Virtual Gourmet

September 5,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

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In This Issue


NEW YORK CORNER: Nino's 208 by John Mariani

OBIT FOR A GRAND RESTAURANT: Cafe des Artistes by John Mariani

NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Stonestreet Out to Prove All California Chardonnays Aren’t Blockbuster Oak Bombs by John Mariani


By John Mariani

     Count me in as an avid tourist when visiting Boston. I love the Public Gardens, the Freedom Trail, Fanueil Hall, and the Old North Church. I still really like going to Durgin-Park Café, which dates back to 1827, sitting down at a long communal table, kibbitzing with the engagingly brusque waitresses, and digging into clam chowder, broiled scrod, a stuffed two-pound lobster, and roast turkey, ending off with Indian pudding laced with molasses.
     But the other side of me goes to Boston to dine at restaurants that represent some of the best cooking in America, often from the hands of chefs who kicked off the so-called “New New England Cuisine” back in the 1980s.
     Traditions of excellence have always been part of the fabric of Boston, and that is as true of its restaurants and chefs as it is of its devotion to maintaining the integrity of its historic architecture. Like Durgin-Park, the equally venerable Locke-Öber Café, opened in 1875, is now run by one of the city’s most beloved chefs, Lydia Shire, who has also recently opened the wonderful Italian restaurant Scampo.
    The restaurants of the first generation of brilliant young chefs of the ‘80s are still in full flourish, like Frank McClelland of L’Espalier (recently moved to new quarters), Jody Adams of Rialto, Jasper White of Summer Shack, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro, Micahela Larsen of Rocco, and Jacky Robert of Petit Robert Bistro. Here are some pf the newest run by veterans.
il Casale

50 Leonard Street
Belmont, MA

Everybody loves a firehouse, and the de Magistris brothers loved one in Belmont, Mass, so much they turned it into a trattoria alla famiglia. The best-known of the fratelli is Dante (far right), who, with his
father Leon and his brothers Damian and Filippo, saw the perfect possibilities for a big, brick-walled space where they could put in the kind of kitchen they wanted, have a good bar, some outside tables, and allow people to eat as much or as little as they wish. And, yes, there is still a fire pole here.
     Dante is well known for his tenure in many of Boston's best kitchens, including his own Dante in Cambridge, and here, with his family, he is recreating many of the dishes that date back generations, along with several his nonna probably never thought of, like carpaccio of beef with Gorgonzola fondue.
     You begin here with sfizi (little tastes), that include pork meatballs with mozzarella and a sauce made from the pig's head; burrata mozzarella with persimmons (below) salt cod baccalà balls with pinenuts and tomato and sultanas; porcini risotto arancini balls containing a nugget of scamorza cheese, with a spicy tomato sauce; and terrific fegatini chicken livers grilled on skewers till just pink and juicy. I;d also recommend the salumi plate ($21 for two, but three can easily share) that holds prosciutti, culatello, Speck, and sweet melon.
      The move on to the pastas, which Il Casale serves either as a first course portion ($8-$12) or main course ($17-$21), and here are at least ten of them every night, from tagliatelle with a tradition, long simmered bolognese to a wonderfully lavish lasagna with true besciamella, meat ragù, bufala mozzarella, and the addition of egg. The "Vesuvio" is a plate of pasta with a goat ragù, while the gnocchi are lavished with a porcini cream, peas, asparagus, and fava beans.
     If you're still hungry, there is a slew of fine main courses, none more than $24, except a $38 grilled veal chop with Vidalia marmellata. Otherwise, you'll love the fritto misto of fried seafood; the striped bass cooked in "aqua pazza"--crazy water--and the terrific Sicilian, lemon-and-caper scented roast chicken.  For dessert try the Venetian frittelle, little morsels of fried, sugared dough, with your espresso, or the lovely little cannoli tubes with ricotta cream.
     The guys are keeping prices at a recessionary level, but this kind of food--and volume--is never going to rise by much, because that is the nature of eating and sharing in a place like Il Casale. The winelist, too, is very sensibly priced, with scores of bottlings under $50. It's certainly worth a trip out from Boston or Cambridge, although be forewarned that traffic congestion can be fearsome and a taxi ride will cost you a fortune.

Il Casale is open for dinner only (for the time being) Tues.-Sun.


