Virtual Gourmet

August 16,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

"Caper berries from Pantelleria," Sicily 2009 by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery


Readers may now access an Archive of all past newsletters--each annotated--dating back to July, 2003, by simply clicking on

SUBSCRIBE AND UN-SUBSCRIBE: You may subscribe anyone you wish to this newsletter--free of charge--by clicking

In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: momofuku noodle bar by John Mariani

by John Mariani


by John Mariani

    Last fall my wife and I had the opportunity to sail the Mediterranean  on one of the Yachts of Seabourn, a luxury cruise line headquartered in Miami, whose ships are considerably smaller than so many of the grotesque leviathans that ply the world's waters these days, with thousands of passengers  gorging each day and night on sub-standard food and mediocre wines. Seabourn was easily the best of the cruise ships I've ever traveled on--impeccable service, first-rate cuisine, very well-chosen wines, and passengers that reminded me of what it must have once been like to hobnob with those who sailed on "A" deck back in the 1950s.

     Seabourn's ships are much smaller, more intimate, with current fleets carrying only 208 passengers per ship, which include the Pride, Spirit, and Legend,  with three more ships on the way over the next two years. While the prices are higher than, say, traveling on Carnival (which owns Seabourn), the amenities are exceptional and the food and wine the best in the industry--and the price is all-inclusive, for rooms, all meals, beverages, wines, and service, with no tipping at journey's end.

