Virtual Gourmet

March 1, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                            "Cornucopia" (1994) by Robert Kushner, a mural at Gramercy Tavern, NYC


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To Read John Mariani's Article on "The Year of the Pig" go to Diversion Magazine this month.


In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNERKefi by John Mariani


by John Mariani

Seth Bird House
at Winvian

     Nothing I've ever seen quite prepared me for Winvian, an oddly named Connecticut country inn that appears from the road to be quite in line with what one expects of a Connecticut country inn--rolling hills and woodlands, clapboard structures, a pond or two, a greenhouse.  Indeed, when you drive through the rustic Litchfield landscape, that's what you see from the blacktop road--113 acres of lake and forest land bordering the 4,000 acre White memorial Foundation.
      You check in and are greeted warmly at the rambling Seth Bird House, dating back to 1775, that seems the epitome of New England charm, with a portico terrace, antiques and fine artwork everywhere, and fireplaces glowing. Then, depending on your choice, you are shown to one of 18 cottages on the property, and that's where things diverge from the ordinary.
      Well, not entirely.  While each of the cottages,
ranging from 950 to 1,250 square feet, is completely individualized by noted architects, some hew to highly romantic ideas of what a country refuge could be like, all with screened-in porches, fireplaces, wet bars, and deluxe appointments. The Artist Cottage, by architect Phil Godenschwager, is based on a 1920s bungalow concept, with gingerbread exterior, stained windows, and actual atelier.  The Beaver Lodge (right), by John Carino, done completely in handcrafted woodwork and stone, is made to look like a very smart beaver might have locked it all together. The huge Stone Cottage, by David Sellers, is constructed entirely from Connecticut boulders.
     And then there are. . . the others: The Secret Society, by Jim Sanford, is as much an echo of a chamber Indian Jones might uncover as it is a winking nod to New England fraternal societies like Yale's Skull and Bones.  The Golf Cottage, by David Sellers, actually has putting greens of fake grass inside and the look of an Americanized version of a room at St. Andrews in Scotland. But nothing quite prepares you for the Helicopter Cottage (below), by Malcom Appleton, which envelops a fully restored 1968 Sikorsky HH37 Sea King Pelican helicopter in which you can entertain friends  and children of all ages.  It is hilarious and, in the current lingo, awesome!
       There are many more, and the best thing to do if considering booking at Winvian, is to check out their website and go from there.  Rates roll from $1,450 to $1,950, or you can take over the whole estate for $32,000 per night; prices include all meals (picnic baskets and cocktails, if you like), and unlimited use of the bocce, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, tennis, volleyball, and Wiffle ball courts, as well as offering a field for soccer and self-guided canoeing and kayaking. You can easily go for car racing up at Limerock, clay shooting, fishing on the beautiful Housatonic River, hot air ballooning, golf at Fairview Farm, and on a paddleboat on Bantam Lake.  They will even customize a scavenger hunt for you that leads you all over the estate.  Activities at the 5,000-square foot Spa (below, right) are not included in the price; neither is wine at dinner. There is also a Board Rom available for rental.
