Virtual Gourmet

  October 4,  2015                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


"Restaurant!" Mad Comics (October, 1954)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


From John Mariani

Owing to the inscrutability of my website server, more than 8,500 subscribers were "accidentally" blocked from receiving the Virtual Gourmet, without my knowledge, which explains why some of you have asked me why you have not been receiving the last few issues. I have--painstakingly--restored those subscribers and I welcome you back wholeheartedly and apologize for the lapse.  And remember, any time you want to read the current issue or go to the archive just go to:


By John Mariani

Beach Barbecue by Montpelier Plantation

    Last week in this newsletter I wrote about Nevis as an island that has maintained its unique Caribbean character, history and culture, with only one large resort, The Four Seasons.  So, too, in addition to many restaurants offering a diversity of European or American cuisines, most of the villas and guesthouses strive to serve food of the islands--as often as possible on a sun-bleached beach.
    On my recent stay at Montpelier Plantation, sequestered amidst tropical greenery and built into the island’s rocks of the foothills, I found that as much as possible everything is made on the premises, including excellent breads in the morning, along with pastries and fresh fruits.
    At night, after rum cocktails in the villa’s Great Room (left), dinner is served at Restaurant 750 on the candle-lighted verandah, where Chef Stéphane Caumont shows off his French technique in adapting dishes to global and Caribbean flavors, like his superb yellowfin tartare with wakame seaweed, avocado, and spicy wasabi mayonnaise.  He marinates Bell peppers in a salad with goat’s cheese, spinach and serves it with housemade breadsticks. 
    Red snapper is ubiquitous on menus down there and Caumont does a splendid rendition, carefully pan-seared and sided with assorted vegetables, an herbed couscous and a deliciously tart lemon beurre blanc.  French chefs often overdo pastas and Caumont’s spinach-ricotta ravioli came lavished with pecorino cream, raisins, pine nuts, and a sun-dried tomato pesto, with confused results. Also, serving only six ravioli as a main course seemed a little ungenerous.
        Desserts proved to be as good as all breads and pastries at Montpelier. White chocolate mousse with passion jelly, coconut foam, crumble, and cocoa was delightful that evening, but I also sampled the cheeses--unexpected in the Caribbean--and found them first-rate.
        All of this is accompanied by a reasonably priced wine list that covers all bases for this kind of cuisine.  The fixed price menu is $78, plus 24% tax and service charge, so you need not tip further.
        In keeping with the hospitality here, the villa is happy to pack a picnic lunch for beachgoers, and upon leaving, we were given the same for our ride back to the airport.  This is a very civilized place where the staff bends over backwards to please you from joyous arrival to one’s sad leaving.
        I noted The Four Seasons (below), which sprawls over the landscape at Pinney's Beach with its own golf course, tennis courts, state-of-the-art spa, many family activities, luxury beach houses, and several options for dining. Despite its size (and a hurricane put it out of business for two years), the resort intrudes very amiably into the landscape, and the architecture fits the island impeccably, with a profusion of as much greenery as possible.           
     We opted to dine at the resort's Mango restaurant, whose 101 Bar takes its name from the same number of rums it stocks, arrayed and lighted against the wall like bottles of amber.  Here they happily do flights of three rums for you to taste; we tried a Ron Zacapa XO, an El Dorado 21 Year Old, and a Clément 10 Year Old.  Many of the rums here don’t reach the U.S., so you can get a quick education on what you’ve been missing.
        Mango (which will be closed for two weeks at the end of October) is a casual spot best appreciated at twilight, when the sun is going down in its fiery dramatic fashion, sometimes with a green flash on the horizon, famous in the Caribbean. The menu is Caribbean, and we enjoyed dishes like crisp, hot barbecued empanadas stuffed with juicy pulled pork and plantains with a terrific avocado-garlic aïoli; Caribbean snapper, served whole, is dusted with Cajun seasoning, dredged in flour and fried, with cassava fries on the side and mango-tomato salsa; divers’ scallops are quickly seared with Cajun spices and served with lush and creamy guacamole and wonderfully tangy pickled mango. There’s even wagyu-style beef  fajitas, and for dessert rice pudding, rum cake, and chocolate mousse, all of which are well complemented by an after-dinner tot of rum. Maybe even a flight.
