Virtual Gourmet

March 15,  2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

                                                  Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

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In This Issue

by Edward Brivio




by Edward Brivio

     How does one keep a 112 year-old Grande dame well turned-out, youthful, and attractive?
        If the “lady” in question is The Breakers, one of the few still privately-held historic hotels in America--owned by heirs of the original owners--as well as unchallenged doyenne of Palm Beach’s social season for over a century, the answer is an annual infusion of many millions of dollars for preservation and renewal: painstaking work involving a small army of conservationists, engineers, and craftsmen: metalworkers, stonemasons, upholsterers, etc. A floor-to-ceiling refurbishment of all the guestrooms is well on its way to completion (done so as to minimize noise and disruption)) New dining options, as well as the over-the-top comfortable Beach bungalows, have been added, and the façade, with its subtle, tone-on-tone color scheme of ocher against bright white, has never looked better, especially its intricate frieze-like plaques.
     Thus, a sojourn to this grand palazzo on the Atlantic is an annual event for many people. Once, as we reluctantly handed our bags to the bellhop prior to leaving, we noticed new arrivals next door. No luggage in evidence, just four quite large FedEx boxes in the hall. suggesting the resources not only to avail oneself of the least onerous means of portage, but also for indulging in a rather lengthy holiday.
       Nothing lifts my spirits like passing beneath the columned porte-cochere and entering the Breakers’ magnificent lobby with its authentic Gilded Age patina, its marble arcades, heavy brocade wall-hangings, antique tapestries, and over-sized, gilt-wood settees and fauteuils, rejuvenated by massive, constantly refreshed, flower bouquets (below). For a few days at least, we get to call this exquisitely hand-crafted fantasy, worthy of a Renaissance condottiere, home. A service staff as pleasant as it is attentive makes one feel even more like a privileged, pampered courtier.
The Breakers’ Executive Chef, Anthony Sicignano, sees to it that dining--whatever the venue, whether in one of the full-blown dinner restaurants, or in the various, informal, lunch “shacks,” that dot the property--is on a par with the accommodations, and the oceanfront surroundings. Thanks to him, the same top-notch ingredients, many organic and/or purchased locally, some from the resort’s own organic herb and vegetable garden, provision all of them, meanwhile making sure that each has its own distinctive style as well as menu."                                                                                              Photo: Bobby Pirillo
       All this, and the ocean right out the back door.
      Our  Flagler Club Level room,  comfortable king-size bed, closet with dresser and safe behind double-folding doors, small desk and chair for anyone unfortunate enough to have to do work here, and plantation shutters on double windows overlooking the Mediterranean courtyard to the blue sea beyond, was all airy brightness, owing to its fresh paint job, linens, and pale palette. Club Level rooms occupy the 6th and 7th floors and constitute a more intimate (28 rooms), more exclusive hotel with enhanced amenities, within the larger one. This means complimentary continental breakfast every morning in the 6th floor reception area  and nibbles and drinks throughout the day, with afternoon tea and late supper as well, all without charge. And all excellent: pastries worthy of a patisserie, freshly-made canapés, and coffee in any form, at the push of a button. It also means being pampered by priceless concierge Bernard Nicole, with that wonderful, easy-going, unassuming savoir-faire, sincere desire to see others happy, and discreet, irrepressible smile, all the more charming and warm for its world-weary “edge” --that seems all but the patrimony of the better Old World hotelier. I can’t imagine the Flagler Club without him.
      The large terrace, for Club guests only -- perfect for evening cocktails, when the flocks of small, green parrots resident in the nearby casuarinas come out for their sunset romp-- is now shaded by an enormous, not to say stupendous, cantilevered, quatrefoil market-umbrella, its highly-polished wood armature and large expanses of taut white canvas as much sculptural as they are functional.
     Just arrived and immediately checked-in, we had a wonderful quick lunch at the relaxed, oceanfront Seafood Bar. The first in what would be a succession of wonderful jumbo lump crab cakes consumed during our stay came with fire-roasted corn, black bean salsa, and a charred, red bell pepper aïoli. Even better, was the Seafood club sandwich, a mouth-watering mountain of Maine lobster and JLC salad on brioche with Applewood bacon and those truffled French-fries that fortunately seem ubiquitous in this town.
      Appetizers run $17 to 39; soups/salads $13.50 to $24.50, and entrees $29.50 to $63.
     The  Beach Club occupies a sprawling patio overlooking the main pool. Large market umbrellas shading well-spaced tables provide respite from the sun; other tables, exposure to it. Spicy tempura tuna roll, crisp fried with avocado, shitake mushrooms, scallion and a honey chili sauce for dipping exceeded expectations. Not only was the presentation beautiful, and appetizing, but this simple lunch dish was prepared and plated with all the care usually reserved for more exalted fare. The Beach club salad is a scoop each of tuna and chicken salads, with avocado, mango, beef-steak mushrooms, and baby greens in a citrus vinaigrette, provided the best of both worlds, and saved one having  to choose between fish or fowl. Starters: $10.50 to $21.25; salads: $18 to $22; mains: $16.75 to $21.

