Virtual Gourmet

  FEBRUARY 4,  2024                                                                         NEWSLETTER

Founded in 1996 


Travel Poster by William Welsh (1935)



By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani

 John Mariani



By John Mariani


         Back in 1874 Scribner’s magazine wrote of the women who sold chili con carne in San Antonio’s Military Plaza as “chili queens,” and they continued to ply their wares, off and on, into the early 20th century, till closed down by the city over hygiene issues. O. Henry called them “coquettish señoritas,” and their legend lives on in a city passionate about its Mexican food and its distinctions from Tex-Mex—which is a debate I’m not going to get into here.
         Suffice it to see that Northern Mexican food long ago married into Texas preferences for beef, and chili con carne was born, which is now a staple of the cookery. And in San Antonio you will find a range of eateries, markets and restaurants serving endless variations of traditional dishes like enchiladas, tacos and tamales, along with Americanized items like burritos, chimichangas and fajitas. There are big outdoor family places like La Fogata, places that specialize in seafood like Ernesto’s and elegant restaurantes like Paloma Blanca serving unusual dishes like enchiladas divorciadas.
         Two outstanding restaurants—one old, one new—provide an overlapping picture of San Antonio’s Mexican food culture.

MI TIERRA CAFÉ Y PANDERIA (218 Produce Row; 210-225-1262) is an astonishment on many counts. First of all, since Pedro and Cruz Cortez (below) opened up as a three-table café in 1941, the place has never closed. Now, expanded and relocated a few times, with 500 seats, it’s never empty, and the Christmas decorations never come down.
        The Cortez family has been hailed as among the principal promoters of the Market Square area, and the city’s residents come early for the fresh breads and myriad pastries, the coffee, the strolling mariachi bands—several perform in several dining rooms—the Zapata margaritas at the glittery bar and Mexican food that had been perfected decades ago and is as dependable as the flying of the flag each day at the Alamo.
         The place sprawls from one room to another, every square inch hung with folkloric images, vast murals by artist Jésus Garcia of all the famous Latinos who have enriched American culture, and an altarpiece devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
         Everything you order comes in sumptuous portions, starting with breakfasts (served all day) of huevos rancheros ($12.95) and spicy menudo ($13.50) breakfast soup abundant with tender tripe.   
Throughout the day the servers, all dressed in Mexican fiesta garb, bring out the food with remarkable dispatch—queso flameado of melted cheese with sausage; michoan of charred pork with oranges and spices ($22.75); flautas de pollo with guacamole ($15.50); Tex-Mex favorites, including steak á la  Tampiquena, an assemblage of ribeye with chicken enchiladas and green tomatillo sauce ($28.75).
        And, even if they have to pack up half their food to take home (which you will), everyone has the pastel de tres leches con fruta cake ($7.50) or the caramel cajeta cheesecake ($6.50). Sit back with a cup of cinnamon-scented Mexican coffee, listen to the mariachis croon “Vaya con Dios,” and let everybody at Mi Tierra spoil you. 
What Katz’s Delicatessen is to New York and Versailles is to Miami, Mi Tierra is to San Antonio and, I suspect, always will be.




The Pearl District is named after the Pearl Brewery Company, which  in 1952 took over the San Antonio Brewing Company, whose extraordinary Second Empire-style brew house was designed by Chicago architect August Maritzen in 1894 and was once the largest in the U.S. In 1965 it merged with Pabst brewery, which closed operations in 2001. Fortunately, the building and 23 acres were purchased by Silver Ventures for mixed development that included a stunning hotel within the brewery’s shell, boutiques, an amphitheater, markets, a branch of the Culinary Institute of America and a number of restaurants, one of which is LA GLORIA PEARL (100 East Grayson Street; 210-267-9040), opened by first generation Mexican-American Johnny Hernandez to showcase Latino street food.
        Hernandez has been one of the prime movers in the city’s modern restaurant scene, owning eight restaurants and four food trucks, and he has been key to developing the historic La Villita village along the River Walk.
         La Gloria is a big, open space looking like a converted auto garage, decked out in wildly colorful Mexican imagery that includes a Dia de Las Muertes skeleton as welcoming figure.
         The food is every bit as colorful as it is unstintingly fresh, from the rich fundido cheeses with chorizo ($14.95) to the big bowl of deshebrada beef teeming with shredded beef and onions ($7.49). There are quesadillas and tostadas, but the stars of the menu are the enchiladas derived from various regions on Mexico, such as Oaxaca (mole negro, chicken, crema, onions, queso fresco and radishes ($15.95) and Veracruz, with chili, pasilla, bean sauce, chicken, charred onions, chorizo, poblanos, crema  and queso fresco  ($16.95).
         There are six margaritas, 45 tequilas and mezcals, and the sangria should really be ordered  by the pitcher. And share a dessert like the tres leches cake (left) or the flan.
         Hernandez is often on premises and on a first name basis with every employee, and seems to know all the regulars, some who come several times a week. It is the kind of place that once experienced, you cannot imagine not going back every time you’re in town.
If Mi Tierra represents the best of tradition, La Gloria is in the vanguard of Mexican regional cuisine.




