Virtual Gourmet

  December 25,  2005                                                        NEWSLETTER


                                                          Merry Christmas!

UPDATE:  To go to my web site, in which I will update food & travel information and help link readers to other first-rate travel & food sites,  click on: home page

Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on .

NEW FEATURE! You may now subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter by clicking here.

In This Issue


Miami and Ft. Lauderdale by John Mariani

Dining at the Breakers by Edward A. Brivio

NEW YORK CORNER: Cookshop by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: 25 Italian Wines That Mattered by Mort Hochstein


Time to Think About Florida?
by John Marianii555

     The invasive cold of winter has not yet sunk into my bones, but before too long I may get the urge for a good dose of the warm sun, and the name Miami is starting to have a happy sound in my inner ear. And there are some good new places to eat in the area that will take my mind off the fact that a swimsuit is no longer my favorite kind of outer wear.
       Curiously enough,
given the trendiness of those who come to Florida to preen by the beach and wear their torn Dolce & Gabbana out to eat, Miami is not a hotbed of new restaurant openings and cutting-edge cuisine.  Azul in the Mandarin-Oriental Hotel was the last place to try something truly innovative, and a branch of Spain's eccentric La Broche failed within a year of coming into town.  The city is really rather conservative gastronomically speaking, which is not to say you can’t dine very very well or find splendid new restaurants that would make their mark in any city in the U.S.
    tt One that most certainly has is Setai (2001 Collins Avenue; 305-520-6000; click here), in the art deco hotel of the same name.  Most of the conversions of the old art deco hotels on Miami Beach have been a matter of sheet rock and white paint, but Setai has done a major overhaul (to the tune of $40 million) and turned this into the only hotel on South Beach I'd want to stay in right now. And it's one of only two or three restaurants there I'd want to eat in.
      The design of the lobby and restaurant, by  Jean-Michel Gathay and Jaya Pratmono Ibrahim, is spread over 15,000 square feet of the ground floor, with an exquisite interplay play of chiaroscuro light and shadow, from the entrance off the lobby to the glassed-in wine room and shimmering mother-of-pearl Champagne, Crustacean and Caviar Bar, featuring as well foie gras, culatello and pata negra hams, Balik salmon, and an array of oysters.  There is also a swank bar here with one of the best selections of spirits on South Beach.
     The main dining room (above) is spectacular--I named it the Best New Design for 2005 in my annual Esquire round-up (click)--sleek, with hard metal and stone surfaces softened by dramatic lighting and a huge open kitchen manned by Chef
Shaun Hergatt and a brigade of cooks from Bangkok, Hong Kong, India, and Turin, as well as Belgian pastry chef Yannis Janssens and sommelier Alejandro Ortiz, who oversees a winelist of depth and breadth.
        It is not all that easy, however, to match wines to Hergatt's menu, for there are many very hot dishes here. Indeed, if you start off with his zesty, incendiary Thai salad of prawns, pink pomelo, tamarind and chili, your palate's going to be tingling for a while.

       This is not a criticism of the food but of the fact that so many Asian spices and seasonings are simply not wine-friendly, when beer or sake would make a better choice than a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet.  If you do order wine, go with either the biggest, oakiest California chardonnay or deepest, darkest zinfandel, of which there are plenty on the list.
     The menu is in fact a mix of traditional and novel ideas about Pan-Asian food, from salt-pressed Tasmanian ocean trout with a kalamansi dressing and nashi pear and daikon sprouts to excellent grilled sirloin of Australian wagyu-style  beef.  In between there is fried chicken with coriander and fennel seed doused with intensely hot chili, and sea scallops lightly cooked with vegetables fried and laced with XO sauce. Wok-seared spiny lobster with water chestnuts , ginger root and fefu noodles was delicious, and while I enjoyed the puffy Indian naan bread, with a choice of dipping sauces, twelve dollars seems a tad pricey for bread; neither was it replenished.
     The restaurant offers an array of mignardises at $2 per piece (usually provided complimentary in high-end restaurants), but pâtissier Janssens offers more substantial desserts like “Sweet Crescendos” of passion fruit wontons, yogurt sorbet with cilantro, and a marvelous selection of tropical-flavored ice creams and sorbets.
      Setai is clearly the big new beautiful thing on South Beach, and it's a welcome relief of beauty and refinement otherwise lacking here.
     Appetizers at Setai run $18-$28, entrees $24-$38.

