Art of Food
Credit: Our Town

Art of Food, produced by the newspaper Our Town, had its third annual event at Sotheby’s in the Upper East Side on Saturday night. Local restaurants and bakeries are challenged to create tasting dishes inspired by pieces of art in the current Sotheby’s collection. Each table has tastings and a picture of the art that inspired them when you can’t see the originals through the massive crowd.  Art of Food is unique because good food is made to be art and rarely to be inspired by art.

An electric string quartet immediately invigorates you when you enter the enormous and luxurious space. Drinks flow freely and your senses come to life as you explore what the most passionate food lovers offer you this evening. Exploring every single tasting took most of the night between meeting other excited food fans from near and far.

Credit: Our Town

Some of the tastings were so good I went back for a second helping (third, who’s kidding?). Bite after bite, I was surprised and delighted. Here are some of my favorites from the event and places you should visit to sink your teeth into their menus.

For beef, 5 Napkin Burger really surprised me. They made a delicious Salisbury Steak on a potato bun that I never expected from a burger joint. It reminded me of the best elementary school lunches that would be saved for special days in the year and felt just as satisfying.

The Lamb Tartare from Quality Eats were hearty and had a satisfying lavender aftertaste from the rice.

The surprising celebrity of the beef dishes was the Steak Tartare from The Penrose. You think you know what tartare can taste like, and a whole new world opens up with this dish. The pretzel salt crumb and the sun choke puree knocked all my senses awake to savor the experience.

By this point I needed a drink, so I went with a 2016 Pino Bianco from Kettmeir. Dry whites are a great palette cleanser.

Credit: Our Town

All the seafood was very satisfying at the event, so it was hard to pick the best of the best.

The Crispy Smoked Shellfish was a love-it-or-hate-it-dish. I loved it. Tarragon Pesto with lobster fried up in panko breadcrumbs and a Bechemel sauce was challenging and exciting too. After trying my first tasting, I waited an extra five minutes for more of the shellfish to be prepared so I could have another. It was that good.

The Pineapple Finger Shrimp Cocktail from Crave Fishbar and the Salmon Taquitos from La Pulperia UES had a blast of unique citrus flavors that made me go back for seconds. The Salmon Taquitos deserve an extra mention because of the clever use of fried wontons to create mini taco shells.

The Ahi Tuna Tostada from Maya had a great burst of freshness apart from all the other dishes. For something more restrained, the Marinated Spanish Octopus with Squid Ink Aoili from T-Bar Steak was an elegant and smooth experience.

My friends are vegetarian and vegan, so I searched for options I could brag about to them. The Agnolotti from Paola’s Restaurant was so rich and flavorful that the tasting could be a full appetizer or small meal. My two favorites were the Vegan Shepard’s Pie from Jones Wood Foundary and the Roasted Cauliflower from Candle 79.

The Vegan Shepard’s Pie was hearty and full of protein that my vegetarian friends would have approved of. Getting good quality protein as a vegetarian or vegan is very hard in New York City. Meat eaters expect that pasta, salad and starches will substitute for adequate nutrition. So to experience full flavors and a perfect balance of potatoes and lentils was a great surprise to stick-to-your-ribs.

The Roasted Cauliflower from Candle 79 was a showstopper. Vegetables, watercress and floral notes in this dish were complex and seemed to be the perfect interpretation of their art inspiration, Beautiful Runny Egg on a Summers Day Nose Bleed Painting (Dennis Hiret, 2006). Art is subjective, but among all the tastings and art pairings of the evening, this dish made you go, ‘I get it! They nailed it!’.

Credit: Our Town

For dessert, the Garden Court Cafe made a delightful literal interpretation of their art piece, Mirage, by William Baziotes, using sponge cake, blue sugar glass and orange sauce. It was tiny and whimsical like a happy thought you can enjoy all day.

Whether you want to challenge your tongue to a game of taste-by-association or experience competitive food porn, this is a party that will impress your Instagram followers.

Or maybe you want to enjoy the pleasure by yourself, like me.  Art of Food alone might stimulate inspiration for you too. For more information, click here.