Virtual Gourmet

  November 29,  2020                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in "The Apartment" (1960)


By John Mariani

Chapter Thirty-Six

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

        As Cole Porter’s song says, "I love Paris in the springtime. I love Paris in the fall. I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles. I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles." I suspect most people do. And with the prospect next year of being able to visit again this glorious city, which Ernest Hemingway famously called, “a moveable feast,” I am already thinking about all I want to see and all I want eat.
        I’ve been visiting Paris since I was in college, though I never lived there for an extended period of time, so that I have been able to pull back from its charms and discover them anew whenever I go back. The obvious appeal of the best-known tourists sites—the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Versailles, Notre Dame—can be seen in mere days, but the city’s beauty, breadth and depth are what Thomas Jefferson said about the city: “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life.”
        Any good guidebook will tell you about the hundreds of sites both on and off the beaten track—from Montparnasse to Montmartre, from the second-hand booksellers to the flea markets called les puces. The most thorough of these is the lavishly illustrated Knopf Guide: Paris, not for up-to-the-moment restaurants and hotels but for a comprehensive look at every neighborhood, as well as museums (more than 60) and gardens. The book, on Amazon, is listed at $15.36 but used ones start at $2.20 at the moment; Paris hasn’t changed that much since the guide was published back in 1995 and revised in 2020.
        But Paris did change, radically so, in the mid-19th century, when almost all of its medieval neighborhoods and architecture were razed during the reign of Napoléon III by Baron Haussmann, who made over Paris the way it looks today. The best history of the city, warts and all, is Andrew Hussey’s Paris: The Secret History ($11), a rollicking narrative of the city’s ever rebellious past, full of insurrectionists, scalawags, prostitutes and criminals of a kind you still find among the Yellow Vests and students.
        Right now, because of Covid, Paris’s streets are relatively empty of tourists and prices for hotels and food are bargains, which I expect to be very much the case when Americans and others can easily travel there without quarantine. Grand luxe hotels like the Plaza-Athenée (below) and The Crillon are offering special packages and, while many restaurants are currently closed, they will be very eager to draw traffic with special meals and prix fixe menus.
        The gray patina of age that once affected the grand old Paris hotels has, over the past decade, been scrubbed clean by new owners after lengthy closures that brought them into the 21st century with all modern amenities.  These restorations have forced all other hotels, some old, some new, at and below the five-star ranking, to bring up their level of décor, cuisine and service.
        The best restaurant guide to Paris is not the dispassionate Michelin red book, which still awards the highest number of stars to the most expensive dining salons (though its Bib Gourmand selections of much cheaper restaurants is very useful). I prefer the engaging, if idiosyncratic, compilation in Patricia Wells’s Food Lover’s Guide to Paris, first published in1984 and revised in 2014,  which gives a more affectionate treatment of her favorite restaurants, bistros, bakeries, chocolate shops and more. It’s $16.15 on Amazon but can be bought for pennies used.
        I also like The Paris Café Cookbook by Daniel Young, listed at $19.07 but available for less than two dollars used. It focuses on 50 of the cafés and bistros of renown, like Café de la Paix, Ma Bourgogne, Brasserie Balzar and La Coupole as well as his personal favorites, all with authentic recipes. Stephanie Henaut and Jeni Mitchell’s A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War and Enlightenment ($13.79 and much less) links famous French dishes with events in  French history, from poulet Marengo (named after a Napoleonic battle) to the controversy over the croissant.
        The death knell for haute cuisine has been sounded about as often as for the demise of Broadway, and a new book by Michael Steinberger carries the plaintive title Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France ($12.78 and less), detailing how the decline in both standards and admiration for the glories of French cuisine has been long in coming. It’s far too sweeping as a jeremiad, for one can actually eat better in Paris now than ever.
        For some insight into the way the Parisian mind works when it come to cuisine, read Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food ($16.95 and less), a highly literate and engagingly readable series of essays on taste, wine and how Americans perceive French gastronomy, rightly or wrongly.
        Like all modern cities, Paris offers marvelous and very varied fast food, so that you can eat splendidly at bakeries, crêperies, and charcuteries where you can make a delightful meal from a sandwich or a few slabs of terrine. One of the most famous Parisian charcuteries, Maison Gilles Vérot  (left), serves wonderful take-out items.
        Parisians take their culinary reputation very seriously, even for their museum restaurants, which offer very good value for delicious food. The Musée d'Orsay has three—Restaurant, Café de l'Ours for salads, sandwiches and pastries, and Café Campana for brasserie fare.
        “When good Americans die, they go to Paris,” quipped Oscar Wilde. Come springtime in Paris, I’m hopeful all Americans will want to go again.



