Virtual Gourmet
SEPTEMBER 8,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


"Bar Room" by Thomas Hart Benton, circa 1934

By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

There will be no issue of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet next week because Mariani will driving around in France wining and dining on his readers' behalf.



By John Mariani

Mural by Daniel Galvez outside The Middle East Restaurant


    Perhaps because Cambridge is not as compact as Boston, I always think of it as the larger city, where you can walk very far and enjoy so many pubic squares as well as stroll through nearly a dozen neighborhoods like Somerville, Riverside, Radcliffe and Strawberry Hill.  The M.I.T. campus now takes up an enormous chunk of real estate, and the Charles River is broad enough to remind you that Cambridge is very much its own city, not an attachment to Boston.

    Given its number of universities and their students, Cambridge is awash in storefront eateries of every stripe, from vegetarian spots like Whole Heart and a place that sells 14 kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches to fusion spots like Anna Sortun’s Sarma to a multi-room restaurant and nightclub called The Middle East. There are no old, historic restaurants in the city—The Red House dates to 1802 as a private residence but only became a restaurant in this century—though one of the best in town, Harvest, is celebrating 45 years in business.



44 Brattle Street



    Of the four restaurants Chris Himmel owns—Grill 23 & Bar, Harvest Post 390, Bistro du Midi and Harvest—the last is the best and most personalized. I doubt any restaurant in New England can claim as many illustrious graduates of its kitchen as Harvest. Scott Bryan, Bob Kinkead, Barbara Lynch, Frank McClelland, Sara Moulton, Eric Brennan, Chris Schlesinger and Lydia Shire all practiced their craft there before going off on their own to prove their mettle. 

    Today Tyler Kinnett, Harvest’s chef since 2015, is behind a newly renovated kitchen, and while he is clearly doing his own cuisine, it is in the line and spirit of what was done before. Dishes on the menu back in 1986, like fettuccine with jalapeños, grilled peppered shrimp, and a pea and goat’s cheese salad, might just as readily be found on the menu today.

Kinnett has wide experience in the area, having worked at Hamersley’s Bistro and Sel de la Terre and having run the catering department at Fenway Park, as well as having cooked at Blackbird in Chicago and Per Se in New York.

    You’ll find Harvest down a cobblestone path near Harvard Square, and the linden tree-lined garden terrace is the loveliest of several rooms, with candles on a clothed table. 

    Beverage Director Brahm Callahan’s 21-page wine list is one of the finest in the region, with about 20 half-bottles, and prices are quite reasonable overall in a state whose taxes can make wines punishingly expensive. 

    Harvest has a very long menu, which could do with some trimming. You might just go with the raw bar offerings, which include at least five species of oysters ($3.50 each),  or the crudi seafood, like Scituate scallops with a pine granita and brioche ($14) or Acadian redfish with yuzu, avocado and plantain ($12), or the icy seafood towers ($40 to $75), then a mix of charcuterie and cheeses ($12 to $13).

    You get a delectable skillet of cornbread with maple syrup, and Harvest serves one of the best lobster bisques (left) in town, exceptionally rich with lobster roe dumplings, pearl onion and chervil ($18).  Corn panna cotta with sweet cherry tomato, bacon, smoked Gouda, red quinoa, peppers and cornbread crumbs ($14) is a fine starter, too.

    Among the seafood main courses I recommend the Georges Bank haddock sided with mussels, fennel, butterball potatoes, artichokes, sugar snap peas and lemon ($34). Meat dishes of note are the garlic and fennel roasted rolled porchetta with grapefruit marmalade, stoneground Mexican Taza chocolate mole, coraline chicory and shiso ($38), and the perfectly balanced sweet and sour flavors of plump duck breast with stone fruit, pistachio mole and lavender jus ($36). There’s always a pasta or two, like the Swiss chard and ricotta tortelloni, good but overdressed with tomato, eggplant, kohlrabi, basil pesto, radicchio and Parmigiano ($24).

    On Sundays  Harvest holds a barbecue of beef brisket and pork belly, smoked sweet potato salad, jalapeño cheddar cornbread, baked beans and curtido ($34).

    Harvest is always a happy night out, so you must enjoy some of Joshua Livsey’s sumptuous desserts, like the dense but moist flourless chocolate cake with cherries, dehydrated chocolate mousse, whipped cream and cherry jam ($10), or a corn cake ($12), or a blackberry Pavlova meringue with lush elderflower panna cotta, blackberry gastrique and sage ice cream ($13).

    Harvest is as good as refined dining gets in New England, and it is served up with a genuine bonhomie that puts its 45 years of longevity in proper perspective.

Open for lunch Mon.;Fri; for dinner nightly; for brunch St. & Sun.





505 Massachusetts Avenue



    You might mistake Little Donkey for one of those funky eateries along Central Square, but when you have two powerhouse chefs like Jamie Bissonette and Ken Oringer—both James Beard award winners—the dynamic soars upward. They also run Coppa (Italian trattoria), Uni (“global street food”) and Toro (Spanish, with branches in New York, Dubai and Bangkok).

