Virtual Gourmet

January 18, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

Biancardi's Meats, Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY circa 1935

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: The Oak Room by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Is It A Good Time to Auction Your Wines?  by John Mariani



by John Mariani

                                                          "Moulin de la Galette" (1876)  by Renoir

       Back in the good old days—last summer—a Champagne-fueled business meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris seemed a requisite. Now, however, a business meal is more likely to take place in a new or old reliable bistro where what’s left of expense accounts still goes a long way.
      And since the US dollar did gain ground on the euro, a meal that might have cost $75 last January now costs about $60-$65. And the 2008 Michelin Guide to Paris lists scores of “Bib Gourmand” restaurants serving “quality cuisine” for a maximum price of 35 euros.
      On a trip to Paris last month this month I sought out places that business people pack at lunch and dinner to see how far my US dollar would go for quality cuisine. (It was running $1.27 to the euro then, it is $1.31 as I wrote.) Traditionally menu prices are the same at lunch and dinner, though some restaurants are now offering special deals at midday. I ate very well indeed, keeping with modest wines.

      Unless the dollar sinks badly, current prices at these very popular Parisian restaurants are in every way competitive with their counterparts in New York, Chicago, or Boston--with one exception: In Paris the tax and service are included in the price of the dish, so you need not tip one extra euro when you pay the check.

Café Moderne
40 Rue Notre Dame des Victoires
011-33 (0) 1 53 40 84 10

      My first stop was Café Moderne, opened in 2003 but since last summer wholly owned by Frederic Hubig and his beautiful wife Claudia Hubig-Schall, who last month brought in Chef Jean-Luc LeFrançois from the Hotel Astor.
     Located just across from the old Bourse, Café Moderne has been redecorated to reflect its name, a long, sleek room with brown and cream-colored walls, orange banquettes, blond wood floor, and black-and-white food and wine photos.
      At midday there is a two-course 30€ euro meal, at night a 5-course dinner at 39. I chose from the à la carte menu, which was full of superb modern ideas like a tartlet of tender petit gris snails with a compote of red onions (12€); duck foie gras with dried fruits and pumpkin chutney (16€); and a rich chestnut velouté with a mushroom croquette (11€). Main courses included tender, quickly roasted sea scallops with endives and sliced hazelnuts (27€); shoulder of lamb confit with shallots and a parsnip mousseline scented with thyme and citron (24€); and a breast of guinea hen with roasted salsify (23€). We ended off with a sweetly caramelized apple-rhubarb tart infused with verbena (12€) and classic millefeuilles puff pastry with bourbon-laced vanilla cream (12€).  The winelist is excellent and hoplds plenty of bottlings under 50€.
      If there was ever a place that epitomized the French term savoir-faire, Café Moderne is it, and its owners have plenty of it so that they are working hard to make everyone feel very welcome, not least Americans--the owners speaks impeccable English.

Café Moderne is open for lunch and dinner daily.

Chez Georges
1 Rue de Mail

      My second meal was at an old favorite, as old–fashioned as Café Moderne is of the moment:  Chez Georges on the Rue de Mail is a quintessential Parisian bistro, with typical décor of a zinc bar, maroon leather banquettes, antique mirrors, and art nouveau touches.  In a word, it bustles, and it is crammed in the most frenetically delightful way. The fleet-footed, veteran waitresses are in no mood for chitchat--English is rudimentary among them but they get their point across--and they seem to know everyone in the place. So do not assume you can just walk into Chez Georges without a rez.
     The menu hasn’t changed in years, and the best-priced regional wines are scribbled on the side of the menu, like the sturdy Loire Valley Chinon (26€), which was perfect with our starters of peppery frisée salad topped with a quail egg (11€), a creamy chicken liver terrine (11€), and a quart-sized crock of fatted rabbit rillettes (11€) from which you scoop out as much as you like, spread it on toasted bread, pop a gherkin into your mouth, and know you are in the belly of Paris food culture.
     Grilled lamb chops with green beans (26€) were skimpier than I remember them in past visits, but the sole “Georges” (35€) was magnificent—a huge portion of sole fillets in a pond of buttery cream sauce dotted with tarragon.
      Deserts include a velvety chocolate fondant with mandarin orange (10€), crisp tarte Tatin (10€), and a plate of frumpy-looking but delicious profiteroles drowning in bittersweet chocolate sauce (10€). You go out feeling brighter, a little woozy from the wine, thinking that in Paris the old canard that "le plus ça change. . ." really is true in places like Chez Georges.
       (By the way, the Chez Georges on Boulevard Perèire is wholly unrelated.)