      Away from the relentless throbbing and showiness  of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne seems  like an oasis of civilization,1111 anchored by the beautiful and quite large, rambling Ritz-Carlton Hotel (455 Grand Bay Drive; 305-365-4500; click ). It has the typical posh of Ritz-Carlton properties with a definite nod to where it's located in Miami, so that the formality is loosened up, the public areas very open and airy, and the pool and patio area. Out beyond the door of the Italian restaurant Cioppino (whose very fine chef, Carlos Sernaglia, unfortunately left last month) and beyond the pretty blue pool is the hotel's second restaurant, Cantina Beach (305-365-4286), where you can drop by for light fare or a full-course meal based on the cuisine of the Mexican coastline, via Chef Andrés Jimenez. It's a very pretty, windblown place, with plush chaise lounges and a Mexican thatched roof above the al fresco dining area and seems far removed from the rest of Miami. The bar is very popular, especially with those who need a crash course in the myriad tastes of tequila.  On hand is a tequiller (or should it be tequillero?), who is eager to discuss the spirit's fine points over flights of young and aged tequilas, he spirit, perhaps beginning with a tequila blanco like Hacienda del Cristero, then a reposado like Corralejo, an aged añejo like Herradura, and that cult favorite Chinaco.
      These go down easily, with a little fire, so soak them up with entradas like guacamole prepared tableside, or crispy rolled flautas of chicken that have been braised in achiote and topped with queso blanco. There is also an array of ceviches, from shrimp with cilantro and jalapeños to octopus with guajillo pepper-infused oil.
      There's a delicious quesadilla filled with lobster and served with mango;  a  c
rispy whole red snapper served with arugula, pickled onions, cherry tomatoes and tamarind dipping sauce;  enchilada verde grantinadas made with layers of corn tortillas stuffed with grilled chicken, refried beans, melted cheese, salsa verde and sour cream; and churrasco-style beef with chimichurri sauce. You'll probably eat and eat and eat. tequila will do that to you.
      This is food easy to love (
entrees range from $18-$28, but you could make a meal of the starters),  but there are desserts here worth saving up for, including a find flan with macerated berries and coconut ice cream lollipops with a fruit compote. Cantina Beach is a very casual place and pretty wonderful when the winds sweep on through the rafters and cool things down.

      3 Less than an hour's drive from Miami, the city of Fort Lauderdale is beginning to get some very good restaurants, not least in the strip known as Las Olas, where you'll find Mark Militello's eight-year old Mark's Las Olas and Johnny Vincencz's two-year-old Johnny V (click). Four years ago
3030 Ocean (3030 Holiday Drive; 954-765-3030; debuted in the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. True, the name Marriott doesn't usually bring to mind fine dining, the company has been putting both thought and money into some of its more luxurious properties, of which this is one, and hiring Virginian-born Chef Dean James Max, who last year authored a beautifully produced, highly personalized cookbook, A Life by the Sea (click), shows a long-term commitment to the hotel's culinary reputation. Indeed, I think 3030 is now one of the best seafood restaurants in Florida and Max an as-yet unsung talent I am happy to crow about.-=
     It's a very beautiful 80-seat dining room and raw bar, with strong colors of blond and painted wood,
slatted shudders, shadows from candlelight and frosted glass fixtures that evoke light under the sea. The bar is a very lively spot, and there is an excellent guitarist in residence here whose music never intrudes.
Prior to 3030, Max (right) served as executive chef of Mumbo Jumbo in Atlanta, and Brasserie Savoy in San Francisco;  at 38  he's taken his time picking up the ideas, nuances, and precision techniques it takes to handle seafood correctly. The menu is fairly large and specials change nightly.
     My wife and I could hardly resist starting out with some jumbo stone crab claws, a crustacean I've never known to travel well outside its native state, and these at 3030 were excellent examples.  Chilled jumbo Gulf white shrimp were just as tasty, and fresh as the sea was an ahi tuna ceviche sparked with a touch of serrano peppers, cilantro, green onions, and a lightly sweet coconut sauce.  All these  were a kind of pre-appetizer, but ones we could have feasted on for an entire meal.
     Our starters included seared jumbo scallops (everything here seems to be jumbo) with a white truffle butter risotto, and I find increasingly that scallops seem to go well with creamy rice dishes, and white truffle butter doesn't hurt either.  Mussels (which, thank God, we're not those awful jumbo varieties) came in a spicy ginger-lemongrass broth that was also a winning combo. Our entrees began with roasted suzuki mullaway--a species I knew nothing about, and, after some research, know little more: It may be an Australian name for a grouper in the giant sea bass family, called the jewfish (Epinephelus itajara), although that particular species does not seem to swim in western Pacific waters. Anyone with intimate  knowledge of the mullaway is invited to enlighten us all on the subject.  In any case, it's a nice meaty fish, and Max prepares it with a Yukon potato puree, bok choy, watermelon radish, and a black truffle sauce. We stayed closer to home with a Florida red snapper with boniato, green onions, and a lovely carrot cumin sauce.
     Desserts are all made fresh and have great color and flavor, from roasted banana creme brûlée to a passion fruit tart in a macadamia nut shell.  There is also a selection of artisan cheese, something you rarely find in Florida restaurant.
     I'm betting that Max's reputation will grow in the near future. His talent is formidable, his taste refined, and his restaurant very beautiful.

