Virtual Gourmet

May 24, 2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

                                                      U.S. Army Ration, World War II

              Remember Memorial Day



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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Apiary by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Mohawks and Merlot - Not Your Father’s Wine Expo
by Jacqueline Church


by John Mariani

     As much as we’d all like to believe that Mexico is still dotted with pretty colonial towns in remote areas that have remained relatively untouched by time, few would fit that description with any degree of artistic and historic interest. The rare, outstanding example is San Miguel de Allende, founded by the Spanish  in 1542 as an important stop along the silver route of the Antiguo Camino Real in Guanajuato province, a good 170 miles from Mexico City.  For its wealth from the silver trade it was once nicknamed San Miguel El Grande.
    Its 6,400-feet altitude keeps it temperate and dry, the heat down in the sixties, and the scenery of mountains and flowering deserts have made it a reclusive spot for a generation of well-heeled Americans who have relocated here or bought second homes in the area. Many  came after World War II, when G.I.s on education grants came  to study art; many stayed on, renting apartments for ten bucks a month, and the establishment of the language art school Intituto Allende became an enormous draw for artists.  It took on more cult-like  interest for Americans when Ken Kesey brought his “Merry Pranksters” tour here in the 1960s. Allen Ginsburg visited; the beat writer Neal Cassady died by the side of nearby railroad tracks. Bummer.
      The town itself, with about 140,000 inhabitants, swelled with visitors and second-homers, bustles, but without much motor traffic and with a tranquil quiet that makes walking around town a joy, visiting the monuments and churches, and the famous fine arts school here, Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes. The city itself last year was awarded status as a World Heritage Site, a tremendous achievement based on its maintaining of the old charms and colonial links to Spain, which has also made it popular as a movie location.
       The hub of life is the city's square set with huge Indian laurel trees.  Here people come to stroll, sell their wares and tacos, and at night to listen to the mariachi bands that come through in their silver-speckled outfits and huge sombreros, singing the old Mexican romantic songs, from "Cielito Lindo" to "Vaya con Dios." You can make this park the center from which you radiate to the rest of the city, which is easily covered in a couple of hours, up and down cobblestone streets, into the many old churches, and into the myriad art galleries in gaily painted buildings. These include craftsmen who make nichos, made from hole-punched tin, which take on an astounding number of forms in sculpture, frames, and geegaws.

     The streets have lovely old names--Piedras Chinas, Calzarda de la Luz, Pila Seca, Hospicio, and Bajada de Oca. Down  one old street is a spot where people still come to wash their clothes in ancient stone laundry basins/

      The best place in town to stay, with two excellent restaurantes, is Casa de Sierra Nevada, an Orient-Express property, whose premises date to the 16th and 18th centuries, now a National Monument, with 32 rooms that have on occasion been occupied by everyone from Sharon Stone and Salma Hayek to Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford. There is a 60-foot swimming pool, beautiful library,  and a superb array of folkloric art. The rooms (right)  are exceptional for their size, stunning antiques, and the peacefulness of the place, when the only sound you hear from the roof, where the pool is located, will be the bells tolling from the town churches. You peer out over the city, at sunrise or twilight, at midday or midnight, and you feel very removed from the rest of Mexico, even the rest of your world back home, and you feel at ease.
     The more casual restaurant at the Casa is Parque (below), set down a cobbled street within a colonnaded patio.  Here you may begin savor three moles—black, green, and red—over pan-seared chicken with rice and refried beans, and the traditional molcajete arriero—a marinated flank steak with pan-seared cheese, nopales cactus, the spicy chorizo sausage, and a green salsa. It is a beautiful, quiet place to have breakfast in the cool mornings here. You may also dine outdoors or in the private Salon del Obispo with friends.
     The slightly less casual but far more inventive restaurant, across the street from the Casa, is Andanza (below), a shadowy, candlelit room in an open courtyard with a babbling water fountain and orange trees that perfume the air. You may eat in the courtyard or at one of six different indoor rooms, all sumptuously set with period furniture, fine leather chairs, and there is a charming wine room worth taking a peek at. Start off here with a well-made margarita or sangrita at the convivial Blue Bar, then sit down to chef Gonzalo Martinez’s stylish and very colorful cuisine—perhaps a starter of ceviches with a truffle-parmesan foam. Or tuna marinated in achiote with a classic potato fondant, fennel, chorizo and caramelized onions.  His lamb chop with barbecue ravioli in a flavorful consommé with grilled onions and oven-dried tomatoes is a triumph of intertwined flavors and textures. The orange leaf-marinated duck breast with a duck tamale, guajillo and queso blanco shows how the traditional may be combined with modern ideas that are starting to stir in Mexico.  All of these dishes may be accompanied by Mexican wines that show enormous promise.  (Both Parque and Andanza are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)
       The town is of course dotted with restaurantes and eateries, including an odd lot of Italian, Chinese, and fusion places, believe it or not. For very cheap but good eats, try Cha Cha Cha (Calle 28 de Abril #37), where main courses go for about five bucks. Planta Baja (Canal 28) is more global, though Mexican in spirit, and it's known for its style and--for San Miguel--higher prices, which for Yanquis works out to about $15 a main course.
     There is also a well-known Sazon Cooking School, whose recipes have been featured in Gourmet Magazine, and where Chef Paco Cardenas demonstrates the long traditions of Mexican cuisine.

