New York City Wine and Food Festival – Recap of a Weekend of Excess

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the New York City Wine and Food Festival.  This is an annual event in NYC to help raise money to end hunger.  What could be better than a weekend in NYC that involves an event presented by Food and Wine Magazine and the Food network?  This is a recap that will allow me to brag share my experience at the multiple events I attended.

Thursday, October 11th

My wife and I arrived earlier in the day and settled in to our hotel.  That night we had tickets to S. Pellegrino’s Meatball Madness hosted by Giada De Laurentiis.  This was one of the “smaller” events that had about 500 guests.  The space was divided into a downstairs lounge and 3 areas upstairs with 50+ different exhibits and tasting tables.

It was a great way to start our experience at the NYCWFF.  Who doesn’t like an event that allows them to make PG-13 references to balls all night? 😛  My only regret for this event was not being able to sample them all.  There was just more food than one stomach can take.  I would soon learn most of the events were like this.   There were traditional meatballs, veal meatballs, lamb meatballs, etc; the list went on and on.  The best part of the night was getting to meet the host of the event.  She took time to talk to several people individually and was just all around a great person to be around.  Go ahead and be jealous guys 🙂

Giada and Sam

Friday, October 12th

Our Friday stared by recovering from Thursday’s Meatball Madness and the after party craziness by taking in some non-NYCWFF food.  Some highlights from those places can already been seen on this blog (Doughnut Plant and Katz Deli).  Friday night we had tickets to two events: Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray and Rock & Roll with Morimoto and Friends.

The Burger Bash – This was the event of the weekend for us.  We just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it made for an unforgettable experience.  First off, there was 30+ burgers to sample.  As I have stated before, burgers are my thing.  Secondly, the event was sponsored by Blue Moon.  They had buckets of beer on every table and kegs flowing.  Thirdly, the Food Network and Travel Channel celebrities were at the event in full force.

This event also featured a panel of judges selecting their favorite burger as well as a people’s choice vote.  Once again my stomach was not large enough to sample all 30+ burgers.  They were mainly giving out 1/4 to 1/2 sized burgers so it was too easy to fill up.  A few of my favorites:

  • Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace – I finally was able to try the crunchified burger.  A solid burger with potato chips on it.  I now get what the hype is about.
  • Le Rivage – The French onion soup burger was great and the dark chocolate dipped potato chip was a great decadent side.
  • Neely’s BBQ parlor – Their WTF burger was served with bacon and pulled pork.  The pork lover in me was in heaven.  This was my vote for people’s choice.  It was a great burger.  The part that put it over the top was interacting with them a few times that night.  They were just awesome to be around.  Also remember their cousin does do some great BBQ here in the St. Louis area.
Thanks to sharing a table with a very nice couple from Chicago, we were able to make it into the judging area (thanks again John and Eileen!). This made the experience even more special.  Check out some candid pics:

Top: Anne Burrell, Andrew Zimmern, and Sam
Bottom Left: Sam and Adam Richman
Bottom Right: Sam and Alex Guarnaschelli

Rock N’ Roll Karaoke with Morimoto and Friends – After getting our fill of burgers and beer, we then headed off to the Harvard Club for the next event.  This event featured sushi, drinks, and karaoke.  The sushi is some of the best I have ever tried.  It was as if you were sitting at the sushi bar interacting with some of the best sushi chef’s around.

After about an hour of eating and drinking, the Karaoke kicked into gear.  Morimoto himself started the event off.  Before you knew it, Andrew Zimmern and Chris Consentino were on stage belting out Don’t Stop Believin’ .  Robert Irvine was singing Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  So many comments….but he’s a big man so I will stay quiet!  Morimoto came back and sang Dancin’ Queen.  It was like watching all your favorite Food Network and Travel channel personalities just having a good time.

A few other non-food highlights.  Guy Fieri showed up to hang out with his buddy Morimoto.

Chris Consentino, who recently won season 4 of Top Chef Masters, was also on hand.  He was one of the funnier people I met that weekend.  It was a great way to close out Friday into early Saturday morning.

Saturday, October 13th – Day 3 and our last day of our trip of excess.  This time we were squeezing three events into one day.  They were the Oyster Bash, the High Tech Happy Hour, and Brooklyn’s Backyard.

Oyster Bash – This was my 2nd favorite event of the trip.  It took place in a beer garden under a highway.  Pearl vodka and Captain Lawrence brewing company were providing some “hair of the dog” drinks.  