Little Donkey is a big, bright room of industrial design remnants, with exposed brick walls, concrete surfaces and slender columns. There are high bar tables with high chairs, as well as regular ones.

    The menu is similar in style to Uni’s in offering up “unique flavors from around the world—from Jersey to Japan,” though there’s a lot more Japanese than Jersey on the menu. About Little Donkey Oringer says, “Every chef likes to have a restaurant where they can cook whatever the hell they want to cook any time they want to cook it, and this gives us that freedom.” Most often such hubris is a path to madness, suggesting a throw-away mentality without feeling the need to perfect a dish. Yet, given their dual experiences and ability to cover their bases, Oringer and Bissonette have forged their ideas into a winning formula. I had a lot of terrific food at a lunch at Little Donkey, where I was glad to see both Oringer and Bissonette, both of whom I’ve been writing about for decades, sitting across the room.                                                                Photo: Natalie Ann Schaefer

    Despite the “whatever the hell we want to cook” modus operandi, the menu doesn’t radically change much from day to day, though there are always specials. My party of five checked off a bunch of items, beginning with cooling tuna poke with Gochujang condiment and pickled bean sprouts ($16). Organic hummus with cucumber, sumac, sunflower seeds, served with warm Barberi bread ($10), had a complexity of spices too often lacking in muddy versions. And who can say no to a pile of patatas bravas ($6)?

    Cornmeal pupusas with peas, Chihuahua cheese, spicy slaw and tomatillo sauce ($8) didn’t add up to the sum of its parts. “For the Table” are BLT lettuce wraps with lamb bacon ($15), a very tasty dish with pimento cheese, tomato jam and pickled red onions that would do any Southern cook proud, while the Seoul Bowl "Bibimbop Style" ($14) had fiery kimchi, tofu, Korean fried broccoli, Persian cucumbers and egg, a combo that would rank high in any of the more exciting Korean eateries around town. Also very good with lots of punch was Thai sausage chow fun with Calabrian chili, scallion and crunchy peanuts ($15).

    You know there’s going to be a big sloppy burger on such a menu, and Little Donkey’s is called the “impossible burger” ($16) because of the difficulty of eating it without a mess. It’s really delicious, slathered with sambal mustard, tomato jam, smoked tofu aïoli and American cheese, whose components make even the tofu taste pretty good. There’s also a buffalo burger with pickles, American cheese, onion soup mayo, jalapeño chops ($15) and—wait for it—foie gras! It, too, is nice and sloppy, kind of silly and also irresistible once you’ve had it, for a very reasonable $15.

    This is not the kind of place where you skip dessert, and if you’re a fan of cookie dough, you’ll probably love the big scoop of it with chocolate chips, Little Donkey’s signature sweet (right).

    With a name like Little Donkey you might not take a restaurant too seriously, and if you did, you’d lose part of the fun. But Bissonette and Oringer are dead serious about putting out the best versions of every item on their menu with their practiced ability.


Open for lunch through dinner Mon.-Fri, for brunch and dinner Sat. & Sun.



By John Mariani


36-18 Ditmars Boulevard


    There are two Uncle Jack’s restaurants in Queens: Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse in Bayside (with two others in Manhattan) and Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Astoria (with a branch in Duluth, Georgia).
       I confused the two one night and ended up sitting at the Steakhouse for half an hour until I realized I was in the wrong place. Twenty minutes later I entered Jack’s Meat House, and while the differences are gastronomically minimal, the décors are significant. All are owned by Willie Degel; there is no “Uncle Jack.”

    The Steakhouse is a more traditional dining room, not stuffy but not as casual as the Meat House. Both served first-rate beef, and I found the diversity on the Meat House menu offered a lot more for those who just want to eat light at the bar, evoking the look of a meat locker, or go full bore in the (quieter) rear dining room.

    Opened last December on a lively, restaurant-saturated block, the Meat House has a deliberately scruffy Roaring Twenties look, with a Bootlegger Jack’s Hidden Speakeasy accessible through a unisex lavatory. There’s a handsome bank vault-style door, peeling wallpaper and Tiffany chandeliers, but not in the sanitized Disney way, looking instead like it’s been around forever.

    The wine list is serviceable but largely stocked with familiar brand names. There are several half-bottles available, and prices are moderate, but there are no vintages listed, which is very disappointing.

    The menu has all the standard steakhouse items and a good deal more, including a category of “Munchies,” from meaty pork belly chicharrons with a hot sauce perked up with lime ($10) to wagyu beef meatballs in a sweet hoisin sauce ($18). A lot of steakhouses do a slab of roasted bacon, but Uncle Jack’s was outstanding for its ideal blend of fat and lean, served with a chipotle mayonnaise ($12). Best of all are the unusual lobster and avocado mini tacos in a taro root shell with wasabi-laced mayo ($14)—so good they are tough to share with even the best of friends.  A close second are the tuna poke “spliff” cones of raw, well-seasoned ahi tuna in a spicy mayo, sesame and avocado puree ($15).      

