Virtual Gourmet

October 18,  2009                                                                 NEWSLETTER

                                                 Bibendum of The Michelin Guide             



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In This Issue

CAPITAL DINING, Part One by John Mariani



NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: Champagne, Part 2 by Brian Freedman


by John Mariani

   DC Dining seems to have gotten something of a lift since Mr & Mrs Obama and their daughters have come to town, especially since their Presidential predecessor rarely ate outside the White House. The hurrahs went up in DC's restaurant community when, five days before taking office, Obama celebrated his wife Michelle’s 45th birthday at Equinox, a fine dining establishment two blocks from the White House. Since then he’s also visited Ben’s Chili Bowl (left) and Michelle ate with Joe and Jill Biden at the southern food restaurant Georgia Brown’s and at Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Dupont Circle with her daughters—Secret Service, as ever, in tow—where she happily tablehopped to say hello to patrons. And the Prez  has taken the First Lady to some fine dining spots in New York, too. Simply by going out to eat now and then, the Obamas are sending a message that a little indulgence is a very good stimulus for the body and soul.
       Here are some of the current fine restaurants sure to benefit from the boost.

2340 Wisconsin Ave NW

      Nobody’s likely to mistake Blue Ridge restaurant, set on a drab stretch of Washington’s Glover Park, as a high-minded mission statement.  It’s just a couple of ordinary rooms with a bar and country furniture and some antique quilts on the wall.  You can sit out back and just nurse a beer and eat nuts.  Owners Eli Hengst and Jared Rager  don 't want fussy, they want fine, and they want you to go out feeling good. Chef Barton Seaver’s cooking even tastes redemptive: You get a choice of country hams—aged 16 or 14 months in eco-friendly farms in Kentucky, Sweet Grass Dairy’s Thomasville tomme cheese from Georgia; a perfect chicken pot pie with hot rosemary-flecked biscuits and root vegetables; sweet potato fritters with honey-mustard; grilled okra with sour cream sauce; cracklins made with smoked ham. The hot shrimp dip with smoked paprika and grilled bread is addictive, and I've never had better trout, carefully grilled, with a root vegetable puree and citrus-pecan-brown butter. Seaver is adept at using sweet flavors tamed by acids like citrus, and even his lush blueberry pie is not off-the-charts sweet as so many Southern desserts can be.
      This is Southern cooking without pretense; rather, the ingredients speak for themselves, helped along by a chef who has won a slew of prizes in  the local restaurant scene, including  the annual Capitol Food Fight event (benefiting DC Central Kitchen) the past two years, and being named Rising Culinary Star Chef in 2008 at the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s annual RAMMY Awards.
    Having chosen Seaver (below) as Esquire's "Chef of the Year" for his commitment to changing the way Americans eat in the most savory and sensible way, I include here excerpts from an interview, published in Esquire,  I did with him on the subject.

JM: Are we over-fishing?
Seaver: First of all, fish is a misnomer. When it’s in water it’s a fish, but when it meets up with a human being it becomes seafood.  As a chef I don’t live under water like Cousteau. I’m working as a consultant for the National Geographic Society, advising them about seafood, not fish. I believe there should be corporate social responsibility towards seafood as a resource. If frying seafood gets you to eat it, so be it. It’s basically good for you and better than eating so much meat protein. Little by little, though, I want to move people to broil the seafood or roast it or grill it, make it taste great with butter and herbs.

JM: So you’re not advocating a restrictive diet.
Seaver:  Not at all. Obviously a dish can never be better than the ingredients it starts with. But if you want to change the world it’s not through a farmers’ market; you do it through Wal-Mart. You change people at the grocery store. We need to put the training wheels on people there and educate them.
     Green Giant and big food corporations actually deserve a lot of credit for feeding a lot of people, but a lot of what they’ve done has been in their own self-interest, at a cost in quality and taste. This is not about feeding masses of people. It’s about how we begin to feed ourselves. The way Americans eat is at the center of the plate. So, restaurants stress the protein.  People read menus left to right, with the protein first; I read menus right to left. Once you train yourself to change the plate to emphasize more delicious vegetables, that’s when you change some of the problems with our dwindling resources.