     After a margarita or two or some shots of sangrita or a flight of añejo tequilas, you may follow your own hired mariachi band to play and sing and dance down the darkened streets of the old town. If you plan carefully, you should go to do so at full moon, when the town is brightened by a silvery light and long, romantic shadows lounge among the colonnades.



60 3rd Avenue (near 11th Street)

      the breadth and depth of culinary talent in NYC is nothing short of extraordinary, even in times that try chefs' souls. Recession, re-schmession, NYC always costs more for everything, restaurant rents are outrageous, sanitation (lovingly referred to as "carting"), high taxes, sometimes demanding unions--all make it very tough to do business even in boom times. Yet the best chefs all want to come to NYC, apprentice here, learn here, and, very often, stay right here, even if they've come from all over the country or the world.  They don't call it the Big Apple for nothing, and chefs like Scott Bryan of Apiary stand out among peers. 
     Back in 1996 Food & Wine awarded him Best New Chef honors and the NY Times three stars when he was at Veritas. Prior to that he'd worked at top kitchens like Gotham Bar & Grill, Bouley, Le Bernardin, and Lespinasse--going through such illustrious swinging doors makes you ready for anything. A
s a veteran of 25 years in the business he is at Apiary, a darling, small restaurant in a neighborhood bereft of good ones.  It's smart, sleek but un-trendy, with superb and flattering lighting, buffed ebony wood, burgundy upholstery on geometric Luca chairs, and a magical laser-cut silhouette of an ancestral chandelier.  The place has been carefully designed without looking overly so, so its casual ambiance is buoyed by some of the nicest staff members you'll meet in NYC--not the Lower East Side types who dress like homeless men and tell you "everything on the menu is awesome."
      Apiary has a menu wholly fitted to the times, with prices to boot, with no main courses over $28 and a three-course dinner at $35.
Monday is Apiary’s “No Corkage” Night. There's a fine selection of decently priced wines, an array of teas, and artisanal honeys. The cheese selection is only $13. No wonder the place was packed the weekday night I dined there; yet the noise level was surprisingly good, despite bare tabletops.
      Bryan (below) has a knack for making comfort foods sumptuous. Thus, a Tuscan bean soup with black kale and parmesan is ideal for a spring evening starter, light, the beans absorbing simple flavors and seasonings. Crispy sweetbreads came with a tangy romesco sauce, and a Thai-inspired squid salad was perky with lemongrass, ginger, and mint and crunchy with peanuts.  Everyone's doing hamachi crudo these days (crudo is the new word for sashimi), but Bryan's gains from the soft texture of avocado with the delicate toothiness of shaved fennel, and a subtle shot of jalapeño pepper.
       you'll also find a lot of duck confit around town, and Bryan's is as good as any, cuddled in a celeriac puree with French green lentils--classic and very good. As was Atlantic skate--a species not seen nearly enough but gaining stature because it is not expensive--with a light chowder suffused with smoked bacon, razor clam, and a touch of tarragon.  The grilled Berkshire pork loin comes with Brussels sprouts (for once not overcooked), glazed Tokyo turnips (whatever they are), and a dousing of Calvados apple brandy. I often judge a cook by his way with roast chicken, and Bryan's is an organic bird, with the very crispiest of skin (I suspect he gives it a flash frying at the end), rich mascarpone polenta, wild mushrooms, and a Madeira jus. Don't miss the orzo "mac & cheese," which sublimates that homey dish to a heavenly richness.
      This is food full of marvelous flavors, and it carries through in the excellent desserts, from a blackberry financier cake to a apple tarte Tatin and a vanilla panna cotta with raspberry coulis--each with a suggested glass of dessert wine.
       Apiary's only problem is that it has so much competition in NYC these days at this high level of cooking.  The added bonus here, however, is the hospitality, the lovely setting, and prices that would have been generous five years ago.  And you don't have to taxi down to some funky, cramped, noisy storefront or pay $25 for a plate of pasta here. Apiary buzzes with good vibes and delicious food. My congratulations to Scott and his crew for bringing it all off with such finesse.

Apiary is now open for Brunch every Saturday & Sunday and dinner nightly.