      Appetizers run $8-$14, entrees $24-$38. A 3-course fixed price menu is $37, or with wines, $50; 5-course menu, $75, with wine $100.

D ining at the Breakers
by Edward A. Brivio
Photos by Robert Pirillo


             ill S  
ome of the finest restaurants in Palm Beach
are at The Breakers (One South County Road; 561-655-6611;: 1-888-BREAKERS;, that Grande Dame of South Florida hotels that has been welcoming guests for over 70 years with its Renaissance palazzo style,  arcaded loggias, vaulted ceilings, Pompei-inspired frescos, and antique tapestries.
     The fanciest and most beautiful restaurant here is the hotel's flagship, L'Escalier (below), where French cuisine is updated and given a seasonal, local twist in a dining room done in the same ornate, and breathtaking1920's Italianate decor as the famous lobby. In this opulent Gilded Age setting, dining like one of the era's grandees on quail and foie gras, followed by Dover sole and Colorado lamb, seems only fitting.
      Pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras with brioche bread pudding and a few grapes sautéed in Riesling almost made me wish it were cold outside, while a brace of honey-roasted Cavendish Farms quail served with farro and micro-greens were beautifully browned, the honey accenting the sweetness of the meat rather than turning it into dessert.
Dover sole meunière was just about perfection, ably abetted by a fine potato croquette, wilted bitter greens, and lemony beurre noisette.  A dish of Colorado lamb included a small loin roast, a grilled chop, and a small braised shank, all fine, except the loin was somewhat dry; these were accompanied by a yummy rutabaga fondant (think very, very creamy mashed potatoes with a much more interesting root flavor) and white asparagus.j,y
       Mango and passion fruit "ravioli," actually slices of mango layered with a passion fruit curd, surrounded with a tropical fruit salsa and a scoop of coconut cream cheese sorbet was rich and satisfying yet somehow light and refreshing at the same time.
     The jewel in the crown at L'Escalier is Master Sommelier Virginia Philip. Although she was absent the night we dined at L'Escalier, her shoes were ably filled by her second-in-command, Juan Gomez, who recommended a '99 Vosne-Romanée Les Petits-Monts ($95) from Alex Gambal. Only 75 cases of this wonderful red Burgundy were made, never to be confused with a fruit bomb from the New World. With dry cherry fruit, good intensity and structure, it was just the kind of little-known, hard-to-find gem that good sommeliers are aware of.
      L'Escalier is a room for your best clothes, for kicking back after dinner over port (the 20 year old Fonseca tawny did quite well at $19 per glass) or cognac (the Courvoisier "Napoleon" is $23), and, if you're seated in one of the big comfortable banquettes around the periphery, for spending a leisurely evening watching the other well-dressed guests, as well as the brigade  of busy chefs in the spotless kitchen.
      A 3-course prix fixe dinner is $85; menus degustation run $95 & 105.

