Virtual Gourmet

March 22, 2009                                                                  NEWSLETTER

Dooley Wilson and Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca" (1942)

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 In This Issue

DOWN IN JAMAICA by Nikki Buchanan


NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Michael Mondavi Reclaims the Family Honor with “M”
by John Mariani


by Nikki Buchanan

     It’s a long and winding road that leads from Montego Bay Jamaica’s quiet South Coast. Within minutes of leaving the airport, I found the broad streets of the city had given way to the ruts and hairpin turns of the country, lush jungle advancing with every mile.
   Passing papaya groves and fields of sugar cane, we lurch through hamlets with houses painted in soft shades of pink, yellow or blue, their deep porches enclosed by elaborately patterned wrought iron. Even the tiniest village, it seems, has one or two drinking establishments, many of them shacks the size of walk-in closets sporting jaunty names such as Buffer Zone, Bless Up, Survival Bar and Jesus Bikini Booze.

 I was on my way to Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa, and when we pull up, at last, to the porte cochere at the resort, the hour-and-a-half drive suddenly seemed worth it. Built within a 500-acre nature preserve, Whitehouse is surrounded by verdant mountains and blue sea with a pristine strip of endless white sand for border. Okay, I’ll say it. It’s an exquisitely gorgeous postcard, an example of life imitating graphic art.  Meanwhile, the buildings and grounds are a fantasyland of Disney-like proportion, a sprawling amalgam of architecturally themed villages--French, Italian and Dutch--burbling fountains, flowers, mansard roofs, incessantly chirping birds, Greek columns, enormous swimming pools, roaming peacocks and formal gardens. Miraculously, it all works, this eye-popping playground for adults.
       As reggae music issues softly from “rock” speakers in flowerbeds, the workaday world quickly slips away. Mahogany four-poster beds, well-stocked bars and ocean views are part of every all-inclusive package, but top-tier rooms also come with butlers, available to unpack suitcases, draw bubble baths, arrange trips or reserve a private, candlelit table on the beach.  Of five dining venues, two focus on Caribbean cuisine — upscale Eleanor’s and casual Bluefield Beach Club.
           Consulting chef Walter Staib, who owns Philadelphia’s City Tavern,  brings his prodigious knowledge of Jamaican cuisine to both restaurants. Given his commitment to all things Jamaican (he founded the Caribbean Culinary Federation), it’s tempting to stay on property for traditional beef patties, festivals, stamp & go, jerk pork, and snapper escovitch. However, seeing (and eating) the real Jamaica means hitting the road.
        Billy’s Grassy Park (below, aka "Billy’s Roadside Pepper Shrimp") is in Middle Quarters, St. Elizabeth.    I never saw anything resembling a grassy park, but it’s safe to say Billy Kerr’s pepper shrimp represents a roadside situation. Everything happens on a waist-high brick pit, banked with glowing coals, the grill above them crowded with pots — all of it just inches from the road. A taxi driver pulls up and hollers out his order, waiting while Billy piles French-fried shrimp, potatoes and cabbage salad into a to-go container. So this is Jamaican fast food!  Billy’s place sits on one end of a long building painted in the red, yellow and green stripes of the Jamaican flag. His dining area is essentially a breezeway, wedged between the kitchen and the river-fed pond where freshwater shrimp are caught. At lunchtime, tables are jammed with workingmen who invariably pay a little less for their food than, say, tourists arriving in buses.
       On any given day, Billy offers 10 to 12 different dishes, including curried goat, peanut soup (right), stewed chicken, and brown stew fish. But Middle Quarters is the shrimp capital of Jamaica, so it’s not uncommon to find shrimp in three or four preparations. Pepper shrimp, the local specialty, are tossed in the pan whole with garlic, scotch bonnet peppers and vinegar, cooked just until their shells turn bright orange. Messy to eat and decidedly fiery, they’re wonderful. Spicy shrimp soup, thick with potatoes, carrots and rice, tastes like comfort food or at least Jamaica’s amped-up version of it. But my favorite dish is surely the simplest — crunchy curls of French-fried shrimp, their flavor sweeter and their texture fluffier than saltwater varieties.
       In a glass-enclosed case near the prep kitchen, I find stamp & go, a popular Jamaican snack food:  made with saltfish (typically, salted cod), flour, eggs, vinegar and scotch bonnets, they’re salty, crisp-edged fishcakes, patted out in a hurry and gobbled on the run. Like just about everything else at Billy’s, I could eat them by the plate load.
    Little Ochie (below), on Alligator Pond,   is located in a  windswept fishing village on the south coast that doesn’t get the usual glut of tourists — probably because it’s hard to find and the sand on its beach is an un-photogenic gray. And did I mention the wind? Yikes!
