Virtual Gourmet

March 8, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                               "Cow" (2008), painting by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery

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A LITTLE BOASTING: I have the pleasure to announce that I have received the Nomination for the journalistic prize founded by the Comitato Grandi Cru d’Italia, for the category, Best Foreign Journalist of the Year. The winner's proclamationwill take place during the gala dinner that the Committee has organized on the occasion of the 43° Vinitaly, in Verona, on 3rd of April, in Piazza del Mercato Vecchio.

In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: La Fonda del Sol by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Argentina's Malbecs Are World Class and Priced Right
by John Mariani


by John Mariani

William Hogarth's "An Election Entertainment"
     As I write this, the pound sterling is hovering around US$1.42. One year ago it was up to $2, so the contention that London is unaffordable for Americans is simply no longer true.  London, like Paris and New York, will always be expensive, but staying and dining out in these cities has mellowed out considerably, especially since hotels and restaurants are doing everything imaginable to attract guests.
     In an article entitled "London Chefs Mourn Lehman; 50 Eateries May Fail' on, columnist Richard Vines quotes restaurateur/chef Richard Corrigan as saying, "When Lehman Brothers collapsed, we were all privately crying in our offices. They were a great client to restaurants.” Vines lists closures by
star chefs Anthony Worrall Thompson,  Tom Aikens,   and Gordon Ramsay, and quotes Aikens as saying, "There are loads of discounts on Web sites such as Top Table, so people will probably turn to booking online.”
      In my last articles on London dining in 2008 (click July 6 and  July 20 ) I wrote about wonderful meals at places like the very popular Wild Honey and Cafe Anglais, where a fine three-course dinner might run $60 or more (which includes the VAT tax but not service); today that same meal will cost only $42, so the difference is striking, as I found on my most recent trip across the pond.

28  Upper Grosvenor Street
+44 20 7499 9943

     There is no more ebullient, good-natured chef in London than Richard Corrigan (below), a big Irishman brought up on a farm in County Meath, who made his rep at
Stephen Bull’s, then Lindsay House,  Bentley’s Seafood Bar & Grill in London, on BBC2’s "Full on Food," and Irish TV's "Corrigan Knows Food."  His cookbook The Clatter of Forks and Spoons gives you an insight into the workings of his style when he writes, "Growing up on a farm teaches you respect for the cycles and seasonality of food, and with each movement of the calendar, nature has something else to give us.”
     Entering Corrigan's Mayfair you will probably not be put in mind of an Irish farm eatery. It's a well-appointed, even clubbish looking place (it has a 10-seat Club Room where Corrigan does Chef's Menus), upholstered but not in the least stuffy, with wooden floors, roomy blue armchairs, comfortable banquettes, and pretty chandeliers. You can tell it is built for hearty eaters, and the food is appropriate to that idea, with plenty of game dishes, from grouse in season to wild salmon.
     You might begin with a tray of shellfish, glistening and icy, or mussels marinière with wild celery (₤9).  I found linguine cooked in red wine with pecorino and bone marrow (₤10.50) a terrific dish reminding me of the wine-infused spaghetti dell'ubriacone ("drunk") I've had at Florence's Osteria de' Benci. Corrigan's South Coast fish soup with a garlicky mayonnaise (₤10.50) epitomizes Corrigan's intensely flavorful cooking.
      Seafood shines brightly on the menu here, not least a grilled gurnard with braised squid and butter-rich kale (₤14), but his big-hearted meat dishes like daube of pork with turnips and apricots (₤16.50) and a juicy roast partridge with old-fashioned bread sauce, cabbage, and bacon could not have been more welcome on a winter's day.  As you might expect, then, the spectacularly good potatoes here are fried in goose fat, the mashed potatoes swim in fine butter, and the spinach is studded with raisins and pine nuts.  Saltiness marred some of the dishes I had on my visit, so you might want to mention your preference.
       It is hard to resist Corrigan's "Cheese from Our Islands" with wondrous names like Stinking Bishop, Ragstone, and Milleens--so don't. But save room for some of the best desserts in London right now, including a lime and cheese soufflé (₤7.50), rhubarb and custard (₤7.50), and spiced ice cream with macerated plums and madeleine cookie (₤7.50).
       The prices are quite congenial--you could easily have a three-course meal for US$50--so it's unfortunate there is an outdated ₤1.50 cover charge along with the usual VAT and the discretionary 12/5% service charge. There is also a two-course ₤19.50 meal or three for ₤23.50, which even includes a carafe of wine in the price.  Good deal!
      Corrigan's is open for lunch Mon.-Fri. and for dinner Mon.-Sat.


