Virtual Gourmet

February 1,  2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                                                                    "Beets" (2009) photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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NOTE: This issue of the Virtual Gourmet comes two days early because I will be in Colorado over the weekend when it is usually sent out.  If you still wish to read the issue that appeared last Sunday click here or go to the archive above.
-- John Mariani

In This Issue

Palm Beach by Edward Brivio

NEW YORK CORNER: Thalassa  by John Mariani

NOTES FOR THE WINE CELLAR: Wines of the Languèdoc  by John Mariani


Palm Beach

by Edward Brivio
Photos by Bobby Pirillo

It took six long years, but the recently reopened, completely refurbished Brazilian Court Hotel more than justifies the wait, re-establishing this 20’s Grande Dame as one of the best stopping-off places in Palm Beach.
      Opened in 1926, the hotel soon became the favored haunt of business moguls, celebrities, and socialites who enjoyed its atmosphere of cloistered seclusion, as well as its several discreet exits, far from the prying eyes of photographers, the public, and the occasional acrimonious spouse. Originally a cluster of Spanish- Mediterranean buildings designed around interior courtyards by legendary New York architect Rosario Candela, the resort added second wing added in 1936 by the equally renowned Palm Beach icon Maurice Fatio. The glory days of the Roaring 20’s lasted well into the 60‘s, whereas the next two decades saw the beginning of a long decline.
      “Café Society” may have moved on, but the Brazilian Court’s exquisite “bones” remained, so when the Schlesinger family purchased the property in 2001, a complete overhaul was in order. Once again, guests arrive beneath its signature porte cochere of crisp, white canvas out front. Within, the courtyards, Candela’s to the north, and Fatio’s, with its fountain, to the south--both fringed with a veritable rain forest: sturdy, swaying palms, supple, the chevroned stalks of ginger, fretwork bamboo, and birds-of-paradise with their huge, lustrous, deep-green leaves--look fresh and brand new. A third courtyard to the west contains the heated pool, overhung with tall palms, and its attendants of well-cushioned chaises.
      All this, and you’re no more than a couple of short blocks from the ocean and only a few more off Worth Avenue. Not that  I know anyone who can really afford to shop there, but its patios, particularly those banked in masses of polychrome bougainvillea and others with narrow, wrought-iron gates leading to small second floor apartments are unexpected gems.
      Proprietor Leslie Schlesinger was not only project manager overall, but, as interior designer, she created the more intimate ambiance of the guest rooms as well. Our gorgeous, up-to-the-minute-contemporary, second-floor  suite, overlooking fountain and patio through a screen of foliage, could not have been bettered. The large living room, a profusion of mahogany wood --from the austere beauty of the Asian-accented furniture, the deep crown molding, and the plantation shutters--against pale lemon walls and celadon-hued upholstery, was anchored by a high-backed sofa, strewn with pillows of such all-embracing comfort that for a fleeting moment I dreamt of never getting up, owing in part, certainly, to the handful of rather interesting, lavishly-photographed, coffee-table books thoughtfully left at hand.
       A galley/hallway leads to an equally luxurious bedroom,  aglow in polished mahogany: an enormous king-size bed with linens fit for the most demanding sybarite, night-tables, and tall, folding, louvered-doors screening plenty of closet space. A marble bathroom ample enough to accommodate a big stall shower, a sink, and an extraordinarily deep Jacuzzi tub, was fitted out with thick, terry towels and a variety of Frederic Fekkai toiletries. I especially enjoyed the glimpse of deep-green, densely packed, tropical vegetation outside all the windows, like the locale of a Somerset Maugham short story, minus the shabbiness and sordid goings-on.

