Virtual Gourmet

  SEPTEMBER 1,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Polish Cruise Lines Travel Poster (circa 1960) by Franciszek Ksavery Siemianowksi


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

    The demise in the past two years of both Locke-Ober Café, opened in 1875, and the even older Durgin Park, founded in 1827, is sad news, not just for their legions of fans but for the gastro-history of Boston itself. Only the Union Oyster House  (1763) is left to give you a sense of what dining once was like more than a century ago. (And Boston baked beans are tough to find anywhere.) New York still has Delmonico’s and Peter Luger’s, New Orleans has Tujague’s and Antoine’s, Chicago has The Berghoff and Gene & Georgetti, San Francisco hasTadich Grill and Sam’s Grill, and Los Angeles Musso & Frank Grill and El Cholo.
    Nevertheless, Boston’s food scene is as vibrant as ever, and on a recent visit I got to check out some very good spots of the moment.

Legal Sea Foods
The Street
55 Boylston Street
Chestnut Hill
Photo: Carly Gillis

    I usually refrain from covering chain restaurants unless they run well above the level of a Red Lobster or Olive Garden, but Legal Sea Foods has always been a template for high quality and unchanging commitment to sustainable practices in all its branches. Founder Roger Berkowitz opened a fresh food seafood market and no-frills eatery in 1950 that didn’t take reservations. Since then LSF’s have been opened all over New England, as well as New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, D.C
    The menu draws on scores of fish and other seafood, based on what’s seasonably available, and, believe me, LSF has tremendous clout in the market to obtain what they want..
    The Chestnut Hill branch, with 276 seats, was updated a year ago, set on two floors (next to a seafood store), and is a pretty glamorous setting, with expanses of windows, an outdoor terrace and retractable roof. The wine list is geared to seafood, with 30 wines by the glass, 20 half-bottles and 89 bottles. The young staff is knowledgeable, eager and well bred, with none of that “I’m-just-working-here-to pay-for-college” attitude.
    Chef Rich Vallente is LSF’s executive chef, while on-premises chef Steve Ernst is a field marshal, overseeing a vast number of orders that start coming in at 11 a.m. and keep coming till 10 p.m.
    On a sweet summer’s evening, I joined friends for an extensive sampling of the menu and was again amazed at how consistent the cooking was, from soup to desserts. Sushi has been added to an already lengthy menu.
    There’s always a slew of oysters, including a baked dish of them with spinach, cheese and breadcrumbs ($17.95). We started off with a fine lobster bisque ($8.95 and $12.95) with a generous amount of the shellfish in a wonderfully, silky, not-too-thick soup (left). Crab cakes, always on the menu, are all true jumbo lump meat, loosely bound and served with mustard sauce, baby lettuce, tomatoes, roasted corn and cider Dijon vinaigrette ($17.50 as an appetizer). Shrimp wontons were carefully steamed, along with a seaweed salad ($12.95), while Buffalo popcorn shrimp with avocado, blue cheese and celery hearts ($12.95) were as addictive as ever.
    The best of the main courses was a bountiful seafood casserole at an amazing price ($29.95), chock full of shrimp, lobster, scallops and whitefish laced with Monterey jack, baked with sherry garlic butter and sided with garlic-leek brown rice and roasted carrots in a romesco sauce (below). Every element coalesced into a lavish, Lucullan feast. Lemon gray sole is a fish with soft flesh, and LSF’s rendering, served with capers, tangy lemon butter, with aromatic jasmine rice and sautéed spinach ($29.95) came a bit limp that evening.
    There are three versions of lobster, priced according to weight. I ordered my two-and-a-half pounder simply steamed, and it was nice and meaty but a little waterlogged upon delivery. 
    You can’t go to New England without indulging in rich desserts, and you can’t go to Boston without trying Boston cream pie, which at LSF comes with a caramel sauce and toffee almond crunch ($8.95). The Key lime pie is also very good, not too sweet, with a raspberry sauce ($8.95), and, this being summer, the strawberries on the shortcake ($8.95) will never be better than right now.
    The danger of opening too many places is a recipe for a banal sameness, but LSF has managed, by keeping its eye on the product, to master the form. Now, please open in New York.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.