JMI assume, then, you are not a big fan of the TV cooks who stress the proteins, the fat, and the sugar.  Are you the anti-Paula Deen?

Seaver: Most of the people on TV, like Deen,  are selling entertainment, not sustenance.  I actually think that Rachael Ray is doing more than anyone since Julia Child because she’s getting women to go back to the grocery store and buy fresh ingredients. She’s ubiquitous and she’s convincing people it’s fun to cook.

JM: So how would you describe your own cooking at Blue Ridge?

Seaver: It’s my sensibility projected onto Southern Regionalism. When we called Col. Bill Newsome’s ham company [in Kentucky], he put us in touch with his artisan neighbors, so we bought all his neighbor’s grits--90 pounds--to last us till next summer. Grits are seasonal, you understand?  So when I cook it’s my choreography, my explorations.  But I stay out of the way of the ingredients; I don’t want to change them from their natural essence.
Esquire: Which is pretty much the opposite of molecular cuisine that deliberately manipulates ingredients?
Seaver: I find  molecular cuisine fascinating, but I don’t know many people who have walked away from those restaurants and want to go back tomorrow night. Food is a need; molecular cuisine is awesome but it, too, is  entertainment. The issue is that the idea becomes about the dish itself and lacks real context.

Blue Ridge's appetizers run $6-$15, main courses $12-$21. The restaurant is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun., and for dinner nightly.

Bourbon Steak
2800 Pennsylvania Ave NW

   This new steakhouse, the fourth under the Michael Mina restaurant umbrella group, has been a big hit since opening earlier this year in Georgetown’s Four Seasons Hotel.  By managing to mix the traditional masculine cast of dark wood and stitched leather, and a spacious lounge with the feminine touch of romantic lighting and cozy alcoves, Bourbon Steak has  attracted former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on the same night, along with Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, and Catherine Zeta-Jones on others.
     Chef de cuisine David Varley might have just stuck with traditional favorites, but instead he has crafted a menu that appeals equally to men and women, from a 28-ounce porterhouse steak and lobster pot pie to ahi tuna tartare with Asian pear and mint, and Hudson Valley foie gras with tangerine, beets, and pistachio streusel. One of my favorite appetizers is the sweetbreads, sautéed crispy, with cauliflower, curry leaf, mustard, and an almond beurre noisette--the kind of dish you'd expect to find at Michel Richard's Citronelle nearby. Hamachi sushi is very good too.
     If you're not going for the steaks--and you can choose among the porterhouse, a ribeye, a skirt steak (some from wagyu beef)--there is a good deal of seafood, though the couple of items I tried weren't particularly impressive. What was superb was the pan-roasted chicken gilded with truffled mac & cheese and a caramelized onion jus. For dessert, don't miss the coconut candy bar or the Comice pear tart (in season).
       Bourbon Steak's winelist is as solid as you'd in a swank place like this, and prices are not cheap for food or wine, with appetizers running $12-$25 (shellfish platters per person), and entrees $28-$145 (for six ounces of Japanese wagyu). It's a splurge, but the place itself has its shadowy charms. There is a pre-theater dinner at $59. Every Thursday there is a blues band.
      Open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and for dinner nightly.