    Enter Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud and you’re enveloped in the cool elegance and warm hospitality that both Café Bouluds (NYC and Palm Beach) have always had in spades. A suite of comfortable dining rooms in an sprawling, posh, Florida-style ranch-house, the surroundings put you at ease while heightening culinary expectations. A floor of red-veined, limestone tiles,  quarried in the Corton region of Burgundy, their red striations said to be caused by the leaching of grape juice from nearby vineyards,  creates an atmosphere of relaxed informality in the foyer, and continues past a cozy well-stocked bar--in the evening, the bartendress makes killer mojitos--delivering you into the hands of General Manager Laurent Chevalier for whom “GM” is really too corporate a word for his role; his own surname, chevalier, is much better. In him the long tradition of fine French service finds a worthy,  contemporary avatar. Beautiful diction, that lovely trace of French accent, and, more important, a sincere joy and know-how in seeing to others’ pleasures win you over at once.  Maître d’ Ludo Thevenet only enhanced the welcome.
      Deep recesses add interest to the ceiling, subdued lighting from wall mounted lamps flatters diners, as do terra cotta walls that seem to glow softly behind attractive original landscapes. Flawless table settings atop pale pastel linens, club chairs covered in persimmon, patterned silk, and a hushed ambiance add to the drama. The comfortable tables spill out into one of the Brazilian Court’s gorgeous courtyards, where you can dine al fresco, overlooking the boy-with-a-dolphin in his fountain, amidst a tidy jungle of exuberant vegetation.
      Flawless Hawaiian tuna tartare coupled with a bracing watermelon and radish mini-salad and a few sweet pea falafels  began the proceedings. Next, a bowl of clear Chinese pork broth, heavenly in its own right, was made even more celestial by the delicious smoked duck wontons afloat on its surface. Elegant, hand-made farfalle scoglio were awash as any true sea-rockfish should be with Louisiana shrimp,  mussels, and tender calamari, in a   “sea foam” of oyster
nage, with lemon zest, subtle chervil, and clams Casino crumbs for added piquancy.
The grilled Hawaiian waloo magically combined a dense, swordfish-like periphery with a meltingly tender center. Around it, a quartet of Tunisian vegetables were minor gems in their own right: shaved radish, minted eggplant, roasted sweet peppers, and spicy carrots that turned these humblest of root vegetables into a treasure.
     Were I forced to choose a favorite, it would have to be the crostino di pancetta with, as well, house-cured maple bacon, spiced pork belly, chestnut puree, and Italian chicory atop a slice of hearty toasted bread, all covered with lavish shavings of white Alba truffles. Inimitable pork in three of its most flavorful guises, fleeting moments of sweetness, a bitter “herb,” a good, solid, crunch, and the earthy notes from the world’s best truffles, all blended seamlessly and without heaviness--another tour de force for Chef de Cuisine Zach Bell.
       The duo of Vermont pheasant, the breast cooked en cocotte, the leg turned en ballotine, served alongside fried pheasant and cauliflower mushrooms, on a palette-knife smear of  kabocha squash and a sprig of nepitella  mint  isn’t on the regular menu, but for the sake of Florida diners, should be soon.   Our final entree was a North African-inspired lamb duo, two loin chops (awkward bones removed) on a bed of creamy white beans, plated next to a link of  homemade merguez sausage atop a square of beautiful white and bright green broccoli couscous with a serving of yogurt sauce on the side. Another example of what makes both Café Bouluds always such a pleasure to visit is the fact that a solid grounding in classic, French technique remains the best preparation for turning out finely-tuned World cuisine.   Even the sorbet intermezzo was much more than the usual nod to tradition--a kalamansi (an Asian citrus fruit, like the kumquat, with sweet skin and tart pulp) soda with coconut ice cream, perfectly satisfying in its own right.
       A myriad of desserts, prepared by Pastry Chef Matthew Petersen followed, not to mention the always welcome tray of exquisite petit-fours and the brown bag of superb madeleines that are a Boulud signature. A caramelized brioche with raspberry pearls, tonka foam, and an orange blossom ice cream to make any Floridian proud, then an Autumn tasting: pear tart  (with the crumbly crust, subtly flavored with nothing but butter, that only French or French-trained pastry chefs, maybe Swiss as well, seem able to achieve) apple confit--like apple butter--and apple carpaccio with a crème fraîche sorbet.
                       Outdoor Dining at Café Boulud


