Virtual Gourmet

January 11, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                                           Tom Cat Bakery,  Long Island City, NY


SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking here.

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

To Read my article on Dining Out in Santa Fe, NM, in this month's Diversion Magazine, click here.

In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: La Masseria Triumphs by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: My 10 Favorite (Affordable) Wines of 2008
by John Mariani



WHAT IS HAPPENING IN VEGAS?. . . and a Few Words About What's Become of Sushi Out There

by John A. Curtas

     The headline in Nation’s Restaurant News in June said: “Vegas refuses to fold as economy craps out.” By late September that same banner read: “Hard luck befalls Las Vegas following U.S. housing bust.” The first article was full of quotes from the usual celebrity suspects and their flacks about how things weren’t as bad as they seem. Three months later, every one of them admitted business is down (in food and beverage up and down The Strip) around 16% from a year ago. Off the record, a number of the more prominent restaurateurs have told me the figure is closer to 20%.
Louis Osteen closed Louis’ and Louis’ Fish Camp last month, and a month earlier, Joseph Keller quietly shuttered Bistro Zinc at Lake Las Vegas. The venerable André’s downtown is history  and a number of places in the (overbuilt) Palazzo (15 mid-to-high-end restaurants opened there in early ‘08) are said to be hanging on by the skin of their teeth. As of this writing, Mainland has closed, and more shutterings are rumored to be in the works.
     All of this bodes well for diners, as early bird specials, bargain prix fixes, and reduced wine prices are showing up in places everywhere but Joël Robuchon (right) and Guy Savoy (and Savoy has his Bites and Bubbles bar menu, and a wine list that seems to have more good bottles under $100 than ever). Most well-known places from Mario Batali’s Carnevino to Bradley Ogden have quietly cut their prices from 5-10% in the past six months, and consumers can expect these reductions to hold steady in the near future.
       Into this mix comes Steve Wynn’s Encore; opening at the end of 2008 – with five new restaurants -- three of which are aimed at the fine dining crowd: Sinatra’s (Chef Theo Schoenegger); Botero Steak (Chef Mark Lo Russo); Switch (Chef Mark Poidevin). How these will fare in an already crowded (and much less profitable) field, should be most interesting to watch. The Wynn has already scuttled plans to open Larry Forgione’s An American Place, in the space housing Tableau. As of a month ago, Forgione was hard at the stoves at Tableau as its Executive Chef,  updating and revising its menu,  but not getting his signature restaurant name on the door. Yes, times are tough all around, and 2009 should prove a most interesting year for the Vegas dining scene.
       If one kind of food seems to be holding its own in Vegas, it might well be sushi.  Of course, sushi jumped the shark a long time ago. It maintained a slice of its dignity throughout the ‘90’s, but by the turn of the century it crossed the pizza line, never to return to what it is supposed to be. I remember being amused the first time I saw sushi rolls (maki-zushi) in Trader Joe’s ten years ago, just as I recall being horrified when they became staples in the isles of Costco and Wal-Mart around 2005.
      Like pizza, sushi, in its native and best form, is about the combination of a few, pristine ingredients into something far greater than the sum of its parts. And like the cheap cheese, doughy, over-thick bread concoction that pizza has become, sushi in America is now so far removed from whence it came that it can’t even remember its roots, much less try to respect them. And like pizza, the entire cult of raw fish has become so twisted that it no longer matters whether it’s any good or not.
     Sushi literally means: “it’s sour” and refers to the rice not the fish. Just as Vera Pizza Napoletana (certified authentic Italian pizza) is more about the dough than the toppings upon it; sushi is supposed to be about the rice at least as much as the fish garnishing it, something that’s become lost in this race to the bottom of the ocean. Connoisseurs look for and praise the taste and texture of the sumeshi (vinegared sushi rice) as the true star of sushi. That rice is always the starchy, short-grained Japonica rice to which sake, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and sometimes kelp are added. Americans who praise huge slices of fish on tightly packed, gummy rice are missing the whole point.
     Reviewing modern American “sushi” restaurants with an awareness of what sushi is supposed to be like is like critiquing "The Dukes of Hazzard" through the prism of "Citizen Kane."  Nevertheless, two sushi restaurants opened recently in Las Vegas, within weeks of each other, in two of the most prominent hotels, and the menus of each may help explain just what makes this food so irresistible to the American palate.