11960 Democracy Drive
Reston Town Center
Reston, VA
703-230-FISH [3474]

    Passion Food Hospitality, owned by Chef Jeff Tunks, Gus Dimillo, and David Wizenberg, run some of the DC area's best and most excitingly themed restaurant, including Ten Penh (Asian), Acadiana (Louisiana), and DC Coast. Their newest, and one of the biggest, is something of a trek from downtown, about 40 minutes away in Reston, Virginia, set within an office building--not the most propitious location for a restaurant of PassionFish's ambitions.
      The place has immense dazzle, from a grand
chilled seafood station in the center of the main dining room with a “floating” glass staircase,  floor-to-ceiling windows, big roomy booths,  and banquet rooms of varying sizes. It is thoroughly modern and the name of the restaurant fits it well, since Jeff Tunks's passion for the best seafood has never been better on display, here in the hands of Chef Christopher Clime, a Virginian with long ties to Passion Food Hospitality.
      The menu is as vast as the restaurant, which gives a lot of room for error when offering scores and scores of raw and cooked dishes. And, aside from the pristine sushi and sashimi overseen by Chef No Won Park (don't miss the kamikaze roll), this is not simple cooking, and you can see how it derives from the long-term refinement of the restaurant group's' previous efforts, so there is a lot of Asian, some Caribbean, a little Mexican, and some Pacific Rim thrown in.
     Grilled baby octopus gains from sharing the plate with a Greek salad, warn halloumi cheese, and creamy tzatsiki. Steamed mussels Veracruz get a tomato sofrito treatment with capers, olives, and jalapeño, cooked in beer. A red Thai curry lobster claypot is a signature dish here, with sweet golden pineapple, kaffir lime, and aromatic jasmine rice.   Ivory salmon--a wonderful species--is glazed with an ancho honey and sided with a shrimp-goat's cheese chile relleno and sweet corn masa. If you want to go simply, they serve 8 seafood items cooked on the griddle.
      Desserts are actually in the same generous league, like a first-rate Key lime meringue tart with white chocolate chip ice cream, mango, and pineapple, and a strawberry-rhubarb crisp with toffee lace tuile and ice cream.
      If you're visiting DC and have the time and wheels, PassionFish is well worth the gas; if you live nearby, you are very lucky indeed to have a place of this caliber.

PassionFish is open for lunch Mon.-Fri., and dinner Mon.-Sat. At dinner appetizers run $8-$12 (sushi individually priced), and entrees $22-$32. They offer a 2-course lunch for $15.

Next Week, Part Two



1221 Avenue of the Americas


     Oceana, which for more than a decade on the east side thrived at the high end of seafood restaurants, has relocated to much larger premises on the west side in the McGraw Hill Building, with 165 seats and private dining for 100 more and next spring 60 more outside. The Livanos family, which also owns Molyvos and Abbocato, along with managing partner Paul McLaughlin, have brought Chef Ben Pollinger over too, presiding over a large new kitchen and turning out some very exciting seafood of a kind Oceana has always excelled at. There's a 14-stool raw bar as you enter, teeming with oysters and clams, crudos, ceviches and tartares, caviar plates, and chilled shrimp, lobster, mussels, marinated razor clams, and spicy smoked tuna rolls. And a glowing, beautiful lobster tank, too (below).

      Wine director Roy Mahan oversees a well-chosen list of 500 selections, mostly white and seafood-friendly reds, and there is a canny private wine  room in the middle of the restaurant, fashioned after a fish tank, seating 20. And then there's the Chef’s Table within the kitchen that seats six.
     So this is a big deal venture, on the order of PassionFish, above, yet tables and booths are widely separated for maximum comfort. some with, some without tablecloths, and the glassware and silver are first rate. The lighting is perfect, neither too bright nor dark, with shimmering surfaces, fine marine artwork, and plenty of space to configure a dinner with as many friends as you like in the main dining room. The bustle here is vibrant without being noisy, and the service shows that McLaughlin and the Livanoses expect their guests to be treated as such.
      The cuisine at Oceana is described as "Mediterranean-focused dishes from the South of France and Coastal Italy, reside alongside Indian and Asian-inspired creations," which allows for plenty of leeway, from simply grilled whole fish to exotic preparations of a kind Pollinger has pioneered. Thus, you might begin with a
snapper ceviche with roasted corn and cilantro or a delicious fluke tartare with cashews and mango.  The seafood sausage with stuffed calamari, wilted greens, and herb vinaigrette is simple and very fine, and the halibut wrapped like saltimbocca with prosciutto, confit of tomato, and ricotta should become a signature item soon, as well might the wolf fish (rarely seen in these parts) with seared tomato, potato gnocchi, and a sweet-sour balsamic glaze. There's a fried pink snapper--a lovely fish--fried and curried, which gives it that Eastern tinge, served with crispy lotus and cilantro, and you can request pretty much anything with sauces like olive-scented bagna cauda, tomatillo, or romesco.
      Pastry Chef Jansen Chan bakes all breads, which are very, very good here, and his desserts are refreshing or decadent, as is your wont of an evening--including daily doughnut platters and cookie plates (both soft and crisp), ice creams and sorbets served with vanilla shortbread, a chocolate Chip–Pecan Cookie Bar with buttermilk ice cream, and a  delightful sweet potato almond soufflé with maple soy ice cream (skip the soy).
      Oceana is one of those restaurants that moves and retains what made it great in the first place while seeming tantalizingly new.  The owners and kitchen should be proud to have achieved such magic.