Because of the ships' size, Seabourn can dock in smaller ports and right at the dock in big ports, which means you simply alight onto terra firma without need for a ferry.
       Also, all the food is prepared onboard à la minute, not in huge quantities made in advance, and as much as possible the food is purchased at local ports rather than stored for weeks. In some ports the ships offer "Shopping with the Chef" programs for which no more than eight guests tour the local markets with the chef and help choose what they'll enjoy for dinner that evening.
      The winelist, and service, are excellent, and all wines and spirits placed in your room (replenished daily) according to your choice are part of the sail price, and that also includes wine at meals and Champagne and cocktails all day. There is also a Vintage Seabourn premium wine package at $400 that allows access to the finest wines in the cellar, and they are amazingly well priced--below what you'll find in most restaurants.
       Our cruise, on the Legend,  was around Italy, with the ports of Sorrento, Taormina, Malta, and Trapani en route. (We hopped ship at Trapani and stayed for a week in Sicily, about which I will be writing in the weeks to come.) We began in Rome, and the transfer from land to ship was handled with far better efficiency than most lines I have sailed on. Our suite was spacious, with a wonderful veranda over the sea, queen-size bed,  walk-in closet, interactive flat-screen television (that actually worked!), with music and movies, fully stocked bar and refrigerator, writing desk with personalized stationary, makeup vanity, granite bathroom with separate tub and shower, and electricity available at both 110 and 220 volts;  there was a direct-dial telephone.
      The young crew is very international, impressively fluent in English, and well conversant about the food and wines served throughout. We always left the ship at every port, so our dining was largely in the evening at the open dining room (above), where the menus change nightly and offer a far wider range than is usual on cruise lines.  Many dishes I would rank with fine dining in Europe generally, and among cruise ships, I'd say it was overall by far the best I've had. So many ships' menus are still in the dated continental mode, while on Seabourn, they were featuring dishes like chilled corn and lemongrass soup with spicy lobster salad and shrimp, pan-roasted Cornish game hen with porcini risotto and a coulis of arugula and glazed cherry tomatoes; the succulent double lamb chops could not have been more generously cut or better cooked than those we enjoyed on our first night.
     On other nights we particularly enjoyed malossol caviar and smoked salmon atop crunchy potato latkes; a whole broiled lobster with steamed potatoes, asparagus, and chive butter; and roast prime rib of beef with onion rings. Carved veal tenderloin with creamy parmesan polenta was cooked to perfect pink as requested, and at the other upscale restaurant, Tastings @ 2, we enjoyed dishes like crisp sea bass with a citrus fondue, barbecued shortrib and seared foie gras, and orange potato soubise.  This is fancy cooking, and the kitchen, working with first-rate ingredients, does extremely well with them. Desserts were just as imaginative, like a sweet coffee sandwich with salted caramel, ice cream, and white chocolate foam. Overall, the wines chosen for each meal were more than commendable. And, yes, the featured wines each evening were in fact cheaper than I might have found them at onshore restaurants e.g., Château Haut-Brion 1996 for $370, which sells for $775 at The French Laundry in Napa Valley.
     Our first stop was Sorrento, with the option of visiting Pompeii with an ebullient guide who,  even if he did make up stories about the volcano-razed ruins, was amusing enough for us not to care too much. The quiet of Pompeii (left), which was destroyed 79 AD and not excavated until 1748 (which still goes on), is not an eeerie quiet but a peaceful one, as if the city is suspended between the dust and ashes and the new greenery that resolutely re-emerged over centuries.  Twenty-three feet of volcanic cinders covered parts of the city, fantastically described in Buler-Lytton's 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. There are some amazingly beautiful murals that have been brought to life again, and guides always point out the houses of ill repute that dot the landscape here. Casts of bodies buried within seconds of the disaster's occurrence give a very human form to the horrors of the moment, as if it had happened only fifty years ago rather than 22 centuries in the past.
     Sorrento itself is a medium-size city of quaint Campanian charm, centered by the Piazza Tasso, and on the way to Amalfi, which was another tour option that day. We strolled the streets of Sorrento down by the water and wound our way up to the main street, Corso Italia, lined with boutiques, and gelaterias--the grandest is Bouganvillea (right) whose owners Nino and Gianluca Cioffi handmake the ice cream----and to one of my favorite restaurants in Italy--Caruso (below), whose warren of antique rooms beset with artwork and photos of Naples, Sorrento, and the Amalfi coast are as hospitable as at any trattoria.  But owner Carlo Esposito's principal focus here is on the great Enrico Caruso himself, whose photos, caricatures,  and playbills line whole walls here; thus, Ristorante Caruso's appellation "Museo."  Our first bite of tricolor lasagnetta with vegetables of the region reminded me how fine a restaurant this is, and the risotto mantecato with squash blossoms cooked in Taurasi wine reminded us we were in Campania, where that lovely red wine comes from.
    The menu has modernism too, in dishes like a tartare of scampi with marinated fennel and crème fraîche with herbs, and a pasta of paccheri with Mediterranean lobster and eggplant.  The wine cave is astoundingly stocked with the finest wines of Italy. Our extensive three-course lunch with wine, including service,  cost 144 euros.
     We sailed on to Malta, which I had not visited in 30 years.  I found it remarkably changed for the better, its old buildings, heavily damaged in World War II, scrubbed clean to a creamy-colored white, with buffed walkways, beautiful churches, including St. John's Cathedral, a Museum of Fine Arts, another of Archeology, and the Old City of Mdina, Malta's first capital, which shows clearly the influence of hundreds of years of Islamic control. The Fort of St. Elmo, itself now restored, has been the site of several movie sets, including "Gladiator," when it doubled as Rome, and "Midnight Express," when it doubled for an Turkish prison.
      In the port city of Valletta, in the main plaza the street teems with the most beautiful old buses of considerable vintage. Mostly yellow, with all sorts of chrome additions and streamlining, they rumble and rattle up and down town but they are unforgettable, eminently photographable, and would make a good small book.
    On the heights called St. Michael's Bastions, we ate lunch at a lovely, bright, airy third-floor restaurant named Giannini (left) which has several Maltese wines well worth sampling; the grapes are locally grown, then sent to Italy to be made into wine. We began with a carpaccio of swordfish, as fresh as any I've ever had around the Mediterranean, and ravioli with rabbit that had been cooked in tarragon butter. Our main courses were fried rabbit--a local specialty, obviously--cooked with garlic in white wine, and impeccably grilled amberjack, which in these waters is called ricciola.  Oddly enough--and not particularly good for the appetite--Kenny G music was being piped in.
      Our return to the ship meant a day at sea before getting to Taormina, which will be part of my upcoming report on Sicily. But we could have happily stayed onboard and gone on to the other ports of call.
     Seabourn costs more than many other lines but it also delivers a great deal more in quiet, tasteful pleasure far from the madding crowds that so often make other ships' travels something of a travail.