        On another evening we joined a jolly bar crowd at Hermitage in Figtree Parish, whose wooden house is said to be the oldest on the island, carefully restored and maintained by the Lupinacci family of Philadelphia, who have owned it since 1971.  A Caribbean “Pig Night” buffet and pig roast was in full swing, prepared by local Nevisian cooks Lenny Liburd and his assistant Super Cat cook, who smoke and carve the pig and surround it with many ceramic pots of sweet potatoes, red beans, johnnycake, rice and salads galore. Everyone helps himself, everyone laughs, everyone goes back for seconds and thirds.
        Owner David Dodwell’s Nisbet Plantation in Newcastle on the beach has long been considered one of Nevis’s finest restaurants and villas, and our experience did nothing to disprove the claim.  It is such a pretty dining room (left), full of fine antiques and historic artwork, as is the windswept verandah within view of a vast lawn leading down to the sea.  Our dinner, by Filipino-born Chef Tony Piani, included tender roasted pumpkin and creamy green pea risotto and prosciutto crisps; expertly fried tempura of sweetbreads and cauliflower with a lemon caper drizzle; and a superb Korean-style beef tenderloin with an egg noodle stir-fry and Asian vegetables.  These were all so good and out of the ordinary for a Caribbean restaurant that the sautéed chicken breast with wild rice pilaf and Marsala mushroom sauce seemed a tame throwback dish. For dessert the chocolate opéra gâteau was an impressive, decadent rendering.
        Next day we were at the Chrishi Beach Club (below) on Cade Bay, where Hedda and Christian Wienpahl have fashioned the ideal spot to have good, casual food and drinks on a snowy white beach, with a good kitchen that turns out the island’s best burgers--seven different kinds--a creamy roasted tomato and red pepper soup full of fresh shrimp, and five-spice slow-roasted duck noodle stir fry. You come to the beach in your bathing suit, you have some lunch, you stay a little longer at the beach, have a cold beer, lean against the pillows, and soon the afternoon has been successfully shot.
At Sunshines Bar & Grill, on Pinney Beach,  a kind of overstuffed shack of memorabilia and flags left by celebrity guests, the best items are the BBQ chicken ingsand lobster sandwich, and the signature drink to have is the powerfully rum-based "Killer Bee" rum punch, which goes down way too easily. 
    Another very casual option is
Bananas Bistro on the Hamilton Estate, founded by Jillian Smith, a former can can dancer turned hotelier.  Opened on a shoestring and named more for her  state of mind than for its trees, Bananas Bistro has a rustic, funky charm best appreciated on the verandah, where we enjoyed a chunky lobster salad sandwich, snapper with lemon butter sauce and fragrant basmati rice; and a spicy Thai red curry; and a delicious platter of sticky guava barbecued ribs with Caribbean cole slaw.
        Our last meal on island was in a remarkable spot, Coconut Grove Restaurant at Nelson's Springs, which appends “Wine Lounge” to its name for good reason. Owners Karin and Gary Colt maintain an amazing temperature-controlled cellar of fine wines you’d be hard put to find anywhere in the Caribbean.  The buildings here are all thatched, so you dine under a tall canopy, looking out to the sea and up to the stars.  Chef Stephen Smith makes his own pastas as well as a cream foie gras torchon laced with rum, a baked Camembert round touched with Calvados, and an abundant Creole-style seafood stew; there’s even a mole poblano on the menu, served over rice with nuts and coconut shavings.
     Too often in the Caribbean, restaurants try to please tourists' taste with the same common denominator  in the assumption that was it local is of little interest.  On Nevis, restaurants at the top of the hill and down on the beach are more representative of a cuisine that came on the tradewinds, made by people who are proud of that long, well-seasoned heritage of local and foreign flavors. 