Mohawks and Merlot - Not Your Father’s Wine Expo
By Jacqueline Church

   The morning after the Boston Wine Riot, I prepared for my shower. Having begun the previous evening during the afternoon Trade session, I was perhaps moving a bit slowly dans ma salle de bains.
    Then it happened. I caught my image in the bathroom mirror.
    A Tattoo?! Talk about a fog-cutter! Yes, indeed, it was quite a party. But what sort of Wine Expo is this, really?
  Believing the wine industry “has become overly complicated and very pretentious,” Tyler Balliet, editor of The Second Glass, hatched the idea of the Wine Riot. Balliet seeks to empower new, young oenophiles, explaining the world of wine “in a down-to-earth and humorous tone.” Mohawks, boas, fake mustaches and (temporary) tattoos make for an irreverent and fun event.
     While the founders of Wine Riot aim to make the nouveau expo fun, they also aim to educate. Some of the antics were a little over the top, maybe. But loosening up the crowd is clearly part of the educational plan here. Kirsten Amann, back from a European vacation less than 24 hours, said, “I've never been to a wine tasting that had a funky photo booth. Or a DJ. And before today, I'd never worn a fake mustache (for a photo op in said booth.) The atmosphere was decidedly irreverent--and fun!”
    Good wine, like good food, should be accessible to all. This is one of the core beliefs of the Second Glass, which aims to educate new consumers to the the joys of wine.  "We wanted to create an event where people could learn about wine in fun and social environment," states Balliet. "We needed to think outside the box and truly do something unique and different. It's one thing to say your event is 'snob free' but it's another thing to actually do it."  Dale Cruse, author of Drinks are on Me! wine blog said “Wine is the coolest thing to study! The homework is you have to drink it!"

The Sessions

      What might we actually learn at a crazy wine expo where boas abound and Chuck Taylors are chockablock? Having talked to many importers and vendors at the Trade session, I can attest to a very low-key approach. Had I wanted to learn more, not just drink more, the ability to do so was mixed at the tables. Some were staffed by booth babes, others had the growers and vintners in attendance. It’s fantastic when you can meet the actual wine makers or representatives at an uncrowded, relaxed event where they have time to actually talk to you. For example, I had the opportunity to test my theory about biodynamic wines with Guillaume Suss of Maison Albert Bichot before I knew he was a panelist in a later session on the topic.
    While the Trade tastings could be of mixed value, the sessions and classes were a different story. There, experts were on hand to give the basics of say, champagne appreciation. This session was delivered irreverently but accurately by the très charmant and entertaining Bertil Jean-Chronberg, general manager and wine director at the Beehive
(541 Tremont St., 617-423-0069). The Champagne session by Jean-Chronberg (left) was intentionally irreverent but no less educational. Had he taught my 8th grade algebra class I would actually be able to do math today. I’m certain of it, and that is really saying something.
     I also attended a session moderated by Jonathon Alsop, Director of The Boston Wine School, on Biodynamic Wines. He had a pretty good representative panel and fielded questions about biodynamic wines and the state of the art in organic winemaking. Alsop even had a horn for show and tell. Bonus points if you know the connection. (
In biodynamic farming, cow horns are used to plant and develop organic materials for future use treating the soil with the mature contents; generally in accordance with the lunar calendar.)
     Albert Winestein wine shop owner Sean Martin (check the great soundtrack on their site) had some great wines and an interesting story to tell, too. Many of the companies there had a decidedly hip or upstart bent to them. Even those like Bichot, which are hardly newcomers, exhibited a savvy connection to this new generation of customers.  There was even an app for the iPhone (Drync) as one might expect.
     Christine Liu, editor at City Search and head honcho at 3 Buck Bites had this to say:  “Wine Riot is like a hipster Boston dance night meets super-friendly and accessible winemakers, with a dose of French irreverence (in the case of the Beehive's Bertil) and lots of young and curious drinkers. In short: one tier shy of a beautiful, liberal grape stomp.”
    In sum, it was a very successful inaugural outing which didn’t cost an arm and a leg to attend. It didn’t require “gala” attire, and really it was about the wine. I’d say these kids are alright; of course most everyone there was too young to get the reference but that’s okay. I’ll drink to that, (temporary) tattoo and all!

Jacqueline Church is a Boston-based food, wine & spirits writer who has been around since Mohawks were first popular (the hairdo, not the tribe). She can be contacted at



In Ft. Pierce, Florida, police arrested a man at a truck stop after finding several packages of candy and nuts, two black T-shirts and a 20 oz. bottle of beer in the pockets of a man, who claimed he was justified in stealing candy  because he had served in the military in Iraq and "could steal all the M&M's he wanted." The man was charged with retail theft and was being held on $5,000 bail.