Palazzo Hotel and Casino
3265 Las Vegas Blvd. South

    Sushi Samba, part of a global chain, in The Palazzo is practically the poster restaurant for how illegitimate sushi and sashimi menus have become. Is it a Japanese restaurant? A Brazilian churrascaria? A Peruvian-fusion ceviche joint? Who knows? You certainly won’t after a meal there, and I couldn’t figure it out after three.
       The true (?) sushi options are relegated to the back pages of the book-like menu while five sashimi ceviches (?) and four sashimi tiraditos are pushed front and center. The difference between the ceviches and the tiraditos is the ceviches contain slabs of in-artfully sliced raw fish, whereas the tiraditos toss them and sauce them (tirado means “to throw”) with orange and mustard miso, yuzu and (tasteless) black truffle oil, and jalapeño and lemongrass. None of these overwrought concoctions are awful, but they have as much to do with true sashimi and ceviche as a turkey burger does with a Butterball. The sashimi ceviche, besides being a contradiction in terms, lay out the fish in cut strips on the plate while it sauces them with everything from ginger/garlic/soy to passion fruit cucumber and cilantro. They look like overlarge strips of raw fish and taste like something an impressionable cook would throw together after one trip to Nobu. It’s all very hip and trendy, but in the hands of novices, flavor distinctions are obliterated by the drenching they take from all that citrus.
      Even more disappointing is the garden-variety sushi offered. Snaking your way to the sushi bar, you will be assaulted by incessant samba music and non-stop, soft porn videos that appear to be celebrating womanhood in all its worldly guises, but which, in fact, exploit the semi-nude female form in a number of ways. Whether you think this is prurient and voyeuristic, or au courant, probably depends upon the number of tattoos and piercings you have.
      Once you find a spot at the sushi “bar” you’ll notice three things; one: the refrigerator case facing you is dirty inside and out; two: the small amount of fish inside that case is so tired and dried out you’d swear you were in some cheap, all-you-can-eat joint; and three: the sushi chefs are elevated two feet above you, making interaction with them impossible. Not that you’d want interaction with chefs who present Japanese snapper (madai), so crudely cut it looks like it was sliced with a butter knife, or a hotate (scallop) that is oversized, tasteless and gummy. Equally bad were Japanese mackerel tasting of cheap, pickled herring, salty and stale ikura (salmon roe), and a salmon and avocado roll that tasted of neither.
       When it comes to cooked food, the kitchen at Sushi Samba is particularly fond of sweet miso glaze, so expect that slick red bean paste to show up on everything from lamb chops to sea bass to a Berkshire pork belly with butterscotch miso. All are decently prepared, but before you get to them you’ll have to fight through the “taquitos” – perhaps the worst use of the hard taco shell since an Old El Paso slashed the roof of my mouth twenty years ago. Here, they get loaded with lobster, yellowtail and spicy tuna, to no great effect – other than to threaten your mandibular safety – and come with a spicy aji panca (Peruvian chile) sauce with, yet again, more lime.
       Among the truly awful fusion-food fiascoes are quinotto  (creamy Peruvian quinoa with barley, Manchego cheese, wild mushrooms and (once again) tasteless fresh herbs, a dish that looks like something the baby upchucked and smells barely better, and “El Topo,” a “samba” roll containing salmon jalapeño, shiso leaf, melted mozzarella and crispy onion. The Neo Tokyo roll is a garden variety spicy tuna roll – for fifteen dollars – and the tatami iwashi (crispy dried sheets of pressed sardines) are greasy highway robbery at ten bucks a bucket.
      If all of that isn’t enough to pique your interest, there are also twenty-two robata-grilled dishes, and a complete lineup of Brazilian steakhouse (churrasco) items. Whew! The bottom line: Sushi Samba is trying to be so many things it isn’t really good at any of them. But it’s been packed from the get-go by hipsters (and hipster-wannabes) who want to believe the food is much better than it really is. My guess is they also want to believe they’re eating fresh, healthy, authentic Japanese and Japanese/fusion food – and they’re not doing that either.
Sushi and sashimi are priced between $6-12 for two pieces, and $4-17 for individual cut or hand rolls, ceviches and tiraditos. “samba rolls” are priced between $10-20. A full meal including non-sushi items will run at least $150 for two.

