Lunch: Prerequisite Pandemonium at NYC Restaurant Week’s Kick-Off Party

photo(5)I found out about “Great Tastes of Summer,” the kick-off party for NYC’s Restaurant Week (which actually runs for two weeks) offering free tastes from five notable New York restaurants, via Twitter sometime in the 10 o’clock hour. Noon- 2 pm, on the second floor of the Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Center.

At 11:48 am, I decided, what the hell, let’s give it a go. These sorts of dine-around tasting events are uncivilized enough when they’re ticketed events; the fact that this event is free and open to the public, and has had a fair amount of publicity (note the girls in blue wigs spotted passing out invites at heavily-trafficked Columbus Circle earlier in the morning) — guaranteed pandemonium. Which calls for strategy:

photo(3)1. Get in — and get out — early. There’s going to be nothing left to taste by 2 pm, and if you arrive as late as 12:30 pm you’re going to be behind the curve. (Porter House New York, which was offering an American shrimp cocktail and a rice pudding dish, ran out of samples and closed up shop by 12:45 pm.) I walked in about three minutes after noon and the event was in full swing.

2. Ask questions of event personnel, figure out how the event works, don’t just start standing in the first line you see. Case in point: There was a huge line at the top of the escalator with people thinking they needed to wait in line to get “in.” In fact, all you needed to do was grab a pass and a strip of tickets (which were exchanged for samples), and walk in. The line was for the DB Bistro Moderne table.

photo(2)photo3. Start eating. If you can walk up to a table and pick up a sample without waiting in line, do it. That’s how I scored both the American shrimp cocktail from Porter House New York (pictured above) and Spice Market‘s tuna sashimi and tapioca pearls in a coconut milk broth, seasoned with just a touch of curry, within a few minutes of getting onto the event floor.

photo(6)4. Map out a game plan. As I’d already tasted two of five restaurants, my plan was to go for the most highly-coveted food score, which was clearly DB Bistro Moderne’s table. At this point, about 12:15 pm, there was a crowd about five people deep on all fronts of the table — as well as a line that stretched around the corner.

photo(3)That line was not going anywhere, so I joined the chaos pushing up against the front of the table. After about 10 minutes of jostling, etc., that pushed (pun intended) my crowd tolerance to the absolute max, I managed to secure a sample of each.

The crowd was so intense here that I never managed to catch a glimpse of the placard describing the samples, but here’s my interpretation of the plates:

photo(4)(top) Moroccan-style plate with chicken, brisket and sausage samples on top of a bed of cous cous with apple and raisins. What a hearty and generous sample! My favorite bit was the sausage, with its distinctively Moroccan flair. Only heightened my curiosity about the sausage offerings at DBGB.

(bottom) Grilled Mahi Mahi on top of really creamy, smooth, potato puree; capers, zucchini slices, red pepper and potato bits and nicoise olives accompanied the fish. I loved the contrast of the relative lightness of the dish and the richness of flavor: the buttery texture of the fish, creaminess of the puree, salty-savoriness of the capers and olives. Vaguely reminded me of a deconstructed Nicose salad.

photo(2)5. Exit strategy. At this point, I had one ticket left. I had my eye on the petit fours from Tribeca Grill (I loved the dichotomy of the these classy little pastries being transported in pizza boxes.), but by this time the event’s organizers had established proper lines with stanchions and I was running out of patience for the crowds as well as lunch-hour allotment.

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