Virtual Gourmet

  December 1, 2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


"Raffles Bar, Singapore" by Leslie Staalberg. 1949


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani

McDowell Sonoran Preserve 

    I’m not sure I’ve ever been at the geographical center of Scottsdale, or at least I’ve never found it. There is a very pleasant Old Town and a Fashion Square, but aside from those there’s not much of a downtown.  Which is of little consequence because the appeal of Scottsdale, as opposed to Phoenix, its sprawling, smoggy neighbor, is all that makes up its desert landscape, which includes an omnipresent view of Camelback Mountain.
    As with so much of the desert of Arizona, trekking is of prime interest to many visitors, with more than 30,000 acres and over 200 miles of trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. For reasons that escape me, people like to attempt the boulder-strewn climb up Camelback, but I’m told the sunset from the top of Tom’s Thumb Trail is worth the five-mile round-trip.
    For me, Scottsdale is much more appealing for the way its best architecture fits into the landscape, as home to some of the finest American designs of the last century, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West (above; there are 90-minute tours); Ralph Haver’s Villa Monterey; Paolo Soleri’s visionary, never-finished Arcosanti; and Will Bruder’s Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (right).
    The last, awkwardly dubbed SMoCA, was rehabbed from an old movie theater, adjacent to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, in a thoroughly minimalist design of bright desert colors and a shimmering, wraparound galvanized steel and glass exterior. Inside ramps lead to floors set with various exhibits of modern art with a focus on Arizona.
    The Arts District itself in Old Town, aside from cafés, restaurant and boutiques, is chockablock with art galleries, many displaying the usual Southwest works of sad Native Americans, cowboys on bucking broncos and landscapes galore. Every Thursday for the past 40 years, America’s Original Art Walk (left) takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. along Main Street, which is particularly lovely because at night the neighborhood’s lines of palm trees are hung with strings of lights. In January the Arizona Art Expo and the Celebration of Fine Art are major draws, followed in March by the Scottsdale Arts Festival.
    My own favorite arts venue in Scottsdale is the wonderful Museum of the West in Old Town, one of the finest of its genre I’ve seen. It’s of an ideal size so that you can easily cover it all in one visit, from the artwork of some of America’s finest painters and sculptors to its dazzling collection of Navajo chiefs’ blankets, six centuries of Hopi pottery and 1,400 examples of Old West cowboy gear. When I was there this summer I was enchanted by a comprehensive exhibition (now closed) dedicated to the so-called cowboy artist and author Will James (1892-1942), whose knowledge of horse anatomy (right, "Young Cowboy," 1935) was based on personal, up-close experience and whose action-filled line drawings are as fine as anything done by the better-known Frederick Remington, whose work is also there. James was a beloved childhood hero of mine among my favorite authors. He had a deceptively straightforward style of capturing the life of the west with nonpareil detail in his artwork and whose spare prose had the drawl of a cowboy telling good yarns around a campfire about horses named Smoky, Sand and Scorpion.
    I had no idea that Philadelphia-born modernist Stuart Davis spent time in the West, finding that the landscape intimidated him in his work, “because the place is always there in such a dominating way,” he said.
    Currently there is an exhibit of the photographs of elder statesman Barry Goldwater in the Arizona Highways Collection, and, if hyperealistic portraits of mountain men, fur traders and moon landings make you giddy, artist Paul Calle’s work is spread over several rooms upstairs. 
    I stayed at the Mountain Shadows Resort (left and below) in Paradise Valley, which dates back to 1959, when it became a mecca for the Hollywood crowd of its day. Many life-size photos of the celebs and orchestra leader Dick Halleman  are arrayed on its walls. Soon a golf course and private residences were added, then the resort went through a declining management phase by Marriott, which closed the property in 2004. In bad shape, the property was bought by Westroc Hospitality and Woodbine Development Corp. in 2014 and completely rebuilt as a thoroughly modern resort that opened in 2017 with 183 rooms and two 75-foot swimming pools. (
Winter rates are currently from $179.)
    The use of Native-American motifs and rugs gives the resort’s rooms an echo of the region’s history, with a basic palette of gray and beige walls contrasted with the emerald green of the golf course and the cornflower blue of the skies. I shall be writing soon about the resort’s fine restaurant, Hearth ’61, in an article about eating around Scottsdale.