Bellagio Resort and Casino
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South

     Yellowtail in the Bellagio is another creation from The Light Group,  nightclub impresarios who now run six food and beverage outlets in that hotel alone,  along with several others around town. Like the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, it runs a tight ship in all of its outposts, and rarely puts forth food that feels commercialized or by-the-numbers. Make no mistake though, like Sushi Samba, this is a corporate food factory, designed and planned to the nines; calculated at every turn to appeal to the zeitgeist of how modern America eats. And like Sushi Samba, it’s next door to a nightclub, so many of its customers are of that ilk.
Happily, the sushi and sashimi here are far superior in quality to that served a mile down the street. Chef Akira Back’s menu runs to two manageable pages – not six overloaded ones – and it contains many more hits than misses. The left side contains two categories: "Cool Shared Plates" and "Warm Shared Plates." On the cool side, the ballyhooed "Big Eye Tuna pizza" contains substantial amounts of good quality fish on a crispy crust garnished with micro-shiso leaf, which is then unnecessarily dabbled with (the much maligned, for good reason) truffle oil. Better is "scallop Peru" -- more akin to true ceviche, with thinly sliced scallops being lightly bathed in yuzu and sriracha that highlight and don’t overwhelm the flavors. Lobster carpaccio also respects the main ingredient, allowing it to be accented, not overwhelmed, by the cilantro, onion and ponzu sauce with which it shares the plate.
Not quite as successful is warm Scottish salmon – a seared chunk of high quality fish that gains nothing from being underneath a rice cracker and lightly sauced with a Japanese “hollandaise.” At $30, it comes to about ten bucks a bite. The “Signature” Lobster Roll is wrapped with asparagus and garnished with tasteless prosciutto that brings nothing to the party. Between this and the truffle oil pizza misfire, it might be a good idea for the kitchen to stick to its Asian roots and forget about Europe for a while.
Some fusion items work beautifully here: a baked crab hand roll with fried onions (more like a slimmed down mini-burrito wrapped in a strangely soft and tasty soy paper wrapper), and a crispy pork belly roll that displays enough non-Japanese unctuousness to satisfy any bacon lover. Equally rich are the two bites of just-grilled Kurasowa Black River (true) Kobe beef. At $42 an ounce, three slices are more than enough to appreciate this beef’s gamy decadence.
Yellowtail shines with its sushi even though it has no sushi bar per se. Everything is ordered off menu and composed out-of-sight, but the fish is artfully sliced, the right size, firm to the bite, and not burdened by anyone’s attempt to jazz it up. A plate of signature sushi items holds delicate, lightly seared toro of good quality, kimedai (Japanese Golden Eye snapper), braided kohada (barely marinated sardines that don’t taste like cheap, pickled herring), firm and chewy mizukado (octopus) and a Santa Barbara prawn that tastes as if it had been caught that morning. The rice is delicate, the right size, shaped well, slightly warm and full of infused-flavor. None of these competes with a top-of-the-line sushi boutique on either coast, but for a volume restaurant in a large hotel, you would be hard pressed to find better seafood or presentation.
If you ask for a whole sea sea urchin and they’re available, Back will parade one to your table, accompanied by long, thin slices of snow white yari ika – a skinny needle squid that at first feels chalky in your mouth, then melts on your tongue after a slight dip in dashi broth. The flavor contrast between it and the funk, salt and dankness of the urchin stays will remain in your taste memory long after you’ve left the restaurant.
Back’s tamago -- a small, sweet square omelet – is a worthy finish to your meal. He told me it is one of the yardsticks to measure the skill of a Japanese chef, and took him seven years to perfect. Japanese food can sometimes be subtle to the point of invisibility, but one bite of this airy, flour-less, sweet, egg-y creation is a good start to appreciating the most inscrutable of the world’s cuisines.
Like Akira Back’s tamago, sushi is a deceptively simple art. As America slowly weans itself from its steak and starch roots, sushi provides a food that, in its purest form, provides a healthful alternative to the way we used to eat. But as with most things edible, our cultural melting pot is not content to let something so pure remain just that. Americans seem to be more in love with the idea of sushi rather than in the execution thereof, and as long as seafood remains cheap, they will flock to this newest fad at the bidding of restaurateurs who are more than willing to cheapen and bastardize it in order to exploit its popularity. Thankfully some restaurants – even one in a huge Las Vegas hotel  – have enough respect for what sushi should be to hold the line a while longer. Oscar Wilde once said: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”  Sadly, the future of sushi is to remain neither.

