Virtual Gourmet

  JULY 7,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Immigrants at Ellis Island, NY, 1913


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

    There is a phenomenon, particularly in walled cities with cobblestone streets, that all roads seem to go upward, rarely downward. And while I know that what goes up must go down, my traipsing through the beautiful old city of Toledo made me feel like a mountain goat at an age when climbing rocks is no longer an exercise of my animal vitality.  That I did this the day after I climbed the medieval walls of Ávila made my trek through Toledo a rematch of man over mountain.
    That said, Toledo, a World Heritage City,  is one of the great cities of Spain, particularly when viewed from above, on the Emperador Hill (above), where some suggest El Greco stood when he painted his famous views of the city around 1597. There are actually two paintings—one in the city’s El Greco Museum, the other in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (left)—whose dreamy style of a churning hillside of greenery and ghostly man-made structures might be called Post-Impressionist or Pre-Surrealism, for  little of Toledo’s actual geography is rendered. Landscapes were banned by the Council of Trent in mid-century, so El Greco was tempting fate to paint these.
    The spot where El Greco might have set his easel is where Parador Naçional (Cerro del Emperador; +34 925221850) is now located, one of those in the Los Paradores historic hotel chain. It is about 2.5 miles from the center of town, and, with 75 rooms, has both the architectural breadth and the personal intimacy of a much grander hotel that would cost much more. (Currently rooms may be had for €125 to €160, with special offers for seniors and “young getaways.”)
    The expansive lobby, its walls hung with El Greco copies, opens up to a very good bar and restaurant (left), and there is a sizable outdoor pool (above) and beautiful terrace overlooking the city where my wife and I spent a long time lingering over cocktails before going to dinner in the main dining room, which is clubbishly elegant but casual, with sea green walls and velvet fabric chairs, white tablecloths, botanical prints and a Monet-like mural. The menu is quite extensive, with both traditional and modern Spanish cuisine that includes a cannelloni of beef with saffron sauce (€14); grilled turbot with a roasted pepper gelée (€25); and assorted marzipan (for which Toledo is famous).
    The best way to approach Toledo is to leave your car in one of the conveniently located parking garages just outside the center and walk down into the Old Quarter, which still shows its heritage of Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures in the churches, synagogues and mosques, squares, gardens and the Alcȧzar, originally a Roman fortress, then a royal residence of Carlos V, located on the city’s highest hill.
    One of the greatest Gothic cathedrals in the world is that of Toledo, begun in 1227 and completed in 1493. Once inside the white limestone structure, you may think it never ends, going from one nave to another, down long aisles flanked by dozens of richly ornamented chapels, every inch festooned with artwork and a great deal of New World gold. The retable (right) is one of the most exquisite in Europe, five stories tall, all of it painted in astonishing detail in homage to the Virgin and Child.
    This is Catholic Spain, so there are plenty of other churches in Toledo in  various architectural styles, while the principal art collection, containing work from Roman times and walls hung with Toledo artists’ paintings, is in the Museum of Santa Cruz, with a separate section of industrial and craft cultures.
    Toledo is a magnificent walking city, thronged with tourists on weekends, and many will congregate in the Santa Teresa Quarter, with its scores of cafés, tapas bars and restaurantes around the Plaza de Zocodover (left).   

One of Spain’s finest restaurants is Adolfo (Calle Hombre de Palo 7; +34-925-22-73-21), opened in 1979, and also one of most difficult to find. Located down a narrow alley and up a flight of stairs, the restaurant is a hidden trove of Iberian splendor, with its ancient wooden beams and painted walls, ceramics and paintings, some dating back to the 15th century.
    Director Verónica Muñoz, daughter of chef-owner Adolfo Muñoz (below) and Maître d’ Carlos Gonzalez are as congenial as they come.  Adolfo Muñoz and Chef de Cuisine David Camaño’s menu shows the great breadth  and creativity of  modern Spanish cuisine without any of the gimmickry of “Modernist” Spanish cuisine.

   We had the Chef’s Menu (at a remarkable €79), which began with a sushi of black bass in a coconut-lemongrass and mango sauce, then morsels of duck with foie gras made in-house and a bonbon of Iberian ham and cheese eaten in one very hot bite.  A refreshing watermelon and tomato soup cooled down our palates, followed with pumpkin flower fried tempura style, with a rich, sweet ratatouille. The season’s finest asparagus were dressed with an almond mojo, while wild mushrooms were lavished with a poached egg and crunchy ham (below). Barely steamed vegetables came next, then a lustrous sea bass with onions and scallions, pickled vegetables and tamarillo. “Pas limon” was skinless white fish sparked with lemon, pickled baby tomatoes and mango cream, with quinoa on the side.
    The first of the meat courses was a red partridge of Toledo, with “six textures and six aromas,” served very rare; a loin of venison was cooked in a reduction of Syrah wine with pistachios and a subtle scent of cinnamon.
    Adolfo cooks his suckling pig at a low temperature, rendering the flesh creamy and the skin crisp, served with roasted, candied calabash pumpkin cream. An extravaganza of “small sweets” ended the meal, several with vegetal flavors, and including an asparagus cake. 
    Adolfo’s wine list is a screed of the best Spanish and international bottlings, and wait till you see how the sommelier rolls the glass in a ritual before serving the wine. Four samples are offered at €26.
    By the way, this is a very sophisticated restaurante, but children are welcome and have their own menu at €39.

