Virtual Gourmet

February 8, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue



NEW YORK CORNERVermilion by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Navarra Wines Quickly Adapt to 21st Century Global Market by John Mariani



By Robert Mariani

 In 2009, in conjunction with the anniversary of the birth of their national poet, Rabbie Burns, Scotland will be celebrating a year-long series of events under the heading of “Homecoming Scotland 2009.”     It’s an open invitation to anyone with Scots’ ancestry or just an interest in things Scottish to visit and explore this land of myriad whiskies, ancient landscapes, great poets and thinkers, and creative cuisine.
    No, that last is not a misprint. Anyone who still thinks of Scotland as simply the home of haggis and oatmeal will be surprised at the level and variety of food offered. Take the relatively new Dakota Hotel and Restaurant in Edinburgh, for instance. Lit from within and rising like a huge iridescent ice cube in the night sky, the Dakota offers handsome, modern accommodations and a restaurant  (below) that was voted Scotland’s Best of the year in 2008. The menu adds some interesting variations on a number of standard dishes. For starters, in addition to things like steamed mussels in white wine and fish and shellfish soup, they offer a duck liver parfait with fig jam; or an appetizing squid salad with a tart dipping sauce. Basic entrées like steak tartare, fish and chips, and rib eye steak were contrasted with a hearty gnocchi dish accompanied by roasted tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.

    As elsewhere in the British Isles, Scotland is placing more emphasis on local food resources for freshness and flavor. Nowhere is this more evident than at Edinburgh’s Farmers’ Market, a series of 70 or so small tents and trailers set up in the shadow of the imposing Edinburgh Castle in the heart of the city. Every Saturday people stroll the cobblestone walkway, sampling and buying fresh produce, eggs from free-range chickens, honey, cheeses, organic beers, liqueurs, breads, chocolates and chutneys.

    Located next door to the stately Edinburgh Castle is the institution known as “The Scotch Whisky Experience,” a good place to learn about the past history and present state-of-the-art of Scotland’s most famous beverage. This museum is presently undergoing renovation and will re-open this spring  in time for the Homecoming Year and will provide insights into the secrets of  the drink whose Scottish name, uisge beatha, means “the Water of Life.”
    The museum also houses the Amber Restaurant with a menu that features local produce, beef, lamb and game, and offers pairings of whiskies with certain food. Seafood lunch entrées included mussels with Islay whisky and spring onion sauce; or trout fillet with new potato salad, whisky mustard and honey dressing; and smoked Scottish salmon and prawn with lemon dressing. Amber’s own vegetable garden offered up a roasted shallot and Brie tart with red onion marmalade and salad; roasted butternut squash with wild mushroom and garlic sauce; warm goat's cheese on toasted herb bread with salad; and even a “Vegetarian Haggis” with turnip and potato mash, served with a whisky sauce. From the Amber Meat Larder we enjoyed a hearty beef and wild mushroom casserole with puff pastry; and sausage with onion gravy and mashed potatoes.
    It doesn’t take long to get away from the urban bustle of Edinburgh. In less than an hour you can be in the wide-open countryside of  the Kingdom of Fife, where golf was allegedly invented. Here you can experience more local flavors at places like Loch Leven’s Larder, a family-owned farm stand that’s becoming a casual dining/shopping destination. There is a strong philosophical commitment here to use as much home-grown, in-season vegetables, herbs, meats and eggs as possible.
    The unpretentious, cafeteria-like Loch Leven dining room looks out over the rolling farmlands from which most of the menu items have been harvested. It’s a great place for a nice, relaxed lunch or brunch with menu choices like hearty soups and home made bread; panini with local bacon, Brie, and cranberry sauce; Summer Isle smoked salmon with avocado and crème fraîche;  Pudledub smoked ham with farmhouse cheese and chutney; and desserts such as scones and jam; cheesecake and “Millionaire shortbread,” all freshly made on the farm’s premises.