An $18 million renovation has made the
The Copley Square Hotel, which is perfectly located within walking distance of most Boston landmarks (just a few blocks from the Museum of Fine Arts), is a fine, well-priced 143-room boutique-style hotel in modern decor of grays and browns. It is also entirely smoke-free. The dining areas are designed for a young crowd, including XHALE, open for breakfast and dinner, which is casual, and a mini-bar lounge, specializing in appetizers at
the bar. (By the way, don't confuse this with the Fairmount Copley Plaza nearby.)


The Langham Hotel
250 Franklin Street

Located within the five-year-old majestic Langham Hotel (formerly the Meridien) in the Financial District are two restaurants, the Cafe Fleuri, which serves a mix of American and New England-style dishes, and the gorgeous Bond, which is open for lunch and dinner and specializes in small portion dishes, and on weekends has a lively and live  (I'm told) DJ. I had a splendid lunch in this grand space that was previously the posh restaurant Julien and before that part of a Federal Reserve Bank, opened in 1922, with all the means in terms of pillars, crustal chandeliers, gilt, marble and filigree. Yet the management has been able to warm the place up with more casual appointments and striking use of brilliant red colorations. (there is also an outdoor terrace overlooking the park). The walls have blow-ups of Americans who appear on U.S. currency.
     This is a very popular place for a light lunch, but Chef Mark Sapienza is not out merely to placate hunger with the usual salads and soups and sandwiches.  When we dined there we loved the first-rate clam chowder  and a softshell sandwich could not have been made with fatter, sweeter, crunchier crab with Bibb lettuce, a good slice of summer tomato, and well-rendered, spicy  mayonnaise.  Since Vietnamese  banh mi sandwiches are all the rage right now, Sapienza has added one, and it's a good one, made with roast chicken, marinated vegetables, cucumbers, coriander, and a shot of chili aïoli. There's a also a Vermont goat's cheese tart with Vidalia onions, and a laudable New England lobster roll on buttered toasted brioche. There is also a menu "drink food" that goes way beyond the usual nibbles, including chorizo sausages with fingerling potatoes, steak tartare with brioche and parmesan aioli, and irresistible gougère cheese puffs with a caramelized onion mustard.
      Bond may not occur to visitors as a must-dine, but I think Sapienza is doing some of the most delectable food in Boston right now and Bond is as easy to slip in and out of at your leisure, pleasure, and budget as anywhere in town.

Bond is open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. from 11 AM-2 AM. Dishes at Bond run $8-$22, with "drink food" 6-$12.


348 Congress Street
Restaurant photo by Mike Ritter

     Barbara Lynch, for good reason, has been one of Boston's most treasured restaurateurs, having first made her mark with No. 9 Park, a place that a decade ago seem to hit just the right balance of upscale and casual chic, with solid cooking and lovely prospect over the Gardens. Now, several enterprises later, which include restaurants, a bar, and a butcher shop, she's been on a roll, and she's planning another restaurant in the fall.
     None of this seems to have sapped her energies or creativity, which is always geared to a proper New England restraint and lack of flamboyance, nowhere better seen than in the easy-to-like Sportello down in the industrial neighborhood known as Fort Channel Point. This is little more, and certainly not less, than a luncheonette-style, all counter space, second-story place where you can drop in for a salad or plate of pasta or dessert, or walk out with those same desserts in a box. The white counter is set with backless stools, so you're not expected to linger, and the waitresses are right there to serve you, picking up food from a kitchen grill just feet away. It's bright, it's cheery, and it's fun, not to be taken too seriously but you can see why it's been so popular, despite its odd location.

      There is one problem here, and it is one that I had when Lynch opened No. 9 Park. Prices, for food made from inexpensive ingredients, are remarkably high for remarkably small portions in a no-frills setting in a Boston neighborhood whose rents  couldn't be outrageously high (yet).  An $8 salad sounds cheap enough, but it came as a few shaved vegetables with hazelnut vinaigrette in a cereal-size bowl, as did strozzapreti pasta with braised rabbit and green olives, at $15, and baked stuffed maccheroni with veal, chicken and mushrooms at $17.  And this was at lunch.  At dinner the pastas run up to $20, though striped bass at $23 and a sirloin at $30 seems quite  fair. If the portions had been more generous--we left hungry--and more in line with those hearty half-portions at Il Casale ($8) or those at the posh Sensing below or Bond above, where they have tables and chairs, I might be more inclined to recommend a trek to this part of town to eat at a counter.
     I think I'd go back for dinner--when it is packed and takes reservations a month in advance--but I can't say I'm raring to do so.