      Winvian, which opened in 2007,  is owned by Maggie Smith,  who also owns Vermont's Pitcher Inn, both Relais & Châteaux properties. Maggie's father, Winthrop Smith and his wife Vivian (hence the awkward portmanteau name Winvian, which sounds more like a mobile home), acquired the house in 1948 as a country home, and the estate passed to their daughter, who built the property into an inn, obviously with a great sense of style and humor and with an eye to attracting both the traditionalist Wall Street types and the more adventurous hedge funders, assuming there are any left. The Smiths were also insistent that the restaurant would serve meals the equal of any in Provence.
         And what a meal it is! Once open only for staying guests, the Dining Room, called the Smith Ell,  in the Seth Bird House is now open to the general public, with advance reservations.  Here the atmosphere reverts to the most refined of New England hospitality in rooms set with exquisite antiques, white Anichini tablecloths, Sambonet silver, and Riedel stemware. Beyond the terrace is a pond filled with koi fish. The fireplaces crackle. A full breakfast, with extremely good baked pastries and breads, and sumptuous dishes like scrambled eggs with black truffles, will get you going for a day of activities; then there is lunch and afternoon tea. The foods that go into those picnic baskets are as delicious as anything Chef Chris Eddy prepares, and upon leaving they are likely to send you on your way with some hot muffins and coffee.   His years working for both Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud show in the precision with which he works every dish on the menu.
      After a winter's day on the estate (and a sweet late afternoon nap), my wife and I headed over for dinner and sat at a table before the fire (below) to peruse the superb winelist here, with very sensible prices throughout.  We began with a sunchoke soup with morsels of foie gras and black truffles that seemed a wonderfully decadent way to start a cold winter's meal.  A frisée salad with pomegranate and parmesan came next, then sweet little Nantucket bay scallops with oranges and more truffles. The seafood course that followed was branzino with roasted cauliflower, capers, and--guess what?--a few more truffle shavings (we were not complaining of overkill), and then truffle-free venison with salsify, quince, and a huckleberry sauce, which might sound too sweet but the acidity and seasoning went splendidly with the fine-grained meat.  So, too, Colorado rack of lamb came with pommes boulanger and tender Brussels sprouts. Desserts were as sumptuously and delicious as all that preceded them.
        New England is dotted with inns, many of them, like the nearby Mayflower Inn, catering to a very affluent clientele.  But Winvian, as much for its all-inclusive rates as its revolutionary approach to design, is unique in the only sense of that word that matters--unlike any other, and likely never to have an imitator soon.