Ardeonaig, a Hidden Treasure   

   About another hour’s drive west from Loch Leven, on the banks of South Loch Tay in the farm town of Perthshire sits the Ardeonaig Hotel and Restaurant. There have been settlements in this rustic area since prehistoric times— indeed, you can still see remnants in the fields of ancient stone circles and rock markings that go back many centuries. Early records show that there’s been an Inn at Ardeonaig since at least 1649 when it was a stopover place for cattle drovers on their way to market. As we pulled up to the little doorway of the centuries-old hotel, a twilight dew was settling on the mossy slate roofs. The only sound was the steady whisper of the rapids that run alongside the inn and down into Loch Tay a few hundred yards behind the Inn.
      Obviously, you’d have to have known about the Ardeonaig Inn, because its location is not exactly on any main tourist routes. It is, however, definitely worth a special visit for a number of reasons, not least its strong commitment to serving great local food in a truly comfortable and convivial setting. Chef/owner Pete Gottgens, who grew up in the hotel business in South Africa and has run several restaurants in London before coming here, has found what he calls  “the perfect natural larder for a chef with the world’s finest fish, meat, produce, fruit and dairy all close at hand.” Gottgens took the Inn over a few years ago with the aim of creating his own perfect version of a welcoming and unpretentious country inn and restaurant. Without compromising the antique feel of the Inn, he’s added numerous updates including five South African-style huts behind the Inn on the way down to the Loch, each  a spacious, octagon-shaped habitat beautifully appointed with deep bathtubs, romantic lighting, and luxurious radiant heating beneath the floors.
     Chef Gottgens’s energy and enthusiasm is almost palpable as he exclaims, “I can put vegetables and produce that was in the ground this morning on the table this afternoon. We’re just an hour from either coast for seafood and I not only know every one of my fishermen by their first name, I even know what kind of car they drive!” Meats and game also come from nearby suppliers and the Inn now has its own herd of 150 black-faced sheep, and he is starting its own herd of cattle, as well. Completely self-taught, Gottgens has cooked around in South Africa and in London for several years, but perhaps his most distinctive credential is his seven-year stint as personal chef for Nelson Mandela, during which he created state dinners for many of the world’s most illustrious leaders, diplomats, kings and queens.
     Gottgens’s Tasting Menu is only available when he is in the kitchen—which is most of the time, since, he states matter-of-factly, that he needs only about three hours sleep a night. On my visit the dinner began with a thick but modest-sized cut of Ulg Salmon, served with bright, crispy micro greens. The fish, which Gottgens describes as “escapee salmon” from the Atlantic just over an hour away, had a pure flavor with a delicate hint of peat smoke, and very little fat. Next came a delicate portion of fresh-tasting line-caught sea bass from nearby Loch Tarbet. It was accompanied by crisp baby asparagus and carrots lightly drizzled with parsley oil.
     I always enjoy the delicate taste of scallops, but Gottens’s version of seared Orkney Island scallops paired with a tiny dollop of whipped sweet potato and garnished with a marvelous vanilla butter broth was a whole new take on this classic seafood dish. The combination of flavors brought everything there is to love about the taste of scallops into perfect focus. The interesting pairings continued with a small portion of smoked St. Monan’s haddock with buttered leeks and a lightly fried quail egg. Again, the matching of familiar flavors and textures created a new intensity that made you wonder why no one had ever put them together before.
    Next came a game dish featuring leg of local estate-raised hare matched with a rich wild mushroom duxelle. Unlike your typical bland and flimsy, fam-raised white rabbit meat, the hare meat was a dark, juicy “steak” beautifully enhanced by the woodsy mushroom and shallot sauce with hints of Madeira wine. A second entrée featured a shoulder of lamb from the Inn’s own herd. The meat had been steeped with South African tea that brought out the subtle sweetness of the meat in a new and very interesting way. Each course was beautifully paired with a variety of wines from Ardeonaig’s own cellar comprised exclusively of South African bottlings.
     A nice palate-cleanser, the Granny Smith apple sorbet also bore Gottgens’s original touch with an intensified flavor that was clear and simple and very specific. The dessert was a chocolate pudding developed several years ago especially for Queen Elizabeth’s visit with Nelson Mandela, and while the pudding delivered every dark nuance one expects from good chocolate, it was neither heavy nor overly sweet.
      Starters range from 8₤-11.50₤ and main courses 17.50₤-26.50₤.