     Chez Georges is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Fri.      

5 place de l’Alma
011-33-(0)-1-53 67 97 53

     If you find yourself meeting for business or pleasure around the Champs Elysée, perhaps staying at the Four Seasons George V on Avenue George V, there is a fine seafood restaurant on the street called Marius et Janette, with its ship's ceiling, fish lures, and hanging swordish. For great meats, however, step right across the street to DeVéz, which I found jammed on a cold Sunday afternoon, including the heated terrace that allows a good view of Paris’ passing parade.
      The décor is dated and somewhat drab--brown wood, brown curtains, bare brown tables— but the waitresses, dressed in black,  are young, very amiable, and get by with moderst English.
       You come here for one thing—beef from the famous grass-fed Aubrac cattle from a town of the same name in southern France. DeVéz offers several cuts, along with a hearty, wine-dark beef stew (20€) with huge chunks of sweet carrots. I loved the chewy, mineral-rich flavor of a thick rump steak with pale yellow Béarnaise (22€), and, as if to show the French can make a great hamburger, DeVéz offers “Le Gran Mac Aubrac” (18.50€)—two inches of ground meat on a bakery bread roll with soft onions and terrific frites on the side. They even bring a bottle of Heinz ketchup to the table.
      Start off with one of the best onion soups (10€) in Paris, bubbling with thick Gruyère cheese and sweet onions. And as long as you’re going overboard with calories, order the incredibly rich aligot—-potatoes whipped with garlic and a lavish amount of Cantal cheese so that it becomes a stringy, hot, gooey mass of goodness. The winelist is strong in bottlings from the Rhône and Languédoc. Skip dessert, which will probably not cross your mind anyway.

 DeVéz is open daily for lunch and dinner.


by Sean Cronin

Aux Lyonnais-
-32 Rue Saint Marc;  01 42 96 65 04--
This amiable French bistro has been around since 1890 but for several years now has been under the ownership of  Alan Ducasse.  As you’d expect from its name, this comfortable old bistro specializes in the cuisine of the area around Lyon. About 50 seats, with a high tin ceiling and chandeliers, a black-and-white tile floor with the patina of decades of convivial meals. Sample prices: Pig’s ears in brioche,  €12; Charcuterie Lyonnais platter, €14; Roast guinea fowl,  €21; Desserts - €10 or €11.

La Rôtisserie d’ en Face--2 rue Christine01 43 26 40 98--It sits on a small, narrow street in the chic, funky, Saint Germaine de Pres area on the Left Bank of the Seine The restaurant, owned by Jacques Cagna,  is cheery, warm and inviting with off white walls, wooden tables, sand-colored tile floors, and red and gold banquettes, all bathed in soft yellow light. Sample prices: Pâté chicken liver salad,  €13; Casserole with  Burgundy snails, €13; Duck fois gras,  €13; Rabbit casserole with kidney,  €22; Spit-roasted free range chicken with mashed potatoes,  €22; Desserts,  €10.

L’ Ami Georges--5 rue du Quatre September; 01 42 97 48 80--Unrelated to Chez Georges above, L’ Ami Georges  is in another Cagna bistro and serves people who live and work in the
in the 2nd Arrondissement  It’s the kind of place where you can just walk in, sit down and have nice meal, lunch or diner, at a very reasonable price. Sample prices: Fois gras pâté,  €13.50; Onion soup,  €6.50; Lamb shank orientale,  €16.

