Virtual Gourmet

December 21, 2008                                                                 NEWSLETTER

"Madonna and Child" by Raphael



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In This Issue

NEW YORK CORNERFelice and Salumeria Rosi by John Mariani





Part 2
by John Mariani
Photos by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

From San Sebastián, Spain,  you can drive either East to Biarritz or, as my wife and I recently did, west on Route N634 along the rippling seacoast,  through small cities and tiny towns, many with ancient Basque names (the Basque name for their region is Euskadi) that contain those identifying x’s and z’s within their spelling. Many are fishing ports--large ones like Algorta, picturesque small ones like Zumaia, Getaria, and Donostia--and the arrantzaleak (fishermen) pray to their local saints to provide the best seafood in season, from sea bream to hake, from cod to mullet.
      Basque cuisine is rich in the local provender of mushrooms, which are eaten on certain feast days, apples, often made into cider enjoyed at tapas eateries, bean, and the rich bounty of the sea. The region even has museums of gastronomy, including one, in Tolosa, devoted solely to the history of pastry.
      Less than an hour from San Sebastián is the wonderful old, cobblestoned fishing town of Getaria, cuddled around a snug harbor, with the ancient Gothic church named San Salvador, whose floors are slanted upwards towards the sweetly configured Virgin Mary statue (right), a place of devotion by Basque fishermen.
     The harbor is dotted with seafood restaurants, where what you will eat is what just came up from the docks that morning.  The prettiest perch is at Kaia
(General Arnao 4; 94-314-0500), a restaurant above the harbor, with an extensive menu that includes the velvety bacalao dish called pil-pil, made by whipping olive oil and garlic until it becomes thick as mayonnaise. Downstairs, the more casual Kai Pe specializes in grilled seafood.  But my favorite place is Iri-Bar (Kale Nagusia; 94-314-0406) cattycorner to San Salvador Church. Decked out with fishnets, ship's steering wheel, and old stonework (left), it has a coziness and the feel of a place that long ago  perfected its cuisine.
   The chef-owner is a young, genial woman named Pili Manterola, the grand-daughter of Iri-Bar's founder. She keeps pretty much to the kitchen or outside where they have a charcoal grill. Inside the waitstaff puts on a fairly somber face and they could be more attentive to guests. This is a very popular place, especially on weekends when families pile in, so if you don't make a reservation you will sit on the mezzanine, which is actually a wonderful spot from which to watch the Spaniards file in, sit down, eat and drink.
      The large menu is built around the day’s fish, so we ordered a lustrous and tender octopus salad, quickly grilled prawns glossy with olive oil, and rodaballo (turbot), which, like all the fish here, is grilled over an outdoor charcoal grill, the flesh moistened with frequent sprinklings of olive oil, white wine, and garlic.  The best  seafood is no longer cheap in Spain, but with a bottle of good house wine—a white verdejo (about 6 euros)—at Iri-Bar, we were happy to have had such a delicious and very lavish meal for under $90, which included  a lovely light, warm  cheesecake and creamy rice pudding  to finish. As everywhere in Spain, tax and service are included, so tipping is not necessary.
      Farther west, we found Eneperi Jatetxea (right) off a hairpin turn along the swerving coast road between Bakio and Bermeo.  Timbered throughout with a barn-like roof,  plenty of sailor memorabilia—even a small museum of marine artifacts--and waitresses in traditional blouses and long skirts, this is a rustic and beautiful restaurant, albeit with a somewhat lax, even obtuse service staff, that draws men (predominantly) for a business lunch or couples for a serious night out. Here the menu still holds to regional cookery but with considerable flair in dishes like green Basque peppers stuffed with onion and pork (16.50€), the moist tail of hake (19€) in a red pepper sauce, and an ice cream made from fresh cheese and walnuts with Chinese gooseberries (6.50€). It is a bit more expensive than some other restaurants in the region, but you are getting atmosphere galore, including a gorgeous panorama on the sea. The winelist is very good, the glassware thin, the tablecloths starched.
       The city of Gernika-Lumo is a requisite stop on the Basque tour, not because it is particularly beautiful but because of its significance
as a town deliberately used by Franco and his conspiring friend Adolph Hitler in 1937 as a bombing run for what was to be called the blitzkrieg of Poland two years later.  The event was abstracted by Picasso into one of his finest paintings, now in Madrid's National Museum of Art (the one to the left is an outdoor copy in Gernika),  The air raid devastated the town, and so Gernika has become a symbol of both world peace and a reminder of the horrors of war.  Three trees at the Casa de Las Juntas now commemorate the event, and the local museum displays the agonies of what occurred.
          There aren't really a lot of places to eat in Gernika (one of the better known, Zallo Barri, was closed when we visited), but the quite modern and charming Zimela (below; Carlos Gangoiti, 57; 946 251 012)  is bright and colorful, with a wall of  windows and big, generously spaced, well-set tables. But, again, the staff that seemed  nowhere to be found after food was served.   We did enjoy sweet white asparagus (12€) stuffed with vegetables and topped with a thin slice of salmon; very good scrambled eggs with local mushrooms (14€); finely grained beef sauced with a local cheese, and  a puree of potatoes and green peppers (17€). But fried hake with green peppers (15€) was bland in every way. There was only one other table occupied that evening, and the guests were feasting on what we probably should have ordered--a thick steak, cut, as in Florence, into slabs and seared  a la plancha tableside.  The aromas alone were inebriating.
         We also had dinner in Gernika at one of the most modest restaurants I've ever been to, and, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it had a lot to be modest about: Restaurante Viejo-Rudolfo, in the center of town, is little more than a large room grimly lighted by fluorescent bulbs, with paper tablecloths, and a yellowed copy of Picasso's "Guernica" on one wall.  The food was negligible--fried vegetables to pick at, very small veal chops that were overcooked and set on top of oily fried potatoes, and whatever else the sweet old lady proprietor recommended from a menu with x-ed out items not available that night; there were a lot of x's. The word "honest food" comes to mind, but if honesty isn't worth a euro, why bother?
       Eventually we wound our way south through pine forests and tiny towns like Eibar, Urkiola, and Durango, to the beautiful, broad city of Vitoria, called Gasteiz in the Basque language.  Bustling and modern, Vitoria has been very careful to restore and maintain its historic buildings, fine churches, painted façades (like the one at the top of this article), and green parks. It is a youthful city and a walking city, with many streets closed to motor traffic, including the wonderful main plaza. The New Cathedral of Maria Immaculada  (left) is so called because it was only inaugurated in 1969.  Done in a neo-Gothic style, it has a magnificence lightened by its height and elegantly slender columns, wonderful stained glass, and enchanting expanses of golden light.
        In Vitoria we dined at one of the oldest restaurants in northern Spain, El Portalón, (below) hidden behind a nondescript oak door--you'd easily pass it without knowing it's a restaurant--on a three-story building dating to the 15th century, inside a warren of varnished staircases, rough wooden beams, tiled floors, and antique artwork.  There was a 23€ lunch, wine included, that  we took good advantage of, enjoying the hearty, generous food, from
from a thick, red bean soup riddled with cabbage and slices of blood sausage, to squid cooked in its own ink with rice, and a platter of flavorful, fatty morsels of oxtail with sliced fried potatoes. Puff pastry with vanilla cream and chocolate sauce and a cheese tart with chocolate bits and raspberry sauce were lovely endings to the meal.  Service, yet again (sigh), was perfunctory at best.
       Lekeitio is a pleasant seaside town  worth a walk of an hour or two. The most recommended restaurant is Egaña (Antiguako Ama, 2; 94 684 01 03), a good, solid place for typical food at a very fair price. It is a big, bright room (below) with brown and white marble tiles, polished wooden chairs, and mirrored walls set with orange sconces.  Here the service couldn't have been nicer. Go for the seafood here--grilled crayfish done to a turn (to wash your fingers they afterwards provide you with a lemon and a dish that looks filled with mouthwash), a large portion of turbot a la plancha,  and  golden fried mullet--with both the fish dishes costing 16.50€ each.