    The chocolate hazelnut bar stays on my mind. Once again, a creation worthy of the creations of Hediard or Fauchon’s, a precise rectangle, layered with praline, dacquoise, and an intense chocolate cream, sat next to a perfect globe of rich chocolate ice cream, a thin ribbon of chocolate, anchored in a shard of gold leaf, leading irresistibly from one to the other. Artful without being “artsy,” complex without being overdone, and, most importantly, too delicious not to want to destroy its beauty immediately. 
Finally, an equally memorable chocolate caramel tart, with chocolate-vodka granite, on a smear of caramel studded with sliced peanuts.
     Dinner was abetted by a handful of wines well suited to the various dishes: A Château La Louvière 2002 from Péssac-Leognan got things started. One of the better efforts from a difficult vintage for white Bordeaux, its lovely framework of oak showed first. After a while in the glass, the fruit slowly emerged but always with a nice flinty edge. Its very lack of opulence made it the perfect partner not only for the tuna tartare but also for the wonton soup. A Château Guiot 2007 rosé, from the Costières de Nîmes, was more red wine masquerading as rosé than tinted white, with plenty of body to handle the seafood farfalle as well as the grilled walu. Next came a wonderful Russian Hill pinot noir 2004, from the Russian River, known for its silken textured, slightly dusty pinots that know how to balance fruit with acidity and a touch of earth. A perfect “food-wine” with enough stuffing --and a touch of spice--to stand up to the crostino and the pheasant.
The last vin rouge was a Crozes-Hermitage Les Croix 2006 from Les Bruyères. With a heft that was more Hermitage than Crozes, its deep fruit, and medium-to-full body complemented the full flavors of the lamb.
      The curtain began to descend with one of my favorite dessert wines, a Domaine de Baumard, Quarts de Chaume 2004, from the Loire, one more proof that Chenin Blanc is a noble grape. Sweet but not cloying, pleasingly, not overly viscous, matching precision with opulence and that slight hint of almonds along with white fruits, it shows why the best Chenin Blanc is so intriguing. The final showpiece was an unabashedly sweet, yet always, refreshingly taut Taylor Fladgate 2001 LBV, an affordable way to gain entry to the full-blown joys of their superb Vintage Port.

Starters: $10 to 24; entrees: $33 to $49.

     No question that one of the great bargains offered by this year’s Palm Beach Restaurant Week--also its first--that ran in October, was lunch at Café Boulud for only $20.08, as demonstrated every afternoon by the packed dining room. Not able to lunch there, we did take advantage of the week’s offerings at two other Palm Beach eateries. Another “best-buy” was the $20.08 lunch at Coco (290 Sunset Avenue, 561-832-3734), a Japanese/fusion eatery located on Sunset Avenue (below).
     The shrimp tempura starter contained two jumbo shrimp, deep-fried to perfection, with asparagus, avocado and sesame seeds, topped with a dollop of tobiko. Another smart choice was a superb chicken and cashew salad with English cucumbers. You know the kitchen is top-notch when everything on the plate vies equally for your attention. From the three entrees offered, we chose Orchid of the Pacific, beautifully glazed, stir-fried shrimp in a sweet Thai basil (some say the best basil) sauce, as well as Dynasty,  mahogany-glazed, sliced NY strip steak and chicken--well fit for a king-- stir-fried with a spicy Hunan-style black bean sauce over a bed of freshly steamed Asian vegetables, once again as flavorful--and so beautifully green-- as the meat they partnered.
    Desserts were likewise excellent, correctly-flavored--pistachio sorbet, two generous scoops sitting pretty on a banana leaf; as well as dense, rich, triple chocolate mousse, white, dark, and milk.
    Getting this lovingly, hand-crafted cooking for just $20.08 was satisfying enough; no skimping on the portions made it even better. Next time, we‘re going for dinner.

À la carte: appetizers: $9-$12; specialty rolls: $9-$25; entrees: $21-$35.