     Naturally, no jaunt through Scotland would be complete without frequent stops at local distilleries. The Aberfeldy Distillery in rural Perthshire is where the well-known Dewar’s Scotch is created. Dewar’s has been one of the most popular Scotches in the U.S. for many years, and its heritage goes back to 1898, when this brand was established by the enterprising Sir John Dewar. Here you can taste the beautifully well-rounded flavors of Dewar’s 12-year old single malt as well as the complex Aberfeldy single malt, which is seldom seen here in America.
 The Glengoyne Distillery (below) is located in the midst of the sprawling farm fields of Dumgoyne about an hour outside of Glasgow. As you step inside the lovely old rustic stone building here, you’re greeted by the friendly scent of Golden Promise Barley, the home-grown brand used exclusively by this distillery. Unlike many other single malt makers, Glengoyne allows its barley to air-dry rather than subjecting it to the heat and the smoke of peat fires. The whiskey is then gently aged in Spanish and American oak barrels yielding what I found to be one of the most appealing single malts in the Highland area. It has a bright, clear, slightly sweet flavor with hints of nuts and honey. A nice contrast to some of the peatier single malts. Glengoyne offers well over a dozen different Scotch whiskies in its distillery store along with a chance to blend your own single malt from small beakers of whisky flavors that you can try to balance and meld.
    Built in 1794 even before the seaside town of Oban itself sprung up along this craggy coastline, the Oban Distillery (below) has only two pot stills, making it one of the smallest scotch producers in Scotland. The single malt made here falls somewhere between smoky and sweet and because of its proximity to the ocean, many tasters claim to detect a hint of sea salt.
    The Town of Oban itself seems mostly a summer resort location with a busy waterfront lined with old and new hotels and seafood restaurants. It is also a major port year-round for ferries to the Scottish islands.  The City of Glasgow is as cosmopolitan as the Scottish countryside is pristine and rural. Many of the City’s beautiful old Victorian structures now house sophisticated restaurants and night spots. The Malmaison on West George Street qualifies as both with a stylish bar, brasserie and hotel set in a Gothic building in the heart of town.
    Despite its somewhat dark and “Kafka-esque” interior color schemes, the Malmaison exudes youthful energy, and dinner in the downstairs brasserie was focused on the freshness of local foods prepared under the expert guidance of Chef Graham Digweed.    Digweed’s roasted pumpkin soup with chive cream was a welcome starter on a chilly Glasgow night; and his grilled rosemary lamb, garnished with wholegrain mustard mash, was delicious.  I also sampled his glazed pumpkin gnocchi enhanced with sage butter and wild rocket salad and was quite pleased with the gentle melding of flavors.
      Starters run 5/75-8.25, main course 12.95₤-17.50₤

    Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery is not the ironic title of some Scottish novel. It’s the name of a small but thriving restaurant franchise with three locations in Glasgow. The quirky name is derived from the bingo call for 88. The restaurant where we dined was at 652 Argyle Street. With its dark woods and stained glass windows, it provided a cozy, Victorian setting for a straight-forward, contemporary menu. The options were minimal:  Starters included soup of the day; squid, pancetta, mussel and radish salad with bacon bits; or a mixed game stew.
    Main courses featured items like lemon and thyme-roasted chicken suprême with a shallot and mushroom jus; roasted Shetland salmon wrapped in bacon came with creamed savory cabbage; and the Estate of Mey rib-eye steak was perfectly grilled and sprinkled lightly with peppercorn sauce.
    Desserts were apple and blueberry crumble tart with vanilla ice cream; a raspberry cheesecake; or a selection of cheeses with oatcakes. If none of the dishes at the Two Fat Ladies break any new culinary ground,  everything hues  to classic tradition without a single misstep.
     The other two other locations are at 88 Dumbarton Road and 118a Blythswood St. in Glasgow.
     Starters run £4.50-£9.95, main courses £17.50-£22.50.

