If you consider yourself a foodie, you’ve most likely encountered an event like the Good Spirits tasting event that I attended last week. Here’s the drill: the perimeters of an event space are lined with vendors (restaurants, cafes, bars, manufacturers) offering samples of a single bite (or gulp), presumably designed to impress and lure you to their restaurant. There are (or should be) enough vendors that after a few dozen bites and gulps, you have had yourself a lovely little dinner. You’ve probably also had some combination of pickles, oysters, ice cream, tequila, gin, and vodka, and your stomach may begrudge your decision to partake in this bohemian rhapsody of food. You may have had to wait in a short line or fight for the last crostini, but a little competition can’t hurt. The overall experience of a tasting event is one that introduces you to new trends, new ingredients (BBQ rabbit!), and maybe an intro to your new favorite restaurant. It’s a chance to meet chefs and owners and learn something new: like the farmers’ market for restaurants. I live for things like this, but you have to know how to manage your time, appetite, and sobriety to take full advantage.
At Good Spirits, hosted by Edible Manhattan, I was greeted with a neon green bracelet and a fork. I was instructed not to lose the fork: it would be mine for the evening. Tables were peppered with small plastic cups or bamboo bowls that fit in the palm of the hand. People milled about. There was a competitive edge in the air. Let’s do this.
Step 1: Arrive on time. Note: I am never on time. But being fashionably late to an event like this could mean leaving hungry. Fair warning.
Step 2: Grab a drink and get the lay of the land. No need to strategize on the liquor front: get yourself boozed up right away. The drinks are small enough that you needn’t be overly cautious about the order in which you drink. However, you will most likely regret it if you just dig in to the food. As you sip, walk around and look for the tables with long lines. They’re doing something right. Keep them in mind for a first stop, but make sure you do a lap first. You gotta hope that places have brought out the crème de la crème, but not everyone will succeed. Do your research into what looks best to help spend your calories wisely.
Step 3: Go for anything raw. I permit you to do this before you finish your initial lap. If there are oysters, you damn right better get yours hands on them ASAP. The same goes for anything crudo, tartare, etc. They’re gonna go fast, and they’re probably gonna be good.
Step 4: Begin your rounds. Now that you know what you’re excited about, make the rounds and begin sampling.
Step 5: Ditch the lame stuff and get seconds of anything amazing. Most servings are only going to be a couple of bites. If those first two bites blew you away, grab another. It might be gone by the time you come back. By the same token, if something is just “meh” after the first bite, don’t feel obligated to finish it. Save room for the good stuff.
Step 6: Try everything else, including dessert. Come to terms with having dessert first. You could try to save it for last, but then you might miss out on Coolhaus’s whiskey lucky charms ice cream. Yep, that happened.
Step 7: Try for thirds of the great stuff. No one’s counting. Probably. I had three amazing chicken meatballs (chicken!) from Dinner on Ludlow, and, frankly, I did not care who was counting.
Step 8: Make sure you’ve got business cards or details about the places you want check out.
So, what did I learn?
1. Pork’s still got it. I had two pork belly dishes (Veselka’s was amazing) and a mashed pulled pork salad kind of thing from The Wallace. I really thought pork belly was past its heyday, but apparently I was wrong. I’m not complaining.
2. Honey gin is all the rage. That is, gin made from fermented honey. For something I had never heard of, this stuff had quite a presence at Good Spirits with two separate vendors serving it (Caledonia Barr Hill and Comb 9). The Barr Hill cocktail (mixed by Whitehall Bar + Kitchen) with honey syrup, fresh lemon juice, and a sprig of thyme was unreal. The gin itself doesn’t taste exactly sweet, per se, but it goes down pretty smooth. Keep an eye out for it. I think this stuff is going places.
3. BBQ rabbit kicks ass. Never would have imagined it or ordered it, but handed to me on a cornmeal flatbread, I did not turn it down. Three times. Point is: always worth trying something new. I am totally excited to check out this chef’s restaurants, Fort Reno and Palo Santo in Brooklyn.
4. If you’re pleasantly tipsy, you did it right. I was bid adieu with a Blowfish pack: essentially caffeine and aspirin, intended to cure my impending hangover. It was a nice touch—and, yes, they were right about the hangover.