        So much has been written about Bilbao because of its acquiring the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum ten years ago that the city’s Basque character has been somewhat displaced, an evolution that has been much commented on by the residents of this once industrial city.   The city fathers were, however, prescient in realizing that in the post-industrial era of the city's history that the only thing that could draw people to it were the arts, beginning with the coup of acquiring the Guggenheim, whose armor-like profile, right next to a beautiful modern suspension bridge, is now only part of the extensive series of museums and outdoor esthetics of this very vibrant competitor to Barcelona and Madrid.
      The very best hotel in town is the classic Carlton overlooking the Plaza Federcio Moyua, from which spokes of broad avenues lead you to the finest shopping, the many museums, and across the Bilbao River to the old town where you still find much of the city's historic character, especially around the Cathedral of Santiago, a neighborhood now teeming with new tascas and cafés that express both the old spirit and the youthful vitality of this very fashionable city. One of the best new tapas bars in the quarter is Berton (Calle Jardines 11; 944-167-035), which is especially known for the quality of its Iberico ham, which hangs by the score from the ceiling.
      On the other side of the river, where all the new cultural facilities are built, two quite modern restaurants exemplify the city’s culinary creativity right now: Restaurante Etxanobe (below) is located on the third floor of the striking Palaçio de Congresos y de la Musica, looking out over the city from glass walls.  Well-spaced tables and impeccable service lend a sophisticated ambiance to the evening, which begins with excellent breads and six different olive oils. A shooter of vegetables and melon was presented along with silver spoons of a single anchovy with peppers and olive oil.  Here grilled langoustines are scented with vanilla (25€), and a red rockfish with orange—inventive but not molecular, simple cooking with real flair.  The Ménu Degustación is 57€, with a Ménu Gastronómico at 69€. The winelist here is one of the most outstanding I've found in the Basque country.                                                 
Photo courtesy of Restaurante Etxanobe