     Don’t be put off by the informal, enjoy-yourself, atmosphere, or raucous din if you arrive at Amici on the weekend during happy hour, as we did. Happy hour inevitably ends and peace and quiet resume. Amici provides exceptional, Italian fare, in abbondanza-sized portions, served, if your lucky, by very deft waiters, especially Ed, who is also conversant with the wine list. Some nights, a new wine-list seems to contain nothing but unknown, vaguely-known, or much, much too well-known bottlings (those mass produced, aggressively marketed, big brands that make up the core of too many restaurants lists, albeit, many of them now quite good.) Hesitation here came from my own parochialism grounded in a profound fear of the oversweet, horribly jammy, full-bodied reds, now produced worldwide.      
    With Ed’s affable help, we choose an Ognissole Primitivo di Manduria, 2006 ($69) from the small DOC of the same name in Apulia. It was just what I wanted: a big, welcoming mouthful of red, sans “jam,”  with plenty of acidity and tannin to irritate the palate, and pair well with the food.
     Only a fool buys a bottle of wine by the look of its label. There was something so distinctive, not to say, shyly iconoclastic, about the front label, however--nothing but a thin, vertical strip of paper just wide enough to accommodate the letters of the maker’s name, the grape, and the DOC, spelled out top to bottom, leaving most of the front of the bottle free--something expressive of such discernment, and so esthetically spot-on as well, that it would have seemed to--and, in fact, did--indicate an equally well-chosen, and carefully produced wine within.
      I find it hard to resist charcuterie, whether French, Italian, or Spanish, so we started with misto crudo: a sampling of aged Serrano ham, Prosciutto di Parma, and Speck, one as delicious as the next, but all different. Ah! carpaccio--Giuseppe  Cipriani’s great gift to the world, created at Harry's Bar for the historic Carpaccio exhibit in Venice in 1950--rolling-paper-thin slices of the best beef tenderloin, shaved Pecorino cheese for a little textural bite and salinity, and a salad dressed with lemon and olive oil (here, hearts of palm and arugula)  for just the right clarifying acidic note. I don’t know a better starter than this blend of ethereal lightness, subtle, clean flavors, and--is there a surer indication of a master at work?-- absolute economy of means.
      Restaurant gnocchi remain a crap shoot, light and airy one place, heavy and dull the next. Unfortunately, that night, the latter were in attendance, all the more so given their vibrant, crowd-pleasing, spicy sauce of jumbo-lump crab, and organic tomatoes.
       Delfino della Florida, was every inch worthy of its lofty name: a perfectly prepared, pistachio-crusted mahi-mahi served over top-notch roasted vegetable caponata, all that was needed by the great piece of fish. My grilled veal chop, infused with fresh herbes de Provence, and done to a perfect medium rare, was large without being massive, and sauced with a deep, porcini,/demi-glace, alongside truffle fried potatoes (one of the best things to happen to either in years.)
       Dessert was a rich multi-layer chocolate cake garnished with whole blackberries. For once, berries that were not only big, glossy, and beautiful to the eye, but also sweetened, rather than the usual mouth-puckering “treats” tossed on to gussy up a plate. The kitchen equipe here knows what it’s about. There is also a large “porch” out front for al fresco dining.

Antipasti: $16 to 18; pizze: $15-$19; primi: $24-$32; secondi $25-$28.