Sportello is open  daily for lunch and dinner; the bakery and retail from 7 AM-11:30 AM.

3 Battery Wharf

I was quite excited when I heard the news that Chef Guy Martin of Paris' renowned, Michelin 3-star restaurant Le Grand Vefour, was going to be opening a dining room in Boston, to be called Sensing, sending his very young acolyte Chef de Cuisine Gerard Barbin, to do the cooking. Which, of course, as these things go, mean Monsieur Martin will rarely be at the new restaurant, which is located in the Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel, which is played down on the restaurant's website.
     It's a very smart, handsome space, bright and cheery, sleek in blond wood and very comfortable seating, and I found the staff highly professional in their ministrations (even if a duo of badly dressed French visitors at the next table were crabbing about waiting for their main course).
     Each night there is a Sensing Snacking Platter that offers a sampling of six regularly changing small bites, also available in the dining room as a first course.  What is really amazing is the current $40 fixed price dinner (there is also à la carte, with appetizers $11-$17, and main courses $24-$32.  That snacking plate is terrific, which might include an oyster with shallots; a kebab of cantaloupe and prosciutto with Port jelly; chilled tomato and vanilla water; marinated spicy clam; Stilton croquette; and lobster roll--all of them for $16!
      Barbin is trying, perhaps too hard, to be noticed in several of his dishes, which could do without one or more ingredients in the mix. But there are bright ideas among his green risotto with poached egg, asparagus, and radishes, and his steamed lobster with cauliflower, Granny Smith apple, and coral mayonnaise. But why put popcorn on top of fine foie gras terrine and add tangerine syrup, rhubarb and assertive garam masala compote? It seemed more churlish than stylish.
     Cod is steamed in lemongrass with vegetables, coconut and a grapefruit sauce that is sprightly, but putting even a touch of anchovy into curry sauce and lavishing it on a fine strip loin of beef threw everything out of whack.
     I highly recommend ordering either three ($12) or five ($17) selections of impeccably kept cheeses and a good dessert wine from a small but well-put together list of international labels. For dessert go with the raspberry chocolate and raspberry finger with raspberry champagne sorbet or the orange blossom pannacotta with fruits in green anise with a coconut sorbet.
      This is not the kind of cuisine you'll find at Le Grand Vefour, which is far more classical and lavish, and where the "menu plaisir" runs 288 euros.  I think when Barbin gets to know both his ingredients and clientele well, Sensing will evolve into one of the most imaginative restaurants in Boston.

