In the flurry of activity that is the New York City Wine & Food Festival - from dinners, to lectures, classes and parties - there is one central stronghold : The Grand Tasting. This tented festival at Pier 57 takes place over two days, featuring small bites from some of the city's best restaurants, as well as cooking demos from the Food Network's band of celebrity chefs. It's an almost overwhelming celebration of the city's food, but somebody's got to taste it. Lucky for me, I'm that somebody. Here's the rundown on my favorite small bites:
I've always been a fan of thai/larb-inspired lettuce wraps, but Kittichai's version was more refreshing than most. An excellent choice for an over-saturated tasting event, with acidity and spice that cut straight to the palate.
This is the second time I've sampled newcomer AG Kitchen's cuisine, and I have to say, I'm impressed. Sandwiches usually don't strike me as addictive, but I had to stop myself from grabbing seconds of this spicy, tangy medley of pork, ham, swiss, pickles and hot mustard.
My main complaint at such tastings is that there's usually too much meat. But in the case of MexiBBQ, I was more than pleased by the unusual tequila/oregano sauce. Hot and herbaceous in the most unusual way, this was elevated Mexican - comfort food 2.0.
One of the major surprises of my second day at Pier 57 was Benares' lentil and potato dumplings. A medley of textures differentiated this surprisingly sweet - but not saccharine - dish from the Indian food I've eaten in the past. Definitely a restaurant I've added to my list.
I love lobster bisque, as I do most things seafood-related. But I've had enough bad bisques to last a lifetime. Not so with Brasserie Cognac. This thin soup beats out its creamier cousins with the distinct addition of umami, from mushrooms meant to mimic the texture of tender lobster meat.
At an event where most chefs come at you with a one-two punch, it's always a surprise - and often a relief - to taste something subtle. Nios set itself apart with medley of fresh, mild flavors that proved more isn't always more.
Ian Kittichai managed to show up his namesake's dish (the aforementioned lettuce wraps) with an even more spicy thai dish from Ember Room. At first, the spice startled, but was quickly - and cleverly - cooled by the bitter crunch of an endive leaf.
In the end, however, there must be a winner - or at least, a dish I wish I could taste again. For me, that was Northern Spy's soup. Pickled, but not so much as to be briny, it was an enticing spoonful and a palate cleanser in one. To boot, I've yet to taste a less-than-impressive bite at Northern Spy's day-to-day digs, making for an extra-confident endorsement.