Virtual Gourmet

 May 30, 2021                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 



Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart in "The Shop Around the Corner (1940)


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

By John Mariani

By John Mariani


On this week's episode of my WVOX Radio Show "Almost Golden," on Wed. June 3 at 11AM EST, I will be interviewing  Victoria Lewis of the NY Bronx Botanical Gardens about its history and importance. Go to: The episode will also be archived at: almostgolden.

On June 2 I'll be on the TV show Celebrating Act 2 with Art Kirsch and John Coleman talking about the subject of "Pizzerias, Trattorias and Ristoranti."



                        IF PARIS IS NOT YET READY FOR A VISIT,

                                            By John Mariani


        It may take a while before a big city like Paris can rebound fully from Covid, but the loosening up of travel restrictions in France evokes thoughts of visiting the parts of the country that can return to normal faster. Just before the pandemic shut down everything in France, I was able to visit some of the wonderful smaller cities in Normandy (which I’ve already reported on) and Brittany, home to some of France’s greatest cathedrals.                   Indeed, Chartres Cathedral, a World Heritage Site, is an exquisite example of the High Gothic style—even more than Paris’s Notre Dame—and it’s located a mere 50 miles from Paris. Five different buildings had been on this spot, dating back to the 4th century, with the cathedral constructed between 1194 and 1220.
        Like most of the finest monuments in France, Chartres is now being scrubbed clean (when I visited the job was about three-quarters done) so that the creamy color of the stone and the radiance of the stained glass windows are as impressive as they were in its heyday. Massive flying buttresses—their first known use in a cathedral—take the load off the relatively thin walls, and two spectacularly decorated spires, each 340 feet in height, soar above a beautiful green copper roof. You can read much of biblical and Christian history in the hundreds of carved sculptural figures in and outside the cathedral, which has four portals. Its holiest relic is the Sancta Camisa, a tunic said to be worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.
        One of the nicest aspects of the cathedral is that it stands in a very open plaza, unlike so many churches in Europe crowded out by the surrounding buildings. In fact, since the city itself is set on a hill, the cathedral seen from any side rises into an unobstructed sky as if it exists independent of the hustle and bustle of an urban community.  Then again, Chartres does not hustle and bustle as much as many French cities, and you can stroll its streets in relative peace and quiet. Only about 40,000 people live in Chartres, and the city borders on the river Eure, and a great field called Beauce, known as the “granary of France.” There is a fine arts museum adjacent to the cathedral and a workshop museum producing stained glass. A vegetable market in art nouveau metalwork (above) is open on weekends.
        We stayed at a fine, modern hotel nearby the cathedral called the Mercure Chartres Cathedrale (3 Rue de General Koenig) with a very courteous staff. (Current room rates posted are about $120, but you can book it on line for about $104.) Its boxy modernity almost makes it look out of place, but you get a lot of airy, natural lighted room space. There is a bar and breakfast room but no restaurant.
        Right across the street from the cathedral is the charming, five-year-old  Café Bleu (1 Cloître Notre-Dame), where Chartres-born chef Sandy Alexandre proudly serves the local produce with a respect for tradition. He offers a very reasonable à la carte menu and prix fixe meals at €30 for three courses.  We enjoyed tender leeks vinaigrette and a delicious squash soup with chopped hazelnuts and mascarpone whipped into it; then came by a hearty pig’s trotter with sauce gribiche and crisp frites (left); and a breast of chicken with shiitakes and a puree of carrot and cream. For dessert we shared a classic crème brûlée.


     That evening we dined somewhat more lavishly at L’Amphitryon (below) in the Le Boeuf Couronne hotel, whichhas just reopened this month. Modern, and  now done in deep, rich colors, it has a refined casual ambience (which seems to have been made even more comfortable than when I visited), and the food reflects its easygoing style. There is a €25 menu of the terroir of two courses, while à la carte at dinner the appetizers run €12 to €15 and main courses €20 to €25, which is really a bargain. The wine list is excellent.
     Our meal included a poached egg Basque-style with Bayonne ham en cocotte on crisp lightly browned puff pastry; warm pink shrimp with avocado and a freshly whipped mayonnaise; juicy guinea fowl in reduced jus with figs and thyme; a filet mignon cooked rare, with whipped potatoes full of butter; magret of duck with sweet potatoes, fried chanterelles and apple puree; a selection of local cheeses and luscious profiteroles with chocolate sauce (9) and poached pear with candied chestnuts (10).  Some of the dishes could have used better seasoning, but the cooking shows the kind of consistent control French culinary training demands.
     In upcoming weeks I shall be writing about Rennes and St. Malo.




