Virtual Gourmet

  January 21, 2024                                                                                            NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Menu of China Moon, NYC (1957)




By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani

        Is the Frog Pond drying up? That was the nickname for New York’s most famous high-end French restaurant, La Grenouille, long known for its fashion and power crowds, attracting  everyone from Charlie Chaplin, Sir Laurence Olivier and Paul Newman to  Liz Taylor, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger, and (below) Jackie and Aristotle Onassis.
Now, closed since last fall, La Grenouille’s is finally re-opening this month, but the building is for sale. It brings up again the question of whether or not fine French dining is fading
. Of all the city’s surviving classic French restaurants of dozens that once dotted midtown Manhattan—dubbed the “Le and La crowd”—La Grenouille was immune to culinary trends and changes in the way people preferred to eat out in the 21st century.        
Famous for its huge flower displays, archaic gilded luxury and snooty waiters in tuxedos and overseen by the Masson family since opening in 1962, its clientele was rigorously faithful and for the next three decades grew an increasing number of Asians to its tables.
         In their heyday Monsieur Charles and Madame Gisele would prowl their dining room as if giving a papal blessing to those guests they favored and a stiffened chin to those they did not. The death of the senior Massons drove their sons Philippe and Charles Jr (below) to titanic battles of will, with Philippe finally taking control until its closure.
         And so, La Grenouille follows in the wake of other illustrious French restaurants like Lutèce, La Caravelle, La Côte Basque and Le Périgord. Their demise seemed to indicate that that effusive style of dining, with starched white tablecloths, red banquettes, vases of roses and open display of cold appetizers was due to a younger, less sophisticated public’s distaste for formality and for what was perceived as the snobbish French hauteur used to put people in their place rather than merely seat them.
         Yet, a closer look at the history of such restaurants, and the thriving of haute cuisine restaurants that have replaced them, shows only that there were once more of them—many merely copycats of each other in décor and menu, with varying degrees of quality.
    More important, as with any industry, and especially the highly competitive restaurant business in New York, places like La Grenouille closed for all sorts of reasons that had nothing to do with falling out of favor.
        The historic fact is that most of the old-line French palaces closed for the same reasons many businesses do: Le Pavillon, which came out of the 1939 New York’s World’s Fair, reigned for decades before its owner, Henri Soulé (left), died and his successor failed to carry on; The deaths of paterfamilias of Le Veau d’Or, Le Cirque and Le Périgord robbed regulars of the cosseting they’d come to cherish. Lutèce, whose chef André Soltner owned the restaurant’s townhouse,  simply retired at the age of 72; so, too, did the owners of La Côte Basque and La Petite Marmite. The owners of La Caravelle lost their lease after the landlord tried to hike the rent exorbitantly.
         Yet, French haute cuisine in stunning, newer restaurants thrives in New York. Getting a table at Restaurant Daniel, whose owner Daniel Boulud opened a new version of Le Pavillon in 2022, is as tough as ever, just as it is at Jean-Georges, Le CouCou, Essential by Christophe and L’Abeille. Meanwhile, the French seafood restaurant Le Bernardin is at the top of every list as one of the best restaurants in the world. Even if not French by name, haute cuisine restaurants like Per Se are booked weeks in advance.
         Numerous other very high-end luxury restaurants are also packed every night whose chefs were trained in French kitchens, like the vegetarian Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill, The Modern, Gotham and Gramercy Tavern, which all serve the kinds of dishes that have always been part of the French repertoire.
Add to those the somewhat less expensive, more casual restaurants like Daniel Boulud’s Le Gigot, Boulud Sud and Café Boulud, Alain Ducasse’s Benoit, the trendy bistros Frenchette and Pastis, the long-running La Goulue, the Japanese-inflected 15 East Tocqueville, old standbys like Café Luxembourg and Chez Napoleon  and the impossible to get into Balthazar (left), and you’ll find French food of every stripe all over town, from SoHo to the Upper West Side and Brooklyn.
         The expansiveness and diversity of all kinds of restaurants in New York has never been more astounding, especially in light of the Covid epidemic. Fact is, despite Covid, economic boom and bust, and supposed cutbacks in expense allowances, New York has for decades always had between 22,000 and 25,000 eating establishments in all the boroughs. Fortunately, you don’t have to look very hard among them for a French restaurant, and chances are it will be as good or even better than La Grenouille ever was.