By John Mariani


    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
—John Mariani

To read previous chapters go to archive (beginning with March 29, 2020, issue.


By John Mariani

Cover Art By Galina Dargery

"Dream of St. Joseph" (c. 1620) by Daniele Crespi


        Right off the bat, it seemed there could be plenty of work, but that would involve Nicola traipsing through the city in the steaming heat of a New York summer, lugging her book of photos and appearing in a magazine’s or designer’s reception room with a dozen other glum-looking girls looking through their Filofaxes, waiting to see the stylist—a routine that in New York could easily be repeated five times a day.  SNAP was eager to send her on such casting calls, but after two days of such ordeals—even though she was actually lucky to get a job for a studio shoot the first day—she began making up excuses for not running around town five days a week, as the agency wanted.
        Even though everything was coming easily for Nicola, like many young, beautiful women, what she thought of as a part-time way to make some money had become an overwhelming, tedious slog to maximize her chances and to capitalize on her momentary recognition within the fashion trade.  More than once, an editor or stylist woul
d ask, “Aren’t you the girl who did the Patrizia Palma show in Milan this spring?”                 Nicola was seeking balance in her life, and with her attending classes and studying, her helping out Tony, her time at home, and now the occasional modeling job, she was finding it all consuming, if more or less fulfilling. She just wasn’t sure which parts. There was money to be put into the bank, her future in graduate school seemed assured, and she partook of just as much glamour as she chose to, sometimes inviting Catherine along to a party she was invited to, or vice-versa.
        Catherine, whose brief affair with Tom Skidmore had ended the day her sojourn in Milan did, had returned, like Nicola, to take summer classes, although she was off most weekends—which for her began on Thursday and ended Monday night—to fly up to her family home on Nantucket. She invited her friend to join her,  but Nicola wouldn’t allow Catherine to buy an airline ticket for her.
        Neither of them brought up the subject of Giancarlo, who had not been in contact with Nicola for weeks. Yet, try as she would to keep Giancarlo out of mind, there were nights when she lay in bed, tossing as the rumbling window air-conditioner tried to blunt the stifling heat wave that had paralyzed New York and thinking about those cool spring nights in Milan and how one of them had involved a beautiful blond marchese to whom she had so gladly given herself.


                  *                         *                         *


        Nicola had no desire to go out on dates, but was certainly open to go out in groups with friends, as she had in Milan. On a few occasions that summer, Elena would invite her to a fashion show, a boutique or gallery opening, telling her it would be good to be seen around town, to get noticed by the right people.  But, after one or two such events, Nicola has soured on scenes where no one seemed to pay much attention to the fashion or the artwork, instead milling about trying desperately to escape from conversations with people they detested or with whom they’d had merely become bored within minutes. 
There were usually models at such events, each trying not to be impressed by a well-known artist or lecherous rock star, and the sexual remarks Nicola overheard about the girls infuriated her, knowing some of the barbs had to be aimed at her. At one uptown gallery, which specialized in Old Masters, Nicola found herself looking intently at a painting of Saint Bruno “attributed to” the 17th century Mannerist Daniele Crespi.  Two men in their forties, both dressed in suits that were in style but didn’t quite fit, were also looking at the painting, leaning in and out to examine the surface.  One of them said, “Oh, it’s definitely a Crespi. I don’t know why the gallery calls it
attributed.’ They are always so damn cautious after cleaning a canvas. They won’t get anything near what they might have had they just not said anything.”
        Nicola could not resist offering her opinion, in as nice a way as she could.
        “Excuse me,” she said, “but it’s not an original.”
        The two men looked her up and down, and one of them said, “I’m sorry?” as if a pretty bird had just dared to open its little beak. The second man silently mouthed the word “airhead” to the other.  Nicola caught that and hit them with everything she had.
        “Actually, it’s a poor copy,” she said, pillorying the men with her dark eyes. “The original is one of a series in the Certosa in Milan, where Crespi was a painter for Archbishop Borromeo.  If you look at the brushwork, especially in the hands, this is not the work of a master painter like Crespi.  Also, whoever did this—it’s certainly a forgery—messed up the Latin in the inscription, which is under a lot of dirt and varnish in the original. Where he should have put an I he put a J—which is not in the Roman alphabet.”
        The two men were speechless, so Nicola turned her chin to one side and said, “Anything else you boys would like to know?  No? Well, then, I think I’ll just go out and”—shaking her lovely head—“get some ... fresh air.” 
Nicola sashayed out of the gallery, using her runway walk, smiling as if she’d won the lottery, feeling what she just did to be absolutely, positively delicious and realizing how much she reveled in knowing what she knew. She only wished everyone in the room had seen her performance.

