Virtual Gourmet

  AUGUST 11,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


John Wayne and Jean Arthur in "A Lady Takes a Chance" (1943)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

Pavillon Restaurant at Hotel Baur au Lac

  Every great city of the 21st century needs hotels and restaurants with equal amounts traditional character and true modernity, which is certainly the case with Zürich, both in the older and newer parts of the city.
    As an established classic, the Baur au Lac hotel, opened in 1844, has hosted everyone from Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot to Marc Chagall and Alfred Hitchcock. In this century it has kept pace with contemporary ideals of comfort and cuisine through a $50 million renovation that reconfigured 32 rooms and suites into 22 larger ones with luxurious new marble bathrooms, Bose sound systems, 25 English channels on TV, dependable WiFi and a magnificent new rooftop patio overlooking the city. The entry hall and hall lounge have been completely refurbished, now with a glorious raised glass dome ceiling.  Yet, somehow, everything seems the same in so many cherished ways.
    Over two visits in five years I’ve seen the evolution first hand while enjoying the same warm congeniality of a staff whose members speak several languages and lack any of the pretensions I too easily find in so many five-star hotels. If relaxing is at least as important for business travelers as it is for romantics, then the Baur au Lac, located on the quieter left side of the River Linmat and less than ten minutes from the Bahnhof train station, is ideal for both.
    There are three restaurants—La Terrasse,  which has become one of the city’s most popular cocktail settings, with a light menu; the casual Baur  (not yet open when I visited); and the graceful Pavillon, done in flora pastels and rich colors of violet, with a welcoming arcade and a panorama of the gardens. Acoustics are perfect for conversation, despite an unintended “whispering gallery” effect that allows some corners to hear conversations from across the room, which, I’m told, is why lawyers won’t sit at those particular tables.
    This year Pavillon earned its second Michelin star for chef Laurent Eperon’s cuisine, while its enthusiastic sommelier, Marc Almert, who looks too young even to drink wine, was awarded the Association de la Sommelerie Internationale’s “Best Sommelier in the World 2019,” overseeing a 38-page wine list, with an admirable focus on Swiss labels under 100CHF.
    There’s a two-course lunch at 76CHF, as well as à la carte, and at dinner both an à la carte and a “Harmonie” menu of nine courses (205CHF, with wine pairings at 95CHF and 110CHF)—prices that, while expensive, are considerably below what you’d find at two-star hotel restaurants in Paris, like Le Meurice Alain Ducasse and Le Gabriel at La Réserve. 
    My wife and I asked for two different three-course menus, each exquisitely presented.  There were, of course, complimentary amuses like gougères puffs with caviar and vegetables in a dashi broth. We went on to King crab lightly flavored with red curry, and a scallop graced with an emulsified olive-lemon sauce.  Next came a delicately thin raviolo stuffed with wild turbot and osietra caviar.
    One main course was really several combined: Rabbit meat in a ballotine; the loin roasted with fragrant rosemary; its liver within cannelloni; the leg meat in a parslied yogurt. Veal came “Metternich style,” with morels, foie gras and a bouquet of celery puree, with carrot gelée. Our desserts were hazelnut truffles brought dramatically in a smoking glass cloche, and juicy pomelo with a light meringue.
    The meal showed how cannily Eperon marries tradition with his own modern creativity in every dish. And Almert’s accompanying wine choices were spot on throughout.
    Very different in style and every bit as modern as any hotel in Europe, the Park Hyatt focuses on a contemporary approach based on efficient and congenial service by a young lobby staff imbued with a mission to go beyond all the requisite answers to business and tourist queries along with personal insight into what is going on in Zürich, from the new restaurants to the arts and entertainments.
