Virtual Gourmet

  October 30,  2016                                                                                             NEWSLETTER





By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


By John Mariani


    Back in 1977 on our 14-week transcontinental honeymoon, as my wife and I approached the outskirts of Winston-Salem, the smell of cured and roasted tobacco drifted through the air and got stronger as we got closer to the city.  The aroma was sweet, like the burning of leaves in autumn, and instantly recognizable.
    In those days Winston-Salem wa
s dominated by the vast holdings of The R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which in the 1940s employed 60 percent of the city’s workers, who nicknamed the town “Camel City” after the company’s best known brand. Today that tobacco aroma is gone, and the cigarette factories are, too.  But Winston-Salem had always had so much more that its people could build on, so that today it’s one of the loveliest and diverse cities in the South, with about 250,000 inhabitants.
    Salem dates back to 1753 as a Moravian settlement, founded at the three forks of Muddy Creek, and the preservation and restoration of the little town still goes on as Old Salem Museums & Gardens, built around Salem Square and expanding outwards to include a passel of trim, wood, brick and lathe structures, others with arched hoods (left), and others a mix of styles that evolved over decades, like the original Winkler Bakery (below). 
    The connection to the name “Winston” derived from the establishment of a new settlement in 1851 named after Revolutionary War figure Joseph Winston.  Only as of the Civil War were non-Moravians allowed to live in the town, which was incorporated in1856, and by the 1880s the U.S. Post Office made the name “Winston-Salem” official.
    The well-drained soil and warm climate in this part of North Carolina were ideal for tobacco farming, so in 1875 Richard Joshua Reynolds, a Virginian, erected his first factory, quickly followed by forty more, so that despite the onus that tobacco production now suffers under, North Carolina is still the largest producer, with around 1,800 tobacco farms.  Reynolds would name its products Winston, Salem, and Doral.  Its stunning art deco headquarters (left), erected in 1929 just as the Depression hit, was the tallest building in the country south of Baltimore. (It is now a Kimpton hotel.)
    The continuing prosperity of Winston-Salem seemed assured until the tobacco and textile industries began to wane in the 1970s, so the city wisely decided that its future was in the medical, hi-tech, and bio-tech industries, led by the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, with more than 60 companies and 3,100 workers; the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is today the city’s largest employer. 
    The principal touristic draw to the city is the wonderful Old Salem Museums & Gardens, which is a true restoration rather than a recreation like Williamsburg, Virginia. It is easy enough to navigate on a self-guided tour, poking your way into the solid old buildings, traversing the grounds and the remarkable gardens that evoke the significant horticultural advances of the Moravians from 1766 to 1856.  Each dwelling had its own fenced-in garden area, and they flourish with historic plants and open-pollinated heirloom vegetables and trees; careful attention is paid to preserving their diverse seeds for future generations as well as sharing them with other horticultural programs. (Tours of the Gardens are available by calling 1-800-441-5305.)  A Cobblestone Farmers Market (left) culls products from Northwest Piedmont farms each Saturday from April to November.
    The Old Salem Winkler Bakery is still in operation (though it’s moved around over 200 years), along with ovens in two other houses, and you can buy their products just minutes off the heat, the air perfumed with the smell of yeast and brown bread.  In other buildings, like the Miksch House (below), there is a good deal of cooking going on by women in period dress, where you may watch lessons in traditional Moravian foods cooked with resolutely Moravian methods and utensils, including creamed spinach with egg whites beaten by a straw whisk, fruit pies baked in a Dutch oven, and wine-laced syllabub.
    While slavery had been tolerated in Salem, by 1822 the settlement had its own African-American Moravian church, now called the St. Philips Heritage Center, from whose pulpit a Union Cavalry Chaplain announced the emancipation of slaves on May 21, 1865.
    There’s much more to see throughout Old Salem—the magnificent Tannenberg Organ, here for more than a century; a book and gift shop; a hat shop that sells pottery and handmade baskets as well; a gunsmith shop, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts that exhibits the story of the South through its furniture, ceramics, silverware and artwork.
    Beyond Old Salem, the city has built up a vibrant restaurant scene I shall be reporting on in my next newsletter.  There also is the requisite Children’s Museum, and the Downtown Arts District is rife with galleries, along with the Elberson Fine Arts Center and a Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery.
    One of the most unexpectedly grand sites to visit is the Reynolda House Museum of American Art (left), once the 1917 home of the R.J. Reynolds family, which had for so long dominated Winston-Salem.  Rambling over  landscaped gardens and greenery, up and down staircases through vast rooms of exquisite design and antiques, the edifice also houses one of the most extraordinary privately acquired collections of art in America, so when you enter any room you come face to face with some of the most famous artists’ most famous works—John Singleton Copley, Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, Frederic Church, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Eakins, Grant Wood.  Opposite Reynolda is the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, once the home of textile industrialist James G. Hanes. There is also a superb collection of African-American art in the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University, and the beautifully designed and landscaped Wake Forest University, founded in 1834, is home to the 129-acre Reynolda Gardens established by the Reynolds family.
    You can actually stay and dine in the Graylyn Estate International Hotel & Conference Center, once the baronial home of James Alexander Gray, former president of R.J. Reynolds, spread over 55 acres and now owned and managed by Wake Forest. Its mix of architectural design includes everything from Medieval towers to homes that look like English country manor houses; the interior is full of imports like the 15th century French carved doorway and Louis XV paneling, renaissance fireplaces and suits of armor,  and extraordinary wrought-iron staircases under a soaring cupola.
    Certainly not last among Winston-Salem’s pleasures is the opportunity to see the preparation and baking of the paper-thin cookies at Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies  (below) in the suburb of Clemmons.  Here, after seven generations, Evva Hanes oversees two or three generations of exceedingly dedicated, hair-netted women who appear to have stepped out of “American Gothic.”  They stand at their tilted tables, working gingersnap, molasses, lemon, chocolate and walnut dough into near-sheer sheets, always the same precise thinness, then they cut them out with their own treasured stamps to be baked so that the little factory always smells like Christmas.  One hundred ten thousand pounds of dough goes through their hands, some packaged weeks in advance of the barrage of holiday orders and shipped all over the U.S. and to 30 countries abroad.    
    There is, then, a great deal of history about Winston-Salem that extends beyond the indelible footprint of the tobacco industry, which by fading in importance has allowed the true substance of the city to shine through in all aspects of Southern hospitality.




