Virtual Gourmet

  OCTOBER 20, 2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


"Still Life" By Cezanne (circa 1877)



There will be no issue (Oct. 27) of Mariani's Virtual Gourmet because Mariani will be floating and  eating around Italy's Lake Como.


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

National Theater, San José

    The principal appeal of Costa Rica—and one easily understood when you experience the lush countryside—is its ecotourism, which takes in both the Caribbean and Pacific, amidst all its vast forests and volcano-dotted mountains, all teeming with exotic wildlife. But its capital, San José, has an abundance of interests for travelers, who can be assured of a safe and secure holiday in a Central American country with an exceptionally high education level, sustainable energy, historic importance and food culture. In fact, San Jose is the sixth-most visited destination in Latin America and first in Central America.
    San José is actually a rather young city by colonial standards, having been founded in 1736 by the Spanish council of Cabildo de Léon and didn’t even have a formal government until 1812, so its colonial architecture owes more to the nineteenth century than do those of other Latin American countries. After the coffee industry, along with rice, got underway in Costa Rica in the 19th century, San José’s economy grew greatly.
    Serviced by trains, buses, taxis and Uber, the city is easy enough to get around, despite heavy traffic, and, owing to its safety, you can walk in most neighborhoods during the day with a true sense of security.
    The finest architecture of the city is not in private mansions but in public buildings like the Museo Naçional and, especially, the Teatro Naçional de Costa Rico (left), which, after seven years of construction delays, opened to the public in 1827 with a performance of Goethe’s Faust.
It was built with money from taxes on coffee, rice and beans, and the interior features a mural by Milanese artist Aleardo Villa called the “Allegory of Coffee and Bananas,” in commemoration of the local workers who built it.
    It is done in a splendid Neo-Classical style, with a beige stone façade and red roof, flanked by statues of Beethoven and Spanish dramatist and poet Calderon de la Barca and flower gardens. The theater’s performance arena is marvelously gilded, with thick velvet curtains and a magnificent rotunda and chandelier. There is a café on the premises, too. Tours are available or you can visit on your own, and there are often free musical programs at midday and Thursday evenings.
    There are several fine parks throughout San José—and 22 national parks throughout the country—the largest being Parque Metropolitano La Sabana, which is called the “lungs of San José,” while the Parque Okayama is a beautifully landscaped Japanese garden.

    Perhaps unique in the world is the five-year-old Museo del Jade Fidel Tristan Castro, which is wholly devoted to jade, its history, industry and versatility, dating back to work and art of Costa Rica’s Native American people. There is also a Gold Museum displaying the history of the most alluring treasure to spur the colonization of Central America.
    Several art museums treat the pre-colonial as well as the 19th century and into modern-day Costa Rican culture. The
Museo Naçional (above) is housed in the beautiful, ocher-colored Cuartel Bellavista Building, once an army base, complete with turrets, and the Museum of Contemporary Art proudly exhibits local artists. There is  also a Gold Museum (right), Bank Museum, a Stamp Museum, a Children’s Museum and many others; in  addition, the streets of the city are sites for the public sculpture of Jorgé Jiménez Deridía, born in Heredia, Costa Rica, whose very modern work evokes both the traditional art of the regions’ indigenous people along with the monumentality of Fernando Botero’s voluptuous nudes.
    Costa Rica is a Catholic country, so churches are everywhere in San José.  The Cathedral, built in 1802 but destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1871, has a fairly somber façade, a mix of too many architectural elements, from Neoclassical to Baroque. The more Gothic Coronado, outside the city, is more impressive. Far lighter, with a façade in a pale gray limestone masonry trimmed in white, is the Church of Our Lady of Solitude (left), with exquisite, fluted Corinthian wooden columns leading to the altar. Impeccably restored in 2012 after years of pollution took its toll, the church stands apart from the crowded streets of San José.
    I’ll be writing about San José’s food culture at another time, but a principal attraction for everyone is the vast Central Market, where it would be difficult not to find anything and everything one could want, from ceramics and seeds and spices to sodas, the local name for an eatery where elderly women make tortillas by hand, and the city’s oldest (1904) ice cream shop, La Sorbetera de Lolo Mora, which dishes out a uniquely delicious soft vanilla ice cream with an icy texture and crisp barqullos sugar cookies.