By John Mariani

    Whatever the relevance of the Michelin Guides to U.S. Cities (NYC, San Francisco, Chicago) still have is shown in the brand new 2016 (11th) edition for New York, whose one-, two-, and three-star ratings manifest the same idolization of the most expensive dining experiences in the city, together with a fondness for those chefs who only serve multi-course meals of 20 courses and more. 
    The six in the three-star category have not changed in years, nor have the silly explanations of what the stars mean: three stars “Exceptional cuisine, worth a journey”; "Excellent cuisine, worth a detour"; “A very good restaurant in its category.”  When Michelin (owned by the tire company) began as a guide strictly for chauffeurs in France back in the 1920s, the idea of “worth a special journey” or “worth a detour” made a certain sense while driving wealthy employers around the country.  But they are meaningless today.
    Also, the Guides’ expressed criteria are highly questionable, given the restaurants that get three stars: “O
nly the quality of the cuisine is evaluated. To fully assess the quality of a restaurant, the inspectors apply five criteria defined by Michelin: "product quality, preparation and flavors, the chef's personality as revealed through his or her cuisine, value for money, and consistency over time and across the entire menu.”      
    These criteria—which are supposed to apply to all restaurants on their list--contend that décor, service, wine list, and other factors have nothing whatever to do with their ratings. Nevertheless,  only very expensive, deluxe dining rooms make their top tier, except for the Japanese sushi restaurant Masa, which is fairly spare.  Yet the Guide gives a star to only two NYC steakhouses, Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn, where, despite the indisputable quality of their porterhouse, there is a lot on the menu few gourmands would rank as out-of-the-ordinary or even very good.  Did the Michelin inspector really taste Luger’s desserts?  Like most other steakhouses in NYC, Luger does not make its all its own, buying its cheesecake from S&S, so I'm not sure where the chef's personality lies in that. The other one-star steakhouse is M. Wells in Queens, which is located in a garage.  So, are they suggesting not a single other NYC steakhouse can be ranked as “very good within its category?”  Porter House? Smith & Wollensky?  Spark's?  Strip House? It’s preposterous.
    Then there’s that line about how “the chef's personality [is] revealed through his or her cuisine.”  Again, does Luger even have a head chef with a personality?  And does Bibendum (below) ever care if the chef ever really cooks in his restaurant, as is the case with so many of its three- and two-star restaurants? When was the last time the expansionist chef-owners of Carbone went into the kitchen?  How much time does Mario Batali spend at Casa Mono or Del Posto?
    As for Michelin’s inspectors, they do (“famously”) go anonymously and they do pay for their meals.  But the last time I asked the director of the Guides how many inspectors there were for NYC, I was told five--just five--and only one of them was full-time in Manhattan.  The 2016 Guide lists 900 restaurants (of about 16,000 in NYC), which works out to 180 restaurants per year per inspector. I do not envy them.  And they supposedly pay multiple visits if a restaurant is up for a star.  And they normally dine alone, not with a table of four. And in NYC, lunch menus often bear little resemblance to dinner menus, so do they judge a restaurant on soup, salad, burger, and sandwich at lunch?
    So, looking down the list beyond three stars (
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Eleven Madison Park, Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, Per Se--all of them deserving), one has to wonder why restaurants few people have ever heard of (Ichimura, Soto, Jungsik) would be “worth a detour,” but that restaurants widely recognized both by New York and national media fall into the merely “very good” category, like Ai Fiori, Aureole, Bâtard, Betony, Blue Hill, and Bouley—I’m only up to the “B”s here.  How can a gastropub like The Breslin rank alongside Gramercy Tavern or Telepan?  How can restaurants like La Grénouille, Le Cirque, Benôit, Four Seasons, and Nobu not make the cut at all?  Of course, the trouble is, most people just look at the stars rather than read the text, which even for un-starred restaurants is, overall, very positive. The Bib Gourmand entries of restaurants where you can dine well for under $35 is invaluable.
    And don’t get me started on Michelin’s continuing dismissal of Italian restaurants as beneath star consideration.  Aside from Marea (two stars), only four Italian restaurants receive even one star—this in a city that unquestionably has some of the finest Italian restaurants in the world, including Italy.  Oddly enough, the number of  starred Japanese sushi bars in the Guide now numbers a hefty thirteen; by the same token, though the NY Times awarded Sushi Nakazawa four stars, Michelin gives it zero.  (Then again, the stars from the Times have become as meaningless as inflated grades at Ivy League schools.)
    Congrats to all the winners this year, but it’s hard to take Michelin seriously outside of France, where long familiarity with a specific kind and style of cuisine makes it worth one’s while to follow.  But outside of France, the Guide now elicits a well-deserved shrug, except among those who love to gossip about who made the list and who didn’t.  And those people are unlikely ever to make a “special journey” or “detour” to Michelin’s favorites.