Robert Mariani is a freelance writer living in Bristol, Rhode Island.


by John Mariani

I don't think I've ever actually taken my wife to a restaurant on St. Valentine's Day for the simple reason that the restaurants are overrun with dewy-eyed couples expecting things like a complementary glass of cheap Champagne, little chocolate cakes in the shape of hearts, and a single red rose at dinner's end--all for far more than a usual night out at the same restaurant costs.  But I do take her out sometime during the week of St. Valentine's Day so that we can enjoy the time together without any of the rigamarole attached to such a highly commercialized feast.  Here, then, are some of my favorite, most romantic restaurants in the world--in no particular order--where I'd take the woman I love any night of the year.

Barbetta, NYC--a gorgeously appointed series of dining rooms and a unique flower garden that opens in good weather. The food is Piedmontese, the winelist one of the best for Italian wines in the city.

Azul, Miami--Brilliant design and great fusion cuisine make this dining room looking out over the brilliant blue water the most enchanting in the city.

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, CA--Sitting here on the terrace verlooking the vineyards of Napa Valley and feasting on California cuisine and a daunting winelist makes this the most romantic venue I know in northern California.

Montagna, Aspen--The fine dining room at Aspen's Little Nell Hotel with a panorama on the Rockies and ski slope here, this also has some of the finest cuisine, viua chef Ryan Hardy, in the west.

Wheatleigh, Lenox, Massachusetts--A 19th century mansion of remarkable and exquisite design, Wheatleigh affords a  candlelighted dinner overlooking acres of New England greenery--or quiet snow in winter--with deferential service rare in this country.

Ciragan Palace, Istanbul, Turkey--The gorgeously appointed dining room here oversees the Bosphorus in all its majestic, flowing beauty and you are serenaded by the singing of prayers from the mosques while dining on Turkis-and-French cuisine.

The Ritz Dining Room, London--Over-the-top, effusively baroque and Edwardian decor and huge windows on the green, the Ritz dining room, with its impeccable service and live music is a rare enchantment of truye Btitish design.

Les Ambassadeurs, The Crillon Hotel, Paris--Had Les Ambassadeurs only had its grandeur, its marble and mirrors, gilt and murals, it would be breathtaking.  Add to that a panorama on the Place de la Concorde and exquisite cuisine, widely spaced tables, and perfect service, and you cannot do better in Paris.

Gritti Palace Ristorante, Venice--The Grand Canal before you, San Marco behind you, wondrous Italian cuisine with real flair--you need more?

Dal Pescatore, Cuneto-sul-Olio, Italy--An expaned farmhouse of complete charm with the Santinit family taking care of your every wish and some of the finest food and wine in Italy make this out-of-the-way place very very romantic.



