Virtual Gourmet

  December 8, 2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Sophia Loren in "The Gold of Naples" (1957)


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani



By John Mariani


    I’ve been visiting Scottsdale, Arizona, for four decades and have seen its gastronomic diversity grow to include some of the region’s best restaurants. My first dining experience in Scottsdale was in 1977 at a very good French restaurant called Étienne’s, with a very large wine cellar, that I would enthusiastically write about for Travel & Leisure later that year. Since then French restaurants have given way to all kinds of others and on my most recent visit I found some excellent new places I am eager to tell you about.


6316 North Scottsdale Road

    Chef Matt Carter, Phoenix-born, trained in French cuisine at La Chaumière, moved to France to learn more and returned to Arizona to chef at The Mission, Zinc Bistro and The House Brasserie. Now, with partners Brian Raab and Mark Drinkwater, he is doing a kind of southwestern take on an Italian steakhouse, and the flavors are big and intense and delicious. It’s food to share, and to tell people about after your first or tenth visit.
        Named after Italy’s Blue Grasso cattle, Fat Ox is a big, sprawling, handsome restaurant that is very popular in town, but with so many hard surfaces, that popularity can make it very loud upfront, so ask for a table in the far more appealing rear of the dining room.
    Pastas are always a focus of Italian restaurants, but Fat Ox has a fine antipasti selection, too, including juicy veal meatballs with tomato, parmigiano and basil ($10) and  a lavish selection of charcuterie like Prosciutto di San Daniele, finocchiona, coppa, aged calabrian pecorino, Gorgonzola, crescenza cheeses and marinated olives ($18). There are also two kinds of ricotta ($12).
    I found no fault with any of the pastas I did try—well, maybe the 25-layer lasagna is a bit over the top—from one with a cured pork sugo, broccolini, tomato, ricotta salata, and basil pesto ($18), a well-wrought tajarin cacio e pepe ($16) to malloreddus with a lamb ragù, rosemary, almond, shishito peppers (right; $18). The formidable, table-sagging bistecca alla fiorentina ($120) is a feast for three or four people. But I wouldn’t pass up the beautifully roasted chicken either.
    For dessert by all means share the lemon tart or the gianduja chocolate tart with fennel brittle (both $9).

 Open daily for dinner.


Mountain Shadows Resort
5445 East Lincoln Drive
Paradise Valley

    I’ve known Charles “Chuck” Wiley for a long time and have always considered him in the very top rank of the area’s chefs. A New Jersey boy, he came west in 1973, starting out as a dishwasher in Lake Tahoe, Utah, followed by stints in Alaska and Salt Lake City.  I met him when he moved to Arizona in 1989 to become chef at The Boulders, then at Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort. He is now executive chef at Mountain Shadows Resort in Scottsdale, where his style of cuisine is as imaginative as it is firmly based on classic cuisine. (His hero was Jacques Pépin, who wrote La Technique.)
    Architectural Digest  pronounced the bar at the resort "The Most Beautifully Designed Bar in Arizona,"  and the dining room is done in surfaces and shapes that combine the look of the 1960s with the lighting of 2020, in cool blues and grays.
    I let Chuck (below) cook for me from all around his lunch and dinner menus, beginning with a superb lobster bisque with leeks and a lemon crème fraîche. An arugula and avocado salad with citrus, mint, radish, cashews and ginger honey vinaigrette might have been mundane had it not been for the absolute freshness of the ingredients, as was the case with lustrous ahi tuna tartare with Persian cucumber, a dash of shishito peppers, shaved turnips and puffed rice to add further texture ($16).
    There is a spot on the menu for flatbreads, and I thoroughly enjoyed a pasta dish of  sweet shrimp and hot chorizo cavatelli with oven-dried tomatoes, broccolini, chili flakes and roasted garlic cream  ($12) as one of the best Italian dishes I’ve had in Scottsdale.
    Wiley buys his seafood from Chula (see below), based on what’s best at the moment. When I dined there this summer, line-caught swordfish took on all sorts of flavor levels from hot green harissa, pickled red onion, roasted mushrooms and blistered radish ($32).  Niman Ranch tenderloin of beef showed Wiley’s way with a red wine demi-glace and bleu cheese fondue.
     For dessert, you can’t miss with carrot cake with toffee ice cream and  rum.
The view of the Paradise Valley landscape makes you linger at Hearth ’61, while the food will bring you back again and again.