by John Mariani

   I have not yet been able to eat at David Chang's Momofuku Ko, but not for lack of trying. The byzantine on-line reservation system is so overloaded with people trying desperately to get one of the fourteen seats at the place--“No phone. No favorites. No exceptions”--that not even a very determined Esquire intern, who tried for six weeks last summer to get a table, could get through. I can wait.
    Chang, of course, is the wunderkind of New York foodie-ism, having won two
James Beard Foundation awards so far; GQ Magazine called him “Chef of the Year 2007,” New York Magazine follows his every move like paparazzi, The New Yorker profiled him, Bon Appetit this month devoted a Japanese comic strip to him, Gourmet called him the most important chef of the last 50 years,  and Anthony Bourdain has called him a “demi-god.” He's  already got an entry in Wikipedia.
     Yet Chang's background is a modest one, for while he'd cooked  in NYC restaurants like Café Boulud and Mercer Kitchen, his Momofuku Noodle Bar and the Korean-style Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village were never intended to serve haute cuisine. The latter got two stars from the NY Times, then three for Ko. Ironically, Chang achieved all this despite foul-mouthing everything the fawning foodie media hold dear, telling them, “I don’t believe in that whole superstar celebrity chef thing. I’ve worked in too many kitchens where the egos got in the way of the food. I appreciate the honor; it’s amazing, but it’s also surreal and absurd. Sometimes I feel like I’m on ‘The Truman Show.’ I always considered myself one of the worst cooks in any kitchen I ever worked at."
      Nevertheless, evidence from his upcoming cookbook shows off Chang, and his staff, to which he gives full credit as partners in his creativity, has some terrific ideas, born out of mere wonder if this or that might work, if a dish may be fiddled with and improved, without any of the show-off mechanics of molecular cuisine. So, until I do get to Momofuku Ko, I shall withhold judgment on Chang's demi-god status.
      Much easier to get into is his two-year old Momofuku Noodle Bar, which is no less casual than Ko but has a homier, what's-to-eat? menu, which does in fact have a noodle dish or two. And it's not going to cost you much, once you get in. The people up front are very cordial, walk-ins get seated pretty quickly--this kind of food does not encourage lingering--and the tables are barebones wood, like the walls. One big caveat here: The noise level is literally excruciating! Conversation is almost impossible, and my ears were ringing upon exiting into the relative quiet of
taxis, sanitation trucks, police cars, and ambulances rushing through the East Village.
     "MNB" is definitely a no-frills place, by design--backless stools are not real comfy--and the menu is printed daily, with a 4-course dinner at $30, à la carte items $9-$16, some sake selections and wines by the 4-ounce pour and 300 ml., and most bottles under $50, then six beers and some sodas and waters.
      The  famous steamed buns with chicken, shiitake, and pork are, in a word, yummy, though I wouldn't go into ecstasy over them. Indeed, my response to most of what I ate was that this was delicious storefront style fare with flair and at very fair prices. Nothing bowled me over. Very good was the roasted pork belly with garlic confit and pickled ramps, and the pan-fried skate with asparagus, kimchi, and lemon got a little lost in the condiments. Smoked chicken wings with pickled chili, garlic, and scallions would not rank among the best I've had, and the beet salad with yogurt, ham, and black pepper honey seemed more an afterthought than thought through.
      Then there are the noodles that give the place its name, and they are pretty good--not extravagantly better than the best in Chinatown but ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and a poached egg had heft and flavor; chilled spicy noodles with Sichuan spiced sausage, spinach, and cashews was a nice toss, and the ginger scallions with beet greens, cucumber, and menma (a traditional Japanese condiment of thinly sliced bamboo to give ramen texture) was a nice change of pace.
     I'm not convinced of the wisdom of making Stout soft-serve ice cream, but it's worth a sampling.
     In no way do I mean to damn with faint praise the food at MNB, for I don't think Chang had any intention of blowing the culinary roof off NYC with this amiable place; that, he is said to be doing at Ko. I'm still waiting to click in for a rez there. Watch this space.

