Forty vendors dished up a world of flavors to more than 900 eager tasters during Queens Taste 2013 at Citi Field's Caesars Club last month. Hosted by the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the eleventh annual gastronomic extravaganza included performances by a Big Apple Circus clown, an appearance by 1969 Miracle Met Ed Kranepool, a booth displaying work by local emerging artists curated by Jackson Heights-based Zoescope, and a stand up routine by Steve Hofstetter of the Laughing Devil Comedy Club in Long Island City. In addition, it was a special honor for your humble Comestiblogger to have been selected as one of this year's four Taste Masters.
Queens Taste 2013 through the eyes, ears, and gullet of Comestiblog:
The Appetizers and Entrées:
The gluttony began at the first table with a plateful of Mexican bites, enhanced by a half-dozen sauces, from Woodside's La Adelita Restaurant. The steak and shrimp were particularly moist and flavorful.
Who could resist La Rioja's hand-sliced Jamón Serrano? In addition to its dry-cured Spanish "mountain ham," the Astoria tapas bar offered a fine gazpacho.
Long Island City-based Rèst-âü-Ránt served some light, tantalizing bites, including bacon-jam adorned cucumber slices, shrimp dumplings, and Chicken Saté with peanut dip.
Chicken Saté was also among the eclectic offerings at Riverview Restaurant & Lounge, another LIC representative.
Leo's Latticini (known locally as Mama's of Corona) dished up superb fresh mozzarella (only a few hours old) with basil, tomatoes, and olive oil. In addition to their marvelous mozzarella, Mama's girls served Prosciutto Bread, Biscotti, Mini Cannoli, and, of course, their popular signature sandwich (2012 photo).
From fresh mozzarella to aged cheddar …
McClure's Pickles of Brooklyn and Detroit, another returning favorite, speared this year's Best Appetizer award for its spicy and garlicky gherkins.Redwood Deli's Spinach Pie (Spanikopita) was a strong contender for best appetizer. Furthermore, the Cuban Sandwich (roast pork, deli ham, Finlandia Swiss cheese, crisp pickle slices, and mustard on a hero) from this Forest Hills deli was a nice Latin companion to the Hellenic pie.
Another nominee for top appetizer was Bourbon Street's BBQ Shrimp. The dish of Cajun-spiced jumbo decapods, served in a "secret" sauce, was creamy and delicious. In addition, the New Orleans-themed Bayside café added a Southern twist to comfort food with its Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese. Was this merger of American classics a bit two much?
Austin's Steak & Ale House of Kew Gardens, a sister eatery to the aforementioned Bourbon Street Café, reprised its offerings from last year: tender, succulent slices of Skirt Steak, along with bite-sized spherical Crab Cakes.
A competing steak dish came from Christos Steak House in Astoria. This one featured tender slices of filet mignon on toasted bread, topped with wild mushrooms, bacon, and a small cap of Gorgonzola.
Following the success of its delicious duck confit its first time out, The Dog and Duck opted to serve various sliders—beef, lamb, pork, duck, and short rib—this year to kick off its late-May burger week. I think my Duck Slider had been ashore too long. Bring back the confit!
Some of my favorite selections came from Rocoto, a Peruvian restaurant in Jamaica. The affable husband-and-wife team of Jesus and Jennie Moreno prepared a couple of dishes I considered to be winners. While the Causa afforded a savory interpretation of (yellow) mashed potatoes, I particularly enjoyed the fresh, citrusy Peruvian-style (corbina) Ceviche and its tasty Leche de Tigre derivative. (Peruvians consider the so-called "tiger's milk" to be an aphrodisiac as well as a hangover remedy.) The biggest catch of the evening, however, was the beautiful boneless salmon. Moist, tender, and grilled to perfection, the 27-pound fish was gobbled up quickly by some voracious sharks.