Lunch and dinner are served every day but Monday.



By John Mariani
27 East 20th Street (near Broadway)



    I’ve never been convinced there is a “fifth taste” called umami, or at least it’s never been convincingly explained to me.  But I do think there is an ineffable taste that chefs deeply immersed in a particular culture can imbue their cooking with—a depth of understanding not easily absorbed by chefs who consider cooking indigenous dishes merely a matter of getting hold of a recipe.
      Call it “soul” if you wish, but a visit to Rezdȏra, a new restaurant in the Flatiron District, manifests what I mean: As soon as you taste the dish Chef Stefano Secchi calls “Grandma Walking Through the Forest in Emilia”—composed of bright green cappelletti, roasted leek stuffing, and black mushrooms—you may swoon or even gasp at how perfect it is in every respect.  It’s not umami that invests these dishes with such depth of flavor; it’s the intensity of  Secchi’s personality, experience and commitment that provides that.
    Secchi is of Italian heritage—Sardinian—born in the U.S., but he spent several years training in some of Italy’s greatest ristoranti, including Osteria Francescana in Modena under Massimo Bottura, with Davide Palluda at All’Enoteca in Canale, and he perfected his pasta making skills under Nonna Laura Morandi at Hosteria Giusti.  At Rezdôra (a Modernness word for grandmother), Secchi brings together all he’s learned, with a focus on the region of Emilia- Romagna, known for its rich, stuffed pasta dishes.
    The 60-seat osteria is very close in spirit to those of northern Italy, with terrazzo flooring, blue Modenese patterned tiles, wooden chairs and a cheery bar (which gets pretty loud by seven o’clock but mellows by nine). A photo of elderly Italian women shopping at a food market is the proud symbol of Rezdôra’s spirit.
    Antipasti can be simple, like the gnocco fritto of lightly fried pastry with prosciutto, mortadella and fennel ($12) or the fett’unta of grilled bread glossed with olive oil ($5), or as sumptuous as stracciatella, a stringy kind of moist mozzarella with green asparagus and pickled white asparagus of the season ($15) that pulls apart and goes so well with summer’s vegetables. The cream-centered burrata comes with braised leeks and roasted hazelnuts in a sweet-sour marinade called carpione ($14).
    As is usual in Italian restaurants, the pastas shine brightest, and every one of the five I tasted was a paragon of form and flavor, including maccheroni with a rich duck ragù ($20); anolini stuffed with meat in a parmigiano sauce (left) with a drizzling of balsamico ($22); those gorgeously green cappelletti ($24); and a dish made famous at the ristorante San Domenico in Imola—a large raviolo stuffed with ricotta and an egg yolk that oozes out of the pasta to mingle with asparagus and black truffles ($24).
    The best of the four entrees on the menu are the veal cheek guanciale (below) with spring onions and sweet gremolata condiment ($26) and the deeply flavorful braised rabbit legs and sausage with sweetbreads and artichokes ($29). Spigola (sea bass) with tiny beans got a boost from a black garlic whipped zabaglione. “Cow grazing in Emilia” is Secchi’s treatment of a sirloin steak with a red bell pepper and cream sauce with an herb salad ($29). Those whimsical names, by the way, echo those of Massimo Bottura’s menus, which have dishes with names like  This little piggy went to the market.”

Desserts, which are increasingly being upgraded in Italian restaurants, are at Rezdôra simple and delicious, including housemade gelati like the pistachio nougat and sea salt, a fine tiramisù (10) and a light olive oil cake with olive oil gelato and zabaglione ($10).
    The very charming General Manager Sidonie Rodman is also wine and beverage manager, and the list is geared to the food, with a judicious number of northern Italian labels in various price ranges.
    There’s been quite a spate of new Italian restaurants in New York whose menus go far beyond the usual screed of Pan-Italian favorites, and at Rezdȏra you will be reminded of those wonderful meals you had in northern Italy that you never thought you’d find this side of Emilia-Romagna.