35 West 20th Street
John Mariani
Photos by Liz Clayton



         If you asked just about any New Yorker over the age of fifty their earliest recollection of a wonderful Greek restaurant in Manhattan, it’s highly likely they’d say Periyali, because for so many years, since 1987, it was the pre-eminent Greek restaurant in the city, with a winsome taverna-like décor evoking the Ionian isles and a menu of classic, homey dishes others would come to imitate.
         Periyali was not the first Greek restaurant in New York,  or even the first in Manhattan, for those who may recall Piraeus My Love, Mykonos and the Pantheon. But, when Nicola Kotsoni and Steve Tzolis Periyali, with consulting chefs Irene and Victor Gouras, opened on West 29th Street, Periyali defined the Greek genre and menu for years to come. Not least is its extensive list of Greek wines, which has grown significantly in number and quality.
Periyali maintained a very regular clientele over the years and consistent reputation for quality and service. Closed during Covid, it has been re-opened by Kotsoni and Tzolis, carefully refreshed and brightened, its muslin drapes on the ceilings still billowing, its sturdy white wooden chairs and red roses on the tablecloths, still one of the loveliest dining rooms in Manhattan.
         The menu, originally based on the Gourases’ restaurant on Patmos, hasn’t changed post-pandemic, on the belief that people will want to eat those comfort foods they had so long enjoyed, including the platter of five mezzes ($30) like creamy fish roe spread (cod or mullet) taramosalata (à la carte $14); the smoky charred eggplant and garlicky melitzanosalata ($14); tzatziki yogurt flavored with dill and cucumber ($14); yellow split peas and red onions called kremidaki ($14); and marinated lima beans with herbs and garlic called gigandas skordalia ($16). These all come with warm whole wheat pita bread, which is unusual and not as pliant as white wheat pitas.
         Appetizers are larger portions than the mezzes, and the oktapodi sharas is terrific: tender, grilled and olive oil-dressed octopus tentacles that have been marinated in red wine ($28). Calamarakia tiganita ($21) are flavorful calamari served with skordalia garlic condiment. The delightful, light spanakopita ($19) is a good item to share, a phyllo tart stuffed with spinach and cheese with crispy zucchini fritters kolokithokeftedes.
       I do wish that Periyali served a wider variety of Mediterranean fish, rather than just branzino and salmon (although there is a “fish of the day”), for it is from the sea that Greek food culture flourishes. But the branzino from the Canary Islands is expertly cooked and dressed with olive oil and lemon, and grilled tiger shrimp garides psites ($41) is a hefty dish served with spinach and rice.
        Lamb is the basis for Greek non-seafood cookery, and arni Youvetsi ($41), often served as a Sunday lunch in Greeceis a generous, succulent braised lamb shank with tomato, orzo, and Eastern spices. Kouneli stifado (a pricey $51) was similar as a braised dish, tough the rabbit hadn’t much flavor of itself. Of course, you must have moussaka at a Greek restaurant, made with layers of ground meat and sweet eggplant lavished with a creamy béchamel ($31). My favorite greens are braised horta, which means wild greens, ($14).
        Desserts ($14) keep within the Greek repertoire, including an orange cake called ortokalopita soaked in orange-scented syrup; karidopita, rich with walnuts and perfumedwith cinnamon; and baklava pastry. Best of all are the buttery, crunchy, sugar-dusted almond cookies called kourabiedes. And do end off with thick Greek coffee. Medium sweet.

It’s not just good to see Periyali back up and running, fresher than ever, but that regulars are coming back and newcomers in that neck of the Manhattan woods are just discovering why it was exemplary from the start.


Open for dinner nightly; lunch Mon.-Fri. (including a two-course $39 prix fixe lunch as well as à la carte)


By  John Mariani



         Her doorbell rang, Katie put down her wooden spoon, glanced in the hallway mirror, put her fingers through her hair and opened the door to find Joseph standing there with a big smile on his face.
         “You’ve grown a beard!” Katie exclaimed. “Lemme look at you. It looks good, really.” Then she hugged him as closely as he did in return.