8015 East Roosevelt Street

    You may have noticed that Arizona is landlocked, so seafood is not, perhaps, what leaps to mind when thinking of eating out in Scottsdale.  But thanks to the Heflin family, which runs Chula Seafood, which began in San Diego ten years ago, the best seafood out of the Pacific comes east to Arizona.  The Heflins's boat, Chula, out of Point Loma, Calif., specializes in harpoon-caught and deep-sea buoy fishing and they have been selling retail sine 2015. Jon Heflin has headed the Arizona stores in Scottsdale and Phoenix for a year now and has made Chula the foremost supplier of seafood to the region.
    At the Scottsdale store there are tables, a counter displaying the day’s catch and a blackboard menu along with a printed one. When you can’t smell anything fishy in a seafood store, you know the product is as fresh as can be found.
    It’s a sweet little spot that looks as if it was unpacked from a port town on Cape Cod, with drawings of fish species, many of which will be on the menu, along with smoked fish and poke by the pound. They do bring in salmon from Faroe Island, Denmark, and scallops from New Bedford, Massachusetts, but the Pacific offerings are the most interesting, from California halibut and swordfish to albacore tuna.
    Order from the counter, sit down and enjoy a Thai peanut noodle bowl with tuna ($14-$18) or sweet & sour poke with salmon ($14-$ 18), or perhaps a ceviche bowl of white fish ($14-$18) or a confit of tuna sandwich ($14).  Everyday two-dollar shucked oysters are available.

 Open 10 AM-7 PM Tues.-Sat.


7044 East Main Street

Photos by Debbie Wolvos

    Sel looks smaller than it really is for a 100-seat Old Town restaurant, and its intimacy is a large part of its charm and character, which you can tell upon entering the colorfully lighted dining room, where Chef Branden Levine serves a highly personalized four-course $90 prix fixe dinner. In cooler weather, which for Arizonans seems to be anything under 85 degrees, there are outdoor tables.
    The menu can change, not on a whim but on what Levine finds in the market, so the first course might be spiced smoked beef and or king salmon tartare with a sous-vide egg and tangerine vinaigrette ($21 a la carte), then move on to porcini stuffed ravioli with pine nuts and a sunchoke-fennel puree ($19). A third course might include roasted matsutake mushroom ramen ($18) or a sea urchin bisque with crispy prawn ($25). The fourth course offers a cioppino of scallops, langoustine, crispy–skin barramundi, lobster foam and tomato broth ($55) or grilled octopus with merguez-studded Bolognese ($55).
Desserts are rich and unusual, like the foie gras ice cream sandwich with Armagnac soaked dates and hazelnut praline ($18) along with a more traditional tiramisù with dulce de leche gelato ($18).

Open Tues.-Sat. for dinner.


By John Mariani


 10 Columbus Circle


    When the vast Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle was looking for tenants, many restaurateurs expressed doubts that people would want to traipse up and down escalators, past clothing boutiques and eyeglass shops, to dine there. By attracting Thomas Keller to open Per Se and Masa Takayama to open Masa, fears that the premises would be occupied by chain restaurants owned by Midwestern corporations eased, and a number of upscale restaurateurs took a chance. Not all succeeded: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose Jean-Georges flagship was across the street in the Trump building, signed to do a steakhouse at Time-Warner that looked designed by the Addams Family. It didn’t last long.
    Its replacement was another steakhouse, Porter House, which not only looked more conventional, though of a very fine polish, but had the expertise of chef-operator Michael Lomonaco, whose bona fides include residence at some of New York’s grandest, high-profile restaurants, including `21’  and Windows on the World (from which he escaped on 9/11 by stopping on the ground floor for five minutes to have his eyeglasses fixed).
    Lomonaco is as much a field marshal as he is a chef who knows what his clientele wants and is willing to pay for as long as it’s of the highest quality. Add to this a truly spectacular panorama overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park and you have a restaurant that is uniquely New York in style and substance.
    The reception is always gregarious for both regulars and newcomers. There’s a swank, big bar up front with shadowy booths and bartenders who know how to make classic cocktails the right way The tables in the dining room, which was wholly redecorated a couple of years ago, are large and well set; new chandeliers cast a fine glow from dusk through evening, when the magical lights of the city blink on across Central Park West. The wine list is substantial in every category, though not cheap and I’d like to see more bottles under $100.
    Whenever I’ve been to Porter House, whose name is as straightforward as the menu, Lomonaco has always been in service, walking through the dining room to welcome newcomers and to be detained by regulars who have plenty of stories to tell him and many questions to ask. Chef de cuisine Michael Ammirati has been with him since the beginning, so consistency is assured.

