Ahhhhhhh Choice Eats, that fabulous glutton-inducing grub free-for-all that challenges even the strongest to a battle of overstuffing. "How long can I stay upright?" you ask yourself as you meander pass line after line, table after table you've already visited (maybe twice in the case of Salted Caramel Crack ice cream) in search of that one last amazing bite. Ultimately you succumb to biology, as we all eventually do, bottle of water in hand, your bed not far on the horizon. At least you get to wake up the next morning (in my case for all of your benefit) to photographic proof of everything you ate the night before. Get ready for an epicurean hysteria.
The event was held in a new, rather remote location at Basketball City on the river just north of the Manhattan Bridge. The space allowed the evening to flow with slightly less congestion, but as the night wore on, the lines for whichever restaurants still had food after 8pm seemed to each run into each other (all the more reason to go VIP for this one!). There were 84 restaurants, including an entire row full of dessert, and just under 3,000 attendees. Major successes of the night were BBQ and meat in general and eclectic desserts.
I hit the ground
running eating with a couple of my blogger friends, Stephanie and Dave (Laura came a little bit later), and we never really looked back. First up...vegetables! You have to get the digestive system prepped after all and the folks at Dirt Candy know how to work a piece of broccoli! Their broccoli hot dogs with broccoli sauerkraut didn't make me miss meat for a second. Which leads me perfectly into my next bite (and many after that)...Kuma Inn whipped up flavorful Adobo braised pork shoulder and pan de sal bites while Swine served adorable yet delicious bacon-wrapped dates with chipotle blue cheese sauce.
|Broccoli Hot Dogs from Dirt Candy|
|Adobo braised pork shoulder and pan de sal from Kuma Inn|
|Bacon-wrapped dates with chipotle blue cheese sauce from Swine|
Next stop, an Astoria outpost I've been meaning to try for a while, Bear, served Siberian Style Dumplings in a light crema dill gravy so good that I ate all three! Mable's Smokehouse out of Williamsburg served my top dish of the night (and clearly a crowd favorite as they ran out early!): smoked beef brisket with candied yams. The crust on the brisket was damn near perfect and the yams were anything but what your Aunt Ida always makes for Thanksgiving--these things tasted like what diamonds would taste like, if you could eat diamonds, that is.
|Siberian style dumplings from Bear|
|Beef brisket and candied yams from Mable's Smokehouse|
The Little Prince served excellent and fresh steak tartare with fried capers, aioli and grilled bread, while Alobar took the creative route and served their beet tar tar with hearts of palm, apple coriander nage, goat feta and scallions
|Steak tartare from The Little Prince|
|Beet tar tar from Alobar|
Luke's Lobster was back with their usual fervor, although they decided to mix things up and offer crab rolls instead of the shrimp rolls they've been serving for at least the past 3 years. Red Hook Lobster Pound also opted to change their pace and served creamy lobster bisque instead of their usual rolls.
|Main crab roll from Luke's Lobster|
|Lobster bisque from Red Hook Lobster Pound|
Xe May Sandwich Shop served an array of sandwiches--I tried the flavorful lemongrass chicken with chili mayo but didn't care for the tortilla. Max stood out by offering lasagna we deemed "the good kind of mushy," and I liked the one-bite red endive cups with smoked salmon, avocado and creme fraiche presented by Anella. It was simple, elegant, and refreshing among a sea of heavy meat dishes.
|Lemongrass Chicken from Xe May Sandwich Shop|
|Meat lasagna from Max|
|Red endive cups from Anella|
|Charles' Country Pan Fried Chicken|
Back to the meat, John Brown Smokehouse served house cured pastrami that was extra moist and Ovelia Psistaria Bar served an interesting take on Middle Eastern meat with Greek coffee steak with mushroom halloumi poutine. I was a big fan of the burnt ends at Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue as well as the beef meatball with classic tomato sauce and parmesan cheese from The Meatball Shop.