Oceana is open Mon.-Fri. for lunch, and nightly for dinner. Appetizers may include items from the raw bar from $2-$16, composed plates $12-$19, and main courses $28-$48.



by John Mariani

      Guides, Guides, Guides! They keep on coming, and this month sees the appearance of two more: The Michelin Guide to New York 2010 (5th Edition, $17.99) and the Miele Guide to Asia (2nd edition, $15).
     Michelin, backed by the tire manufacturer, now with 27 guides for 23 countries,  hires full-time inspectors to visit anonymously the  restaurants in the new guide. New this year are symbols for small plates, notable sake lists,  cocktail lists, and valet parking.
     The New York Guide (the San Francisco edition comes out this week) includes one new 3-star restaurant, Daniel, joining veterans Jean-Georges, Le Bernardin, Masa, and Per Se; new 2-star restaurants are Alto and Corton, and new 1-star restaurants are A Voce, Bouley, Casa Mono, Convivio, Eleven Madison Park, Kajitsu, Marc Forgione, Marea, Minetta Tavern, Rhong-Tiam, River Cafe, Seasonal, Shalizar, SHO Shaun Hergatt, Soto, and Sushi Azabu.  The "Bib Gourmand" category, also known as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value,” featuring restaurants serving a meal (two dishes and a glass of wine or dessert) for $40 or less, adds 31 new restaurants to this edition, for a total of 85.  There are also  109 restaurants offering a meal under $25 "to reflect the current economic climate and resulting dining habits."

     The Miele Guide, curiously enough also with a red cover, is sponsored by an appliance group and is now in its second annual edition, and was, according to its intro, "created in 2008 in order to better recognize and celebrate Asia’s best chefs and restaurants. . . . In some ways, the economic situation is making the restaurant scene in Asia more interesting to watch, and more dynamic, than ever.”  Although from the prices at Miele's top pick, you'd never know there was a global recession going on.
     Unlike Michelin, Miele does not hire inspectors; its ratings are based on what it calls "Four rounds of rigorous and transparent judging: Firstly [sic], an invited panel of Asia’s most influential restaurant critics help to create a shortlist of Asia’s best restaurants; In the second phase, online public voting opens at All members of the public with a valid email address are eligible to vote. . . .For the third stage, a select jury of respected foodies and food and wine professionals based across Asia are invited to cast their votes; In the final round, The Miele Guide’s in-house team, joined by contributing editors stationed across Asia, dine anonymously at the top ranked restaurants to verify our annual ranking of Asia’s top 20 restaurants." The Miele Guide contends it does not accept any sponsorship, advertising, gifts, or free meals from any restaurant in Asia.

MIELE'S Top 20 restaurants 2009/2010 in Asia
1.    L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Hong Kong, China
2.    Iggy’s, Singapore
3.    Robuchon à Galera, Macau, China
4.    Jaan par Andre, Singapore
5.    Les Amis, Singapore
6.    Mozaic, Bali, Indonesia
7.    Gunther’s Modern French Cuisine, Singapore
8.    Laris, Shanghai, China
9.    Ku De Ta, Bali, Indonesia
10.  Yung Kee, Hong Kong, China
11.   Bukhara, New Delhi, India
12.   Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, Beijing, China
13.   Zanotti II Ristorante Italiano, Bangkok, Thailand
14.   M on the Bund, Shanghai, China
15.   Nobu, Hong Kong, China
16.   Caprice, Hong Kong, China
17.   Antonio’s, Cavite, Philippines
18.   Aubergine, Manila, Philippines
19.   Fook Lam Moon, Hong Kong, China
20.   L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Tokyo, Japan

   A comparison of both the Miele Asian guide and Michelin's to Tokyo shows amazing disparities. Except for a single exception, not one of Miele's top 10 restaurants  is Asian, which sounds odd indeed, and the only place in Japan to make the Top 20 is L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Tokyo. Miele’s best Japanese eatery is Hong Kong's Nobu, which is an American offshoot. This conflicts almost entirely  with  the Michelin Guide to Tokyo 2009 selection, which includes 9 restaurants with three stars, 36 with two stars, and 128 with one star. Michelin awards its top 3-star ratings to Hamadaya, Ishikawa, Joël Robuchon, Kanda, Koju, L'Osier, Quintessence, Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sushi Mizutani--none, except  Robuchon, makes Miele's list.
     Oh, and that Zagat booklet came out, too.