Winvian is currently offering a Mercedes-Benz Drive, Stay & Play Getaway package, through May 31, 2009,  for which guests can enjoy two nights at Winvian with round-trip pick-up and take-home service (from New York City, Boston, Connecticut, areas of New Jersey within 30 miles of NYC, and everywhere in between) in a Mercedes-Benz.

Winvian is located at 155 Alain White Road in Morris,  CT; 860-567-9600;



by John Mariani


505 Columbus Avenue (near 84th Street)

       A few years ago Michael Psilakis  ran a sweet little place named Kefi on the Upper West Side whose food was traditional Greek but always with a twist to every dish that revealed Psilakis' simmering talent to transform a cuisine that had not budged much in NYC circles, which of course included the Greek neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. 
   Together with Italian-American restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, he then opened a Mediterranean restaurant named Dona on the East Side (since closed), then, two years ago,
the revolutionary Greek restaurant Anthos on West 52nd Street.
      Psilakis closed Kefi with the intention of enlarging it, put off until Anthos and a small East Side trattoria named Mia Dona were up and running.  Now, the new, much expanded Kefi is open, and I realize how much I've missed it. So, apparently, do thousands of others, for the place has been packed since re-appearing on Columbus Avenue in January.
From the minute you walk in, it's easy enough to see why: Kefi is very casual, has a vibe that indicates you come here for the food and gregarious atmosphere, and it's not particularly pricey.  The food comes out family style, the waiters are fleet-footed, the winelist solid, and the food bright and bold. “The dishes on the menu originated in my childhood home and now that Kefi’s home is bigger, I’m able to share those memories with more people,” he says. Kefi does not pretend to show the imagination and finesse of Anthos, so no one should go expecting those Psilakis flourishes.
       At Kefi (the word κέφι means "joviality") go with three friends, just open the menu, point anywhere, order lots of dishes, settle in with a bottle of Assyrtikos, and have a ball. On two floors, with outdoor seating in warmer weather, there are 200 seats  broken up into several smaller dining rooms.  The bar is crafted from bulkhead-style wood beams, and a wall of wins--all Greek--is transversed with a rolling ladder.  On the first floor (above) banquettes are done in blue-and-white Aegean patterns, and the decor is pretty simple--a few tin plates, wall lanterns, and Greek pottery here and there. Downstairs (left) there are two smaller  dining rooms separated by sliding barn doors. The first, smaller room, seats 38, while the rear seats 68 and can take private parties where guests are encouraged to smashing plates on the floor and whoop “Opa!” (NB: According to one Greek travel authority, "Breaking plates is now considered a 'dangerous' practice due to flying shards, and perhaps also because of intoxicated tourists who have poor aim and may hit the dancers or musicians. It is officially discouraged and Greece actually requires a license for establishments who want to allow it. Supposedly, plate smashing replaced another, earlier way of showing approval - by throwing knives into the floor at the dancer's feet.")
      The basis for all Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants are its mezes--the small plates that can either get your appetite raging or form the entire meal itself.  Two people can share a bunch of them and get out of Kefi cheap, with mezes running $5.95 to $9.95. There are few surprises here but what Psilakis delivers has a freshness you don't always find in Greek restaurants. There is a selection of yogurt, taramosalata, eggplant, and chickpeas as spreads (below) for the good, warm pit bread; potatoes come with green beans, feta, and olives to nibble; nubbins of calamari are fried crisp and tender octopus is grilled, served with a bean salad; delicious crispy cod cakes come with garlic potatoes and tomatoes; mussels come with feta and gigante beans.  The list goes on--grilled sardines, crispy sweetbreads, meatballs.
     Then there are Greek sandwiches of shaved roast pork with gyro spices; pork and chicken souvlaki; and a Kefi burger. Pastas include a fabulous sheep's milk ravioli with brown butter and sage; hilopites noodles with braised rabbit and graviera cheese; and a rich macaronia with béchamel sauce.
     If you have not already given in to an all-meze meal, you can go on with impeccably grilled seafood, from sizzling grilled lavraki (branzino) to ksifia (swordfish) and psari (striped bass), or roasted chicken laced with lemon, with potatoes in garlic and dill.  There's a hanger steak with sausages, and juicy braised lamb shank with orzo. Desserts follow the flaky line of Greek pastries.
     The excellent winelist is all Greek, representing the best coming out of the islands right now,
by the glass $5-13, by the bottle $18-$100.
      You get some very good food in the Greek neighborhoods of Queens, but Manhattan, with Molyvos, Estiatorio Milos, Periyali, and others, including Psilakis (left) and Arpaia's own Anthos, have given New Yorkers a true panoply of Hellenic cuisine. Kefi, while not trying to break new ground, refers back to a family style and atmosphere that is indeed full of joviality.  That Psilakis and his crew can turn out so many plates from such a modest-sized kitchen gives me pause to wonder if consistency might not be a problem down the road.  Right now Kefi is overwhelmed with customers. I hope it stays that way, and I hope it delivers what it does so well right now in the months to come.

Kefi is open for lunch Tues.-Sat., brunch on Sun,  and dinner nightly. Appetizers run $5.95-$9.95; Sandwiches $9.95-$13.95;   Entrees $11.95-$16.95 ; Pastas $9.95-$13.95.



