Virtual Gourmet

  AUGUST 18,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Roy Rogers Lunch Box, 1953


By Geoff Kalish

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By Geoff Kalish

Colle Bereta Estate olives

    Along with its enhanced wine quality, Italy’s Chianti Classico area, between Florence in the north and Siena in the south, is witnessing a further refinement of its excellent cuisine. As has been the situation for years, at most of the region’s better restaurants sauces are made from fresh, local ingredients. But now they seem more flavorful. And while the fare in this area has never featured dishes that will jump out at you with big, bold flavors or pungent spice, it will more than please the palate with multiple levels of rather delicate seasoning, perfect to mate with the plummy, cherry tones of the area’s best wines. In fact, the rather recent improvement in bottles of Chianti Classico might well be a reflection of the need to better match the flavors of the wine with the seasoning of the fare. And, as prime evidence of this continuing trend towards farm-to-table food with multiple flavor levels, discussed briefly below are some meals enjoyed at five of the area’s recently visited dining establishments, and one just outside the Classico boundaries, in Siena. 
    (Vat 20% tax and service are included in the bill.)

Rinuccio 1180
Via Cassia per Siena 133
San Casciano Val di Pesa
(in the Antinori Winery) 
    Situated on the rooftop of the modern, showplace Antinori winery (left) that affords expansive views of the surrounding vineyards, this restaurant offers a range of fare, perfect for a mid-day splurge (and best accompanied with a visit to the winery, which requires advance reservations at ). Appetizers run the gamut from tasty Tuscan ham served with greaseless grilled eggplant to an assortment of artisan cheeses (younger, milder aged and aromatic) that mate perfectly with 2017 Peppoli Chianti Classico and/or the 2015 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, that shows memorable flavors of ripe plums and cherries.
    There’s a range of pasta selections like short macaroni with a heady duck ragù and delicate ravioli filled with eggplant, burrata and arugula (right). Main courses run the gamut from lamb chops with green peppers to Florentine T-bone steak (for two) and daily specials such as a roasted, stuffed young guinea fowl. For dessert be sure to try the cantuccini (crunchy, golden almond biscuits), served with honey-scented vin santo.
Lunch only is served daily; expect a meal for two to cost about $100 for two, excluding wine.


olle Bereto Wine Bar

Plaza IV Novembre 5
Radda in Chianti
    Located at the eastern edge of a plaza in the ancient town of Radda in Chianti (approximately midway between Florence and Siena), this very small restaurant, with indoor and outdoor seating, serves a small selection well-made, rather simple fare, with a selection of bottles from its winery. An appetizer of freshly made burrata cheese, accompanied by an assortment of tomatoes dressed in good oil and balsamic, and one of “Chianti Ham” served with a large slice of mozzarella were perfect starters for a warm summer’s evening. 
    A main course of spaghetti with truffles and truffle cream was a pasta loaded with earthy-tasting white and black varieties with an earthy sauce, and a grilled medium-rare, beefy entrecôte steak came with arugula topped with thin slices of Parmesan. A rich chocolate torta made an excellent finish.
    All dishes (even the chocolate) married perfectly with the ripe plum and cherry flavors of a 2013 Colle Bereto Chianti Classico.
    Of note, Radda offers a number of historic sites and local shops within its walls, and if you should stay overnight, a good choice would be the CDH Radda Hotel. It’s situated on a hillside, a two-minute car ride from the center of town, with clean, cozy rooms, most having a scenic view of the vineyards below and a spa as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and a very friendly, helpful front desk staff.  Rooms currently go for about $124.