     The newest on the resort's roster is the Italian Restaurant, set within its own secluded, flower-filled garden, complete with Mediterranean stone fountain and just a few steps from the main building. This is designed to be  a family-friendly dining room; there's even a supervised play space for kids, close enough so you can keep an eye on them, yet far enough away to be out of earshot. The decor has the rustic, laid-back charm of a country kitchen--solid, refectory-type tables, sturdy, high-backed oak chairs rugged enough to withstand even the most rambunctious of adolescents), and a few touches of gingham, all done with great style, both fresh, and beautiful.
     i888Expect Italian-American comfort food here, although a few pared-down dishes, such as the wonderful beef carpaccio, are more reminiscent of true Italian cooking. “L'abbondanza” may well be the keyword here, that hearty, full-flavored character that makes this cuisine so popular with kids. But the top-notch ingredients and careful preparation make a meal here anything but a cliché and just as satisfying for a  demanding adult. An eager, young waitstaff doesn't hurt either.
     Mussels alla
Napoli might be unrecognizable to a true Neapolitan, but the white wine, cream, and tomato broth, spiked with garlic was just what the sweet shellfish needed. Crusty home-baked Italian bread and sourdough rolls were put to good use to sop up every last drop.  Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella made for a lighter yet no less delicious starter, as did baked clams oreganata, with six perfect littlenecks, buried in rock salt to keep them hot and with a tangy herb, bread crumb amd Parmesan cheese topping.
     The two pastas I tried were shrimp scampi over linguine, made with fresh jumbo shrimp served in an earthenware casserole, and hearty rigatoni alla romana, with sausages, wild mushrooms, and a tomato sauce enriched with cream. For wine, we drank an altogether excellent, Marqués de Griñon Domain de Valdepusa Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘99 ($75) with its rich, ripe
fruit along with the herbal/medicinal complexity, and the backbone of a red Bordeaux. Carlos Falco, the Marqués in question, seems to be doing everything right on his estate within the Montes de Toledo DOC in Spain. (He even makes that rarest of all birds, a good Petit Verdot  well worth seeking out.)
         Antipasti at The Italian Restaurant run from  $6.50-$14.; pastas, $16.50 -$23.; main courses, $22-$36.

    As if a stay at the Breakers itself weren't luxury enough, the hotel recently opened Flagler Club as a means of providing the exclusivity and personalized service of a "boutique" hotel, while still furnishing all the amenities of a larger property. The Concierge Level comprises the top two floors of the main building, accessible only to Club "members," with its own concierges, a lounge with the comfortable feel of an Park Avenue living room, and 28 large, luxuriously appointed rooms, including suites and mini-suites. Our Island-View room ($370 per night) was 360 square feet, and having the afternoon sun and then sunset more than made up for the lack of a sea view. Partial Ocean-view rooms with balconies are considerably smaller (250 square feet). A large terrace just off the lounge is perfect for that first cup of morning coffee, and there is complimentary food and beverage service five times a day, including tea-time. Just to be in the warm, capable hands of the Club's Chief Concierge, Bernard Nicole, is worth the trip in itself. If he can't get it for you, you probably shouldn't have it anyway.r
      On the second floor is the Flagler Steakhouse (right), overlooking the Ocean Course and just an easy stroll across Old South Country Road.  Opened in 2001 so that none of the hotel's guests need wander off its lovely grounds in search of a great steak, the dining room, with well-spaced and well-appointed tables, comfortable arm-chairs, and soft, recessed-lighting behind heavy crown molding, is just what an upscale steakhouse should look like: club-like, beautiful, and low-key enough to let beef take center stage. There's even a large terrace overlooking the 18th green for al fresco dining.
      At our meal, jumbo crab cocktail was followed by a perfectly done medium-rare
New York strip with a delicious, brown-buttery au poivre. Sides of hefty steak-fries, and asparagus hollandaise were exemplary, while tart-sweet Key lime pie, one of the glories of Florida desserts, brought things to a close.
  Appetizers are $10-$14, main courses $32-$59.
      A ll of this on a warm, balmy evening out on the wide terrace, while I watched the fairways slowly turn to shadow in the fading light, and just across the road, the room lights coming on one by one in the main building of the hotel, sitting serenely at the end of palm-lined Breakers Row. It was a South Florida moment.