    The hotel is only 12 years old, with just 138 rooms. (Oddly enough, Zürich has no Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons hotels, so the Park Hyatt is ideal for those expecting that level of five-star luxury and service.)  Largely encased in glass, the very spacious rooms, not least the 1,722-square-foot Presidential Suite on the top floor, get plenty of light and have both a large marble tub and separate showers. Zürich is a quiet city, and the rooms at the Park Hyatt are quieter still.
    There are two restaurants. The Onyx Bar and Lounge, set just off the lobby, are casual, chic and comfortable spaces set with sofas and club chairs, with high ceilings, fanciful modern artwork and a soothing fireplace. The menu is on the light side but the cooking is substantial. My wife and I enjoyed dishes like risotto with white garlic and poached egg (17CHF); fragile pastry tuiles stuffed with a luscious cheese mousse (25CHF); lake pike perch with fregola in a subtle reduction (38CHF); and a burger made with Alpine chicken and an egg and French fries (38CHF). Two desserts—crème brûlée (13CHF) and a melting chocolate fondant (14CHF)—were excellent, as you expect in Switzerland.
    The slightly more upscale dining option (for breakfast, lunch and dinner) is the parkhuus (left), a vast paneled room with soaring ceilings, glass walls and candles on the tables. You pass an open kitchen with wood-burning oven as you enter, where chef Frank Widmer produces a sophisticated, modern cuisine based on Swiss ingredients. The wine list is superbly selected.
We enjoyed a lavish dinner beginning with an amuse of smoked trout with tiny lentils; an impeccably reduced beef consommé with a beef-stuffed raviolo; a classic rack of lamb persillade wrapped in parsley, with mashed potatoes (56CHF); a massive veal chop in a lush demi-glace, with mushrooms and fried potatoes (78CHF; right); a selection of cheeses; and a bitter orange dessert.
    Families and children are welcome; they even offer special children’s china bowls as well as little books to occupy their time.
(This winter the Park Hyatt Zürich is offering a winter package that includes two days in Zürich with transfers to the Grand Bellevue Gstaad for four nights, starting at CHF5100)
     Requisite to a visit to Zurich is a traditional meal of Swiss raclette, and the Raclette Factory (Rindemarkt 1), on the right bank since 1985, bustles at lunch and well into the afternoon and dinner time, so the cook rings a cowbell whenever an order is ready. It’s a one-room affair, with counters, a bright, gemütlich atmosphere and an innovation in Zürich—take-away raclette. You can buy a t-shirt reading “SAY CHEESE.”
    Raclette is made from cheese of the same name, which is matured between three and six months, and this eatery offers variants (15CHF to 19.90CHF, or all-you-can eat at 49.90CHF) of regional cheeses like blue Blaue Schalk from Schalchen, truffled from Käserei and goat’s cheese from Girenbad. In addition there are to some wonderful, smoky tarte flambées (21.90CHF to 22.90CHF) decadently topped with crème fraîche, bacon and other ingredients (right).
    One of the most popular Italian restaurants in Zürich is Santa Lucia, part of a Swiss chain, located on the corner of Waagstrasse and what is rightly called Paradeplatz, affording a broad view of the passersby. Inside is a pleasant two-level dining room with a fleet-footed staff in constant motion, taking orders, pouring wine and delivering delicious pizzas (18CHF to 22CHF) and well-wrought pastas like spaghetti all’arrabiata with red peppers (19CHF) and risotto with wild mushroom (24CHF).
    For those seeking a very traditional Swiss restaurant, the venerable Kronenhalle (Ramistrasse 3), dating to 1924, endures, still arrayed with its astounding original art by Picasso, Giacometti, Chagall, Bonnard and others hung nonchalantly on the walls above your table. The Swiss beer is good, the  Wiener Schnitzel enormous and the desserts rich. But prices have become very high, and this, once my favorite go-to places in Zürich, is now something of a think-and-think-again splurge.