St. Alban
4-12 Lower Regent Street
+44 20 7499 8558

     Restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin can never be accused of not knowing their audience, for as former owners of The Ivy, Le Caprice, and J Sheeky, they always drew the poshest international crowd and celebrities, and as soon as they opened The Wolseley a few years ago, there's rarely been an empty seat, from breakfast through dinner.  Their newest operation is St. Alban near Piccadilly. and they've hedged their bets by installing The Ivy's manager of fifteen years, Mitchell Everard, here to do the greetings. Its very central location, within blocks of the Theater District and the museums at Trafalgar Square, make it particularly appealing for visitors who seek a fine lunch without pretense or duration.
     Its premises were once Rex, a BBC live radio recording studio, turned into a bright and very colorful 140-seat restaurant with art that includes work by Damien Hirst, including two 7-meter long butterfly paintings.  The menu, under Chef Dale Osborne, formerly at The Wolseley, is printed on one page, featuring Mediterranean foods cooked in a wood-fired oven and charcoal grill. The prices are certainly right in line with today's economy: Starters run ₤6.50-₤19.50, main courses ₤8.75-₤29.50. The winelist, by Chris Cooper,  is very user friendly, with several by the glass 6₤ and under  and scores of bottles under 35₤. And on weekends for lunch, you even get
complimentary valet parking!
      We went for lunch and ate all over the menu, from a delectable baked polenta with wild mushrooms and goat's cheese to buffalo mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes and toasted sourdough.  Tortelli of spinach and ricotta was creamy  and generously proportioned, as was a salad of Cornish squid and piquillo peppers.  The wood-fired pizza, is all right but nothing to write home to your Neapolitan aunt about, but you can have it for a main course for just ₤8.75.
      I really liked the slow-roasted Norfolk black pig's belly with sweet-sour quince and black cabbage (₤17.25)--a superb and canny combo--and we shared a mix of grilled fish of the day (₤25.50) with samphire, a salad green native to the United Kingdom. Each fish was individually cooked to the right point of succulence and was properly and simply seasoned.
     A combination of three cheeses is available for ₤8.50, but don't pass up pastry chef Yann Letilly's Amalfi lemon ice cream, the rice pudding with caramelized prunes and a shot of Armagnac, or the dark chocolate tart with milk ice cream.
      St. Alban is a cheery place with real vitality, as colorful as it is quite sophisticated without a whit of pretense of the kind you might otherwise find at similarly restaurants of the moment.
       St. Alban is open for lunch Mon.-Sat, and nightly for dinner.