55 Old Rte 22, Armonk, NY

By John Mariani


        Westchester County, New York City’s vast northern suburban country along the Hudson River, is some of the most beautiful in the northeast and, if you use your imagination, you might mistake it for the lake country of northern Italy like Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. So, it seems only sensible that you’d find a villa-like Italian country ristorante that in décor and cooking mimics some of the best in the Old Country.
        Its name, Zero Otto Nove (089), however, evokes southern Italy’s region around Naples, whose telephone number prefix it is. The owner, Roberto Paciullo (left), hails from Sorrento, just south of the sprawling city of Naples, and over many years he’s built a mini-empire of five trattorias and restaurants in Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester. He began on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx with Roberto’s, whose menu was a clear departure from most of the copycat Italian-American restaurants in that vibrant neighborhood near the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Roberto’s offered authentic Italian cuisine along with a stellar wine list, and it became the kind of place New York politicians, celebs and other restaurateurs would go for lunch.    
Paciullo opened his first 089 on Arthur Avenue, then a second in Manhattan’s Flat Iron district, then the third in Armonk. At the moment, this last may be his best. Located where it is within green hills and woodlands not far from the Kensico Dam, it is certainly his most attractive, freestanding and done is rustic colors and fabrics, rough-hewn wooden beams, copper ductwork, slate floors and a wrap-around verandah that is especially appealing right now.
       The menus are similar at all Zero restaurants, though the Bronx original is more focused on the pizzas, which are in the Sorrento style, meaning they have a puffy but crisp crust and a soft middle. For those who like the ultra-thin style of pizza, this is not your place. The toppings are myriad, from an excellent margherita ($16.95) to “Quattro Latte” ($20.95) with mozzarella, goat’s cheese, fontina, Parmigiano and black truffle puree.
         At Armonk, the menu is large, with ten antipasti, including a platter of various cheeses, vegetables and meats ($17.95); a very well composed salad of goat’s cheese, grilled pears, balsamic vinaigrette and greens ($13.95); grilled octopus (right) with fresh tomato, capers, cannellini beans and olive oil ($17.95). These and every dish at 089 are easy enough to share.
       The pastas are lavish, several in casseroles, like the delicious baked rigatoni Salernitana (left), bubbling hot with meatballs, soppressata, ricotta, mozzarella, sliced egg and tomato sauce ($25.95), and a very rich radiator (macaroni shaped like little radiators) cooked in tinfoil with porcini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, breadcrumbs and shaved Parmigiano ($25.95). On occasion they also offer a flavorful ravioli stuffed with shredded short ribs in a cheese and butter cream sauce ($23.95).
        Among the main courses, I’ve found it’s best to go with the more special ones you won’t find anywhere else, like meltingly tender short ribs long braised in Peroni beer with cherry peppers and topped with Gorgonzola cheese ($25.95). The zuppa di pesce (seafood stew) is easily one of the best I’ve had in this country, made with mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari and other fish in a lusty tomato sauce that you sop up with the excellent bread on the table. I also always trust Roberto to obtain the freshest fish, and on a recent visit the Dover sole was fresh and impeccably cooked so it slipped off the bone; at $30.95 it’s one of the best bargains around.
         The standard Italian dishes at 089, like bland veal scallopine with mozzarella and pesto ($29.95) and the underspiced pollo scarpariello ($23.95), were no better than many examples you’d find in most area Italian restaurants. The desserts are lavish and generous, like the panna cotta and tiramisù, all made in-house.
         For a quick meal or cocktail there’s a charming bar to the right as you enter and pass a meat locker displaying a huge tomahawk steak that is aging for weeks. A portion is meant for two ($115), but I can guarantee it will serve three, especially if you’d preceded it with a pasta. The wine list is not as extensive as at Roberto’s namesake’s in the Bronx, but there are plenty of good Italian bottlings at reasonable prices.