by John Mariani

179 Franklin Street (near Hudson Street)

   Despite having covered the NYC dining scene for more than three decades now, I find that remarkable restaurants still somehow escape my notice, or at least my visitation, so that the "discovery" of a place that has been around for some time but that is brand new to me is a burst of serendipity I always look forward to.  In the case of the beautiful restaurant Thalassa, which means "sea" in Greek, I entered a huge space on a side street in TriBeCa that was once the headquarters and warehouse for Fantis Foods, owned by the Makris Family,  the leading Greek imported food company in NYC for nearly a century.
     They closed the premises some years ago, but after 9/11 decided to help restore the neighborhood by opening Thalassa, which they did in 2002, taking full advantage of the soaring spaces of the former warehouse, including wonderful old brick work, high ceilings, and three levels of dining space. In the main dining room there is a curving 30-foot long  ivory marble mosaic bar (above) under an 18-foot high ceiling. The dining room chairs and banquettes are of white leather chairs, the tables are set with white linens, there are Greek urns set about and well lighted, and white sails billow overhead overhead.  As you pass through you will see an expansive array of fresh seafood displayed on ice. The sea-going décor is not in the least kitschy, as is often the case in traditional Greek restaurants; Thalassa is, indeed, one of the loveliest, most romantic spots in the city.
      Down a mahogany staircase is  the Wine Room whose temperature-controlled racks hold 700 selections--with an exceptional array from Greece--
5,000 bottles of international wines. There is also a lovely wooden communal dining table and 20-foot onyx columns that extend through the ceiling into the dining room. The Wine Room holds 60 diners or 120 for a reception.  Two floors up is the  Gallery Loft, with 18-foot high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows over the street; here 120 people can dine or 200 have cocktails.
       The menu is not a radical departure from other contemporary Greek restaurants in Manhattan, though it is more adventurous than those in the Greek enclaves of Queens. Chef Ralpheal Abrahante is obviously specializing in Greek seafood, so that is the focus, and starters like scallops wrapped in katafi with sheep's milk
butter and Kalamata balsamic reduction  is the kind of new idea that distinguishes Thalassa. There are also crispy cod croquettes with garlic-almond mousse over sliced roasted beets; calamari stuffed with feta cheese, fresh oregano and  pine nuts; and irresistible fried zucchini and eggplant chips with tzatziki sauce and saganaki graviera cheese. The only disappointment were lamb shank ravioli in wine sauce whose pasta shells were not at all tender. There's also a fine selection of Greek cheeses.  With these starters we had a fragrant Assyrtiko white wine.
      The list of main courses is of interest, but not going for the fresh seafood is like going to a steakhouse and not having steak. The expert grilling of Chef Abrahante brings a practiced touch to every species, which may vary with the season or market, but you can hardly go wrong with any--not least the fabulous langoustines, meaty, sweet, lightly charred.  The whole fish, some for one person, others for two or more depending on size, come with the same light searing and a benediction of olive oil, lemon, and capers, and on the side there are lemon-scented potatoes.
     Desserts are a bit out of the unusual, not always for the better, so a cheese course might be the better way to go.
     I must say that since I was dining at Thalassa during Restaurant Week, the place seemed under a lot of pressure from a mid-week full house seeking a bargain, so that the management could not quite keep the pace of service strong, and busboys and waiters seem indistinguishable, which is not a good thing when you want more wine and find the attendant doesn't speak a word of English--or Greek.
         I'm very glad I found Thalassa and have since heard from many friends that they too had not been there. Believe me, it is well worth making the discovery of such a beautiful, refined restaurant.

Thalassa is open for lunch Mon.-Fri, and for dinner Mon.-Sat.   Appetizers run $12-$20;   Dinner entrees  $28-$46.



Once Le Gros Rouge of the French Army, Languédoc Now Going Maverick
by  John Mariani