Champagne in All Its Fizzy Varieties, Part Two
by Brian Freedman

    Over the course of my recent visit to Champagne, it became apparent that, overall, a highly critical eye is being trained on the vineyards themselves, and on the methods used to raise the grapes to maturity. Hardly a visit went by without mention of some environmentally friendly farming method or another, from organics and biodynamics to sustainability and beyond.
    The resulting uptick in fruit quality, as well as changing tastes among consumers, has meant that more and more Champagnes are being produced with ever-lower dosages. The law, for example, allows up to 15 grams of sugar per liter in brut bottlings, but most of the producers I visited took great pride in the fact that their wines had significantly less. The benefit of this is that the wines were not only more balanced, but also more transparent. (Lower-dosage bottlings tend to express the natural character of the fruit itself more completely, as well as the telltale minerality that is the hallmark of so many of the best wines of the region.)
    As far as the grandes maisons went, Pommery (below) was exceptional for both its extensive cellars (right now installed with a fabulous contemporary art exhibit, including a pallet of Nutella in the middle of one and the chassis of a Formula One car hanging in the center of another), and its Cuvée Louise. Several vintages of this highly regarded tête de cuvée, in fact, were served alongside an excellent dinner with Cellar Master Thierry Gasco. I particularly enjoyed the intensely concentrated 1990 from magnum; its creamy nuttiness on the nose, palate of vanilla custard, café crème, and cinnamon on the palate, as well as its laser-point bubbles, were stunning.
    Smaller in terms of production though certainly not in reputation, Billecart-Salmon, which produces perhaps the most famous rosé of the region, blew me away with its Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. Based on the 2006 vintage and buttressed by the addition of juice from 2005 and 2004, this was a pure, low-dosage (4g) expression of some of the best terroir around. The fruit was sourced mainly from Mesnil-Sur-Oger, Avize, and Chouilly, and the wine itself possessed remarkable precision, as well as flavors of toast spread with lemon cream and—if the Popsicles were made with actual fruit—a perfectly ripe, wonderfully dry lemon Creamsicle. It had depth, energy, and length to spare.
    Over the course of four days, I had the chance to see and taste the astounding diversity of the Champagne region. And I have to admit that, as much as I drink Champagne and have studied it on my own, I didn’t expect the range of terroirs, styles, and, indeed, guiding philosophies to be as great as they were. But seeing and tasting firsthand is one of the main benefits of actually visiting a wine region and speaking with the people who are responsible for its bottlings.
    Leclerc Briant, for example (now in its fifth generation of family ownership) has been biodynamic for 10 years and is confident enough in the quality of its fruit to bottle several single-vineyard wines. Larmandier-Bernier (left) embodies everything that is to be admired about grower-producers: Their wines are as pure and as honest as any. I loved the Vieille Vigne de Cramant Grand Cru 2004, whose deep chalk character reminded me of the first day of school as a child, though an undercurrent of white-blossomed flowers, just beneath the surface, kept it exceptionally elegant.
    Other producers make wines under a different philosophy. Jacquesson, for example, labels what most producers would call a non-vintage bottling with a “Cuvée Number,” the better to distinguish one year’s offering (based on a particular vintage’s fruit) from another. The Cuvée No. 732, built on the frame of the 2004 vintage, shows candied pineapple and ginger, toasted wheat bread, warm honey, and a skin contact-like drying character that seems to really ratchet up the already formidable concentration.
  Bruno Paillard, who includes the month and year of disgorgement on his bottles, won me over with his Brut Premiere Cuvée (June 2008 disgorgement), a subtle, creamy, mouthwatering Champagne with just the slightest hint of pineapple on the finish.
    Further south, in the Côte des Bars, Maison Serge Mathieu is training a laser-like focus on how best to respect its 30 acres of vineyard, minimize or eliminate chemicals, and create as complete an ecosystem on its land as it can. I would love to taste the 2002—rich in berry and fig notes—a couple of years form now: It promises to evolve into something special.
    The good news on this side of the Atlantic is that there’s an ever greater selection of Champagnes making their way over here. The only potential downside for consumers is that, with this influx of often-unfamiliar bottlings and styles, there is a lot to learn, no matter how much Champagne they’ve drunk in the past. But it will be work of the most rewarding and enjoyable sort. And if consumers taste widely enough, and pay enough attention to the wine in their glass, it will lead to a much deeper understanding of a region that’s far more complex and varied than it tends to get credit for.
     Wines this beloved deserve at least that.


Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer, wine educator, and food and wine consultant. He is Director of Wine Education for the Wine School of Philadelphia, contributing editor for Philadelphia Style Magazine, wine columnist for Affluent Magazine, and writes the blog for His web site is




Police in Cleveland arrested a 28-year-old barber who tried to rob the store where he just bought beef jerk he said had made him and his dog sick. 
The owner told the man he recognized him from his barber shop two doors away, then chased him with a baseball bat. The first policeman to arrive said he knew the man because he was the officer's barber.


“Powerful, muscular, well-textured, and invigorating. Even within the realm of Ardberg, this one stands out.  The more aggressive notes of coal, tar, damp kiln, anise, and smoked seaweed are supported by an array of fruit (black raspberry, black cherry, plum), dark chocolate, espresso, molasses, bacon fat, kalamata olive, and warming cinnamon on the finish. Quite-stunning!”—John Hansell, “Ardberg Correction,"  Malt Advocate “ (Fall 2009).


Guidelines for submissions:  QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes.  When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below.  Thanks.  John Mariani

* On Oct. 19  in Redondo Beach, CA, Hudson House welcomes Maui Brewing Co. for a 4-course dinner $45 pp. plus tax and gratuity.  Call 310-798-9183.

* On Oct. 20 in NYC, The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center will host wine authority W.R. Tish for a 4-course Côtes du Rhône wine dinner. $95 pp. Call 212-332-7610 or visit

* Until Dec. 23 in London, at Mimosa Bar & Restaurant you can enjoy 3 meals and receive a complimentary day at The Peak Health Club & Spa, located in the heart of Belgravia. Call 020 7858 7223, or visit

* From now until Oct.  31 in NYC, Fabio Piccolo Fiore will offer its wine lovers menu, starting with the wine, and then building a menu to complement it.  The menu features 4 different wines,  a simple menu of appetizers, entrees and a dessert, with flavors and ingredients that pair nicely with each wine. $45 pp. Call 212-922-0581.

* On Oct. 23  Le Château in South Salem, NY, will hold a 5-course wine tasting dinner by Executive chef Andre Molle with Maison Louis Latour, the producer of some of the finest Burgundian wines.   $95 pp. Call 914-533-6631,

* On Oct. 23 &  24 in Menlo Park, CA, Chef Guillaume Bienaimé and Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti will offer a special 5-course  menu at Marché Restaurant highlighting the  cocoa bean.  $65 pp. Call 650-324-9092 or visit

* On Oct. 25 at Cavallo Point Lodge in Marin, CA, Marin Organic will host its annual fund-raising event, “Tuscany Meets Marin,” a celebration of the region’s agricultural bounty and book-signing reception for Douglas Gayeton’s Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town. Special guest Dario Cecchini,  master butcher from Italy, joins  Executive Chef Joseph Humphrey to create the evening’s dinner. Also, an art exhibition and auction. $250 pp. Call 415-663-9667 or email

* On Oct. 26,  at Birchwood Kitchen in  Chicago, a farm to table themed dinner will benefit the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project. The BYOB apple-centric dinner, prepared by Chef Jason Ball. $50 pp and can be purchased online at or by calling 619-517-4189.

* On  Oct. 30, Vermont estate winemakers will speak about the future of Vermont wine at a  dinner  at Hemingway’s Restaurant in Killington, VT.  Three Vermont winemakers will speak about integrity in wine labeling. Details  at; Call 802-422-3886.

* On Oct. 31 in NYCLe Souk Harem will host an Arabian Halloween party featuring a full Arabian circus and cocktails served in pumpkins all night. There will be no cover charge.