By John Mariani


232 East 58th Street (near Second Avenue)



While Queens is still New York’s predominant Indian neighborhood, Manhattan from the East Village up to Yorkville is dotted with Indian restaurants, increasingly with a regional appeal rather than what had long been an entrenched Mughal style of cuisine. Chola, which has been on East 58th Street for twenty years and was recently refurbished, is one of the best and most representative of the vast sub-continent’s culinary diversity.
    Named after a Tamil Dynasty that dates back more than 2,000 years, Chola is a smart-looking, contemporary long room with an upfront bar that owners Shiva Natarajan and Min Buhjel have redecorated with Indian photos, hardwood floors, very comfortable gray leather chairs, and soft overhanging lights with brass accents. The sound level is quite amiable for conversation.
    One of the many pleasures of Indian restaurants is the aroma of cooking spices that float through the dining room, making you even more hungry than you were a moment ago. Cumin, coriander, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon all commingle and the smell of freshly baked breads make it all the more alluring.
    The familiar dishes are available at Chola—saag paneer, murgh vindaloo, chicken tikka masala and much more, all now updated—but it the panoply of unique dishes that distinguish the menu, which now emphasizes seafood. I asked Min Buhjel to send out an array of the new signature dishes, which began with lasoni gobi ($10), a generous dish of spicy
cauliflower in an assertive ginger-garlic paste. The joy of Indian cuisine is in the variety and balance of seasonings, not mere fiery heat. So the tunde ka kebab ($15) were tender lamb patties principally spiced with fresh mint, while dhabewali murgh tikka ($13) came as morsels of chicken that had been marinated and tenderized in sour cream and lime juice then quickly grilled.
    Lata Shetty’s Kori Gassi ($22)was a chicken stew of high heat curry from the Bunt community in Mangalore on the Indian coastline. Another chicken dish was a creamy masala (blend) of not-so-hot, slightly sweet spices ($23). It was rich and very savory, a slightly sweeter stew of coconut curry.
      Indian cuisine is rife with long-simmered lentil dishes called dals, and Chola’s dal malai marke ($12) is laced with cream and tomato.  Adrak ki gobi )$17) was a keema dish of minced cauliflower, powerful green chili and freshly grated ginger, while a classic lamb biryani was a hearty rice dish layered with lamb, as in Japanese dim sum. Pungent mustard and spices coated tandoor-cooked burrah kebabs of lamb chops kasundi.

Other specialties include cafreal paneer tikka ($11) of grilled cheese and green masala; Khekda nariyal ($18), a sautéed crab dish with coconut and mustard seeds; and several vegetable dishes like doodhi chana ($13), white pumpkin with yellow chana dal.
There were, of course, Indian breads slapped against the wall of the tandoor, emerging moments later, steamy, puffy and charred, with the aroma of yeast in the air. All the chutneys are made in-house.
    I’m one who enjoys Indian desserts, most based on cheese and cream, with pistachios made into ice cream-like sweets, and Chola’s are as good as those served by competitors on the upper East Side.
    Chola hasn’t stayed around for twenty years without adapting to changing tastes, and those that currently fill a menu that is smaller but more cogent than others’ give a better focus on the kitchen’s strengths. Its new décor also makes it one of the most attractive Indian restaurants in the city. 

Open daily for lunch and dinner.


By John Mariani


Not everyone can uncork $100 Bordeaux, $70 California Chardonnays or $50 Priorats most days of the week, but while there are few bottlings that a true wine lover can drink with pleasure under $15 a bottle, there is increasingly a wonderful array of wines that are easy to love and easy to buy in the $15-$20 range. They tend to be very versatile wines too—not monster Cabs or overly aromatic Fumé Blancs—so that they go well with a wide range of dishes. Here are some recent finds I’ll happily drink at any time.