Open nightly for dinner




By John Mariani

    The banality of the way wine lovers describe individual wines has been remarked on for a very long while, at least since 1937 when James Thurber’s cartoon in The New Yorker showed a wine snob telling his guests, “It’s a naïve domestic burgundy, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”
    Nowhere is Winespeak better parodied than in Evelyn Waugh’s 1944 novel Brideshead Revisited, wherein two soused roués describe various bottlings as “a little, shy wine like a gazelle . . . Like a leprechaun . . . Dappled, in a tapestry meadow” and “like the last unicorn” (left).
    Obviously, satires of such piffle haven’t stopped the wine media from trudging on in the pages of Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Decanter and other publications with hundreds of descriptions that range from technical gibberish like, “Brett in the nose, incomplete malolactic fermentation, a slight taste of graphite, a scent of botrytis, and enough vanillin to suggest overuse of new French barriques,” to reveries like “cinnamon, Meyer lemon, papaya, Monte Cristo No. 2 with Dominican wrapping, cat’s pee, and a hint of Sicilian blood orange.”
    Perhaps the silliest descriptor I’ve ever heard was in the 2013 documentary Somm (below), in which one wine steward preparing to take the Master Sommelier Exam, exclaims with mindboggling certainty, “I’m getting notes of . . . freshly cut garden hose.”
    The man was quite serious but failed to say whether a wine tasting of freshly cut garden hose is a good thing, not to mention his familiarity with such an item. I find it hard for any wine lover hearing such a statement saying, “Ah! Now, that’s just the thing I’m looking for in my Pinot Noirs!”
    Wet horse hair, stewed prunes, burned candle wax, ripe plantains, saddle leather, pencil shavings, cinnabar, summer rain, decaying roses, old linen, cigar box—all such references join an endless parade of duller descriptions like juicy, citrus-y, black cherry-like, Winesap, tar, vanilla, inviting and bell peppers that may be repeated dozens of times within the same article on a particular varietal.
    I admit that on occasion I, too, slip into Winespeak—too many times I’ve resorted to citrus-y and vanilla—but I try hard not to, preferring instead to give a general background on a wine and why it is distinctive within its region, style or profile. I also always mention the alcohol level in a wine, because a one percentage point difference can be remarkable, which few of my colleagues ever do.
    You can hardly blame wine media for the wearying onslaught of descriptors. It’s a very tough thing to taste your way through 20, 30, or 50 wines, blind or not, and find anything fresh to say about the 15th or 28th or 49th. Palate fatigue is a very definite factor, even if you swirl, taste and spit, an appalling ritual to watch and one that to my taste buds never gives me enough information about a wine. I try as much as possible always to taste wines with food—never more than six bottles at a seating—because wines only show their real flavor and potential with food. Saliva counts in a very real way to release flavors. One might as well test out a Ferrari by running it in a garage as taste wines on their own without food. You’d never know how it handles the curves.
    There is also no way to predict a certain future for any wine, except to say it’s ready to drink now or that it will improve with a few years age. Anyone who declares, “Drink from 2020-2025” really hasn’t a clue how an individual bottle will develop.
    Of course, the wine media know very well that no one reads these reams of blather about 20 French Chenin Blancs or 30 Brazilian Tannats. Instead, people just glance at the numerical scores, instigated by Robert M. Parker Jr. in his Wine Advocate in 1978, and take their cue from them. More than once have I been asked by a wine-loving friend how I like, say, the 2014 Château de la Pew compared with the 2015, adding, “Wine Spectator gave 91 points to the 2014 but only 90 to the 2015.”  I simply respond, “Why don’t you taste it for yourself and see which one you prefer?”
    The really good wine writers have, over many centuries, provided beautiful descriptions—some too flowery—of wine in general and of certain kinds of wine specifically. The best are very funny, as when Cardinal Richelieu asked, “If God forbade drinking, would He have made wine so good?” and Alexander Dumas, who said, “Wine is the intellectual part of the meal.” Even Napoleon got off a good one when he quipped, “Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”
    Ernest Hemingway always got right to the point about wine, as in A
Moveable Feast when he reported,  “We had a Corsican wine that had great authority and a low price. It was a very Corsican wine and you could dilute it by half with water and still receive its message.”
    Not without good reason, Hemingway was one of the most dependable wine writers ever, not because he wrote columns about wine but because his well-informed opinions, dropped into his novels, stories, commentaries and letters, came to such a clear, rational point without rambling on in cloying praise.  He didn’t even have to say what wine he was drinking to evoke the essence of wine’s pleasure with food:  “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
    And most famously he wrote,  “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
    Funny, he didn’t mention anything about a cut garden hose.



"Fake Meat Is Here to Stay, So Stop Treating It Like a Gimmick," By Jaya Saxena,  (6/10/19)





"Somebody called in to complain that the Taco Bell on Gause Boulevard ran out of both hard and soft taco shells. While this is truly a travesty, the police can’t do anything about this. Hopefully, they are replenished in time for Taco Tuesday!"--Slidell Louisiana Police Department response.


 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."

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 (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.


MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani, Robert Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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