NEXT WEEK: The Glory that Still Is Haute Cuisine in Paris



The Oak Room
The Plaza Hotel
Fifth Avenue & Central Park South


by John Mariani

Oak Room photos by Sari Goodfriend

     I doubt there is a more fabled hotel in America than The Plaza, which has turned over many times since opening in 1907. Originally designed by Henry Hardenbergh, with an addition in 1932 by Warren & Wetmore, the grand hotel combined Edwardian posh with the style of a French château, offering rooms at the opening for $2.50 a night. The current owners are the Saudi-based Elad Properties and Kingdom Holdings, and managed, since 1999, by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts; rack rate for the 2822 guest rooms now start at $595 a night, but the building is now principally a condo.
     F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby, short stories, and his own antics while staying at The Plaza gave the stately hotel a Roaring Twenties raffishness,  and later the children's book Eloise at the Plaza (1965) by Kay Thompson bestowed an urban fantasy upon the vast hotel, echoed in the 1990 movie "Home Alone." Indeed, several movie scenes have been set in the hotel, from Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959) and "The Way We Were" (1973) to "Plaza Suite" (1971) and even "Crocodile Dundee" (1986). The hotel is now designated as a City Landmark.
      The "men's bar" (for decades off limits to women) is called the Oak Bar, adjacent to the Oak Room dining room, which, with its baronial wood-paneled walls, barrel-vaulted ceiling, and murals of German castle fitted into arched niches, has always been among the grandest restaurants in America's palatial hotels.  Today most all of the rest have been turned into banquet rooms; indeed, the only operating hotel restaurants with the Oak Room's level of opulence I can think of are the Palace Arms in the Brown Palace in Denver, The Oak Room at the Seelbach in Louisville, and The French Room at The Adolphus in Dallas. (Any others I'm forgetting?).
      The renovation of the Oak Room has been done with great care and with the City's Landmarks Commission looking over the architect's shoulder.  The only problem is that the lighting in the room is dull, casting not a gregarious glow but a funereal solemnity to this gorgeous room. I was told that the problems lie with the owners' being handicapped by the Landmarks Commission's dictates that none of the original work be damaged in any way.  Still, I'm sure a creative lighting consultant could bring much more vitality into the room.  (The Oak Bar, by the way, is even darker.)  All really popular restaurants have a level of lighting that allows guests to see other guests, coming and going, and light, by its very nature, brings gaiety into a large room.
      Which is exactly what Chef Joël Antunes' beautiful cuisine does for the palate at The Oak Room.  I have known Antunes' work since he was at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead, then when he opened his (still running) Joël in Atlanta. Before that he had trained widely in prestigious restaurants like Troisgros in Roanne,  Paul Bocuse in Lyons, and the Hôtel Negresco in Nice, furthering his expertise with stints in Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Beverage Director Joshua Nadel, formerly of  NYC's Cru and Veritas, has drawn up a very fine 700-selection winelist overseen by  There is a sufficient number of good bottlings under $50, but most prices are well north of that, with scores of wines well above $100.
      The tablesettings are first rate, the service itself  friendly,  and the reception  cordial.  The menu itself is, no doubt about it, expensive, with starters running $18-$58 and main courses $38-$59, a troublesome range in a troubled economy.  O.K., you are paying for the room, and Antunes' ingredients are first rate, but squash risotto with black truffles and Parmesan cheese--a delicious dish--may be a little hard to swallow at $58.
       We began with a big-eye tuna tartar with melon and Japanese dressing, wonderfully flavorful if not unusual these days in New York, but even though foie gras terrine may also be ubiquitous, Antunes shows his flawless French technique to a fare-thee-well with a textbook example of what such a dish should be--creamy, rich, tasting truly of the foie gras itself, enhanced with raisins, red wine apple puree, and grilled country bread.  Ricotta ravioli with a barigoule of artichokes was lustrous, and lasagna with sunchoke puree and truffles a memorable rendering.  Nantucket bay scallops (at $21, a bargain) came in a refined truffle broth.
      Among the five fish dishes, I loved the Dover sole--nice and fat--with a confit of potato, artichokes and lush brown butter. Halibut, that dullest of seafish, took on good flavors from being baked and served with assertively tangy preserved lemon and rosemary.  A roasted lamb tenderloin came with potatoes, porcini mushrooms, and a light basil jus, while roasted pheasant, with a pleasingly light gaminess, took on Mediterranean notes from tapenade and polenta.
      Except for Antunes' wonderful, signature "cigar" of chocolate filled with  tobacco cream and Armagnac ice cream (left), the rest of the desserts are conservative but classically delicious, including a millefeuille with praline cream and lime sorbet, a moist baba au Rhum with coffee Grand Marnier ice cream, and an old Aussie sweet that deserves revival--coconut pineapple Pavlova with fruit sorbet.
       I am so happy to see The Oak Room back in business. With so many old hotel dining rooms turned into dreary banquet rooms around town, the mere existence of such a splendid example of over-the-top period taste is heartening, and Antunes is serving a modernized version of cuisine that would not have been out of style at the turn of the last century.  That's a compliment at a time when so many chefs are trying to distinguish their food with flash, not substance.  Now if the management will only turn the house lights up and the menu prices down, The Oak Room should glow as brightly as ever as a uniquely New York icon.

Breakfast daily; Lunch Mon.-Fri.; Dinner nightly; Brunch Sat. & Sun.



