Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas" (1990)
IN THIS ISSUE
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
THE ASSYRTIKOS OF SANTORINI
By Mort Hochstein
By John Mariani
Cacio e Pepe
at L'Hostaria Romana
Cacio e Pepe at L'Hostaria Romana
People favor the same restaurants and dishes they always have, and while new wine bars appealing to a younger crowd pop up here and there, everyone will have an opinion as to which restaurant serves the best pasta, the freshest seafood or the most flavorful lamb. Roman classics like egg-rich spaghetti alla carbonara or all’amatriciana, crispy fried artichokes alla giudea, coda alla vaccinara and saltimbocca are debated with a passion that rises to the boil.
The consistency at established restaurants and trattorias makes recommending them year after year a safe bet: a little place in Trastevere that has been serving the same dish of cacio e pepe since the 1950s is not likely to change the recipe in 2016. The fettuccine all’Alfredo originally created by Alfredo Di Lelio at his namesake restaurant back in 1914 tastes the same as it always has. (Alfredo’s is now located at the Piazza Imperatore)
Still, new restaurants do open and they have admirably helped diversify the city’s dining scene, like the new ZUMA attached to the Fendi Hotel. Here’s a report on some of my favorites based on a recent visit to the city.
via del Boccaccio 1
Many Romans who live or work around the Trevi Fountain may express ignorance of the nearby L’Hostaria Romana’s existence, but enough fans and travelers know about it to pack two floors of this no-frills trattoria begun by the Fazzi family sixty years ago and run since 1979 by the Camponeschi family. If you neglected to make a reservation—and you should—the ebullient Barbara Camponeschi will find you a table in either the upstairs room, which overlooks the narrow street, or downstairs in an odd, windowless, brightly lighted room whose only décor is the thousands of graffiti left by satisfied customers over the years, which, in any other city, would make the place seem positively hipster.
The menu is fairly lengthy, with all the old Roman dishes, including listed specials like bucatini all'amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, paccheri alla gricia (right) and ravioli ricotta e spinaci—generous tangles of color, rich with butter, pecorino, tomato, pancetta, and eggs, the pasta truly al dente—brought with dispatch to the table piping hot, the aroma in the room smelling of honest cooking.
There is also baby lamb, which feeds on the mint of the Roman hillsides, tripe in a tomato and cheese reduction, oxtail alla vaccinara stew, and, as is common in Rome, “Quinta Quarto” specials specific to the day, like pasta e fagioli on Tuesday and pasta e ceci on Friday. The wine list is serviceable and, like the food, amazingly inexpensive, so that a couple can have a three-course meal with wine (tax and service are always included in the menu prices) for under $100.
Via del Leone, 4
+39 06 6832100
La Matricianella, snug in an alleyway near the Piazza Borghese, has been around since 1957, owned for the last twenty years by brother-and-sister Giacomo and Grazia Le Bianco, who have a knack of welcoming tourists with the same affability as they do their Roman regulars, all of whom sit inches from one another at old tables with checkered cloths to feast on solid Roman cooking, with an emphasis on twelve delicately fried foods like artichokes alla giudia, zucchini flowers, baccalà and much else.
There are as many lusty pastas, including rigatoni with what we’d call chitlins, and excellent, creamy carbonara, tagliolini with truffles, and tonnarelli with radicchio, most of them costing 11 euros, which right now works out to about $12.
There are plenty of perfected Roman main courses—from 10 to 17 euros—like a filet of beef with green peppercorns; thin and succulent sage-scented saltimbocca; and roasted lamb sweetbreads. La Matricianella is also proud of its greens, like fennel gratin, puntarelle in anchovy sauce, and chicory salad, as well as having a selection of ten Lazio cheeses.
The wine list is one of the most comprehensive in the city, especially for a trattoria, and you should visit the wine cellar downstairs. There is also a cramped outdoor terrace, though there’s not much to look at besides the throng of international and local customers and the Fiats and Vespas sprawled across the curb.
via Lungara 41A
+39 066 861514
Since Rome is more overrun than ever with tourists most of the year, the Trastevere (across the Tiber) neighborhood almost comes as a shock when you find yourself winding your way through clean, quiet streets with far fewer tourists. Trastevere is a quiet oasis amidst the honking chaos of Rome, whose cacophony re-asserts itself at the Vatican, a ten-minute walk from most points in Trastevere.
There are scores of trattorias there to ferret out, and everyone in the neighborhood has his favorite. You will be walking down a side street, see an open door, maybe with a blackboard menu outside, and you peak your head in to find all the tables full of locals enjoying the same dishes their parents and grandparents did, always at prices that to tourists seem too good to be true.