72-73 St. James's Street
+44  20 74081440

  Two titans of London hospitality who have been entwined for decades now--
Marco Pierre White and hotelier Sir Rocco Forte--have opened Luciano, but a stone's throw from Jermyn Street's fashionable haberdashers and my favorite boutique hotel, 22 Jermyn Street. Opened in 2005 on the site of what had been Madame Prunier's fish restaurant, Luciano caught on quickly, though getting a rez there these days is not particularly difficult to come by the samew day or night.
     White (below), of course, was among the first British chefs to put London dining on the map in the 1990s, notorious for his manic perfectionism and no-holds-barred approach to kitchen discipline. (He once sent Gordon Ramsay cowering in the corner, and we know where that led.)
      White himself retired from the kitchen some years ago but keeps his interests in the food world including overseeing Luciano, which he opened at a time when stylish Italian restaurants were becoming quite the thing in central London. Style it has, starting with a seductively lighted bar and lounge with brown leather bar stools, exquisitely tiled floors, large structural pillars, a polished zinc bar, and an ambiance that struck our party as chilly, as we were made to wait for a table for several minutes and upon entering the dining room found it half empty.  The main dining room is low-lighted at night--much moreso than the daylight photo above suggests--but you can easily make out the framed photography that lines the walls of decidedly sexy representations of the female form, nude and close-to-being-nude, which must strike a soigné crowd as being chic while others might find it less risqué thanin questionable taste.
       Here, again, you will find an admirable commitment to offering fine Italian wines below 50₤, with many running in the 22₤ range. What just last year might have struck one as exorbitant at $200 a bottle for a fine Barbaresco doesn't seem quite so out of line anymore at $142.
       Luciano's menu is, oddly, safe.  There is little here that you won't find at similar upscale Italian restaurants around town like Cecconi's, Zafferano, and Locanda Locatelli, and not much flourish, which is a not a bad thing when it comes to Italian cooking.  Still, while I found several dishes very well made, none struck me as exceptional. We began with very large chargrilled calamari with hot peperoncini, arugula, and zucchini (9.50₤), and the selection of Tuscan salumi (12.50₤) was excellent, served with good bread.  A welcome surprise was eggplant parmigiana (8.95₤), rich and creamy, the perfect dish for a vegetarian or anyone else  to swoon over.
     Of the pastas (available as whole or appetizer portions) we tried the ravioli with buffalo ricotta and spinach (16.50₤), which was rather ordinary in its flavors, and the potato gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella (15.95₤) were pasty and lacked potato flavor.  So, too, the risotto of the day (16.95₤), with radicchio and Gorgonzola, was tame and needed a more potent Gorgonzola edge.  My favorite dish of the evening was a perfectly rendered, nice and buttery veal cutlet alla milanese, crisp outside, tender within.  There are also some non-Italian items here for those who must have them, like grilled Dover sole, tuna tartare, and pork belly with chili and garlic.
     No main course tops
29.95, with a discretionary service charge of 12.5%  added to your bill.
    By the way, on Friday nights Luciano has an appearance by a magician, which is kind of a cute idea from the distant past of dining alla italiana.

The Capital 
Basil Street
+44 20 7589 5171

      T he Capital hotel has evolved over three decades into the most elegant of Knightsbridge's small hotels under owner David Levin, who oversees every square inch of the place with a curator's eye. He even stocks the winelist here with wines from his own Loire Valley vineyard--
Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and Gamay--and he runs his own London Bakery to make the bread.
      I have not stayed at The Capital, so I can't report on what are considered some of the elegantly appointed rooms in London, but I have had cocktails at the bar  (below), whose intimacy is styled along the lines of Harry's Bar in Venice.
         In the restaurant  Chef Eric Chavot has, since coming aboard in 1999, also evolved, becoming one of London's shining stars--actually he has two of them from the Michelin Guide--and I have followed his career for many years: His résumé includes stints at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Milton, and at Chez Nico at Ninety, Marco Pierre White's The Restaurant, and two headlining positions at Interlude de Chavot and Chavot in London.
      The dining room (below, right) has always had a proper cast, posh without pretense, and plenty of color and light during the day. The service is a delicate balance of amiability and deference, the winelist, under Joao Pires one of the best in the city, as befits an owner with his own vineyards.
      On a recent winter's evening we started off with a light crab lasagne with a langoustine cappuccino, the frothiness of the broth bouying the flavors and setting up the appetite.
Seared sea scallops were just cooked through, with a sauce ceviche and cucumber jelly; pan-fried foie gras came with tangy rhubarb that cut the richness of the liver, while warm quail salad enjoyed the same effect from pickled mushrooms.
     It is these counterpoints that keeps Chavot's food satisfying and refreshing throughout the meal. Roasted monkfish with caramelized endives and ginger gave the fish a bittersweet edge, and a pink pigeon d'Anjou was suffused with flavor from careful cooking, made more luscious with a macaroni gratin and truffle jus.
      There is an excellent selection of cheeses here, imported from Bernard Antony of Vieux Ferrette, who supplies only a small number of great restaurants in France.
      Desserts are very much in the style of Chavot's entire menu--not too rich, not too effusive--like ice coffee parfait with a warm chocolate fondant; apple infused in ginger and lemongrass with vanilla ice cream and apple sorbet; and a tropical sweet of vanilla pearls with roasted banana, rum pannacotta and mango sorbet.
      For this kind of superlative haute cuisine you will pay a good price--not the $200 per person (without wine) you'd spend in Paris or Las Vegas for a comparable meal, but in line--even a tad less--with what you'd spend at the finest French restaurants in New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles: Two courses at The Capital are £55, three at £63, and 5 courses
£70 (with accompanying wines at £49)--and those prices include the tax; a discretionary service charge of 12.5% is applicable.
     A year ago all these restaurants would have cost a great deal more.  Now, London has become cheaper than it's been in five years for the American abroad.