Sushi and sashimi run between $7-12 for two pieces, with toro belly being much higher. Hand, cut and specialty rolls are priced between $5-25. Back’s omakase is $100/person with a $55 supplement for a sake and wine pairing.

John A. Curtas has 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

by John Mariani

235 W 48th Street (near Eighth Avenue)

      After four years, La Masseria has emerged as one of New York's very finest Italian ristoranti. Not that it wasn't the day it opened, in 2004, when I picked it as one  the best new restaurants of that year in America.  But quietly, devoted to its faithful clientele and each day introducing more and more signature dishes and regionality, La Masseria now ranks at the very top rank of la cucina Italiana new york--and given the presence of such great examples as Felidia, San Pietro, Il Posto, Convivio, Scarpetta, and Fiamma--along with any number of wonderful trattorias, it is testament to the extraordinary, day-to-day devotion of owners Giuseppe "Peppe" Iuele and Enzo Ruggiero with chef-partner Giuseppe Coladonato.
      La Masseria (which means "the farmhouse") is a beautiful restaurant in the Theater District done in a winning combination of  arched ceilings, farm utensils, photos and artwork, aged wood, and the modernity of iron sconces, stonework, and wine bins, all designed by Libby Langdon.  To the front is a good bar, windows overlook the street, and the main dining room (above) leads to a smaller party room.  Tables are well set and stemware of fine quality.  The noise level is entirely civilized for good conversation.  The service staff is professional and friendly, knowledgeable and always helpful, never intrusive but always there at a nod, led with affable spirit by Peppe and Enzo, boyhood friends from Capri.  The winelist gets stronger every year but not top-loaded with impossibly priced rarities (though they have some); instead there is plenty of good wine under $50 a bottle.
      The best way to begin here is to share a plate of antipasti--oozing buffalo mozzarella, slices of salumi, and sliced cheeses, all at the right temperature--and the best fried strips of zucchini in town, a big mound of greaseless, thin slivers you pop in your mouth. A heftier starter is a portion of the freshly made meatballs with tomato sauce, an item everybody loves and one that I'm seeing showing up in the trendier new Italian spots around NYC now.
      One f many stand-out farinaceous dishes at La Masseria is the granotto (right)--a Pugliese grain cooked till tender like risotto and sharing the plate with a lush seafood sauce, mussels, and white beans--a triumph of home-style Italian cooking! The fat bucatini strands of pasta are mixed with "vecchia Roma" sauce of onions, pecorino, and bacon, while fresh orrechiette alla barese comes with wonderfully bitter-salty broccoli di rabe and Italian sausage.  The owners' Caprese heritage is revealed in the raviolini (little ravioli) with caciotta cheese and a light tomato sauce--as good as any I've had along the Amalfi coast--while potato gnocchi (a little too soft that night) is dressed in a rich sauce of taleggio cheese and radicchio.
      For main courses you may go as simply as an impeccably grilled Mediterranean fish glossed with olive oil and lemon or the roast rabbit alla caprese with herbs and wine sauce. One of the very best renderings of veal alla milanese (left)--the pounded veal chop lightly seasoned and perfectly sautéed to a crisp exterior and succulent interior--is  the one done at La Masseria, and it comes with an arugula and tomato salad. A massive veal T-bone may also be enjoyed, cooked just the pint where the meat exudes all its flavor. Even richer but not overly lavish is a nicely seared filet mignon topped with fontina cheese and shavings of truffles in a reduction of red wine.
     La Masseria's desserts are not out of the ordinary in concept but their resolution puts to shame all those leaden versions of ricotta cheesecake and tiramisù elsewhere, and their warm apple tart with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream is one to fight over at the table.
     There was a time when I insisted that Italian food in this country cannot be made as well as in the regions of Italy where  dishes have been based on the best local ingredients.  The availability of those same fine ingredients have made the excellence of La Masseria possible, and, as my most recent dinner there proved, the dedication of the owners and chef makes there food as food as any in Campania, Puglia, or Rome right now.  NYC is very lucky to have La Masseria.