       Locals come for one reason, and it’s a good one: Little Ochie, a funky seafood joint owned and operated by Everald Christian, known to all as “Blackie.” He and his crew turn out lobster, shrimp and fish a half dozen different ways — grilled, curried, stewed, fried, roasted or jerked — all of them memorable. When Jamaicans say “lobster,” they mean spiny lobster (below), a warm-water crustacean that’s actually closer to crayfish than Maine lobster. They’re yummy, especially under Blackie’s supervision. Grilled and brushed with seasoned butter, their naturally sweet flesh tastes of wood smoke and their texture is more cotton-y than Maine lobster (not a bad thing).  Escovitch is the Jamaican version of Spanish escabeche, a dish invented to preserve fish in vinegary marinade.  At Little Ochie, crisp-fried snapper comes dressed up with an allspice-scented overlay of pickled carrot and onion. Fresh conch, cut into small pieces, is all smoke and spice, each chewy bite coated with brown curry. Jerked crab claws leave my lips tingling, but they’re so hard to eat I give up and go back for more lobster, not the rich garlic-butter-veggie version everyone else is swooning over, but the plain one, given nothing but a brush of butter.
       Little Ochie is all about seafood, so side dishes are practically nonexistent. Orders arrive with bammy (a starchy flatbread made from grated yucca and salt) and festivals (cornmeal fritters akin to hushpuppies). Although Little Ochie’s bammy seems dry and plain (experience has taught me there are as many versions of it as there are cooks) the festivals (sweeter and doughier than a typical hushpuppy) are particularly good, as well as the perfect accompaniment to fried fish.
       Of course, half the fun of this place is the al fresco dining arrangement, a series of raised, thatch-roofed huts scattered around the beach. Each hut, some  resembling the hulls of fishing boats, boasts three or four weather-beaten picnic tables and benches, and on a slow day, diners — pilgrims, really, who come to Little Ochie in small groups — appropriate their own huts for privacy. Outdoor speakers blast reggae and hip-hop, much of it carried away on the wind.
      Belinda’s Riverside Canteen (left, aka Miss Betty’s) is set off the Rio Grande River near Port Antonio , so there’s only one way to get to Belinda’s, and that’s by river raft, but it’s not a hardship. Raft trips on the Rio Grande are a popular tourist attraction, offering seven miles of scenic river from the foothills of the Blue Mountains to the bay of Port Antonio. Each narrow bamboo raft seats two people near the back, while the rafter stands at the pointy front end, working his bamboo pole like a gondolier. It’s all very pleasant, but the best part of the trip is finding Miss Betty (right) and her daughter Belinda.  Their canteen sits on a patch of rocky beach at a bend in the river, a hand-painted wooden sign near the shore advertising “chicken, rice & peas, fried dumplings and coffee etc.”
       Rustic doesn’t begin to describe the set-up. Accommodations include a makeshift kitchen, an open fire pit and a handful of wobbly tables and benches fashioned from bamboo. Plastic tablecloths are held in place with river rocks. There is no running water, and the bathroom is in the bushes. Ferrymen sit apart from the tourists, smoking cigarettes (among other things) under their own thatched-roof cabana.
       Nowadays, Belinda (called Miss Wissy, below) does most of the cooking, leaving Miss Betty to answer stupid tourist questions and emote Jamaican charm.    She could act like the wicked witch of the west and it wouldn’t matter. This soulful food, made from generations-old recipes, speaks for itself. One bubbling pot contains "mannish water," a pungent soup brimming with garlic, onion, scotch bonnet, chocho (chayote), green banana, starchy yam, honeycombed bits of tripe, and various parts of the goat, including its head and rubbery testicles.
         I blurt out Stupid Tourist Question #1,  “Why is it called ‘mannish water’? Does it make you strong?” Wissy rolls her eyes at her assistants and answers, “Yeah, big muscle.” Later, I’m told the soup is Jamaican Viagra, dispensed on wedding nights. And you know, it’s pretty good, once you get past the smell of it.Curried goat, however, is wonderful, its assertive flavors achieved with garlic, tomato, curry powder and vinegar, stewed for hours until the meat barely clings to each tiny bone. As is true of so many Jamaican dishes, bay leaf and allspice are the fragrant threads running through it, while steamed white rice provides the perfect tabula rasa.  For everything else, there’s rice and peas—white rice simmered in coconut milk with kidney beans or pigeon peas, which tint the rice red as they soften. It makes soothing accompaniment to browned chicken fricassee and beef stew with spinach and small doughy dumplings.
       Soupy red beans simmer in one pot, bok choy in another — the latter vinegar-sharp, like southern greens. Plump fried dumplings, browned and savory, serve as juice-mops for all the stews and gravies.Miss Wissy’s strictly traditional desserts include gizzadas (sticky coconut tarts in pastry shells), empanada-like plantain tarts (their jellied insides pink from food coloring) and blue drawers, which look remarkably like Central American tamales. To make them, a thick pudding made of cornmeal, green banana, sweet potato, coconut milk, nutmeg and cinnamon is wrapped in banana leaf, then boiled. The rustic result is reminiscent of tamales too.