Open daily for lunch and dinner; expect to pay a very reasonable $75 for dinner for two, excluding wine.


steria Volpaia

Localita Volpaia 53017
Radda in Chianti 
    The ancient building is in what is now part of the Castello di Volpaia winery and small hotel,  where this restaurant offers à la carte and tasting menus of artistically presented, whimsically named seasonal dishes. We started with “A pheasant at Volpaia” (left), which was a a thick slice of pressed meat of the bird topped with small portions of red fruits, corn and wild flowers, so that each bite had a unique taste—ranging from sweet to lemony. Next we chose “Countryside Paths,” a heady mix of risotto, asparagus and porcini mushrooms, and concluded with “They used to call her Sarah,” a pastry topped with apples and pears cooked in Chianti and served with spiced ice cream.
    We accompanied the meal with the excellent 2016 Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva that showed complex flavors of ripe plums, strawberries and oak, with hints of almonds in its finish.

Open Tuesday-Friday for lunch and Thursday-Tuesday for dinner. Expect dinner for two to cost $90-$100, excluding wine.


steria Le Panzanelle

Localita Lucarelli, 29  53017
Radda in Chianti 
    Very popular with locals in the small hamlet of Lucarelli between the towns of Castellina and Panzano, this establishment offers flavorful, regional fare in an informal setting inside and outside of a restored 19th-century structure.
    From a menu that changes monthly, depending on what’s in season, we chose salads of ripe tomatoes, their simultaneous sweet and acidic taste made memorable by a simple drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic. And for main courses, from a variety of grilled meats and game birds we choose medium rare steak, its slices bursting with beefy flavor, that was served with a mound of just picked arugula.
We accompanied the meal with an excellent bottle of 2016 Poggerino Chianti Classico ($32) that had a hint of anise in its bouquet and taste of plums and raspberries and we concluded the meal with a rich vin santo gelato.

Open for lunch and dinner daily, except Monday; expect dinner for two to cost $80- $100, excluding wine.

Antica Macelleria Cecchini
Via XX Luglio 11 
Panzano in Chianti 
     Not everyone’s cup of tea, this carnivore haven offers seating for lunch and dinner daily at communal tables on three levels. The chef and owner is the effusive Dario Cecchini, whose family have been butchers for over 250 years and who gained fame by holding a mock funeral for the “mad cow” at the end of the epidemic in 2001.     Forget the brown gravy that accompanied much of the Italian beef of years past, because served here is a fixed price menu ($55 a person) of five courses of unadorned  beef  ranging from a pile of tartare adorned with a lemon wedge to four cuts of barely cooked beef from different parts of cows raised in Catalunya, Spain. Yes, there’s a vegetarian menu for “beef-a-phobics” but few order it. And, while “house wine” is served on a complimentary basis, there’s no corkage fee for those who bring their own. 

alefina Vino & Cucina

Via degli Umailati 1
        Situated on a plaza at the edge of Siena, this restaurant run by a young, amiable couple, Claudio di Sante, the chef, and Alice Dandosso, the manager. It  offers seating outdoors as well as indoors in a white-walled room decorated with photos of the area. The extremely reasonably priced fare, with selections from a menu and daily changing blackboard of specials, provides a range of deftly made local fare.
    For appetizers we enjoyed a light lettuce wrap of dewy shrimp and one of silky slices of tuna tartare and for main courses we chose a special of roasted pheasant and artichoke dusted with a mix of peppery spice and one of thick pork ribs served with roasted potatoes. We accompanied the meal with a plummy 2015 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico and concluded with a homemade custard topped with berries and a creamy citrus tart.
Open Monday-Friday for lunch and Saturday and Sunday for dinner; expect a meal for two to cost a very reasonable $70 -$80, excluding wine.