La Masseria is open daily for lunch and dinner, and it's a great choice for pre-theater dinner. At dinner antipasti run $8.50-$18.50, pastas (full portions) $15-$28.50, and main courses $17.50-$38.50.


My 10 Favorite (Affordable) Wines of 2008
by John Mariani

     Its been said that in good times you deserve to drink a good wine, but in bad times you need to. Fortunately, in 2008, more good wines at reasonable prices came into the market so that there is no real cause to suffer from what I call “Grand Cru withdrawal.”
      I’ve had so many terrific wines over the past year and few gave me much pause to check my bank balance before buying a bottle. Here are my picks—in no particular order--for the ten best of those I drank in 2008 and have every intention of enjoying in 2009.  All are still available in stores or online.

Barbera, especially from the Alba and Asti regions, have risen well above their once pedestrian image, and one of the finest Piedmontese winemakers and consultants, Renato Ratti, makes a big, beautiful, bountiful Barbera d’Alba Torriglione 2006 that ranks with more illustrious Piedmontese wines at three times the price. At just $20, it brimmed with fruit and had the faint, farm-like back taste I’d missed in so many other examples.

A vintage Champagne under $100 a bottle? Yes, indeed: Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Brut 1995 ($90) has just the right age on it for a blanc de blancs to give it real character, which in this case is woodsy, not musty, with none of that faint oxidation that can so easily push vintage bubblies over the edge.

Château Rocher-Calon is a big, brawny Saint-Émilion from the excellent 2005 Bordeaux vintage. It is as easy to enjoy right now for its richness with a sirloin as with a honey lamb stew, and at about $19 a bottle it is an outright steal. It will also take some aging, so at this price, stock up.

Clos du Val has long been one of my favorite California wineries, with more than three decades of experience on their side, and it shows in the delightfully crisp 2006 Chardonnay ($24) with its pretty vanilla notes. This is a cool climate chardonnay, easily distinguishable from the overripe, heavily oaked examples from other parts of Napa Valley.

American merlot has suffered from being too successful and from too many wineries making too much of the stuff, but one of the first in Napa to champion the grape was Duckhorn, whose 2004 Estate Grown Napa Valley Merlot ($85) I would rank with the finest from France’s Pomerol district, certainly a match for chateaux like Clinet, L’Évangile, and Latour-Pomerol. Duckhorn tastes of plums and sage, with 5 percent cabernet franc blended in.

Don Melchor’s 2002 cabernet blend shows at every level just how fine the best wines of Chile can be—especially those from the Maipo Valley. This is layered with spice, tannins, fruit, and acid in lovely equilibrium and will taste even better next year and the next.  At about $50 it is a great wine for winter’s meats and game.

As Champagne houses go drier and drier with their wines, the sparkling wine market elsewhere is retaining a commitment to the expressive flavor of the grape itself, and Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé ($20) is pure enchantment, with a medium-rich body and zesty effervescence enough to drink with spicy Asian food. Nothing out of the Champagne region comes close at this price.