      If Napoleon’s Army marched on its stomach, the French Army of two World Wars, Indochina, and Algeria did so while on a daily ration of wines from the Languédoc, France’s largest wine-producing region. Having a reputation as “le gros rouge” did nothing to enhance the reputation of the Languédoc as the French have increasingly disdained cheap red plonk and sought out better wines.
     Still, the Languédoc (formally Languédoc-Roussillon) continues to pump out oceans of cheap wine, much of it dumped into the European Union’s “wine lake” to be distilled into industrial alcohol. The threat of reduced EU subsidies has caused riots at the region’s, which has claimed responsibility for breaking into and dumping warehouse wines, torching a police car, and blowing up a grocery store in protest.
      None of which has engaged winelovers’ affection for the wines of the Languédoc, which has more than half a million acres under cultivation along the Mediterranean, producing one-quarter of all French wines.
     In order to survive, less combative and more forward-thinking winemakers of the region—including a few pioneering Australian winermakers--have, since the 1980s, worked to improve the quality of their product, dividing the area into smaller appellations like Côteaux du Languédoc with sub-regions like La Clape, Pic St-Loup, and Grès de Montpellier. The better wineries have researched the best, healthiest varietals, principally syrah, grenache, carignane, mourvèdre, and cinsault, and try all sorts of blends to achieve distinction.  The big bulk producers sniffed at such experiment—until the small, estate-made wines began bringing higher prices.
     Frankly, I was very surprised to find Languédoc bottlings now coming into the global market among the finer regional wines I’ve sampled from France in recent years. Of a dozen or so examples, including a few commendable whites, I didn’t find a single bottle that reminded me of those teeth-tinting, sour reds I remember from years ago. Indeed, I found them extremely easy drinking, with most at 13-13.5 percent alcohol.
      The reds all exhibited the brightness of grenache, the richness of syrah, and, in several, the heft of mourvèdre. Château de Lancyre Pic Saint-Loup (right)—-an exceptional buy at $19—is made from “vieilles vignes,” old vines, averaging 30 years of age, and it shows in the complexity of flavors, from anise to cherry, in a blend of 65 percent syrah and 35 percent grenache.
     Château La Roque 2005 ($14), also from the Pic Saint-Loup region now receiving a good deal of attention, has a pleasing 13 percent alcohol and a whopping 90 percent mourvèdre, which gives it fleshiness, intensity and big bouquet, along with the spiciness of 10 percent syrah. I loved drinking it with roast breast of goose with red cabbage.
       Cuvée Mythique Corbières Réserve 2004 ($18) combines 35 percent syrah, 30 percent mourvèdre, 20 percent grenache, and 15 percent carignane—big percentages of each—to produce a very smooth, beautifully aging wine with the character of its well-regarded Corbières appellation. There is just enough softness balanced with light acid to make this wonderful with charcuterie, ham or pork.
      A younger, 2007 Corbières, from Les Deux Rives ($9) is 40 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, +20 percent mourvèdre, and 10 percent carignane, with 13 percent alcohol, making this a fragrant, fresh, ready-to-go-anywhere wine that is best with a little chill on it, not unlike Beaujolais, which makes it great for picnics, grilled chicken, even grilled salmon.
     The Languédoc whites showed at least as well as the reds. They retained a good proportion of sweet fruit and the bite of acid, which made them just perfect with dishes made with the equally sweet-acid rich tomato dishes. One of the most respected producers of the region, Mas de Daumas Gassac—a self-proclaimed  “Grand Cru of the Languédoc”--makes a golden blend of 25 percent chardonnay, 25 percent viognier, 25 percent Petit Manseng (and up-and-coming white varietal in the Languédoc), and 25 percent chenin blanc. The wine spends three weeks in stainless steel, then a while in Burgundian oak, then filtered using “fossilized seashells.”  It has amazing richness, not some of the best white Burgundies, with a faint sweetness that buoys all the other components.  The label says it is best decanted, and a swirl of oxygen is indeed a good idea with this big, bold white wine. The 2006 vintage is $31.
      And for those who like muscat wines, try Domaine de la Coume du Roy Muscat de Riversaltes 2006 ($25), a naturally sweet dessert wine with 15.6 percent alcohol, that is a sheer delight with a pan of roasted chestnuts or a plate of almond cookies.
     If it sounds like the vignerons of the Languédoc seem to be toying with tradition by trying all sorts of combinations of grapes, the results are as by now impressive as any from any other region of France.  The French Army should only be so lucky as to have such wines as their ration these days.

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.



As you might have read, NBC, the network that brings you that cute "Biggest Loser" show about grotesquely fat people losing weight onstage, has banned an ad by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as far too racy for family viewing.  The ad shows beautiful women having a good old time with vegetables, and a PETA official told the media,""PETA's veggie ads are locked out, while ads for fried chicken and burgers are allowed, even though these foods make Americans fat, sick and boring in bed."  Solely in the interests of  fair and crusading on-line journalism, The Virtual Gourmet here fearlessly provides the footage of the PETA ad. We want YOU to be the judge! Click on:


"When your rats grow bigger than your chickens and you can hear them at night in the chicken coop, laughing at your traps ... them's hard times.I mean to pack it in, as a chicken farmer. But what am I going to farm? Rats? What am I going to eat for lunch? What am I going to give to my friends for their birthdays?"--L.E. Leome, "Fanny's Restaurant -- and the literary possibilities of duck soup," San Francisco Bay Guardian (Jan. 14, 2009).