On my recent trip my friends and I arrived a tad early to find Da Giovanni almost empty—it only has about six tables, plus one oddly placed in the kitchen. It’s pretty much a two-man show—the amiable owner who waits on every table and the cook in the back. The premises are cheerful enough, spruced up a bit since opening in 1951, with a menu posted outside, yellow-checkered, paper-covered tablecloths inside, along with a mix of artwork that ranges from an Egyptian god to Rouault-like madonnas.
You sit, the owner comes over, he gives you the menu and a choice of red or white Castelli Romani wines. You may want to order everything as you chew on the good bread with olive oil. All the pastas, four of them, are delicious, many lavished with a long-cooked tomato-and-meat ragù, on fettuccine and ravioli; there’s also spaghetti with tuna, and of course carbonara (right). The roast rabbit is excellent, tender and suffused with rosemary, and the roast pork pink and tender. Spezzatino is a mushroom-rich meat stew, while calf’s liver is done on the grill.
The bill comes: Pastas five to six euros, main courses five to seven, fish—for the big splurge—thirteen euros, with wines seven euros a bottle.
Da Giovanni is hardly alone in Trastevere for its down-to-earth local flavor and atmosphere, but even among competitors, it would be hard to beat Da Giovanni’s prices.
(There is another, unrelated Da Giovanni on the Via Salandra in the center of Rome, quite different in style and price from the Trastevere trattoria.)
Via della Fontanella di Borghese, 48
+39 06 992 666 22
Photos by David Carey
An argument can be made that it’s difficult to get tired of eating Roman food in Rome, but the city does, in fact, have other kinds of restaurants, not least a growing, if small, number of Japanese sushi spots.
Seafood is ubiquitous on Roman menus but few restaurants specialize in it, and, like the well-known La Rosetta, they are among the most expensive in the city. But raw fish, which the Italian call crudi, has become fashionable, and there is currently no more fashionable place to find it than at ZUMA, located in the glamorous and very chic new boutique hotel Palazzo Fendi, owned by the Fendi fashion house.
ZUMA is actually the tenth of a very upscale chain opened by creator and co-founder Rainer Becker in 2002. None of them is a copy of another, though if you’ve been to the one in London or Miami, you’ll feel the same vibe instilled in Rome by designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu. Set on the fourth and fifth floors, with plenty of soaring wood, glass and stone, the restaurant is already being filled with fashionistas, models and tourists who have a chance to show off their new purchases on the Via Condotti.
Three different cooking styles are featured at ZUMA--the main kitchen, with an array of cooked and raw dishes, the sushi counter and the robata grill; upstairs is a beautifully lighted bar and lounge. On the night I visited I chose from all over those menus, with all dishes presented with an eye towards color and the texture of the serving surfaces, which range from artisanal china to polished stones and ceramic pottery.
such a large menu, the food came out at a civilized
tempo and temperature, including the warmth of the
rice with the glistening sushi, the barely seared
robata wagyu beef, and dishes in savory broth.
ZUMA has also managed to keep its prices in line, so that a place like La Rosetta, where scampi with lemon runs 33 euros and simply grilled San Pietro fish is 40, is hard to accept. This being Italy, as it would be in Japan, the high quality of the ingredients is assured, so that ZUMA is not an alternative to other seafood restaurants in Rome, but a departure and innovator that’s getting a lot of eager interest looks from anyone who appreciates fine seafood and global glam.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
Second Avenue (at
East 85th Street)
The press release didn’t sound promising: “Blacked-out windows keep the inquisitive wondering. Guests are ushered to their tables through a secluded back door and through the kitchen where the chef – in the way a mama would let you dip your finger into her sauce – will greet and surprise them with a small taste from a menu that features enigmatic headings such as Liquid Food, Orexis On A Plate, and Side Effects.”
And all that is true, except that instead of it all being mere affectation, it’s a whole lot of fun, beginning when you are greeted by a glamorous hostess at the side door to be ushered inside where you are immediately handed a morsel of delicious cheese bread. When you go through the dark passage to the dining room, the place explodes in a riot of color and light, with scarlet chairs, rose-painted ceilings, a drapery wall of stars, crystal chandeliers, mosaic tiles, and brick pillars hung with copper flowers. The windows are not really “blacked out;” there are portholes. To the right is a good-sized, glittering velvet-enclosed bar, and a step up takes you to a landing with a few cozy tables. Owner James Paloumbis has packed the place with whimsy and plenty to see, which, when this month-old place takes off, will probably be a lot of East Side eye candy.
