Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bits & Morsels: more tastings

The scene at Central Park Conservancy's annual "Taste of Summer."

by Erin Frankel

More summer food festivals.
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Central Park Conservancy's annual "Taste of Summer" to benefit our beautiful park where the gorgeous event takes place, under Bethesda Arcade to be exact. The event was first–class — from the topflight restaurants featuring their newest summer dishes to the chic attendees who devoured them.
The scene of the tasting — under Bethesda Arcade.
The DJ kept everyone dancing between tastings.
Some of the dishes were hearty (an excellent antidote to the cold, rainy evening), while others welcomed summer with light, zesty flavors. The most popular dish of the evening was a watermelon gazpacho which I will get to later.
Sylvester Miniter, Gillian Miniter, and Doug Blonsky.
John Paulson, Suzanne Cochran, and Doug Blonsky.
Jessica Springsteen and Robbie Cochran. Patsy and Jeff Tarr. Gillian Miniter and Tom Kempner.
Paul Stamas, Stephanie Xethalis, Ashton Abbot, and Evan Uhlick.
Amy Schrader and M.K. O'Shaughnessy. Alexis Clark. Ashley Baker-Staats and Davin Staats.
Geoffrey Bradfield and Roric Tobin.
Here's a rundown of my favorite dishes from the evening ... and the ones I will be savoring all summer long:

The Carlye Restaurant
's Potato wrapped Halibut with Horseradish Cream:
Zio Ristorante's hearty orecchiette with Lamb Ragu.

Pampano's light Halibut Ceviche topped with Mint, Cilantro, & Mango:
Maya's Seared Ahi Tuna on top of a Tostada with Mango, Cucumber, & Avocado:
Toloache 82's Toro Tacos: a mixture of Tuna Belly and Sweet Onion topped with a spicy Habanero Salsa.

Swifty's creamy New England Clam Chowder with Smoked Bacon bits and Red Potatoes:
Recette's Whipped Sweet Corn Soup with Pickled Ramp, Pork Belly, & Tarragon.

The Loeb Central Park Boathouse's Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with a side of Marinated Cucumbers:
Junoon's modern interpretation of the traditional Indian Lamb Kohlapuri with Himalayan Red Rice.

's refined Greek specialties, featuring Maine Diver Sea Scallops Kataifi sauce with Caviar Mousse and Thalassa's Zucchini Fritters dressed in a Yogurt Cucumber Dip:
Benoit's light and flavorful Octopus on top of a Celery and Fennel Salad:
Bice Ristorante's choice of a Veal or Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli.

Brasserie Les Halle's traditional French Fish Terrine topped with a light Citrus Dressing.

The Palm Court at The Plaza served a number of delicious dishes starting with the Raw Red Curry Vegetable Crepe with Fresh Horseradish Raita:
We then sampled The Palm Court's new Green Gazpacho with Crispy Prosciutto bits topped with a Mint Creme Fraiche and ended with a delicious dessert, their signature Caramelized Chocolate with Almond Shortbread & Aged Balsamic with strawberries on top:
New Leaf Restaurant & Bar's light and flavorful Charred Sushi Yuna with Mushroom Ravioli and Local Vegetable Salad:
Delicatessen's Bigeye Tuna Tartare topped with Wasabi Tobiko and dressed with a Roasted Soy Vinaigrette:
SD26 served a delicious, hearty ricotta ravioli. But, the best part was seeing my good friend and owner, Marisa May:
Tulsi's light and tasty Balchao Shrimp in a tangy Goan Sauce topped with Papri:
Armani Ristorante's Grilled Scallops with Champagne-Infused Potato Foam and Norcia Summer Truffles:
South Gate's Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Burrata, Pancetta, & Mint:
Brasserie Cognac's Chilled Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho soup flavored with fresh Watermelon, Cantaloupe bits, and topped with a Sherry Vinegar and Olive Oil with a side of warm cheese puffs:
Longtime Neighborhood favorite, Serafina's Ravioli all Salvia with Ricotta, Spinach, Butter, & Sage. Word on the street is that Serafina is opening in Tokyo, Moscow, and other countries across the globe.

