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  September 16, 2012                                                                                                NEWSLETTER

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Betsy Drake and Cary Grant in "Every Girl Should Get Married" (1948)





by John Mariani

Rouge Tomate
by John Mariani


by John Mariani

 In last week's New York Times,
two articles seem to pose the same question: When you go out to eat, what do you expect from a restaurant?
    For columnist Mark Bittman (below), not much. After lamenting his agonies dining at "four-star white-tablecloth" restaurants, which he calls "circuses without clowns or trapezes," with "white-tooth phony" greetings, the "visit of the wine guy," the "discussion of the menu," the "waiting for the amuse-bouches," he ends his litany of pain with, "If the food isn't mind-blowing, what's the point?" To which the answer is, Duh?
He then writes a paean to "my place," a "Japanese hole in the wall" he won't name that's "pleasant," populated "almost exclusively by expat and visiting Japanese." He calls it "ugly," with Formica tables, paper napkins, and a cash register "wrapped in plastic to keep the grease off the keys." The food is "quite good," the gyoza "better than average." The servers "say hello and send me to the back... The chef and cooks nod. They cook their fine food. The servers bring it. I eat it. A server comes and refills the water glass; she might ask if I want more sake... Eventually I pay the bill, without regret ($29 for two the other day, and that was four dishes), and I go home happy, satisfied and full. What more do you want, really?" Again, Duh?
Turn the page, and there's a story by Susanne Craig about "What Restaurants Know (About You)," which details how white-tablecloth restaurants keep lists on regular customers. It cites Gramercy Tavern, which sends one regular only the ends of the bread, as he prefers, and cooks French fries for him even though they're not on the menu.
    Craig cites OpenTable as providing a service to restaurants whose owners want to bend over backwards to please a customer, and she alerts you to what it means if your name on the guest list has a "PX" (person extraordinaire), "FOM" (friend of the management), or LOL (for "little old lady" who may need special help). And here's the thing: In such restaurants, not having such an abbreviation next to your name in no way means you'll be treated any less cordially. That is what they do.
    I've written about such lists here and applaud them for their professionalism and courtesy, based on two centuries of adapting service to an American hospitality — without any "white-tooth phony grin." I love it when the captain remembers my cocktail preference and the "wine guy" makes a recommendation based on my choices on prior visits. When people asked James Beard what his favorite restaurant was, he would always reply, "Why, the one where I'm treated best!"
    Despite Bittman's love of eating in the back rooms of ugly holes-in-the-wall with paper napkins, going out to a restaurant is so much more than just eating some "quite good food." Assuming, of course, the food at the high-end restaurants is worth $100 or more per person, the reason for patronizing them surely begins with a sense of delight, an appreciation of what might be millions of dollars spent to provide a beautiful design, comfortable chairs, good lighting, and a state-of-the-art kitchen capable of turning out amuses and three-course meals for 150 people, and don't have to wrap their cash registers in plastic. The atmosphere of a classic steakhouse, the ebullience of a stylish Italian restaurant, the comfort of a place where you could bring your parents and kids, and the assurance of a restaurant where, being a regular, you can take a client with absolute confidence he will applaud your good taste — these are but a few reasons that 99 percent of the people who can afford to eat out, eat out.
    True, there seems to be a large flock of foodies for whom the 90-minute wait for a table, the rigid stools, the blasting music, and the same $100 tab is preferable to a restaurant where one is taken good care of and will dine extremely well. It's a form of contrary snobbism where less is more and more is suspect.
    Do I have my secret little holes-in-the-wall I like to go to? Of course — I'll tell you their names if you like — pizzerias, sushi bars, fried-seafood joints, noodle shops. I love 'em all, but I don't confuse them with the rapture and good feelings I find at fine-dining restaurants, where they really do care that their guests will have a unique evening out or one that is just as wonderful as the last time.