By John Mariani

90 The Promenade, Edgewater, NJ

    The most romantic view of NYC in NYC is from the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center.  But the ones that movie makers--not least Woody Allen--use is from either the Brooklyn or New Jersey sides, which show off  both the horizontal and vertical majesty of the city at night. 
An easy trip over the George Washington Bridge, through the Lincoln Tunnel or on the Port Imperial Ferry brings you to a location from which the city’s sparkling glamour may be viewed, all while you sip good wine and consume Prime steaks.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Edgewater, in the City Place shopping mall, provides just such a panorama, although I can’t imagine why the architect cut off the sightlines at a certain height so that you need to rise from your table to take it all in.
    For a steakhouse, this--one of 66 locations of a chain founded in 1998 and based in California--has its own romantic cast of low lighting (but not too low), warm brick  and huge window walls, big roomy booths, patterned carpeting, wine-related artwork, and well-set tables with white cloths and napkins; the soft surfaces admirably soak up noise. 
    I don’t as a rule review chain restaurants, at least not ones like Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill, which are also part of the Bloomin’ Brands that owns Fleming’s, but the claims for the quality of the meat and the exceptional chosen wine list (see my interview with Fleming’s wine director, Maeve Pesquera, below) and the fact that it was in such a delightful location just across the Hudson River attracted me to see how well a steakhouse chain of this size can pull it all off.  Certainly there are fans of other steakhouse chains like Ruth’s Chris, Smith & Wollensky, and Palm, which I’ve written about.
    Our party was warmly welcomed by Operating Partner Tom McCarthy, and later by chef and partner David Hawkins; our waiter, a fellow name Ricky, proved himself as engagingly entertaining as he was professional in describing the menu and answering a slew of questions from our table.  He even laughed at our jokes.
    The wine list here, and at every other Fleming’s, offers a collection of 100 wines by the glass--also available by the taste, flight or bottle--all listed on the WiNEPAD™, a proprietary web application that provides label-specific tasting notes, the story behind the wine, and innovative ways to learn about wine.  You might also inquire about Fleming’s Forty-Six Diamonds, a custom blend from a boutique winery released in the fall at all locations.
    We began with a lavish seafood tower of jumbo shrimp, lobster tails, and king crab on ice (market price), all, as one might expect, frozen product, though the shrimp suffered from being ice cold and watery.  French onion soup ($11.95) was a very fine rendering of this bistro classic, piping hot with well-caramelized onions and a bubbly, browned crust of both Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses.
        The jumbo lump crabcakes  ($19.50) were delicious, very meaty as promised by their size, served with a roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce. Housemade burrata ($13.50) with charred grape tomatoes, arugula and toasted garlic crostini (below) lacked the flavor of rich cream I expected.