by Mort Hochstein

        How do you follow a success like Plumpjack, a super-premium  cult wine   that retailers---when they can get it--hide under the counter for favored customers, a wine whose three-digit price tag defies thoughts of recession?   You could, of course, just make more Plumpjack or make a second label wine, as they do in Bordeaux.
    But if you’re the brain trust that steered Plumpjack to profitability, a condition which many cult wines have yet to attain, you don’t dilute the brand; you create Cade, a totally different wine from a different vineyard and in a radically different setting.
   Plumpjack is one of California’s great wine stories. The 2005 estate cab lists at around $85 a bottle and princes jump quickly for older vintages such as the ’97, online for $350.  The wine was created by a venturesome trio, Gordon Getty, composer, writer and heir to the Getty petroleum fortune, Gavin Newsome, mayor  of San Francisco and
now a candidate for governor of California, and John Conover, an experienced wine executive. Getty and Newsom planned to feature th wine in a wine shop they owned in San Francisco and in a group of upper echelon restaurants and inns they also operated. Their first release was an instant succes, and the winery has been selling out its limited production of about 11,000 cases ever since. Plumpjack also made headlines when it became the first high-priced wine to install screw caps on about half of its production.
   Plumpjack takes its name from Queen Elizabeth, who like a recent president, had pet names for people at court, and Plumpjack was her moniker for Shakespeare’s fat, bibulous rogue Sir John Falstaff, drinking  buddy to Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts I and II and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The new winery, Cade, also has its origins in Shakespeare, where Cade was a synonym for a cask or barrel.
     Plumpjack’s grapes originate in well-drained clay loam soil with some creek bottom gravel in the valley and foothills at Oakville in Napa, while Cade comes from the slopes of Howell Mountain, rich in  condensed volcanic ash and minerals, largely iron. The  major difference between Plumpjack and Cade, however, is the structure in which they are produced. lumpjack’s home is a traditional Napa barn, circa 1880’s, while Cade is assembled in an ultra modern showcase (above), a facility designed not to intrude much into the vine-covered slopes of Mount Howell (below). The facility is, in the current language, green, a progressive design that does not disturb the nature around it. Construction featured  new and recycled materials aimed at making Cade the first California winery to be Gold certified, conforming to national standards for the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. It is, of course, solar powered.
        Sustainable farming practices, organic procedures, green construction: these are the principles on which the winery is based.  “Both vineyards use sustainable farming methods, differing only in weed control,” says John Conover, “At Oakville on the valley floor, we use an herbicide. At Cade it’s all done by hand. Our goal is to become organically certified, meaning that we use only organic methods, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, for a minimum of three years.”
        The designers worked hard at preserving the greenery around the building (above), taking down only three trees on its 38- degree slope. Crucial to that effort was a wall made of concrete shot into place that holds back the adjacent hillside. The wall is stabilized by soil anchors driven into the hillside, eliminating the need for forms and footings and minimizing excavation, while leaving the surface above the wall undisturbed. “We would have lost another 50 trees,” says architect Carlo Fernandez, “if we had built a regular retaining wall.  He designed the project to use 30 percent fly ash, a coal by- product, which reduces the amount of cement, and put in several forms of insulation and flooring, including recycled blue jeans in the walls, and recycled cork floors.
     Cade makes two  cabernets, Howell Mountain Estate (below), solely from estate grown grapes, and Howell  Mountain Cabernet with grapes from vineyards in the Howell Mountain appellation.  It also produces  Cade Napa Cuvée, a Bordeaux style blend of  76 percent cab, 23 percent merlot and 2 percent petit verdot, sourced from  several sites within Napa..  The merlot is largely grown on the estate and, uniquely, partially  aged in American Oak  to add spice. Cade’s fourth wine is a sauvignon blanc, also an assemblage of  grapes grown in Napa. The winery will produce, eventually, about 12,500 cases overall.
       At lunch with Conover in New York, I tasted just two wines.  The first was  the elegant, creamy, ‘07  Sauvignon Blanc, hardly a Sancerre or a New Zealand SB in its gentle, consumer friendly approach but still possessing just enough acidity and citrus flavors,  nicely balanced, with a long finish.   It is available  at about $26.
       Our red was the ‘06 Napa Cuvée.  On the nose, I enjoyed scents of blackberries and currants and a hint of anise developing on the palate with  blackberry and raspberry and black olive flavors,   closing with gentle tannins, very much a fruit forward wine,  more California Meritage than Bordeaux. It will retail at about $63.
     I had hoped to sample  the ’05 Howell Mountain Cabernet, which went  on sale last July only at the winery,  priced in the mid sixties. It should hit the market sometime this summer.   No such luck, nor did I get a shot at the top of the line label. The Estate cab is still in barrel, awaiting release this fall at a projected price of about $100.  Only about a fifth of  Cade wines will be allotted to stores, since  about 80%  will go  to the restaurant trade. With limited production of all the reds, it is quite likely they will follow the pattern of Plumpjack, hard to get, but worth the effort.