         “And you still look like the girl in high school whose test papers I used to peek at to get the answer.”
         “Like you weren’t way smarter than me?”
         “I think we split the liberal arts and sciences down the middle. Hey, what smells so good?  You made your mother’s meat sauce?”
         The black-bearded Joseph faked a faint at the thought of Mrs. Cavuto’s meat sauce, and after all those years he could identify its aroma  coming from the window of Katie’s apartment.
         “Come in, come in,” she said, noticing her priest friend was dressed in what they called “civvies,” just regular clothes, not even a white collar. That didn’t really surprise Katie, for so many priests now doffed their black suits and shirts away from the premises of their schools and residences.  Even many of the Jesuits still at Fordham showed up to teach class in civvies. Katie was in shorts and an old Fordham University t-shirt.
         They both went into the kitchen where Katie attended to the sauce, saying, “I got some fresh mozzarella and bread.  Help yourself. Open the wine, too.”    
Joseph happily did as he was told, slicing the wet, cream-rich Italian cheese and seeded bread loaf onto plates and opening up a bottle of white wine.
         “Place looks great, Katie. Only thing it needs is a man.”
         Katie rolled her eyes and said, “Not you, too! I’ve got half the Bronx on my back to get married. I don’t need a priest to pile on.”
         They toasted themselves and said, “Cent’anni!”—a hundred years!—then Katie drained the spaghetti, put it back into the hot pot and poured on some of the glistening, aromatic sauce, just enough to coat the pasta.
         Joseph swirled it on his fork and closed his eyes. “I swear to you, Katie, I have had nothing this good to eat in the past five years. Not even close.”
         They began to eat together, slowing down their conversation in order to enjoy the food and wine.
“You want some more?” she asked. “You’re too skinny.”
         “No, I’m good.”
         “So,” she began, “what are you doing home and for how long?”
         Joseph wiped his mouth and put his napkin on the table then took a sip of the remaining wine.
         “I don’t know, Katie.  Maybe forever.”
         “You got transferred back to New York?”
         “No. I came back on my own.”
         Katie squinted, feeling she knew what was coming. “Don’t tell me you quit the priesthood, Joey.”
         The young man looked his friend straight in the eye and said, “Remember when we were in school together and they told us, a Catholic can leave the church but he can never stop being a Catholic?”
         Katie nodded and said, “Many times. I always thought it was a very sad thing to say.”
         “Not really. In a way it’s a very hopeful thing to say. Because, yes, I have left the Church, or at least I’ve left the priesthood, but I feel closer to Christ than I ever have since I was an altar boy.”
         Katie shook her head very slightly, not knowing what to say, feeling she should express the formality of sorrow but sensing that Joseph didn’t want her to feel that for him.  She just asked, “So what happened?”
         Joseph Evangelista breathed in deeply then sighed as someone about to make a confession.
         “It’s not a simple story, Katie,” he began.

    Joey related with remembered of anxious joy his  first arriving in Cebu City, which had been the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines—1525--and had accordingly acquired renown as one of Christianity’s first footholds in Asia.  There had been pitched battles between Christians and Muslims, rebellions against Spanish dominion, a slave trade and in World War II occupation by the Japanese. By the end of the century, however, the large industrial city was still 80% Catholic.  The Jesuits’ Mother of Mercy School had been established in 1955, eventually educating students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
         “It was a wonderful school,” he continued. “I picked up Spanish pretty quickly, and the interaction of the teachers and students reminded me of what it was like when I was back in grammar school. The kids were very good natured, proudly Filipino, some Chinese, proudly Catholic, and although we weren’t at all isolated from the city, there was a real sense of community and mission.  Latin was taught in high school and there was a pretty remarkable Chinese language course of studies available, too.”
         Joseph went on to describe his first year at Mother of Mercy as a radiant blossoming within himself that convinced him he had chosen the absolute best path in his life both towards personal and religious fulfillment through Christ, serving by teaching, challenging his students and himself every day he entered a classroom and every time he said the Mass.
         “Saying the Mass, Katie, was always wondrous for me. I’d be up in front of the church at the altar, and there’d be hundreds of my students, all dressed in clean uniforms and praying along with me. And yet when I was up there I also felt sublimely alone, full of fervor, full of. . . grace.  I could not have been happier.”
         Katie was smiling, even though she knew Joseph’s story was soon to take a turn. “It all sounds pretty wonderful, Joey.”
         Joseph nodded and went on. “And I got along with my colleagues very well for the most part. There were a lot of lay teachers among us Jebbies, and the rapport was overall pretty good, despite the usual gripings about salaries and allocating resources.
         “Our rector was a priest named Juan Santiago and he’d been at the school for ages. He’d served in the Vatican for a  while and was immensely intelligent. I always thought he’d turn out to be one of the Church’s true theological scholars, but he seemed more than content being a rector in his own country.”
         He paused, then asked, “Is there any more of that wine left?”
         Katie grabbed the bottle and half-filled his glass.
         “So for the first three years, I was very happy, very content,” he said. “I had my disagreements, a few battles over curriculum and the fact that the boys’ programs were always better funded than the girls’. The usual academic and bureaucratic b.s.  But then there were a couple of incidents that were curiously out of the ordinary and seemed shrouded in a secrecy only certain members of the community shared.”
         “What happened?” asked Katie.


John Mariani, 2018




By John Mariani

         Very good wines are abundant from every continent save Antarctica, but some are very special because of the way they express a balance of varietal character, terroir and a knitting together of fruit, acid and tannins in a way distinct from others of their kind. When it comes to red wines, the options are legion these days, but here are some new to the market, even though from older vintages, that strike me as everything a red wine should exemplify.