                                                                                          1123 Broadway


     By John Mariani


                  There’s no doubt that a wood-fired oven can impart delectable nuances to certain foods. By the same token, some cooks overdue the amount of smoke for some meats and fish that robs them of their essential flavors. Fortunately, no such error is committed at Lupetto, which means “little wolf,” a new Italian restaurant located in NoMad.
                  The food mimics that of the rustic hearth cooking in Italy, although Lupetto’s ovens are far more refined and modulated. Restaurateur Mark Barak and chef-partner Michael Berardino add a lightly smoked luster to everything from pizzas to meats and fish from an open kitchen while keeping the classics squarely on the menu.
                  The 175-seat space (with a downstairs room called Sotto with 40 seats) is dominated by a long bar and center divider, with a good deal of polished wood, by Parts and Labor Design. There are tables up front and a dining room to the rear that could use more light to make the menu easier to read and do justice to the colors of the food.
             What the room does not need is the bombast of thudding bass and bashing drums—whatever music it is you won’t be able to identify—which is the polar opposite of what a rustic trattoria anywhere in Italy would have, which is no music at all. Oddly enough, about 9:30, when Lupetto started to empty out, they played some old Italian pop music, which was fun to hear as we finished our wine.
         It’s not easy choosing among so many tempting starts, but I would most recommend the tender, very flavorful arancini rice balls with tomato, saffron and smoked mozzarella ($18), and that fiery oven adds a real tasty char to the octopus with pepper relish ($22). We had to test out the Neapolitan-style pizza ($24) with fior di latte mozzarella, and it was a good one; a tad thin but sizeable enough to share.
         As ever in Italian restaurants, pastas will stand out and Lupetto’s are simple with tremendous flavor. You don’t see spaghetti aglio e olio ($23) outside of Old School Italian-American trattorias, but Lupetto’s is outstanding (right), the pasta perfect, the amount of garlic and good olive just right and with an added tang of what I assume was lemon. Every bit as wonderful was a dish of fat bucatini all’amatriciana  ($27) with sweet tomato and guanciale, onions and a hit of chile pepper (left).
        The guitar-string cut called chitarra takes on an unusual sauce of Meyer lemon and sweet Bronte pistachio ($26); even more unusual was the crespelle (crêpe) stuffed with porcini mushrooms and caramelized onions layered with white bolognese béchamel sauce (28), one of my favorite pastas thus far this year.
                  There’s a special place on the menu for oven-roasted meats, including an exceptional thick, juicy, perfectly cooked pork porterhouse porchetta, spiced and seasoned with great authority ($44), which I hope becomes Berardino’s signature dish. He does well by a (very expensive) 16-ounce ribeye for one ($72) or two ($165) from cattle that are grass fed, as in Italy, but without the richness of USDA Prime. The ribeye for one handily serves two people, so the one for two would be enough for four.
                  Orata is a fine alternative to the ubiquitous branzino, and Lupetto’s wood-fire gives it a subtle flavor and keeps in the juices.
                  The same degree of simple goodness is evident in desserts ($14) like the ricotta cheesecake, with pistachios for crunch and meringue for fun; chocolate cake with a lush mascarpone mousse and espresso glaze; and chocolate panna cottta with candied hazelnuts.
                  There is obviously no end to the number of good Italian trattorias that New York can absorb, and usually when I’m asked for recommendations, the request is overwhelmingly for Italian food. And in this section of Manhattan, with a lot to choose among, Lupetto would certainly leap to mind to recommend. Now, if only they’d turn down that noise!


Open nightly for dinner.




By  John Mariani



        Katie was feeling frustrated. “So you did not pursue the incident?”
         “I did, Katie, I did. But to make a long story short, whomever I spoke to basically shrugged and said if I saw no actual sexual act going on, there was nothing really to report and that—and here’s what repulsed me—that it would be very embarrassing for Ryan and especially for the child to go further with an investigation.  They said that even if something horrible had occurred, Miguel’s parents would never agree to have him testify and be exposed to ridicule by everyone, especially his schoolmates.