MetLife Building
Vanderbilt Avenue & 44th Street

by John Mariani

    If ever a restaurant could be said to be way ahead of its time it was La Fonda del Sol, which  opened back in 1961 at a "Mad Men" time when Restaurant Associates (RA) was the most innovative of all restaurant developers, giving New York the Roman themed Forum of the Twelve Caesars and the great Four Seasons. RA also built more casual eateries around town, including in the then new Pan Am Building (now MetLife), including a quite authentic Italian restaurant called Trattoria, a German wursthaus called Zum Zum, and  a restaurant at the very top called the Clipper Club, abive which helicopters once took off.
       La Fonda del Sol was set in a corner of the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue, and everything--
the graphics, signs, menus, matchboxes, tableware, uniforms, service carts, and waiters stations--were RA crafted, under designer Alexander Girard, who brought in an extraordinary collection of handmade Central and South America dolls to line the walls, along with pottery, wall hangings, and fabrics that reflected those countries' folk art.
     La Fonda de Sol served, by all accounts of the day, exciting Latino food long before it became the fad of the 21st century. There was the Adobe Bar and two dining rooms separated by a huge grilling wall of ovens and rotisseries--one of the first open kitchens. In 1971, a year before it closed, dinner for two with wine and tip ran about $30.
      Theme restaurants largely lost their allure in New York (though they carried on well in Disneyworld and Las Vegas), and RA itself afterwards shied away from fine dining for a long period.  Today the company is owned by Patina Restaurant Group, which now runs more than a score of restaurants around the U.S., including, in NYC, The Sea Grill, Brasserie, Macy's Cellar Bar & Grill, and, in the MetLife Building, Café Centro, Naples 45, Cucina & Co., Beer Bar, and, happily, the brand new reincarnation of La Fonda del Sol, facing Vanderbilt Avenue.
       Having never been to the original La Fonda, I can't say there are any design elements mimicking the old RA décor, but the current restaurant is set on two levels--a tapas bar and lounge (above) with shiny patterned floors and a long glistening bar stocked with bottles against a wall with motifs of the sun. The chairs and tables definitely echo the look of the 1960s. Up a couple of steps is the main dining room (below), a more comforting, casually elegant place with a sharp, swank look done in a wonderful array of browns, taupes, and maroons and a recessed ceiling and chandelier that puts me in mind of 1960s nightclubs.  The service staff could not be more cordial.
      Wines by the glass run $9-$18, with a sensible array of Spanish and Central and South American bottlings at very moderate prices.
      La Fonda's chef is someone well known in New York gastro-circles, Josh DeChellis, who has cooked all over the world. and it shows in his approach to the food served here, which required a thorough knowledge of texture and technique, from ceviches to frying. Previously DeChellis had his own Greenwich Village restaurant, Bar Fry, and an Asian concept called Sumile.  Here, after extensive research in Spain and Latin  America, he has crafted a menu that is very contemporary without being in the least faddish.
      You could make a meal of the tapas either up- or downstairs, everything from terrific tuna tacos with avocado, jalapeño, and pickled onion; crispy garlic shrimp with chile pods and garlic chips; cured pork loin with chorizo; luscious manchego cheese croquettes; blistered baby green peppers; spicy potatoes bravas with a fried duck egg; and boneless chicken wings with manzanilla olives.  There's much more, none costing more than $14, most around $8-$9. 
     They are all so good (sometimes a little salty) that you might pass on the dining room's starters, but there is excellence there too, like octopus with potatoes, pimenton and olive oil; juicy sea scallops tiradito with chilies, the sprightly zing of citrus and tomato, and the green bite of cilantro.  Do not miss the braised pork cheeks with beans, sausage, and parsnips--a dish that really shows off DeChellis' talent for combinations of taste and texture.
      From the grill there is a prime rib steak rubbed with spices, with a garlic confit, lemon-scented olive oil, chile pepper salt, and red mojo sauce.  Main courses include a silky Atlantic cod with clams, parsley sauce and smoked potatoes, and a very fine loin of lamb with a pumpkin seed crust and lemon-honey glaze.
      So many Latino restaurants sail through desserts with the same old thing, but at La Fonda you'll find sweets as engaging as any in New York, from a "wicked chocolate cake" with milk ice cream to dangerously addictive cinnamon-dusted fritters with salty caramel and orange chocolate. There are even some artisanal cheeses from Spain, and a good selection of Spanish dessert wines including a very well priced Lustau at $9 a glass.
         People sometimes ask me if I ever get jaded dining out, and my easy answer is, go to a restaurant like La Fonda del Sol and you're going to see and taste things you've never seen or tasted before, so getting jaded is not part of my personality.  Having dined with gusto in tapas bars in San Sebastian and other Spanish cities, I've found few that have the variety I enjoyed at La Fonda del Sol, and only a very few restaurants are showing the kind of breadth and depth DeChellis is doing with such bravura in New York.

