Asian Influence at the 2010 New York Food & Wine Festival

This year, Danielle and I tried as much as possible to avoid the overcrowded, mass-market events at the New York Food & Wine Festival. One year on Pier 54 was more than enough for us. Not only were there very few things worth tasting last year but it felt as if we were in a food circus being bombarded by corporate barkers when we walked through there. That's great if you want to wear your sunglasses on the back of your head and make horns with Guy Fieri. Not so great if you're interested in appreciating some good food. Take a look at Dirt Candy's blog to get a chef's perspective. We're not the only ones who feel that the Pier 54 event is not for us. Fortunately, there were plenty of other events to attend. So, we dug a little deeper into the festival guide which offered more than 120 events and found a couple that focused on the Asian range of the food spectrum. We went to a sushi and wine paring seminar, a sake tasting at Tanuki Tavern, and not because it was Asian-inspired but just because, the Burger Bash.

The best of the four events we attended was the "Four Star Sushi/Sashimi Celebrity Wonderdome Wine Matches" hosted by Josh Wesson and Bruce and Eric Bromberg at the Astor Center. Josh Wesson, the sommelier behind Best Cellars, brought six very good value wines and Bruce Bromberg, founder of Blue Ribbon Sushi, countered with five types of fish in sushi and sashimi form. Wesson started his talk by comparing food and wine pairing to marriages, hence, the list in the picture which counts "sex" and "more sex" as the top two reasons for getting married. His other food-related point was that contrasting flavors are additive in that they enhance each other while similar flavors are subtractive in that they reduce each other. Tasting the different wines with the fish either added or subtracted flavors.

We set about tasting the fish (red snapper, amber jack, bonito, albacore, fatty tuna) with the various wines in a no-rules pairing experiment and depending on the fat content of the fish and the acid level of the wine, we generated very different tastes on our palates. Not surprisingly, we found that of the six wines, the 2008 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris from New Zealand and the 2009 Felsner Grüner Veltliner from Austria tended to go well with both the sushi and sashimi. We also enjoyed combining sushi with the NV Thiénot Champagne Brut as well as the 2009 L'Estandon Cuvée Roucas D'Or Rosé. A great time was had by all and as Josh Wesson put it, "It was beyond freedom and dignity."

The sake tasting at Tanuki Tavern curated by Southern Wine & Spirits, which is the festival's exclusive wine and sprit provider, included both traditional sakes from Niigata and two relatively new American brands. Sake One, a pioneer in the sake industry, is the first and only American-founded sake brewery. They were pouring a few sakes, which are brewed using California rice and Oregon water, including fruit flavor infused sakes as well as different grades from their Momokawa line. But, their best, by far, was the one they call G Joy. It's a junmai ginjo genshu which is undiluted, giving it a very rich flavor and feel. It's surprisingly good for a new world sake from a very young brewery. It comes in this fine-looking bottle as well.

On the other side of the room, there were three trendy-looking fellows, the types you don't usually see behind the table, pouring tastes of a brand we had never seen before. Contained in a cherry-red glass bottle, with the ridiculous name of Samurai Love Sake, is a liquid born out of an actually quite intriguing concept. The company's founding partners are attempting to take sake out of the Japanese restaurant environment and into bars and clubs to be enjoyed with all the other liquors, beers and wines. Judging from their marketing, they hope to do for sake what Absolut did for vodka. But, can you see yourself asking the bartender for a Samurai Love? Come to think of it, "let me have a G Joy" doesn't sound too suave either.

Try as we might, there was one mass-market event that we coudn't avoid. It's everyone's favorite - the Burger Bash - or as it's been branded, the Rachael Ray Burger Bash held at Dumbo's Tobacco Warehouse. Did it matter whether or not Rachael Ray was there or her name was in the event title? Not so much but apparently she WAS there; I watched her refuse to answer a question from OzerskyTV because it had the word zeitgeist in it. She might've thought twice about posting two people at the entrance to hand out bags of what looked like Rachael Ray snacks but were actually sample-size bags of Rachael Ray dog food. Now, you arrive at an event you've just paid $225 to attend ready to stuff your face with burgers and fries and the first thing you're handed as you walk in is a bag of dog food? Rachael Ray, grilled ground red meat, dog food. OK.

We followed our most primitive instincts and headed straight towards the plumes of smoke giving off the delicious odor of charred meat. For an event with 4,000 in attendance, it was shockingly easy to eat your way around the venue. Kudos to the festival producers, Karlitz & Company, who also produced the LUCKYRICE Grand Feast. Maybe it was because we arrived late but there was very little to no waiting to sample all twenty different types of burgers. We couldn't try them all but the 67 Burger was definitely the unsung sandwich of the night. That should give us a reason to head back to Brooklyn sometime soon.

Quick. Who's that woman with the spoon in her mouth that all male eyes in this photo are focused on?