Virtual Gourmet

  JUNE 12,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER


Toulouse Lautrec (José Ferrer), Jane Avril (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and Maurice Joyant (Lee Montague) in "Moulin Rouge" (1952)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


 On June 24 at Ribalta Restaurant in NYC (from 2 PM-5 PM), I will be one of the judges of PRIMO DI MANHATTAN, sponsored by Il Pastificio Di Martino di Gragnano and the Associazione Italiana Chef di New York (AICNY). Ten chefs will compete to create the best pasta and the winner will be awarded $5000 and a trip to Gragnano, Italy, and be invited to Le Strade della Mozzarella 2017 event in Italy.



By John Mariani

                                                                                 "Gleaners" (1857) by Jean-Francois Millet
hen was the last time you dined out in Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, Buenos Aires, Mumbai or Hong Kong where the chef or waiter came over to assure you that the food was fresh?  Or that the ingredients came from two miles away?  Or that they refuse to serve anything unless it was grown in the province?  For them it’s a matter of self-respect not to need to utter such banalities, and they would be insulted if a guest asked them such questions.

    In good restaurants outside the U.S. the chefs most certainly pride themselves on the sources of their finest ingredients, so that a French chef may list “poulet de Bresse” (left) on his menu or a London chef say the cheeses are from British and Irish farms. Otherwise a guest can safely assume that the basil in a pesto in Liguria came from a nearby garden or that the squid at a restaurant in Santorini swam in local waters that morning.  Fine and dandy for those particular, easily available seasonal ingredients.
    Why, then, do American chefs and media insist on putting words like “fresh” next to their vegetables and seafood and use the awkwardly embarrassing phrase “farm to table”?  If it once had a meaning at all, it might date back to the 1970s, when Alice Waters began sourcing her provender from local farms in Northern California, like the now-famous Chino Ranch (below).  Listing one’s sources lends a certain credibility and seriousness to a restaurant as well as a nod of cordiality towards the growers and producers.  But, if all tomatoes grow from soil on farms, as do bananas, kumquats, and zucchini,  and, if lamb and steers and chickens all come from farms, what else would you expect?
    Nevertheless, the phrase is trotted out every time a food writer  or p.r. agent needs an easy cliché to describe a chef who proclaims he buys most of  his ingredients within a certain radius outside his restaurant—it could be ten miles, fifty miles, or a hundred miles.  In the case of the highly publicized and very talented Sean Brock (left), chef of two Husk restaurants, in Charleston and Nashville, the idea gets a bit precious:  Brock insists, “
If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.” He even banned olive oil from his kitchens and makes his own salt on the roof of his restaurants. It should be noted, however, that Brock goes way off his self-imposed reservation by selling European and California wines, when he could hunker down and ferret out good quality wines from Virginia, Georgia, and even Texas.
    This begs two questions: Which states actually qualify as “Southern,” especially since the oft-cited Mason-Dixon Line merely resolved a pre-Revolutionary War dispute  involving three Mid-Atlantic colonies—Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware—but never divided the country into North and South.  Does Brock mean any state that joined the Confederacy?  Is Texas a Southern state? (As they say in Louisiana, "The South starts north of here.")  It’s all just a geographical fantasy.  Second, what makes any ingredient from a designated region the best available, which is what good chefs are supposedly really after, not just tomatoes grown in Minnesota or melons grown in Alaska?
    The term "locavorism" was coined in 2005 during the World Environmental Day in San Francisco by Jessica Prentice, Jen Maiser, Sage Van Wing and DeDe Sampson, who insisted that buying and consuming food not obtained locally is a process that imperils "our environment, our health, our communities, and out taste buds." Their goal was "to eat from a 100 mile radius of San Francisco of our homes.  Failing that, we will attempt to eat foods that come from within our state, or are purchased directly from small scale farmers elsewhere in the world," which makes the original intent meaningless.
       But given the miracle of FedEx and DHL, why shouldn’t a chef in Georgia sell Maine lobsters or one in Boston sell Florida stone crabs just because they aren’t local?  Is a chef committed to “farm to table” going to serve second-rate artichokes or third-rate farm-raised seafood solely because it comes from a specific local region?     
     Yet, despite the hype about what has become a hackneyed phrase, Travel & Leisure magazine recently published an article on America’s best farm-to-table restaurants, researched by asking local food critics which they’d choose.   