Mort Hochstein, former editor and producer for NBC News and the Today Show, and former managing editor of Nation's Restaurant News, writes  on wine, food and travel for Wine Spectator, Wine Business  Monthly, Saveur and other food and wine publications.



A plumbing mistake turned water into wine during a public celebration in Marino, Italy. "At the heart of the town's famous Sagra dell' Uva, or Grape Festival, is the moment when sparkling white wine flows from the fountains in the main square," BBC News reports. "But this year locals and tourists had to make do with water, as bad plumbing meant the wine supply was switched by mistake to local homes." The (London) Times says "many quick-witted residents" managed to fill jugs with vino before city officials redirected it to the fountains.


When Gordon Ramsay appeared on the TV show "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," during the cooking of a red mullet, fennel, with orange segments and wine in parchment. Conan said, "This is going to go very badly," as Ramsay's comments needed to be bleeped out at least a dozen times, Then, when a guest referred to Ramsay as a "cook," Ramsay snapped, "Big boy, use the word 'chef.' Ladies cook."



* Bistro Z at the new Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, NY, is introducing its Weekend Dining Club:  For $10 a year, members receive reduced prices every Fri.-Sun. nights. With one half-priced entrée with dinner for two, or 20 % of all entrees for a party of three or more, and 25%  off the purchase of a bottle of wine with dinner.  Call (914) 524-6410 or visit

* The luxury 45-room Post Hotel Weggis (POHO) in Switzerland offers a  getaway for couples with two-night Winter Dream@POHO Package with rates starting at CHF 1079/$930 per room, valid through December 31. It incl. 2 nights accommodations with balcony views of Lake Lucerne ; breakfasts in bed ;  dinner at the POHO Dining Lounge;  in-room private fondue dinner ; Romantic boat trip on Lake Lucerne incl.  hot wine punch aperitif ; Tix to Mount Rigi ; 30-minute wellness treatment at POHO’s sister property, Park Hotel Weggis ; Visit or  call 011-41(0) 41 392 2525.

* Beginning March 1 through March 7,  anyone who dines at NYC's Olana  will be part of the first birthday celebration. Guests receive a glass of prosecco, compliments of owner-chef Al Di Meglio and owners Patrick and Bill Resk,  and pastry chef Katie Rosenhouse will be making a mini-birthday cake for each table to enjoy after the meal. Guests can also enter for a chance to win a dinner for 10 cooked in their home by Al and Katie. Call 212-725-4900.

* Thalassa in NYC’s Tribeca (212-941-7661) recently launched "Wine Day."  Every Monday evening, Thalassa's wine list is available at half-price.  Each bottle of wine (7,000+, including many rare boutique Greek wines) is being offered at 50% off.

Silks restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco announces its 2009 schedule of winemaker dinners hosted by guest wine makers and Silks' wine director/sommelier Nicole Kosta, who has also put together a program of more casual special events to take place in MO Bar. Silks chef de cuisine Orlando Pagan creates multi-course menus to pair specifically with each of the specially selected wines. Call  415-276-9787.

* Picholine in NYC has introduced a new wine special on Monday night. 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 restaurant also features  a 60 under 60 wine list in the Cheese and Wine Bar. Chef-Proprietor Terrance Brennan  also announces "Tastes of Picholine," a 3-course tasting menu for $58. Each additional plate $12, Mon.-Thurs.,  5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit; 212-724-8585.