La Fonda del Sol is open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. Tapas range from $2-$14. Starters $12-$19, main courses$24-$48.



Argentina's Malbecs Are World Class and Priced Right

by John Mariani

If ever there was a right time to be in the right place when it comes to selling wine, Argentina seems ideally engaged to thrive in a market where wine prices are tumbling from the record highs of the past few years.
      Rather quietly, Argentinean winemakers have been building an export market based on moderately priced wines of exceptionally high quality. As the world wine market struggled in 2008, imports of Argentine wines rose 43.2 percent in value and 34.1 percent in volume over 2007. A good percentage of these imports are based on a varietal Argentinean growers have capitalized on--malbec, which was up 60.9 percent in value and 60.4 in volume in the same time period, according to data from Argentina’s Department of Customs.
      The best Argentinean wines are being made in the Mendoza Valley in the foothills of the Andes, where over 900 wineries spread over 150,000 hectares (370,500 acres) produce 70 percent of the country’s wine grapes, making Argentina the world’s fifth largest producer.  Argentineans are also the world’s third largest consumers of wine.
      The arid deserts of Mendoza (right) were made fertile with a system of irrigation canals even before the Spanish arrived, but the region is still fairly dry, with the Andes blocking the moist air of the Pacific from penetrating. Vineyards are planted at fairly high elevations from 1,500 to 5,777 feet.
      According to Laureano Gomez, chief winemaker for Bodegas Salentein (above), “We get drip irrigation by using the run-off from melting snowcaps, which gives us lower pH levels, higher acidity, deeper color and great aging capacity in our wines.”
      Salentein, which built the Killika Gallery of arts and culture, restaurant, and conference center in the Valley, is one of the best-known wineries to have succeeded in globally; its largest market is Europe, followed by Brazil, then Argentina itself, then the U.S.
      At a tasting in New York with Gomez, I was most impressed by Salentein’s 2006 Reserve Malbec, a big, bright but very elegant red that is barrel-aged for 12-14 months and bottle aged for six more.  It would be a match for most 2nd growth Bordeaux or premium Napa Valley reds, but at $20, is priced way below those other wines. More complex, with several layers of flavor, minerals, and spice was Salentein’s 2004 Primum Malbec ($60), which, with 15 percent alcohol and still firm tannins, will only improve in the next few years. It’s about as expensive as Argentinean malbecs get.
       I also had a chance this month to attend an Argentine tasting at Spago in the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen, led by Bon Appetit Magazine wine consultant Steve Olson and Spago’s master sommelier Sean Razee. Both told of how, on visits to Mendoza wineries, they saw first-hand the speed with which the wines there are improving on the smaller estates. They then refused to reveal the prices of the wines tasted till the end of the afternoon. When they did, the audience was amazed at how the high quality of the wines didn’t seem to jibe with their modest prices.
      The tasting also showed that Argentina’s wineries can compete with other varietals besides malbec. A 2007 BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) was a warm, smooth cab with delightful notes of caramel and toast in the nose, a wine to drink right now, though probably not a candidate for longer aging.  An older cabernet blend, 2002 Mapema Primera Zona ($30), was over the hill, suggesting it is only recently that Argentinean winemakers have learned to tame the tannins and balance of such varietals.
      The malbecs were, then, the best wines of the tasting. As Olsen contended, “Malbec has morphed into what Argentina now makes as well or better than anywhere else, and the grape has its own distinctions of terroir.”
      I would certainly agree after tasting 2005 Trapiche Single Vineyard Malbec Vina Fausto Orellana ($45), named after the man, now 80, who planted the vines there 60 years ago. The wine had fine body and scents of cloves and might be enjoyed with any kind of red meat.
      Susana Balbo’s 2007 malbec, remarkably priced at only $27 for a wine of which only 600 cases were made, opened up slowly and revealed an impeccable equilibrium of fruit and firm tannins that ensure a long life to come, which makes this a wine and winery I definitely want to keep my eye on as representing the future of Argentinean viniculture.