156 Tenth Avenue
      oyt Sometimes you can tell immediately that people really love being at a particular restaurant, and for all the right reasons.  While many foodies jag from one new place to another simply to be the first to report their reaction, then never return, more reasonable, hungry people glom onto a new restaurant after a particularly satisfying first visit and return because they know the food will be consistently good and in a style and atmosphere that makes regulars of them all.
      Cookshop could float for years simply being a neighborhood favorite in Chelsea, like Black Cat, Da Umberto, and  La Luncheonette have become. Chelsea restaurants, not being as trendy as those come-and-go Meat Market District eateries, have to work a little harder for patronage by serving the kind of food  the locals can eat on a weekly basis.  I know I could, and I don't live in the neighborhood.  But I will gladly heap praise on Cookshop for anyone anywhere who wants to dine well at a reasonable price in a place where the service staff is genuinely happy to see you the first or the tenth time.
     The L-shaped room can get a crush up front on a busy night (once the demanding foodies scram, it should be lighter), but the managers try hard to get you seated, which may be across from the bar (not an ideal spot, given the brush of people coming and going).  Despite the current crowd and some wholly unnecessary piped-in music, the noise level is not too bad, and we were able to carry on a conversation at a tolerable level at one of the banquettes (above)  to the rear.  The colors--browns, taupe, reds--lighting, stained white oak,  and bamboo chairs make this a casual, comfortable place to enjoy Chef de Cuisine Joel Hough's cooking, which is modern American with all sorts of international influences that do not detract from the central thesis that hearty, slow cooking is always going to please people. Too bad there are no tablecloths, which would add measurable warmth to the ambiance.
       Cookshop (I can't say I love the mundane name) is owned by Marc Meyer, who's long had a success on his hands as owner of  Five Points, following stints at Odeon and An American Place in NYC, and Brasserie Savoy, in San Fran, with stops along the way in Italy.  The menu at Five Points isn't radically different from the kind of food Hough is doing here, and with appetizers $8-$12 and main courses $18-$25 (there is a $36 dry-aged strip steak), and a snack column of items like air-dried beef, fried spiced hominy, and shrimp beignets ($3-$6), you can get out rather cheaply if you like.  Beverage director Rebecca Foster's marvelously selected wine list of good buys, especially from Spain, Argentina, Chile, and Italy, makes the wine tab very reasonable too.
      The starters range from very tender grilled squid with white runner beans and an assertive salsa verde to a pretty nice pizza with grilled onions and mozzarella di bufala.  If you like chicken livers, you'll love these--crispily fried, with russet-chive potatoes and hot sauce. Best of all were fresh Florida shrimp with andouille-spiked grits. The difference between fresh shrimp and frozen (99.99 percent of all the shrimp sold in the U.S.) can be astonishing.
      The entrees break out into "Sauté," "Grill," "Rotissserie," and "Wood Oven," we chose among them:  Chile-braised short ribs with more grits and fried onions showed clearly that Hough knows what goes best together in delicious harmony.  So, too, sea scallops with a purée of celery root, sweet fried parsnips, and a ginger-tangerine brown butter worked very well, and suckling pig--a very tough thing to pull off in most restaurants--was tender, with a good piece of crisp skin, served with scarlet runner beans and a lovely roasted Winesap apple.  O.K.,  but nothing more was a ricotta lasagna with various mushrooms and a sage-walnut pesto whose sage got in the way and dominated an otherwise pleasant dish.  We ordered a side of spiced fries, nicely crisp but those spices overpowered the flavor of the potatoes.
      With this course we enjoyed a superb Viña Mein barrel-fermented Ribero del Duero '04 ($54), a blend of treixadura, godello, loureira, albariño, torrontes, albilla, and caiñol grapes that came together beautifully.
     Pâtissier Heather Miller does a fine job of homey but stylish desserts that included a wintry spice cake that was just perfect.  Indeed, perfection within a set of its own standards is something Cookshop strives for: not to be the most creative or the most glamorous new restaurant in town but to establish itself as a place for dependable, consistent, delicious food most sensible people would want to eat again and again.  I'm very glad it does what it does so well.


