Virtual Gourmet

  December 15, 2019                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


"The Christmas Kiss" by J. C. Leyendecker (1933)


By Geoff Kalish


By John Mariani

By John Mariani


By Geoff Kalish

                                                                                                       ANTICO MARTINI 

         Venice has been at the mercy of the water gods since it was built, and last month La Serenissima was flooded yet again with abnormally high tides.  But that was last month, and despite some chronic power outages, Venetian restaurateurs are back in swing, setting the tables with linens, lighting candles and turning out the food they always have.
         Opinions about Venice often vary widely. After a visit some feel that it’s an overcrowded Renaissance relic, lined with dirty, smelly canals and shops selling “made in China” glass trinkets at wildly inflated prices and offering a few crowded museums with poorly displayed artwork.    Others, however, promise to return as soon as possible, deeming it an enchanting gem of a city, with romantic gondola rides in its canals and numerous shops selling well-priced, hand-blown Murano glass, as well as museums housing some of the greatest paintings in the world.                  And then there’s different opinions on the food—some finding the prices outrageous and the ubiquitous black pasta salty and disgusting, while others feel the quality and service at other than well-known  “tourist trap” restaurants warrant the price and can’t wait to dine on another dish of pasta or risotto with seppia nero (cuttlefish and their ink).  
I’m one of those who consider the city magical and find that with a bit of planning visitors (especially those interested in art) can rather easily view great works without being mobbed by other tourists and dine on top-notch fare at a reasonable price, especially when considering that the raw ingredients for everything served need to be delivered from the mainland. So, based on a number of visits to Venice, one very recently, the following are some tips on touring and dining in the city.
        First, if you’re planning to visit the very popular Gothic Doge Palace and/or its museum, the morning is not the time to go, with day trippers lining up for entrance seemingly before sunrise. However, at 4 p.m. on a recent afternoon we entered with only a five-minute wait. Two morning alternatives are a vaporetto (public water bus) ride to Murano (35 minutes from St. Marks or 10 minutes from Fondamente Nove on the north side of the city), where you can visit numerous showrooms as well as factories and are usually able to observe artisans at work blowing glass. Or you might consider the under-visited Accademia Gallery that features pre-19th century Venetian art and is loaded with works by Bosch, Bellini, Tintoretto, Titian and Veronese, easily reached by walking from St. Mark’s Square by following the signs on the walls. And then there’s the usually uncrowded  14th century Church of Madonna dell’Orto housing a number of Tintoretto masterpieces, like  the magnificent Adoration of the Golden Calf (above) and  The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple  in Canneriggio, a 30-minute walk or 10-minute vaporetto ride from St. Mark’s.
      As to dining, the best advice is to use a reputable guidebook or review in a known publication, and if possible make reservations in advance. Also avoid restaurants with people outside urging you to enter or those that have pictures of the food posted by the doorway. That said, the following establishments have long-standing reputations for excellence and serve sensibly priced food and wine.
         VAT tax of 20% and service are included in the bill. There is no need to tip further.


De Pisis
Bauer Palazzo Hotel

         Located on the ground floor of the elegantly updated Bauer Palazzo hotel, this restaurant offers sophisticated fare in a magnificent outdoor (or plush indoor) setting—looking out at the Grand Canal and the oft-painted 17th century Church of Santa Maria della Salute (think Canaletto, Turner, Sargent and Monet).
         While the printed menu is not as encyclopedic as those at many upscale Venetian eateries, it has a range of both Venetian and regional Italian dishes, from tartare of beef Piemontese and gnocchi with Gorgonzola to a mix of fried fish and calf’s liver made with sweet and sour onions and a sauce of reduced vin santo. There are always a number of daily specials.
         For starters we chose lightly grilled vegetables enlivened by a sprinkle of good balsamic and olive oil, and a classic seafood risotto in broth bursting with Mediterranean flavors. For a main course we both chose specials of perfectly grilled John Dory, its skin crisp and its delicate flesh moist with a slightly sweet taste; this was served with a simple arugula salad. We accompanied the meal with a bottle of easy drinking 2016 Masi Campoforin Amarone that had ripe, plummy flavors more like a ripasso than an Amarone, and concluded with a not-to-be missed order of decadent profiteroles, garnished with a rich, thick chocolate sauce. 

The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Expect dinner for two to cost $140-$150, not including wine. 