By John Mariani
Photos by Cassandra Wang


128 First Avenue (near Eighth Street)

Mentaiko spaghetti with chili Pacific uni


    Outside of the islands themselves, Hawaiian food is a great rarity in the U.S., unless you count tiki bars where the pupu platters are washed down with mai tais and zombies. Yet anyone who has been to Hawaii in the past 20 years knows that some of the most exciting Pacific Rim cuisine is being innovated there, spurred by pioneers like Roy Yamaguchi, Sam Choy, Peter Merriman, George Mavrothalassitis, Beverly Gannon, Alan Wong and many others.
   How delightful, then, to find a first-rate representative of the cuisine on New York’s Lower East Side, where Chef Chung Chow and partner-manager Jin Ahn have taken the ideas and ingredients from Hawaii and made them their own at their four-year-old Noreetuh, which means, tellingly, “playground.”
    The restaurant is composed of two rooms separated by a wall. The one my party sat in had some typical Hawaiian travel posters and hundreds of small photos of friends, staff and regulars. The big wooden tables are spacious but the lighting is too low to allow for easy menu reading and to see the wonderful color of the food presentations. The unnecessary (non-Hawaiian) canned music should be turned down or off.
    Except for a wagyu beef dish ($70) and an uni pasta ($34) nothing tops $28 on the menu, so ordering a bunch of appetizers is a good way for a table to share these enticing tastes. They have a beer, wine and sake license, and the list is extensive, but if you’re looking forward to a cocktail with a little umbrella in it, you’re out of luck.
    Chow has quite the résumé, with long stints at Per Se under Thomas Keller, then at Lincoln Ristorante with Jonathan Benno. He was born in China and grew up in Hawaii and Japan, so his Polynesian roots are deep (Ahn was born in South Korea).
    I left myself in the chef’s hands and received an array of musubi appetizers, which included rice-bound sandwiches similar to nigiri sushi, only these were layered with delectably fatty beef tongue, cilantro and peanuts ($9); rich, velvety pork jowl with scallion and ginger ($9), and spicy Spam with soy, mayo and jalapeño ($7). Frankly, I’d never tasted Spam—it was not an item my Italian-American mother kept in her cupboard and it always had a reputation for being the lowest of canned food ideas. So I was surprised to find that it tasted pretty good; after all, it’s just pressed
pork and ham with salt (lots of it), water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. And, as everyone knows, it is a favorite and beloved food in Hawaii—five cans per person each year—where some of the finest chefs use it in many of their dishes. I actually liked it, even if I’m not rushing out to buy a can.
    Among the “small” plates we had hearts of palm and sweet potatoes with a seed cracker and maple-sweetened pecan ($12), then another very Hawaiian dish, big-eye tuna poke greens with macadamia nuts, pickled jalapeños and seaweed ($22). It’s a good dish for two to share. Kauai shrimp were well laced with garlic butter and accompanied with savory grilled onigiri rice balls ($17).  Truffle wontons were more of a surprise, with ham hock meat, New England fiddlehead ferns and very bland shaved truffles ($28).
    Hawaiian pastas take advantage of both Eastern and Western food cultures, so at Noreetuh mentaiko spaghetti, usually made with smoked cod, came with chili and pleasingly mild Pacific sea urchins ($34).
    When trout is very, very fresh, even though farmed, it’s a good palette for Chow’s Asian herb salad and a pesto ground with peanuts and Thai basil ($22).  With its sweet and sour notes, pineapple-braised pork belly came with soft polenta and pickled mushrooms ($22). I was a little surprised that Noreetuh offered two wagyu dishes, one made with American-raised Imperial wagyu, whose luscious richness was increased by a serving of rice blended with beef fat, pickled garlic and radish ($34); the option, at twice the price, is the same dish with Japanese Miyazaki A5 wagyu, which is not much of an improvement over the former.
    You might wonder if Hawaiians have indigenous desserts, and there are indeed many dishes made with pineapple, coconut, taro and sweet potato. Probably the best known is haupia, a pudding made from coconut, coconut milk and sugar, which Chow makes as a chocolate sundae with almonds and Graham cracker ($5 or $10). I also loved the sliced pineapple that was given a brûlée treatment and spiced with lime zest and red alaea sea salt ($10).
    New York is low on Hawaiian restaurants of any stripe—Onomea in Willliamsburg closed a while back, and Makana in Harlem  is more a Japanese-style barbecue—and none is doing the kind of innovative, stylish, beautifully composed food that Noreetuh does. Plus, it’s a helluva lot of fun to eat there.


Open nightly for dinner.





By John Mariani

    Invariably wine lovers compare the world’s sparkling wines to Champagne, a not unreasonable consideration since Champagne has since its creation been a model for what sparkling wine should taste like. Indeed, winemakers who produce bubbly wines around the world often use the so-called méthode champenoise by which still wine receives an addition of sugar called liqueur de triage or dosage that starts a secondary fermentation into alcohol and CO2. Lesser, cheaper methods, with names like Charmat, are used to make cheaper sparkling wines in bulk, like Italy’s Prosecco, which has achieved major market share worldwide in its category.
    Sometimes neglected, or at least not as well known, are the sparklers of the Franciacorta region of Lombardy in northern Italy, whose producers do use the méthode champenoise. (The general term for sparkling in French is mousseux, in Italian, frizzante or spumante, though the latter usually refer to Asti Spumante.) As a result, Franciacorta is among the more expensive Italian sparklers, though never at the price levels of the best Champagnes.
    Like Champagnes, Franciacorta wines are usually a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italian), with proportions of Pinot Bianco and, only recently, Erbamat, an ancient white varietal from the Lombardian province of Brescia.