Momofuku is open daily for lunch and dinner.    




 by John Mariani

    Even though rum, with an 11.5 percent share of the U.S. brown liquor market, outsells brandies (6.6), Scotch (7.7), and American whiskies (9.0), those other spirits have garnered far more prestige by promoting their high-priced single barrel, reserve, even vintage bottlings as “sipping” spirits. Rum, though, has always been more of a versatile liquor for making cocktails from like the daiquiri, piña colada, mai tai, and good old rum-and-Coke.
     Now, however, rum makers are beginning to promote their own historic product as a drink to be savored entirely on its own, in a snifter or cut with a dash of water.
     Made by distilling fermented sugar cane, usually at 80 proof, rum has been made throughout the Caribbean since Columbus brought the cane to the West Indies. By 1775 Americans were drinking four gallons of rum per person, and on British ships it was the base of the daily grog ration.
      According to Adams Liquor Handbook, Americans now consume 134 million 9-liter cases of rum per year, overwhelmingly white or silver rum mixed into cocktails.  Though many islands make rum in the Caribbean, Bacardi, based in Puerto Rico, sells a whopping 43.1 percent of all rums in the U.S., 38.4 percent of that their own brands.
      Some well-established rums, like Gosling’s Black Seal Dark Rum, have always been sold on the basis of their intense, caramel-like, woody flavor and color, even though Gosling’s is just 80 proof. And there are cult favorites like Havana Club, whose principal appeal is that you can’t buy it in the U.S. because it is considered Cuban contraband. (Bacardi, however, has rights to make Havana Club in Puerto Rico, supposedly with the original recipe.)
    I purchased an array of these premium, aged rums and tasted them neat, then cut with a dash of filtered water.  I was amazed at the distinctions among bottlings from different islands, though that has more to do with the distilleries than with the soil the sugar cane grows in. Here are my favorites.
    Ron Zacapa Centenario Solera Grand Reserve ($39-$45)—A Guatamalan rum blended from stocks six to 23 years old, distilled from the “virgin press” of the sugar cane. It has a huge bouquet, and if you like natural sweetness in your liquor, this has plenty of caramel flavor and underneath that tasty tobacco notes.  A very lush rum nicely mellowed with water.