    Porter House’s menu does not stray from the sacrosanct formulas of the steakhouse genre, though there is no sense of a kitchen simply going through the motions of turning out its 50,000th dish of creamed spinach. Case in point are the onion rings (above): Had Lomonaco invented them, they would be hailed as a New York original; instead he has perfected them as big wide ribbons of crunchiness from a well-seasoned batter and the sweetness of the onions within. No one does them better.
    Certainly the crab cakes rank among the best in town, made from jumbo lump crab with a tangy tartare sauce ($27), as does the very flavorful slab of bacon ($19), which does not have that overly salty taste you often find.  A simple shrimp cocktail of U8-size shrimp ($28) is simply delicious, the shrimp as sweet as if fattened on corn. They come with Green Goddess dressing and cocktail sauce.  The artisanal charcuterie board of Mangalitsa ham, prosciutto, speck and cacciatorino sausage ($21) easily feeds two, and the creamy sea scallops roasted with capers, croutons, lemon and celery root and lavished with brown butter ($26) are as good as at any French restaurant in the city.
    At the moment Porter House is serving white truffles over pasta or risotto ($95), and they don’t skimp on the shavings of exceptionally aromatic truffles (above). I asked Lomonaco if he can get such high quality truffles throughout the season, and he answered that the chief supplier, Urbani, is just a few blocks away and is a good friend of the house.
    Our table of four shared a massive porterhouse for two (we demolished it) and a fine New York strip, all cooked with a good searing on the outside. Colorado lamb chops with mint leaf salad ($58) were good, if not out of the ordinary. Lomonaco has added Japanese wagyu to the menu at $225 for 12 ounces, if such an extravagance is your wont, as well as a two-pound butter-poached lobster with a fricassée of fennel, leeks and carrots ($75).
    I could make a meal of those onion rings ($12) and happily trade the creamed spinach ($12) for a potato. On the other hand, the French fries ($12) are so good, they are well worth sharing. The key here, as noted, is the high quality of the ingredients and the sense that producing everything on the menu thousands of times has led to precision rather than the same old thing.
    This is a steakhouse, so Wayne Harley Brachman’s desserts are going to be tremendous in size. That means the chocolate blackout cake ($16), dense but moist, is big enough to share with a table of four or more. The apple crostata with caramel gelato and butterscotch sauce ($14) and the seven-layer South Carolina coconut cake ($16) are also meant for several forks. Or go with the hot cookie plate ($14) and kid yourself that it’s a lightweight dessert. Or go whole hog with the ice cream sundae with chocolate fudge and maple-soaked walnuts (12).
    The service staff is well co-ordinated, though it’s not always easy to tell who’s a waiter or a busboy, and they get a bit lax after 9:30.
    Porter House thrives for all sorts of logistical reasons—access to thousands of Time-Warner’s tenants, its location in a primary nexus of New York’s West Side, proximity to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Theater District and a year-round flow of tourists who come to visit the building—so that the restaurant being set on the fourth floor has become part of the experience. Lomonaco has also opened a Hudson Yards Grill in the cavernous Hudson Yards skyscrapers, which has its own problems of accessibility, and the future of that development is in considerable flux. But Porter House, by giving its guests everything they expect and doing it in one of the grandest locations in the city, has made it a very classy midtown icon.

Open for lunch and dinner daily.


By John Mariani


    It used to be that, with the exception of a few gift bottles shaped like Napoleon or Elvis, liquors didn’t change much from year to year. Fans of, say, Dewar’s Scotch or Bacardi rum or Stoli vodka expected and wanted them to taste the same with every bottle. But marketing spirits has become enormous business, sometimes just by putting the same old liquor in a brand new bottle. But the most enticing spirits in the market are very new, often depending on “finishes” in various oak barrels previously used for wines of Sherry or even other spirits. Others are special editions from what have been deemed “vintage years,” even though vintages were once disdained for the same reason I gave about fans wanting their favorites always to taste the same. Here are some of most interesting new spirits I’ve found, not just those that somehow were “discovered” tucked away in an aging barn.


CASA SAN MATIAS LOS VECINOS DEL CAMPO MEZCAL ($34)—I won’t get into the myths and differences between tequila and mezcal. Suffice it to say that Casa San Matias is one of the oldest distilleries in Mexico—130 years—and is nevertheless as modern as any, now admirably invested in reducing its carbon footprint. The Los Vecinos del Campo range of mezcals is made in the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca by “master mezcaleros” who hand harvest and roast the agave plant. This expression, called Espadin, is 90 proof and is far more subtle and less smoky than others, so it has more spice in the nose and on first sip, with good fruit to follow. Good in cocktails at this price.