    Franciacortas wines are designated by the degree of the dosage used: Pas dose, the driest, has sugar up to 3 grams per liter; Extra Brut, up to 6 g/l; Brut, less than 12 g/l; Extra Dry, 12-17 g/l; Sec or Dry,  17-32 g/l; Demi-Sec, the sweetest, suitable for desserts, 33-50 g/l.
    Within those categories are styles, including Franciacorta Millesimato (millesimo means vintage), for which 85% of the wine comes from a single year and released a minimum of 37 months after the harvest. As in Champagne, these vintage-labeled wines are produced only in high quality years.  Franciacorta Riserva wines are a blend of exceptional vintages whose grapes remain on  their lees for at least five years and are released 67 months after the harvest. They are more robust than most other Franciacorta wines.
    Sparkling wines were not created in the Champagne region (though the méthode champenoise was), and, in fact, Lombardy has been making bubblies since the 16th century. In 1570, Dr. Gerolamo Conforti published Libellus de Vino Mordaci—a Dissertation on Sparkling Wine—years before France’s Dom Pérignon expounded on the subject.
    But, as with the majority of Italian wines, Franciacorta’s unique qualities were not fully appreciated until well after World War II, with the recovery of the vineyards in the 1950s. Only in 1967 did the name Franciacorta attain official recognition under Italian wine laws as a DOC. Back then Pinot Bianco was the preferred grape, with a little Pinot Grigio or Pinot Nero added.
    It was very much a time of experimentation, when a dozen or so Lombard wineries, using 50 hectares, sought more consistency and refinement in Franciacorta, not least by planting and using Chardonnay in the blend, which eventually became the predominant grape. By 1983, there were 550 hectares under cultivation, with a production of about one million bottles annually. In 1990 a consortium (now with 200 members) worked further to improve Franciacorta’s image, eventually winning the prestigious DOCG appellation for the best examples in 2000. There are today 19 municipalities in Lombardy that are approved to carry the Franciacorta appellation. The rules now declare that only natural bottle fermentation can be used in the production.
    I’ve been a fan of Franciacorta sparklers since the 1990s, not so much preferring them to Champagne as finding them just as delicious as many comparably priced French bubblies.  Indeed, in a blind tasting of Franciacortas and Champagnes any differences might be wholly unnoticeable, and I much prefer a Brut Franciacorta to a way-too-dry pas dosage préstige cuvée Champagne. The Brut goes exceptionally well with the foods and products of Lombardy, like blue-veined Gorgonzola, Bel Paese and Robiola Bresciana cheeses, luganega sausage, zuppa Pavese, osso buco, vitello tonnato and saffron-scented risotto alla milanese. The sweeter Demi-Sec is delicious with torrone nougat and the Christmas panettone cake.
    With so many producers, many don’t yet export (as much as they’d like to), but there are some outstanding names in the global market. Guido Berlucchi, an estate whose vineyards surround the beautiful Palazzo Lana (above), was founded by Guido Berlucchi, who, together with Franco Ziliani, claimed to have made the first modern Franciacorta sparkler in 1961. Now run by the Ziliani family, the vineyards are spread over 500 hectares, all re-planted in the 1990s and now the largest producer, with more than five million bottles released each year.
    Barone Pizzini, founded in 1870, makes an excellent Brut, and if you like bone-dry sparklers, its vintage Pas Dose Riserva Bagnadore is well admired. Also in the Pas Dose category of note are the wines of Colline della Stella Arici, made by Andrea Arici of Gussago. Contadi Castaldi makes a Satèn Soul from 100% Chardonnay, aged on the lees for up to three years and aged after disgorgement for six months more. Cavalleri’s Collection line, which is only made in superior vintages, spends four years on the lees. A very refined, subtly complex Franciacorta is one of the first to hit the international market, Ca' del Bosco made by Maurizio Zanella (right).
Certainly the best-known Franciacorta producer, and one of the real pioneers, is Bellavista, under Vittorio Moretti (who also owns Contadi Castaldi) and is a major supporter of the arts in Lombardy—each vintage of his Brut is dedicated to the new season of La Scala Opera in Milan and appropriately packaged. His wines achieve a balance of fruit, acid and effervescence I find enthralling, and it is one of the brands fairly available in the U.S. market.





"The paradox of this is that Pastis is really meant for those nights when you decide to cancel your reservations at the little nine-seat tasting counter where the menu is inspired by Kieslowski’s “Decalogue.” –"Back to Pastis for a Second Helping of Nostalgia" by

Pete Wells, NY Times (8/14/19)




“I like my wine to smell like barnyard and taste like a psycho house party.”--"Special’s Ryan O’Connell Wants Very Weird Wine," Chris Crowley, New York Magazine.


 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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