Antico Martini
Campo Teatro Fenice

         Just across from La Fenice opera house, this establishment has been serving food and wine for over a century. In fact, it began as a coffeehouse in 1720, two years before La Fenice opened. In 1922 a new owner, from Chianti, transformed it into an elegant ristorante, but during the war the premises were requisitioned by the Germans. When the Americans occupied Venice, a piano was brought in for carousing and it is still at the restaurant. It re-opened in 1952 and, being across from La Fenice,  drew a jet set clientele that included Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Rubinstein, Anna Moffo, Jean Cocteau, Laurence Olivier, Esther Williams and Peggy Guggenheim. Ten years ago a Venetian businessman named Lino Lando bought the place and brought the furnishings back to their original condition.
In warmer weather, seating outside is on a terrace under a large awning or inside in a room with luxurious chandeliers, draperies and well-spaced pink-clothed tables. In either space formally dressed servers provide prompt, professional service. The very expensive menu offers a wide range of choices, from shellfish Catalana style to three tastings of pâté de foie gras with pepper, ginger and orange, branzino-stuffed ravioli with ratatouille and spaghetti alla busara with scampi.
         Next we enjoyed a memorable special of risotto studded with a mix of perfectly cooked seafood and fresh asparagus (served for two people). We accompanied the meal with a 2014 Massi Campofiorin that showed full flavors of ripe plums and cherries and hints of chocolate in its finish and we concluded with a lemony custard served with a raspberry sauce and fresh raspberries. 

Open daily 11:30 a.m. – 11:30 Expect dinner for two to cost $170-$180, not including wine



Alle Corone
Calle de la Fava

         Situated on the ground floor of the Ai Reali Hotel, a restored 17th century Palace along a canal near the Rialto Bridge, this elegant restaurant’s windows look out at gondoliers at work ferrying tourists. Alle Corone  offers a number of seasonally changing tasting menus as well as à la carte items prepared under the supervision of skilled chef Mauro Cautiello.
         While many of the individual items, like grilled scallops on an aubergine puree and a duck breast with thyme, apples, foie gras and dried fruit, sounded appealing, we chose a fixed price six-course, artistically presented seafood menu ($96 per person) consisting of a thick cut of raw marinated sea bass served with a heady pesto sauce; a salad of velvety prawns and ripe peaches; cold nuggets of bacalà cod accompanied by a spicy guacamole and a lime mayonnaise; burrata-stuffed ravioli adrift on a garlic-laced scampi sauce; fillets of ombrina (a drum similar in consistency to snapper and in taste to swordfish) dressed in a sauce of parsnip cream and chicory; and a heavenly dessert of an éclair topped with a sauce of pistachio and caramel.
         From one of the best wine lists in Venice, we accompanied the meal with a light 2015 Ca’ Rugate Valpolicella Ripasso that had flavors of ripe plums and raspberries and mated quite well with all the fare. 

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Expect an À la  carte dinner for two to cost $140-$150, or  $96 per person for a fixed price menu, both excluding wine


Acquastanca Osteria
Fondamento Manin 48, Murano

         Highly recommended by locals, this Murano lunch spot—not overrun by tourists—offers a brief menu of well-prepared traditional northern Italian fare in a well-lit room with a bar down one side and a wood paneled ceiling. The name Acquastanca is navy slang for the calm point of the tide between the ebb and flow.  The restaurant was opened in 2012 by Giovanna Arcangeli and Caterina Nason, who grew up Murano. Appetizers range from a sweet Parma ham and melon to dewy, grilled sea scallops with green asparagus to a classic Caprese with fresh buffalo mozzarella.   
From a list of five pastas we chose an order of al dente tagliolini served with a briny mix of squid in their ink. Main courses run the gamut from grilled octopus with chickpeas and a chicory puree to a classic veal piccata and green beans. And there’s a choice of five desserts: peaches and cream, coffee mousse with almond crumble, biscuits with mascarpone cream and of course tiramisù. We accompanied our meal with glasses of a lively Veneto prosecco. 

Open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday and for dinner on Friday. Expect lunch for two to cost $90-$100, excluding wine.