Chef Dionisis Liakopoulos is using global techniques built on Greek tradition, mixing Asian ideas together with a few modernist touches, most of which click on the appetizer portion of the menu.
There are more good breads on the way (though they’ll cost you $6), along with tubes of Vermont Country Butter and a little vial of olive oil. Under “Liquid Food” is one of the best dishes on the menu (by cup $12, or bowl $19)—lobster cappuccino with a pancetta bacon crouton—about as richly satisfying a soup as I can remember this year with all the elements combining to make a kind of Italian chowder.
“Mousse-aka” ($19) takes the Greek classic moussaka, adds fork-tender short-rib, then lays on a luscious béchamel that is given a “torched” crust and served with graviera cheese chips. A “Gyro Pizza” ($20) layered with pork belly, lamb shoulder, fontina, cream of cucumber-laced yogurt tzatziki, roasted tomatoes, and sweet onion relish makes complete sense, and our table fought over fat potato croquettes ($15) made from Yukon Golds oozing béchamel, graviera cheese, and morsels of lefkada sausage. So, too, “Saga-naki” ($18), which is usually just pan-fried cheese, is here composed with shrimp, green peppers, a reduction of saganaki and peppery baklava spices.
The one appetizer that did not merit praise was the too-cutely named “Oh My Cod!” ($18)--Alaskan cod tempura done as a sushi roll with added pickled cucumber, fishy squid ink mayo, and red salmon roe, an item you might find at any number of run-of-the-mill sushi bars.
In most restaurants the excitement among the appetizers is tamped down in main courses, but at 1633 they can be too elaborate and don’t always work. The best was a very flavorful “Lazy Beef” ($31) of juicy braised beef, a wheat called trahana for texture, and tomato molasses for tang and sweetness. “Gregory’s Comfort” ($24) is a fillet of chicken with sliced French fries, roasted tomatoes, corn peppers and graviera that was good but fairly bland, while “Lamb chop in the bag” (right) with thick spiced fried potatoes, roasted pepper and ketchup became steamy inside the cellophane bag and would have been much improved if the lamb were America rather than the inferior New Zealand product, especially when the dish costs $37. (I was told that the chef is thinking of switching to Colorado lamb.) And “Halibut Carbonara” ($24) had dusted bacon, green beans, beurre noisette, and “carbonara cream” (whatever that is) that smothered the taste of a fish that is very mild to begin with.
The desserts, under the category of “Sweet Dreams” ($11-$12), were all very good, including a crumbled semolina cake with lemon cream, toasted almonds, and vanilla ice cream; plump profiterole with toasted nuts, chocolate ganache and salted caramel; and baklava presented in a jar with pistachio, walnuts and hazelnuts, banana bread crumble, spiced syrup, a hint of pine nut smoke, and luscious vanilla ice cream.
The wine list is currently a two-page affair, which I would have thought would have some interesting Greek wines. Prices are stiff: $12 for a glass of Qupé Syrah 2013 and $48 by the bottle, which in the wine shop sells for $15.
1633 is still testing the waters with its clientele, who in this neighborhood can be unadventurous eaters, but they should be won over by the congeniality of Manager George Iliopoulos. With some re-thinking of a few dishes and ingredients, the restaurant should readily take its place among the more unusual and enticing spots on the Upper East Side.
1633 is open Tuesdays through Sunday for dinner.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
ASSYRTIKO GRAPES DISTINGUISH
THE WINES OF SANTORINI, XINOMAVRO IN THE NORTH OF GREECE
BY MORT HOCHSTEIN
Assyrtiko is the basic white grape of Greece, said to have originated on the wind-racked island of Santorini, and, fittingly, it’s a perfect match with all sorts of seafood, from lobsters to clams and octopus.
You won’t find orderly rows of grapes on Santorini. Here, in sandy soil that preserved native grapes while the vineyards of Europe were being devastated by a root bug called phylloxera, the Assyrtiko grows close to the ground in umbrella fashion. The leaves and the vines protect the grapes from the harsh sun and salt-laden winds. The vines grow for a century or so, until the yield drops too low for farmers to make a profit. Non-producing vines are cut off at ground level and the roots soon produce a new vine. The sandy soil means Santorini has no threat from phylloxera, so the roots have never been replanted.
Assyrtiko realizes its potential in Gerovassiliou White 2011($22), a blend of 50% Malagousia and 50% Assyrtiko , a perfect example of value in Greek wines. It is rich and round, with strong flavors of pineapple and kiwi. It is the winery’s best-selling blend in Greece. Malagousia stands alone in another offering from Gerovassiliou. This grape, happily, was revived from years of neglect and delivers the feel of a walk in a rose garden. It is floral and peachy with scents of honey, citrusy and totally tropical. $23.