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.



“The 2005 Bordeaux tastes of black cherries and, hmmmm, racquet balls.”—Valentine's Day wine expert on "The Today Show" (Feb. 13, 2009).

The Suspect Was Soon Released After Members
of the Miramar Police Force Unknowingly Ate the Evidence Back at the Station

In Miramar, Florida, Police reported that upon finding  pizza delivery man Eric Lopez Devictoria involved in a stick-up, he fought back with a large pepperoni pizza, flinging the red-hot pie at the policeman, who fired a shot at him and afterwards charged him and three others with armed robbery.
BOILING SPRINGS, S.C., deputies investigated a report from a pizza deliveryman who said a woman offered him sex in exchange for a pizza. The man later called police claiming the person who ordered the pizza refused to pay, then another person hit him in the back of the head. The pizza man got away.



* In NYC Allen & Delancey’s will offer Sunday night “Wine Jamboree” dinners, which feature half-off all wine from a selected region.  The region will change every few weeks, and starts with a 50% discount on wines from the Bandol region. Chef Kyle Bailey will offer a four course tasting menu for $38. Call 212-253-5400;

* From March through April in London, Le Bouchon Breton launches "Festival de la mer," featuring a well priced selection of seafood based treats to celebrate the last few months of the season. “Festival menu” offers 3 courses, ½ a bottle of Macon Burgundy (Macon) for £25 pp. The plateau Imperial features for two to share costs £58. Also, complimentary 6 oysters when you order any bottle of champagne from the bar. Call 08000-191704.

* NYC’s Four Seasons restaurant, opened in 1959, is offering a 3-course $59 menu by chef Christian Albin to celebrate its 50th birthday.  Call 212-754-9494.

* From March 12-15 in Walland, TN, Blackberry Farm will present an “Appetite for Life Gala & Benefit”  with actress, children’s activist and Population Services International board member Ashley Judd, Condé Nast Traveler Deputy Editor Dorinda Elliott and Grammy, with meals prepared by Michelle Bernstein;  Katrina Markoff’s Vosges Haut-Chocolat; winemaker Gaia Gaja’s vintages along with Dom Pérignon Champagne. Visit Call 800-557-8864.

* In Calabasas, CA, Saddle Peak Lodge has announced the line-up for its upcoming Spring/Summer Wine Dinner Series.  The price per person will range from $150 to $225. Duckhorn Vineyards will kick-off the series March 12, followed by  Chappelet Winery and Vineyard,  April 23; Ramey Wine Cellars, May 21;  Foxen Winery, June 11; Paul Hobbs Wines,  July 16;  Silver Oak Cellars, Aug. 20; Justin Vineyards & Winery, Sept. 17. Visit; Call 818-222-3888.

* In Evanston, ILL, Va Pensiero's March Tasting Menu will feature the versatile artichoke,  available throughout the entire month of March, at $39.   Chef Jeff Muldrow will be pairing two tiers of wine pairings to compliment his creative dishes for an additional $12 or $18.  Call 847-475-7779.