Remember: Prices quoted include tax (3.7% for hotels, 2.9% for restaurants) and service charge. The Swiss franc is about on par with the U.S. dollar.


By John Mariani

256 West 52nd Street

Photo by Stefano Giovannini

    Outside of Brooklyn’s gargantuan Russian banquet halls—where the flow of vodka makes up for the taste of the food—Russian restaurants in New York are few and far between. In Manhattan, along with the Russian Tea Room, which opened in 1927, Russian Samovar is one of the keepers of a Russian culinary flame, serving both the cuisine of the Tzarist aristocracy—with plenty of smoked salmon and caviar—along with dishes enjoyed by Russia’s common people, like pelmeni dumplings in broth and both cold and hot borscht.
    Russian Samovar dates to 1986, when Roman Kaplan, ballet master Mikhail Baryshnikov and Nobel laureate poet Joseph Brodsky invested in a Theater District space that was once an old Sinatra hang-out. Brodsky’s favorite table is still preserved there, and Baryshnikov's baby grand piano is still used by nightly performers. A romantic scene with Baryshnikov and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City” was filmed there.
    Today Kaplan’s daughter Vlada runs Russian Samovar with the spirit in which it was conceived, and the décor reflects a kind of sentimental nostalgia you feel in the rosy glow cast by fringed lampshades and the photos and artwork that line the walls. Of course, the visiting musicians indulge guests with all the familiar Russian songs, from “Dark Eyes” to “Those Were the Days, My Friend,” intermingled with some Cole Porter and Billy Joel.
Photo by Nadja Sayej

    With my wife and brother-in-law, both with Russian blood and both fluent in the language, we ate from all over the menu and found it convincingly authentic from the pickled herring ($16) to the beef stroganoff ($29) to a sour cream cake called le smetannik ($13). Portions are generous. The menu is amazingly long, the wine list absurdly short and the service staff, on two visits, seemed immune to guests trying to get their attention.
    Your table might wish to splurge with a lavish Imperial fish platter ($150) piled high with black and red caviar, smoked butterfish, smoked salmon, two varieties of herring and thin blini. The lovely rose-red borscht ($13) is based on a family recipe that goes back seven decades, and right now there is a cold summer version ($12). Eggplant “caviar” ($15) is a sweet and sour puree of eggplant, tomato and peppers.
    A complement to the fish platter is a meat platter ($30) with a veal roulade, excellent beef tongue, smoked meats and the dried, cured beef called basturma. Satsivi ($18) is a Georgian specialty of chicken cut into a dice and aggrandized with a wonderful coriander-and-walnut sauce.              Photo by Lisa Zari

    One of the cherished comfort foods of Russian home cooking is pelmeni, light veal and pork dumplings in a rich chicken broth with sour cream ($14), or the alternative pelmeni stroganoff with a topping of beef stroganoff ($23), which is as much a hearty main course as it is an appetizer.  Similar dumplings, filled with a choice of potato, onion, mushroom or cherry, called vareniki ($15) are pan-fried with sour cream—the cherries are something special.  Khachpuri ($15) is a flakey three-cheese pastry of a kind found throughout Eastern Europe.
    The seafood is of good quality, though I prefer the Russian meat dishes, including that hearty beef stroganoff (left;
Photo: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery)  in its rich, creamy mushroom sauce, accompanied by buttered egg noodles, mashed potatoes or kasha ($29). Succulent, long-braised lamb country style ($33) is a fine alternative for a hefty main course. Oddly enough, the only dish that disappointed me was the chicken Kiev ($29; Photo by Nadja Sayej), whose seasoned butter under the skin is supposed to gush out after being cooked and the chicken sliced open (right) . Here the chicken itself was bland and overcooked, not helped by the mere dribble of butter that emerged.
  For dessert, I liked that sour cream le smetannik cake, and there’s also a good honey cake called medovik ($14).

For a true Russian closing, have the Russia tea ($7), which is served with cherry preserves and lemon on the side. By tradition, sipped in a small glass with a spoon in it with which to eat the preserves, it is an ending that makes Russians pine for a time when, as the words of  “Those Were the Days, My Friend” go, “Oh my friend we're older but no wiser/For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.”