My childhood favorite, Serendipity 3, served my cherished Frozen Hot Chocolate. 20 years later, it's just as sweet and delicious:
Maloney & Porcelli's Zoot Suit Creme Brulee with layers of Vanilla and topped with dark Chocolate and Pistachio:
And Le Cirque's classically sweet and tasty Cannolis:
The next event of the week was a bit different in style and flair, yet nonetheless just as tasty and inspiring. I had the pleasure of attending Tasting Table's annual Lobster Roll Rumble to benefit Share our Strength. This was truly a Lobster fanatic's dream: 50 contenders, 60% of which were brand new restaurants, all vying for 1st place in the competition. Some lobster roll lovers even flew in from across the country to sample the many delicious concoctions. Here's a list of some of my favorite lobster rolls and some of the ingredients and techniques that made each and every one stand out:

JCT Kitchen & Bar came all the way from Atlanta to sample a classic lobster roll with a house-made lobster mayo on a toasted brioche bun:
Marc Murphy's Ditch Plains sampled their traditional lobster roll recipe, which is made with a poached Maine lobster with garlic and old bay aioli base, tossed with a light seasoning of sea salt, celery, scallion, and tarragon sauce.

The Clam Shack.
The Clam Shack came from Kennebunkport, Maine to offer their delicious and very fresh lobster. (Chef Eric caught the lobsters, shucked them, and cleaned them the night before ... and then drove to the city with 800 pounds of lobster just to join this competition!). Eric cooks the lobster in fresh sea water. In each roll, there is half a tail, a claw and a knuckle, which is then seasoned with a light mayo and butter.

The Hungry Cat came all the way from Los Angeles to sample their signature lobster, which is seasoned with a dollop of house aioli, tarragon and celery root. All that goodness was sandwiched between a brioche bun that was made at Chef David's sister restaurant, Tavern, specifically for this event!

Brooklyn's Red Hook Lobster Pound sampled a roll with all claws and knuckles over a bed of lettuce topped with paprika and scallions and seasoned with a light homemade lemon mayo. However, the key ingredient here, was a perfectly toasted bun.

West Village favorite, Mary's Fish Camp, served their signature freshly shucked lobster mixed with a lot of Hellmann's Mayonnaise, finely diced celery, salt & pepper, sprinkled with a zesty lemon juice — all within a buttered bun, which is pan-seared to ensure a perfectly crisp finish.
The Hungry Cat.
Brooklyn's Red Hook Lobster Pound.
Mary's Fish Camp.
Brooklyn's Lobster Joint lobster roll was seasoned with a dollop of tarragon, chives, parsley, a touch of mayo, and as the owner Tommy plainly put it, "a lot of love":
Island Creek Oyster Bar lent us some lobster love from Boston with Chef Jeremy's grandmother's original recipe! The lobster comes from the chef's cousin, Mark Sewell's catch. It is then seasoned with little dill pickles, red onions, and celery. Chef Jeremy explained that his goal is ultimately to elevate the acid in the lobster roll to compensate for the richness and creaminess of the ingredients:
Smack Shack came all the way from Minneapolis, Minnesota to give us city-dwellers a taste of their unique take on the lobster roll! Here, they ditch the traditional bun and place the lobster between two slices of milk bread, and season the lobster with lemon aioli, tarragon, and fresh cucumbers:
B&G Oysters transported fresh shucked lobster from Boston. They mixed the tail, knuckle and claw with Hellmann's Mayo, lemon zest, celery, and salt & pepper in a buttered toasted Pepperidge Farm hot dog bun:
Lure Fishbar's mini yet sophisticated lobster roll was made with fresh diced lobster with celery and cucumber and mixed with tabasco, dijon mustard, lemon juice and a lot of mayo! But, as always, it remains luxurious in both presentation and flavor:
The Mermaid Inn's lobster roll contained bits of neatly diced bits of lobster with an overwhelming presence of chopped onions and a frugal amount of mayo sandwiched within a crispy brioche hamburger bun:
April Bloomfield's The John Dory lobster roll is a beautiful composition of large chunks of fresh lobster meat mixed with a celery seed mayonnaise that she makes in-house, warmed up with a lobster roe butter, which is spread on top of the crispy bun:
Luke's Lobster served their classic no-frills lobster roll with chunks of tender claws and knuckle meat dusted with thyme, paprika, and salt within a toasted, lemon buttered hot dog bun. As always, this simple favorite retains the utmost freshness and quality.