In Papua, anthropologist Olga Ammann quotes people who have eaten other humans who have died. According to one cannibal, “The meat of white people smells too strongly and is too salty.” The Japanese are said to be among the best-tasting, but the meat of the tribe’s own women is the ultimate gourmet dinner  . . . Meanwhile, in Colorado, a woman told a court that killing, dismembering and cannibalizing her ex-boyfriend was “a horrible thing." Her attorney quoted her as saying, "I'm deeply ashamed. The person who killed Peter Green is not me."


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.

* On Feb. 20 in Los Gatos, CA, Manresa presents the Citrus Modernista Dinner, a celebration of local, California Coast citrus. Chef David Kinch will cook a 5-course dinner with exotic varieties of citrus. Two wine pairings will be offered. $140 pp.  Call 408-354-4330 or visit

* From now until Feb. 28 in Forestville, CA, Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant announces a Two Night, Three-Star Package with Cyrus restaurant, incl. 2 nights accommodations at Farmhouse Inn in a luxury cottage; 2-course breakfast; 5-course dinner at Farmhouse Restaurant by Chef Steve Litke with an optional add-on wine pairing selected by Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth; 5-course menu at Cyrus with optional add-on wine pairing selected by Cyrus Sommelier Jim Rollston. $750 per couple. Call 800-464-6642.

* La Samanna resort in St. Martin declares February as their designated epicurean month. When guests stay 6 nights or longer at a regular rate they will enjoy all meals at the resort on a complimentary basis, culminating with a special 4-course dinner in La Cave, La Samanna’s award winning wine cellar prepared by Chef Daniel Echasseriau.  with this delectable deal. Visit or call  1-800-854.2252.

* In Los Angeles, All’Angelo’s owner Stefano Ongaro has introduced a new menu adjusted to the economy, featuring $ 8-$10 appetizers, $15 pasta courses and $20 main courses, with a weekly wine promotions at $5 by the glass and $15 per half carafe. Call 323- 933-9540.

* On Feb. 9 in Charleston, SC,  High Cotton Maverick Bar & Grill welcomes Domaine Carneros Vineyards, along with their head wine maker Elaine Crane for a pre-Valentine’s Day dinner, with a hors d’oeuvres reception, followed by a 4-course dinner with wines pairings created by Chef Anthony Gray, Executive Chef and  by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director. $68 pp. Call 843-724-.3815; visit the web site at

* On Feb. 10 in Charleston, SC, The Old Village Post House announces the next wine dinner, featuring MacRostie Wines of Sonoma, with Steve MacRostie as guest speaker and food by Chefs Frank Lee and Jim Walker, with wine pairings by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director.  $55 pp.  Call 843-388-8935; visit

* On Feb. 12 In Huntington, NY, Prime – An American Kitchen and Bar offers an Italian Wine Dinner with Cascina Iuli Wine  by  Chef Gregg Lauletta. $150 pp. Call 631-385-1515 or

* On Feb 19  in San Diego, chefs Colin MacLaggan of Avenue 5 Restaurant & Bar and Victor Jimenez of Cowboy Star are teaming with The Macallan for a 4-course dinner paired with a single malt Scotch selection from The Macallan.  $75 pp. Call 619-542-0394.

* Menus for the more than 200 restaurants participating in Denver Restaurant Week (DRW) 2009 are  posted at Each of the restaurants will again offer a multi-course dinner for $52.80 for two ($26.40 for one) during the event, which runs  Feb.  21 –27.