* On Oct. 31, in New Haven, CT,  Votto Vines Importing presents an "Italian Heritage Month Food & Wine Festival" at the Omni Hotel at Yale University featuring Italian food, wine and culture. $30 pp. Visit

* Oct 30 . and Oct 31  in Fullerton, CA, The Cellar will host an interactive zombie production. Executive Chef David Kesler will prepare a 4-course dinner and owner Ryan Dudley will serve as host of this 3rd annual fright night. The award-winning Maverick Theater troupe will play starring roles in the nights’ festivities. The show entitled, “Trick or Eat” begins with guests descending down to the underground restaurant via a freight (make that fright) elevator.   $49.95 pp. Call 714- 525-5682 or visit

* On Oct. 31 in Clayton, GA, an "Edgar Allan Poe Dinner "will be held at Persimmon Creek Vineyards featuring Headless Horseman wagon rides and celebrating the mystery and macabre of Edgar Allan Poe, as 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of his death.  The menu includes Georgia Organic Grass Fed Beef plus bounty from Persimmon Creek Vineyards' polyculture---featuring our own organically grown sheep's milk and sweet potatoes.  $95 pp. Call 706-21-7380;

* From Nov. 1-Dec. 3, The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, CA, hosts the 28th annual Vintners’ Holidays.  Over the course of 8 sessions, 32 prominent California winemakers join to celebrate with tastings, seminars, a “Meet the Vintners” reception and a 5-course dinner from Chef Percy Whatley. Two- and three-night packages available at The Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.  Call 801-559-4949 or visit

* Throughout November, Lark Creek Restaurant Group  holds its annual “Gingerbread Wishes” event to benefit the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation®. Each restaurant will offer a star-shaped gingerbread cookie for $10 with a decorating kit, with the $10 donated. Participating restaurants incl. The Tavern at Lark Creek in Larkspur (415-924-7766); One Market Restaurant (415-777-5577) and LarkCreekSteak (415-593-4100) in San Francisco; Lark Creek Walnut Creek (925-256-1234); and Yankee Pier in Larkspur (415-924-7676), Lafayette (925-283-4100) and at Santana Row in San Jose (408-244-1244). Visit

* From Nov.  1-14, Cleveland Independents, a group of nearly 90 independently owned and operated restaurants in Northeast Ohio, will be celebrating Cleveland Restaurant Week, offering $30  dinner menus. Visit and click on Restaurant Week.

* On November 2, Blackfish BYOB in Conshohocken, PA, will host guest chefs, Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa from "Ideas In Food" ; 7 courses for $85  . . .On Dec. 7, Blackfish BYOB will host Top Chef’s Jennifer Carroll of Eric Ripert’s 10 Arts Restaurant. 7 courses for $85 pp. Call 610-397-0888.

* On Nov. 4 in Laguna Beach, CA, Sapphire Laguna throws a Local Farms Harvest Dinner Party with guests Evan Marks, founder and exec. director of The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, and Tim Hussman, pres. of Newport Meat Company. Local products and purveyors will be featured on Chef Azmin Ghahreman’s 3-course dinner menu. $65 pp. Call 949-715-9888.

* On Nov. 4 in NYC, Restaurant Daniel will hold a "Fête de Burgundy" dinner of new releases and special older vintages from the next generation of great Burgundian winemakers, incl. Pierre-Yves Colin, David Duband, and Domaine de LArlot. $295 pp. Call 212-933-5261.

* On Nov. 4 in Seattle, Spanish Chef Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez, of Harvest Vine and Txori, teams up with Olivar's chef Philippe Thomelin, who was born in France and trained in Spain, to create a 6-course dinner.  $60. Call 206-322-0409

* From Nov. 4-Dec. 15 in NYC Mr Chow celebrates their 30th anniversary by offering a complimentary bottle of Laurent Perrier Rosé champagne to each table. Call 212-751-9030;


NEW FEATURE: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linking up with 5 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." THIS WEEK: BERMUDA CRUISIN'; OFFBEAT PENNSYLVANIA; SMART DEALS IN JACKSON HOLE; 5 QUESTIONS YOU MUST ASK BEFORE YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE.


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

nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Niclk Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist,;;


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