The last few years it has been on a pier near 14th Street, but this year it moved to Piers 92/94 at 55th Street. We were a bit worried because it has always been nicely organized in the past and you never know what might change. Turns out, the organization was definitely more lacking this year than in years past.
You used to come through a park before going to the Grand Tasting, where you would get your swag bag (some years) but always got to grab a cup/bottle of Illy coffee (a reoccurring sponsor) to wait with on line. This year, it was just the line.
We got the Fast Pass which meant we were the line that went in first. We were inside the building by 12:10 (start time was noon) but then the cluster started.
They give you a bracelet to show you turned in your ticket and are legal to drink, and it comes with a drink and swag bag ticket. The problem was, you enter right into that table and there is really no way to get there in an organized fashion. Everyone was just en mass to get everything and then once they got it, they couldn’t get out through the crowd. Last year, you walked down the hallway and got your stuff on the way in, so it all flowed with the foot traffic. This year, not so much.
But once we were inside, it was smooth sailing.
When I looked at the map from Zagat that came out this past week, I was worried. It looked like many fewer tables than years prior. But the space was actually a bit more spread out and I think the ceilings were higher and the skylights were new, giving it a bit of a nicer feel.
As we have found to be the best plan, we beelined for the very back of the pier and then worked our way forward. This allows us some time before the masses get too thick and we have the back of the area pretty much to ourselves.
Throughout the pier, they have multiple sections with sampling and demonstrations. The main demo area was right in the middle with a cute picket fence around it.
Throughout the day, the most empty area was the (big) Barilla takeover. Probably because they are homophobic pricks. I used to eat Barilla. I will never again. I’m glad they wasted money on this. OKAY… will stop ranting now…. back to the food.
Starting with the eats, I’ll first highlight our favorite bites.
Our number one bite of the day (and this was echoed throughout many people we talked to) was from High Road Creamery.
This was absolutely awesome. The buns were slightly sweet and warmed on the spot. The ricotta ice cream was very flavorful and the pistachio black pepper toffee on the outside was a great compliment both in taste and texture. We went back to get more around 3:30pm (the Grand Tasting goes until 6pm) and they were all out. Though I can’t blame them. They were so good.
Chefs Vanessa Palazio & Adam Schneider- Little Muenster: “Super Fancy Grilled Cheese” with braised beef cheek with cracked pepper marscapone, pickled fennel, old bay onion paste & muenster cheese on local peasant bread.
We LOVED this grilled cheese. One of the best I have ever had. Perfect balance of everything with a satisfying crunch of the bread (without being too sharp or too thick). Looks like we may need to head down to the LES or Brooklyn to get our hands on more Little Muenster!
Surprisingly, one of my favorite noms was from Celebrity Cruise Lines. Squash soup with a really great grilled cheese.
Chef Kirk McKinny- Suite 36: Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Cured Hamachi with a salad of baby watercress, scallion, pineapple & Big Island macadamia nut. Finished with Sweet Yuzu & Hawaiian Chili Oil drizzle.
I had mine without chili oil, but I really enjoyed this combination of flavors and great hamachi. The macadamia nuts added a nice texture and taste to everything. And I’m quite excited we found this place… it’s just a few blocks away from our apartment. We may try to go there for dinner tomorrow!
Chef Manuel Berganza- Andanada: Pulpo a la Gallego- Octopus seasoned with olive oil, pimiento de vera and served with mashed potato puree. (I had mine without the paprika on top… see second photo).
This was scrumptious. Perfectly cooked octopus and the potato foam on top was light and creamy. Great dish.
Chef Jeremy Leech- ReBar: Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese.
This was stupid good. It was just mac and cheese. Just AWESOME mac and cheese.
Chef Roxanne Spruance- Alison Eighteen: Lamb Bacon with maitake, crispy lentils, foie gras, walnut and concord grape. This bacon was perfectly cooked and flavored and the little additions all went well with the bacon itself.
And here are most of the other things we nibbled:
Chef Arturo McLeod- Benjamin Steakhouse: Porterhouse Bites and Creamed Spinach with USDA Prime, dry aged porterhouse bites served with their signature “creamless” creamed spinach.
A very tender, simply prepared piece of meat.
Chef Sophia Lee- miss Korea BBQ: Korean marinated Kalbi
Chef Sara Moulton- Maple Leaf Farms: Peking Duck Wraps
Chef Lucas Billheimer- The Writing Room: Smoked Duck Rillette with apple butter and pickled squash on dark rye bread
Chef Miguel Trinidad- Maharlika Filipino Moderno: Pork Rib Adobo- National dish of the Philipines. Pork marinated in Filipino soy sauce, bawang, suka, and sili.
The Munchies is a “People’s Choice Food Award” and they had a selection from Hill Country Barbecue. It was a piece of brisket with a really nice cucumber salad. Very tender.