La Bernarde 2018  ($15)—A delicious, organic  Côtes du Provence winter rosé for any festive table. Blended with 46% Cinsault, 27% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 11% Mourvèdre and 9% Rolle, it has a good deal of complexity and flowery aromas from the gravelly soil of this sunny region. The modest but not light 12.5% alcohol is just right, not least as an apéritif.

Clarendelle 2014 ($19.99)—This is a splendid example of the kind of Saint-Émilion wines now coming to market, with a characteristic blend of 77% silky Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon for body and tannins, which have mellowed out over five years. Excellent as a Bordeaux 101 wine that will be very rewarding with pork or veal.

Beronia Crianza 2016 ($15)—Crianza is a Spanish wine that has been kept a minimum of a year in an oak barrel, in this case one made of American staves with a French top.  The Rioja blend is 91% Tempranillo, so it’s muscular, with 8% Garnacha and 1% Mazuelo to tame it down. The 13.5% alcohol level makes it ideal for a wide range of red meats or chicken, as well as tomato-based sauces.

Lohsa Morellino di Scansano 2017 ($16)—The wines of Morellino di Scansano come from Tuscany’s Maremma region, where the Sangiovese grape is called Prugnolo Gentile. The Azienda Agricola Poliziano, led by winemaker Federico Carletti, is an exacting proponent of Morellino, and their wines, even at this low price, show many of the characteristics of much better-known, more expensive Tuscans. There is 15% Ciliegiolo added to 85% Sangiovese—and in some years Malvasia Nera and Canaiolo—which makes it akin to traditional Chiantis. By spending ten months in barrel and two to four months in bottle, it’s of moderate weight and well-suited to veal chops, risottos with mushrooms or Italian hams.

Dry Creek Dry Chenin Blanc Clarksburg 2018 ($16)—Chenin Blanc is a versatile but tricky grape that usually has some sweetness to it. It’s a major varietal in South Africa and France, where it is used to make Vouvray and Savennières. The drier it gets the better the winemaker has to be to make it work, but the acidity (6.4 gram per liter) makes it a good white wine for poultry or a fine option to Sherry as an aperitif. Dry Creek’s owner, David S. Stare, has been producing good Chenin Blanc for 50 years and is, I think, foremost in California for ennobling an often-dismissed varietal. At $16 a bottle, how could one?

Crios Malbec 2018 ($12)—Another winner from Mendoza’s Susanna Balbo at an amazing price for an exceptional Malbec from the Val de Uco’s highest elevation, so the alcohol is a sensible 14%, the acids providing brightness and nine months in French oak adds to the complexity and warmth. For roast turkey on the holidays this would be easy enough to serve to an army of guests with varying tastes.

La Segreta Rosso 2017 ($15)—It would be praise enough to say this is a great pizza wine, but with a savvy blending of 50% Nero d'Avola, 25% Merlot, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc this Sicilian DOC would be just as terrific with any number of foods, not least rigatoni alla Norma or lasagne alla bolognese. It’s got a pleasing acidity and a taste of Mediterranean herbs. The name refers to woods that surround the Ulmo vineyard in the Menfi district of western Sicily.




According to the DailyMeal, 

Here are just a few vintage kitchen staples you don’t see much of anymore:.



-heavy cream







"Proceeding through each of the five courses of chef Stefano Secchi’s pasta tasting menu at Rezdôra—a restaurant conceived as a tribute to the many excellent eats from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy—gripped me with such noodle euphoria that I morphed into Meg Ryan during that climax in When Harry Met Sally.... I apologize to anyone who was sitting near me—although eventually the same thing happened to them." Jeff Gordinier, “Esquire’s Best New Restaurants in America,” (Dec. 2019).



 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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