 Flor de Cana Grand Réserve ($22)—A tropical, Nicaraguan beauty, pale gold, with a mild piney aroma and some fruit flavors that make it better served neat, although it would make a fine addition to a daiquiri—but not a piña colada.
  Depáz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole ($50)—This Martinique rum is worth every penny, a fabulous example of complexity, balanced sweetness and dryness, and as sophisticated as cognac with some of the dash of Armagnac.
    Gosling’s Gold Bermuda Rum ($21)—Far lighter than Black Seal Dark, this is a delightfully spicy—though not artificially “spiced”—rum with light caramel. Very good cut with water or on the rocks as an aperitif.
     Bacardi 151 ($24)—The label reads “WARNING: FLAMMABLE,” and that’s a good description of what happens if you slug back this 151 proof Puerto Rican rum too fast.  It packs a wallop, and its aroma bounds out of the glass. You may want to smoke a cigar with this just to counteract its massive flavor. Bacardi 8 Year Old ($24) is also a beauty, full of lingering spicy notes and an elegant finish.
      Appleton Estate is the oldest sugar factory and distillery in Jamaica, begun in 1749, and today their rums are created by Joy Spence, the only woman Master Blender in the industry.  Appleton's Reserve ($23-$27) made from 20 different rums, has a double punch--it begins quite dry in the mouth, then flowers with spice and sweetness on the palate, making for a highyl satisfying sipping rum but also one to have with a splash of water or club soda, and, as has been suggested, a slice of fresh orange.  The estate's Extra 12-Year-Old ($49), which refers to the youngest rum in the blend being 12 years old (Appleton ages up to 21 years), is 43 percent alcohol and thus has a true bite to it, mellowed by a molasses-rich creaminess in the finish.
     Brugal, founded in 1888, sounds like a latecomer to the rum business, but its Ron Extra Viejo Gran Reserva Familiar ($24-28), made in the Dominican Republic,  comes in what looks like a club soda bottle, so it's not going for the crowd impressed by elegant bottles. Instead its big, bold flavor is  a combination of many layers of vanilla, cinnamon, and caramel, in a word, marvelously mellow, at 40 percent alochol, but one of the most sophisticated rums I've tried.

     Clément “rhums,” made in Martinique, have always touted their French connection, so that Rhum Vieux ($40), made from white rums, takes the old cognac insignia of “VSOP” (Very Superior Old Pale), and its Très Vieux ($150), at 88 proof, is called “X.O.” (Extra Old).  The former is an perfect expression of the power of rum without going over 80 proof: exploding on the palate, with a dry-sweet balance that reminds me of the finest Irish whiskies.  The Très Vieux, which comes in a gorgeous tear-drop shaped bottle that makes it a perfect gift, was the most complex rum of those I tasted, with an enchanting sea salty component, a pleasant bite, and a long finish. You could cut this with water, but this is definitely arum for sitting around in a white linen suit and straw hat watching the green flash of the sun setting in the tropic sea.

John Mariani's wine & spirits 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.



The Princeton Review has released its "The Best 371 Colleges" annual guide, a poll of 122,000 students nationwide on topics, including the Best Party Schools. 

Penn State takes the top spot in the Review's top party school category and for beer consumption.

1. Penn State University, State College, Pa.

2. University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla.

3. University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss.

4. University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

5. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio

6. West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.

7. University of Texas, Austin, Texas

8. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.

9. Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla.

10. University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, Calif.

11. University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo.

12. University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

13. Union College, Schenectady, N.Y.

14. Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

15. DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind.

16. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

17. Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn.

18. University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D.

19. Tulane University, New Orleans, La.

20. Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.


       "`Ooh, check that out,' said my dinner companion, pointing to the ground beneath a neighboring table. `It's a $10 bill - should I grab it?'  Her eyes darted around, then she reached down - and came up empty-handed.
        "`Very funny,' she said. `It's glued to the ground.'
       "Watching from behind our table, the host chuckled. `Gotcha,' he said. The bill was a permanent practical joke in the décor. It's just the sort of casual, humorous exchange we'd come to expect at Woodhouse Fish Co. A fun vibe is evident in aspects like a giant decorative squid that coils over the entrance and around the street lamp outside, and customer participation - you'll find patrons concocting `do-it-yourself' lemonade ($3.50) at the tables."--Amanda Gold, "Woodhouse Fish Co. has fun vibe, good seafood," SFGATES (July 16, 2009).


* On Aug. 16 in NYC, Karen and David Waltuck celebrate blues, local brews, and smoked foods at Chanterelle and The Jazz Gallery with performances by Marvin Sewell and Saunders Sermon. Paired with each song will be craft beers from Fire Island Brewery and Lake Placid “Ubu” Ale and dark and creamy Keegan “Mother’s Milk.”  $65 pp. Call 212-966-6960;

*On Aug. 17, San Francisco Street Food Festival’s Silent Online Auction will go live at 10:00 a.m. and remain open until Aug. 27 at 8:00 p.m. One-of-a-kind food and beverage experiences will be available for bidding, incl. private tours, tastings and dinners with renowned San Francisco chefs, sommeliers and more. All proceeds go to La Cocina.  To see the full list of auction items, place bids and learn more information about the festival, visit

* On Aug. 19 in New Orleans, Marigny Brasserie and Kendall Jackson Family of Fine Wines are joining forces to co-host a  wine and food pairing dinner to benefit Southern Animal Foundation. $70 pp. Call 504-945-4472.