 Writes the article’s editor in an attempt to resuscitate the phrase: “The farm-to-table movement may be decades old, but recent heightened attention towards issues like climate change and health has given rise to a new generation of chefs who are redefining what that oft-abused phrase means. In an era where fast food chains are hawking the farm-to-table trend, consumers are left feeling that every restaurant is green to some degree. These 50 establishments—plus Washington D.C.—stand out from the pack by not only creating exciting innovative cuisine with a locally sourced menu, but also by applying that same eco-minded culinary philosophy to every aspect of the operation. He goes on: “Considering that the average food item in America has traveled 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate, according to Worldwatch Institute, eating local—for your health, the environment, and your taste buds—is only logical.”
    Let’s skip over the dubious statements that foods shipped in from less than 1,500 miles away are more healthful and not damaging to the environment, although the  best locally grown food may have certain nutritious advantages over lower quality foods grown far away.  Let’s look at a few of the restaurants T&L praises for their commitment to locavorism--without implying in any way that the chef is not serving wonderful  food.
     At Trio’s in Little Rock, Arkansas, the menu lists crab cakes and Gulf shrimp, despite the Gulf being more than 400 miles away. They also insist their tortillas are made with “local flour” yet serve French Brie with a mango chutney.
    Back Forty (left) in Greenwich, Connecticut, prints a creed that notably claims, “
We receive pasture raised whole animals from practicing organic or Certified Organic local farms and butcher them ourselves. . . .  We only buy in season organic produce from local farms,” then says their organic spices, dried herbs and teas are from Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon, and “We use only Himalayan Pink Salt.” (Of course, many of these restaurants boast of stereotypical decors using reclaimed local barn wood.)
    The oddly named a(Muse) in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, serves foie gras from the Hudson Valley, bacon from Tennessee and pork from the Berkshires—all pretty remote places from Rehoboth to claim as local. Miami’s LoKal (below) insists, “
Owner Matthew Kuscher’s commitment to quality is unmatched as he will be tapping Floridian farmers, dairies and brewers in order to highlight the bounty of products, goods and ingredients available in the Sunshine State. In plain English, LoKal will be as local as local gets.”  So that’s why they use Gruyère and Monterey Jack cheese and import Scottish salmon?
    Luna in Grand Rapids, Michigan, cooks up Hawaiian ono;  Birchwood Café in Minneapolis serves tilapia in its Indonesian stew. The problem is it's nearly impossible to obtain U.S. bred tilapia, a tropical fish whose supply is almost entirely coming in either frozen from China or farm bred in Central America.
Persimmon in Providence, Rhode Island, serves Spanish octopus and royal white sturgeon caviar from California.  And The Dabney in Washington DC, which just made Food & Wine's list of Best New Restaurants 2016, for sourcing "100% of its ingredients from the mid-Atlantic," which somehow include Anson Mills grits from South Carolina, Rainey's Dream Camembert from North Carolina, Whistle Pig Farm pork loin from Vermont, and, on their current wine list, not a single bottle from the mid-Atlantic.  
    Not for a moment am I calling into question the commitment, quality and serious cooking being done at any of these restaurants. But to aggrandize oneself as being noble about serving farmed catfish rather than wild sea bass strikes me as the wrong field to plow.  The real irony is that the most hyped chef of the past decade, David Chang, couldn’t care less about locavorism, as long as he’s getting the quality he wants. At his award-winning Ko in NYC he serves
caviar from Idaho, bee pollen from Connecticut, green-tea matcha from Japan, lamb from Pennsylvania and Calabrian chilies. 
    If one of these chefs were asked to be general manager of, say, the Chicago Symphony, would he hire only musicians from the Windy City?  Or if he became owner of the NY Yankees, would he hire only players born and bred in NYC, with as many as possible from the Bronx?  Somehow I doubt it.  So, too, th
ere’s nothing wrong about locavorism that stepping back from it won’t make better.  Mileage does not define quality, and a greenhouse is not always the place to find the best of anything.


By John Mariani

La Gamelle
241 Bowery
(near Prince Street)

      Though now thoroughly gentrified, the Bowery (left)was once synonymous with downtown grit. As the old song goes,  

The Bow'ry, the Bow'ry!
They say such things,
And they do strange things
On the Bow'ry! The Bow'ry!
I'll never go there anymore!