BY John Mariani

    It was an epiphany, though not the first of its kind, when I happened to taste a grain or two of coarse salt on some softshell crabs before I had a sip of Vermentino, which, tasted on its own, would have been a pleasant example of its kind. But those two grains of coarse salt  sparked my palate and increased the flow of juices so that when the wine washed in over my tongue, it seemed to burst with flavor, definitely enhancing the wine and, of course, the meaty softshell crabs.
    There’s an old saying that salt makes its presence felt only in its absence, which is not to say, the more salt the better. Of recent discovery is how a pinch of salt in caramel or chocolate boosts flavor immensely, so that it’s almost become ubiquitous in such confections.
    The same thing happened years ago when I served my younger son a thick ribeye that I’d seasoned with coarse salt then charred on a charcoal grill to a beautiful crust while retaining its medium-rare redness within. He took a sip of a big California Cabernet, put down his fork and exclaimed, “Dad, this steak is fantastic! What did you do to it?” It was a very good piece of beef, to be sure, but the addition of that rock salt before cooking and a dash afterwards had a vivid effect on its bloody minerality and sweet fat that really was worthy of my son’s exclamation.
    Black pepper, though a more pungent palate piercer, has much the same effect, though more so with red wines, which is why the French classic steak au poivre, with a lot of coarsely ground pepper in a cream sauce (right), is such a powerful carrier of flavor with a sturdy red wine like Cahors. The same goes for the Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe, in which the pasta is coated (not really sauced) with coarsely ground pecorino cheese and black pepper, which gives a tremendous boost to both a modest red Italian wine like Valpolicella or Bardolino, as well as enriching the complexity of a Southern Italian red like Taurasi or Nero d’Avola.  The salt and fat of the cheese and the punch of the black pepper marry in an elemental way.
    Which brings me to the subject of fat and wine drinking. Some years ago I was giving a tasting of expensive Tuscan red wines like Ornellaia (left) and Sassicaia, at a wine exposition in Florida to be held at one o’clock. I had driven three hours from another city, without benefit of breakfast, and was ravenous when I got to my hotel, just minutes from the expo. I immediately ordered a rare hamburger and French fries, and when they arrived, I wolfed them down and dashed to the tent where I was leading the tasting.
    The flavors of my quick lunch were still on my palate, not least the fat of the beef and the oil of the fries, in addition to the salt and pepper I added. And when I began tasting those wines, all of which I knew well from drinking them over many years, the flavors exploded in my mouth—a reaction I told my audience about. It was as if I’d never really tasted these wines before! The simple gustatory fact is, fat carries flavors, especially those of wine grapes.
   As everyone knows, the sense of smell is the one that allows one to appreciate myriad sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors, and fat and pepper have their own olfactory stimulants. So the combinations build upon one another.
    And what about red peppers in various forms, whole, dried or powdered? I certainly consume them all the time with all sorts of cuisines—Mexican and Asian, certainly—but I always prefer beer. Reams have been written about pairing wines with Indian vindaloo or Sichuan beef or Yucatan chile, but the very characteristic that makes such pepper condiments so attractive—their heat—in such dishes, along with distinct added spices and seasonings as varied as cumin, coriander, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and hoisin are too strong to marry well with any white wine, however refreshing, while most red wines’ flavors are blasted into the background under the assault of a habanero pepper. Tabasco is not kind to wine. (Incidentally, I swabbed a little very hot harissa condiment on those softshells, which not only ruined the wine but detracted from any delicacy the crustaceans had.)
    The reason I wish to emphasize these elements of mutual enhancement is because far too many wine tastings take place in offices, winery labs or homes without any accompanying food besides a cracker. (If you’re going to serve a cracker make it a Saltine.)
    Such exercises insist on tasting the wines purely on their own to detect their virtues and defects, which is fair enough. But without fat, salt and pepper, they are nothing more than exercises, like testing out a new car by running it in a garage rather than out on the road, where one can appreciate its ability to give pleasure and manifest where there might be problems.
    Were I to hold a wine tasting, at the very least there would be some mild cheeses on the table, along with salt and pepper grinders whose grains  my guests can put on their tongues. It makes a world of difference, not least because drinking wine without food is like learning the tango and never going out to dance with someone.





Macy's removed a line of dishware from sale after protests that its humorous portion control artwork would cause body shaming and would lead to women acquiring eating disorders.




The Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania told parents who had lunch debt either to pay up immediately or their children could go into foster care. "Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch," the letter read. "If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care." The order was later rescinded.


 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 (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.


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2019