* London’s Capital Hotel is offering The Capital Idea as a 3-night package incl.  Full English Breakfast;   Luxury Chauffeur driven car to meet guests on arrival and departure from and to Heathrow International, London City Airport or Eurostar Terminal;  Free access to “The Peak Health Club and Spa”;  One two-course pre-theater dinner between at Le Metro;  One Afternoon Tea in the hotel’s Sitting Room;   Executive Double  or Twin Room at US$1,399 per stay, additional night at $400 per room per night;  Deluxe Double or Twin Room at $2,197,additional night at $450; Junior Suite at $2,530, additional night at $500;   Single Room rate of $1,199, additional night at $300  Call  (800) 628-8929 or email

* On Feb. 21 over 30 Monterey County wineries will be showcased during an evening of wine, international cuisine from the Pacific Rim, Brazil, and Italy, live music from Grammy winner Louie Ortega, dancing, and a silent and live auction, hosted by past Monterey County Supervisor, Butch Lindley. The Auction & Gala will occur in the private barrel room at Jackson Family Wines in the Salinas Valley, CA. Proceeds will be distributed to worthy charitable and viticulture research causes.   $175 pp. Visit, or call 831-375-9400.

* On  Feb. 23, Jean Francois Meteigner will present the first 2009 Club Culinaire of French Cuisine "Chef à Table" dinners at La Cachette in Los Angeles. The theme is "A Night in Provence" with a 5-course tasting menu paired with wines.   During dinner, each table is hosted by different chefs. $105 for club members, $115 for non-members. Call 310-470-4992; visit

* On Feb. 25 Justin Vineyards is hosting their Isosceles release party at Nick+Stef’s Steakhouse in downtown Los Angeles with a 6-course wine dinner for $95 pp. Call 213-680-0330; visit

*  On Feb. 25 at PIER SIXTY at Chelsea Piers in NYC, Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, will help orchestrate a grand walk-around-tasting of culinary creations prepared by NYC chefs, assisted by high school students, to benefit Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). The evening’s festivities will also include a silent auction that includes once-in-a-lifetime culinary and travel packages. TV star Al Roker will be emcee and this year’s honoree, Drew Nieporent will receive the C-CAP Honors Award. Tix are $500,  VIP are $600 and $1,000. Call 212-974-7111 or visit

* From Feb. 27-March 1, Boca Bacchanal Winefest & Auction is scheduled  at various sites in the Boca Raton, FL area. It begins with 8 Friday Vintner Dinners held in private residences, featuring world-class chefs and vintners, highlighted by silent and live auctions and a multi-course dinner, at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.   Sunday Grand Tasting, showcasing 30 local restaurants and over 140 wines. Visit  or call 561-395-6766 X 101.

* On Feb. 27 in Grand Rapids, MI, WGVU and D&W Fresh Market present West Michigan’s premier wine tasting event at The Public Museum with 300+ international wine selections and 25 + tables of foods provided by D&W Fresh Market.   Call 800-442-2771 or visit

* On Feb. 28 in Grand Rapids, MI,  200 craft beers from more 30 Michigan micro-breweries and brewpubs will be available for sampling at the 2009 Michigan Winter Beer Festival, sponsored by the Michigan Brewers Guild. Tix incl.  admission and 12 tasting tokens,  $35 each in advance and are available online at

* On March 3-5,  Classic Wines Auction Winemaker Dinners will be held in, Portland, Oregon, when 33 winemaker dinners will feature some of Portland’s finest chefs along with 58 winemakers from Oregon, Washington and California. Proceeds support 5 Portland area charities. $150 pp. Call 503-972-0194. Visit

*The fourth annual BB&T Charleston Food + Wine Festival, scheduled for March 5-8, offers guests the unique flavors of the Lowcountry while tasting the epicurean delights of the country’s best chefs, authors and wine professionals at more than 50 events throughout the weekend. Supporters of the Festival , lend a hand in raising charitable donations for the MUSC Children’s Hospital and area culinary related charities. Visit or call 843. 727.9998 ext.4 for tickets or more information!

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: European Airfares on Sale; Intrepid Travel and Their Very Affordable Adventures; Biking in style in Europe; Nicholas Lowry of Antiques Roadshow and The Art of the Ski Poster


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).

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