    New restaurants are usually the first to venture onto once derelict streets like The Bowery, and now that the New Museum has become a draw there, with Daniel Boulud’s poupualr DBGB next door, the lights are on everywhere, none more charmingly than at La Gamelle (French for a bowl or lunch pail).  Open a little over a year, the pleasantly sized bar and two dining rooms have all the trappings you’d hope for in a Parisian-style bistro, from the tile floors and banquettes to the zinc bar and tables covered with both cloths and paper.  Many of the furnishings were brought over from France, and the overhead lighting and ambient colors of the place makes it seems like it’s been this way for decades.
    Initial reports on the food were muted, but a year later, La Gamelle has hit its stride now that owner
Dimitri Vlahakis has brought in Chef Denis Kuc, who’s worked at BLT Bar & Grill and BLT Fish,  Dovetail, The Modern, and Artisanal, and consulting chef Michael Burbella, formerly of Gramercy Tavern and Gotham Bar & Grill—all among NYC’s best kitchens.  The menu is still solidly that of a French bistro of a kind no one can possibly tire of, with novel additions each night in the same style.
     A new Master Sommelier, Harold Toussaint, founder of the restaurant’s Wine School, has added measurably to the wine list, so it’s well worth your while to consult him before ordering. He’s got some rare bottlings back there at  reasonable prices, although on the printed list wines by the glass are sky-high, like a
Château La Grange Clinet 2009 that sells for about $12 a bottle in a store goes for a whopping $13 by the glass at La Gamelle and $48 for the bottle.
    Our table ordered a generous platter of housemade charcuterie ($37) that included a hearty
pȃté de champagne, creamy foie gras, pâté en croûte, saucisson sec, Serrano ham, and pâté musketeer (right), with two kinds of good bread and butter, which went well with a lovely summer’s rosé wine.  Carabiñero shrimp [market price] are grilled and nicely seared while the shrimps’ texture remained velvety, drizzled with olive oil with frisée lettuce.  Steaming hot escargots ($12/$22) had an assertive garlic-parsley butter, which, let’s face it, is the whole reason to eat snails, while roasted octopus citronette  ($18) took well to the lemon and olive oil dressing.
    There is a selection of moules frites ($24), and we sampled a main course bowl of well-sized (meaning not too large) mussels in a white wine, saffron, celery, shallots, and garlic cream broth that was all right but should have had more depth. Onion soup gratinée ($12) had plenty of depth and the onions were well caramelized beneath the browned bubbly cheese.
    There was a similar sweetness to a hefty platter of boneless short ribs ($34), braised for four hours and served with sautéed Swiss chard, beet and horseradish relish, and baby carrots, while the hanger steak ($28) had just the right chewiness that both characterizes and makes this French cut so delicious, served with a well-made bordelaise, rich bone marrow and perfectly wrought pommes frites.  Terrified we might not have enough pommes frites, we ordered another batch ($9) for the table and left very few behind.
    Duck confit is too easy to make and then leave hanging around in the refrigerator, but La Gamelle’s was obviously made that day, with just enough cooking fat (without being greasy) suffused into the meaty duck meat ($24), served with buttery roesti potatoes done till tender in a skillet.  Grilled asparagus ($9) were glazed with truffle essence and shaved Parmigiano.
    Pastry chef Richard Chirol stays with classic French desserts (all $10), including a n
ougat glacé meringue with crème fraîche frozen mousse, caramelized nuts, confit of fruit, and raspberry sauce; plump profiteroles in puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce; even good old-fashioned île flotante of egg white meringues bobbing in crème anglaise.  The tart Tatin of caramelized apples with crème fraîche was in need of more caramelization and surface brittle.
    I must note that on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays La Gamelle has first-rate jazz with a Bossa Nova swing that never intrudes on dinner conversation. Then again, the group is so good, you’ll probably stop talking and just listen.
    The fact that La Gamelle has not chosen to go trendy, neither in its look or food, as so many neighboring restaurants have, is applaudable for all sorts of reasons, not least because Parisian bistros never go out of style as long as they go out of their way to please their guests.

Open nightly for dinner, Sat.&Sun. for brunch; $35 Gallerists’ Menu, offered Mon.-Fri., 5pm-7pm, includes 3 three courses drawn from the complete menu (appetizer, main and dessert); for an additional $10, guests are treated to some of the finest wines on the list, not typically available by the glass.





London entrepreneur Ben Spier, with the help of the Red Kiosk Company, has turned a classic London phone booth into an eatery,  selling homemade salads, including  roasted chicken salad with sumac, pomegranate molasses, and a spinach salad with oranges, olives, quinoa, and basil. "I chose to sell from the phone box, because they're beautiful London icons,  a perfect brownfield redevelopment,” Spier says.




After McDonald's opened its first location in the Pakistani city of Quetta (left), reputedly home base for the Taliban's ruling council, senior militant commander Ehsanullah Ehsan told NBC that the food is terrible: "Hahahaha, so you are asking me about McDonald's food. Yes, I know McDonald's and its food but we will never eat it. We don't even consider it as a food," adding that his fighters lived in "rough, tough mountainous areas" and need energy and power "to fight against the enemy," as provided by their usual ration of mutton and rice. 


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

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  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,  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:

Eating Las Vegas JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants (the fourth edition of which will be published in early 2016), as well as the author of the Eating Las Vegas web site: www.eatinglasvegas. He can also be seen every Friday morning as the “resident foodie” for Wake Up With the Wagners on KSNV TV (NBC) Channel 3  in Las Vegas.


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. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Andrew Chalk,  Dotty Griffith and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Dargery,  Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.

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