Is This A Good Time to Sell Your Wines. . . Or Bid on Some?
by  John Mariani
     I have never been much of a wine collector and I’ve run low on reasons to keep expensive old wines in my cellar.  So, for the first time, I thought I’d try to auction off about 20 notable old wines and be a little more cash heavy for Christmas.
      This was back in August before the global economy went south, but the auction, through Zachys Fine Wine Retail & Auction in Scarsdale, NY, was held in December. Zachy’s is one of only a handful of wine auction houses in the U.S., the others being Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Hart Davis.  I brought my wines over to Zachys retail store, they were examined, and within a few days a contract and a print-out of each lot’s reserve price and estimate were sent to me.
      The auction was scheduled for December 4, held at Restaurant Daniel (below) in NYC,with total estimates for my lots between $5,900-$9,150.  One bottle, a 1961 Mouton-Rothschild, did not meet the $800 reserve (its condition was questionable).  When the last hammer came down the total was $5,750, certainly lower than most of the estimates, and minus a 15 percent commission. But as far as was concerned, I was happy enough to have the money, though a year or two ago it might have been much more.
      There’s no question that wine auction sales have been down in the last six months. In a phone interview, Peter Meltzer, author of Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting, told me that Meltzer estimates that global wine auction sales in 2008 fell about 8 percent, adding, “In the wake of October's financial meltdown, prices for fine and rare wine at auction dropped an average of 30 percent, much like other collectibles. So if you are looking to capitalize on purchases made in the past couple of years, you may not see a good return on your investment. In contrast, vintage classics like Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1990 have more than tripled in value over the past decade, yielding a very acceptable return. In retrospect, however, this may prove a golden opportunity to buy.”
      I also interviewed Jeff Zacharia, 47, President of Zachys auction house, about the current market and how one goes about selling one’s wines at auction.

JM: What should a person consider with regard to what he has to sell?
JZ: Only consider wines that make sense—high profile wines. Bordeaux and Burgundy are the bulwarks, top Rhone wines, but really top wines from anywhere. Champagnes and Ports are doing very well. But you’re not going get any money trying to sell a case of 2005 New Zealand chardonnay.

JM: How does one begin the process of selling one’s wines through auction?
JZ: Contact us and send a list. We will then discuss it with you, ask how the wines are stored, how long you’ve had them, and, if it’s a large cellar of several hundred wines, we may visit and ask to taste some of them to see how they’ve been stored. Then, we set prices for the lots, and if you’re comfortable with that, we will set them for an upcoming auction.

JM: What are some of the guidelines you use to set prices?
JZ: Prices are based on what have been selling in the near past. Prices do vary a lot for the same wines in different auctions, which is why we give estimates.

JM: Do you guarantee the soundness of the bottles you sell?
JZ: Auctions do not offer a guarantee that the wines are sound, but we try to be very careful.

JM: How long in advance do you need to have the wines and how many auctions do you hold each year?
JZ: We need the wines two months ahead of time. We hold twelve auctions a year, most of them in New York and L.A., but one in Las Vegas and a couple in year in Hong Kong.

JM: Would one be better off selling in one city or another?
JZ: There may be some slight difference depending on the lots, but I can’t say that prices are always stronger in one or the other.

JM:  Can a person pull wines out of the auction prior to it?
JZ: Only if we agree to it and there is usually a charge to do it. We have to print the catalog well in advance.

JM: What percentage commission do you take?
JZ: It depends on how much we get. The higher the estimate the lower the percentage. It starts at 15 percent and can go down from there.

JM: Is it a good idea to attend the auction as a seller?
JZ: Actually we encourage you NOT to attend because sellers tend to focus on this or that lot, especially if it doesn’t sell.  As a buyer, though, it’s great because there are always values you wouldn’t expect to get.  You can also now bid live on-line.

JM: Given the current economic conditions, is this a bad time to sell holdings?
JZ: It was better six months ago, but wine prices are still at historic highs, though down from their peaks. How long will it be before prices go up? I have no idea. But the wine market is still performing better than many other markets. And for a buyer, auctions are some of the best places to get mature wines because prices are the least expensive way to get them—often much less than at a retail store.

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.



