The most difficult part of dining in Brooklyn
is the sheer volume of choices. If our own neighborhood can’t
supply us with the crepes we desire or decent linguine with white
clam sauce, well, we can just whip out the MetroCard and find
ourselves a neighborhood nearby that can.
Of course, being lucky has its down side. The problem (if we choose to see it that way) may be committing an entire evening to one cuisine. Who hasn’t found themselves midway through a Middle Eastern meal - warm pita bread poised over a plate of hummus and baba ghanoush (chickpea and eggplant dips) - while we imagine a bowl of bouillabaisse beckoning to us from that little cafe across the street.
Well, the sixth annual Brooklyn Eats tasting festival, sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and held on Oct. 21 in the New York Marriott Brooklyn, was the premier food event for polygamous eaters who can’t eat just one.
Held in a room many times the size of most banquet halls, about 50 Brooklyn restaurants, caterers and specialty food purveyors were joined by 10 local wineries, microbreweries and other beverage merchants in a display of excess as yet unchallenged in the world of Brooklyn food events.
While Studio Stu and his band serenaded guests with jazz and blues "unstandards," hundreds of apparently ravenous diners from our borough and beyond, hit the tables, giddy with the pleasure of multiple dining options.
Seafood soups scored high points with Brooklyn Eats revelers. Chef Russell Guarneri of the legendary Lundy Brothers [1901 Emmons Ave., (718) 743-0022] in Sheepshead Bay, served an elegant bisque that tasted like the pure essence of lobster distilled into a shot glass.
Cobble Hill restaurateurs Michael Brack and Mark Gregorski of Smith Street Kitchen [174 Smith St., (718) 858-5359] offered simple seafood chowder, stocked with clams and scallops, that possessed the kind of heady broth that’s hard to find south of New England.
Beside a barbecued sirloin of lamb perfumed with coriander, cloves and five different kinds of peppercorns, Mark Lahm, of Brooklyn Heights’ Henry’s End [44 Henry St., (718) 834-1776], presented a deeply satisfying turtle soup with a similar herbal perfume.
I watched a man gobble one, then three, of Lundy’s chef Guarneri’s seared tuna wedge over potato "gaufrette" (a paper-thin, waffle-cut potato chip) - the buttery texture of the tuna against the saltiness of the chip with a squirt of sesame-flavored mayonnaise proving difficult to resist. Anthony Ruggiri of the Brooklyn Heights newcomer Isobel [60 Henry St., (718) 243-2010], served his signature dish: sea bass with morel mushrooms in a light creme fraiche that left the diners, swarmed around his table, sighing.
Those in search of Italian specialties were in luck. Charles, Sally & Charles Catering [1000 Washington Ave., (718) 398-2400], caterers for The Palm House in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, served a square of three-cheese risotto napped with a veal reduction that came as close to a perfect risotto - cheesy, creamy and toothsome - as any I’ve had recently.
Another high-calorie pleasure was the fettuccine from chef Francesco Insingo of the Marco Polo Ristorante [345 Court St., (718) 852-5015] in Carroll Gardens. Insingo tossed house-made spinach fettuccini with an earthy, truffle flavored virgin olive oil in an actual wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, scraping a healthy helping of the cheese into each serving.
Chef Hugo Amador of Tavern on Dean [755 Dean St., (718) 638-3326] served a four-cheese sauce over perfectly al dente rigatoni. It would have been overly rich if he had not lightened the dish with a topping of ripe, chopped, balsamic vinegar-marinated tomatoes.
Enjoying something of a home-field advantage, chef Carlos Gomez of the Archives Restaurant at the New York Marriott Brooklyn [333 Adams St., (718) 222-6543] also came up with a winner. Carnivores would return home happy after sampling his perfectly cooked lamb chops - rare, and with an edge of crusty fat. Ditto for Cocotte chef Manuel Ruedal’s ideal autumn dish of smoky Mouland duck, sweetened with a puree of yams and candied ginger.
Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Akwaaba Cafe [393 Lewis Ave., (718) 455-5958] featured chef Mohammedou Fisiru’s moist rosemary-roasted chicken, fragrant with the piney scent of the herb. The chicken made a delicious duet with African stewed okra in a tomato-based sauce; both sat atop nutty brown rice with pigeon peas.
I was breathing fire after downing one of the smoking hot jerk shrimp, a specialty of chef Errol Beckford of the Footprints Cafe [5814 Clarendon Road, (718) 451-3181] in East Flatbush. A glass of sorrel punch from Denise Daily of Dee Dee Dailey Catering [2315 E. 14th St., (718) 615-1654] in Gravesend came to the rescue. The Caribbean drink, served iced, is brewed with hibiscus flowers flavored with cinnamon and ginger.
The Waldorf roll, a creation of chef Claude Solliard of DUMBO’s Kino restaurant [1 Main St., (718) 243-9815], proved to be a refreshing antidote to some of the heavier dishes served at the event. Tart green apple slices cut the richness of lobster, while wasabi (a hot, grated Asian root) gave the entire mouthful a feisty kick.
Congratulations to Donna Cryne, Sarah Fagan and Fermin Martinez, of the New York City College of Technology in Downtown Brooklyn, who were awarded the first-ever Brooklyn Eats scholarships for outstanding academic and community service. The three developed the City Tech Chocolate Tart named in honor of their alma mater. Served in bite sizes, each taste of these sophisticated tarts - with their crumbly almond crust, light almond-flavored filling and bittersweet chocolate mousse topping - was evidence of the talent of the young chefs.
Pastry chef Christine McDonald of the Cranberry Cafe [9506 Fourth Ave., (718) 833-7979] in Bay Ridge served an old-fashioned, black-bottomed chocolate mousse pie that was surprising light and not overly sweet; perfect with a cup of Puerto Rico Clou du Mont Vintage 2002 coffee from Dallis Coffee.
Ice cream maker Mark Thompson of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory at Fulton Landing excels at making custardy ice cream. His choice of three flavors - chocolate and coffee in the mocha java ice cream and cinnamon in the waffle cone - made for an unbeatable combination. Cake Man Raven’s [708 Fulton St., (718) 694-2253] red velvet cake, in a true bordello red, was sweet with a capital S, yet enjoyable, as was his lemony apple cake with its crumbly, brown sugar crust.
My favorite dessert of the evening hailed from the kitchen of India Ennis of Cobble Hill’s Panino’teca 275 [275 Smith St., (718) 237-2728] . Her deceptively simple vanilla-flavored panna cotta (a molded Italian cream dessert) served with a puree of boysenberries was ethereal yet creamy, and the boysenberries added just a touch of fruity sweetness.
And there was so much more: fabulous wines, barbecued ribs, seafood salads, crab cakes, cookies and cheesecakes. Too many choices, even for a serial-eater used to saying, "yes, yes and yes."