* Beginning March 1 through the end of the year, patrons at Baxter’s in Lake Tahoe and Moody’s Bistro in Truckee can purchase any item on the 500-selection wine list at either restaurant for the same price as in a store while dining at either. Call 530-587-8688 or visit

*  On March 2 in Englewood, NJ, Nisi will begin their celebration of Lent with daily menu specials containing no meat, fish that are round or flat, or dairy, leading up to Easter Sunday, April 19 on the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Call 201-567-4700.

* In Los Angeles, beginning March 3, Il Grano, Chef Salvatore Marino has decided to resurrect some of his favorite Italian recipes dating back to his childhood and his grandmother’s kitchen table in Napoli, with “Rustic Tuesday’s”  featuring a different region of Italy each Tuesday by exploring the various recipes of ‘la nonna.’  All menu items range from $9-16 with family style carafe wine options, Call 310-477-7886.

* On March 4 in NYC SUSHISAMBA 7 invites guests to their rooftop to meet Executive Chefs from all SUSHISAMBA locations (New York, Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas) for a Chef’s Panel hosted by  author and food critic, Bob Lape.  The special night of food, drink and conversation incl. a discussion of culinary authenticity and how it applies to the successful SUSHISAMBA concept.  In addition, guests will be served select SUSHISAMBA dishes as well as signature cocktails.  Tickets are available at the SUSHISAMBA 7 restaurant for $45. Call 212-691-7885;

* On March 5 in Charlotte, NC, Zink American Kitchen will hold a 5-course Highland Brewery Beer Dinner at $48 pp. Call 704-444-9001;

* On March 6 & 7, Savor Dallas features 400+ premium wines, spirits and imported beers, and signature cuisine from 60 of Dallas-Fort Worth's top chefs, to be held at renowned Arts District and Victory Park.  Highlights incl. limited admission "Reserve Tasting" at Windows in Westin City Center Dallas and "VVIP Lounge" at the International Grand Tasting. Visit Call 866-277-7920.

* On March 9  Adour Alain Ducasse at the St. Regis Hotel New York will take place in our Wine Vault  with Stéphane Vivier, wine maker at HdV with a  4-course. $270 pp. Call 212-710-2277.

* On March 10 in Charlotte, NC, Upstream Restaurant presents an Alex Gambal Wine Dinner, 5 courses created by Executive Chef Tom Condron and Chef de Cuisine, Scott Wallen for $65 pp. Call 704-556-7730.

* On March 13 OSO Restaurant at The Southampton Inn on Long Island, NY welcomes Miguel Marin winemaker at Palmer Vineyards at the  popular “Dinner and…” mid winter series. 3 course dinner prepared by Executive Chef Bryan Naylor. $25. Call 631-283-6500 ext 779;

* In Kennebunkport, METhe White Barn Inn Restaurant  will hold its Guest Chefs Series 2009, offered over 3 weekends this spring, incl. cocktail parties, cooking demos,  dining, and  accommodations. The 2009 lineup incl.:   Chef Steven Titman, Summer Lodge (Evershot, England), March 12-15;  Christopher Brooks, Blantyre (Lenox, Massachusetts), March 27-29; and  Juan Bochenski, Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort (Antigua, West Indies), April 24-26. From $598 pp. Visit

*  On March 16 in San Francisco, The Fifth Floor hosts a James Beard dinner celebrating author Paula Wolfert and Gascon cuisine crafted by Culinary Director Laurent Manrique. $150 for James Beard Foundation members, $165 for non-members.  Call 415-348-1555.