By John Mariani 


         “Hey, it’s me.”
         “Well, well, well, I thought I wasn’t going to hear from you by phone,” said Katie. “Something about keeping things close to your vest.”
         “I was just wondering how things are coming along out there.”
         “Tidbits. What about you.”
         “Yeah, tidbits about describes it. I went out west, following a hunch.”
         “I can’t really say. Confidential source.” David could hear Katie take a breath.
         “Confidential source?” she repeated. “I thought we were working on this together.  You’re not going to tell me everything you find out?”
         “Oh, I’ll tell you everything I find out, but the source has to stay confidential.”
         “Because I promised the guy who gave me the information as to where the other source was that I wouldn’t mention him in any way.”
         David waited for Katie to speak, and clearly she was not happy.
         “If that’s the way you have to work it, then I guess I just have to accept it and shut up,” she said.
         “Katie,” said David, “I’d expect the same from you.  You’re a reporter, you have confidential sources.  Do you have to tell your editor who they are?”
         “Oh, they beg me to tell them, even threaten me to tell them.  Ever since the Watergate exposé, editors are very careful to get two or three sources to back up a confidential one.”
         “Well, if it makes you feel any better,” said David, “the only information I got from my confidential source was that there were three trucks used to haul away the gold from the armored truck and they all drove off in different directions.”
         “That’s it? That’s all you got?”
         “That and the details of how they did it.”
         “Well, that’s good to know. Hey, how were your expenses?”
         “Next to nothing.  I flew out in the morning, caught a red eye that evening.  Southwest Airlines. Oh, and I got a cheap rental car.”
         Katie sounded ready to move on and said, “Well, on my end I have a lot more reports on Capone from files in the Chicago papers.  I’ve spent the last two days in the library, reading microfiche and taking photos of the relevant pages.
         “I’ve also been going to a lot of the places Capone hung out at back in the day, mostly for color and background.  I was hoping to visit both the Metropole Hotel (above), where Capone lived as of 1925, and the Lexington Hotel (below), where he took over the entire fifth floor in 1928. The floor was ringed with rooms for his bodyguards.  For some reason he registered as a ‘George Philips.’ Why a guy as well known as Al Capone would use an alias, I can’t figure.”
         “Those guys got used to having aliases,” said David.
         Katie continued. “So Capone lived there until his arrest for carrying an illegal gun in Pennsylvania, spent a few months in jail, then moved back to Chicago when he got out.  Weird thing is, David, I ran across these stories that his bodyguards would run into his bedroom to find him raving from a nightmare about seeing ghosts and begging them to leave him alone.  He even hired a psychic, name of”—Katie flipped over a page in her notes—“Alice Britt, who held séances in Al’s dining room.”
         “Any chance she’s still alive?”
         “I don’t know yet.  I haven’t found anything more out about her. No obituary, though.”
         “Okay, so what else?” asked David.
         “After Capone was sent to prison in 1932, his men moved out of the hotel, but not before they’d made some major additions to the place.”
         “Like what?”
         “Like tunnels.”
         “The Geraldo Rivera tunnel,” laughed David.
         “Yep. And others.”
         “Yeah, I talked to an F.B.I. colleague who said they were all thoroughly searched.”
         “Well, it’s all gone now,” she said. “The place turned into a bordello, then a drug house and was demolished five years ago.  The Metropole was gone long before that.”
          “Anything else?” he asked.
         “One of the speakeasies Capone hung out in—maybe he owned it—near his home was called the 226 Club,  and it’s now the Exchequer Pub, decked out with a lot of 1930s memorabilia. And . . . let’s see.  Oh, did you know that if a place back then had a green door, it was probably a speakeasy?  There’s still a place called The Green Door Tavern that dates back to 1872. Capone went there, too.”
         “Imagine that,” said David, who thought all this research was going nowhere.
         “The Green Mill Tavern still exists. It used to be ‘Machine Gun’ McGurk’s place.  Halligan’s—still here—was Bugs Moran’s. Out in Cicero I had lunch at a Czech restaurant named Klas that opened in 1922, not far from Capone’s headquarters.”
      David was thinking to himself, this girl’s going to have a lot of color in her story, if there really is a story.
      “Did you go out to Capone’s house?”
      “Actually I wanted to speak to you about that,” she said.  “I went by it on my way in from the airport, and it’s still there and occupied.  It’s really a pretty modest, two-story brick house with a big garage out back. But—and you’re going to say I’m a wimp—I couldn’t get up the courage to knock on the door and see if I could get inside. What would you have done, David?”
      “I would have knocked on the door and asked if I could come inside.”
      “You mean you’d use your police badge?”
      “Not any more I couldn’t.  But if you just explain who you are and what you’re doing, maybe they’ll be nice enough to let you in.”
      “But they must have lots of curiosity seekers drop by like that.”
      David sighed and said, “All right, here’s what you do.  I’m going to call a cop friend of mine in Chicago and I’ll ask him to vouch for you, write you a letter of intro.  That should do it.  No one likes to refuse anything on official police letterhead.  It’ll just say you are in fact a reporter doing research on Capone and could you look around for five minutes.”
      “Oh, David, that would be so great. When could you do that?  I was planning on going back to New York tomorrow, but I’ll stay on if I have to.”
      “I’ll call him right now. Here, take his name down and, unless you hear otherwise from me, go over to the precinct around four o’clock.  You’ll be at your hotel?”
      “Yes, I’ll do some paperwork and wait for your call.”
      “All right, I’ll call you one way or the other.  Anything else?”
      There was a pause and the sound of Katie clearing her throat.
      “No, that’s it for now,” she said.
      “Well, then, stay well,” said David, who wished he were out there with her in Chicago.  Just to make sure things went well.