* From Aug. 19-30 in NYC, Barbounia holds its  Third Annual Tomato Festival, a 3-course menu of tomato-inspired appetizers, entrees and desserts for  $35 and tomato-inspired cocktails for  $14. Call 212-995-0242;

* On. Aug. 20 in Miami, Canyon Ranch Grill invites guests to “Name that Grape” during an evening showcase of fine sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines, guided by wine professionals through a tasting and Q & A session as they sample delicious hors d’oeuvres by Executive Chef Elizabeth Barlow.  $20 pp.  Call 305-514-7165.

* On Aug. 21,  in Chappaqua, NY, unlimited food, wine and beer will be served at the Crabtree’s Kittle House "Pig Roast & Clam Bake." $85 pp. Call 914-666-8044.

* On Aug. 21 in Arlington Hills, ILL, Le Titi De Paris  Sommelier James Crooker will feature Iron Horse Winery in the continuing 2009 American Winery Dinner Series.  On  Aug.  28, Sommelier Marcel Flori will feature Burgundy in the 2009 Tour de France Gastronomique Regional Dinner Series. Cusine by Chef Michael Maddox. Each dinner $85 pep. Call  847-506-0222.

* On Aug. 21 in Charlotte, NCHarper's Restaurant at Carolina Place Mall is holding a unique beer dinner and for the rare opportunity to help select a brand new beer to be produced and marketed by Samuel Adams Brewery. Harper's Chef Dar Amidi will offer a special 5-course dinner paired with a selection of award-winning lagers and beers by Samuel Adams. $30 pp. Call 704-541-5255; visit

* On Aug. 21 in Houston, Catalan Food and Wine will host with Mollydooker Wines  “BLEND A HAND” Winemaker’s Event and Lunch Sarah and Spark Marquis, owners and winemakers of Mollydooker Wines, will host an interactive session  on how they blend their wines.  $40 pp. Call 713-426-4260;

* On Aug. 21 in DallasThe Grill on the Alley is partnering with Galleria Dallas and Collin County Children's Advocacy Center twith The First Annual Mother-Daughter Back-to-School Breakfast and Fashion Show, by Executive Chef Daniel Winans and the culinary team at The Grill on the Alley.  The fashion show will feature fashions from Macy's at Galleria Dallas beginning at 10:30 a.m., with special seating for breakfast guests. Tix  are $20 a pair and guests receive special gifts from Galleria Dallas merchants. Call 972-633-6628.

* On Aug. 23 in Shelburne, VT,  some of the nation’s most authoritative authors on artisan cheese will gather for the first annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, hosted by the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company, and the Vermont Cheese Council, featuring over 100 types of cheese from 40 different cheesemakers, a variety of locally produced wines and beers, and several other artisan foods, including maple syrup, honey, chocolates, baked goods, and more. Tix available  at  for $20 pp, open to the first 1,000 people who register.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London is celebrating all that is British this year with a ‘Best of British’ program, incl. 1 night’s accommodation, Full English Breakfast, A Harrods Gift Certificate, lunch in the Foliage Restaurant, Complimentary membership to Aspinalls gaming club. Visit  or call  +44 (0) 207 235 2000. Available thru Jan. 31, 2010.

