Thursday, May 15, 2008

2008 Taste of the Nation New York

May 14

2008 celebrates the 20th anniversary of Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation, where more events take place around the United States and Canada to raise funds to help battle childhood hunger. It's a great opportunity to have your money go to a good cause while being able to sample the works of chefs and restaurants in a participating city near you. At the New York event you got a wide range of tasting experiences from a wide range of restaurants in the city who volunteer their time and effort. You can go from trying a dumpling at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar's table, maybe some barbecue at Blue Smoke or Hill Country's table, then find yourself trying something from Morimoto.


Maybe not everything, but I feel like I got pretty close. It is a huge food fest. At first you think you're in control of the situation. You think, "No, I won't have that cake thing because I'm gonna try all the savory stuff then come back around to that." But around the time you've shoved the fifth food item all of that goes out of the window and you find yourself going from tuna tartare, to a cup of chocolate of some form with a little bit of gold leaf, then cured salmon and...oooh! Is that beef with foie gras?

The main reason why I was stuffing my face was because I'd just managed to go down a line of tables and drink several drinks created by New York's bartenders. As much as it is an event for restaurants to show their stuff for a good cause, the New York Taste of the Nation also gave a chance for drinks to have their moment as well. And besides cocktails there were also plenty of wine and beer and even coffee. There was no way I was going to be doing all the wine and beer without the very real possibility of not being able to make it into work the next day, so I stuck with the cocktails.

Once I got my wristband, I skipped up the steps to the VIP area to try some cocktails from Tabla. They had on hand their Tabla-tini and Tamarind Margarita. The Tabla-tini is made with citrus based vodka, gin, and a housemade blend of pineapple and lemon grass. The Tamarind Margarita is made with tequila triple sec, tamarind, orange juice and lime juice.

Tabla manger Tyler Vaughan said that they were currently working on a kumquat mojito that will probably turn into a watermelon mojito in the summer. Tyler also added that during the summer the restaurant plans on offering the margarita and Tabla-tini by the pitcher and is also planning to serve an India-inspired sangria.

I made my way back downstairs to the bar station and girded myself to start making my way down. The first table I stopped at was manned by Mr. Eben Klemm, director of cocktail development at B.R. Guest, who I hadn't seen since...well, last year's Taste of the Nation.

"Yes, the last time you saw me, I was standing here," Eben said, then after a pause added, "And I've been here since then. For the past 364 days I've been here mixing drinks hoping they'd let me go."

I like seeing Eben because he has the nattiest suits and natty suits bring a smile to my face.

Mr. Klemm was mixing a Tequila Sunbolt made with Herradura Silver tequila, limeade and red pepper water. Red pepper water? According to Eben Klemm it's just roasted peeled peppers pressed through a sieve.

At the next table, Michael and Vito from Little Branch were making the Cock and Bull Special. It was a stiff concoction made with Woodford Reserve bourbon, Benedictine, cointreau and Cognac Claude Chatelier VSOP.

Eben Freeman from Tailor was also in attendance, but he kept things simple by bringing some of his bubblegum vodka. Not any less different in level of oddness from the Cape Codder caviar he was making at the New York Taste of the Nation two years ago, but definitely not as complex. He was practically plating that caviar whereas this was just a pour. "For an event like this I've found that it's better to do something fun and easy," he said. Can't argue with that. Especially when it generates the responses I saw when people sidled up to Eben's table, to see him there with just rows of bottles filled with "Barbie's Cadillac"-pink vodka behind him.

"So, what's this?" they'd ask apprehensively.

"Bubblegum vodka," he'd answer.

They'd all give a look that can only be described in the following conjectured monologue: "Huh, ok...wait, did he just say 'bubblegum vodka'? WEIRD. Well, I like bubblegum. I think. Does he mean it's bubble-game flavored or is this one of his insane solids? No, it's in a bottle; he's pouring it. I wonder if I can still chew this."

I sipped on my own glass of the stuff and chuckled to myself at this thought when I saw Eben pull a brown bottle from out of nowhere, pour a bit of it in a glass. I thought it was his own secret stash for himself at first, but he pushed the glass towards me and said, "It's a garam masala rum."

"Ooooooooooh!" I pretty much squealed as I picked it up.

"I think the cinnamon's a bit to strong on this one, I might do less of it," he said then went on to say it was for a "Masala Mai Tai" he was working on. In dark rum he added the usual garam masala spices such as black pepper, coriander and cloves, but added his own touch with some green curry leaves. He wanted to a tiki drink, but didn't want something too sweet and thought spices would help lend a more savory aspect to it.

I asked Eben if he was changing up the solids menu anytime soon and he said probably in the foreseeable future. He said there were some absinthe gummy bears in the works (Sam Mason's idea). I asked if there were gummy bear molds or some kind of machine available for purchasing, because I don't believe ever having seen one of those. Eben said there were no molds, just gummy bears pressed into corn starch and the impression used as a mold.

Pegu Club was representing with their Grapefruit Cooler. Kenta Goto said that they wanted to make something refreshing for the guests who would be eating a lot of food. The cooler is made with grapefruit vodka, lemon juice, honey, Peychaud's bitters and a touch of Pegu with housemade grapefruit syrup. The pale pink drink is garnished with some organic flowers.

I then visited Don, John and Jim at their PDT table. They were also bringing the spirits strong with their Woodford Witch, made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry, Strega, simple syrup, a dash of Fee Brother's Orange Bitters and a dash of Regan's Orange Bitters.

"You guys get extra points for printing out the recipe," I said, giving my pen hand a rest. Jim explained that they'd learned that at events of this type it was easier to have the recipe to hand out since usually the first question people asked was "What's in this?"

I swung on back over to the Clover Club (technically for Flatiron Lounge as well, I suppose, since the Clover Club is not scheduled to open until June), and chatted a bit with Julie Reiner as well as head bartender apparent for the soon-to-be opened Clover Club Giuseppe Gonzalez.

Giuseppe mixed up a Diablo, made with Herradura Silver tequila, fresh lemon juice, housemade ginger beer and sweetened with creme de casses.

I took a sip, thought for a second, took another sip and said, "Is it just me, or is there a bit of spiciness in the back of the throat?"

"That's because of the housemade ginger beer," Giuseppe said. Rather than using ginger ale, the handmade version was opted for because it provided "a little more character than something out of a bottle."

Bubblegum Vodka and the hands of its creator; Tailor.

Grapefruit Cooler, Pegu Club

Woodford Witch, PDT

Woodford Witch, with a view of the ginormous strainer/pitcher combo in the back

Diablo, Clover Club

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