By John Mariani

13 East 12th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

    “You gotta get a gimmick,” sang the strippers in “Gypsy,” and it’s a good philosophy in a business as traditional as that of steakhouse chains, whose scruffy décor largely follows clichés set long ago by NYC totems like Palm, Peter Luger and Smith & Wollensky. 
    The original owners of Strip House, Peter and Penny Glazier, (now  with four locations, three in NYC, owned by BR Guest Hospitality) took the “Gypsy” ladies’ advice by having architect David Rockwell fashion a room riotously red and festooned with hundreds of original Studio Manasse 1930s prints of burlesque stars.  It’s all meant in naughty fun, even though, after two decades, it has taken on a patina of nostalgic innocence, and no woman I have ever dined with here has ever taken offense to the décor.
    There are cushy, tufted banquettes, big tables with flip-up extenders, and thick white double tablecloths; the sound level is remarkably good in a room filled largely with shirtsleeve guys whose normal tone of voice is loud.  The waiters are very friendly and informative, rather than mere menu reciters, and, since the menu, under Corporate Executive Chef Michael Vignola, doesn’t change very much, you can be assured that most of the items have been brought to a consistent level of excellence in the cooking process.  Ask for your meat with a good char outside and medium-rare inside, and that’s what you’ll get.  Pity the bartender doesn’t even possess a fruit press to make fresh juice for the cocktails (you can buy a squeezer for about ten bucks), despite their costing $16-$24.
    Aside from a couple of signature items, like the highly recommended bocce ball-sized goose fat-fried potatoes ($13) that will easily feed two people, dishes don’t differ in name from most steakhouses around town.  But I do think Strip House’s roasted bacon ($18), with egg, crispy capers and a frisée salad, the very best I’ve enjoyed anywhere, and the lump crab cake, with potato salad, green beans, corn salsa and remoulade ($19), was as fine as any. 
    I’ve become spoiled down South by fresh shrimp, but if I can’t get them I’ll happily order the jumbo shrimp cocktail at Strip House ($20), as I would the jumbo crabmeat cocktail ($20). The spicy tuna tartare ($19) comes with generous chopped avocado, cucumber, wasabi roe and radish sprouts.
    At a time when USDA Prime beef has become tougher and tougher to come by (just as enormous herds of supposed wagyu and kobe beef seem to be inundating steakhouses), the virtue of being a long time in the NYC market and having three locations there gives Strip House clout. So the beef has the intense flavor and juiciness you expect from the top of the breed, especially the New York strip ($49 for 16 ounces, $58 for a bone-in cut), but the dry-aged strip at 14 ounces ($48) is even better. The porterhouse for two runs $60 per person (you’ll take some home), but the best dish on this section of the menu is a terrific Colorado lamb duo ($42), which comes as a roasted double chop and smoked shoulder. And, since all the steaks come naked on a plate, the inclusion of roasted squash, market bean fricassee and marjoram jus to this lamb dish makes it all the more appealing.
    You really don’t need the optional sauces ($3 each) for these meats, but you should indulge in the creamed spinach with black truffles ($13), the creamed corn with pancetta ($12), or the dry aged herbed onions with a citrus glaze ($14)—all of these to be shared.
    Of course you don’t need dessert, though they gussy the usual ones up a bit here, including pouring and flaming cheap Sambuca on top of an already blah baked Alaska ($14) that might otherwise be served at a child’s birthday party.  There’s nothing at all wrong with the cheesecake ($12), or the warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and rich hot fudge sauce ($12), but the signature dessert here is a dense 24-layer chocolate ganache cake ($16) that is more a tour-de-force than a convincing argument that more is more.
    The wine list offers dozens of wines by the glass among a formidable screed that includes a “Library List” of bottlings like La Tâche 2010 for $2,650 and Échezeaux Grand Cru DRC 2009 at $3,000, as well as a selection of large format bottles.  Sadly, there aren’t a heck of a lot of labels on the list under $100, and mark-ups are very high: $170 for Far Niente 2014, which sells for under $50 in a store?  $140 for Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Promis 2013 that costs $35-$40 retail? Whew!
    For food alone, Strip House is as good as any in town and much better than most, but in ambiance and service it has achieved its own special status among gourmands, who will never be disappointed and always well treated.   It’s as much fun to dine there as it is to eat there.