     Also great for lunch is the Ocean Grill (right), with an inside dining room, as well as a large comfortable veranda open to the ocean breezes. The crabmeat burger on toasted brioche with a sweet chili aïoli I can recommend highly, but what really knocked my flip-flops off was Cajun-spiced mahi-mahi served on a toasted bun with pineapple/papaya salsa, curly fries, and coleslaw. The wood-smoke from the grill beautifully framed the clean flavors of the ocean-fresh fish, and the coleslaw wasn’t bad either.
Starters:$9-$14;soups/salads:$12-$24;sandwiches $12-$25.                                                                             Photo: Bobby Pirillo

       Few would disagree that the best place in town for steak is the Breaker’s own Flagler Steakhouse (below), in a contemporary rendering of an old Florida-style clubhouse,” overlooking the 18th green of the resort‘s Ocean golf course. Shuttle transportation is, of course, available, but the  short walk down Breaker’s Way and just across South Ocean Drive is pleasant enough in the cool of the evening.
     This is no-nonsense, masculine, steakhouse décor, but of the most refined sort --the equivalent of a well-tailored chalk-stripe suit in charcoal grey--understated yet assured, promising comfort without compromise. Massive, dark wood-paneling is everywhere, mahogany pilasters, columns and a deeply-recessed ceiling of the same wood provide points of interest, while large, foliate wall sconces and discreet table lamps provide just the right muted illumination. One wall of over-sized, double-hung windows lets the evening in.  Big tables and large armchairs barely populate the spacious room, while diners who prefer the out-of-doors make themselves comfortable on a large veranda. On a balmy night, it’s a lovely place, overlooking a pond and the quiet, shadowy greens.
      The warm goat cheese and mushroom bruschetta served here was delicious, all the more so because of its accompaniment of hearts of palm, shaved fennel, artichoke, tomatoes, field greens as well as toasted pine nuts and a lemon-porcini vinaigrette, everything correctly dressed. Sweet corn chowder with bacon, a touch of avocado butter, and more jumbo lump crab was smooth and creamy, and much, much more than just another excuse to eat more crab.
        Steak au poivre, a rib-eye instead of the NY strip listed on the menu, was tender, juicy, and flavorful, and the au poivre sauce was just about perfect, sharp, intense, but with a certain “clarity“ of flavor. I had the dry-aged NY strip, for a whopping $65. But what a piece of meat, with that real beef flavor that only comes from true dry-aging, tender, juicy but not sloppy, and just about as flavorful as a steak could be. Creamed spinach and Parmesan steak fries were more than welcome additions.
       I’ve always enjoyed the Spanish reds produced by the Marques de Grinon  (aka Carlos Falco) at his Valdepusa vineyards, outside Toledo. Unabashedly international in style, they still managed to have the structure and acidity to keep them in balance. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($96), however, was sailing a trifle too close to the wind. With intense fruit, and freshness, it was as gratifying a mouthful as ever, but here, the fruit was almost sweet (ugh!), and the sought-after “edges” (tannins, acids) too muted, so its richness seemed heavy. Perhaps, it was the vintage.
Appetizers: $15.75 to 22.75; soups/salads: $13.50 to $21.25; entrees: $36 to $67; sides: $7.25 to $10.25.

       L’Escalier  (below) has long been the resort’s signature restaurant,  in a setting of Old World, hand-crafted magnificence, with some carefully chosen contemporary pieces thrown into the mix. Recently, it was “split-up” into two separate venues, L’Escalier and Brasserie L’Escalier, the latter providing classic French bistro fare in an informal, dress-down kind of space. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to dine at the Brasserie.  The original L’Escalier is now an even more intimate, exclusive space with only 32 covers. Beautiful, comfortable, oversized armchairs, or even better, dramatic, oversized banquettes invite one to sit down, sit back, and stay a spell. Versace china, Christofle silverware, and a very hospitable line-up of fine Riedel crystal; big, roomy, beautifully-dressed tables far away from one’s neighbor’s; and a very attentive, wait-staff all create an atmosphere of cosseted leisure, where one can give the chef’s dishes the attention they deserve.