CHARLES KRUG GENERATIONS 2019 ($85). Dating back to 1861 and long within the Peter Mondavi family estate holdings, Krug has had an indelible imprint in Napa Valley. This limited production Family Reserve blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot is very much a Bordeaux-style red, aged in French oak. You might be put off by a 15.1% alcohol level, but four years of aging has tamed down the tannins and given the wine a bold complexity that should only improve over the next half decade.


SAPAIO VOLPOLO BOLGHERI 2021 ($40). The wines of the Bolgheri region within Tuscany are prestigious for producing red wines outside the formulas mandated for DOCG Tuscan wines, like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino. Owner Massimo Piccin founded Podere Sapaio in 1999, with 62 cultivated acres that grow grapes for 25 wines that he blends into two wines using Bordeaux varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The Volpolo is made from 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot, aged for 16 months in new and used French oak barriques, then in larger casks before aging for four months in bottle. It definitely tastes like an Italian-style Bordeaux, though it is more fruit forward and denser, and a couple more years can only improve it.


ARNIONE CAMPO ALLA SUGHERA BOLGHERI SUPERIORE 2016 ($41). While we’re on the subject of Bolgheri, co-owner and geologist Isabel Knauf, together with winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt, makes superior wines from the region by the shoreline and sells them at remarkably good prices. A Bordeaux blend, it was established in 2001, this vintage released in 2019 and still available, showing maturity and the elegance that these Tuscan Bordeaux-style reds can achieve. The name Arnione refers to a kind of alabaster used in plaster production. Perfect with pastas of any kind of meat sauces or funghi porcini.


MIRTO RAMÓN BILBAO RIOJA 2004 ($82). In the last century you never really knew what you got, or where the grapes came from in Rioja, but stringency of rules and individuality have made wines like Mirto Ramon’s outstanding examples of modern Iberian viniculture. Remarkably, you can still find this twenty-year-old vintage, which was considered one of the best of the decade, and it has fully matured and is fresh, vibrant and distinctive, with 14% alcohol, made from Tempranillo and Tinto Fino grapes in Ábelos and Alavesa. Their flagship wine, Mirto, was first made in 1999, always aiming for a fruitier profile than other Riojas. They are not filtered or clarified, giving them richer body.

VALDEMAR ESTATES WALLA WALLA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2020 ($70). In 1889 Joaquin Martínez Bujanda began making wine in the northern Spanish town of Oyón, and his son Jesús and grandson Don Jesús Martínez Bujanda founded Bodegas Valdemar in the 1980s, now led by fifth generation Jesús Martínez Bujanda, current CEO, and his sister, Ana Martínez Bujanda, COO. While a student at the University of Washington, Jesús came to believe that the Walla Walla Valley would be perfect for winemaking, so they moved there to create Valdemar Estates with his sister, and winemaker Devyani Isabel Gupta, to produce their Cabernet Sauvignon, planted in solid basalt rock that provide small clusters of grapes,  76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 12% Malbec, spending 19 months in 25% new and 75% used French Oak, emerging at a hefty 14.7% alcohol.


JOSEPH PHELPS NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2021 ($100). If any California winery can be said to make classic red wines, it is certainly Joseph Phelps, whose winery dates to the mid-1970s with his Insignia label that has long distinguished Napa viniculture. Insignia is priced at $300, but this second label, for $100, is a stellar blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlot and 1% Malbec, all of which provide nuance to the brawny Cabernet Sauvignon from a mild vintage year. It is aged in French and American oak for 16 months to really mellow out, and it’s ready to drink now or for the next five years.


VIÑA SAN PEDRO CABO DE HORNOS 2018 ($80). This Chilean wine from Cachapoal Valley is named after the explorers who discovered Cape Horn. The grapes grow at 500 meters altitude in volcanic soil at the foothills of the Andes. Winemaker Gabriel Mustakis allows the Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen slowly, and it shows how far Chilean wines have come since this winery opened in 1985. At 14.5% alcohol, it is very velvety and the tannins have loosened, while still holding a grip that makes it ideal with chargrilled meats.


QUIVIRA BLACK BOAR ZINFANDEL DRY CREEK VALLEY 2020 ($55). To drink a powerful Zinfandel like this you should plan on serving food that will hold up to it, from a thick ribeye to chile-seasoned Mexican dishes, especially pork. Quivira makes several from 2020, including Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($28),  Anderson Ranch ($50) and this mighty Zin that mixes wines from both those ranches. Wild boars actually do roam the valley, hence the name. It’s a blend of 78% Zin with a big dose of 22% Petite Syrah that ups the jam-like fruitiness. The grapes were not crushed but transferred to open-top fermenters or closed-top stainless steel for 3-7 days of cold-soak followed by 7-10 days fermentation, basket pressed, then finished in French and American oak for 18 months. I really like to drink it as I would Port or Madeira, with chestnuts and cheeses.




Rod Stewart left a £10,000  tip at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.


 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.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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