There were oyster farmers as well as many restaurants showcasing dishes using fresh oysters.  Many were on the half shell with little or nothing done so you can enjoy their briny flavor.  Finally I was at an event where I could sample every item provided.  The most interesting of them all was the oyster pot pie.

Enjoying a fresh raw oyster

High Tech Happy Hour – This was the surprise event of the weekend.  I expected an exhibition of making drinks using new techniques and sampling the different creations.  It was, but I got way more than I bargained for.  Dave Arnold & Wylie Dufresne were the two hosts of the event.  However, Dave did most of the talking.  I was entranced listening to someone discuss their craft who was so excited about it.   He was like a cross of Rainman and a mad scientist.  I mean that with all the respect and awe in the world.  Having this as only a one hour event was too short, I could have listened to him talk all day long.  Maybe having a degree in engineering and a love of science made this the perfect event for yours truly.  I would love to see him teach a bar tending class for chemists.  I would go ANYWHERE to attend it.

Some of the topics from this event included:  clarifying using a centrifuge, rapid liquor infusion using a whipped cream maker, use of liquid nitrogen to chill glass as well as just looking cool, and how to properly saber a champagne bottle.  Probably the most unique drink….bullslhot.  You can read more about the technique as well as some of the recipes here.

On your mark, get set…

Let’s not forget about Wylie’s creations he made for pairing.  The crab patty was off the charts.  It was interesting to hear them both discuss wine / drink pairings with foods.  Although they both have opinions of what you should and should not pair, it’s great to hear someone flat-out tell you to experiment.  Every person’s tastes are different, go with what you like.

Perfectly chilled glass

Brooklyn’s Backyard – Whew, 3rd event on our last day.  By this time I am feeling the effects of over indulgence.  Of course that didn’t stop me from continuing on.

This event took place in the bottom of an old bank.  It was transformed into trendy and extremely upbeat space.  Adam Richman got the crowd excited during his quick talk on why Brooklyn is so special.

Great job picking the location and getting it ready

Once again there was more food available than any one person could sample.  It covered the spectrum from duck confit to pizza.  I think my favorite that I sampled was the rice pudding with caramel and apples.  I even found a place that was serving samples of St. Louis style ribs.  They were good, but c’mon…..

This was an awe-inspiring weekend.  Every detail was planned out and executed to make it something I will never forget.  Hats off to Food and Wine as well as the Food Network for the money they have raised as well as putting together these special events.  Is it too early to book for 2013?

Not every event had one, but I had quite a collection


Gioia’s Deli – A Candidate for Best Sandwich in St. Louis

Am I alone in spending the last several Wednesday’s watching Adam Richman’s show about his search to find the Best Sandwich In America?  Now that his search is over, a suggestion from one of my blog readers challenged me to a similar quest.  That’s how I found myself at Gioia’s Deli this weekend.

As always, I did my homework before my visit.  95% like Gioia’s on Urbanspoon and most suggest to try the hot salami.  Once I arrived, I grabbed a number and waited my turn.  The place was busy at 1pm on a Saturday.   I ordered the hot salami with the garlic cheese bread, pepper cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mustard.  While I was waiting for it to be toasted, 8 out 10 people ordered the same sandwich.  That was a good sign.

Look at the melted cheese!

The sandwich wasn’t particularly photogenic, and I wasn’t patient enough to try for perfection.  I couldn’t wait to dive right in while it was still hot.

Slightly different angle to see the salami

There was a generous amount of the thick slices of the salami.  It was soft, earthy, and slightly salty.  The rest of the toppings were fresh but respected the star of the show.   I had a late breakfast so I struggled to finish the thing.  However, I wasn’t going to waste a bite so I pulled through.

The verdict.   With places like this, why waste your time going to some chain to get a $5 anything.  Yes this will cost a little more and will take a little more time, but it’s worth it for the quality.  Jared wouldn’t have lost any weight eating these tasty sandwiches!  Is it the best sandwich in St. Louis?  That’s a tough call, but I’m sure it will be top 5.

Dive 2 Five Scale – 3.  Family oriented local business.  There was a line the entire time I was there so it will continue to do a good business well into the future.  There is limited seating inside but there is some great street-side seating.  Nothing overly fancy about this place.  The focus is all about giving you a great sandwich that will make sure you will be back.

Gioia's Deli on Urbanspoon