Virtual Gourmet

  SEPTEMBER 22,   2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 





By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


Part One

By John Mariani

    Costa Ricans have a unique phrase they use to greet you, bid you goodbye or just pass along during a conversation, and it is quite beautiful. They say, “Pura vida,” which means, “Have a pure life,” and it is always said with a nod of sincere friendliness.
    In many ways pura vida could be Costa Rica’s national motto, for at a time when most of Central America is in crisis, not only has Costa Rica remained stable for decades but has achieved almost complete energy sustainability—not a bad idea for a country with no oil wells. For 99% of the year the country runs on green electricity, taxes are high on fossil fuels, and by 2021 the country insists it will be carbon neutral.
    Its forests teem with more than 950 species of birds—the first guide to birds was not published until the 1990s —and its tropical climate is extremely diverse, with micro-climates in volcano-capped valleys and seashores. In fact, Costa Rica contains an astonishing 5% of the world’s biodiversity, with 25% in protected national parks. Unlike in Brazil and Argentina, deforestation has diminished to nearly zero.
    One of the most remarkable aspects of Costa Rica is that it abolished its military force in 1948 (the country’s defense has been guaranteed ever since the U.S. C.I.A. used it as a base of operations against the Nicaraguan Contras), when President José Figueres Ferrer declared, “I don’t want an army of soldiers, but an army of educators,” which has given the people an exceptionally high literacy rate of 97 percent.
     Today its health care system is rated higher than that of the U.S., and San José’s Children’s Hospital is ranked as one of the best in the world.
    Though it was once a Spanish colony and its architecture resembles that of other Central and South American countries, its main cities of San José and Cartago (right) are not so grand as Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Montevideo, even San Salvador. (In upcoming articles I’ll be writing about the nation’s art culture, as well as its hotels and food.) San José, the capital, is the largest city, with about 340,000 people and another two million in the ever-widening metropolitan area. Costa Rica’s indigenous people survive in eight tribes, each with its own language, religion and food, whereas Catholicism maintains its dominance among the Latino-derived general populace.
          Given the country’s security, safety and infrastructure, with two main airports serviced by 29 airlines and another being built on the Pacific coast, Costa Rica is strategically located as a forum for international business conferences between North and South America.  According to the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica is now the regional leader for connectivity since the opening of the Moín Container Terminal, where a railroad to be built by China will link the west and east coasts, largely eliminating the need to ship goods by road and giving easier, less expensive access to Europe and Asia. (China has also presented a feasibility study to Panama for a $4 billion, 250-mile
high-speed rail line between Panama City and its border with Costa Rica.)
    Though Costa Rica used to boast of its low crime rate, after the 2012 breaking up of the Zamora crime family, which had used San José as a conduit for Colombian cocaine trafficking to the U.S., there has been a rise in crime caused by the fragmenting of drug gangs. 
The government has in turn formed a new public plan “Creating Security” to combat these warring micro-trafficking groups by increasing federal and community collaboration and prioritizing resources toward prevention and police operations in high risk areas. Most of San José remains a safe city.
    Oddly enough, Costa Rica has not seen the same inflow of immigrants from dangerous Central American countries whose populace has been fleeing to the U.S. in recent years. I asked officials why that has not occurred in Costa Rica and was told that such immigrants would not have access to the kind of jobs needed to sustain them. 
    I also asked several people why so many homes in safe residential areas in San José have roofs strung with razor-sharp barbed wire. The only reason seems to be that barbed wire is very expensive, so that arraying it on your roof is a sign that you are fairly well off.


By John Mariani

 306 W 13th Street


    The name of Vincent Chirico’s new restaurant doesn’t really tell you what to expect, or just how exceptional the food will be. Chirico’s cooking is anything but coarse and fits no dictionary definitions of the word, which range from “inferior” to “common” to “rough.” Indeed, it is very superior cuisine, certainly not common around town and assuredly refined.
    At least the new name is better than the original one—Raw New York—which seemed pretty straightforward, even though the menu was not all raw food, although Chirico (left) often did little more than slicing and dicing. An expensive sign change to Coarse NYC hasn’t really made things all that much clearer.
    Nevertheless, the well-priced $99 tasting menu is clearly an attraction, served at a judicious pace within a room that does in fact have some deliberately rough edges, with an open kitchen, exposed water pipes, rough white brick walls, unfinished wood, a long polished communal table, word-and-image abstract art and pillars with sketchy drawings of bald heads. What is unfortunately very coarse about Coarse is its noise level, loud enough when the place is full of people but intensified by an indistinguishable play list of throbbing drums and bass lines. It’s annoying when you sit down and becomes more uncomfortable as the night progresses.
    As noted, Chirico’s cuisine is highly refined and thoroughly personal, certainly with some raw elements but more likely quickly or barely cooked, so he delivers disparate tastes by balancing flavors that are predominantly Asian. During the evening he or the kitchen staff will deliver your plates and describe what you’re having.