     We found a similar streak in the cooking at Arbola-gaña (Plaza del Museo; 944-42 4657),  overlooking the garden from the top of the superb Museum of Fine Arts.  Minimalist in décor and wrapped entirely in glass, with brown leather chairs and track lighting and tables set with little bonsai trees, Arbolaga-gaña presents its cuisine artfully: a creamy cheese soup was well spiced and buoyed with wild mushrooms (13€); garlic-soaked squab (19€) was roasted pink and sauced with its own pan juices; and dessert was a tour de force of nine fragile layers of pastry, sweet cheese and white chocolate (5.50€).
      During our trip we did not find much in the way of so-called "molecular cuisine" of the kind pioneered by Spanish chef Ferran Adria, but one new place did stand out as worth keeping an eye on for this kind of daring--Eneko Atxa Azurmendi, about 15 minutes' drive from Bilbao in Larrabetzu.  Here, within an ultramodern corporate meeting complex and txakoli winery, young, handsome Chef Azurmendi (below) works within a kitchen that reminds you as much of a hospital lab as a cooking spot, and in fact, he showed us how he uses a centrifuge to concentrate his sauces.

       My wife and I dined, at a good pace, on nine of his dishes, fusionary, but none  as contrived as some of the extravagant molecular cuisine in Spain is, but more a canny balance of traditions and modernism, evident in dishes like Azumendi's "ecological" egg injected with a hot infusion of baby squid; lobster with aromatic herbs and smoked tea; pink pigeon cooked over cherrywood; and dazzling chocolate desserts.
      These are the kind of contrasts of the very old and the very new, the very basic and the very refined, are found throughout Basque gastronomy right now, and while in the vanguard of modern Spanish cuisine, it is securely anchored as it always has been to the sea and the land to which it owes everything.

To read Part One of this article click here.

Photo courtesy of Eneko Atxa Azurmendi

by John Mariani

Two wonderful little Italian eateries have opened in Manhattan--one on the upper East Side, one on the West-- that seem to show the direction we will all want to go for good food and good prices this year.

1166 First  Avenue (at 64th Street)

    Charcuterie and small plates have become quite the gastro-trend of 2008, and I expect it to carry into 2009 with even more verve.  A good template for others to check out would be the year-old Felice Wine Bar, whose stress on wine in no way dilutes the diminishes the options for salumi, pastas, and main courses at this charming East Side trattoria.
      Rustic, with bare floors and bare wooden tables, brick walls, a sleek bar backed with wine bottles, Felice's sweet ambiance is curdled only by the ridiculously loud music they pipe in for unimaginable reasons. 
There is also a 46-seat wine bar and a 9-foot  communal table that helps the conviviality even more.
      Owner Jacopo Giuustiniani, who comes from an Italian wine family, and chef Chef Simone Parisotto, more or less focus on Tuscan fare, while the more catholic winelist has more than 100 Italian labels at very reasonable prices. Eighteen wines are offered by the glass. The prices for the food are also right, for you could just load up on antipasti, salumi, and a plate of pasta and be very happy for under $35 plus a glass or two of wine.
     Just plunge right in anywhere--a platter of crostone (toast) with a fresh tomato puree and julienne of vegetables, or with artichoke cream and Speck bacon (left), or with wonderful sweet eggplant and soft-centered burrata. Of course you'll want to try the various cheeses of the day and the salumi toscani, to be savored with a nice light red or a white Tocai Friulano.
     Pastas are simple in the true trattoria style, from linguine with olive oil and garlic flecked with red pepper flakes; the ricotta-spinach ravioli in a butter sage sauce; or perhaps a risotto with frutti di mare lavishly incorporated.
     If you're still not done, consider the branzino quickly pan-seared and then glossed with a salmoriglio, a dressing of olive oil, lemon, garlic, parsley, and oregano.  Sirloin is cut into slices and topped with arugula and shavings of Parmigiano.
       Felice is not a novel idea but it is one increasingly popular for reasons that have as much to do with good taste as easy-on-the-budget pricing.