Photo: Bobby Pirillo

     Butter-poached Maine lobster with sauce Americaine, next to a “basket” filled with  fava beans and asparagus, was delicious, especially since vanilla had been used very sparingly in the beurre blanc. Salade Lyonnaise is fast becoming my default appetizer. Here it was even better than usual for being slightly gussied-up: two poached eggs napped with hollandaise, atop duck confit instead of the usual lardons, on a bed of well-dressed micro-greens.
     Dover sole and scallops Veronique, each in its own “nest” of pretty, overlapping, tile-like slices of summer squash, worked well together, and the perfect dill and ricotta gnocchi --the real thing from a fine hand with pasta: light as a cloud and quick to melt-in-your-mouth--also on the plate, were an unexpected bonus.  Plume de Veau cuit sous vide seemed an interesting, forward-looking choice. The veal is,
to put it as simply as possible, cooked in a vacuum bag. I found it rather bland, neither more tender nor more intensely flavored --two of cuisson sous vide’s vaunted benefits-- than most Plume de Veau. The humble braised pork belly alongside it was much more to my liking.
     A Domaine Guyon, Chambolle-Musigny A.C. 2006 ($65 for a half-bottle) did nicely with all our choices. Everything I look for in red burgundy was there, nice dry cherry flavors, a whiff of must, supple, medium body, and nothing cola-like about it at all.
     A cheese course of three choices ($20) was beautifully portioned,  and the Epoisses, Roquefort, and Taleggio, were all at their peak.
       Appetizers: $18 to $29; entrees: $38 to $56;  jackets requested.

    The Breakers opened Echo (below) in 2000, offsite at  230A Sunrise Avenue, a short shuttle ride from the main building. It quickly became one of the hottest places in town, and locals wonder how they got along for so long without its spectacular pan-Asian cuisine served in a stylish, sleek, contemporary setting that still manages to be extremely warm, informal, and comfortable, especially if you‘re sitting on the long, sinuous banquet that divides the dining room from the bar. One of the best ways to get a handle on its myriad menu offerings is by ordering the Chef’s Sharing Menu available for 4 or more diners at $80 apiece, and well worth it, both for the quality, and the generous portions. Photo: Bobby Pirillo
     The feast began with the Dragonfly Sampler: Crispy jumbo shrimp, Thai chicken and shrimp rolls, chicken shumai dumplings, and pork spare ribs, each mouth-watering and a model of its kind, the shrimp “crisp“ as promised, the Thai rolls fresh and light with a satisfying “crack” to their delicate shells, the dumplings plump and yielding, but the spare ribs really took pride of place. Forget every Chinese restaurant version you’ve ever had. Spicy, crunchy yet succulent, perfectly lacquered with an indescribably delicious glaze, practically fat-free, these were, hands-down, the best Asian-inspired ribs I’ve ever had.
    Next came Echo’s signature Spider roll, crispy panko-covered soft-shell crab with green leaf lettuce, cucumber, and Japanese mayonnaise, a perfect melding of crisp, fleshy crab, and refreshing cucumber, and greens. Quickly followed an excellent Peking duck, the various fixings: sliced duck breast, thin-sliced scallions, Hoisin sauce, and pancakes, brought to your table for display, and then deftly turned into six ready-to-eat packages by the nimble waiter. Once again, just about a perfect mix of flavorful meat, sweet sauce, and the clean “bite” of the scallions. We never visit Echo without ordering it, although I wish the “pancakes” used were a little less substantial.
     After these “starters” -- really enough for a whole meal--came the main courses: Seared ginger beef, i.e., tenderloin, tangy and tender, with sweet potato “fries,”  Shrimp pad thai, jumbo shrimp, plump and light, on a pilaf of rice noodles, shallots, bean sprouts, chives, tofu, egg, Thai basil and peanuts; and "Drunken chicken," so-called from its braising in wine, a dish I thought the least exciting of our main dishes.  Echo’s top-notch fried rice, studded with diced barbecued pork, shrimp and egg; as well as faultless sautéed green beans with shitake mushrooms rounded out the dishes.
A full complement of sushi and sashimi is also available, prepared by two Japanese sushi-chefs.  We had little bites of the wahoo, tuna, and hamachi, all undeniably fresh, satisfying, yet ethereal.
       A carefully chosen wine list is filled with wines that complement the Asian cuisine. Certainly our wine that night, the 2002 Holy Trinity (a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre) from Australia’s Grant Burge ($81) was just what was called for, with plenty of ripe fruit to please the palate, enough not be turned shrill by the food’s occasional sweet notes, but still with the “edge” to keep it from being blowsy.
       The pu-pu platter of desserts was filled with luminaries. Raspberry crème brûlée, and another flavored with pistachio, tasted great, and looked just as good in their small, rectangular “ramekins” of cobalt blue earthenware. A  cheesecake topped with
fresh mini Mandarin orange sections, and candied zest, was superb, really, as was an almost molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Half of a carefully sliced Asian pear made for a thoughtful, refreshing, change.