In an article about the French food critic François Simon, a New York Times writer misinterpreted the French idiom “un étouffe-chrétien,” a diner’s criticism of macaroons that Simon prepared at a Paris restaurant. The diner was actually saying that the macaroons “could choke a Christian,” meaning they were hard to swallow, not, as the Times writer wrote, “stuffed Christians.”



* In Chicago, w
ith the opening of the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing,  Lockwood restaurant at the Palmer House Hilton will be toasting the museum by offering guests a 20% discount off their lunch or dinner bill with proof of a ticket to the new wing. Call 312- 917-3404 or visit

* In Santa Monica, CA, Wilshire Restaurant's Chef Andrew Kirschner Presents New Bar Menu and "½ Price Wine Monday: for every bottle on their exceptional wine list.  Also, the weekday Happy Hour is now extended through the weekend. Call 310-586-1707.

* On May 28 in Greenwich, CT, the  Greenwich Chamber of Commerce Business & Culinary Showcase at the Hyatt Regency-Greenwich will feature a fashion show of summer apparel and a “Throwdown Chowder Challenge” by local members and officials, with Chef Jean-Louis Gerin of Restaurant Jean-Louis, Bill Rosen, Executive Chef at F.I.S.H., and Chef Rafael Palomino of Greenwich Tavern,  will choosing the winning chowder.  Restaurants and caterers incl. Avenida Restaurant, Bambou Asian Tapas and Bar, F.I.S.H., the Ginger Man Restaurant,  Le Gourmet Store/Restaurant Jean-Louis, Pomodoro Pizzeria & Trattoria, et. al.   $15 for members and $25 for non-members before May 14. Call 203-869-3500.

* The NYC Laboratory School for Collaborative Studies is hosting TASTES from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea, to raise funds for  the school.  Dozens of the city’s best chefs will cook on the cobble stone pathways of Gansevoort Street and its new Plaza, incl. 5 Ninth, Amy's Bread, Barocco Café, Billy's Bakery, Bombay Talkie, Buddakan, Cookshop, The Green Table, Il Bordello, Klee Brasserie, Knickerbocker Bar & Grill, La Bottega, Le Gamin Mobi, Macelleria, Matsuri, Ono in Hotel Gansevoort, Pastis, The Red Cat, Rocking Horse Cafe, Smorgas Chef, Son Cubano, Spice Market, Tia Pol, Trestle on Tenth and Zampa, et al.  $35. pp.  Visit

* Heathman Restaurant and Bar kicks off its 2009 Dueling Sommelier Dinner Series  where diners determine who is the top sommelier this season. Jeff Groh, creator of the series and sommelier at the Heathman, welcomes colleagues  Jack Hott from Castagna, Jeff Moore from Wildwood and Andy Zalman from Higgins, with a 4- course menu  by the Heathman’s  Philippe Boulot and continues on June 20th with guest chef Dustin Clark from Wildwood. Additional dinners featuring menus from Higgins and Castagna are scheduled for July and Aug., culminating with the Grand Finale dinner in Sept. $110 pp. Call  503-790-7752; visit

* On June 2 in Chicago, Cyrano's Bistrot  Wine Bar will celebrate its 13th birthday with a Beaujolais Fantasie event of 13 French Wine Producers, sponsored by Mrs. Barbara Gluntz, House of Gluntz Wines, who will offer special pricing on Beaujolais  available for pre-purchase,  followed by a 6-course dinner. Chef Durand's Guest of Honor is William Rice,  former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine. $75 pep.  Call 312-467-0546.

* On June 2 in Washington, D.C.,  Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Brasserie Beck  announces a 4-course dinner  that marries Belgian beer, Chef de Cuisine David Ashwell’s Belgian fare with selections from Divine Chocolate.  Beer Specialist/Thor Cheston will lead the evening along with Erin Gorman of Divine Chocolate. Tix  $85 pp. Call 202-408-1717. Visit

* On June 2 in Bellevue, WA, Chef/Owner John Howie and Sommelier Erik Liedholm continue Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar’s wine maker dinner series with a celebration of spring featuring a 4-course menu and the wines of Napa Valley’s Chappellet Winery, joined by Steve Tamburelli.  Call 425-456-1892.

* On June 6 in Westport, MA, Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery wll hold the Local Wine & Cheesemakers Dinner, with 4 courses featuring a local cheese and wine to match. The evening begins with an interactive vineyard tour with co-owner and winemaker Bill Russell. Also on hand, Barbara Hanley of Shy Brothers Farm; Fiore di Nonno (Somerville, MA) owner/ cheesemaker Lourdes Smith. $75 pp. Visit; call 508-636-3423.

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: Whale Watching; Ocean Liner Collectibles; Cruise Cabins: A Room With a View -- and a Balcony


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).

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, Bloomberg News, 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