John Mariani, 2015




By John Mariani


         When my two sons come over for Father’s Day, I let them pick the wines. They know what I like, which are wines without too much alcohol, a real show of terroir and compatibility with what they’ll be cooking outside. Here are a few I’d be very happy for them to choose (so I hope they’re reading this).


Youngberg Hill 2019 Aspen Chardonnay ($40)—In the 2019 vintage, rain and a cool October in Oregon slowed down the sugar build-up, so the grapes were picked at optimum time so as to emerge as wines with a sensible alcohol level of 12%, which is rare on the West Coast these days. There’s just a hint of oak and a layering of fruit and citrus flavors, with no residual sugar. It may remind you of a Cru Chablis and will go well with chicken or cheeses.



Querceto di Castellina SEI Gran Selezione Chianti Classico 2017 ($50)—Further proof that the best Chianti Classicos can readily rival the so-called Super Tuscans by showing power but not too much alcohol, a velvety quality and wonderful undertones of light tannin and sweetness. One wine writer suggested there is Merlot in the bottle with Sangiovese, probably because it has such a smooth texture and ripeness. The name SEI (six) comes from the single vineyard of 6.6 hectares producing 6,666 bottles.


Capezzana Corte Bonacossi Villa di Capezzana Carmignano 2016 ($30)—Carmignano was given official status by Tuscan Cosimo III de Medici in 1716, and it’s one of the region’s noble wines, though not as well-known as Brunello di Montalcino.  Along with Sangiovese, the wines always include some Cabernet Sauvignon that imparts a bolder, more tannic element, so it needs four years or more to settle into equilibrium with its abundant fruit. Great wine with beef or veal.

Roero Bric Paradiso Riserva 2016 ($95)—A sumptuous Piemontese Nebbiolo from a small DOCG district controlled by the Roero family. (They also make a Roero Arneis white wine). There is a good deal of spice and nut flavors with wonderful fragrance. It’s pricey and something of a rarity a connoisseur will much appreciate. 

Caprio Cellars Eleanor Estate Red Wine 2018 ($48)—From Walla Walla comes this very, very good blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 15% Malbec and 7% Cabernet Franc, which makes it a Bordeaux style red wine, aged for 18 months in French oak. The alcohol is a little high at 14.5%, but the fruit and minerals are strong enough to keep it in check. At the moment the 2018 and 2017 are available in the market. 

Surrau Isola Nuraghi 2019 ($17)—This was wholly new to me, as might be expected since it’s the first wine ever produced at Vigne Surrau in the Surrau Valley in Sardinia. The Demuro brothers planted and used the island’s indigenous grapes—30% Cannonau, 10% Muristellu, and 60% Carignano—from sandy soil and vines 20 years old. The wines spend time in both oak and old-fashioned cement vats, aging for 9 months, then 3 months in bottle. The alcohol is 14%. If you like big, but not punch-like, fruit, this is a terrific red wine and ridiculously cheap. Good to go with any meats.

Handley Anderson Valley Chardonnay 2017 ($27)—This wine from a close-to-the Pacific Coast winery, established in 1982, is a fine example of its particular terroir, and three years of aging has ennobled the basic structure, with 13.2% alcohol. It’s lively and rich, and, if you close your eyes, maybe you’ll smell the ocean, which makes it good for all shellfish, not least Dungeness crab and abalone.






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 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)