|House cured Pastrami from John Brown Smokehouse|
|Greek coffee steak from Ovelia|
|Burnt ends at Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue|
|Beef meatball with classic tomato sauce and parmesan cheese from The Meatball Shop|
One of my favorite Astoria brunch spots and soon to be featured Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives restaurants, Queens Comfort, served up their Atomic Mac and Cheese with cheddar, fontina, sriracha and buttermilk ranch sauce. It had quite the kick!
|Atomic mac and cheese from Queens Comfort|
Most intriguing and successful dish of the night went to Williamsburg's Egg Restaurant with pimento cheese on pork crackling bread. The name doesn't even do it justice as there was so much complexity going on I almost couldn't handle it. Another particularly delicious concoction was the "Braciole" Tortelli served with toasted garlic and herb croutons from Rubirosa. Khe-Yo served crunchy coconut rice (I could seriously pop these like candy) with Kaffir lime sausage and baby iceberg lettus.
|Pimento cheese on pork crackling bread from Egg|
|'Braciole' tortelli from Rubirosa|
|Crunch coconut rice from Khe-Yo|
Below-the-border cuisine was heavily represented in several successful permutations. Murray Hill hidden secret Mexico Lindo prepared banana leaf steamed local rabbit tacos with cascabel mole rojo and butternut squash, garnished with micro cilantro and almonds. Also, Fonda served delicious cochinita pibil--Yucatan style Achiote marinated slow baked port shoulder with oregano and pickled onions.
|Banana leaf steamed local rabbit tacos from Mexico Lindo|
|Cochinita Pibil from Fonda|
Although I'll admit we laughed at the name for a hot second, the Dark Men noodles from Tabata Noodle Restaurant were entirely different than anything I'd ever had and I definitely wanted more. No there weren't any bits of men (or women for that matter!) in the cups, but there was black sesame paste noodle soup with spicy ground pork and scallions.
Representing the Aussies, quite well actually, Sheep Station plated flavorful roasted leg of lamb sandwiches with sautéed onions, tomato, garlic mayo, and baby arugula on a po boy roll.
|Roasted leg of lamb sandwich from Sheep Station|
|Broccoli rabe from Telepan Local|
|Long bean salad from Bunker|
Now for the best part (if you are not totally sick of staring at endless food pictures yet)...Choice Sweets! First up, and my favorite, was the ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery. Even after trying new-to-me flavors "Sweet as Honey" and "Gather 'Round the Campfire," the good old "Salted Crack Caramel" is still my hands down favorite. Fay Da Bakery was also a repeat favorite from last year with their bubble milk tea and other goodies.
|Ample Hills Creamery Ice Cream|
|Bubble Milk Tea from Fay Da Bakery|
Robicelli's was a hit with their chocolate chip cookie bars and I thoroughly enjoyed the do-it-yourself popsicle bar from La Newyorkina.
|Chocolate chip cookie bars from Robicelli's|
|Popsicle bar from La Newyorkina|
|Cedar creamsicle from Oddfellows Ice Cream Co.|
|Chocolate gianduja from Edi and the Wolf|
Before we left, we had to take advantage of the exclusive VIP lounge upstairs (and take the opportunity to catch our breath and get some space away from the very crowded venue). Little did we know, there were still lots of amazing bites to be eaten!
Something I would have been very sad to have missed if I never made it to the VIP section was a large selection of special donuts from The Donut Plant. This place is seriously AWESOME. I ordered the cashew and orange blossom cream donut, but also tried the coconut cream and peanut butter and jam. All were YUMMY!!
|The Donut Plant spread|
|Cashew and orange blossom cream donut from The Donut Plant|
As you can imagine, we were beyond stuffed at this point but we examined the rest of the samples in the VIP area anyway. I mean, it's VIP so it had to be good right? Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue served dry rubbed Texas style barbecue which definitely held it's own, but was not as good as Mabel's Smokehouse or Fletchers. Clarke's Standard, one of my go-to lunch spots, sampled their cheeseburgers, and Grandaisy Bakery had a wide array of baked goods. We tried the cauliflower flatbread.
|Texas Style Barbecue from Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue|
|Cheeseburger from Clarke's Standard|
|Cauliflower flatbread from Grandaisy Bakery|