Executive Chef Jim Botsacos- Molyvos: Yiayia’s Meatballs (Keftedes) with rich tomato sauce, green crakced olives and whipped Mizithra.
Chef Kyle McClelland- Prospect: Butternut Squash Velouté with root beer cream and espresso marshmallows.
Chef Kenneth Johnson- Pescatore Restaurant: “Goat, Goat, Goat” with goat cheese gnudi with goat bolognese and shaved goat cheese.
Chef Carmine Di Giovanni- Greenwich Project: Kobocha Squash Panna Cotta with spice candied walnut crunch and pomegranante cider meringue. (Popped a bite in my mouth and realized that spiced meant peppers and peppers mean allergy for me. So my mouth peeled a bit and I had to toss the rest… damn)
Chef Patricio Sandoval- Mercadito: Tacos de Camaron with shrimp, roasted garlic, avocado, and chipotle mayo. (Mike had, not me)
Chef Thomas Biglan- Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa: Borgata Fried Chicken Slider with black pepper candied bacon, sundried tomato mayonnaise and micro greens. This was actually awful. The only really bad bite of the day. The chicken was cold and mushy, with no crisp on the fry. I had one bite and tossed it.
Manon: Some sort of dessert with pear and a filling that tasted like pecan pie. (This was very good but they had no sign and soon ran out.)
Sea salt ice cream sundae from Graeter’s
Blue Marble Organic Ice Cream in Spiced Pumpkin flavor. We wound up actually combining this with the fresh Crown maple syrup next door for a delightful treat.
Haagen-Dazs Gelato. Very good sea salt caramel.
On the way to the Celebrity Chef demonstrations/talks, Cooking Channel was serving some awesome gourmet popcorn. We tried the pizza and the miso caramel.
Lovely Australian Lamb with cheese and tomato jam
A piece of burger from Mater Purveyors, Inc. in the Bronx.
Certified Piedmont Beef with Italian Seasoned Roast Beef.
Olive oils from Spain
Bertoli Olive Oil Cranberry Pesto with Olive Oil
Pasta Chips tasted like crispy, dried pasta with dried seasonings resembling pasta dishes. I really enjoyed these, especially the simple sea salt that let the pasta flavor shine through.
Brownie brittle was good as well.
I liked that the chocolate crisp. (Why aren’t there more crispy chocolate products out there?)
And what we drank:
We started our day in the back at one of our favorite wineries: Decoy. Great Napa and Sonoma wines. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of their lovely duck themed bottles.
VeeV Acai Spirits smartly served their sangria in a jar with a lid so we could carry it around and enjoy it throughout the day (especially when we were sitting in the chef talks)
The Chartreuse was a really interesting flavor. Very herbacious and floral. Would be a great mixer. Will need to keep my eye out for this.
Mike saw Amarula and suggested I try it. Sure enough, a delicious creamy liqueur.
This was… weird. Cheesecake wine? Probably not going to go anywhere beyond the “I’ll try anything once” mantra.
And the Demos:
One of the highlights of the Grand Tasting is the impressive roster of Celebrity Chefs who do demos and talks throughout the day. This new location seemed smaller, and for the first time we were turned away from one (Rachael Ray) so we checked out some others. Our first stop was watching Iron Chef Morimoto break down a HUGE Toro fish.
It was incredibly hard to hear because the other stage was way too close in this venue, but what we did hear was fun. He even sang us a song at the end before flexing for the camera.
We caught the end of Chef Chuck Hughes (from Cooking Channel) and he was fun to watch.
Then Nadia G (from Bitchin Kitchen) came out to make the introduction…
She made a crepe cake (and burned a number of crepes in good humor). The crepe cake looked like it was going to fall down, but she managed to get a slice out and it looked lovely.
I really loved watching this demo because there is something just so endearing about Chef Alex. Really it was the audience questions that made the demo so good. One person asked her how it felt when she won Iron Chef. And her ego (whatever ego she actually has) just fell to the floor and she talked about how shocking it was and how proud she was about it. She made some great jokes and then mentioned that the moment she saw the curtain drop and her picture up there she was so overwhelmed that she had to tell herself “Iron Chefs don’t cry!”
At the end of the demo, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri crashed. They asked some silly audience questions and they somehow wound up having a conversation about chafing due to being naked under chef coats. They were obviously trashed but having a great time. Alex took it all in good humor. It was a lovely moment between 3 people you can tell really like each other.
This year’s Grand Tasting was certainly better than last year’s in terms of the event itself. Sure, the new location had some issues, especially the chaos at the beginning of grabbing glasses and bags and then the closeness of the stages, causing some issues hearing the demos. But there were a LOT more food options so I left totally full and not overly drunk. Last year was somewhat pathetic in the amount of food that was there, so I’m glad they redeemed themselves.
I was questioning coming back after last year, but I’m glad we did. We had a blast!