*  During March, to assist victims of the 2009 Victorian Bush Fires in Australia, MO Bar and Silks at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco are donating one dollar to the Australian Red Cross for each glass of Robert Oatley wine sold during the month of March.Wine Director Nicole Kosta, a proud Aussie, will feature a variety of Robert Oatley Vineyards wines. Call 415-276-9787.

* On March 12 winemaker Bob Pepi is coming to town for a “Party In Two Hemispheres At One Time’ dinner at NYC’s Churrascaria Plataforma. He will bring Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux Blends from Argentina and CA and Malbec and Petite Sirah—10 wines, along with the “all you can eat” roasted meats, fish and poultry. $100 pp. Call 212-245-0505 or visit

* From March 13-15 Holi is the annual Indian holiday heralding the arrival of spring, to be celebrated at Vermilion (Chicago) and At Vermilion (NYC) with traditional rangoli patterns, platters of Holi colors (powdered gulal), festive cocktails, chaats, kababs and mithai. "thandais" (the Indian eggnog), “chaats” (Indian street food), and “mithai,” gooey rich Indian sweets. "Desi" Bollywood Dancing + DJ. In Chicago call 312-527-4060 and in NYC 212-871-6600;

* From March 13-17 in Chicago, Lawry's The Prime Rib will feature the Lunch Corned Beef and Cabbage Platter with Boiled Irish Potatoes, for $14, which also incl.  complimentary Green River. The Shannon Rovers Irish Bagpipe Band will make their annual appearances. Call  312-787-5000.

* On May 14 the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute will hold a 'Taste of Spring' at the Midtown Loft in NYC, with tastings from NYC restaurant incl. Jean Georges, David Burke Townhouse, Barbuto, Zarela, Bar Breton and Singapore Sling.  Honorary Co-Chairs incl. Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-lee Furness; Christine  Ebersole and her husband Bill Moloney;  Darryl  McDaniels of Run DMC. Honoree is Cyril  Renaud of Bar Breton for his support of the Adoption  Institute, and Wendy's - the founder  and supporter of the Dave Thomas Foundation for  Adoption.

* On March 15 celebrate Julius Caesars’ last day as “Ruler of the Romans” at Giorgio Ristorante in the Mandalay Place in Las Vegas with a 3-course menu by Chef Nico Chessa. $49 pp. Call 702-920-2700. Visit

* For the month of March, Zaré at Fly Trap in San Francisco invites guests to experience a Persian dish, fessenjun, in honor of the Persian New Year, which falls on March 20. Zaré at Fly Trap Executive Chef Hoss Zaré offers a poussin with his homemade version of fessenjun, a rich reduction of pomegranate juice and pureed fresh walnuts, in limited quantity throughout the month.  Visit or call (415) 243-0580.

* In NYC, Alloro has introduced a series of cultural events incl.: Italian Language series “Parla come Mangi” and now, "A Noteworthy  Meal” that pairs Italian opera arias and ensembles with Italian food. Every other Wednesday night, starting on March 18th, opera singers from the Noteworthies group will sing around the theme "pleasure" depicting the similarity among food, wine and opera. Call 212-535-2866;

*  On March 20 & 21 in Menlo Park, CA, Marché  will host fisherman Stephen Bender for their 6th Annual “Taste of Nantucket” dinner. He will join Executive Chef Kolin Vazzoler and his team in preparing a 6-course menu for $95,  Call 650-324-9092;  visit

* From March 20-Oct.16 Justin Vineyards & Winery, located in Paso Robles, CA,  has announced the lineup for their 2009 Guest Chef Series,  incl. Carrie Nahabedian of Naha, Chicago; Stewart & Heidi Woodman of Heidi’s, Minneapolis; Tory McPhail of Commander’s Palace, New Orleans;    Octavio Becerra of Palate Food & Wine, Los Angeles; Sean Brock of McCrady’s, Charleston, SC. $150 per person; $120 per person for JUSTIN Wine Society Members. Call 805-238-6932 Ext 300, or

* On March 21, OSO Restaurant at The Southampton Inn on Long Island, NY,  presents a Wine Pairing Dinner with Macari Vineyards & Conversation with Macari Expert John Miniaci  with Chef Bryan Naylor creating a 7-course wine pairing dinner. $75 pp. Call  631-283-1166. visit

