submissions from different regions of the
country," The NUMBER ONE restaurant in the USA is
the vegan #1 Kelley Farm Kitchen
(Harpers Ferry, West Virginia).
Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured favorite. The story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair.
WATCH THE VIDEO!
“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw
“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.
“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.
“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.
“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.
❖❖❖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, ForbesTraveler.com 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:
Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering
the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene
since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS
VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (as
well as the author of the Eating Las
Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas.
He can also be seen every Friday morning as
the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the
Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3 in
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish,
and Brian Freedman. Contributing
Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical
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