     In season (November to May), Miss Wissy and Miss Betty are generally waiting around the bend. To be safe, you might want to call them a few days ahead of time at 876-389-8826.

Nikki Buchanan is a Phoenix-based writer who has been restaurant critic for the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Magazine. She currently writes for Metromix Phoenix.


by John Mariani


135 E. 62nd Street (near Lexington Ave)

     It's hard to believe in a space being "jinxed," especially when it is one of the loveliest two-story locations on one of the tonier streets of the Upper East Side.  Yet for some reason the premises at 135 East 62nd Street have seen numerous restaurants come and go, always after an initial flurry of bustling business.  There are always reasons for restaurant failures, but the new installation of Fishtail, its name appended with star chef David Burke's, is reason to believe that its run shall be long and enduring.
     For one thing, this neck of the woods doesn't have a real seafood restaurant; second, its décor is wonderfully colorful and its two tiers are clearly of two styles, so that people out for a casual drop-by at the downstairs bar level (below) will probably not demand a table upstairs (above) at the slightly more formal, but wholly unfussy, upper level, which has a wonderful view of the street through French windows.  Third, Burke's  familiarity among Upper East Side foodies and inhabitants, via his namesake restaurant a block away and another eatery at Bloomingdale's, means he has  regulars, and given his national rep, with restaurants in Chicago and Las Vegas, there must be legions of other fans ever interested in a new Burke project.
     As noted, downstairs, the bar dominates and the place is loud, whereas upstairs the soft surfaces, including welcome table linens and curtains, make for a civilized evening where you can have a good conversation with friends.  Service is amiable, the winelist very well geared to the menu and reasonably priced in various categories.
      Downstairs there's a raw bar and they serve a slew of newfangled cocktails with names like "Jack Goes Boating" (Jack Daniels, cranberry juice, lime, mint) and the "Red Sea" (vodka, watermelon, tomato, lime)--all, of course, available upstairs  too; in both rooms a shellfish tower for 4 runs $62.
      I highly recommend the corn and scallop chowder, which is very rich, very creamy, and very delicious, picking up some zing from a piquillo pepper ragoût.  Also excellent is the warm octopus with Brussels sprouts, Japanese mushrooms, the zip or blood orange, and the saline edge of picholine olives. Lobster dumplings with kimchi and scallion sauce lose a bit of the lobster flavor because of the peppery heat. A rice crispy -coated crabcake made perfect, crunchy sense to me, with a pepadew chutney and cumin-citrus glaze.
      There's a section for "Today's Whole Fish & Simple Fish," from which I had a fine roasted red snapper but an overcooked sablefish. "Fussy Fish" offered a superb Dover sole with candied grapefruit, cauliflower and brown butter vinaigrette--at $39 almost a bargain.  Lobster carbonara was a difficult dish to love: The pasta part of the deal would have been terrific if the spaghetti were not overcooked; the English peas were a good addition, the oven-dried tomatoes gave it a nice flavor, and the bacon filled in for guanciale. But merely plopping the lobster on top seemed almost an accident--not an unhappy one but not exactly a heavenly marriage.
      Among the side dishes I loved the cauliflower crème brûlée, but "laughing bird shrimp home fries" sounded better than they really were.
      As is  the norm these days, desserts live up to the best of a restaurant's preceding courses, which at Fishtail includes some lovable ice cream and sorbet cones (five for $10); a really good and gooey apple toffee pudding tart, and oddly addictive "Can o' Cake" composed of a molten chocolate cake with various sweet garnitures.  The addition of a parmesan wafer to otherwise creditable passion fruit crème brûlée seemed a conceptual lapse.
      I must mention that the original chef at Fishtail--which only opened a month or so ago--has already left, and John Tesar, who recently left the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, has come aboard, so I don't know how or if consistency of the menu and execution has been maintained.  Tesar is a very fine and distinctive chef, and I imagine he may well bring his own recipes to the kitchen. So, a grain of salt with this report.  I hope that, among his other projects, David Burke pays strict attention to Fishtail.  I think it's a winner for the long haul on East 62nd Street.