Felice Wine Bar is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, for brunch Sat. & Sun., and for dinner nightly. Antipasti $9-$16, pastas $10-$18, entrees $18-$28.

Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto
283 Amsterdam Avenue (near 73rd Street)

    "Generally speaking, Italian salumi can be divided into two broad categories: whole cuts, which include prosciutto, coppa pancetta and insaccati, or ground meat stuffed in a casing, which include all types of cured and cooked sausages, like cotechino and mortadella."
     So says the website of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, which is similar in style and focus to Felice Wine Bar above but more intensely devoted to those cured meats just described. The meats themselves come from a collaboration of Italy's  renowned salumi makers, the Rosi family, and the ebullient Tuscan chef Cesare Casella (below), formerly of Beppe and Maremma restaurants in Manhattan, and also Dean of the Italian Culinary Academy at the International Culinary Center in SoHo.
     Clearly everything those two masters know has gone into the superb salumi served in this tiny, 25-seat eatery (with a mere four seats at the bar, above) on the upper West Side. The winelist here is not as extensive as that at Felice, and because of the room constraints for storage, the red wines may come out a little warmer than ideal.
      There's good bread here--requisite to accompany the marvelous meats like San Gimignano Prosciutto rubbed with rosemary, black pepper, and garlic, then grilled; dry-cured and smoked Speck from Alto-Adige, quite a bit like German and Austrian bündnerfleisch hams; the cured pork jowl called guanciale; the signature cooked prosciutto; the well-fatted mortadella of Bologna; and the slowly roasted seasoned loin of pork  sliced thin, perfect on a plate or in a paninoA selection of meats runs $10-$28 per pound.
      These meats might satisfy anyone for a light repast, but an Italian restaurant must serve pasta, so "SRP" dishes out one or two per night--although they ran out of the lasagna our table craved. Instead, we were consoled with malloreddus, a Sardinia pasta shape in a Roman style, all'amatriciana, with a good dose of cured pork, red onions, and tomatoes. There's a plate of sweetly caramelized cipollini onions (right), then there was slowly-cooked tripe, so tender, so perfumed with tomato and spiced with Parmigiano; spicy Tuscan spareribs with tomatoes, garlic, and rosemary reminded me of how much I miss Casella's restaurant Maremma, and I was happy to see stracotto (hearty beef brisket stew) with polenta--wonderful for a cold winter's night, all prepared by chef de cuisine Alexis Pisciotta, a nice Bronx girl who's worked at Lupa in Greenwich Village and at London's acclaimed River Café.
      Yet another amiable things about SRP is that it opens at eleven in the morning and stays that way for the next twelve hours, so if you skipped breakfast or get the munchies after theater, Lincoln Center, or the movies, you can nosh your way through as much or as little of this wonderful salumi, cheese, and bread as you wish, with a good glass of wine to get you to sleep like una bambina.

Antipasti plates run $4-$9, meats $10-$28.



The Marchesi di Barolo Wants to Win Over the Barbaresco Snobs
by  John Mariani

     Whenever a wine snob voices the cliché that in Piedmont, Italy, Barolo is the masculine “king” of wines and Barbaresco the feminine “queen,” Anna Abbona, smiles and shakes her head. “Perhaps it is only that women prefer Barbaresco because it sounds lighter,” says the owner, with her husband Ernesto, of the historic Marchesi di Barolo estate (left), which makes both kinds of wines.
     In fact, both wines are made from the same grape, nebbiolo, which has never produced a wine of distinction outside of Piedmont, where the chalky soil and humidity (nebbia means “fog”) are ideal and the location of the vineyards give Barolo and Barbaresco their different styles. Both wines are known for being aromatic and silky, often with high alcohol levels, but never jammy.  Barolo is aged longer than Barbaresco (three years, two in barrel vs one to three, with one in barrel), with riservas spending four or five years aging. If, then, Barbarescos seem somewhat lighter in body and looser tannins, they have their own complexity of terroir.

