Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bits & Morsels

Tacos galore at The Art of the Taco at the New York City Wine & Food Festival.
A recap of the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival!
by Erin Frankel

This weekend was undoubtedly the most important 72 hours for any New York City restaurateur, chef, sommelier, and food-loving aficionado. All throughout the weekend, hoards of foodies (and, this year, many newbies) fought their way through factions of ravenous mobs to feast on our city’s most savory bites at the New York City Wine & Food Festival.

My weekend would not have been complete without a visit to the grand tasting and the art of the taco, both of which were sold out in a matter of hours. This year’s grand tasting was more grandiose than ever, with over 60 exhibitors indulging (some might say intruding), 70 diverse restaurants, and a plethora of alcohol brands all featuring their finest products.

As I confronted the crowd head on, I heroically made room in my stomach for nearly every featured dish (and beverage). My thoughts? This year's overall food trend seemed to focus on the rich and hearty nature of autumn flavors enlivened with a Northern European twist.
Anthony Bourdain at panel discussion on What is the Ultimate Restaurant Experience? Paula and Michael Deen.
The rapt audience.
Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Purcell. Lee Brian Schrager and Masaharu Morimoto.
Bobbie and Jamie Deen. Duff Goldman and Mary Alice Fallon-Yeskey.
Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite dishes, drinks, and celebrated chefs:

Wallse served a delicious smoked trout crepe with horseradish and apple, and a concord grape compote, a favorite that kept me coming back for seconds (and thirds).

Rebar offered chef Jeremy Leech’s signature polenta, a simple yet heavenly dish that Leech refines by adding top-notch truffle oil and toasted pinenuts. During my many helpings, Leech explained that a “lot of what we do at Rebar is to bring back old world peasant dishes and breath new life into them.”
Proximo red wine from Rioja. Gekkeikan sake.
Beaumarchais welcomed Fall with chef David E. Diaz’s butternut squash soup with cinnamon crème fraiche and toasted marshmallows. A perfect sweet and savory combination to a classically rich French dish.

Gilt offered an interesting concoction of smoked sturgeon in a dill and borscht- flavored fluid gel topped with a nice helping of American caviar and toasted buckwheat kernels.

Highpoint Bistro & Bar offered the most unique combination of flavors in chef Phil Deffina’s lobster scrambled eggs topped with Trout rose, crème fraiche, and brioche.

Tiella Restaurant served a rich and tasty spinach flan topped with a bold gorgonzola sauce.
Gilt's smoked sturgeon.
Highpoint bistro & bar's lobster scrambled eggs. Wallse's smoked trout crepe.
Mexico Lindos's mini Oaxacan styled tamale.
North Square Restaurant prepared for the colder Fall months with chef Yoel Cruz’s hearty shrimp bisque topped with tarragon cream and cayenne croutons.

‘21’ Club went the route of soft and genial October flavors with John Greely’s cubes of burgundy Guinness braised short rib flavored with anise, carnival squash puree and a curry and pomegranate caramel.

Mexico Lindo offered a Mexican version of the autumn preview dishes with chef Claudia Bonilla’s mini oaxacan styled tamale with braised chicken and mole poblano, steamed in a banana leaf and garnished with seasonal microgreens and sesame seeds.
Clockwise from top left: North square restaurant's shrimp bisque; Rebar's signature polenta; Tiela's spinach flan; 21 club's braised short ribs; Adult chocolate milk.
For dessert: The new Salt of the Earth’s brownies ... ranging from the basic fudge brownie to the espresso brownie to the spicy mayan brownie to the caramel ... all paired with specific sea salts to enhance as much of the natural flavor as possible.

All this good food definitely made me thirsty! My favorite cocktails? The Gekkeikan (a traditional sake mixed with elderflower liqueur and fresh cucumber) and the Proximo (a Sin Criaza young wine from Rioja, a clear, fruity varietal, with strong hits of strawberries and cherries). And, of course there was the 'Adult' chocolate milk.
Salt of the Earth bakery's brownies.
The Grand Tasting left little room in my stomach for the next event. BUT, tacos and tequila are two of my favorite things, so I managed to stay the course. The tequila flowed, the tacos called to me, and the company was thrilling. Nearly 30 restaurants (interestingly, many not Mexican) offered their adaptation of the traditional Mexican taco. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite tacos:

Riverpark prepared a rare seafood-centric find in chef Shisha Ortuzar’s oyster taco, stuffed with green tomato, lime and pickled onions.

Gotham Bar & Grill offered a vegetarian option that won Ben's affection (my fellow taco connoisseur) in chef Alfred Portale’s wild mushroom taco with a white truffle sauce in tandem with traditional Mexican sauces, like the queso fresco, topped with traditional pumpkin seeds.
Riverpark's oyster taco.
Gotham Bar & Grill's wild mushroom taco. The National's chorizo and beef tongue taco.
David Burke's pastrami salad taco.
Nuela's beef tongue taco. Balaboosta's lamb taco.
Dos Caminos's Chino Latino tuna ceviche taco.
Buddakan's Peking duck taco.
The perfect taco complements: Corona and ...
... Patrón .
Then there was Buddakan's Asian-influenced Peking duck taco, lightly garnished with onions and peppers and a mild hoisin sauce.

David Burke put an American-delicatessen spin on his unique pastrami salad taco, made simply with pastrami salmon.

Balaboosta brought a Middle-Eastern take on the taco in Einat Admony’s lamb taco on top of a lemon cucumber yogurt feta sauce, and sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds.
Kelsey Nixon. Aliyyah Baylor.
Josh Capon. Laurent Tourondel.
Bobby Flay.
Scott Conant. Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos. Jonathan Waxman.
The National’s Geoffrey Zakarian prepared an all American chorizo and beef tongue taco, which was topped with lime, plantain, pickle slaw, and idiazabal cheese.

Adam Schop’s South American version of the taco was quite the crowd pleaser. His beef tongue taco with bone marrow and salsa verde had quite the kick.

And, Dos Caminos’s Chino Latino tuna ceviche taco, with soy-lime marinade and chiles served in a hard shell taco, was by far one of the most traditional and authentic tacos at the tasting.
David Burke. Michael Psilakis.
John Mele. Claire Robinson. Marcela Valladolid.
Geoffrey Zakarian and Alfred Portale. Andrew Zimmern.
I never eat my tacos without a generous serving of tequila, which offered a lively ending to everyone’s evening. Patrón offered a variety of different flavor concoctions, our favorite being the Tequila Bramble, made with Patrón Silver Tequila, fresh lime juice, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, and Mathilde Blackcurrent liquor.

A perfect combination of bitter and sweet. And exactly how we were feleling at the festival's end. Here's to next year!
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