    In addition to the appetizer selections and salads, there is also a section of “small plates” that might make for a lighter meal, though braised shortribs with arugula and spinach ($19.95) would be nicely filling.  There’s also lobster tempura with a soy sauce and jicama salad ($26.95), and finely textured ahi tuna, seared and served rare (above)
    Of course, most people are going to come here for steaks (oddly there are no lamb chops on the menu) and wisely so. Fleming’s uses USDA Prime, Certified Angus, and wagyu grades, the last American Kobe-style beef ($57.95). They also have an interesting, signature  “Craftsman ribeye” ($47.95) Certified Angus ribeye hand-carved in a way that allows for a thicker cut of 11 inches to be enjoyed by those who prefer this juicier cut.  We tried all these, in addition to a very good New York strip ($51.95)--my favorite of the evening--and they made an argument that there is good beef beyond the river banks of Manhattan. They also made sure the steaks were cooked as ordered: well crusted on the outside, medium-rare within.
    For those who wish to stray from the recommended beef route, there is barbecued Scottish salmon (farm raised) that is slow roasted, with a mushroom salad, and Chilean sea bass, which starts out wild but is frozen at a fishery; it comes sautéed and braised in a broth with wilted greens, potatoes and chile-cilantro.
    You would do well to order the first-rate, very crisp stack of sweet onion rings ($10.95), but there is another signature item here--Fleming’s Potatoes, heavily enriched with cream, the bite of jalapeños, and plenty of cheddar cheese ($11.95).  Creamed spinach was considerably lighter ($10.50). 
    I wrote a few weeks back about the superb desserts at Costata steakhouse in Greenwich Village, but Fleming’s is more in the tradition of serving solid standards like chocolate lava cake ($13.50), a fine crème brûlée ($10.95), and nicely moist carrot cake ($10.50) that was not cloyingly sweet.
    Prices across the board at Fleming’s are competitive with those in NYC, although you might think they’d be a tad lower, given that this is New Jersey in a shopping mall.
    But at least this single location proves that with attention to detail and especially to product and service, a chain steakhouse can compete with any independent steakhouse anywhere.  And, unlike so many window-less steakhouses in Manhattan, you get that nonpareil view.  Cue “Rhapsody in Blue!” 

Open nightly for dinner.




National Wine Director for Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bars

By John Mariani

    In order to find out how a steakhouse chain with 66 branches coordinates its wine lists for restaurants in different parts of the country, I spoke with Maeve Pesquera, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar’s National Director of Wine,  who oversees the chain’s wine program, highlighted by the Fleming’s 100®, a collection of 100 wines by the glass, all also available by the taste, flight or bottle.
  Pesquera, who joined the company in 2002 at the Houston branch,  also helped develop Fleming’s WiNEPAD™, a proprietary web application that provides label-specific tasting notes, the story behind the wine, and innovative ways to learn about wine.

    Each year she seeks out a winemaker to produce a custom blend for Fleming’s Forty-Six Diamonds, released in the fall at all locations, and also oversees the chain’s cocktail program, focusing on up-and-coming boutique and family-owned wineries and distilleries, while developing seasonal cocktail offerings.    Pesquera attended the Conrad Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management at the U. of Houston, where she is  a guest lecturer and mentor to those seeking careers in the hospitality industry.
  Pesquera, her husband Luis and their five children live in Laguna Beach, CA.

Q: Describe your overall job at Fleming’s.

A:  My job is straightforward: It’s to help people feel confident about wine and to create an experience that carries over into their daily lives as they select, savor and explore wine. I do this in several ways: First, with the Fleming’s 100, which is a powerful way to bring wine to life for people in an approachable way — to demystify wine, to make it fun! The extension of the F100 is the Fleming’s WiNEPAD (below), which we created to open the conversation between the guest and the server to enhance the dialogue about wine. The information on the WiNEPAD extends far beyond a digital wine list;  it engages and informs our guests, empowers them to make great selections and have fun at the same time. 

Q:  What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

A: A really rewarding part of my job is creating educational platforms that are meaningful for our associates and wine managers. This means providing information in a way that helps them in their roles as wine educators and to be the voice of the Fleming’s wine program at every table.  We bring this to life through the Fleming’s experience. People can get a glass of wine anywhere. But at Fleming’s we strive to do more. We want to meet everyone wherever they are on their journey with wine. That may be a through a thoughtful recommendation that helps them find their new favorite wine or by participation in one of our special wine events held throughout the year.  The Fleming’s experience underscores that we are more than just a steakhouse — we are a wine bar.

Q: You must do a tremendous amount of traveling, with 66 units.

A:  Travel is an integral part of my job. In addition to traveling nationwide to visit Fleming’s locations, I also travel frequently to wine growing regions, which gives me time with winemakers up close.  I get to experience what they are working on and are most excited about. In the past year, I have been to Burgundy, Champagne, Napa, Sonoma, Oregon and Brazil. While few people think of Brazil as a wine-growing region, in fact, it is an up-and-coming viticultural area. I loved being there during harvest, connecting with the winemakers and experiencing their passion and expertise.

Q:  Do you choose wines for all the units or design each separately?