Fishtail is open nightly. Appetizers run $11-$35, main courses $21-$39, with whole fish priced by the pound.



Michael Mondavi Reclaims the Family Honor with “M”
by John Mariani

     Never in the global wine market have the words “supply and demand” had more impact than right now. With the world’s wineries full to the brim with product as prices drop for even the most illustrious bottlings, the idea of introducing a new California cabernet sauvignon at the cult wine price of $200 a bottle seems like either sheer folly or canny marketing.
     “I didn’t time the introduction of M too well--“one month before the economy really crashed,” admits Michael Mondavi, who introduced his new wine M last month  to wholesalers, retailers, and media at a dinner he hosted in New York at Chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se. It’s the 2005 vintage, after two vintages he did not feel good enough to bottle as M.
      Yet despite the high price for a brand new label, M already sold out its 700 case supply. “I could have sold it all to my mailing list,” says Mondavi, 65, “but distributors, retailers, and restaurateurs have helped me throughout my career and I want to support them. Only 200 cases went to subscribers, the other 60 percent to restaurants, and 40 percent to retail, although with this economy, those percentages may reverse.” M is allocated in allocated 3-bottle cartons. Mondavi anticipates he will never make more than 1200 cases a year.
      M is a Mondavi’s attempt to restore the luster of his own reputation and name, after his family, headed by his late father Robert, lost control of their company in 2004 to Constellation Brands, Inc. The story of how one of California’s iconic brands came to that fate was told in Julia Flynn Siler’s 2007 book The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty, which detailed the rivalries, raging egos, and rampant expansionism that eventually led to the sale of majority interest, including a joint creation of Mondavi and Mouton-Rothschild named Opus One ((which makes 25,000-30,000 cases annually).
      Upon losing Robert Mondavi Winery, Michael founded Folio Wine Partners, representing two dozen domestic and foreign wineries, including his own Oberon label, Italy’s Marchesi de Frescobaldi, and Spain’s Clos Dominic.
      To create M, with his son Rob and winemaker Tony Coltrin, Mondavi chose a 17-acre vineyard site (right) called Animo (“soul” in Italian), ten years ago at Atlas Peak. Walking the vineyards 20 times in 3 ½ weeks, they picked ripening grapes from a dozen distinct zones, first hand harvesting the higher elevations then the lower ones. A post-fermentation maceration lasted 18-22 days, followed by 22 months in French oak barrels, followed by 12 months in bottle.
      Contrary to common practice among Napa cabernet producers, Mondavi chose not blend in other grapes like merlot and cabernet franc, instead hearkening back to the kind of 100 percent cabs California made in the 1970s that won high points in media ratings. “When I was making wine with my father I always used some merlot or cab franc,” he contends. “Only the 1973 vintage was 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. So I assumed M would be a blend too. But I found that because cabs from hillside vineyards are so much more complex, I didn’t need the other varietals to achieve the character I wanted. If I think we can improve that character, I might add other grapes in the future.
      “M is bold but not overpowering; it’s not your typical California cabernet, and while I think it’s ready to be enjoyed today, M can easily be laid down for thirty years.”
      That’s an iffy proposition for any winemaker to make, for even some of the greatest cabs from the Napa Valley have not fared well beyond a decade of release, and many of those blockbuster 100 percent cabs of the 1970s and 1980s were, in retrospect, simply unbalanced and overwhelming. But in M I think Mondavi has got it right.  For one thing, it has just 14.1 percent alcohol, in contrast to those fruit bombs at 15 percent and above that many California cult wines come in at. “I cannot drink high alcohol wines with a meal,” says Mondavi. “They don’t invite me back into the glass and are not great with food. I decided I could either make a wine to please some of the critics or one I believed was more of the classic style of cabernet.”