* On March 22 in Newport, RI, 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar & Grille presents a wine dinner featuring Napa Valley’s Silver Oak Cellars, and sister vineyard, Twomey Cellars, with winemaker Dan Baron and Chef Kevin DiLibero’s 4-course dinner. $125 pp.  Call 401-841-8884 or visit

* On March 24 Hemingway’s Restaurant in Killington, VT, hails the arrival of two wine makers from Burgundy with a wine tasting dinner:  Jean-Pierre Latour and Michel Caillot from Domaine Latour-Giraud and Domaine Michel Caillot, will speak about their wines along with Jim Elston of Chemins des Vins.  Call 802-422-3886 or visit

* On March 29 in NYC "Sunday Supper at Chelsea Market "is the collaboration of artisanal producers, 40 celebrity and emerging chefs and 250 guests to benefit residents of Chelsea’s Robert Fulton Houses through culinary scholarships. The 400-foot concourse of  Chelsea Market will be transformed into one long “supper table” serving a farm-to-table, family style, multi-course dinner.  Host chefs incl. Mary Cleaver, The Green Table, Cleaver and Company; Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth’s; Amy Scherber, Amy’s Bread; as well as Atlanta’s Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia.  Visit or call 212-627-2308.   $176 pp for James Beard Foundation members and $220 for non-members.

* Until the end of 2009 Patina Restaurant Group is now lifting all corkage fees from their Los Angeles locations with the exception of Patina downtown.  Visit

* In Yountville, CA on March 21,  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 April 1-4 Taste of Vail, the 19th Annual festival, will feature cooking seminars with over 30 guest chefs and owners and sommeliers from more than 50 wineries and the Grand Tasting dinner and dance.   All proceeds contributed to a variety of Vail Valley charities. Visit

* From April 2-5 fine Spanish wines, tapas, paella, and jazz music will be featured at  Pensacola’s 4-day wine festival, to commemorate the city’s 450th anniversary and Spanish heritage, with guests incl. winemaker Jorge Ordoñez, food critic John T. Edge, and the Pensacola Celebrity Chefs. Weekend offerings include a downtown Gallery Night with a free wine school and complimentary wine tastings, private wine dinners, a Paella cook-off, and the grand tasting event complimented by the nearby Pensacola JazzFest. Visit

* On April 2 The Glenlivet Scotch will, for the 4th year, encourage  men to join in the Tartan Week festivities by wearing a kilt to work and to donate at their discretion a predetermined sum to Direct Relief International for every employee that wears a kilt on April 2. Interested businesses can find more information at

* The 43rd Vinitaly  exhibition will be held in Verona  from April 2-6, with over 4,000 exhibitors from around the globe. Events incl. Taste Ex- Press – seminars organized by some of the world’s leading trade magazines;  Taste & Dream - where wine meets culture, history and tradition;    Trendy Oggi, Big Domani, where young wine producers from all parts of the world show their products, and more. IEEM has designed a package incl.:  3 nights modern luxury 4-star accommodation;  Coach transfers to and from the fair;  5 day entrance passes;  2 lunches hosted by Italian institutions;  1 evening event; Tix to educational seminars and events. $1,150 pp. Call 877-217-9867.

* From April 3-5 Chicago’s N9NE Steakhouse Chef Michael Shrader is the featured chef at The Abbey Resort & Spa in Fontana, WI’s 2nd annual Great Chefs At The Lake food and wine series. The cost for the exclusive weekend is $199 per person. Visit Call the resort at 888-629-9594.

*   On April 4 & 5,  and The Louisiana Office of Tourism and New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau showcase "The Louisiana Roadfood Festival.” Admission is free; proceeds to participating restaurants, incl. Cafe Reconcile, which provides at-risk kids the opportunity to learn the food service business.  The core of the event 16 restaurants from Louisiana serving their specialties; also, the world's longest po-boy,  bands, crawfish/shrimp boils and other activities. 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: Getting Into Guinness: One Man's Longest, Fastest, Highest Journey Inside the World's Most Famous Record Book, by writer Larry Olmsted


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