Sensing is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


by John Mariani

Nino's 208
208 East 58th Street

Nino Selimaj's American Dream story is as proud as any, having come to this country in 1978 from Albania to work hard in the restaurant industry, first washing dishes, and eventually open an Italian restaurant of his own named Bruno, with his brother Bruno. After that, he started naming new restaurants after himself, including the first Nino's on First Avenue, then Nino’s Tuscany, Osso Bucco, Nino’s Positano, Osso Bucco Uptown, Nino’s Bellisima Pizza (where he once promoted a  $1,000 pizza with four different kinds of Petrossian caviar), and now, Nino’s 208.  Selimaj (right) has also managed over the years to attract NYC celebs and pols, and his regulars are fiercely loyal.
     Until now, Selimaj's restaurants, while diverse, stayed within a comfort zone of New York-Italian food that became a staple back in the 1970s at places like Il Nido, Il Mulino, and Nanni's, serving a style of New York Italian that drew on a few northern Italian ideas to broaden what had been an entrenched Italian-American cooking of earlier decades, and it served them all well.
       Nino's 208 stretches a bit from those staples and gives a more modern, decorous style to dining on a street once home to Bruno and still home to several Italian ristoranti.
Chef Merlin Tlapa is doing a good job of keeping regulars happy, content, and excited by new possibilities, and Nino has kept his prices to a reasonable level, especially for midtown Manhattan, offering a nightly $35 dinner of three courses.  À la carte, antipasti--all portions are generous here--run $9-$22, pastas $16-$28, and main courses $$21-$32.
       As is often the case in Italian restaurants, the antipasti and pastas shine, beginning with some of the crispiest, most tender fried Roman-style artichokes I've ever had, with polenta crouton, chicken liver pâté, and shaved parmigiano--I would have like to have made a meal of them.  Good, creamy bufala mozzarella wrapped in bresaola with sweet beefsteak tomatoes, roasted yellow beets and arugula pesto also makes a good starter. Four of us shared these two appetizers.
     But we fought over the luscious pastas, beginning with tagliatelle with a ragù of braciole stuffed with pignoli, pecorino, raisins and fillets of tomato sauce; Spaghetti with lamb meatballs, a mint pesto, Tuscan kale, and garlic oil was magnificent--robust, balanced, and assertive. Fat paccheri pasta came with fine Italian sausage, peas, and a light  tomato cream sauce, while ricotta gnocchi, very light, were accompanied by shrimp, sauteed cauliflower, and an oven-dried tomato sauce with "poor man's parmigiano"--toasted breadcrumbs.
      As is also often the case, main courses at NYC Italian restaurants can be too much after the initial courses, but you will wholly approve of the fat and meaty Dover sole à la meunière here, though it needed more butter. Roasted veal tenderloin with Swiss chard, parsnip puree and sweet onion sauce was delightfully out of the ordinary, and braised pork osso buco with barley risotto, mushrooms, rosemary and lemon zest just skirted being too much of everything. The welcome addition of porchetta alla romana scented with fennel seeds, mustard, rosemary and sauteed Brussels sprouts was a hit at our table, if a little overcooked.
     Unless you're ravenous for the cliches of Italian desserts--chocolate mousse cake, panna cotta, and so on, skip them.
     Nino's 208 winelist, as at his other restaurants, offers good value for mostly familiar labels.
     With so many enterprises spinning in the air, Nino is concentrating his efforts here, and you'll be as happy to meet him as he is delighted you have chosen to dine with him.  Tall, handsome, impeccably dressed, he is one of NYC's true gentleman restaurateurs, and at a time when noise, bare tables, and sloppy waistaffs have become the rule in restaurants these days, Nino Selimaj is testament that the genteel is not yet dead in the city's dining scene.

Nino's 208 is open for lunch and dinner daily.


The Closing of  Café des Artistes

by John Mariani

        This past week, after nearly a century, NYC's famous and historic Café des Artistes on West 67th Street closed its doors.
      The splendid building called the Hôtel des Artistes, built between 1915 and 1918, has been home to the Café on its ground floor since 1917; i
t was not until 1932, however, that the building's board of directors thought it a capital idea for artist Howard Chandler Christy, who was born in a log cabin in Ohio and rose to become one of the most successful magazine illustrators of his day, to paint a series of murals featuring 36 nude girls and one oddly diapered he-man romping in a sylvan setting that looks a lot more like Central Park (which the Café borders) than Arcadia.  Indeed, these extremely sexy murals look like a rather randy version of "Flash Gordon Meets the Amazons of Venus,"  starring Buster Crabbe, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and Jean Harlow.  And they are glorious!
       Over the decades, through Depression, Prohibition, war, and  changes in taste, the Café endured and thrived, counting among its regulars scores of artists and musicians as residents in its huge studio-based apartments, including Isadora Duncan, Norman Rockwell, Noel Coward, Alexander Woollcott. The long-time owners, George Lang and his wife Jenifer, have kept it all marvelously intact, both in décor and spirit, since 1975.
    Those risqué murals have always had a lot to do with the Cafe's success over the decades, although Lang had to remove a quarter-inch of soot from the smoky walls when he purchased the restaurant at a point it was due to close and the murals to be scattered. A master restaurateur who had for years worked with Restaurant Associates on many of its most flamboyant projects, Lang brought his Hungarian sensibility to the idea of a cafe whose Upper West Side location would remind many other immigrants from the post-war era of the gaiety of their youth.
     He also brought the menu into the post-war period with a large sampling of traditional French and American bistro items and more than a nod to Lang's own Budapestian culinary heritage, which included his mother's famous chocolate Ilona torte. For more than a quarter century Lang and his wife have maintained the Café through various chefs and maître d's, some better than others, as was the food during their tenures.
Under Jenifer Lang's gaze the staff was always exceptionally professional, the coat check girls beautiful, and the waiters knowledgeable about everything from the food preparation to the winelist, and could kibbitz if appropriate with their famous guests.
    I suppose I've been going to the Café for as long as Lang has owned it, always with a thrill that I am in the midst of something uniquely New York and unobtainable anywhere else, always with the possibility that at the next table may be Beverly Sills, Isaac Stern, or any of the Hollywood actors who happen to be in town or on Broadway.
     It closed, depending on the reports you read, because of problems with the union and the recession, and the Langs (right) poured millions into the restaurant to shore it up in difficult times. If it was an institution it was certainly the liveliest for the longest, as much a part of New York night life as Delmonico's, Barbetta, `21' Club, The Four Seasons, and others whose doors are still open.