25 Italian Wines That Mattered
by Mort Hochstein

     It’s 1980 and what most Americans know more about Italian wines is limited to Bolla Soave and Valpolicella, cheap Chianti in a straw flask, and maybe, just maybe, a sweet, pink, fizzy wine called Riunite Lambrusco.  It was the year Leonardo LoCascio (right), a vice-president on the fast track at Citibank in New York, abandoned the corporate world to create Winebow, Inc., an importer and distributor specializing in the type of fine  Italian wines he’d been collecting for  his own cellar and promoting unknown wines from Italy's southern regions of Puglia, Campania, and  Sicily.  His Taurino Salice Salentino Reserva has become something of a fixture on Italian restaurant wine lists.
         eeeRecently LoCascio chose what he considered the 25 most influential wines of  the last 25 years, and it's an interesting topic for debate and further consideration. Granted,
most of the 25 were from Winebow, but his first choices Riunite Lambrusco ($4.69) and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($17),   both  imported by the competition. LoCascio contends that  Riunite (which is imported by Banfi) opened the door for other Italian imports, and Santa Margherita (Paterno Imports) because it introduced a whole new category of white wines from the north. Others, LoCascio said, were chosen  because they represent the quintessential wine of a master winemaker, and others because of exceptional quality.[
both from Bolgheri; four of Italy’s greatest wines not in the Winebow stable are on the list are Sassicaia  Tenuta San Guido  and Ornellaia Masseto, Antinori Tignanello, which launched the Super Tuscan category; and Gaja Barbaresco Sorí Tildin, from Piedmont, which is also represented by Coppo Barbera d’Asti,  Giacosa Barbaresco Asili, and Roberto Voerzio Barolo Veccie Vita Capalot e delle Brunate.
       Other Tuscan entries are Altesino Brunello Montosoli, Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione, Tua Rita Gusto di Notri, and Poggio al Tesoro Dedicato a Walter, from LoCascio’s own vineyard.

         7777His choices from the Veneto are Maculan Torcolato, one of Italy’s greatest dessert wines, and Allegrini Amarone and Zenato Valpolicella Ripasso. With the exception of Kris Pinot Grigio from Alto Aldige, Falesco Vitiano from Lazio, and Zardetto Prosecco Brut from Treviso, the rest come from Southern Italy and Sicily:  Tasca d’Almerita Rosso del Conte and Morgante Nero d’Avola Don Antoni, both from Sicily, Dry Muscat from Cantina di Venosa in Basilicata, Montevetrano, scarce and much sought after, from Campania; and Argiolas Turriga from Sardinia.
    Clearly over the last 25 years the American public has developed greater sophistication and interest that go beyond chardonnay and cabernet Sauvignon.  Red grapes such as aglianico, nero d‘avola, and cannonau,  and whites like vermentino, fiano and greco  now appear in rising numbers as varietals or in blends in stores and on restaurant lists.
    I  tasted the  Sardinian '00 Argiolas Turriga ($68), a dark, deep, concentrated, spicy monster, rich in ripe fruit flavor,  a perfect match for Sardinia’s hearty cuisine. Equally powerful but with more elegance, the ’98 Roberto Voerzio[[ou Barolo Brunate ($150) is a classic, its nose throwing off eucalyptus, tobacco and berry fruit, velvety on the palate, with a long finish.  Also from the Piedmont, the '00 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili ($80) offers a complex mix of raspberries and dried flower on the nose, with silken tannins and aromas that linger long after the glass is downed.  My personal favorite was the ’02 Montevetrano ($85), a youthful but lush blend of aglianico, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, with scents of ripe cherry, spice and wild berry fruit and rich, soft and well structured on the palate and a long finish. Give credit to oenologist Riccardo Cotarella who conceived this star of Southern Italy.
      kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkAlso a product of Cotarella, the ‘03 Falesco Vitiano ($7.99), a blend of cabernet, merlot and sangiovese is a fruit-forward mouthful, meant for early drinking, Cotarella’s successful innovation has inspired other winemakers in Lazio and Umbria to emulate Vitiano’s youthful style.
       The Allegrini Amarone '00 ($45) represents a new style, a food-friendly wine, succulent and generous on the palate, sweeter and much more approachable than the dull and often oxidized traditional version it has supplanted.  The desert-like climate of Basilicata is not a likely place to find fine white wines, but the  ’04 Cantina di Venosa Dry Muscat challenges that assumption.  It is sweet but not cloying, delicate but far from fragile, and a delightful way to start an afternoon or end a dinner.
     The prices above reflect an average of retail prices from