Argyros, which specializes in Assyrtiko-based wines, has been battling those high winds of Santorini for nearly two centuries. Its basic Assyrtiko ($22) is a lively, sharp wine with succulent texture and briny, mineral flavors. The 2013 Atlantis ($15) is 90% Assyrtiko, with about 10% Aidani and Athriri, two grapes seldom seen outside of Greece. The blend is similar to the basic wine, its best seller, but is somewhat simpler, though equally savory.
Domaine Sigalas (right) is a newcomer, having put down roots just 20 years ago. Its wines have shown well in competition and in the marketplace. Domaine Santorini white ($25) is a pleasing blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athriri. It is earthy and briny, reflecting the salty air in which it flourishes.
Reds predominate in the Amydeon region in mountainous northwest Greece where the principal red grape is Xinomavro. One of the main producers is Alpha Estate, whose Estate Hedgehog Vineyard red is a dynamite value at around $23. It is a lush blend of Syrah and Xinomavro. Moving a bit more upscale, the Alpha Estate Xinomavro, at $32, is regarded as one of the country’s top reds. Some tasters have called Xinomavro-based wines “the poor man’s Barbaresco,” since the wines are very Nebbiolo in character. These two reds are prime examples of Xinomavro at its best and are worth seeking out.
WHO YA' GONNA CALL?
According to NBC News, a semi truck carrying 20,000 pounds of cheese worth more than $46,000 parked in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was stolen by an unknown person or people The cheese was from U.S. Foods, to be shipped from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to the New York area. Police are still investigating.
MOST FASCINATING TRAVEL
“Bob Robinson thought he had cycling all figured out when he first met up with a bike club in his native Arkansas. “I was on an old 10-speed Huffy—a used one,” he says, laughing. “These guys were showing up on mega-thousand-dollar bicycles. They were hardcore. They dropped me on the first mile.”—Sarah Netter. “Adventure Awaits,” Delta Sky (June 2016).
Sponsored by Banfi Vintners
PINOT GRIGIO WITH TRUE CHARACTER
By John Fodera, TuscanVines
For me, nothing evokes images of summer more than Pesto alla Genovese and a crisp, steely white from Tuscany. Over the past few weeks we've been tasting a variety of Rosato and Bianco wines to give you affordable options for the coming summer months.
Today, we'll be featuring a wine that should be first on the list for lovers of Pinot Grigio. Pinot Grigio is ubiquitous comfort. Yet many people will unfortunately forget to check the brand when they buy a Pinot Grigio. I say unfortunately, because some PGs are mass produced and common with little typicity or soul. And at least a few are way, way overpriced for what they are.
Do you want a better wine at a much better price? Then read on!
The 2015 Castello
Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio is a medium to
color and emits welcoming aromas of white flowers,
honey, pineapple, and citrus. Sourced from sloping
hillside vineyards in Montalcino (it’s the only Pinot
Grigio from sun-soaked southern Tuscan town), the wine
is crisp, refreshing and vibrant on the palate with
flavors of white
minerals. Vinified in 100% stainless steel, the wine exudes surprising
body, which I can only attribute to the excellent
quality of the grapes.
If you love Pinot Grigio, do yourself a favor and seek this out. You'll have to work hard to pay more than $18 or $19 for this wine while some others will clock in far north of $20. 91 points. E vero!
Naturally noted for producing high quality Brunello wines, Castello Banfi also produces several good quality wines priced appropriately for every day consumption. I'd even add, every day extravagance. We paired today's subject wine with Pesto alla Genovese.
Pesto alla Genovese
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 large clove garlic
5 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
5 tablespoons Pecorino Romano
1 Cup Basil, tightly packed (2 bunches)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
In about 1 teaspoon of olive oil, lightly toast the pine nuts. This will take no more than 1-2 minutes over medium heat so don't get distracted. Pine nuts are expensive and if you burn them, it will ruin the taste of your pesto. A word on the Pine Nuts: Don't skimp here. Look at the label and identify the source of your nuts. Many pine nuts are coming from China these days and I've noticed when I've purchased these that they run a very high risk of being rancid. You can find pine nuts from Italy and/or the EU easily, so do take the time to look.
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❖❖❖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: 5 MYTHS ABOUT BREIXET
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 (the fourth
edition of which will be published in early
2016), 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
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET
NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John
Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,
Robert Mariani, Misha
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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