      Still, Barbaresco has achieved a higher status, largely owing to the fame of Angelo Gaja’s versions, which often sell for $120 and more. Barolo, kingly or not, has become the stepbrother—-to Barbaresco.
       The Abbonas are trying to balance the perceptions about the two nebbiolo wines, not least because they are owners of an estate that dates to the 12th century through the aristocratic Falletti family that claimed to have given Barolo wine its name. The Abbonas acquired Marchesi di Barolo in 1929; Anna, 50, (right) married into the family and has become known for her tireless efforts not just to restore the estate but to head the Wine Tourist Movement in Italy to promote winery estates as travel destinations.
      “We are not just a company,” she insisted over lunch with me at Angelina's, an Italian restaurant in Tuckahoe, NY.  “We are a family winery, and we know what we have to do with our wines by controlling every aspect from the vine to the bottle.  We are not just looking to get rich. In Italy big wineries are buying small ones and changing their wines for a global taste. In the last 15 years people just want to be impressed by simply tasting a wine. You have to drink a wine, not just taste it, and we make our wines with elegance so they can give pleasure throughout a meal.”
      To this end Marchesi di Barolo, while invested with the most modern vinicultural technology, makes its wines in the reserved, highly refined style they have for decades.  They still use some of the big oak barrels that date back 200 years, this at a time when many Piedmont wineries extensively use smaller barriques made from new wood.
      The estate is also famous for its library (left) of 35,000 wines, with vintages  dating back to 1859 and still offering limited quantities to American clients of vintages from 1938, 1947, 1948,1961, and 1964 (the U.S. is the estate’s most important market, exporting 20 percent of its production here), which allows a winelover truly to assess both the consistency and the changes in Piedmontese winemaking over the last eight decades.
      With Anna, who speaks English as fast as she does Italian, I tasted several of her wines.  The 2004 ($55), aged for one year in bottle, had a wonderful warmth on the palate, tight in the nose, as expected from a young vintage, with a charming rose-like bouquet. An older vintage, 1999 ($90), had achieved marvelous maturity, very elegant, full bodied, and expressive of nebbiolo’s underlying spiciness. Not surprisingly, a 1990 ($125) showed off a classic, older style of brawniness, but it was a highly satisfying wine with plenty of vitality left.
     The winery’s Estate Vineyard series comes from their finest vineyards, like Cannubi, Coste di Rose, and Sarmassa, and spends 1-2 years in bottle; the 2003 vintage ($63) was still dark, intense, with a truffle-like nose and a developing balance of elements still coming into complex focus.
      We then tasted a wine that came from grapes grown entirely in the prestigious Cannubi vineyard, considered the finest in the region, which faces east and absorbs the blessed benediction of the sun. The Abbonas own about two-thirds of the vineyard, and their Cannubi label represents one of the highest achievements of Piedmontese winemaking today.
      Grapes are all hand-picked, fermented in stainless steel, then part of the wine is aged in oak for two years, with another portion in moderately toasted French oak for one year; after blending they spend a year in bottle. I tasted the 2004 ($100), which has a high 14.5 percent alcohol level, yet the wine did not blast my palate with either heat or overripe fruit flavors.  It was certainly full bodied, and the oak is still present, so I’ll look forward to a rematch in about five years.
       Till then, I’ll content myself with the idea of getting hold of one of those library wines to give me an idea how the Marchesi di Barolo wines of this century will develop in the decades to come.

John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play on the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.



Prosecutors in Multnomah County, Oregon, obtained a confession from 275-pound murder suspect Tremayne Durham after promising him a buffet of all his fast food favorites, including a bucket of KFC, a bucket of Popeye’s fried chicken, carrot cake, pizza, two calzones, lasagna, and ice cream in change for his confession, costing the town $41.70 instead of a trial that would have cost $4,000. Durham got a life sentence.


“It seems half our [food] TV programmes consist of loud-mouth, obscene used car salesmen such as Jonathan Ross and acolytes who delude themselves that they’re funny, and the other half of stupid men in white aprons with striped trousers whose only cooking is done in phoney TV studio recreations or kitchens they once knew. Well, it’s either that or Nigella [Lawson’s] bosoms.  I can’t think which horror to choose.  Honestly, I’d rather watch the spin-dryer.”—Michael Winner, “Why I Hate All Those Celebrity Chefs,” Daily Mail (11/25/08).

