New York is a city of delicious extravagance—the number of restaurants seem to outnumber the population, especially with how quickly spots open and close even before the recession started. So I jumped at the opportunity to check out the 11th annual New York Taste event, which brought together more than 40 chefs and mixologists from the city’s biggest, most raved-about restaurants and lounges into one venue for three hours of top-notch sampling. Still a bit sugar-shocked with Halloween candy from two days before, I entered the massive Skylight space in SoHo ready for a chance at a different kind of indulgence, as well as something of a New York culinary education.
I got plenty of both. Hosted by New York magazine, the packed house had a feeling of a bustling high-end market, where the merchants and mongers were the culinary geniuses behind some of the city’s most renowned menus. What stood out most as I made my way through this trick or treating with adults (pillowcase full of candy now replaced with an eager appetizer plate), was the variety that New York has to offer. The offerings ranged from the American classics of Craft to the Italian classics of SD26. More edgy fusions could be found at the Shang table and at Oceana’s twists on traditional seafood. Finishing (the first round) off with pastry from Rouge Tomate had me checking my watch to see how many more rounds I might be able to squeeze in. Several, it turned out.
But all the tasting wasn’t limited to food. I had a chance to sample the complicated concoctions from the folks at Clover Club and Death & Co. as well as a signature cocktail from “liquid chef” Junior Merino, who thankfully didn’t go too heavy on the tequila—or maybe it was just some of the smoothest tequila I’d ever sipped**. My unsteady walking after his drink tells me it was probably the latter.
Taste had its air of celebrity chef worship, from the crowds surrounding Blue Hill’s Dan Barber, to Fatty Crab’s Zakary Pelaccio to Morimoto’s Masahura Morimoto (better known to me as Iron Chef’s Masahura Morimoto—sadly I can better afford salivating at the cuisine on Food Network than actually experiencing it first hand). Even Bethenny Frankel of the Real Housewives of NYC had a table to offer her own twist on traditional delights.
But in spite of the culinary (and C-list) star power, the attendees were interested in experiencing the food. Walking from table to table, sampling each perfectly executed morsel, it was an adventure of anticipation wondering what the next booth would bring. What began as trick or treating for foodies turned into a race to experience just the right samples before the clock wound down to 9pm. Saving Le Cirque for the end turned out to be the right call.
Some of my guilt at this unbridled indulgence was offset by the knowledge that New York was donating a portion of the proceeds to hunger-fighting nonprofit City Harvest, which collects excess food from restaurants, farms and cafeterias, which it donates to food programs throughout the city. Learning from one of the event planners that the huge countertop I had set my small plate on was made of 75 percent recycled material (not sure how they came to that number) also left a nice, socially responsible taste in my mouth.
In the end, I left Taste with a sense that I’d seen a slight glimmer of all the city has to offer. In the years to come I hope that turns into at least a steady glow, if not a full burst of light (that might take a lifetime).
**Note about the tequila used by Junior Merino: 901 Tequila (which was one of the sponsors of New York Taste) is produced using only 100% Blue Weber Agave. Produced by Tequilera Newton, in the heart of Jalisco, Mexico, 901 Silver is triple distilled using the most innovative distillation methods available for fine tequila. Perfected with over three generations of craftsmanship and more than 60 years of experience, 901 Silver is hand crafted in small batches allowing greater quality control of the tequila. www.901.com