Reality-Based Gastronomic Opinions
Queens Taste 2012
Caesars Club, Citi Field
Date: May 4, 2012, 6-9pm
In terms of culinary destinations, our oft forgotten borough across the East River is many times overshadowed by the gastronomic fanfare in Manhattan and Brooklyn, which only makes more interesting the Queens Taste 2012 event recently put on by the Queen Economic Development Corporation (QEDC). What could be more attractive to the Queens-curious eater than a compendium of 50 or so of Queens’ finest kitchens in one spot for one price? Sort of like a best-of album for the belly, which clearly rang a bell for the 1,000 or so in attendance at Citi Field on May 4th, 2012.
Now 10 years in the running, this year’s event featured a taste competition, comedy acts, and even a small art exhibit from Jackson Height’s Zoescope. The event appeared to be populated by people genuinely interested in tasting food… versus those seeking an all-you-can-eat meal, which is what’s often seen at tasting events.
The event definitely served as an eye-opener to restaurants that may certainly enjoy repute in their local enclaves, but haven’t bubbled up to the level of being city-wide destinations.
Creative Concepts NYC, a caterer that has done such high-profile events such as Volkswagen launches at Terminal 5, was in attendance and slinging mini grilled cheese bites with pancetta and truffle oil, gooey and delicious. Their mango spring rolls were crispy and fruit-driven without being too greasy.
The Turkish Cultural Center of Queens was also on hand to spread knowledge on Turkish culture, this time via food. Their Turkish delight was cliché yet spot-on, chery and not overpoweringly sweet, despite the coat of powdered sugar. The baklava was unfortunately too sweet and soaked through to offer any crunch, but the Turkish coffee made up for it with its distinct texture and heavy flavor profile.
The Dog and Duck has been trying out the gastropub concept in Sunnyside for the past 6 months, and apparently doing quite well with it. The Irish owners were comfortable in doling out their comfort food, including duck confit on a small pastry shell, and their restaurant’s new back yard should make for some nice summer evenings for 50 additional covers.
Omnipresent Indian chainlet Baluchis was here spooning out basmati with rich spinach-ey saag paneer, as well as an unusually spice-less and protein-less masala sauce that left room for improvement.
Booze distributor Genesis Beverage Brands was pouring thimble-fulls of esoteric spirits such as Yazi Vodka (ginger flavored), Sinfire (cinnamon whiskey), Evil Spirit, and Pendleton Whiskey. A rep from French wine house Gilles Louvet was also present to pour some of their pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
F. Ottomanelli is on Time Out Magazine’s ‘Top 20 New Burgers’ list, and for good reason: they actually have their own butcher shop on prem, so the burgers are incredible fresh and of high quality. Apparently their Belgian fries are good too, but not on hand here at the festival – a number of differently flavored sliders (jalapeno, bbq, etc) are, however.
Howard Beach catering and banquet company Russos on the Bay served their cavatelli and lamb with a dollop of ricotta on top. The cavatelli was a bit overcooked and the ricotta was strangely still very cold, but the lamb was quite good and flavorful, nice recipe. Incidentally, Russos also runs an Italian restaurant on the water in Howard Beach called Vetro which may be worth a summer drive for outdoor waterfront dining.
Bourbon Street Café offered a very convincing chicken and andouille jambalaya, sticky pasty goodness with a ton of heat. Their Cajun shrimp were a bit lackluster but packed the same kind of cayenne heat for a nice palate cleanser.
Fast food corporation White Castle was here. Nuff said. Go home, White Castle.
Tiralli is a kind of Italian pretzel made with no yeast, but with olive oil, white wine, and Italian flour. Elisabella Tiralli introduced many Queensians to this unique treat in multiple flavors.
Cascon Bakery was started in 1975 and featured only cheesecake for many years wihle making their name in the borough. Now on their second owner, they bake just about anything including wedding cakes. Their jovial owners were happy to load your tasting plate with piles of pastries and little cakes, the highlights being the apple cheesecake (rich heaven) and the strawberry cheesecake (sweet and tart).
Dazies Restaurant has been a Sunnyside staple for 40 years, and shows no sign of slowing down. Their hospitality exudes from the festival booth and their passion for Italian food is contagious. The sweet owner will remind you of your grandmother, as she piles her delicious pasta high onto your plate.
If you are a Queens cop or fireman and your beat is in the La Guardia Airport area, Leo’s Latticini is a legend and part of your daily program. Their chocolate-iced cannolis are creamy, crispy, and legit as can be. Their mini éclairs are luxurious and perfect, so next time you are getting pulled over in Queens, try a bribe with a Leo’s gift certificate.
New startup Mitchmallows is a highlight of the festival. They are cube-shaped bite-size artisanal marshmallows powder-coated in a wide array of tantalizing flavors, such as giner wasabi, clove, and mint chocolate chip. Owner Mitchell Greenberg quit his job as a set designer to learn how to make marshmallows, after wondering one day how they were made. He now ships all over the country and is on the verge of winning retail distribution. Go Mitch!
Lisa Bracigliano’s The Chocolate Swirl makes sophisticated custom cakes for corporate events, weddings and the like. She was the in-house cake person for a well-known event venue in Manhattan, as well as a pastry chef at several restaurants. She got entrepreneurial a few years ago and started constructing her cakes at a studio space in Astoria. Lisa’s mini-cupcakes were present in every flavor imaginable, and her cake lollipops went so fast that they were only sampled by a few early festival-goers.
Overall Rating (Event, Organization)
Well organized; good diversity; ticket price point ($100) about right, but could have involved more beverages, especially wine (minuscule wine and spirit tastings didn’t wet the whistle).
Overall Rating (Participating Restaurants, Food Quality)
Participants put their best foot forward and were passionate about their food.