      One can love places like Café des Artistes out of all semblance of objectivity.  And I admit to falling under its spell. From the first time I saw those Christie nymphs frolicking on the walls, I felt I had passed through some uniquely New York ritual. Paul and Joanne Newman were sitting in the corner.
      There is always the prospect--and a very good one, I think--that the Café des Artistes will be taken over by another restaurateur, one who wouldn't dream of disturbing those murals or the ambience of such a beloved place.  If that happens, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that something so much a part of the fabric of the Upper West Side can be brought back to vivid elegance so that those naughty Christie girls can go on swinging among the trees, unaware that time ever passes at all.

Go to for virtual tour of the premises of Cafe des Artistes.



Stonestreet Out to Prove All California
Chardonnays Aren’t Blockbuster Oak Bombs

by John Mariani
    The snobbish snubbing of California chardonnays by the same wine connoisseurs who get all dewy-eyed about French chardonnays, is not without merit. Far too many California chards taste far too similar—a blend of high alcohol, candy sweetness and way too much oakiness. Nevertheless, while sales have slumped over the past two years, chardonnay is still the most widely planted grape in California, with 20 percent of U.S. wine sales.
     Stonestreet Alexander Estate Winery in Healdsburg, CA (left), is trying to counter chardonnay’s image as the quintessential yuppie wine not by offering one stellar example but four; next year, when the 2008 vintage is released, there’ll be eleven.
      Stonestreet’s winemaker, Graham Weerts, 35, migrated from Capetown, South Africa, in 2004 to take up the challenge of making first-class chardonnay that would compare with Burgundy’s best without losing the essential qualities California terroir and climate imparts.
      “There’s very little I can do to this wine except learn each vineyard’s character,” says Weerts (below), “because the terroir is so domineering and the yield so incredibly low. Our Alexander Mountain Estate comprises 5,100 acres, but only 900 are planted in 235 individual vineyard blocks. And those vineyards are up as high as 2,400 feet, where it’s not as hot as the valley floor, where grapes actually shut down when the temperatures get above 100 degrees, and we get cool Pacific breezes at night.”
      The soil is also rich in volcanic minerals deposited in Sonoma Valley 3 million years ago. After World War II it became prime grazing land, planted with grapes only as of 1971 under the Gauer Estate label. In 1989 all but 80 acres were sold to Chevron, which planned to subdivide the estate into residential parcels, but the vineyards were saved when Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Winery bought the land back 1995.
      Since his arrival, Weerts has cut production way back, from 50,000 to 20,000 cases and wants to get down to 15,000. Over lunch at Bottega in Yountville, CA, during which I tasted four distinctly different Stonestreet chardonnays, I asked him why he made so many of them and if he thought such an abundance would just confuse the consumer.
      “We want to show what chardonnay can be,” he said, acknowledging that so many California examples seem to be made according to a market formula of fruit, vanilla, oak, and high alcohol. “We are trying to make chardonnays that will appeal to different palates rather than one standard that the overall market seems to have become used to.  We therefore offer different styles of chardonnay that are completely dependent for their flavors on the terroir they come from, which ranges from 400-2,400 feet in altitude. We use different clones for different sites. Plus the fact that we only make less than 300 cases of each, so we’re not risking all that much in investment in any of them.”
      I was also concerned about the high 14.5 percent alcohol in the wines—a level I ordinarily find makes the wine too massive or “hot,” especially after one glass. Weerts countered, “I found that if I picked the grapes too early the acids were too high, like razors; if I picked later with riper fruit I got more alcohol to balance that out.”
     That seems to be the case, because I did not find these to be hot wines; nor did I find them close the Burgundian style, with one exception:  The Stonestreet Mountain Estate 2007 Broken Road Ranch ($55), made at 1,800 feet, was the most restrained, drier, with gravelly minerals not unlike you’d find in a fine Burgundy like Meursault or Batard-Montrachet.
     The spiciest of the flight was the Red Point 2007 ($55), a lovely marriage of citrus, minerals, and youthful bouquet, from a lower altitude vineyard. This is a very food friendly chardonnay, ideal with chicken and perfect with lobster.
      Upper Barn Chardonnay 2007 ($65) is another vineyard at 1,800 feet, from a Wente clone, has a small bouquet at first, then when it loosens, it gives up fresh fruit notes, and the flavor has just a faint sweetness that many chard lovers may appreciate. I’d drink this with goat’s cheeses or simply cooked fish.
      The most voluptuous of the four, where the alcohol did show through despite its being about the same 14.5 percent, was the Gravel Bench 2007 ($55).  Here tropical fruits predominated but the minerals were still giving it ballast. I would have liked a bit more acid.  This is a very big wine.
      What amazed me was not only that the high alcohol seemed tamed but that indeed these four wines from four vineyards on the same mountain were so different, just as in Burgundy where different vineyards produce different kinds of chardonnay, ranging from Chablis to Montrachet.  If Stonestreet can demonstrate those same distinctions in its vineyards, they may win back some of those winelovers who flippantly called themselves members of the “ABC Club”—anything but chardonnay.