480 Lexington Avenue

      When Chicago Restaurateur Rohini Dey and  Executive Chef Maneet Chauhan opened the original Vermilion in Chicago four years ago, I wrote in praise of a new and exciting idea of combining the techniques of Indian and Latino cuisines, which share many affinities, not least the chile pepper, which got to India from the Americas some time in the 17th century.  These two beautiful Indian women also gave Chicago a stunningly modern design, completely different from any other Indian restaurant in America, which are always draped in paisley fabrics and set with bronze statues of elephant gods. You find none of that here.
       Now they have opened an even more spectacular restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and the cuisine is now more refined and more imaginative than ever.  Indeed, Vermilion New York immediately leaps to the front ranks of Indian restaurants in this country, comparable only to the superb Washington DC restaurant Rasika.  Both share a commitment to carefully prepared and presented food and drink within striking décor. In the case of Vermilion NY, the restaurant is spread over two split levels, downstairs the lounge, with communal seating, upstairs the main dining room, itself split into two sections, one dreamily lighted, the other brighter, both looking out wide expanse of glass onto the rush of Lexington Avenue.
     Dey herself, 
who has a Ph.D in economics, worked in development economics for the World Bank and as a Management Consultant with McKinsey & Co., led the design of  Vermilion in collaboration with  Chicago architects Searl, Lamaster and Howe, highlighted by oversized black-and-white photographs by India’s leading fashion photographer, Farrokh Chothia.  The space also contains a gorgeous curtain of water, a 22-foot metal mesh chandelier, metal cable and backlighted bar, and  floating ponds on both levels.
      One of the real attractions here is the exotic cocktail list, which use herbs and spices with amazing subtlety, as in the cucumber mint martini, the blueberry cardamom fizz, and the pani puri margarita, all of which may actually be tasted in small shot-like flights. The winelist, very fairly priced, focuses on South American and Spanish boutique wines along with California bottlings. There is even a selection of wines from India. And, of course, there are some fine Indian beer.
         Chef  Chauhan has cooked at The Taj Group, Oberoi Hotels, and Le Méridian, while Chef de Cuisine Ipshita Pall apprenticed at Chicago's Vermilion. They bring an exceptional vivacity to the food here in New York, and they do not push the Latino connection too much.  For this is Indian cuisine brought to a very high level of refinement, not as a movement away from tradition but as an incorporation with global influences that show the myriad styles Indian food truly represents. Appropriately, the name of the restaurant celebrates the color red--sindoor--that is central to femininity in India, most often seen as the dot on the foreheads of Indian women.
      You begin with small plates--tapas, if you will--that I could easily make an entire meal from: blue corn-crusted scallops with kali mirch calabasa, and a goat's cheese puree; duck vindaloo arepa, brushed pomegranate molasses in a curry leaf with mango; mussels in a coconut chili and coconut broth infused with curry leaves; fried
artichoke pakoras with eggplant chili coconut sauce; pani puri with crispy chaat  flour shells, potato, and chili mint water.  If I don't describe these any further it is because their flavors and textures are so wonderfully complex.
     From the fiery tandoor oven come various
seekh kebabs of minced  beef, lamb chops done  in the southern Mysore style, and  chicken in a creamy tomato-fenugreek sauce.  Breads, buttery and puffy, crisp and soft, come to the table waftin the aromas of yeast and char.
     For main courses there are lovely, colorful dishes like sesame-and-peanut crusted ribeye of beef; pork belly laced with spicy garam masala; jumbo crab shredded with crêpes and huitlacoche and  red quinoa; lobster Portuguese (right) is a Goan dish with coconut rice and a n eggplant-tomatillo chutney, while Sri Lankan fish is cooked with 16 spices; Mangalorean lamb shank gassi is braised to succulence and served with mango pach puran rice.
     And so goes the menu--nothing you've ever eaten before, nothing quite so tantalizingly presented.  Then come desserts in the same fashion, like "Vermilion hedonism"--a dark chocolate molten cake, chili-masala orange-blueberry sorbet; a mora berry mousse;  cumin ice cream, and  channa chor brittle.
     Vermilion is a strikingly original restaurant, and the three women being so intimately involved in every square inch of the décor, the plates, and the cooking have transformed Indian cuisine the way, two years ago, Michael Psilakis transformed Greek food in this country at Anthos,  and, 20 years ago, Gilbert LeCoze did with French seafood at Le Bernardin.  Vermilion is the kind of place where, even if you've eaten all over the world, including India, you will still be surprised, delighted, even mesmerized.

     Vermilion is open for lunch Mon.Fri. and for dinner nightly. Appetizers run $8-$14, main courses $22-$34. There are tasting menus at $70 and $80.


Navarra Wines quickly adapt to 21st century global market
by John Mariani

     On the heels of Ribera del Duero, Catalonia, and Rioja, Spain’s region of Navarra has very quickly leapt into the global market by capitalizing on its tradition of excellent garnachas and its willingness to adapt to more popular varietals like tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah.     A tasting in New York last month  of dozens of Navarra wines showed how fast the region’s viniculture has come since the 1990s when its wines had next-to-no international reputation or distribution. “It’s a region on the move,” said Robin Kelley O’Connor, director of sales for Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits Merchants in New York. “They’ve discovered great terroirs; now all they need is a little patience to make great wines.”
     This mountainous northern region, made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises, ranges from the eastern Pyrenées to the edge of Rioja Baja, with Pamplona as its principal city. Today the region’s total wine production has reached 60 million litres from 18,000 hectares separated into five zones—Valdizarbe in the north central; Tierra Estella in the northwest; Baja Montaña in the Northeast, which makes the best rosados; Ribera Alta around the town of Olite; and Ribera Baja in the south.
       For an article on visiting and dining out in Pamplona, click here.