Sushi/sashimi: $4 to 25; small plate/starters: 8 to 16; main courses: 18 to 62; sides: 9 to 11.

    About those new Beach Bungalows. As if the Cabanas didn’t supply amenities enough, as well as immediate access to ocean or pool, The Breakers have gone one better by adding 20 full-service bungalows, with their own very attentive “concierges,” surrounding its new Relaxation Pool, a few footsteps from the sand.  Children and boisterous grown-ups are simply requested to choose one of the other large, equally beautiful pools to play in, so those of us who prefer to read quietly, or even half-snooze, between trips twixt surf, pool and umbrella, can do so without feeling priggish, and without disruption. Relaxing on the bungalow’s private patio, with a living room, full bathroom, inside and outside showers, an abundance of  fluffy towels, and cold drinks nearby, plus a phone to order-in lunch, made our day at the beach just about perfect. We stayed from mid-morning until it was time to go up and dress for dinner.
     Finally, to start the day on a high note, there’s breakfast in the Circle Dining Room (left), certainly one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the world, not only for its impressive crystal chandelier suspended from an equally dramatic, leaded skylight, but also for its wonderful ceiling medallions depicting various, classic Italian views (Tivoli, Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza San Marco, et al.) and for just about every square inch of its unabashedly Neo-Classic decor. Top-notch eggs Benedict, and Corned-beef hash--I can’t resist the real thing, made from scratch--with poached eggs, always satisfy here, along with cups of good hot coffee, and constantly-refilled glasses of fresh orange juice enjoyed in its own terroir. This is also the venue for the over-the-top Sunday Brunch, a weekly occasion for many locals. At $80 per, it isn’t cheap, but where else can you feast on your fill of American sturgeon caviar--an excellent, nicely briny, fresh, and clean replacement for the now astronomically priced Caspian varieties--and Alaskan King crab legs, and just about every other breakfast, lunch, or dinner staple, (eggs “anyway, carved roasts, iced shellfish etc.) you can think of, as well as a veritable groaning board of irresistible pastries and sweet confections? And don’t forget the endless Mimosas.