Chef Thomas Keller of Per Se in NYC and Michael Mondavi
      I have to agree that M is now very mellow and drinkable, a littler hot in the nose, but its pronounced fruit is in no way jammy. It’s a proto-typical California cab, all right, but there is elegance and subtlety there.  As for its ability to age for 30 years, I haven’t a clue. This is only the first vintage. Like any thoroughbred, great wines need a track record before their reputation is secure.

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.



"So, there's my first look at Dallas – and your first look at me. I understand that there's a 9-year-old photograph of me making its way around town, my author's photo that appears in one of the books I wrote. Though I wish I still looked the way I did then, alas, I don't think I do. Still, restaurateurs and chefs will no doubt try to 'make' me."—Leslie Brenner, "Notebook," Dallas Morning News.


According to new documents by a Nazi officer who dined with him at least 30 times, Adolf Hitler had "shocking table manners, ate a prodigious amount of cake," and suffered from flatulence. The dictator also bit his fingernails at meal times and nervously rubbed his index finger back and forth across his moustache, the newly discovered papers disclose.  Late at  night the Führer would go back to his rooms, drink "health tea," and listen to his phonograph.



* On Monday nights in NYC Macelleria is offering an all-you-can eat) gnocchi bowl for only $12.99.  Call 212-741-2555.

* In celebration of Tabla’s 10th Anniversary in NYC, Chef Floyd Cardoz introduces a new menu - “Tabla’s 10” - a selection of small plates for $10 and under, offered every Wed. evening.  Call 212-889-0667.

* On March 27 Le Titi De Paris in Arlington Heights, ILL, will feature Perigord for  its next Tour de France Gastronomique Wine Dinner, hosted by Sommelier Marcel Flori and Chef/Owner Michael Maddox will expertly.  $85 pp.  Call 847-506-0222.

* On March 30 in Washington, DC,  40+ chefs and mixologists will gather for Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation® at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium with a VIP reception. Chef Chair RJ Cooper and Chef Kaz Okochi lead demos and desserts by Dessert Den.  This year’s honorees are: Jeffrey Buben of  Bistro Bis and Vidalia, Roberto Donna of Bebbo Trattoria, Bob Kinkead  of Kinkead's, Ris Lacoste of Ris, Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro,  Michel Richard of Citronelle Michel Richard and Central Michel  Richard, Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Group and Robert Wiedmaier of  Marcel's, Brassierie Beck, and Brabbo. Call 1-877-26-TASTE or visit General Admission, $85 and VIP $150.

* From April 8-16 in NYC, Commerce offers Passover Specials, incl. Chef Harold Moore’s kosher-for-Pesach Matzo Ball soup with truffles, homemade matzos, smoked salmon with beets and horseradish, and roast beef with kugel and spicy carrot salad. Call  212-524-2301.

* From April 9-15 Chef Julian Medina celebrates Passover at NYC's Toloache, where his Mexican heritage and Judaism .A traditional seder plate is available upon request. A la carte dishes are complimented with a selection of kosher wines, kosher tequilas and cocktails. Call 212-581-1818.

* InterContinental Hong Kong  is offering the “Gourmet Getaway” and “Stay and Dine” packages, incl.: “Gourmet Getaway”—1- or 2-night stay, breakfast, lunch and dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants, with each restaurant’s Executive Chef preparing a tasting menu of signature dishes; airport limo transfers; bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne ; 25% off additional a la carte food & beverages not incl. in the package. US$757- US$1,143;  “Stay & Dine”-- Guests who reserve accommodations at InterContinental Hong Kong’s “Best Flex” room rate will receive a US$150 dining credit to enjoy in any of the hotel’s restaurants. From US$333- US$384. Call 852-2721-1211;

* This Easter Paris' Hotel Fouquet's Barrière Pastry Chef Jean-Luc Labat will teach guests how to make gourmet chocolate from scratch with a complimentary workshop on April 13 from 2-5 PM at the hotel's restaurant, Le Diane. Each guest receives an apron embroidered with a "D" for Le Diane, a cooking spoon and chef's hat.  A special one-night Easter Package incl. accommodations,  chocolate treatment at the U Spa,  access to the swimming pool, aqua-slimming trail, fitness center, sauna and steam room, daily breakfast, lunch or dinner for 2, VIP welcome amenities.  Available from April 10-13 at 850 Euros (approx. $1,105). Call 011+33 (0) 140 696 040;  www.fouquets-barriere.

