Each year, one foodie event that so many New Yorkers look forward to is The Food Network and Cooking Channel’s New York Food and Wine Festival. It marries two things that New Yorkers hold very dear: our love to eat and drink the best the city has to offer in the same place, at the same time. Time is money, so on Friday, October 14, 2016, I wasted neither getting down to Pier 94 to check out this year’s selections at the Trade Tasting hosted by Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. This invite-only event was a chance for those in the industry to check out what is new and hot and chilled on the food, wine, and spirits scene.
After picking up my wine glass courtesy of ShopRite Foods, I headed into the venue and immediately I was blown away by the sheer multitude of options that were available to sample. Initially, I was a bit overwhelmed by the size and popularity of the event. With well over a thousand people at the pier, I had to wade through a crowd of gents and ladies dressed in well-tailored suits and wool crepe dresses ready to find that perfect pinot noir to match the Wagyu beef they were dying to import after stopping by the Japanese Livestock Products Export Promotion Council’s table.
I figured the best way to see and taste as much as possible, much like a Friday night at any UES bar, was to do a lap around the venue, get a sense of the offering, and then devise a plan. I got the lay of the land and realized one key thing: the booze outnumbered the food 2:1. Knowing that I came with an empty stomach, I decided the smart choice was to start my tour with chow. Though not as prominent as their alcohol counterparts, there were several household names you’d recognize from your own kitchen cupboard present: Green Giant, Zatarains, Campbell’s, Knorr, Nutella, Hellmann’s, and Kikkoman to name a few. These brands showcased new items as well as keystone products. I was very partial to the creamy, sweet, and chocolaty Nutella-filled crepes.
Several restaurants gave bite-sized offerings to entice our taste buds to pull us out of our cozy apartments as the impending winter hibernation looms. Of these, one of my favorites, probably because I’m a transplanted southern boy, was Tavern on the Green’s dark beer-braised beef cheek. The spoonful of pulled meat, served on a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, was seasoned with a dash of horseradish which gave a slightly spicy ending note. It cut perfectly through the stout and savory flavor of the beef cheek. One bite was enough for me to want to pay a visit this bastion of Old New York destination restaurants, which has had 77 years to perfect its recipe. I also have to mention Aria Wine Bar—the neighborhood Italian favorite that residents of the West Village tried to keep a Perry Street secret is out, and their fresh Sardine wrapped broccoli rabe and cauliflower, served with polenta and onion in a rich beurre blanc sauce, was absolutely resonant.
Being a trade tasting, there was an opportunity to see a smattering of newcomers among the many different categories of food. I tried a whole host of plates, perfect for specific occasions. If you are cuddling up for movie with your popcorn and looking for a great alternative to butter, Sabatino Tartufi’s Truffle zest seasoning is amazing. Although it is a shake-on seasoning, it tastes as if the whole bag was bathed in actual truffle oil, and can be used to add that savory zip to most tasty dishes. I’m thinking it would make delicious Truffle Fries as well. The boutique pretzel confectioner Posh Pretzel’s selection of chocolate covered pretzels was impressive as well as the perfect combination of salty sugariness offering a multitude of customizable options to fit your sweet tooth. Being a 2015 Oscars participant and its availability at Bergdorf Goodman should be enough to establish its pedigree for any cultivated New Yorker. Finally, as a devout carnivore, I can’t believe I am recommending something vegan, but Gardein’s vegan crab cakes delightfully passed the test considering I am on the opposite end of the food spectrum. This PETA-approved “seafood” offering tastes much like real thing as I put them to the test side by side later in the afternoon. Bon appétit.
The most exciting sample of the day by all accounts was the Wagyu Beef from the Japanese Livestock Products Export Promotion Council. Before you even knew what was in store, like any good New Yorker, you could tell it was going to be good because it had the longest line at the show. With 20-40 people consistently waiting for this table, there was plenty of time to let the anticipation build. Most, like me, were chatting among those in line about their excitement over tasting something so decadent that it will never pass the lips of most. At $150.00 or more a pound for a mid to high grade of the beef, it is a bit too rich for some blood, but for this diehard carnivore, knowing that most Kobe and Wagyu beef in the US is not the high grade Japanese black cattle it claims to be, this was going to be a special moment, a near rival to the future birth of my first child that is still merely a twinkle in my eye. The thin slice of perfectly marbled, medium rare steak was served with just a splash of jus. It was the immaculate simplicity you would expect from the Japanese and a steak that has more frequent flyer miles than I do. I don’t want to spoil the first time for you, so I will just say that this melt in your mouth masterpiece is worth every penny. Wagyu beef, you complete me.