     According to Ana Laguna, wine expert with the Navarra School of Tasting, 70 percent of the region’s grapes are indigenous—mainly tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, and mazuelo for the reds, viura and moscatel de grano menudo for the whites—and 30 percent international varietals. Ninety-four percent of the wines produced are red.
      The wines I was most impressed by were in fact the rosados, with their true rose color, a fragrant nose, and flower-and-mineral flavors picked up from the red limestone that covers the region’s vineyards.  Ochoa—one of the more notable modern wineries there—makes an enchanting rosado for summer. Its 2007 ($10), with 13 percent alcohol, is now as ready to drink as it ever will be, and a perfect wine with tapas, shrimp, and lobster. Every bit as good, a gorgeous pink color with a hugely satisfying bouquet, was Campos de Enanzo 2007 ($10), whose garnacha grape juice is derived from a ”bleeding technique” of sheer gravity rather than mechanical pressure.
      Ochoa, an innovative winery whose vineyards date to the 14th century, also makes a very fine 2005 single vineyard blend of garnacha and graciano ($15), a grape that fell out of favor because of low yields, now appreciated for just that quality, resulting in a wine of depth, rich tannins, and dark cherry flavors. A bottle of Ochoa’s Reserva 2001 (about $18), a blend of 70 percent tempranillo, with merlot, and cabernet sauvignon, showed signs of oxidation, though its Crianza 2005 ($15), which is 100 percent tempranillo ($$$) was stunningly rich and balanced in fruit, acid, and tannins. At the same level of elegance and vivacity was the Artajona Argaray Crianza 2005 ($12).
    I can’t claim much experience with wines made from Navarra’s mazuelo grape (elsewhere called carignane), but I found the Señorio de Sarria Viñedo No. 8 2005 ($20) very tannic right now but there was plenty of pleasing dark fruit at the back of the palate.
     The most distinctive wine of the tasting was Nekeas El Chapparal 2007 ($15), 100 percent garnacha, that showed how the spice and black pepper of this grape elsewhere known as grenache is a direct result of terroir, in this case the Nekeas Valley protected by the Sierra Perdon mountains from the cold winds of the Pyrenees.
      I found it interesting that almost every Navarra wine I sampled, here and in Pamplona, was labeled no higher than 13.5 percent alcohol. In fact, an Inurrieta 100 percent graciano ($14), with no vintage listed, was a little too brassy and plummy, at 14.5 percent alcohol.
     Keeping the alcohol under 14 percent means the producers are not trying to compete with the over extracted reds that are part of some other Spanish vintners’ global plans.  Instead, Navarra has achieved a fine balance of the old with the new, making fresh, fruity wines that have not lost the taste of their regional terroir.

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 NYC Ted Kefalinos, proprietor of Lafayette French Pastry, allegedly asked a customer,  "Would you like some `drunken negro heads' to go with your coffee? They're in honor of our new president. He's following in the same path of Abraham Lincoln; he will get his."  Later Kefalinos told a Fox news reporter,  "I called them Drunken Negro Heads. What's the problem with that? On Inauguration Day I thought it would be cool to change the name to Obama Heads. I just changed it for the day."  Kefalinos insisted that the cookie is "not unflattering. I think it's a fun face. And anyone who says anything else should be ashamed of themselves," insisting that he couldn't be a racist because "my brother-in-law, he's Cuban." People in the neighborhood called for a boycott of the pastry shop.