A:  I create the national F100 and Reserve wine lists that are available at every location. Every Fleming’s has a designated Wine Manager, whose job is to bring wine to life for their people every night. This includes maintaining a wine selection that speaks to the guests in their particular locales. These additions could be locally produced wines, cult classics, or other wines that their guests crave. 

Q. Are you able to get good prices because of your clout in the market?

A: I can’t tell you all my secrets at once! But I will say that we have created solid, long-standing partnerships with winemakers and wineries across the globe. Our reach allows us to support smaller, family owned, up and coming wineries and help them get distribution across the country, which is always a challenge for them. Over the years, we have seen many small wineries establish a national presence because of their placement at Fleming’s.

Q: How would you describe the overall list?  What does it favor?

A: The list is a reflection of what people are really drinking across the U.S. in the fine dining segment. The strength of offering 100 wines by the glass is that we are able to truly offer something for everyone, both in variety of offerings and in price point.   Because we are a steakhouse, the list does include a large number of Cabernets—we offer 19 by the glass—allowing Cabernet enthusiasts to explore new wines in their favorite varietal.  But our guests,  somewhat surprisingly for a steakhouse, drink a lot of white wine, with Riesling at the very top of that list. Much of that is enjoyed as an aperitif or as a pairing with menu items other than steak. And so our list mirrors those preferences, with a large percentage of the list allocated to sparkling wines, refreshing white varietals like Torrontes, Grüner Veltliner, and fuller bodied whites such as Viognier and Chardonnay.  We find that as people continue their love affair with Pinot Noir, this section has grown substantially throughout the years on our lists. The “heartbreak grape” abounds in many forms, from the major growing regions known to produce the best of this sultry varietal.  And for our guests who want to experience and explore the world of wine, our list can take them there with our Global Reds section. Nero D’ Avola, Corvina, Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and Sangiovese are some of the by the glass selections we offer.

Q: Do you not buy certain wines you yourself love because they wouldn't fit the list?

A: Fortunately, I love wine, so I can honestly say that I enjoy every wine that is on our list. But my job is to create a wine list that appeals to all our guests wherever they are on their journey with wine. So, just like your iTunes playlist is different than mine, the “Maeve 100” might be a bit different than the “F100.” It would definitely share many of the same selections but might have added depth in a few of the genres—in my case, Burgundy.

Q: Do you see any trends in steakhouse wine lists?

A: Yes:  Steakhouses are expanding their by-the-glass lists.  Guests are ordering differently now. Some aren’t drinking as much wine as before. Others prefer not to commit to an entire bottle and instead move from varietal to varietal and explore different growing regions. 

Q: We talked about how the days when the investment bankers and high rollers nightly bought the $500-$4,000 wines like Château Pétrus and Romanée-Conti.  How has this changed?

A: The recession of 2008 readjusted guests’ perspectives on everyday indulgence of high-end wines. Every restaurant loves to brag about the high-end wines it sells, but since 2008, that is not what is happening day-to-day. Throughout the ages, people in wine producing areas have cherished and enjoyed great wines on a daily basis that are not First Growth Bordeaux or the Grand Cru Burgundies. This shift has refocused our guests on what wine lovers have always known, that great wines don’t always have to come with a high price. And this new awareness has challenged us to find wines whose quality far outpaces the price.

Q: Are California cabs and chardonnays still the best sellers?

A: Cabernet and Chardonnay are the historical strengths of a steakhouse wine list. People who love Cabernet really love Cabernet. While they may not be as apt to expand beyond that category, they are interested in expanding within that category—perhaps a Cabernet from Argentina, a Cabernet blend (part of the new booming red blend trend) and over into Bordeaux, which is all within their favorite flavor profile. The trend of lighter oaked Chardonnays, often from cooler growing sites, with fewer buttery notes as well as Chardonnays that are aged on the lees for texture have re-energized the Chardonnay category. These wines have a broader appeal and many new wine drinkers are now embracing this style.

Q: What do women tend to order at Fleming's and how do you keep it female friendly?