© John Mariani, 2020




By John Mariani


         The wines of Campania have over the past decade been gaining traction in the world market, but the Feudi di San Gregorio winery makes it quite clear that it is distinctly in Irpinia, within the province of Campania in the Apennine Mountains, south of Rome. The distinction, for them, is that Irpinia is very much its own terroir, with a system of winds that cause it to be a microclimate, with short, extremely cold, snowy winters, unusual for the South of Italy. Indeed, the climate is more Nordic than Italian. The soil is heavily volcanic and sandy.
        For thirty years, the winery has made some of the finest Greco, Fiano and Aglianico wines, cultivated on 300 hectares of land divided into 700 parcels, all with different elevations, exposures and gradients. The winery’s research laboratory, called FeudiStudi, established by Antonio Capaldo (President of Feudi di San Gregorio) and Pierpaolo Sirch (Head of Production), has analyzed the soils of these parcels to identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as their particular flavor components. Some vines even escaped the phylloxera plague of the 19th century.
        Sirch, in charge of Feudi’s entire production sector, explains: “Irpinia is a huge genetic database, a wealth of fragrances and flavors that are at risk of disappearing forever. Our mission at Feudi di San Gregorio is to rediscover and save them in order to protect and foster diversity, a core value for all wines of the future, and not just for Feudi’s.”
        To this end the winery has published, free of charge to all, an on-line, two-volume visual dictionary entitled Feudi Studi (available on, compiled from the massive amount of research it has done on the region and its appellations of Irpinia, Taurasi and Campi Taurasini, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. Edited by Capaldo, its intent—rare in Italian viticulture—is to share with colleagues and competitors alike everything they’ve discovered about the terroirs of the region.
         Much of the work is technical, all of it splendidly illustrated, and even if one is more a wine aficionado than a master sommelier, the work exemplifies both the variety of viticulture within a fairly narrow, underappreciated region and of the innovation taking place there. There are chapters on history, terroir, the Tyrrhenian Sea, Africa and much else that is as enjoyable to read as to learn from, and there are extensive vintage year notes.
         The dictionary comes none too soon, as Italian wineries struggle to gain market share on the basis of perceived quality, not bulk. Capaldo says that the current state of Irpinian wines is both negative and positive, the first because of “frustration for excessive simplification that suffocates diversity . . . The second is that we want to go beyond commercial wisdom, so the positive part for us is our desire to overcome that simplification.”
         Sirch speaks of how the continental climate, which is closer to that of northern Italy, Austria and even Germany, makes for high acid and slow maturity. He considers winemaking in Irpinia “like producing a mosaic of many pieces.”
         Two of the wines that exemplify what is going on at the estate (and are exported to the U.S.) are the Piano Taurasi Riserva ($78) and the Serpico Irpinia ($95), which are among the most expensive bottlings produced in Campania. The first, which has a DOCG designation, is made from the Aglianico grape, spends 18 to 24 months in French barriques and 50 hectoliter barrels with a medium toast. The wine is then held back for another two years in bottle. The Serpico (named after the estate’s local town) is Aglianco, with a DOC rating, gleaned from an historic vineyard called “Dal Re.” It spends a minimum of 18 months in French barriques and 50 hectoliter barrels with a medium toast, then 12 months in bottle.
         The fact that their wines are indeed made from “centuries old vines” is indicative of how ancient, even historical, winemaking can be re-thought via every modern technological advance when infused with the youthful exuberance of their caretakers.




"Shaved clumsily over my omelette, the truffles were only as remarkable as nuts, and, paradoxically, less valuable for their scarcity. (Roast-chicken dinner $275.)"—Hannah Goldfield, "Eleven Madison Park’s Foie-Gras-Stuffed Chicken To Go," The New Yorker (Nov. 23, 2020)



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“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.

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The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  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,  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 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 Las Vegas.


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 Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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