By John Mariani
                         LAUT SINGAPURA

                                                                                        31 East 20th Street (near Fifth Avenue)

Singapore Spiced Chili Crab

    I have never been to Singapore so I have no pre-conceived notions about a food culture that embraces several Asian nations, including China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. I also have not been to the first incarnation of Laut near Union Square, which has a Michelin star, whose menu is similar to Laut Singapura nearby in the Gramercy neighborhood.  Both are part of the commitment of owner Salil Mehta and his wife Stacey to bring authentic Singaporean food in all its variety to New York. They designed the 60-seat dining room with Asian antiques, marble-topped tables, a royal blue velvet banquette and skylight.
         Salil likes nothing better than to explain his food and why so many New York restaurants adapt theirs to western palates. Engage him in a conversation and you’ll learn a lot about Asian cuisine and culture, including an introduction to some powerful liquors not for the tame palate.
         Salil stresses that his fare here is closer to Singaporean street food. There are several Indian roti items on the menu (Indian workers popularized them in Durban, South Africa). We had roti telur, a pancake composed of
egg, onion, chili and scallion with an assertive curry dip ($12). There are also a few satays (right). We had a Singapore version with chicken and peanut sauce ($10), and there is a beef variety with caramelized soy ($10).
         As you’d hope, there are pop-in-the-mouth items like curry puffs filled with potatoes, onions “and love” ($12), and steamed dumplings ($10).
Mee goring was a hearty Indonesian thin noodle dish ($16) sautéed with sambal chili paste, chive, bell pepper, onion and scallion in a spicy shellfish broth that Salil promised would be very hot and he was telling the truth. Take a small sip and be ready with some rice on the side.
         Hainanese chicken (below) is a Southern Chinese comfort food that is especially treasured in Singapore, something like chicken and dumplings in America. It is fairly mild, made from poached chicken, stock, chili, garlic and shallot- infused soy with rice. Salil suggested we try a dish called buah Keluak fried rice, saying that buah keluak is a plant of poisonous nuts that grows mostly in Indonesia and the nuts need to be properly flushed with water or fermented to be edible. I took a pass on that one.
         The star dish at Laut Singapura, as at his other Laut restaurant, is the chili crab—called Singapore’s national dish ($21) —which comes red-orange and steaming to the table, its shell cracked, sending wondrous aromas into the air. You pick up a claw, crack it a bit more and dig or suck out the abundant meat, which is suffused with spices and served with a steamed bun. It’s one of the most delectable dishes in Asian cuisine and Laut does it very well.
         For dessert there’s a pleasant and unusual appam balik ($12) of sweet corn in a peanut pancake, but of the durian sundae ($12) the menu warns “buyer beware,” since the durian fruit can be overwhelmingly malodorous. This dessert begins like a pudding, but when you get to the bottom there’s a puree of durian that, to this western palate, tastes just awful and does indeed smell. To each his own.
         Laut Singapura has been open only six weeks and has only had a wine and liquor license for three, so the kitchen and service staff are still trying to jibe and can for the time being be excused of their lapses, which on my visit included an interminable time to get our cocktails and bringing desserts to the table while the debris of the savory dishes was still all over the table.
         As Laut Singapura improves each week there will be more focus, but according to Salil the possibilities of exhausting Singaporean street food is highly unlikely. Next time I’ll keep the durian at arm’s length but I’m eager to try whatever else Salil wants to bring to my table.


Open daily from 8 AM to 9 PM.