Once I had enjoyed more than my fair share of food, it was time to get into the numerous beverage options that were represented at the show. This event was truly about the libations; there was anything and everything that one could want to imbibe. All of the major brands were there, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, including massive installations from Glenlivet, Cupcake Wines, Wild Turkey, and Coca Cola and smaller booths from Skyy Vodka, Martini and Rossi, Pure Leaf Tea, and Modelo. Although they tried to make the selection somewhat user friendly by grouping brands by type of beverage offering like “boutique liquor selection”, the sheer number of booths required a patron to make some hard choices about what to drink or truly limit each taste to just a sip. The alternative was risking being that guy with a lampshade on his head in public in the middle of the afternoon. For this reason, I tried to focus my mission on finding some winners in a crowded field.
With over 50 wine booths, each offering up multiple wines, this event gives the amateur or professional sommelier a fantastic opportunity to taste every grape and every region from across the globe. My favorite* of the selections was the 2015 Cote des Roses Gerard Bertrand rose blend ($15.99 at your local wine shop). This light Mediterranean rose blend is bright, crisp with floral notes and a hint of grapefruit and green apple to perfectly match a flaky white fish or white meat protein. Other honorable mentions of the day were: The 2013 Cupcake Chardonnay ($10.99), 2013 Luigi Bosca Malbec ($20.99), and 2013 Wente Riva Ranch Pinot Noir ($23.99). The 2013 Cupcake chardonnay from the central California coast is creamy, with a medium acidity, warm and fruity notes of vanilla, honeycrisp apple, and a hint of oak. I loved this for the warm buttery taste that pairs well with scallops or that late summer lobster roll. The 2013 Luigi Bosca Malbec from Argentina is a luscious light to medium-bodied wine with notes of vanilla, tobacco, black pepper and a mineral finish. The 2013 Wente Riva Ranch pinot noir from central California with a medium body, light tannins, and fresh acidity with notes of tart fruit and a light oak finish. Both of these reds would be great with a fatty protein like duck or the aforementioned and exalted Wagyu beef.
For those days when you need something a little stronger, maybe you are going to host a brunch, Sunday Funday, or just sitting down with some friends to catch up with the antics of those lovely ladies of Rupaul’s Drag Race, these are some of my favorite cocktails served up at the tasting. St. Germain’s fizzy mix of St. Germain liquer, prosecco, and club soda is the perfect light drink for your boozy brunch and just add a splash of OJ and you have a great variation on the classic Mimosa. Pearl Vodka’s Cucumber Vodka/Lemonade** made with Pearl’s cucumber vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, a splash of simple syrup, club soda, and muddled cucumber was light and refreshing (“Ladies Who Lunch” might encourage their Hamptons cabana boys to keep pitchers of these at the ready). On the boozier side of the coin, there was the Partida Tequila Smash. A mixture of Partida Blanco tequila, pineapple juice/syrup, maraschino cherry juice, a squeeze of lime and soda water is a fabulously fruity cocktail for that late summer bash where you intend for you and your friends to get a little smashed.
By the end of my 4 hour adventure, I felt like I had seen and tasted enough of this event to feel like it had warranted what would cost a person $185.00 a ticket for Saturday’s event that was similar and open to the public. I came. I saw. I ate. I drank. I left with an appetite satiated by delicious food and a light warm buzz to match sans lampshade. I would say that if you have the opportunity to visit this event in the coming years it would definitely be a fun experience to check off your NYC checklist. Run down the schedule of events; beyond this, there are many different showcases and dinners that are tailored to your culinary preferences. Take a friend, Insta and share to your heart’s content. Chow down and drink up New York!
*As a note: I will drink red, white, or rose depending on how I’m feeling on a particular day, but I always tend toward a drier option in any category; your palate may differ a bit, but I think you will enjoy the following recommendations.
**Yes, a vodka and lemonade is just a vodka and lemonade; I tried to Google a name and that is all that I found.