Saturday, October 11, 2008

NYC Wine & Food Festival kicks off: Midnight Music and Munchies!

It's finally here-- the New York City Wine & Food Festival, something I've been looking forward to for over a year. I received three sets of event tickets as a very generous Hannukah present from my parents, and I took my friend KS to the first event last night: Midnight Music and Munchies at the High Line Ballroom in the Meatpacking District.

The enthusiastic and oh-so-chic crowd, as viewed from the balcony

As KS and I entered the venue, we remarked that this was by far and away the most "scene-y" thing we've ever done. And it's true-- people were decked out, ready for a see-and-be-seen scene. We may have felt a little out of place, but we forged ahead, determined to make the most of this awesome food and drink extravaganza.

There were three main parts of the evening, described in words and pictures below.

First, the drink. There were two bars on the ground floor, each with mixologists from prominent bars around town mixing custom creations. We bopped around to each, sampling the strong and sometimes weird beverages on offer.

These were "Ruby Tuesdays" (bourbon, black cherry puree, lemon juice, benedictine) from Dushan Zaric of Employees Only

So-called "Vanilla Ice," From John Deragon, Don Lee, and Jim Meehan of PDT. It was a mixture of Maker's Mark, Navan, and Lemon Juice, and it didn't taste much like vanilla. Or ice.

Each section of the bar had little placards introducing the drinks and the bartenders

Anthony Giglio and Steve Schneider, with no bar affiliation listed. They were the most fun bartenders there.

...annnnnnnd case in point.

Their concoction: Stairway to Heaven (Plymouth gin, homemade sweet vermouth, champagne, rhubarb bitters, strawberries). I really wanted to like this, but it was just so weird. There was stuff floating in it... it tasted like herbal tea leaves. I don't know, maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough for these cocktails.

Reps from the Clover Club/Flatiron Lounge, in action cleaning up a spill

And their creation: El Diablo, with silver tequila, cassis, lemon juice, homemade ginger beer, and simple syrup. You could really taste the ginger beer in this, which is a taste I haven't quite yet acquired. Bonus points for them for giving a full-size drink, though.

Audrey Saunders &c. from the Pegu Club. They were mixing a Gary Glitter, with rum, mint, lime juice, bitters, and champagne. Their drink was pretty good; I had about half of it.

My favorite drink of the night was the last one we got to. It came courtesy of Tony Abou-Ganim of Bar Milano: the so-called "Sin City," with Absolut Mandarin, Triple Sec, orange and lemon juices, and cranberry juice. It was probably the most "traditional" of all the cocktails there, and it was yummy.

There was also ample Evian on offer, which was definitely a good thing (even if this lady didn't seem quite so thrilled). Finally, to round out the drink options, there was a bar upstairs that had rose wine, beer, Coke and Diet Coke.

So, with our bellies sloshing with various types of booze, we moved on to the food. There were food stations around the first floor, which we tackled systematically.

Edamame Falafel with lemon tahini sauce, from Harold Dieterle of Perilla. Really good and powerfully falafel-y.

Truffled deviled eggs from Anne Burrell. Didn't get to these; not a huge fan of eggs myself. Not pictured next to the eggs was a basket of little bags of snacks from Michael Psilakis, from Anthos/Mia Dona/Kefi. There was Pastelli Popcorn with Spiced Almonds, which tasted just like caramel corn (lovely), and Pickled Fingerling Potato Chips with Tzatziki. Well, so the menu card claimed-- I didn't detect any tzatziki. They tasted a bit like salt-and-vinegar chips, but were unspectacular.

On the right, Herbed Grissini from Scott Conant of Scarpetta; I didn't get to these either. There was just so much to eat...

Parmesan Herb Frico from Amanda Freitag of The Harrison. These were my favorite munchie of the evening. Basically just baked rounds of parmesan cheese with some herbs mixed in, they were crunchy and addictive.

Taralle with Almonds and Black Pepper, from Scott Conant. I kept eating these despite the fact that they didn't taste that great. They were like stale peppery breadsticks. But they sort of grew on you. And they were cute. What can I say?

Oxtail Tamales with salsa verde from John Fraser of Dovetail. Skipped these because they were meaty.

There was also a food table upstairs, which featured tuna wraps from Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl. There was about a 20-minute line to get at this table, so we passed. But we watched the bizarre cameras hunting people down in the area.

This guy seems so happy because he just waited a half hour for that tuna wrap.

Near the staircase was the Capogiro Gelato cart. The menu listed a bunch of flavor choices, but it turned out they were only scooping two at a time, so basically you took what they gave you. The first pass around they were scooping grapefruit sorbet and Single Malt Scotch gelato-- um, no thanks. But the second time around I got butterscotch. Success!

Here's the butterscotch. It was caramelly and filling. I was so far from hungry at that point that I probably would have enjoyed it more in other circumstances, but it was definitely good gelato.

So, eating and drinking out of the way, we turned to the third element of the evening: the music. There had been a DJ spinning for the first couple of hours, but around quarter of 12 a live band took the stage.

The band played some upbeat songs I couldn't recognize. But it was fun, toe-tappin' music.

And then-- Tom Colicchio took the stage! Yess! He didn't stand still so these pictures are crappy, but you can sort of make out his shark-like features in the center there.

There he is again, rocking out on his electric guitar. He was actually not half bad, and he was clearly having a great time. Fun!

Overall, it was a really fun night, and we got to try a bunch of food and drinks we wouldn't have had the chance to otherwise. Plus, we got to see Tom Coliccio play guitar live (I'll never watch Top Chef the same way again). Well done, NYCWFF-- a highly successful first round. On to round two...

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