10 East 60th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

When Rouge Tomate opened three years ago, much was made about the restaurant's commitment to SPE®, the acronym for Sanitas Per Escam (Latin for Health Through Food), which also stands for Sourcing, Preparing, and Enhancing, an organization founded by Emmanuel Verstraeten, a Belgium entrepreneur concerned about poor eating habits and limited healthy dining options,  in his city and abroad.
    Noble as that all is, a restaurant succeeds or fails not by philosophy but by good taste and pleasure, and NYC-born Chef Jeremy Bearman, here from the start, along with
nutritionist Kristy Lambrou, has put far more emphasis on those virtues than was evident at the beginning. His résumé is certainly solid:  db bistro moderne in NYC,  L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas,  the Ritz Carlton’s Medici Café and Terrace in Lake Las Vegas, and Lark Creek Steak in San Francisco.
    The restaurant is set on two levels, with smart, high polish, a warm greeting, wonderful light and color, and well-set, spacious tables.  The wine list is 200-plus labels strong.
    One a recent Indian summer's eve, we sat down to a lavish spread, allowing Bearman to work his magic, and he began with what he calls "toasts" (below), a duo of oyster with plum mignonette, crispy ginger and shiso; and  a corn and mild sea urchin panna cotta with a lush lobster emulsion. A bright, flavorful gazpacho followed with a touch of sweet watermelon and sherry vinegar for acidic spark--which is very important in this cuisine because there is not much fat in the food.
    A series of silky crudi came next--Hawaiian walu with avocado, sugar snap peas, radish and yuzu; corn and avocado with Maryland crab, jalapeño, and cilantro;  fluke ceviche with ripe melon,  cucumber, brisk Kaffir lime and summer's mint; Arctic char with horseradish yogurt, trout roe, dill and pumpernickel, and more--all light, almost weightless, complex but complementary in tastes and textures.
    A fine Spanish octopus salad with colorful eggplant caponata, basil, tomato  and smoked paprika vinaigrette came with a Maine lobster salad with avocado, beans, peach, and candied pecan with endive, all a little too sweet for the lobster, saved only by the bitterness of the endive. Cow’s milk ricotta gnudi melted on the tongue, with tomato, okra, sweet pepper, summer squash, and basil
    There were three of us that night, and this was like a lot of food--before the entrees--but we were far from full, happily so, since what followed was cracked pepper garganelli with veal sweetbread, chanterelle, corn, okra, tomato and Shishito pepper, and a luscious duckling (right) with plum, ginger, horseradish potato, Japanese eggplant and honey-soy glaze that made this a contemporary, considerably lighter, less greasy version of Peking duck. Chicken was cooked juicy en Sous-Vide, with polenta, Swiss chard, and peppers.
    For dessert we had an array--yellow peach, raspberry, pistachio and candied lemon sorbets, a blueberry custard, chilled melon soup, and more, by which time we were feeling very satisfied.
    These are all exciting concepts and Bearman delivers the flavor. It s a menu all of a piece, and, though a vegetarian might feel blissful here, I am happy that it contains duck and squab and other fatted meats. What I'm not crazy about is the meadow of micro-greens strewn everywhere, which have little or no taste and just get stuck in one's teeth. (I wonder what his micro-greens bill is each month?)
    You may well find dishes like these around NYC, but nowhere is there such a panoply on a menu that is very devoted to doing what Bearman and his partners believe in.

Rouge Tomate is open for lunch daily and for dinner Mon.-Sat. Appetizers at dinner run $12-$18, main courses $21-$31. There is a 7-course tasting menu at $89.



While in the Adriatic,  Tom Cruise  demanded a Montenegro hotel clear its dining room so he could eat alone. When refused, he got another restaurant to deliver to his yacht.



Recipes in the new cookbook
The Need to Feed, A Hedonist's Guide
by Lydia Lunch.

-Kill Billy with Beef Chipotle Marinade
-You'll Thank Me for Kicking Your Ass Curry
-Eat My Peach Before It Crumbles
-Sacrificial Lamb
-I Said Jerk That Chicken!


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

My latest book, which just won the prize for best book from International Gourmand, written with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller,  Menu Design in America,  1850-1985 (Taschen Books), has just appeared, with nearly 1,000 beautiful, historic, hilarious, sometimes shocking menus dating back to before the Civil War and going through the Gilded Age, the Jazz Age, the Depression, the nightclub era of the 1930s and 1940s, the Space Age era, and the age when menus were a form of advertising in innovative explosions of color and modern design.  The book is a chronicle of changing tastes and mores and says as much about America as about its food and drink.


“Luxuriating vicariously in the pleasures of this book. . . you can’t help but become hungry. . .for the food of course, but also for something more: the bygone days of our country’s splendidly rich and complex past.  Epicureans of both good food and artful design will do well to make it their coffee table’s main course.”—Chip Kidd, Wall Street Journal.


“[The menus] reflect the amazing craftsmanship that many restaurants applied to their bills of fare, and suggest that today’s restaurateurs could learn a lot from their predecessors.”—Rebecca Marx, The Village Voice.

My new book--Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has just won top prize 2011 from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe, Gotham Bar & Grill, The Modern, and Maialino.



FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to  report that the Virtual Gourmet is  linked to 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."  THIS WEEK: Winslow Homer's Maine Home.

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).

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

MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, 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.

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© copyright John Mariani 2012