The Four Seasons Hotel
One Dalton Street
    Like Legal Sea Foods, Zuma is a chain, albeit international, with 12 units ranging from Hong Kong to Rome. The concept of a very large Asian restaurant and lounge, not unlike Tau and Sushisamba, was created in 2002 by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney in London. Each large unit has its own distinctly swanky décor by Tokyo-based designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu focused on high ceilings, polished wood, stone boulders, rice paper walls and open sushi and robata kitchens.
    The brand new Boston branch, set adjacent to the new Four Seasons Hotel wedged into Dalton Street (not the one on the Boston Gardens), is “inspired by the four elements of earth, fire, water and air,” a 21st century concept seeking a Millennial crowd. Techno music via a “floating” DJ is pumped into the room at full blast. (More on this in a moment.)
    As with Legal Sea Foods, the quality of the ingredients is paramount, though meats are also in array. Chef Helmy Saadon, formerly of Zuma’s Dubai unit, researched the Boston and New England markets for his gargantuan needs, as well as bringing in fish from the Pacific.
    The menus differ only slightly from branch to branch, but signature items are in all of them, like silky maguro no tataki of seared tuna with chili daikon and ponzu sauce ($20); tsubu-miso gake hinadori no yaki of barley miso-marinated, roasted baby chicken; ise ebi no oven yaki hojiso butter fumet of lobster with green chili and garlic hojiso butter ($69); and gyuhire sumihiyaki karami zuke ($41) of spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy.
    Tofu can be so bland, but the piri kara to abokado is spicy, fried and served with herbed avocado ($16), and I craved more of the gindara to ebi no gyoza dumplings of prawn and black cod ($16).
    Best way to go for sashimi is the moriawase, with two slices each of five fish ($52), and I also recommend the ample California maki roll ($14).  From the robata grill come sumptuously mounted dishes of perfectly cooked black cod marinated in miso ($41), roasted lobster with ponzu butter ($38) and well-fatted ribeye with wafu sauce and garlic chips ($38).
    The wine list is long, deep and expensive; there is also a collection of 70 premium sakes.
    You can skip dessert, but if you’re craving something sweet, sample the deluxe platter ($20 per person) of four desserts plus fruits, ice creams and sorbets.
    Now for one big caveat: Zuma is an excruciatingly loud restaurant, especially near the bar area; the rear room is barely less so. Of course you can’t discern what the music might be, on top of the crowd screaming to be heard over the din.  Were I to go back to enjoy Zuma’s fine cuisine, it would be early in the evening. 

Open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; for dinner nightly.

Kimpton Nine Zero Hotel
90 Tremont Street
    What is something of a throwback in Boston is the new Better Sorts Social Club, whose awkward name hints at its intent to draw a somewhat more sophisticated crowd than you’ll find at many other bars around town.
It’s located on the second floor of the Kimpton Nine Zero Hotel, which itself, in its design and comforts, echoes the notion of those wishing a certain degree of refinement without any stuffiness. The artwork throughout the building, with plenty of vintage photos, and the lay-out of the rooms—one with its own pool table and antique LP record player—evokes the swank of the 1930s and 1940s, and the bar, while not a club, has the same ambiance.
The space is done in American walnut, oak flooring, dark green plaster and tiles, Nero Marquina marble, bespoke wallpapers and soft textures in the upholstery. The animal artwork is by Miguel Vallinas.
    But the most singular thing about the Club is its award-winning head bartender, Naomi Levy, who draws on her extensive knowledge of cocktail history to come up with a highly unusual array of novelties like the Cacio e Pepe Martini;   Privateer rum-based Lost in the Supermarket with butternut maple and house sassafras bitters; Return of Major Tom made with Asian pear toki, orgeat, burnt toast tincture, egg and ash; and Fifteen Minutes, with peanut Basil Hayden, collards, aquafaba, lemon stock, and hot pepper jelly.
    There is further appeal in the out-of-the-ordinary bar food, ranging from a Vermont Cheddar Fondue with charred Brussels sprouts and crispy fingerlings to a New England Shellfish Cocktail with lobster, scallop, shrimp and squid served alongside Meyer lemon horseradish.
Open for dinner and cocktails Tues.-Sat. and for breakfast daily.