Showing the magnificence of the nebbiolo grape, Marchesi di Barolo’s 2004 Barolo ($55) made me so happy that the traditional methods, combined with modern technology, will always produce wines with the distinctive taste of the terroir. The balance of alcohol and tannins is perfect, and though young, this is a wine to drink with great pleasure right now and to cherish having in the future.

I’m not ready to get overly excited by most current offerings of American petite sirah, but the 2004 vintage made by California’s Ehrhardt Estates Winery Clarksburg ($26) hits that sweet spot of price versus value for the varietal, with good minty, peppery, mineral notes and complexity throughout. The ideal wine for roast pork or a hot dog slathered with strong mustard.

I drink more and more riesling these days because as the sweetness drops away and Germany, Austria, Alsace, and America learn to make drier styles with better balance of fruit and acid, I find them attractive as aperitifs and as wines that go best with seafood. I particularly love Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese ($35), a bold, bright, peachy wine as good with poached trout as with a pan of hot chestnuts.

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.



An  Osaka-based company has begun using acupuncture on sushi tuna to calm their stress, resulting in better texture and flavor.



"Further to last month’s and yesterday’s intel about La Cave des Fondus, the official word is now out, and we’re told that Jacques Ouari's lounge was inspired by Refuge des Fondus, a joint in Paris that serves wine in glass baby bottles (or biberons) so as to avoid a tax on wine served in stemware. With its `intentionally rude waiters,' the Parisian spot sounds kind of like the French version of Dick’s Last Resort (by the way — how rude is an intentionally rude French waiter?). It remains to be seen whether its American knockoff will have similarly sadistic service, but it will incorporate the baby bottles. Fun! But please kill us if we ever drink beer out of a rubber nipple."--Bruce Palling in "More Intelligent "in The Economist.


* Through Jan. 18, Restaurant Jean-Louis in Greenwich, CT, is offering a “White Sale ,” taking 20% off its entire collection of white wines. Call 203-622-8450.

* From now until Feb. 28 on the west coast and March 31 on the east coast, the Patina Restaurant Group will offer special winter wine pricing by taking 25% off all bottles. Restaurants incl. Café Pinot, Pinot Bistro,  and Zucca, in California, and NYC’s Sea Grill list, Rock Center Café, and Brasserie 8. Visit

* Ken Frank,  chef/owner of La Toque restaurant at The Westin Verasa, Napa, is holding  Ken Frank’s Truffle Camps limited to eight students per session, to be held Jan. 11-14 and Jan. 18-21, incl. 3 days of dinners, wine tastings, luncheons, lodging,  and hands on experience preparing truffle dishes. Visit

* From Jan. 17-20th at Adour in DC, to honor the inauguration, a “Black Truffle Menu” at $190 pp. Call 202-509-8000.

* On Jan.19 the 3rd Growers Dinner will be held at Jack Falstaff in San Francisco, when Chef Jonnatan Leiva invites Chef Lauren Kiino of Bracia  in Oakland, local farmers and wine or beer producers to create and present a communal $85 meal. The Cavedoni Balsamic Vinegar Growers Dinner will feature balsamic vinegar from Cavedoni in Le Marche, Italy, with a selection of wines from Le Marche ,  Tuscany and Emilia Romagna.  Call 415-836-9239 or visit

* From Feb. 10-14 Park Hyatt holds a 6-day "Masters of Food & Wine, South America" at Palacio Duhau–Park Hyatt Buenos Aires and Park Hyatt Mendoza, with chefs Coque Ossio from Peru and Fernando Trocca from Argentina, et al from Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay, with cooking demos and tasting seminars.  Rates pp from $1,165-  $1,880 incl. 2 nights in Park Hyatt Buenos Aires  deluxe room, transfer in and out, breakfast, opening cocktail, wine tasting and Rarities Dinner ; Park Hyatt Mendoza $2,000 -2,700.  or call 800-233-1234.

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with foure 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: 9 TRAVEL EXPERTS ON WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2009.


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 2009