Start Spreading the News….

Every year I get itchy feet, wanderlust syndrome. So when I got an invite to go to the Food Network New York City Food and Wine Festival, I couldn’t refuse. After picking up my press credentials at the Conrad Hotel, I walked down to Park Ave to dine at Anthony Bourdain’s old joint Brasserie Les Halles, which is now called La Brasserie. Had read on Eater that they were offering a 3 course meal for $45, which is a bargain and a half in NY’s sky-high priced restaurants.

It was dead as a doornail, so I got very friendly, attentive service from the staff. But there was nary a pic or mention of Bourdain, whaddya mean New Yorkers are a bunch of unsentimental bastards? Kicking off the meal was an excellent appy of Frogs Legs, not overcooked and tangy with a sauce that wasn’t too sweet. Next up was the main of Beef Bourguignon. I had been hoping to have the steak frites but was told they had switched it two days ago, so in for a penny. Normally I try to avoid Beef Bourguignon as usually it’s way overcooked and tastes like a tough shoe with the laces thrown in. But surprisingly this cube of beef was soft and tender, still tasted like beef and didn’t have that awful stringiness that most do.

Dessert was a tasty Crème Brûlée that hit all the right notes, nice, crispy crust with good fruit underneath, without being too sweet for this non-dessert guy. When GQ had a roast for their restaurant critic, Alan Richman, Alan said to Bourdain, I didn’t go there to rip it, I was hoping the food was going to be better since you cooked there. But man, did Alan rip it. I told a chef in Seattle about Richman’s barbs that had the chef laughing his head off. So, in conclusion, Tony, the food and service have improved since you’ve been gone.

Took a packed, crosstown bus down to Pier 86 where Rachel Ray was hosting the NYCWFF ’s burger fest. While on the bus rain began to come down in buckets which turned the bus into a sauna. Needless to say, it put a bit of a damper on the night. They couldn’t help the rain, but you think at a showcase tasting like that, the burger places would have tried cooking something different. So many tasted the same. But the burger that stood out for me was One Dine restaurant’s. Perfectly grilled medium rare and its taste had a real zing to it. One Dine is located on the 101 floor of the new World Trade Center.

Next day it was gloriously sunny, just perfect weather for the next 3 days of the festival. On the Friday of the trade tasting, I was a bit surprised to see way more spirit booths than wine booths. Would have suited me fine 20 years ago, but I can’t knock back the hard stuff like I used to, so I stuck mostly to the wine and beer. Although, I did like this tequila booth where I had my first taste of mezcal and found its smoky after taste really enjoyable.

After the grand tasting on Saturday afternoon, dropped by the Richard Rodgers Theatre where Hamilton has been playing for the last 5 years. I was lucky to snag a standing room ticket and had a fabulous time. I’m not big on musicals but Hamilton had terrific energy, songs and costumes. Before the show stuck my head into Sardi’s restaurant just to check out all the fab sketches of famous actors that Al Hirschfeld penned for over 30 years. Didn’t have time for dinner but observed a perfectly grilled salmon filet delivered to someone’s table, so definitely next time.

Last day of the fest was capped off by a BBQ fest hosted by TV personality Andrew Zimmern. It was a vegetarian nightmare, but I loved it. Kicked off with an awesome grilled chicken wing from the aforementioned One Dine restaurant. I normally try to avoid tourist trap restaurants, but, their burger and wings were so darn good, I think it’d be fun to dine at the 101 floor.

After the wings it was on to fantastically grilled pastrami, ribs, steak, prawns, etc. Plus, toss in some tasty desserts, with a boat load of cocktails and beer, and hey I was sorry when the closing time of 7 pm rolled around. A bartender told me, strict union rules, no serving after 7. Oh well, come back next year.

After the fest wound up, took a train down to Philadelphia because I always wanted to see the Barnes Museum after seeing a short doc on it (Google it and you’ll see why.) But of course, with my luck it was closed the two days that I had scheduled to be there. So had to content myself with running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and checking out their Matisse in the 1930s exhibit.

And then it was on to Pittsburgh to check out the Andy Warhol Museum which was very interesting and also kind of perplexing. Like what is everyone so enamoured with? Just my two cents but he did live an amazing life which the museum did an excellent job of showcasing. Cheers.