By John Mariani


         There are two different forms of indefensible wine tastings: One is drinking individual glasses of wines with a long tasting menu in a restaurant; the other is enduring a tasting—blind or not—of  a dozen or a score of wines in an antiseptic setting without any food whatsoever.  Count me out of both.
         The very idea of wine flights and long tastings makes my eyes glaze over and my appetite flag for so many reasons. In the first instance, let’s say you’ve chosen a chef’s eclectic prix fixe menu of foie gras terrine with pomegranates and hot piquillo peppers; followed by halibut with cockles in a barigoule flecked with chorizo; then a breast of duck with dried cherries in a reduction of Port and ginger, and finishing off with a dark chocolate cake with an oozing chocolate center, topped with raspberries and a gloss of balsamic vinegar—a mere four courses.
         The inevitable choice of wines by a sommelier to go with such foods is almost always driven not by a reasonable match-up but by what the sommelier says is  “something quite unusual for this course,” which might turn out to be a Kimoto-style sake, followed by an Austrian Grüner-Veltliner, a California Charbono and a Canadian ice wine.  Imagine if this were a twelve-course meal, which for most people is gluttonous excess and good reason to have a designated driver.  After two or three courses can the palate be that discerning as to how well such beverages go with such involved recipes? Have you really learned anything about the wines worth using at your next dinner?
         I also find that in these kinds of wine flight meals the sommeliers inevitably pile on the white wines and only get around to any interesting reds as of the meat course.  Thus, I have had to sit through a seemingly endless parade of dreary Austrian Gewürztraminers, Sicilian Chardonnays, Sonoma Semillons, Hungarian Tokays and South African Sauvignon Blancs that the flashily sommelier finds quirky before getting to a single red wine that might include a Brazilian Merlot, an Emilian Lambrusco, and a 16% alcohol Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. By which time, I’m slumping under the table.
         And that’s the thing of it. Tasting so many different wines with so many foods cannot only be exhausting but counterproductive.  And really not much fun.  Two wines for a meal seems to me perfectly rational; much more is a path to tipsiness.
         Still worse is the wine lover—and I include some of my big name  professional colleagues—who insists he or she can taste 50 wines or more in succession without food and make sensible judgments on them, an endurance gauntlet that ignores basic facts of human physiology that makes so-called “palate fatigue” is a real problem.  Instead, such tasters (and I’ve seen some of them conduct these tastings while wearing white lab coats! See photo of Frank Prial below) simply resort to a slew of Winespeak adjectives that become more and more abstruse after the first ten wines. The fact is, if, say, a Chenin Blanc tastes like a Chenin Blanc—one better than another—it is sheer folly to try to break down components into the logorrhea of piffling descriptors.
         I’d rather stick needles in my eyes than listen to the wine guy drone on about the “petroleum nose” in a Pinot Gris,  the “blow your doors off” power of a Left Bank Bordeaux, the “cigar box and chocolate” flavors of a Santa Rosa Barbera and the “Chinese gooseberry notes” in a Pinotage. When asked how he managed to come up with such descriptions, the late New York Times wine columnist Frank J. Prial (below) shrugged and said, “Like everyone else, I fake it.”
     When I do sample wines for professional assessment, I never taste more than a half dozen of the same varietal, and then I try to re-taste them with simple foods, usually at dinner time.  Thus, if I’m tasting, say, Chablis, I will go through the various bottles, then have them with a dinner of sautéed or broiled fish.  If it’s an array of Pinot Noirs, I might have roast lamb and potatoes.  And if I want to get frisky, I may taste them with food that has various spices, like North African couscous or a garlicky soupe des poissons. Then I might discover that such-and-such a varietal, rather than an individual wine, goes well with such foods and feel good about advising my readers along those general lines. Yep, Zinfandel goes pretty well with Indian food. But beer goes better.
     I like to drink wine and eat food the way most people do most of the time, that is, one or two wines with a meal. I find the ritual of smelling, sipping, commenting, smelling, sipping, commenting, smelling, sipping, commenting onerous while I’m trying to enjoy my dinner.
I am also of the belief, as are the vignerons of European vineyards, that for the most part their local wines go extremely well with their local food, grown in the same soil.  Which is why, when in Tuscany, I drink Tuscan wines; when in Napa Valley, I drink Napa Valley wines; and when in Valencia, I drink Valençian wines. Do I experiment? Not much, because there’s no need to in a world of wines so diverse.
         And here’s the naughty truth: No matter how professional wine tasters insist that their pronouncements and ratings of wine are based on their exceptional and experienced palates, the fact is that it is the easiest thing in the world to switch the wines around and show how their ratings change from their first impressions. I can’t tell you how many winemakers and importers confide (angrily) that the same exact wine under different labels in a line-up might get an 87 or a 93 from the same exact tasters.
         The honest wine writers readily admit to fallibility. British wine writer Harry Waugh was once asked when was the last time he’d mistaken a Bordeaux for a Burgundy. He replied, “What time was lunch today?”



In Saginaw County, Michigan, 43-year-old Kurt Michael Fulton (left) was arrested after he allegedly hid cherry pies underneath the parked cars of women drivers so he could see them bend over and pick them up while he watched from a distance with binoculars. The Sheriff commented on Fulton's behavior, "It's very creepy, unacceptable behavior. That's the best way to describe it. It's just creepy." Fulton was arrested and charged with aggravated stalking with a habitual offender second offense enhancement as it was discovered that Fulton had arrested for the same crime in 2007.


"There’s a lot of talk these days about sustainable eating, slow food and social responsibility when it comes to what we put on our plates. A. Lot. Of. Talk. But then there are chefs like James Beard Award-winning Alex Seidel (Mercantile Dining & Provision, Fruition Restaurant) who actually cook that talk."—Daliah Singer, "Chook Brings Fine-Dining Finesse to a Fast-Casual Chicken Shop," Denver Post (10/16)



 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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