Open nightly for dinner 



By John Mariani


                        “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.”-- Saint Thomas Aquinas



AZELIA BAROLO BRICCO FIASCO 2011 ($58)—From the Castiglione Falletto hills estate of Luigi Scavino, this is an appealingly priced major Barolo, vinified from 100% Nebbiolo separately from the winery’s other Barolos.  Made from old vines, 65 years on average, it has a multiple personality with richness of fruit and tannins throughout.  I’d hang on to it for another couple of years for maximum pleasure, longer if you have the time.


PAUL HOBBS PINOT NOIR CATHERINE LINDSAY ESTATE 2012  ($95)—Made in a prime Laguna Ridge section of the Russian River Valley, this admirably complex Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard named after Paul Hobbs’s great grandmother, so you know he’s going to put a lot of respect into the bottle.  It is not cheap, though.


CROFT RESERVE TAWNY PORTO  ($18)—Croft is one of the oldest Port producers in the Douro Valley, and it aims at a modern style for its Tawny Ports that depends not on brawn but on finesse, earned by time in oak casks.  Its aging as a Reserve tames the tannins of Port stocks that are an average of seven years old, made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão  and Tinta Amarela.  All Ports are relatively good buys, but the Tawnies are almost always a bargain, and this one comes in an attractive new bottle. .


LAPROAIG ISLAY SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY LORE ($122)—The word “lore” on the bottle means “the passing of a skill or tradition through word of mouth,” which is fair enough. The producers have learned a lot  since establishing the distillery in 1815. There are many Scotch lovers who are not overly fond of the salty, smoky Islay style, but this finely rendered example hits a middle ground through which you can appreciate the distinction of the smoke but also enjoy it for its hearty flavors from the tip of the tongue to the finish on the palate.   You can smell it from across the room, and it’s the smell of peat and Scottish heath. I believe it’s out of stock in the UK but still available here.


MARYHILL MOURVÈDRE 2012 ($34)—Tasting this blind, I’d never spot it outright as a mourvèdre, but I will recommend it as a good, medium-bodied red wine made in the Sugarloaf Vineyard in Rattlesnake Hills appellation of Goldendale, CA,  with 14.6% alcohol—a hike from the 2011 vintage of 13.1-- it shows promise as a varietal for the future.