There’s also a generous charcuterie board of artisan meats and cheeses and housemade condiments ($24) that you can definitely share. There are also sandwiches and salads, along with five hamburgers to which you can add other items ($12-$17).

    And then you come to the beef dishes, which offer a choice of wet-aged USDA Choice, USDA Prime and both domestic and imported kobe beef. By far he best choice is the 24-ounce, 35-day dry-aged Fred Flintstone Rib Chop ($79)—a cut so flavorful and so perfectly cooked that I can’t think of a better steak I’ve had in New York in years, and much more interesting than the kobe.

    In addition to all this, there are daily specials, and since it was Wednesday, the option was meat loaf ($18), which was not a very generous slab and needed seasoning.  The “Scratch Plates” included a delicious, succulent, well-cooked herbed chicken with pan gravy and seasonal vegetables ($20).

    Of the eight side dishes offered (all $8), I’d go with the naturally buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, the “Corngasm” crème brûlée corn pudding or the shredded crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon lardons and Thai spices.

    No, you do not want to skip at least one dessert for the table—portions are very large—from the “Baking Bad” three-cookie plate ($10) and “O.M.G. It’s Huge” coconut cream pie ($10) to the gooey, rich chocolate soufflé with salted caramel ice cream ($12).

Uncle Jack’s Meat House is serious about delivering first-class food, and the atmosphere is engaging, so I wish they’d get rid of those kitschy menu names. This food deserves way more respect.


Open for lunch and dinner daily.


By John Mariani


Beaumont Family Wines offers accommodations for visitors on their farms

    To continue with my tasting of South African wines now in the U.S. market, I find that so many are so well priced and that Pinotage is so critical to the country’s viniculture means that it is now expressive of individual vintners’ own style. But there are other varietals well worth trying, as noted here.

Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage 2018 ($14.99)— A very good price for a splendid “little” Pinotage whose elements are impeccably blended in an un-oaked version of the varietal, so it comes from last year’s vintage in Stellenbosch from vineyards selected for their fruity character. With little skin contact and 14% alcohol, it has a lighter body, fresh with good acid, so it goes well with salmon, veal or chicken dishes.In addition, Ken Forrester is known as "Mr. Chenin" for his fine work with that varietal.


Backsberg Pinotage Rosé 2018 ($13)—A fourth-generation winery whose improvement over the past ten years by Michael Back and his son Simon has brought more focus and modern technology to this estate in the Simonsberg Mountains, about 40 minutes from Capetown.  Michael Back says, “An additional change in our thinking over the last number of years is to say that at the all-critical time of harvesting we don’t simply harvest ripe fruit, but rather fruit from ripe vines. The holistic view again – all the aspects of the vine must show ripeness.”  The wine is interesting in several ways, first, by showing that Pinotage is a first-rate base for a rosé wine; second, it has remarkable floral notes and lovely color; and third it has a slight fizz on the palate, all of which makes it a terrific apéritif, not least with shellfish.


Flotsam & Jetsam Cinsault 2017  ($24)— I’m not sure Cinsault as a single varietal is going to catch on anywhere outside of South Africa, although as one element in a blend it gives deep color and aroma to Pinotage, as well as to Rhône Valley wines blended with Mourvèdre and Grenache. This oddly named label, made by Chris and Suzaan Alheit of Alheit Vineyards, whose website tries to be churlish, exemplifies the grape’s initial burst of ripe flavors, with dark color and medium body. The grapes are picked early so as not to have a heavy, cloying result. Taste it and make up your own mind about single varietal Cinsault.


Glenelly Glass Collection Cabernet Sauvignon  2016 ($20)— Here’s a diversion in a wine that is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, crafted from various blocks of vines on the estate. Many California wineries could take a lesson from this refined, complex Cab with only 14% alcohol. The tannins are still taking their time loosening up, but right now it’s a very good wine at this price level to go with a thick porterhouse on the grill.


Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018 ($20)—In 2004 Sebastian Beaumont took over as winemaker at his family’s winery in Bot River, an historic 18th century estate they bought in 1978, producing its first labeled wines in 1994. Since then their reputation for fine Chenin Blanc, first released in 1997, has been assured, as this exemplary bottling shows. It does not have the grassiness or fruit punch character of lesser Chenin Blancs and is closer in subtlety to a Burgundy like Chablis. It spends time mostly in French oak, with 15% new wood, and while the producer claims its “fresh, clean and powerful fruit will develop beautifully over the next 5–10 years in bottle,” I wouldn’t take a chance on holding on that long. It truly deserves to be enjoyed right now with all kinds of seafood.





"THE BUZZ Putting the fancy in fancy-free— with killer food and more Tiki chic  than you can shake a mini umbrella at."--Alexandra Hall, "THE 10 MOST EXCITING RESTAURANTS IN BOSTON RIGHT NOW," Boston Common  (July 24, 2019)





David Chang tweeted he decided it was time to post his latest “heretical statement,”
 telling people to keep their good summer tomatoes off a BLT sandwich because
 they are better with “shitty hothouse tomatoes.”


 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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