* On Aug. 24 Trina restaurant at The Atlantic Hotel in Ft Lauderdale will be hosting their first wine dinner in cooperation with Antinori. The $55 four-course menu is paired with vintages from some of the venerable Italian winemaker’s best estates in Tuscany and Umbria. Upcoming wine dinners Sept. 24 will feature J. Lohr and Oct. 29 features Ste Michelle. Call 954-567-8076; visit  for room rates and special offers.

* On Aug. 25, in Miami, Eos continues its monthly wine dinner series with wines from the Tuscan Hills region and a  dinner  Call 305.503.4400.

* On Aug. 25  & 26 in San Francisco, Nob Hill Grille hosts "A Tribute to Pork,"  a 4-course meal, plus an amuse bouche and two palate cleansers, for $40, with wine pairings for an additional $15. Call 415-474-5985; visit

* From Aug. 28-30 the 6th annual Epicurean Classic takes place on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan in St. Joseph, MI, with over 45 cooking demos, 16 cheese/wine/beer tasting seminars, 6 Guest Chef Dinners, the opening Great Lakes Great Wines BBQ Reception, the Grand Reception and the daily Tasting Pavilion. Some of this year’s featured artisans incl. Curtis Stone, Jean Joho, Gale Gand, Takashi Yagihashi, Tom Valenti, Anna Thomas, Jennifer McLagan, Giuliano Hazan, Brian Polcyn, Eve Aronoff and Mary Sue Milliken. Visit  or call 231-932-.0475.

* On Aug.  30th in NYC, wear white and receive a complimentary glass of Georges Duboeuf Macon Villages or Pouilly-Fuissé at the Hudson Hotel from 4pm to 6pm.

* On Aug.  31 in Richmond, VALemaire will feature t the Rappahannock River Oyster Company and innovative beverage pairings. Brothers Travis and Ryan Croxton  will be on hand, as well as Wine Director Ben Eubanks to pair beverages that include Prosecco, Tomio Junmai Ginyjo Sake, Gruner Veltliner and Albarino. $35 pp.Call 804-649-4629.

* On Aug. 31 in NYC, sommelier Eric Ziller at Alto invites guests to bring in their favorite pre-1990 northen Italian red to enjoy and share with other guests.  A 5-course meal appropriate to these wines will be served.  Ziller will also open a great Barolo from Alto's cellar.   $150 pp. Call 212-308-1099.

* Food and Wine Trails has 14 different wine cruises in 2010 to the Mediterranean and Australia and New Zealand, on S.S. Oceania, Celebrity and Regent, each sponsored by a winery or a group of wineries which brings 300 to 400 bottles of wine for their guests to enjoy.  Cruises begin at $1,649 pp. The 2010 Food & Wine Trails wine-cruise collection includes such notable brands as ZAP, Matanzas Creek, Robert Mondavi, Franciscan, Food & Wine Magazine who is partnered with Wines From Spain and the Bordeaux châteaux's of Andre Lurton, Firestone, Sebastiani, Three Rivers, Lincourt Winery, Ch. St. Michelle, and Flowers. Visit; call 800-367-5348.

* Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar in Washington, DC has launched a new raw bar menu, where Chef Alex Bollinger will offer a daily selection of oysters, shrimp and whole Maine lobster.  During happy hour, 5-7 p.m. daily, oysters are $1 each, 6 shrimp for $12, and whole Maine lobster on the shell is $18.  After happy hour, oysters are $2 each or $16 per dozen.  For the week of August 17th, select sparkling wines will be available for $5 at the raw bar. Call 202-956-6650 for more info or visit

* In NYC, Australian eatery Bondi Road is now offering a daily “Endless Brunch” special featuring all-you-can-drink Fosters and brunch cocktails, and a brunch entrée for $18 pp.  Call 212-253-5311.


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:  30 YEARS OF NATURE TOURS;  Italian for Beginners: "La Bella Lingua" is Dianna Hales love letter to the Italian language; SMART DEALS: India Taj Hotels set the gold standard of luxury in India. Now they have an offer that just might make you consider a quick trip to the subcontinent.


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:

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