In Xenia, Ohio, aspiring musician Timothy Tackett (right) video-taped himself for his 25th birthday taking a bath at the local Burger King. Green County Health Commissioner Mark McDonnell told WDTV-TV. "My first thought was, oh my God, any bacteria on his skin could have been deposited giving people food poisoning." The fast-food chain fired everyone who appeared in the video, which can be viewed at


"The nose of Deutz’s 1998 Blanc de Blancs brought to mind the sumptuously ripe and juicy Royal Riviera Pears produced and marketed by Oregon’s Harry & David. Armed with superb richness and depth, this wine is Puligny-Montrachet-like in its glorious pear and floral flavors. Notes of toasty yeast appear in its exceptionally long, silky finish. Score: 94." —Pierre Rovani, Wine Advocate.


To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Valentine's Day dinners, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.

* To celebrate its 50th anniversary, The Four Seasons Restaurant  in NYC is currently offering a 3-course $59 menu. Call 212-754-9494.

* Monday night is “COMFORT FOOD NIGHT” at NYC’s Artisanal Bistro and Wine Bar. Chef-Proprietor Terrance Brennan has assembled a menu that incl.  (all priced under $20) Lamb Meatloaf and Roasted Chicken with Mashed Potatoes.  Artisanal has also introduced a new Bar Menu featuring a Grilled Cheese Bar ($12 to $15), a one-of-a-kind Pomme Frites Menu ($9) and Amuse-Bouches.  Call 212-725-8585;

* The "Menu d'Economie" at NYC's Picholine is now available in the Dining Room Mon.-Thurs.  after 9 pm and in the Cheese and Wine Bar each night throughout the evening,  featuring a dozen Tasting Plates for $20 each. A 4-course menu also available for $72. On Monday nights, guests can enjoy any bottle of wine, $150 or less, at half price in the Dining Room or in the Cheese and Wine Bar. The 60 under 60 wine list is also available at the Cheese and Wine Bar. Call 212-724-8585.

* In NYC,Chef Jean-Michel Bergougnoux of L'Absinthe Brasserie-Restaurant has created a special, 3-course menu  offered through March, Mon.-Fri. at $30.09. There a special $30.09 winelist too.  Call 212-794-4950 ; visit

* To celebrate his first year of service at Eighty-One, Chef Ed Brown offers a new Winter Warming Menu available exclusively on Sunday evenings, either two or three courses for $29 or $35. Call 212-873-8181; visit

* From Jan. 19-Feb. 30 Prism in London will feature  “All things Scottish,” incl. hot toddies in the Prism Bar, special whisky cocktails and a tasting menu by Chef Richard Robinson in order to celebrate the best of Scottish produce,  accompanied by whisky, selected by whisky creator and master blender Rachel Barrie of Glenmorangie. £75 pp.  Call 020 72563875.

* The Italian Trade Commission in collaboration with some of NYC’s finest restaurants and wine shops will celebrate “Italian Wine Week” from Jan. 21-Feb. 1 with a special SHOP & DINE - VINO 2009 consumer promotion: Visitors can attend a series of wine tastings and seminar sessions featuring some of Italy's finest producers. Participating wineshops incl. Morrell & Co., Sherry-Lehmann,  and Zachy’s, and restaurants incl. Centovini, Le Cirque, Del Posto,  and I Trulli. Visit

* On Jan. 20 NYC’s Chanterelle offers a $44 all-inclusive “Welcome to the White House” lunch featuring Chef David Waltuck’s spin on classic American food favorites, a “Yes We Can” champagne cocktail by the mixologists of Employees Only, and a live broadcast of Washington D.C.’s festivities beginning at 11am. Call 212-966.6960 or email

* In Atlanta, Shaun’s is featuring several events dinners:  Jan. 21: Wine and Crystal from R&B Cellars. $70 pp with wine pairing; Feb. 5: Whole Foods presents wine and cheese tasting. $18/38 with wine pairings;  Feb. 6: bar chef Brian Stanger and the debut of our new cocktail menu; Call 404-577-4358 ;  Visit

* From Jan. 22-29 The Peninsula Chicago will celebrate the Chinese New Year at a Shanghai Terrace special dinner menus prepared by Chef Chi Ping Xu as well as visiting guest chefs Tony Hu from Lao Sichuan and Beverly Kim from Opera.  Also, tea expert Roderick Markus will conduct a Chinese Tea Ceremony.  The Lobby will feature a special Chinese Afternoon Tea throughout the week and on Jan. 24 the traditional Chinese Lion Dance will take place.  Call 312-573-6695.

