I could not have been more excited for the New Taste of the Upper West Side!  Put together by the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, it brings together all of the best food venues under one ginormous tent for all of the tastings you could ask for.

Friday, May 21st, kicked off with “A Conversation With…” at the American Museum of Natural History where a panel of food experts discussed healthy eating, buying local, school lunch programs, and local Upper West Side restaurants.  Elizabeth Kaledin of NY 1 moderated the discussion with an all-star panel featuring Ellie Krieger of the Food Network; Kate Krader of Food & Wine Magazine; John Fraser of Dovetail; Bill Telepan of Telepan; Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post; Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a nutritional medicine expert; and Eric Goldstein of the School Support Services,  All net proceeds from the event will go to Wellness in the Schools.

Onto the highlight of the night!  From 9pm to midnight was “Divine Desserts” with an unbelievable amount of delicious desserts from all of the best Upper West Side pastry chefs!  That’s right, it was 3 hours of non-stop sugar binge eating.  The evening was hosted by Chef Jacques Torres, who is so happy and easy-going, and was dancing around the tables and chatting with all his fans.  Towards the end of the evening I asked for his autograph which he so graciously gave me – but then he stole my pen!  Ok, so it’s just  a measly pen that I didn’t even pay for, but it had some sentimental value.  I guess since he’s famous and awesome, and makes incredible chocolates, I’ll give him a pass this time.

Vera Tong of Dovetail, Jerry Thornton of Compass, and Pichet Ong of Spot Dessert Bar & Village Tart were a few examples of all the chefs that came out to support their stand.  Also, nationally acclaimed mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim shook up some exquisite dessert cocktails, alongside other liquor stands like Pour Wines, Svedka, Fragoli, Don Q Rum, Tommy Bahama Rum, Absinthe Ordinaire, and many more.

Hot Blondies Bakery with brownies AND blondies on hand; Jacques Torres’ table was giving out huge chocolate chip cookies with an equally huge dollop of ice cream and also a cup of delicious creme brulee.  Though they had the caramel chopped up and sprinkled in the creme brulee, when I normally like the caramel burnt onto the top, which is what Cafe Du Soleil did for their passion fruit creme brulee.

Magnolia Bakery had a huge spread of mini cupcakes and their banana pudding – I don’t even like bananas but it is amazing.  In addition to their samples, Buttercup Bake Shop gave out coupons for free cupcakes to ensure that we would return to their store for more.  The women of Taste Gelato Artigianale  were hastily scooping up gelato for everyone waiting patiently.

Fortunately, there were some non-sweets stations there so that we could take a break from the sugar rush.  Big Daddy’s served up some delicious baked mac and cheese, and Rare Bar & Grill couldn’t dole out those mini-burgers fast enough.  Oh, and what were ribs doing at a dessert tasting??  Who knows, but the spiced rubbed shortribs with polenta was great to offset my sugar high.  I tried GuS for the first time, aka Grown-Up Soda, which is a refreshing carbonated drink with just the right amount of sugar (meaning not too much) but with a lot of juice flavor, poured by the two founders, Steve Hersh and Jeannette Luoh.

It was a night of way too many indulgences, so you should check out more food images in the gallery below.  I admittedly felt pretty ill after I got home – but it was absolutely worth it.  And it only continued with the Best of the West!  To be continued…