By John Mariani

5513 East 6th Street (near Avenue A)

    As the story goes, Ismael Alba couldn't find a restaurant in New York he felt “captured the true experience and authentic cuisine of his native Argentina,” so he opened his own a dozen years ago at a time when the East Village was not the well-trammeled, well-lighted, vaguely trendy place it is now. Indeed, Alba was a pioneer in a neighborhood now flush with restaurants and bars. Buenos Aires is still one of the most colorful and lively, and the food really is every bit as good as I’ve found it to be in the city of Buenos Aires itself.
    Alba’s family were restaurateurs, and upon his arrival in New York in 1981, he worked his way through the business until co-opening an East Village spot called Coup. Going solo with Buenos Aires in 2006, he was committed to showcasing the best Argentine food products and wines.
    The restaurant is composed of two dining rooms and a patio, the first hung with all manner of things Argentine, from soccer team shirts and pennants to posters and photographs that include Pope Francis, for whom Alba once proudly cooked when the pontiff visited New York. (He ordered chicken.) There are more artifacts in the 35-seat rear room (below), which is quieter and sometimes used for private dining. South American music is played in both rooms but it doesn’t much intrude in the rear.
    The 300-bottle wine list is impressive for the number of well-priced Argentine labels and for the 25 wines by the glass, along with a slew of specialty cocktails. 
    The best thing to do is to leave your order in the hands of Alba and his staff, and you’ll likely start off with grilled smoky Argentine provoleta cheese with fresh tomatoes ($16.95), and camarones al ajillo, plump shrimp in a heady garlic sauce ($14.95). By all means go for the housemade sliced and sautéed  chorizos criollos sausage with sweet onions, hot red peppers and olive oil ($10.95). For the table, the Rueda Buenos Aires ($32.95) is a platter for two (or more) containing those grilled sausages, along with rich blood sausage, grilled veal sweetbreads and somewhat funky veal chitterlings ($32.95).
    If you’ve got the appetite, I wouldn’t neglect the pastas here—Argentina has a huge Italian population—for the canelones caseros, pasta tubes stuffed with spinach and ricotta, summer’s truffles, tomato sauce and a luscious salsa blanca ($20.95) are delicious.
    Now you are ready for the main event: You can choose from grass-fed Argentine beef or USDA Prime cuts; ordinarily, in an American steakhouse I’d go with the USDA Prime. But, when in Buenos Aires, do as they do, and the Argentine beef here, hormone and antibiotic free, is the finest, most flavorful grass-fed beef I’ve had outside of Argentina itself. There’s a 12-ounce boneless rib eye at $42 and 16 ounces for $52 (left).    
    But the correctly noted “Special” here is the Buenos Aires Grilled Skirt Steak (32 ounces for  $72) that will feed an entire table of four. Skirt steak used to be an ill regarded, cheap cut until fajitas became a national phenomenon, and this example is of superb, deep, mineral-laced flavor.     If you choose not to choose, go for the Parrillada Buenos Aires Mixed Grill, including Angus short ribs, skirt steak, sausage, spicy blood sausage, veal chitterlings and grilled veal sweetbreads ($66). They also do a fine crisply roasted half-chicken marinated in lemon and herbs ($29).  All entrees come with a choice of mashed potatoes, French fries, white rice or mixed salad.
    You might be surprised at the number of desserts on the menu—eight, plus ice creams, all of them quite traditional, from the flan (right) with dulce de leche caramel ($12), and the budin de pen bread pudding with raisins and ice cream ($9) to the caramel crêpe ($14) and apple crêpe ($14).
    There’s no chance you’ll emerge from Buenos Aires without a full stomach and an appreciation for the commitment to authenticity the kitchen makes. What’s more, the nightly festive atmosphere and effusive service proves every bit as genuine.

Open daily for lunch and dinner.