Jonathan Ross

Nigella Lawson

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Spin Dryer


TO ALL PUBLICISTS: Owing to the amount of material sent to this newsletter regarding Christmas and New Year's dinners--many of which are only announcements as to price fixed dinners--it is impossible for me to include any but the most unusual of events for those holidays in Quick Bytes. --John Mariani

* In Boston, every Tues. and Fri. evening, Aura will turn its dining room into an impromptu “Romper Room,” complete with toys, and kid-friendly food, called "Fine Dining, Family-Style” while parents can  enjoy a sophisticated meal prepared by Chef Rachel Klein. Call 617-385-4300;

* This winter and spring the inn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN, will hold a series of wine dinners with guest chefs. Dinners incl: Jan. 8-11, Taste of the South; March 12-15, Appetite for Life; March 29-April 1: Washington Insider, with Patrick O’Connell of The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, VA. For complete info visit

*On Jan. 8 Chef Michael Lachowicz of Restaurant Michael in Winnetka will host a Le Coste di Cicolina Wine Maker dinner for $72 pp. Call 847-441-3100.

* In 2009, Share Our Strength’s A Tasteful Pursuit®, presented by Lexus, presents a national, touring dinner series, launching Jan. 26, at NYC's Lever House.  Other tour stops incl. L.A., D.C., Cleveland, Dallas, Nashville and Palm Beach. Funds support Share Our Strength®, a national organization working to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry. Participating chefs incl.  Daniel Boulud,  Café Boulud, Palm Beach; Terrance Brennan - Artisanal Bistro, NYC; Stephan Pyles - Stephan Pyles Restaurant, Dallas; Jody Adams- Rialto, Boston; Gordon  Hamersley- Hamersley’s Bistro, Boston; R.J. Cooper-Vidalia, DC; Michel Richard- Citronelle, DC, et al. Visit or contact Joe Allegro at 917-834-5335.

* In the Tuscan village of Saturnia, Terme di Saturnia Spa & Golf Resort offers guests the  Mediterranean Lifestyle Package, with 2009 rates starting at just €3,300 or $4,528 for double-occupancy for a 4-night stay, with breakfast daily, one Specific Face Treatment, one Full Body Massage and one Four-Hand Massage Shower per person, guided morning hikes, one complimentary dinner at the resort’s All’Acquacotta with a bottle of wine, a signature resort welcome gift and airport transfers. Visit

From Jan. 23-30, The Italian Trade Commission will present "VINO 2009," showcasing more than 270 producers from Abruzzo, Calabria, Lombardia, Toscana , Veneto, and other regions. The program will kick off Jan.  23-25 at the Boston Wine Expo at the Seaport/World Trade Center with a series of seminars and tastings.  A 3-day conference in NYC begins Jan. 26, with a welcome reception at the Waldorf Astoria, seminars and tastings at the NY Palace. Weds. grand tasting at the NY Hilton, walk around  more than 250 vintners.  The Consorzio Brunello di Montalcino will hold its annual "Benvenuto Brunello" to preview the region's five-star-rated 2004 vintage. VINO 2009 will conclude in Miami Jan. 30 at the Intercontinental Hotel with a seminar and walk around tasting. VINO 2009 is open exclusively to wine industry professionals; admission is complimentary. Visit


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with 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."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: A Few of My Favorite Places in 2008 and The 10 Best Travel Books of 2008.


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). THIS WEEK: A Report on The Four Seasons Jackson Hole. Click on the logo below to go to the site.

Family Travel Forum: The Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!", is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy, safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.

Family Travel Forum

All You Need to Know Before You Go


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani,   John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. 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 Italian-American Cookbook (Harvard Common Press).

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

My newest book, written with my brother Robert Mariani, is a memoir of our years growing up in the North Bronx. It's called Almost Golden because it re-visits an idyllic place and time in our lives when so many wonderful things seemed possible.
    For those of you who don't think of the Bronx as “idyllic,” this book will be a revelation. It’s about a place called the Country Club area, on the shores of Pelham Bay. It was a beautiful neighborhood filled with great friends and wonderful adventures that helped shape our lives. It's about a culture, still vibrant, and a place that is still almost the same as when we grew up there.
Robert and I think you'll enjoy this very personal look at our
Bronx childhood. It is not yet available in bookstores, so to purchase a copy, go to or click on  Almost Golden.
--John Mariani

© copyright John Mariani 2008