Choice Eats: Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple
Just in time to ring in the first days of spring 2014, the seventh annual Village Voice Choice Eats tasting event descended on lower Manhattan's Basketball City on Tuesday, March 22.
With it came more than 60 restaurants from all over the city, serving up the very best of their menus for a sellout crowd of 3,000 hungry New Yorkers. For $60 (advance tickets), patrons got to sample everything from smoked-tofu báhn mìs and sour-cherry pierogis, to slow-braised barbecued brisket and tres leches doughnuts. VIP tickets, at $85, brought early access to a special mix of vendors proffering sweet and savory dishes, along with a Whole Foods-curated gift bag.
The three-hour-long immersion in all manner of gastronomic temptations proved which flavors most attendees preferred according to the longest tasting-table lines. Consistently the comfort foods won out, with Max's lasagna, Luke's Lobster's Maine crab rolls, Maima's Liberian Bistro's pepper crab and shrimp, and Queens Comfort's atomic mac 'n cheese (with Sriracha) in highest demand.
Jess Nacinovich, who's attended the past three Choice Eats events, had simple but vital expert advice: "Pace yourself!"
Here are highlights of a few standout restaurants, which also happen to be lesbian-owned and/or -operated.
In the burgeoning gayborhood of Long Island City find Bear. Founded by Executive Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky, a native of Kiev, Ukraine whose family emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, Bear offers modern takes on classic dishes, from a vegetarian Stroganoff with forest mushrooms and dill-cream sauce, to tefteli Russian-style meatballs in tomato gravy.
It’s no wonder she was a top contender on the Food Network’s "Chopped," where she came in second - but remains a blue-ribbon caliber chef. Don’t miss Bear’s advance-reservation chef’s tasting menu, with optional wine or vodka pairing.
In 1972, Leonor and Antonio Bonilla opened Mexico Lindo in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park neighborhood. Today the traditional-yet-inventive culinary legacy lives on, with their daughter Chef Claudia Bonilla at the helm.
Using local ingredients for dishes like handmade corn-masa quesadilla with Long Island-grown squash blossoms, it’s hard to argue with Mexican comfort food that delights with fresh flavors and spices, and satisfies with hearty Latin staples.
Ample Hills Creamery
One of New York’s frontrunners in ice-cream innovations is Prospect Heights’ Ample Hills Creamery. Anyone familiar with the busy corner shop knows that it’s worth enduring the sometimes brutally long lines (especially in summer) to taste such unique and outrageously delicious flavor combinations. The Snap Mallow Pop, for example, is a deconstructed rice-crispy-treat ice cream. Or there’s Lucky Nuts, made of Guinness dark-chocolate ice cream with chocolate-toffee-covered peanuts.
Stop by in June to check out the creamery’s flavor shout-out to marriage equality, called a Perfect Marriage for its blend of salty and sweet. Last year’s version was salted hazelnut ice cream with rainbow-colored chocolate-covered sunflower seeds-so go ahead, say "I do!"
Red Hook Lobster Pound
With food this good, not even a superstorm like Hurricane Sandy can keep a restaurant down. Just ask Red Hook Lobster Pound, whose operations were submerged in the storm but clawed its way back in just four months-serving its first post-Sandy lobster roll to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in spring 2013. And what a lobster roll it is, not to mention the amazing lobster bisque, mac ’n cheese, and other tantalizing seafood-centric sensations!
In addition to its Red Hood and Montauk outposts, the restaurant also serves from its mobile food truck, and in April opens its first Manhattan location in the East Village.
On a lighter but deliciously creative note, find R&D, a 2012 addition to the thriving Vanderbilt Avenue restaurant row in Prospect Heights. The regularly changing menu marries seasonal produce and the specialties of local producers for dishes that intrigue, excite and sate the appetite. Take for example the dandelion salad with grapefruit and anchovy vinaigrette; crispy calamari with pickled fennel and cider-beer syrup; or one of the menu favorites, the lamb burger with tzatziki and feta.
For those who can’t get enough of a good thing, the restaurant will soon open R&D Foods, for all your fine-dining take-out needs.
Up Next: Choice Streets Food Truck Event
What’s next? The Choice Streets Food Truck Event.
Though the next Choice Eats is a year away, not to worry! You can appease your appetite on May 7 with the Village Voice Choice Streets Food Truck tasting event.
The third annual Choice Streets is held once again atop the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum at Pier 86, on midtown Manhattan’s west side. General-public tickets go on sale April 2, with a presale code available to those to subscribe to the Village Voice’s dining newsletter.