Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending “Best of the West“, an event honoring legendary food critic Gail Greene. As suggested, the evening featured many of the tastiest establishments on the Upper West Side, regaling attendees with more of an fine dining feel than the previous evening’s “Comfort Classics.”
Seafood dominated the night’s selections, and undercooked was king. From crudo to cured, the fish was delicate and fresh across the board, but for me, there was one clear winner: the scallop crudo from Nick & Toni’s Cafe. Paired with just a dash of flake salt and a few firm, bright peas, this simple scallop stood out from the pack.
Another memorable selection was Gastroarte‘s “Tomato Six Ways.” Fresh, sundried and even gelatinized, chef Jesús Núñez’s take on the omnipresent fruit was an inventive reminder that there’s really nothing better than a spectacular tomato.
Yet if the aforementioned plates were refreshing departures from the realm of over-thought restaurant eats, it was two more intellectual plates that truly surpassed my expectations for the evening.
The first was Jean Georges‘ gorgeous avocado and asparagus salad. Creamy smashed avocado enveloped the most perfectly cooked asparagus my teeth have ever encountered. Tender, yet still al dente, the vegetable’s iconic bitterness that lasted just long enough to impart flavor, but vanished before becoming unpleasant. Topped with sorrel flower and toasted sesame seeds, the dish left a lingering nutty memento on the tongue.
The second was Dovetail‘s quail egg, cured carrot and chicken feed. The words “chicken feed” by no means enticed me, but these nutty, grains offered an exquisite chew - definitely the best texture of the night. The quail egg also had a great, creamy mouth-feel, and the cured carrots offered a bright, acidic crunch.
And finally, a few more-than-honorable mentions:
- Chef Michael Psilakis proved his worth in proteins…
- The Tangled Vine confirmed its reputation for winning seasonal eats, serving a cured mackerel and a medley of barely-cooked spring veggies.
- Nice Matin‘s creamy fava bean raviolo had me rethinking my allegiance to all things al-dente