By John Mariani

    France’s Rhône Valley produces distinctive red and white wines, but the former far outweigh the latter for kudos among wine critics. Even so, before the 1970s, when most of the valley’s vignerons sold their wine to negoçiants, and really not until the next decade was there much interest in Rhone wines. As John Livingston-Longmonth wrote in his monumental The Wines of the Northern Rhône (2005) “the poor cousin of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne,” “The northern Rhone faces the twenty-first century with its tail apparently up.”  Comments on the southern Rhône are less effusive, although the region, which extends from the Alps to the Mediterranean Sea, produces the majority of the wines, mostly red.
        Among those reds there are some favored regions, like Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, within which Beaucastel, Chȃteaneuf-du-Pape are well known. Whereas Syrah is the dominant grape of the north (the southern climate is too hot for that varietal) for red wines, while Marsanne and Roussanne are used for whites.
    The white wines of the south have rarely earned high accolades, based on Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Viognier, Vermentino and others, with most bottlings a blend of grapes. Cooperatives produce most of the wines in the south, but now there are some innovators in the region who are producing wines that are not only of high caliber but of distinctive tastes that diverge from the bland blends that dominate.  Here are four (with one from the Northern Rhone) that I recently tasted with summer meals that I was delighted with.


DOMAINE DE LA JANASSE BLANC 2017  ($19.99)—The Cotes du Rhone appellation covers an enormous amount of territory, and this domaine’s part of it is 98 acres near the village of Courthezon, owned by the Sabon family (Aimé oversees the vineyards, his children Christophe and Isabelle make the wines). When writing about wines I try to eschew simple-minded allusions to particular fruit flavors, but on my first sip of this white Rhone, I burst out, “Pears! It tastes exactly like ripe pears!”
    A blend of 50% Grenache, 15% Clairette, 15% Bourboulenc (a rare varietal not even mentioned in The Oxford Companion to Wine), 10% Viognier and 10% Roussanne, the wine is pure pleasure, full flavored with minerality from limestone and sandy soils. It ages for a year in a large wooden vat called a foudre, which allows for a degree of oxidation to further flavor the wine.  I drank it with a summer salad of fruits, tomatoes, onions and olive oil.

DOMAINE LA MANARINE BLANC 2017 ($19.99)—Since 2001 Gilles Gasq has been making predominantly Grenache red wines in the well-regarded region called the Plan de Dieu (God’s plan), but he also makes a 50-50% blend of Clairette and Bourbelenc. After pressing, the juice ages on the lees for an amazing five months, with ten percent of the grapes vinified and aged in neutral casks to undergo malolactic fermentation. The wine has fine fruitiness and acid with a streak of rocky minerality garnered from both limestone and quartz called galet. It was perfect with sautéed swordfish with summer corn.


DOMAINE LA RÉMÉJEANNE LES ARBOUSIERS BLANC 2016 ($19.99)— A higher altitude and cooler climate around the village of Sabran in the foothills of Cevannes gives the wines of Remy Klein and his son Oliver a refined freshness and balance of elegant fruit and tangy acid. Grapes are hand harvested, using indigenous yeasts and aged on the lees for six months. The blend consists of 30% Roussane, 30% Clairette, 20% Viognier (which gives the wine its flowery aroma) and 20% Bourbelenc.


DOMAINE DES AMPHORES “ALTITUDE 300” BLANC 2017 ($19.99)— Although this 25-acre Northern Rhône vineyard dates back only to 1992 under owners Philippe and Véronique Grenier, this domaine in Chavanay is in the forefront of modern winemaking, completely organic and biodynamic. In this blend of 80% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne (left) both grapes are full bodied and it has the heft to go well with salmon or chicken, as well as cheeses, either as an apéritif or after the main course.




"Keto flu, keto breath, keto crotch… What’s next? Unfortunately, new side effects of the keto diet continue to emerge. People are now breaking out in full-body, painful rashes after going on the extremely low-carb diet. And perhaps the worst part is that this 'keto rash' can leave brown marks on the surface of the skin that stick around for life."—Holly van Hare, "
‘Keto Rash’ Is the Horrifying New Side Effect of Eating Low-Carb," Daily Meal (7/19/19)


Ava DuVernay, director of the new movie A Wrinkle in Time, tells how travel changed her life: "Traveling is a spiritual practice for me. It connects me to a higher power in that the very act of roaming the world deepens my sense of life and love and learning and laughter. To me, all of that is God. Traveling is like prayer. An act of gratitude and grace."



 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.


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