Wednesday, April 1, 2009

village voice choice eats 2009

Four Tums have been consumed thus far this morning and you know what? I am not complaining. Even if my heart feels like it's trying to pry its way out of my chest. Last night, a feast of little and big nibbles and drinks was consumed as we ate our way through the 2009 Village Voice Choice Eats held at the State Armory.

As I mentioned yesterday, I went in with a plan. A list of must try places that I wanted to be sure to hit up before I started to feel like I was going to pass out if I put another bite in my mouth. And I must say, we did pretty well. I apologize in advance for the picture quality but it is what it is. Let's break this down, shall we?

First stop? Porchetta, who was serving up their signature porchetta sandwich of slow roasted pork with woodsy herbs on ciabatta. First bite. Very fatty but an unctuous mouth feel. The ciabatta was just soft enough but still had a good chew. Because of the fat content, the meat just melted away in your mouth. The only thing I needed to chew through was the bread. I could have used a little bit of salt on my meat but besides that, it was a great representation of what they do best: pork. One of my favorite bites of the evening. Sandwiches proved to be the best bet of the night as they can be enjoyed at room temperature and can be made on the spot, ensuring freshness not sogginess.

Next came Motorino and as soon as I saw their table I let out a sigh. Donuts. Where's my pizza?! I was extremely disappointed. And as I walked away, donut in hand (which was fine, by the way -- jelly filled donut rolled in sugar. But really? A jelly filled donut?), I slowly started to understand. How could a pizza place known for their wood burning oven serve up pizza in a venue with no wood burning oven? I suppose it made sense but I was still overly dramatic and upset that I was not going to get the opportunity to try a slice of their margarita.

Another deep sigh. I moved on.
Next was Sheep Station. Not on my list but they were serving up a roasted leg of lamb sandwich with baby rocket, tomato, caramelized onions and garlic cream. Stop. Take. Try. Perfectly yummy little sandwich. The lamb was very lamb-y, A-Okay with me, but the roll was hot dog-esque. I would have liked to have seen it served on a ciabatta roll like Porchetta. But alas, a minor detail.
Cafe Glechik was next door, a Ukranian joint hailing from Brighton Beach, and although also not on my list, I read sausage with sour cherries on their menu board and I had to sneak a taste. Amazingly flavorful (garlic!) sausage sliced on the bias and served on toast points. A delightful little hors d'oeuvre for a dinner party that would please any crowd.

A quick stop at the beer table and I was served a Framboise (raspberry) beer called Lambic. Holy-berry-centric. It was sweet with an incredibly concentrated raspberry flavor that didn't taste at all artificial. Almost like a kir royale but with a heavy handed pour of framboise. I wouldn't think twice before serving this as a just-walked-in-the-door cocktail to friends with some of Cafe Glechik's sausage and a spicy dijon mustard. Salty, savory, and sweet hitting you all at once. Allagash White was another beer being served which was an even better version of a Blue Moon. The kind of beer that you like to slowly linger on on a sunny Sunday afternoon watching a football game with friends. I'm laughing at myself while I write this. We all know I wouldn't be watching any football. Just smiling and sipping away on my Allagash White.

Kebab Factory. See, I'm not big into cuminy curry dishes so while the chicken was incredibly juicy and tender, the sauces were a bit too much for me. My fellow eater, Anna, loved them however, naming it one of her favorites of the night.

I was beyond thrilled to see the longest line yet at Pam Real Thai. My old neighborhood favorite. And since I was always able to indulge whenever I wanted to, I thought I'd let others get in on the mind-blowing grub instead and decided to pass. But boy or boy were they piling their plates high. Go Pam!

Now came the most aggressive station of the night. Baoguette. With ravenous foodies elbow to elbow there was heavy pushing and evil eyes being shot back and fourth as we all tried to get closer and closer to the famed Banh Mi. While the line didn't seem to budge for what seemed like hours, I finally shoved my way to the top. Two options: A Sloppy Bao (shown left) and the classic Banh Mi (right). I obviously took one of each. First was the Sloppy Bao: a sweet curried pork mixture served on a mini baguette with a green mango slaw/salad on top. Very sweet but the crunch of the slaw on top was welcomed and it had a lovely balance of flavors with a little bit of a kick. Next came the Banh Mi. What I had been waiting all night to try. First bite. Meaty, creamy, crunchy, salty, Mmmhhhh. As I slowly chewed and shut my eyes to fully experience this epic sandwich, my eyes popped open. My head whipped around to my friends. My mouth was literally on fire. I chugged almost an entire bottle of water with no relief. I thought I was done for. My taste buds singed. It could not have just been the Sriracha, it had to have been something else; a raw chili perhaps. Whatever it was, it conquered me and I lost. How sad I was to watch that sandwich go. I couldn't take another bite in fear of what it would do to me.

Fatty Crab was another one of my must eats and they were serving coconut rice with curry chicken and a slow poached egg. Sounded absolutely agreeable to me. When I received my tiny plate, garnished with fresh cilantro leaves, I was despondent to see that there was no slow poached egg on my plate but I went in for the kill anyways. The rice was nice (hee hee), if not a tad mushy (which reminded me of rice pudding so I liked it nonetheless) but the chicken almost tasted slimy (I hate that word too) as if it had just been sitting in the hot tray for entirely too long. The thing is, I can see how this dish would be divine had it been enjoyed at Fatty Crab, fresh from the kitchen. But in a kitchen-less environment, it's incredibly difficult for any of these restaurants to turn out perfectly cooked plates all night long.

But as Anna noted, "Top Chefs" are supposed to always put out a perfect dish no matter what the conditions. And Anna? I have to agree.

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar? Gone. Nothing there but a table of business cards and the ghost of David Chang. I'm not even going to get started here. Ugh. Not okay. They should have been more prepared for the swarms of people who must have obviously bee-lined it straight to the famed dessert table before trying anything else.

Now the biggest surprise of the night was how much I enjoyed what I thought was my final dish: a mac 'n cheese with aged white and yellow cheddar, smoked ham hocks, pork belly, bacon, and fresh thyme from Mama's Food Shop. Creamy, perfectly seasoned comfort food goodness. Was it pushing any envelope? No. But I didn't care. I wanted a whole bowl full. Something tells me the guys from Mama's would have hooked it but I was seriously starting to hurt at this point. I had to hold on to a table as I slightly bent over taking a few much needed deep breaths.

And right when I thought I was done for the night, as I was in physical pain at this point, I saw a sign for bacalhau at Favela Grill: salt cured cod fish croquettes. Obviously had to try one with a complimentary caiprihinhia to boot. A soft, concentrated fish flavor whipped up with scallions and then balled up and tossed into a deep frier, chased with the seriously sweet, lime caiprihinhia. It was the bite and sip that broke the foodie's back.

And although we left slightly bent over and holding our stomachs; swearing off food for the rest of the week, the event was a huge, fabulous, and fulFILLING which I look forward to attending next year as well. Just going to start preparing my stomach (and heart valves, apparently) well in advance. Actually,

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