"I’m fed up with readers writing that I never go north of Watford. This is the fourth review this year of a northern place. With at least three more to come. I’m also fed up with readers telling me I’m a name-dropper. So are you. You talk about the people you meet. Mrs Betty Twiddle the shopkeeper, Elisa Birdwalk the lawyer, Rog Makepeace the used-car dealer, Mr and Mrs Plod your neighbours. They’re names. You drop them. I live my life among famous people. That I mention them when recording my wanderings is no more name-dropping than you."—Michael Winner, Sunday Times (Aug 31, 2008).

Winner in his Christmas card outfit.


* On Feb. 22 The Bistro Garden @ Coldwater in Studio City, CA, is  holding a Gala Academy Awards Party with a glass of champagne followed by buffet.   A ballot drawing for the winners offering dinner for 4 and more.  $55 pp. Call 818-501-0202.

* In NYC, Cercle Rouge Brasserie introduces a Mon. night prix fixe of 3 courses for $25 and 25% off all wines. In addition, a selection of bottles will also be available at $25.  Call .212-226-6252.

* In Boulder, CO, Laudisio is opening its extensive wine cellar to the public, by way of a monthly wine pairing, most with  5 courses and  6  wines.   $60-$75 pp.  Feb 23:  " A Tuscan Evening.” Call 303-442-1300.

* Beginning March 3,  Bay Area Chefs and Farmers will  host the 1st annual “A Moveable Feast: Twelve Chefs Celebrate Six Farmers in a Series of Seasonal Suppers.” Each month, two top chefs will collaborate with a local farmer to create an extraordinary to benefit The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture's mission of promoting a sustainable food system through the operation of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and its Education Programs. Chefs include Greg Dumore, Ame; Mark Sullivan, Spruce; Loretta Keller, Coco500 and The Moss Room and Dominique Crenn, Luce, et al.
Each dinner will be $80 pp,  $100 with. Visit

* In NYC,  Chef Riccardo Buitoni, of Aurora Soho, will host a series of monthly, regional Italian culinary nights every Mon. His Piemonte, 3-course at  $40 pp. incl. wine pairings. Call 718-388-5100 ;

* On March 5 in Austin, TX, The Driskill Grill will hold a ZD Vineyards Wine Dinner & Fundraiser With 15% of fee going to the Leuze Family Endowment for a Cure for Lymphoma. Chef Jonathan Gelman will pair dinner with  ZD wines yet to be released, reserves and the Abacus Cabernet Sauvignon ’92-’07 solera blend.  Regional Sales Manager for ZD, Kendra Gillette, will host the dinner.  $98 p. Call 512-391-7041.

* Beginning in March, Rancho de San Juan between Taos and Santa Fe, NM, will present 4 monthly “Passport Dinners” each representing a  culinary destination: March 7 – Exotic India; April 25 – Spicy Oaxaca, Mexico; May 30 –Viva La France; June 20 – That’s Amore, Italy. One Passport for all 4 dinners is priced at $200 pp,  single dinners are $65.  Call 505- 753-6818 or email  Visit

*The Wine Road (formerly known as The Russian River Wine Road)  will be hosting its Annual Barrel Tasting event, March 7-8 and 14-15, with over 100 wineries from the region. Each winery opens its cellar doors, offering wine lovers a chance to meet with winemakers, sample wines directly from the barrel, and purchase “futures” at a 25-30% discount. Visit $20 pp.

* Kiawah Island Golf Resort will have  Charlie Trotter  host the opening event of its March 13-15, “Gourmet & Grapes” food & wine event to benefit the Medical U. of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center.   Accommodations start from $2219 pp. Chef Expo Day Passes $300 pp.  A Sat. Lunch and Seminar Pass $125. Visit  or call 800-654-2924.

* Innovative Dining Group of Los Angeles is offering 3- and 4-course dinners ranging from $25 - $40 pp at incl. BOA Steakhouse; Sushi Roku, Sushi Roku, and Katana. Visit

NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with four excellent travel sites:

Everett Potter's Travel  Report:

I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the  web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury  Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and  a frequent contributor to National  Geographic Traveler,  and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their  travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special  places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of  staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star  places as five-star experiences."  To go to his blog click on the logo below: THIS WEEK: 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). 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