CHÂTEAU ROSLANE PREMIER CRU LES COTEAUX DE L’ATLAS 2011 ($21)—I’ve been accused of being one of those East Coasters who prefer Bordeaux when I wish to drink Cabernet blends, and I plead guilty.  What a surprise, then, that this little beauty is from Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains, a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Roslane is a huge winery for Morocco and it shows what goodness can come out of a desert terroir.


CHÂTEAU DU TAILLAN HAUT-MÉDOC CRU BOURGEOIS 2012 ($15)—How unfortunate to carry the connotations of being a “Cru Bourgeois,” for it’s a perfectly acceptable thing for a Haut-Médoc wine to be, as this assemblage of 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc proves.  The lovely chateau dates back centuries but this wine has been made since the 1930s, so it has a consistent record of good taste. This is one of those bottles you idly pick off the shelf for an autumn meal of lamb stew and find you finish the bottle with remarkable ease and satisfaction.


FRANCISCAN ESTATE RESERVE MERLOT 2013 ($45)—Aging for 20 months makes this one of the most lustrous California Merlots you’re likely to find, so the 14.5% alcohol is tamed down, too. You get a dose of spice from 6% Syrah and a little backbone from 1% Cabernet Sauvignon, all picked from a very fine vintage in Carneros. Franciscan has been at this Merlot-making for longer than most and it shows on the first sip.



A vineyard in the the town of Caldari di Ortona in the Abruzzo region of Italy is now home to a fountain that dispenses locally-made wine to the public for free, 24 hours a day. The fontana del vino (right) is located at the Dora Sarchese Vineyard, which intends it to appeal to religious pilgrims visiting Ortuna,where the body of the disciple Thomas  is said to be kept, to quench their thirst.



   "There’s something unnervingly wholesome about Olmsted, the new garden-to-table eatery in Prospect Heights. Enter it and you find an alternate reality: bathrooms smell like lemon verbena, beards grow perfectly trimmed, and enchanted back yards come with their own . . . chickens? “No, they’re quail,” the affable waiter corrects, as he finishes stoking the bee smoker, which, he says, adds “a nice aromatherapy” to the radishes lit by fairy lights. “They’re our mascots.”
     And yet, this Disneyland of organic delights never succumbs to sanctimony. It’s an urban sanctuary, and the food is ridiculously good.   [A crêpe's layers] are bright white, and impossible to distinguish, making each bite feel like an electric burst, as your tongue and brain try to make sense of the temperature difference. It’s disorienting, and addictive. There’s no need to resist. (Dishes $7-$24.)"--Becky Cooper, "A Disneyland of organic Delights at Olsted," in The New Yorker (10/16)


Sponsored by Banfi Vintners

A Wine That Opened My Eyes

by John Fodera, Tuscan Vines

    In 1992, Castello Banfi planted the Poggio Alle Mura vineyard after over 10 years of Sangiovese clonal research that determined which clones where most properly suited to the vineyard based upon soil composition, elevation and exposition.  Today that vineyard is almost 25 years of age and bearing the best grapes it has ever produced. 
    This "maturation" is exemplified by the creation of two additional wines in Castello Banfi's portfolio. Originally planted to create a unique expression of Brunello only in optimal vintages, the estate is now producing a second Brunello Riserva and a vineyard-designated Rosso di Montalcino.  The results have been impressive. 

The 2013 Poggio Alle Mura Rosso di Montalcino opened my eyes.  I have to admit, while I enjoy Rosso di Montalcino in general,  I don't often find one that surprises me, but this one did.   The wine is vinified in Castello Banfi's hybrid stainless steel and oak fermenters for 7-10 days and then racked to French oak barrique for 12 months.   In fact, the distinction between the Poggio Alle Mura and its sibling estate Rosso di Montalcino - other than the fruit source - is the oak-aging regimen.  While the estate wine spends 12 months in a combination of barrique and botte, only barrique are used for the Poggio Alle Mura. 
    In the glass, the wine is a deep ruby color.  Lovely, expressive and almost delicate aromas lift from the glass with little coaxing.  Floral notes, crushed cherry, spice and fresh herbs form the bouquet that will carry through onto the palate.  In the mouth, the wine is medium to full bodied; there is very nice ripe, weighty fruit to this Rosso.  Vibrant and fresh, with refreshing acidity, the core of cherry fruit is strong but graceful at once.  There are few nits to pick with this.  A really wonderful example of the type.  91 points.
    The wine is available at retail,  but a large block of the production is destined for on premise restaurants, etc.  

For more notes on wines from Tuscany, visit  


 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: CUBAN CARS

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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