by John Mariani

100 West 82 Street

     The premises used to be Rain, which had a certain Vietnamese kitsch going on in the décor, so the restraint in the large L-shaped restaurant re-named BarBao is welcome, and the arrival of Michael Bao Huynh, who'd been at Bao 111 in rhe East Village and Mai House in TriBeCa, brings the food into better focus.
        There are three linked but different spaces to dine in here, the Main Dining Room (right), seating 86; the Bar and Lounge, seating 34, and the Chef's Table, with 12.  The Parlor Room towards the rear is a pretty little cul-de-sac with sofas and offers the most intimacy.  I was there on a slow night so I cannot judge the noise level of BarBao on a weekend when  the place is full. As for the design, forgive me if I just quote the press release, which explains a lot: "Cedar grape-stake ceiling recalls the makeshift commercial shacks common in Vietnam while the salvaged panel-doors used imaginatively throughout the space suggest new doors opening.  As a final layer, contemporary Vietnamese artwork is exhibited and layered over historical graphics.  A stunning piece of work is a 15 foot mural made of Vietnamese propaganda posters which have been shredded and re-purposed as barcodes referencing Vietnam’s economic growth and its 2007 entry into the World Trade Organization."
       BarBao is one of those small plate restaurants where you'd miss some of the best dishes if you didn't go on to the big plates.  My favorites among the former included a terrific daikon duck hash with a slow-poached egg, duck confit, and sweet soy sauce--an amalgam that is rich, intensely flavorful, and multilayered in textures.  Spring rolls were very good, made with pork, shrimp, and jicama with a light nuoc cham fish sauce, and the baby lamb chop "lollipops" with japaleño pesto is a dish you'll not want to share. Order more than one. Yo may feel the same about the luscious short rib on fragrant lemongrass skewers.
       I love Vietnamese spicy beef salads, but BarBao's, with pomelo, pineapple, chilies, and herbs was tamer than I expected, and while yame soup with crispy leeks, garlic oil, and rock shrimp promised enticing goodness, it was rather starchy. None of these small plates runs more than $14, with the spring rolls at $9.
       As I said, don't skip out before having the big plates, which include a superb crispy Berkshire pork belly (left) with taro, Shishito peppers, New Year's pickle, and kimchi crosnes.  I know everyone is now cooking pork belly, and I can't find any references to the ingredient in Vietnamese cookbooks, but this is a transformative dish and shows how a Vietnamese-American chef can work wonders with the new by banking on the old.  Also excellent was mustard-glazed duck breast with fresh herb noodles and golden chives. Humble Pho noodles didn't gain much from wagyu beef and needed all the sauce and anise beef broth to perk it up.  Asian eggplant with scallion oil and yuzu soy cham was very good, and although sticky rice is always fun, this was very, very sticky indeed.
      On the seafood side, I very much enjoyed the bean-curd glazed black cod with red curry, sweet pepper stew, and preserved lemon--it's a fish that can take a lot of spice and tang--as well as a crispy whole red snapper, a little on the sweet side, but perfectly fried and served with plum tomatoes, pineapples, and sweet-sour sauce.
     Despite the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine, desserts are not a large part of the traditional repertoire, so I applaud the ideas on the sweets list here, including a fine chocolate tart and a yucca peanut waffle with dulce de leche cream, corn, and vanilla ice cream, both desserts seeming just right within context rather than strained through some blurry fusion filter.
     Disappointing, then, was a dreary Vietnamese style coffee that wouldn't make it at a New York deli wand was much in need of more condensed sweet milk.  There are far more options with teas given extravagant names like Ruby Sipper (blood orange), Eve's Temptation (apple and mango), and ZZZ (chamomille and lavender).
     BarBao shows considerably more brightness, color, and finesse in its food than at the typical Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown, Queens, or a strip mall. It raises the bar for flavors and textures and shows how well  Michael Bao Huynh (right) has been able to show his own personality through a cuisine he clearly respects and wants people to love as he does.

Dinner is served nightly. Small Plates: $8.00-$16.00; Big Plates: $16.00-$27.00;  Noodles, Rice, Vegetables, Sides: $4.00-$14.00.



France's Ministry of Health has concocted guidelines that conclude that “The consumption of alcohol, and especially wine, is discouraged. A single glass of wine per day will raise the chance of contracting cancer by up to 168 per cent, claims the ministry’s brochure." Winemakers protested, while noting that  President Sarkozy sips mineral water and orange juice and does not drink alcohol.

TRAVEL WRITING 101: All-Purpose Cliché Ending for Any Destination.

“Our revelry was tinged with bittersweet sadness of parting. Whatever we’d been looking for was not found in Santiago.  It was found in our new friendships.  It was in the journey itself.”—Lori de Mori, “Happy Trails,” Gourmet (March 2009).


*  The Sunday Supper is returning to NYC's Irving Mill as:  A 7-Course Cook’s Tasting Menu for $45, featuring  Ryan Skeen’s most adventurous and meaty creations;  A family style Sunday Supper menu that feeds 2-3 people with things like Dale’s beer-can whole chicken and a grilled 48 oz. bone-in shell steak.; A limited A La Carte menu with Irving Mill’s most classic and favorite selection from the regular menu. Call 212-254-1600.

* On March 18 in National Harbor, MD, Gaylord National Resort  and Old Hickory Steakhouse kicks off 2009 Wine Series with a Stag’s Leap Wine Dinner. Chef Wolfgang Birk and Maitre d’Fromage Carolyn Stromberg welcome Jeff McBride, VP of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars for  6-course dinner. $125 pp.  Call 301-965-2718.   Guests can also receive a special discounted room rate of $229.