    My wife and I began the dinner with lustrous hamachi with tender lily bulbs, Thai basil, daikon radish and a preserved ginger sauce made from rice wine vinegar, mirin, lime and shisho—a real spark to the appetite. Next came a single sea scallop (left), almost translucent, with a mousse of sunchoke and black garlic pounded into a pesto and crisp sunchoke.
    Chirico quickly marinates tuna in subtly flavorful white soy, then just as quickly sears it tataki style, dusted with aleppo pepper, fresh coriander and crunchy sea salt, then finishes it with a brown butter laced with white soy and lemon for an acid bite.
     Moving westward, though containing buna shimejji mushrooms, was ravioli filled with creamy burrata. Then came a near classic dish of duck with sweet corn and hazelnuts, water spinach, a reduced Port wine sauce and a pungent-sweet black pepper honey sauce (right). The last white asparagus of summer were served with chopped shallots and a white truffle dressing (rather bland), celery leaf, manchego cheese and (even blander) summer truffle.
    At this point there was a delightful cheese course of Gorgonzola dolce with caramelized raw sugar, an olive oil gelato and aged balsamic—good, though the gelato detracted from the already very creamy cheese. A grapefruit granité with yogurt and white chocolate was delicious, and a little pot of almond crème sealed the deal, along with sea salt chocolates.
    Appropriate wines are served with each course, all included for the remarkable $99 for a meal that is rare in New York and rarer still at this price. (There’s also a $69 three-course dinner menu and a $49 lunch.)
    Whatever the name Coarse is supposed to convey, Chirico might as well call it Oilcloth. Or the No Name restaurant, or anything else.  It’s the uniquely refined food that counts and will be the draw when the word gets out.  


Dinner is served Tues.-Sat.


By John Mariani


Winemaker Chris Carpenter

    South Australia has been the continent’s largest wine producer for decades, with plantings of its signature grape, Shiraz, dating back at least to the 1860s. The Barossa Valley, with more than 140 producers, had Silesian immigrants planting Riesling there in the 19th century, and today the huge Penfolds company (now owned by the global giant Treasury Wine) makes some of the world’s most expensive and respected Australian wines.
    The McLaren Vale, with more than 125 wineries, may be less familiar to those who love Aussie wine, but it has become known for its big, brawny, high alcohol wines that sometimes exceed 15.5% alcohol. In 2012, California’s own major global wine company, Jackson, bought Hickinbotham McLaren Vale winery (left) to expand its holdings in the Pacific Rim, appointing Christopher Carpenter as winemaker to produce Bordeaux varietals at the estate, which was founded in 1971.