Lots O' Lobstah, a newcomer on the Lobster scene, featured a classic yet delicious version of the lobster roll with large chunks of lobster meat lightly seasoned with lemon zest, salt & pepper on a warm, crispy hot dog bun:
We finished off the evening with a refreshing Watermelon Gazpacho soup made by the in-house chefs who work in Tasting Table's test kitchen. This light and flavorful soup is made with fresh watermelon that is blended with Gail's Bread, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, and a touch of Indian spice olive oil and tomato. This is then topped with compressed watermelon, dill salad, and a touch of Spanish olive oil. Absolutely delicious!!
New Summer Dishes. Yes, despite the sporadic rain clouds, it is indeed officially summer. The shorts and shirts are replacing the long pants, which means our bodies are requesting light summer fare. Here's a roundup of some of my favorite new seasonal dishes on the menus of both new and longtime favorites:

Gustorganic's cold cucumber gazpacho soup: Summertime always brings cucumbers to the table. They're refreshing, good for our skin, and light on our tongues. My neighborhood favorite 100% certifiably organic restaurant has introduced a new soup to the menu. This chilled green soup, made with an abundance of organic cucumbers, garlic, mint, 100% natural yogurt, and a dollop of olive oil is slightly spicy and zestful on a warm day.
Serafina's All'Aragosta: One of my childhood favorite Italian restaurants has now opened a new location downtown on Little West 12th street. The menu retains the traditional, authentic staples we have grown to love, but the vibe is more downtown-swanky. The walls are lined with original hand-painted frescos by artist Michela Martello's unique images mixing food items, urban symbols, and original portraits. The warm hues in these pieces complement what the artist deems as "food fireworks." You'll want to take advantage of dishes that bring such seasonal touches to the menu such as the Spaghetti All'Aragosta — a nice helping of fresh, homemade spaghetti with half a lobster bathed in a spicy tomato sauce.
Japonica's Hamachi Kama: Longtime residents of Union Square/Greenwich Village have deemed Japonica as the "best sushi in the village." There's nothing fancy about the decor. In fact, it's probably one of the few Japanese restaurants left in New York City that provides a very authentic Japanese ambience. I concur that you can find some of the freshest sushi in the city without breaking the bank. One of the best dishes on the menu is the Hamachi Kama appetizer. Layers of fresh raw yellowtail complemented by a flavorful jalapeno dipping sauce.
My Belly's Playlist Ramp Me Up Sandwich: A new delivery option in FIDI (Financial District, for those who aren't aware of the new terminology) is the hottest secret gourmet sandwich delivery option for lunch. The location cannot be disclosed, nor can the secret ingredients in these delicious sandwiches. There's just a website with a menu and a phone number and a delivery man who will show up at your office with the delectable upscale bites. There's always a rotating list with a diverse selection of 10, but after our taste test last week, I'd have to recommend the "Ramp Me Up," a mixture of roasted turkey, Kalamata pesto, pickled ramps, young manchego cheese, and olive oil-dressed spinach served on a hot and crispy baguette.
Rosemary's Eggplant Caponata and Housemade Mozzarella: Another farm-to-table restaurant has opened just at the right time. Right now, sustainable food is all the craze and restaurants serving its customers fresh Italian fare straight from its own rooftop garden is just uber-cool. The restaurant is perfect for a breezy summer evening: The large loft-like space has high ceilings with a string of low lighting and floor to ceiling windows that open to the sidewalk on a warm night. The menu is just as fitting for summer, with farm-to-table seasonal favorites with a light modern twist. Try the eggplant caponata, a chilled helping of flavorful eggplant with housemade mozzarella, topped with Tuscan olive oil and bits of basil.
My mother (Karen Frankel's) gazpacho soup: My job entails going to restaurants and eating out for a living, but every now and then I try a home-cooked meal that beats anything I've ever had eating out. For a long time, that dish has been my mother's chilled gazpacho soup. She makes it with a halved and seeded hothouse cucumber, cored and seeded red bell peppers, 4 plum heirloom tomatoes, red onions, minced garlic cloves, organic tomato juice, white wine vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, a dollop of olive oil, and a little bit of red pepper flakes. Most of the ingredients are grown in her own garden, which makes for a sustainable and incredibly flavorful chilled summer soup.