EL TESORO EXTRA AÑEJO TEQUILA ($100)—El Tesoro makes six different tequilas, from Blanco ($45) to Single Barrel Reposado ($55) and Paradiso ($130), which is aged for five years in former Cognac bottles. This new release, made by Don Felipe J. Camarena Orozco’s son and aged in bourbon barrels for four or five years, is a homage to his father, who believed in longer aging for more complexity and elegance. It is released at 80 proof, which is not out of the ordinary, but there is a richer caramel sweetness component than the company’s three-year aged Añejo. Not to be used as a component for a margarita, this is to be enjoyed with friends unaccustomed to a tequila of this refinement.


BAYOU SELECT BARREL RESERVE RUM  ($28)—Here’s one of a handful of American rums distilled in Louisiana, in this case Lacassine, where sugar cane has been grown since the 1700s.  Debuting in 2012, Bayou Rum Distillery produced its first bottlings according to state-of-the-art methods, while also hearkening back to the traditional Solera method of vertically stacking the barrels into a pyramid, by which, over time, barrels are topped off with older spirits and, last of all, with the oldest. This is a rum dark in color, which usually means a strong molasses taste, but I found this more subtle, more like a well-aged bourbon but retaining the distinct taste of rum. I even used it in my daiquiri recipe for which I usually use amber rum, wondering if Bayou might be too bold, but it made a beauty of a cocktail.


CATOCTIN CREEK ROUNDSTONE RYE WHISKEY ($53)—Catoctin makes three 100% ryes, and this is its highest proof, at 92; they make another at 80 proof ($45). It has power but finesse with a pleasing burn that follows some rich butterscotch notes and a good deal of woodsy flavors. It’s made by Becky and Scott Harris (she was a chemical engineer, he a businessman) in Purcellville, Virginia, which sounds like a real nice place to make a real good American whiskey.


CARIBOU CROSSING SINGLE BARREL CANADIAN WHISKEY ($58)—Canadian whiskeys have taken a big leap from the shots-and-beer image of neighborhood bars, and Caribou Crossing shows why. Selected from 200,000 barrels purchased from a defunct Canadian distillery, this is said to be the first single barrel Canadian whiskey,  bottled at 80 proof. I could certainly not tell if the grain used was rye or corn, but I’m guessing some of both, blended from various barrels whose grain contents have probably been lost in the mists of time.  In any case, it’s impressive and comes in a splendid bottle with a pewter stopper of a caribou that would make a nice Monopoly piece.

RHUM J.M ($38)—Rhum J.M makes a line of rums, including a shrubb liqueur with the flavors of dried bitter orange peels and spices. But their bottling distilled at 110 proof is one of the best white rums in the market because it has more flavor than most, though less than a gold or amber rum. It will make a very fine rum cocktail, especially one where you don't want the sugar and citrus to overpower the flavor of rum.


MOUNT GAY XO RESERVE CASK BARBADOS RUM ($190) —Made from select reserves eight to 15 years old, then aged in charred ex-American whiskey and bourbon barrels to round out the distillation. It’s a finer version of Mount Gay’s basic line and offers more sipping pleasure before dinner with a splash of water and a slice of lemon or after dinner by itself. The balance of fruit and acid is buoyed by a richness of spice and light sweetness. Another new bottling from Mount Gay is its “1703” ($110), made by new Master Blender Trudiann Branker, with only 4,920 bottles produced, from the 2009 vintage and aged 10 years in “virgin ex-whiskey casks” (whatever that means) for six months. 


CAMUS VERY SPECIAL ($32) —This is an amazing price for a solidly knit Cognac with depth and floral aromas that tell you everything distinctive about Cognac, which is distilled from grapes, not grain. Camus distills it on the lees and ages it in fine-grained French oak. Camus has been making fine Cognacs since 1863, and its recent innovations, especially its Borderies spirits, towards a more intense, fruit-driven style are very much an applaudable move forward.


REMY MARTIN TERCET ($110) —At 84 proof, this is Remy’s highest proof Cognac, called a “tercet” because three artisans crafted it—the Wine Master Francois Nadeau, the Master Distiller Jean-Marie Bernard and Cellar Master Baptiste Loiseau, using special eaux-de-vie aiming for a lighter, fruit-forward expression that is deliberately “emancipated” from the traditional Remy Martin style.  



DipClip is a cup holder for fast-food dipping sauces intended for in-car use by clipping it onto your AC vent.





"At Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop (110 Franklin St., Brooklyn, $3.50-$5), in Greenpoint, which opened in 2018, there are laminate booths, glittery lime-green vinyl stools, and orange plastic trays. You can buy an ice-cold bottle of Coke from a vintage vending machine. Eating there makes me feel like a Carter-era teen-ager who’s saved up her allowance to buy a snack after a spin around the roller rink.”—Hannah Goldfield, “Paulie Gee’s, F&F Pizzeria, and New York City’s Slice Renaissance,” The New Yorker (Nov 29, 2019).


 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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