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.



In a study
by the American Assn. of Wine Economists, researchers provided 18 volunteers five dog food samples along with Spam, liverwurst, mousse, and pâté, to try in a blind taste test. Only three were able to identify the dog food. "We have this idea in our head that dog food won't taste good and that we would be able to identify it, but it turns out that is not the case," said Robin Goldstein, a co-author of the study, told the L.A. Times. The five samples came from a wide price range and were processed to have a similar consistency. And 72 percent rated the dog food as the worst-tasting pâté.



"Vega Sicilia, Unico 1994 (96), about €200--It has the height and weight of a gothic cathedral with buttresses of cabernet and a creamy smooth aisle of polished pitch black fruits. Glistening through the stained glass, occasional kirlike touches, and is 100 per cent cocoa chocolate."--
Thomas Clancy, "Spain’s best kept secret," The Post IE.



In Old Town Alexandria, VA, Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier unveils a new 3-course Early Supper Menu, for $38 pp. incl.  a glass of eco-friendly white or red wine for an additional $7. Call 703-894-3440.

* In White Plains, NY, 42 is introducing its new “Chef’s Tasting Menus” that will also benefit Blythedale Children’s Hospital.  A donation of $10 will be made to the Valhalla hospital for each tasting menu served.  The 5-course “Chef’s Tasting Menu” is $65 pp, wine pairing an extra $30.  The 7-course menu is $85, with wine pairing for an additional $42. Call 914- 761-4242.

* From Sept. 5-20  in NYC, the Netherlands Board of Tourism is promoting Taste NiEuW Amsterdam Restaurant Week to coincide with the NY400 celebrations. Over 50 restaurants  will offer the $24 Taste NiEuW Amsterdam Menu,  to commemorate the Dutch purchase of Manhattan for 60 Dutch guilders (about $24).  A dedicated website offers visitors a  list of participating restaurants and enter to win a trip to Holland!  Visit

* From Sept. 13-20 at Virginia Beach Wine Week 2009, over a dozen participating restaurants will offer Virginia wine specials, including wines both by the glass, flights and bottle paired with menu items specially created for the event from local farms and local waters with sustainable seafood options. Visit or call   757-288-3861.

* On Sept. 15 "The Gold Medal Wine Tour" will take place at Chef Allen’s in Aventura, FL, with a  reception and 4-course dinner paired with gold-medal winning wines from the American Fine Wine Competition. This dinner will raise money for End Childhood Hunger.  Win door prizes , bid on wines, dinners, wine glasses, and more at the silent auction. $125 pp. . . . On Sept. 22 the Tour moves to  Ortanique in Coral Gables, FL, at $125. ; Call 561-504-VINE (8463).

* On Sept. 16 on Miami Beach, Blue Door at Delano is presenting a 5-course wine dinner featuring the Spanish wines of El Coto and the  cuisine of Delano’s executive chef Maria Manso, at $85 pp. Call 305-674-6400.