* On Jan. 25 in NYC, COCHON 555 will feature  5 chefs, 5 pigs and 5 winemakers in a friendly competition for a cause.  The chefs will each prepare a heritage breed hog from head to toe at the Hiro Ballroom. The event is raising awareness for Farms for City Kids. $125 pp. Visit

* On Jan. 25 "Burns' Night 2009" will be celebrated at London’s Paternoster Chop House, in honour of Robert Burns's 250th Birthday.  For £19, guests will be treated to Roasted Leg of Blackface lamb served with Haggis and other dishes washed down with a dram of Johnnie Walker Black Label. Paternoster Chop House. Call 020-7029 -9429. Visit

* On Jan. 26 in Boulder, CO, The Kitchen will hold a purveyor dinner with Chef Hugo Matheson and Ingrid Bengis,  incl. dinner with wine, talk and a screening of the film, Fishing Voices: Insight into the Future” at $95. Call 303-544-5973.

* Irving Mill in NYC is teaming up with Sixpoint Brewery to offer Burger + Beer Mondays, incl. its Irving Mill Burger from Chef Ryan Skeen, served with a Sixpoint beer, for only $15. Beer selections will change every month or so, and a rep from Sixpoint will be at Irving Mill on Monday, Jan 26 to answer questions about the beers and offer additional samples. Call 212-254-1600.

* From now until Feb. 13, D and D London restaurants team up with  The Evening Standard to run an exclusive promotion with every D&D restaurant in London offering one-off menu for Evening Standard readers. Divided into price brackets of £10, £15, £20 and £25, each restaurant will showcase its most popular dishes. Guests must show two tokens from the newspaper or showing an Eros Card:   Visit

* On Jan. 26 celebrate Australia Day at Bondi Road (212-253-5311) and the Sunburnt Cow! (212-529-0005) Restaurants in NYC, with an early  “Drunken Brunch” followed by their famous “Two Hours of Happiness” happy hour special. Asan added sweet treat, Tim Tams, a delicious chocolate covered sandwich cookie popular in Australia.

* From Jan. 26-31 TenPenh in DC  is offering a special 4-course menu in honor of the Chinese New Year and the coinciding start of a new zodiac sign, the Year of the Ox.   Guests who order TenPenh’s Chinese New Year menu will also participate in another tradition of this holiday: red packets--small envelopes, which often contain money (even numbers for luck) distributed as an offering of good luck for the recipient.  At TenPenh, guests will receive a red packet with two chocolate coins.  $45 pp or $65 with wine and beverage pairings.  Call 202.393.4500 or visit

* In NYC, Hearth announces its winter wine dinner series. To reserve:  email or call 646- 602- 1300.  Jan. 26: Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyard; Feb. 2, The Miraculous Riojas of Lopez de Heredia; Feb. 9: Is there such a thing as great AND affordable red Burgundy? And more through March 16.

* On Jan. 26 in San Francisco, MO Bar will showcase Australia Day Celebration with wine tastings of many of the great Australian labels including Penfolds, Grant Burge, d’Arenberg, Peter Lehman, Cape Mentelle, Mollydooker and more by Wine Director Nicole Kosta . $28 pp. Call 415-276-9787.

* The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) will  host  "Taste and Terroirs: A Wine Tour de France," a  6-part series at FIAF  led by sommelier Raj Vaidya of Cru Restaurant and will focus on the importance of terroir and the opportunity to sip great-tasting wines from France's most important and representative wine regions. The series begins on January 26, with a look at Burgundy: Cotes de Nuits and several Grand Crus are on tap. For more info:

* On Jan. 27 Mio in DC holds its first Beer Dinner with Portland, Maine’s  Allagash Beers and food by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli. The 4-course meal will incl.  discussions lead by Stefanelli and an Allagash Brew Master. $90 pp. Call 202-955-0075.  Visit

* On Jan. 28 NYC’s Tribeca Grill  presents a 5-course dinner by Executive Chef Stephen Lewandowski,  featuring Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers, with 14 barrel samples, many of whom will be on hand throughout the evening to answer all of your questions, incl. Bernard Gripa.

* On Jan. 30 in Carmel;, CA, Chef Christophe Grosjean of Aubergine and special guest chef Steve Gothman of Robuchon Las Vegas will prepare a unique 5-course dinner featuring a variety of  wild mushrooms paired with specially selected wines, at $125 pp. There is also a complete package that incl. overnight accommodations, 2 tickets to the mushroom dinner, and  breakfast at a rate of $475 for 2 persons. Call 831-622-5907.


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: STRATEGIES FOR SAVING AT SKI RESORTS.


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