* Two special wine experience tours to Austria are now offered by Vintra™, together with Monika Caha, known as a pioneer of Austrian wine in US. Visits to  estates like Forstreiter, Johann Donabaum, and  Neumeister, with private and expert guided tours and tastings, city tours, accommodation in top hotels, and the culture and atmosphere of Vienna. Lunch and Dinner in excellent restaurants allow to taste the regional specialties and guarantee also culinary highlights. Visit

* In Santa Monica, CA, Whist will be offering weekly $25 “Wine Lover’s Nights” with  any bottle from Whist’s Wine list (valued up to $100) for just  $25 on Mon. & Tues.  Whist is also announcing the return of their Sunday Buffet & Champagne Brunch on March 22 for $39 and their upcoming interactive wine dinner with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars on March 25. Call  310-260-7511;

* Until April 15 in Chicago, Old Town Brasserie owner Bob Djahanguiri shows his appreciation for his Chicago customer base over the last 30 years by lowering his prices and offering a special 3-course Call 312-943-3000.

* Hotel Ritz Madrid is offering  a "Wine Tasting from the Ritz" package, in collaboration with Bodegas Qubel Hotel, a 3-day program with 2 nights in a Classic Room, airport limo transfers,  a bottle of cava, buffet breakfast at Goya Restaurant, transfer to Bodegas Qubel and winery,  3-course dinner in the Goya Restaurant,. Package starts at Euro €1219. . . .The "Gourmet Delights" package incl.  Ritz Afternoon tea in the Hall or on the Goya Terrace, 5-course Degustation Menu (lunch or dinner), with selected wines, and buffet breakfast, 2-night stay in a Classic Room, roundtrip airport limo transfers,  Cava upon arrival and aa book on Spanish gourmet tapas:  €995 Visit

* BeautifulPlaces travel experts and villa rental company in the Napa/Sonoma wine country has created the “Ultimate Culinary Getaway,” incl. accommodations in a 5-bedroom Sonoma estate plus a nine-course dinner in the private dining room of The French Laundry. Call 1-800-495-9961or go to www.beautiful-places.

*  On March 16 in Sherman Oaks, CA, Mistral restaurant welcomes Gray Hartley, winemaker from Hitching Post Wines for a 5-course dinner at $92 pp., with wines offered at discount prices. Call 818-981-6650;

*  The following bars in NYC will be offering St. Patrick’s Day cocktail specials with Jameson Irish Whiskey as well as special shots with Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Manhattan: Puck Fare, Ulysses, Swift. Ps 450, Vig 27, Stout, Galway Hooke; Brooklyn: Union Pool, Union Hall.

* In Boston, KO PRIME will offer all-you-can-eat USDA choice beef, cooked and sliced to order until you cry “uncle,” for just $25.  Also wines at half price on Wednesdays. Call 617-772-0202;

* Alloro in NYC introduces Opera Nights, "A Noteworthy  Meal", an evening that pairs Italian opera arias and ensembles with Italian food; every other Wed. night, opera singers from the Noteworthies group will sing Call 212-535-2866.

* On March 22 Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley, CA, will hold a  Beer Dinner, prepared by Chef Devon Boisen, 5 courses each paired with the perfect beer. $49.95 pp. Call (510) 845-7771;

* On March 23 & 25 in San Francisco, Incanto will hold a “Head to Tail Dinner” at $75 for 5 courses. Call 415-641-4500.

* On March 26 and April 30, Bar Tartine in San Francisco will host two wine dinners with  Wine Director Steve Kopp offering some rare wines,  and  Chef Jason Fox will pair a Mediterranean-inspired menu to match. March 26: Rare Gems from Napa Valley and Beyond, $150 pp. April 30: Elegantly-Structured Wines from Mature Bordeaux Vintages, $175 pp. Call 415-487-1600;

* On  April 1, Moxie in Cleveland  holds the 2nd  annual "Fool's Frolic" to benefit Shoes & Clothes for Kids.   Tickets are $100 pp, VIP tickets are $150 and incl. an exclusive VIP reception. Raffle to win a trip for two, courtesy of Continental Airlines, to South Beach Miami to experience the new Red The Steakhouse and a 3-night stay at the Eden Roc hotel. . . . On April 20 Moxie holds a 5-course Castello Banfi wine dinner, hosted by William Whiting,  Banfi's wine education director. Call 216-831-5599.

* On April 8 in NYC The French Culinary Institute’s International Culinary Center  will be offering Wine Uncorked, 3-hours of learning, tasting and food pairing, students will discover the process of interpreting the constellations of flavor. $175 pp. 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 CARIBBEAN, ITALY AND UTAH


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: Stratton Partners With Drysdale Tennis

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