* On Sept. 16, Patina Restaurant Group sponsors the first of a series of cooking and baking class fundraisers at the St Joseph Center’s Culinary Training Kitchen in Venice, CA. Chef Kevin Meehan of Café Pinot and formerly of Bastide and L’Orangerie will be hosting a “Culinary Experience for a Cause.” In the class, attendees will learn how to prepare and present an elegant 3-course gourmet meal.   $150 pp and $250 per couple. Call 310-396-6468 x328.

* On Sept. 17 in NYC, The Four Seasons restaurant will celebrate the best food and wines of Tuscany with Carlo and Aurora Baccheschi Berti of Castella di Vicarello.  For one night only, the winemakers will transform the restaurant into their fairy tale castle in Maremma, where they make some of Italy's legendary Super Tuscans. $250 pp.  212.759.9008 or

* On Sept. 18 in ClevelandMoxie will be hosting its 2nd annual Rosh Hashanah dinner,  incl.  the traditional dishes from apples and honey to house-baked challah, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, brisket, oven-roasted chicken and sweet noodle kugel.  All served family style.  Call 216-831-5599.

* From Sept 18-30, The ChicagoOriginals, a group independent restaurateurs in Chicagoland and many cities throughout the United States to promote independently owned restaurants, will host their 5th Annual Mussel Festival.  For a list of participating restaurants, visit

* From Sept. 18-20 in Greenville, SC, guests can enjoy a weekend of food, wine and music complete with wine seminars, cooking demonstrations, culinary cook-offs, tasting showcases and live music at "Euphoria." Chefs from across the country incl. France's Guy Savoy will make guest appearances at wine dinners. Individual tickets and ticket packages are available starting at $45 at

* On Sept. 21 in NYC, actresses Jane Alexander, Dixie Carter, Blair Brown and Jill Eickenberry will don aprons to help serve food alongside some of NYC's top female chefs at the Sixth Annual  "A Second Helping of Life,"  at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers, 7 p.m. Proceeds from the reception and silent and live auctions will benefit SHARE, to women with breast or ovarian cancer, their families and friends. Individual tickets are $300, $500 and $750. Tables of 10 are priced from $5000.  Call 212-719-0364 x 239 or visit

* On Sept. 26 & 27 in Sardinia, The inaugural "Porto Cervo Food Festival," by Starwood Costa Smeralda Resorts will host a Italian specialty food exhibitors, with chefs creating original menus based on their culinary vision highlighting Sardinia’s produce and ingredients.  Hotel Cala di Volpe and the  Sheraton Cervo Hotel are offering a Package from 345 Euros per room,  incl. entrance to the Cervo Conference Center, breakfast buffet, dinner at one of the hotel restaurants prepared by the Guest Chefs of the Event, or a Dinner Package incl. a 4-four course dinner at one of the hotel restaurants prepared by the Guest Chefs of the Event at the special price of 70 Euros per person, selected wines incl. Visit

* From Sept. 28-Oct. 4 in Great Britain, Harvey Nichols Restaurants holds "3 Stars, 3 Cities" for British Food Fortnight, with chefs from three of the UK’s finest country house hotels  to collaborate with Harvey Nichols chefs. Kenny Atkinson, Head Chef at the Seaham Hall Hotel, Co. Durham, will spend a week with Chef Richard Walton-Allen of the Fourth Floor Café, Leeds; Chris Horridge, at Cliveden, Berkshire, will work with Louise McCrimmon at the Second Floor Restaurant; and Mark Teasdale,  at the Sharrow Bay Hotel, Lake District, with Jonas Karlsson at the Fifth Floor Restaurant, London.  £55 for 6 courses in Knightsbridge and Leeds or £45 for 6 courses in Bristol.  Visit

* On Sept. 29 in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor will host the Fourth Annual “Taste of The Broadmoor” dinner benefiting the resort’s culinary apprenticeship program and the Colorado Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program. The 5-course dinner will feature cuisine by The Broadmoor’s Chef Siegfried “Sigi” Eisenberger, Summit’s Chef Bertrand Bouquin, Penrose Room’s Chef Justin Miller, Charles Court’s Chef Greg Barnhill, and  Pastry Chef Rémy Fünfrock. $150 pp incl. reception and wine pairings. Call 719-577-5733.


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:  LONDON CALLING--JFK to London City Airport? ;  TAKE THE TRAIN? Does it ever make sense to take Amtrak? ; WASTE NOT AT MoMA on the new new installation by Song Dong at NYC's MoMA; SMART DEALS: FLORIDA'S GULF ISLANDS


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