By John Mariani


33-19 Broadway
718-215- 0228


    Astoria, Queens, is New York’s Greektown, at least since the mid-1960s, when an enormous flow of both American-born and immigrant Greeks settled there, now numbering about 17,000, which makes the borough the largest Greek community in the world outside of Athens. (The name Astoria even sounds Greek, though it’s actually named after John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man of his day, who promised to invest in the neighborhood but actually put in only about $500.)
     The influx of Greeks brought coffee shops and diners, Greek groceries, gyro shops, wine stores and tavernas. Most of the latter purveyed a fairly set menu of traditional Greek dishes, but the best of them specialized in Mediterranean fish cooked on the grill. Only recently have a few restaurants diverged from the expected, and Amylos Taverna is one of the most exciting new entries in the field.       Photo: Anna Frumenti
    Amylos has a good pedigree: Patriarch and immigrant John Arvanitis opened the beloved Omonia Café in 1977 and it still sells everything from Greek pastries to pizza —they created the wedding cake for the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”—and now his son John, daughter Anna Christina and son-in-law Fedon are expanding the possibilities at Amylos. Executive Chef Konstantinos Troumouhis once had his own seaside restaurant on the island of Kos, coming to America to see if the dream was still alive.
    They both embraced and modified the clichés of Greek restaurants—it’s not all blue and white—by giving the atmosphere great warmth via rustic elements that play out against an earth-colored raw brick wall and marble floor that opens onto an outdoor terrace.
    It’s a long menu—as is the wine list with all the best modern Greek labels on it—so you want to take the suggestions of John Arvanitis, who pointed our party to the best and more unusual items.
    I’m hardly alone in asserting that the best part of most Mediterranean menus are the small plates, or in Greek, mezes, and I recommend bringing a party of four to Amylos to share everything, starting with the spreads ($15 for three) that include the dill-flavored yogurt tzatziki; malitzanosalata eggplant dip; tarama with roe, olive oil and lemon; and hummus, all served with warm pita bread.  With a glass of Greek white wine like Assyrtiko, it’s ideal for summer.
    Unusual indeed are the succulent smoked meatballs in herbed tomato sauce ($13), and the traditional Greek salad horitiki ($14) makes a good starter, as does a plate of feta, cucumbers and pink watermelon.
   My favorite meze was a layered tower of lightly fried zucchini and eggplant, with a minted yogurt ($14), which was not just a novel way of serving fried vegetable chips but one that keeps them hot and crisp. There is, of course, char-grilled octopus ($21), said to be “sushi grade,” if there is such a thing, and it was silky and delicious, as was a similar serving of calamari ($15). No one at our table could resist the tempura-style rock shrimp with an aïoli ($16). There’s a wonderful large plate of “Yiaya’s veal cheek pappardelle” with graviera cheese ($29).  The only disappointment among the starters was what was described as a crabcake with hummus chips ($16), said to be made with “colossal crab,” when in fact the shreds of crab were not even lumps. Amylos also has a raw bar of various seafood.
    Photo: Anna Frumenti

    We then dug in with gusto to a platter of plump lamb chops with hand-cut French fries, a dash of oregano and olive oil emulsion ($34), along with a lamb shank of marvelously melded flavors, including dark beer, and tenderness and a puree of fava beans graced with olive oil ($24).          
      Among the more unusual offerings was a moussaka of baked potato, eggplant, zucchini, beet and topped with lobster in an ivory-colored rich béchamel ($31).

    There are several Mediterranean fish listed, including lavraki ($24), tsipoura ($24), fagri (market price) and barbounia (market price), all expertly grilled and graced with olive oil, herbs and lemon.
      It would be foolish not to taste at least one or two of the desserts, brought over from Omonia, especially anything with honey-soaked phyllo pastry, like the cheesecake baklava ($12), along with the luscious yogurt flavored with mastic and dressed with strawberry-thyme sauce ($9) or the karydoputa walnut cake with fig ice cream ($11).
      Amylos Taverna has succeeded in combining the best of Greek traditional food, the freshest seafood and irresistible desserts with both flair and genuine hospitality, which, to put a spirited Greek spin on the word, would be filoxenia!
Open daily for dinner and for brunch on Sat.& Sun.


By John Mariani


Hemel-en-Aarde Valley

                If you are not all that familiar with the wines of South Africa, welcome to a large number of wine lovers in the same boat. The simple fact is, there are very few South African wines exported to the U.S., even though the country’s winemaking goes back to the 17th century via Dutch settlers and the industry’s Cooperative Wine Growers’ Association was founded in 1918. But South Africa’s distance from the western world, the Depression and World War II and it’s apartheid policies kept the wines out of many markets until well into the 1990s.