"Beyond the grove were lush green hills.  An old spy lived up there, we were told.  Everything in his house was faded.  The sun had even bleached the titles from the spines of his books.  If you were pretty and blonde, or interesting in some other way, the old spy might invite you in for cocktails."--Joshua David, "The Far-Flung Freedom of the Grenadines," Gourmet (December 2005).


Jones Soda of Seattle has come up with a salmon-flavored soda pop.


To all media publicity agents:   Owing to the large volume of announcements received regarding holiday events, I will only have room in this newsletter for those that have a unique distinction to them.  It would be impossible to list all New Year's dinners unless they are part of a much larger, more extensive format.--John Mariani

* Boston’s Sel de la Terre Chef/Owner Geoff Gardner and Wine Director Erik Johnson announce their winter-spring "Wine Wednesday" series, with  a selection of wines inspired by changing seasons, wine regions or varietals, paired with a 4-course tasting menu. Guests are seated at large tables that foster lively conversation. $45 pp. Call 617-720-1300 or visit

* From Jan.20-22 Mohegan Sun’s Third Annual Sun WineFest, in Uncasville, CT,  is once again hosting a weekend of cuisine from celebrity chefs, cooking demonstrations and competitions and a Grand Tasting of more than 1,000 exhibitors.  Also, “Celebrity Chef Press Meet and Greet,” with chefs Luis Bollo, Jimmy Burke, Todd English, Michael Ginor, Mary Ann Esposito, Chris Schlesinger, Lydia Shire, Loretta Oden, Jasper White and Ihsan Gurdai; Seminars led by sommeliers, winemakers. Please visit

* The 15th Annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival will take place Jan. 25-28.  Events incl.: "A Showcase of California Zinfandels" at City College of San Francisco; $125 for non-ZAP members; $100 for members; "Good Eats & Zinfandel" at Herbst Pavilion atFt. Mason, where 47 Zinfandel producers team up with restaurants and purveyors;  $100 for non-ZAP members; $75 for members; "An Evening With The Winemakers at The Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel; $250 for non-ZAP members and $200 for members; Tasting at the Festival and Herbst Pavilions; $50 for non-ZAP members and $40 for members. Tix available from or call 415-345-7575.

* On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Max McCalman of Artisanal and Picholine in NYC will offer innovative cheese combinations with Champagne and Cognac. Oumy Diaw of Champagne Gosset and Cognac Frapin will present top Champagnes and complex Cognacs which will be paired with a judicious selection of the finest hand-crafted cheeses at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, 500 West 37 St.  $75 per person.  Call 877-797-1200.

* Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is encouraging visitors to return to the city to celebrate this year’s Mardi Gras by offering a “Bed and Beads” package, incl.  two nights in suite accommodations, breakfast in the New Orleans Grill, and a Windsor Court Hotel tote bag filled with parade munchies, waters, special Mardi Gras beads and cups filled with special doubloons redeemable for “cocktails to go” from the Polo Club Lounge.   $969, with additional nights $350 per night. Available from Feb. 17-28. Call 1-800-262-2662 or visit


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,  Naomi  Kooker, Kirsten Skogerson,  Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Lucy Gordan, Suzanne Wright. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

 John Mariani is a columnist for Esquire, Wine Spectator, Bloomberg News and Radio, and Diversion.  He is author of The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink (Lebhar-Friedman), The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink (Broadway), and, with his wife Galina, the award-winning new Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from by clicking on the cover image.

yyy u7o9o ee
rer rr ryh

copyright John Mariani 2005