Magna, recipient of last year's award for best entrée, returned with another pair of tasty dishes from its Flushing ristorante: Pollo Antonino (roasted chicken with garlic, sage, rosemary, white wine, and olive oil) and the somewhat chewy Pasta Bruschetta (a variant of the traditional antipasto, prepared with pasta instead of bread).
Another Italian dish shared top honors this year for the Best Entrée. Although the Chicken Milanese (pan-fried cutlets, topped with fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers, in a warm, balsamic vinaigrette) from Corona's Pine Restaurant (at the Holiday Inn LaGuardia Airport) was reported to have been the winner, the Chicken Scarpariello (a tangy mélange of chicken breast chunks sautéed in a lemon-garlic herb sauce, sliced potatoes, bits of sausage, and sweet vinegar peppers) was the Taste Masters' veritable preference. In either case, congratulations to Executive Chef Carlos Velez for a winning dish.
F. Ottomanelli Burger & Belgian Fries of Woodside shared the 2013 Best Entrée award with Pine. With the advantage of having his own butcher shop, Frank Ottomanelli is able to grind out what he calls "the freshest burger you can eat." I chose the Bacon Cheddar over the plain, and found it to be one of the tastiest, juiciest hamburgers I'd enjoyed in some time. Instead of placing the toppings onto the ground beef, chef Michael Proano blended the bacon and cheese into the patties to create his victorious dish.
Kudos to both chefs for their winning entrées.
Hard iced tea and cider …
A few wines …
The Rocket Ship Wine Company of Lodi, California offered a compelling element to its wines: each brand is linked to a corresponding charity. Its Mustache Vineyards line, for example, funds prostate cancer initiatives, while its Sacramento Trail label aids Pony Express history preservation. The slightly earthy Pinot Noir and the restrained Old Vine Zinfandel were highly drinkable.
And something harder: Kamasutra, a vodka in the "spirit of seduction."
While whiskey may not be my favorite distilled beverage, the infusion of maple makes it far more appealing. Cabot Trail's Canadian Maple Whisky and Maple Cream liqueur were smooth and downright yummy.
After Tropisec's triumphant appearance at Queens Taste last year (video), Blanca Lilia Narváez returned with another round of her delightful, dehydrated fruit. The mango and kiwi-banana samples I tried nearly scored her a repeat victory.
"A hybrid of chocolate truffle and ice cream," is how Becky Kestenbaum describes her Becky's Bites. Each "bite" contains a creamy filling that's rolled onto graham cracker crumbs, and dipped into Belgian chocolate.
Cinnamon Bread Pudding represented an encore for Bourbon Street Café.
Rudy's Bakery and Café, a konditorei in Ridgewood since 1934, served cookies, Red Velvet Whoopie Pies, and Mini Cupcakes. The diminutive chocolate cupcakes were crowned with a salted caramel icing bejeweled with little pretzel segments and a light drizzle of caramel.
In a unanimous decision, Take a Break and I'll Bake won this year's Best Dessert award for its excellent Southern-style sweets and polished presentation. The cream cheese pies, muffins, and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (my favorite) were as pleasing to the palate as they were to the eye. Congrats!
Specializing in high-quality baked goods for fundraisers, special events, and restaurants, Faith and Luis Osorio's startup is one of many successful ventures hatched in the kitchen incubator at QEDC's Entrepreneur Space.
"We are extremely happy with how everything turned out, and I'm already looking forward to next year," stated QEDC Executive Director Seth Bornstein. "The food, the beverages, the networking and the upbeat, almost giddy, atmosphere really couldn't be beaten, and it looked like everybody had a great time. A special thanks to lead sponsors Fairway Market and Citi and the USTA, our honoree."
A special thanks also to Seth Bornstein and Rob MacKay for affording me the pleasure of serving as a Taste Master this year.
Queens Taste 2013
123-01 Roosevelt Avenue (126th St)
Flushing, N.Y. 11368 (map)
Tuesday, 14 May 2013, 6:00 P.M. till 9:00 P.M.
Queens Taste 2013 Facebook photo gallery