* The Scottsdale Culinary Festival runs April 14-19,  held at a variety of locations and will feature: food and drink demos by renowned chefs and guest sommeliers; mixologist and cocktail parties; live music from acclaimed bands; social soirees; and a unique Friends of James Beard Benefit Dinner at which guests can mix and mingle with culinary icons including Chefs Michael Smith , Robert McGrath and Roland Passot. Presented by the Scottsdale League of the Arts (SLA). Tix range from $25 to $225, Visit

* From April 14-18 The St. Croix Food  Wine Experience showcases the diverse cuisine and wine available on St. Croix, US Virgin Islands with gourmet dinners, wine seminars, wine auctions, and the annual culinary competition, A Taste of St. Croix. Participating chefs incl. Kevin Rathbun, Johnny Vincenz, Catherine Driggers and Willy Diggelman. Modavi, Benziger, Masi Planeta and wine makers from more select wineries will be participating in 2009.  Visit

 * From  April 15 – Dec. 14, the island of Barbados will offer savings for 2009 with the introduction of the Barbados Gourmet Card, giving  25 % savings on meals at participating restaurants throughout the island.  For more information,

* On April 15 in Chicago, Chef Heather Terhune of Atwood Café will ‘give back’ to all diners on Tax Day, by offering all meals tax-free at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Call 312-368-1900. Visit

*  From April 16-19 The Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival will be held throughout Austin and the Hill Country, to  celebrate the multi-cultural, culinary and viticultural achievements of Texas, with wine tastings,  culinary masters dinner, and the grand festival tasting Stars Across Texas, which will showcase a variety Texas’ celebrated chefs and restaurants. Events incl.: Hill Country winery luncheons; Culinary Masters Dinner ; reserve wine tasting; “terroir Meets Tradition”; “Red, White and New”; Stars Across Texas; “Big Dog Reds”;  and more.  Visit

* From April 16-19, California’s Pebble Beach Resorts will host the 2nd annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine with more than 60 prominent chefs (incl. Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, Michael Mina and Jacques Pepin) and over 250 wineries (incl.  Harlan Estate, Cristal, Pisoni state and Chateau Margaux). Tix begin at range $165.Visit

* On April 16 in Dallas, Nana will hold a Fisher Vineyards Wine Dinner, 5 courses by Executive Chef Anthony Bombaci for $165 pp with proprietor Juelle Fisher.   Call 214-761-7470. Visit

* On April 17 in Carmel, CA, Aubergine, at L’Auberge Carmel, presents the Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux estates of Château Lagrange and Château d’Issan at a dinner with special guests Emmanuel Cruse, wine maker and  owner of d’Issan, and Bruno Eynard, wine maker and g-m of Lagrange, with cuisine by Chef Christophe Grosjean. $150 pp. Call  831-624-8578.

* On April 17 on St. Croix, US Virgin, Chef Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun Restaurants in Atlanta and winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez of Robert Mondavi Winery in California will hold a fundraising dinner at Government as part of the St. Croix Food  Wine Experience, to support the St. Croix Foundation. $1000 pp, limited to 20 guests. The 2009 St. Croix Food  Wine Experience is April 14-18. Visit

* On April 18 Bruno Serato of the Anaheim White House will be recognized for his extensive philanthropy benefiting Orange County's "motel kids."  Serato, whose nonprofit Caterina's Club feeds more than 50,000 underprivileged children each year, will receive the honor at the Anaheim Boys & Girls Clubs' annual gala that will be at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. Call 714-491-3617 X105.


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: LOOKING FOR THE REAL IRISH PUB; CARIBBEAN VILLA DEALS; OPENSKIES DROPS FARES


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: TIPS ON TENNIS TIPPING.

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. THIS WEEK: TURKS & CAICOS ITAOLIAN VILLAGE

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