    Inter-agency battles for autonomy over the growers’ cooperative of more than 4,600 members further hindered the industry until the first democratic elections in 1994, which led to an export boom, although the best wines are still hard to come by, and high prices for some unfamiliar varietals like Pinotage haven’t helped.  Cabernet Sauvignon comprises only 12% of the country’s vineyards and Shiraz 19%. There is some Merlot and Pinot Noir, but they are not significant grapes as yet.  The thick-skinned Pinotage is actually a local cross breed of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Chenin Blanc is the most widely propagated white varietal, with some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc increasing.

More in their favor is that prices that were once too high for the global market have now been tamed to very reasonable levels, so they are indeed priced to sell.


BEESLAAR PINOTAGE 2017 ($32)—Abrie Beeslaar established his name while winemaker at South Africa’s prestigious Stellenbosch’s Kanonkop Estate in 2002, then established his own label nine years later under his name. The estate is set on just six acres planted with bush Pinotage on shale soils, grown there since the 1940s, and Beeslaar’s reds have given him the honor of being International Winemaker of the Year three times. This bottling gives a very good sense of Pinotage on first sip, with a dark, deep, impenetrable color, good length on the palate and ideal for hearty fall stews and dishes like cassoulet.


SOUTHERN RIGHT PINOTAGE 2018 ($33)—Founded by Anthony Hamilton Russell in 1994 and producing its first vintage in 2009, the label takes its name from “whales, which frequent the cool South Atlantic Walker Bay, two miles from the vineyards.” Winemaker Marc Kent, known as an early proponent for Syrah in South Africa, aims for lush fruit, gained from a long hang-time but without high alcohol (13.5%) from grapes grown on clay-rich shale soil from Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Walker Bay. The yield of that year was small, less than 2,000 cases. It’s a finely made, multi-level wine particularly good with game this fall.


ASHBOURNE PINOTAGE 2016 ($58)—This is another Anthony Hamilton Russell property located in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, named after his great, great grandfather, Lord Ashbourne, a lord chancellor of Ireland in the late 1800s. The wines debuted in 2001, with a Pinotage, a Pinotage-Cinsault, two Sauvignon Blancs and a Cinsault Rosé.  Only nine barrels (with about 60 gallons in each) of the Pinotage was made, and it has considerably more refinement than many other South African examples, long on the finish, complex with spices and a sensible14% alcohol. Excellent with grilled meats of any kind.


LIEVLAND PINOTAGE 2017 ($19)—The winery is located in Stellenbosch but the grapes for this bottling derived from Paarl’s granite-rich soil. At 13.5% alcohol it is delightful with many foods, and it has real ripe berry flavors throughout, which comes from a small amount of 3% Syrah and 9% Cinsault.  The 2017 season had little rain, but low temperatures helped to keep water in the soil, so there was good concentration in both color and bouquet.


M.A.N. FAMILY WINES PINOTAGE 2017 ($12)—When, in 2001, New Yorker Jose Condé, winemaker Tyrell Myburgh and his brother Philip (left) old their respective wives, Marie, Annette and Nicky, they were “going to be away most weekends,” they swore it was for them that they would be working so hard creating a Stellenbosch winery. So it seemed only fair to put their wives’ initials—M.A.N.—on the label. Buying from the region’s grape growers, the company has gone from 300 cases made in a tractor to 250,000 cases now sold in 25 countries, including China and Japan. They make Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Pinotage. They grow their Pinotage grapes from Agter-Paarl on untrelised vines called bosstock vineyards, which provide low yield and concentrated flavors. They are bottled with screwcaps, a popular choice in South Africa, and is a good entry level wine for a Pinotage.




"Napkin etiquette is more complicated than you think; so how do you navigate it? According to Smith, “[A] napkin on the chair signals you are returning to the table. Napkin on the table means you have left the meal.” And if you’re getting up from the table to greet someone, “please take the time to put your napkin on your chair; otherwise, you look like you are clutching a security blanket as you move about,” Smith said. And no one wants that."—Jodi Smith, etiquette consultant from Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, Daily Meal (5/29/19)



"That’s right, hold on to your horses; 
figs are not in fact the vegan fruit you thought they were! . . . You will be relieved to know that the wasps aim to lay their eggs in the male figs, while the figs we eat are female. But occasionally a female wasp will accidentally crawl into a female fig, where, due to a lack of space, she is unable to lay her eggs — though she dies, just the same, alone in a fig, with no antennae or wings. She’s just a fig wasp, stuck in a fig, unable to escape."—Daisy Nichols, "Figs Are Not Vegan Because They Are Full of Dead Wasps," Daily Meal.



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

   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, thedailybeast.com

"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 Meal.com.

"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, ForbesTraveler.com  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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