A: From day one, Fleming’s sought to create a steakhouse where women felt comfortable. In 1998, this meant the disruptive strategy of creating a completely non-smoking restaurant, which was simply unheard of back then--especially in a steakhouse. Fleming’s is centered on warm hospitality and knowledgeable but friendly service, which also creates a welcoming environment.
    Personally I am a bone-in ribeye girl and my older brother is a filet mignon fan. So a lot of the old conventions about who wants what are changing. We are all eating differently these days. And items like our small plates, seasonally focused menu and bar menu items, like our housemade burrata, reflect those changes. It’s one of the most exciting things about being in the restaurant business now, observing the changes in the way people dine and anticipating where guests will go next.

Q: Why is Fleming's not in NYC?

A: New York is a city who knows a great steak. We would love to be in NYC. Although a NY location is not on the drawing board at the moment, it’s certainly on our radar and on our wish list.

Q: How important are restaurants to the wine market and allocation?

A: Restaurants are vitally important because they offer a national stage for wines and wineries. In many cases, restaurants may be the only place where a person can even access a particular wine. When people experience a wine at a restaurant they are sharing that wine in the company of friends and family. This creates a positive emotional connection with that wine and they seek it out and buy it again.


Brought to you by BANFI VINTNERS


    If you’re an oenophile who frequently enjoys fine dining you likely know the “insider’s” secret to getting a great bottle of wine to pair with your dinner at a restaurant – ask the sommelier. There’s an ironic epiphany that occurs at some point in the journey of one who studies wine: the more you know about wine, the more you realize how much you DON’T know about wine. Sure, a collector may know every nuance of the Napas in his or her cellar, and the harvest reports for all the Rhones. But that knowledge isn’t helpful when the restaurant wine list offers only a selection of Super Tuscans.
    Further, no one’s palate can possibly know – and remember – how every wine interacts with every dish. It gets more complicated when you learn that the best wines develop and change over time; a closed-up Barolo today might blossom in just a few months. That’s why the best restaurants employ sommeliers – they’re there to ensure that you have the very best wine and food experience on a particular night.
    So if you trust the opinion of a sommelier, is it safe to assume you’d trust the collective opinion of twenty-six somms?
    Recently, the third annual “Sommelier Challenge” took place in San Diego, California. It is a wine competition unlike any other, in that the entire panel of judges assembled are active sommeliers. And not just any somms – the lineup included some of the most respected and certified sommeliers in the industry, working the floors at many well-known fine dining establishments throughout the USA. Somms from Jean-Georges, The Mandarin Oriental, Bouchon Beverly Hills, Del Posto, The Modern, Quince, Four Seasons, Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, and many others judged nearly 1,200 wines and spirits from over 20 countries, rewarding only a fraction with a Platinum Medal, and even fewer a “Best in Class.” If you trust the word of one sommelier, it makes sense to trust that of 26, doesn’t it?   
    Two wines by Banfi achieved both Platinum and “Best in Class” distinction. Notes are written by Competition Director and longtime wine journalist Robert Whitley.
  BEST OF CLASS, BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO: Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino 2010
Banfi has delivered a glorious Brunello from the superb 2010 vintage. Showing exceptional purity of fruit, this is a well-balanced Tuscan red that is structured for long-term aging although it's pretty enough to drink now. Packed with sweet black cherry fruit balanced by fresh acidity and fine tannins, the mid-palate is rich and satisfying. The finish shows a bit of grip, but will lengthen as the wine matures. It is clearly one of the wines of the vintage in Montalcino. A Platinum award-winner at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition in San Diego. A panel of advanced and master somms gave it a score of 94 points.

   BEST OF CLASS, CHIANTI: Banfi, Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2011
This is perhaps the greatest value in an imported red wine today. A panel of advanced and master sommeliers at the 7th annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine Competition awarded this Chianti Classico Riserva from Banfi a Platinum award and a huge score of 95 points. It's easy to see why. Packed with tart cherry fruit and beautifully balanced and firmly structured, this is a Chianti that would benefit from an additional eight to 10 years in the cellar, clearly a wine with a bright promising future; a remarkable wine that you can easily find for less than $20 a bottle.

For more Banfi news, wine education, recipes, and wine-food pairings, visit



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

   I'm proud and happy to announce that my new book, The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books), has just been published through Amazon and Kindle. 
     It 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 back his master back from the edge of despair. 


“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.


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 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. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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© copyright John Mariani 2015