         “They did nothing at all?”
        “One of my superiors said he’d have a talk with Ryan.”
         “Did he?”
         “I have no way of knowing.  All I know is that Ryan went on with his teaching and coaching tennis and that Miguel stayed in school but was assigned to another teacher for what had been Ryan’s courses. Miguel did drop out of tennis.”
         Katie was sinking into deep sadness, as much for her friend Joseph as for the children, and the only thing that kept her from breaking into tears was her rage over priests getting away with such predatory behavior.
         “So, Joey, you left because you felt incapable of doing anything after that?”
         Joseph rubbed the back of his neck and said, “I might well have stayed in, tried to mount an offense, go outside the community, but I needed evidence. And when I started to look for it, comparing the number of students—good students—who mysteriously dropped out of school with their parents’ approval with rates at other schools in the city and elsewhere, I began to see a pattern so widespread that it was making me sick and driving me away from my faith in God. I was getting no direction from my prayers, no help from my colleagues, and, eventually, I was told I was to have an audience with the bishop of the diocese.”
         Katie’s eyebrows rose a bit in the hope that better news was coming.
         “So, I went to see the bishop, who’d been in that position for thirty years by then, and I was hoping he would be receptive to my research, such as it was, and that perhaps he would help launch an investigation and get to the bottom of things.”
         Joseph described how he’d been picked up by a lay assistant to the bishop, whose name was Juan de Castro, and driven into the capital to his residence attached to the city’s 16th century Metropolitan Cathedral and Parish of Saint Vitalis and of the Guardian Angels. Vitalis was the patron saint of prostitutes. The night before, Joseph had looked up the biography of St. Vitalis to find he was a martyr of Milan, who had sacrificed his life by being tortured on the rack then buried alive. Joseph was feeling nothing like a martyr, at least not yet.
         The church was done in the typical Spanish colonial style of the period, and much of it was destroyed in the war by Allied bombing.  But within its catacombs lay the silent remains of the priests and bishops who had served the church in their lifetime.
         Joseph was ushered into a large plain office, decorated sparsely with a crucifix, a painting of the Virgin Mary, an oak desk and upholstered chairs. Bishop de Castro, now in his late seventies, rose to meet the young Jesuit, saying, in perfect English, “Ah, Joseph, thank you so much for coming.  I’ve heard so many good things about you.  All good, as a matter of fact.”
         Joseph returned the greeting with a smile and sat down, waiting to be spoken to. The old bishop put on his glasses and glanced down at a file on his desk.
         “So, my son, I understand you have been doing some extracurricular study of some kind on the drop-out rates within our diocese? That sounds interesting.”
         Joseph was dumbfounded that the bishop would know anything about his priests’ activities beyond the walls of the school and had to assume that word had gotten back to the bishop from the various sources Joseph had contacted during his investigation.
         “Have you found out anything of use to us to know?” asked De Castro, taking off his glasses and staring intently at his young priest.
         Joseph had a sudden feeling of having been betrayed and felt he had to be very careful, as if he were being probed by the authorities. He said nothing at first, then spoke: “Your Holiness, the object of my research has been into how many students have left our schools for no attributed reasons. There were good students, poor students, some whose family moved away, but otherwise there were so many who left without cause.”
         “When you say ‘many,’ what kind of numbers are you speaking of?” asked De Castro.
         “I have only really looked back over the past ten years,” said Joseph, “but from my very, very incomplete records, I have found scores of such cases, perhaps even a hundred.”
         De Castro picked up a pen and began writing. “That many. Well, then, what have you found to be the causes of these mysterious students dropping out?”
         Father Joseph Evangelisti leaned forward and said, “I cannot prove any of this, Your Holiness, and certainly not in all cases, but in a significant number of them I fear that it may have been the result of. . . improper sexual behavior on the part of their teachers.” He hesitated to say priests.

"The Martyrdom of St. Vitalis" by Federico Barocci  (I553).

“You mean you think these students were sexually molested and sent away because they became pregnant?”
        “Some, but certainly not all. Many, perhaps most, were young boys.”
         De Castro kept writing, without looking up. “Of what age?”
         “I would say the average age was fifteen to seventeen, some younger.”
         “And do you believe some of these cases involved improper behavior by priests?”
         Joseph nodded. “I’m afraid so,” but stopped short of saying it appeared most of the cases involved priests, brothers, even nuns.
         “And you have turned up strong evidence to that effect?”
         “No, Your Holiness, I have not, and that is why I have come to you to ask your help in finding out the truth.”   