    Hickinbotham’s Clarendon Vineyard covers a steep cut of territory from the ridgetops above the village of Clarendon to the Onkaparinga River in the gorge below. The original vineyard dates back to 1858 under the stewardship of Edward John Peake, who went on to export wine to Calcutta, Java, New Zealand, even  England. In the next century wine educator Alan Hickinbotham Jr. of Roseworthy Agricultural College, bought the Peake estate for $54,000, in time expanding the acreage and later selling grapes to Penfolds and other wineries.  Alan’s son David launched the Clarendon Hills Hickinbotham Vineyard in 2000, selling it to the Jackson family in January 2012.
    Chris Carpenter, who is also winemaker for Jackson’s Cardinale, Lokoya, La Jota and Mt. Brave estates, has since been visiting South Australia frequently to oversee new plantings, harvesting and production, and his Cabernet Sauvignons in particular have won wide acclaim. Over dinner at a French bistro in New York, Carpenter, who once played Big Ten football and looks like a cross between songwriter Jim Croce and western actor Sam Elliot, told of how he’d earned his M.A. degree in biology from the U. of Illinois, where he often played trombone in bar bands. But during a visit to Napa Valley, he fell in love with the territory and signed up to study at UC Davis, garnering an M.A. in both viticulture and oenology, then furthering his studies at Tenute Antinori, Santa Cristina Estate in Tuscany. He joined Jackson’s winemaking team at Cardinale in 1998, adding Jackson’s other wineries to his portfolio.
    Not wanting to show up as an American interloper in Australia, Carpenter sought to gain as much knowledge about the terroir of individual parcels as possible and to plant accordingly, with the help of local winemakers. “Water is a big problem in Australia,” he told me. “It comes almost entirely from rainfall, with agriculture using the most water, and since 2002 there have been real problems with drought, and we have to work within restrictions.”  (Australia's long-term annual average rainfall, 18.6 inches, is the lowest of all the continents except Antarctica.)
    Still, red grapes grow well in McLaren Vale, which is cooler than other terroirs, and its Shiraz wines rank with the best from France’s Rhône Valley. Hickinbotham’s own Brooks Road Shiraz 2016 is from a cooler region.  The time on the skins, after cold soaking, was a minimum of 18 days, then the juice was free run and separately, gently pressed. Unlike most Rhône Syrahs, which are a blend with other varietals, Hickinbotham’s is 100% Shiraz, yet, at 14.5% alcohol, it avoids being inky or too tannic, and showing abundant fruit.
    The Revivalist Merlot 2016 ($75) comes from hand-picked grapes, with 21 days of skin time, then racking over the next 15 months, emerging with a balanced 14% alcohol that keeps it from becoming overly fruity or cloying. The soil is iron rich and clay, imparting its minerality. There’s a good deal of finesse that does indeed remind me of a Bordeaux Pomerol like Château de Sales or Château Clinet. Only 748 cases were made, so this is a fine Merlot at a fair price, already sold out in Australia.
    Carpenter describes his Trueman 2016 ($75) as “the most homogenised, smoothly-assimilated Cabernet in recent years from Hickinbotham, reminiscent of those made by Stephen Hickinbotham in the early 'eighties. While its aromas of bergamot and blueberry have yet to lock in and settle, the palate's already there: fine, fresh and strapping. It's an elegant, savoury wine now, but will smooth out and flesh up to memorable opulence with a decade or two in the cellar.” Spending 15
months in a mixture of fine-grained Bordeaux-coopered barrels, the tannins of this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon have softened, and there is abundant acidity that keeps it fresh, with just 14% alcohol as ballast. Carpenter recommends aging, but it is rewarding to try it right now as an example of what he’s accomplished in a short period of time with this varietal.
    The Peake 2016 is, as is obvious from the price of $150, Hickinbotham’s top of the line bottling, using Cabernet (56%) with Shiraz (44%) blended in, rather than Merlot, a mix not unknown in Australia, where it has been done since pre-phylloxera days (the scourge arrived in 1877). With winemaker Charlie Seppelt and Viticulturer Michael Lane, Carpenter worked with vines dating to 1971 in high country (720-755 feet).  Both varietals were left on the skins for a minimum eighteen days, resulting in an alcohol level of 14.5%, skirting the higher levels of so many unbalanced Australian red wines. It was indeed a beautiful wine, though still quite tannic—it went very well with a steak au poivre and rack of lamb—and Carpenter insisted it’s a wine that will improve over many years.
    When I asked how many people are going to spend $150 for an Aussie Cab, he answered, “I make my wine for connoisseurs who can afford it and have huge cellars where they can store the vintages.” When I winced at the remark, he quickly explained that his other wines are very fairly priced for all wine lovers.

    The next day I checked the price on Penfolds Grange Bin 95, which sells for  $550, and realized why Carpenter was confident of what he said and what he’s gunning for.  Time in the bottle will tell if he’s right.



Among the winners of the Food Finalists for the 2019 State Fair of Texas are:

-Fermie’s fried burnt end burrito

-Ruth’s stuffed fried Mexi-Cone

-Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball

-Deep-fried cream cone casserole fritters

-Deep-fried chicken wing on top of a Big Red glazed doughnut (right)

-Deep-fried bayou fruit bites
-Deep-fired mango with citrus glazed




"When Did Drag Brunch Get So Normie? Historically, drag has thrived in queer, underground nightclubs. And then brunch brought it to light."--by  ,




 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