*   Each Monday beginning March 16, chef/owner Charles “Chip” Roman of Blackfish in Conshohocken, PA will create a 4 course Chef’s Tasting for $45. March 16th will feature A Study of Porcini. Call 610-397-0888;

*  On March 17 in Charleston, SC, The Old Village Post House announces a St. Patrick’s Day 4-course Irish Whiskey Dinner featuring Jameson, Redbreast, and Middleton Irish whiskeys from the rare and reserve collections.   The menu is created by Frank Lee, Executive Chef and Jim Walker, Chef de Cuisine, with whiskey pairings by Patrick Emerson, Wine and Beverage Director.$45  pp.  and special room rate $100.Call 843-388-8935;

* On March 17 in Greenwich, CT, Restaurant Jean-Louis will hold a wine dinner co-hosted by three Bordeaux Châteaux owners and Oenologists: Eric Perrin, Château Carbonnieux; Basile Tesseron, Château Lafon-Rochet; Jérôme Héranval, Oenologist and Technical Director, Château Durfort Vivens. $79 pp. Call 203-622-8450.

* On March 18 Castle Hill Inn & ResortSM in Newport, RI,  presents a Duckhorn 5-course wine dinner with Dan Duckhorn, Co-Founder, Chairman  and CEO of the Duckhorn Wine Company and Chef Jonathan Cambra. $150 pp. Call 401-848-0918.

* On March 18 in San Francisco, McCormick & Kuleto's Seafood Restaurant, has announced a Honig Vineyard & Winery winemaker dinner of 5 courses of seafood by Executive Liz Ozanich, paired with Honig wines.  $85 pp. Call 415- 929-8374.

*  On March 19 in Boston, Morton's The Steakhouse, together with Charles Krug Winery and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, hosts its 7th annual wine dinner. Peter Mondavi, Jr., owner of Charles Krug Winery, will host the 4-course dinner with Morton's VP of wine and spirits, Tylor Field. Guests will have the opportunity to bid on a 27-liter bottle of Charles Krug, Vintage Selection, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006. Proceeds to  the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.   $150 pp. Call  617-526-0410;

* On March 21 in Yountville, CA, the 16th annual “Taste of Yountville” features 15 area restaurants, 20 local wineries and an array of mustard and olive oil producers on tap for tastings.  The 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. event is free; tasting tix available on site for $1.00 each.  Visit

* From March 22-28 Va Pensiero in Evanston, Il,  is proud to be a part of Unicef's Tap Project 2009 and its efforts to help prevent illness in children due to poor drinking water.  During World Water Week, , patrons will be asked to pay $1 or more for the tap water they usually enjoy for free.  For every dollar raised, a child will have clean drinking water for 40 days. All funds raised support UNICEF's efforts to bring clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world. Call 847-475-7779.

* From March 25-29 in New Orleans, the 23rd annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, celebrates the life and legacy of Tennessee Williams in the adopted city he called his “spiritual home,” offers two days of Master Classes; a roster of lively discussions among blue-chip panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music programs; a scholars' conference; short-fiction and one-act play competitions; a breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; parties and other special events.  Sites hosting events incl. Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré; The Historic New Orleans Collection; The Cabildo; Bourbon Orleans Hotel; Muriel's Jackson Square Restaurant; Williams Research Center; Palm Court Jazz Café; Windsor Court Hotel; The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans; Besh Steak, Harrah’s Casino; and Gold Mine Saloon. On March 27 John Mariani of The Virtual Gourmet, will give a talk on the state of restaurants in the USA. Call 1-800-990-3378 (FEST), or visit the Festival website at

* On March 25 Wine & Wishes a benefit for the Make A Wish Foundation® of Metro New York will be held at  Pier 60, Chelsea Piers, New York City.$250 pp,  VIP Tix $1,000.  Call 212-957-WISH. Participating restaurants incl.  Uncle Jack's Steakhouse, Tribeca Grill, Mamajuana Café, Talay, 809 Bar & Grill, Mad46, Havana Club, Abigail Kirsch and Culinary Institute of America. A VIP ticket provides access to the crowd favorite “Coveted Corks” – a private VIP Tasting and Culinary Sampling.

* On March 25 in New Orleans   “Absinthe, The Green Hour” with foods will be hosted by Morton’s The Steakhouse in New Orleans. $45 pp.  Call 504-566-0221; 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: The Interview: Larry Olmsted on Getting into Guinness


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