Last Tuesday was my first time at Choice Eats, The 4th Annual Village Voice Tasting Event. I’ve avoided the event in previous years because I heard it was a madhouse; and indeed, it was a madhouse full of seemingly starved inmates and a few agitated guards. There was a fair deal of pushing and shoving, eating was difficult at times (unwieldy portions of food from some restaurants), and waiting was inevitable at the more popular tables (e.g., Takashi and Del Posto) even with a press pass. BUT, as long as you persevered, delicious food was to be had. Here’s my top five from the event… (I didn’t bother with Takashi and Del Posto. A real restaurant visit is in the works.)
5. Shrimp Roll (Maine shrimp tossed in homemade tarragon mayonnaise) from Red Hook Lobster Pound: A lot of restaurants at Choice Eats chose the large piece of bread with a tiny piece of protein route. Not bad if the bread is awesome, but most of the time it was just a waste of stomach space. The shrimp roll — I missed out on the lobster roll — at Red Hook Lobster Pound, however, had a great bread to filling ratio. Also, the toasted buttered roll (top split JJ Nissen bun) was actually worth eating.
4. Ditch Dog (hot dog topped with mac & cheese) from Ditch Plains: The creamy mac & cheese (a blend of Gruyere, Parmesan, and American cheese) was good, but the snap on the tiny hot dog was great. In fact, the skin was so crisp, I initially thought the hot dog was deep-fried. They were not, just griddled to perfection. My only wish was that the bun was toasted. If it had been, the Ditch Dog would have been higher up on my list of favorites.
3. Root Vegetable Stacks with date purée and vegetable crisps from The Fat Radish: Tender, faintly sweet, and with a slight crunch from the vegetable crisps, the vegetable stack was a lovely bite. The flavors were clean and tasty. When vegetables are prepared well, you don’t miss the meat.
2. Buttercream Brownie from SCRATCHbread: These dark chocolate brownies dusted with bitter cocoa powder and stuffed with buttercream were incredibly light in texture yet intensely chocolaty. I liked it so much, I stuck a brownie in my bag to take home to David. (I normally don’t act like an old lady at a buffet.) A few hours later, the brownie had turned into a chocolate pancake. Not surprisingly, David didn’t want it. I ate it instead.
1. Goat Pepper Soup from Buka NY: Definitely not the prettiest dish, but amazingly good. The thin soup — a specialty of one of the owners, Lookman Mashood — had a really nice kick and the oh so luscious goat meat practically melted in my mouth. A visit to Buka is definitely in order.
Choice Eats 2011 was a maelstrom of food, chefs, and eaters. Amid it all, there were some very excellent eats. Next year, I’ll be returning with reinforcements.