John Mariani, 2018




                               Oregon’s Willamette Valley
            Is Aiming to Make a It Year-Round Vino-Tourist Attraction

                                  By John Mariani

         In an amazingly short time the Willamette Valley in Oregon has grown into a wine region known for its high quality varietals, not least for the finest Pinot Noirs made in the U.S. Now, with 700 wineries—up from 400 in just nine years—it is third after California (with 2,843) and Washington (1,070) in numbers, but its quality levels are easily competitive with the best in the world.

Pinot Noirs from the International Pinot Noir Celebration
       This is all the more remarkable because, although some wine has been produced in Oregon since the 19th century, modern viniculture only made its mark since the 1960s, and it was the investment in Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley by the French Burgundian vigneron Joseph Drouhin that prompted others to invest in the state.
         The Valley’s estate owners have been canny about marketing and have managed to establish 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) distinguishing terroirs. Just as important, the industry has been vigorous in promoting agro-tourism in the region, and to go by the news announced by Willamette Valley Wineries Association, 2024 is going to be a banner year. Here are but a few of the most exciting announcements in this, one the loveliest valleys in the Pacific Northwest.
         Primary for agro-tourism are tasting rooms, which are being built as attractions that go well beyond a wooden shed in the back of the vineyard. Antica Terra is debuting a barrel hall tasting room, in May, which will feature intimate tasting bays as sipping areas for wine collectors. In June, they will also offer a tasting “in the trees,” with visitors gathered in the heart of the property, surrounded by its natural beauty. . . . Francis Ford Coppola’s Domaine de Briglie is changing its name to Domaine Lumineux with a new tasting room in Newberg. . . . Corollary Wines will serve its sparkling wines at a new tasting room with  panoramic views of the estate vines, once a timber property. . . . The newly established Balsall Creek Vineyards is opening its tasting room this spring  in the Chehalem Mountains nested AVA, showing off its unusual varietals of Gamay,  Aligoté, and others. . . . Lingua Franca Wines will celebrate its inaugural to offer flights of its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. . . . Namaste Vineyards, which has some of the oldest vines in the AVA, is renovating an historic hay barn dating back to 1920 (right) into a brand-new tasting room, expanding its food offerings to include an enticing array of small plates, charcuterie boards, and homemade artisanal chocolate truffles crafted using their coveted Reserve Cuvée Pinot Noir. . . . Left Coast Estates has a new Library to provide in-depth wine education, by reservation only, along with a hiking trail and wood-fired pizzas. . . . Lachini Vineyards will evoke its owners’ Mediterranean roots with a grand venue complete with an onsite chef, an open kitchen, indoor and outdoor tasting areas. . . . Chosen Family Wines will open their Road House Tasting with an exclusive setting alongside the Wilsonville River. Guests can select from three distinct tasting flights, curated by the Chosen Family team, with the option to pre-order charcuterie boards.       
Other events in the Valley include the Taste Newberg Truffle Trail in February and March to forage the woodlands for truffles. . . .
West Hills Vineyards has a new event space called “The Chapel” coming in June, with a capacity to accommodate up to 200 guests, ideal choice for grand occasions such as weddings. The Chapel comes complete with a well-equipped catering kitchen and antique bell. . . . Greywing Cellars has its first Native American winemaker in Brandy Grey, both Cherokee and Navajo, who, with her husband Ari (left), makes Pinot Noir and sparkling Rosé across two Willamette Valley appellations, with  the label used to help support fellow indigenous peoples. . . . Willamette Valley Vineyards Camping Space has introduced  Into the Woods,” an exclusive haven designed for wine-loving recreational vehicle enthusiasts. . . . Mother’s Day Sparkling Wine is being specially celebrated at many of the area’s boutique winery  tasting rooms with abundantly flowing sparkling wine. . . . The Bubbles Fest (right) will be held February 17-18, with 28 producers paired up with local seafood and special bites. Local cheeses and sweets will be on hand as well as music from DJ Jimbo. . . . The Oregon Chardonnay Celebration on February 24 will have 50 esteemed producers, while The Allison Inn’s executive chef, Jack Strong,  and other Valley chefs offer bites to go with the wines. . . . And  the 40th Anniversary Throwback Weekend will be held March 1-3, to commemorate four decades of viniculture, with a special focus on all things from the iconic year 1983.




Chef Luca Grammatico serves dogs at his restaurant called Fiuto in Rome with dishes of chicken nuggets, zucchini and mashed potatoes blended and formed into a dog bone shape.“Presentation is very important,” he said.



 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.


If you wish to subscribe to this newsletter, please click here:

© copyright John Mariani 2024