Tuesday, March 19th was a day of consumption. Choice Eats was upon us once again and I was prepared, or so I thought. I didn't eat carbs all day in preparation for the amount of goods that'd be available. Last year was a flavor explosion in every sense from savory to sweet to alcoholic and this year was no different. A portion of the proceeds earned from Choice Eats goes to the non-profit company Slow Food NYC which aims to "counteract the culture of fast food" by promoting local traditions in terms of food prep and eating.
Choice Eats is the opportunity for vendors in NYC to showcase some of their signature dishes to hundreds of people. Held at the 69th Regiment Armory it doesn't quite seem large enough to contain all the food lovers ready to mangia, but it does.
Last year at Choice Eats I didn't know where to start and felt I needed to eat everything on site. This wasn't too different, but my friends and I (the same gals who I attended it with last year) just sauntered and stopped where the lines were pretty short and the dishes displayed on the banners behind an establishment's stands intrigued us. (This year we had foldable trays which were increasingly handy to balance a few items rather than doing one at a time.) The gals and I were only through the first of three rows when our stomachs started to protrude and push against our belts. But we pushed on.
General admission for Choice Eats is $50 and you can get VIP status for about $30 more. VIP status grants you early access, some nice goodies and a cool totes, and a lounge. It may be worth the costs for some but you'll definitely eat your fill at the general admission price and then some.
What I love about Choice Eats is the variety and finding new cool finds I didn't know about in NYC. There's Asian, Asian fusion, Yemeni dishes, dim sum, seafood, vegetarian, vegan dishes, desserts, and wine, vodka, and beer. Beer, beer, and more beer. I have to say that there seemed to be more varieties of alcohol available this year than there had been in 2012. I got to sample vodka with cucumber essence (very refreshing) and a nice rose wine from Heritage Link Brands, a wine importer from Africa.
Some of my fave dishes that I sampled were the portobello mushroom ravioli with parmesan from Max Tribeca. It was creamy and light and had a hint of truffle oil. The double broccoli/cheese taco from No. 7 included feta and a nice mash of broccoli and cheese in a hard and soft tortilla, definitely hit the umami spot. There was also the perfectly tender brisket with a side of collard greens from Mable's Smokehouse that was a great treat getting towards the end of the first row. We passed ceviche and bouef borginon and a whole roasted pig from Kuma Inn and Jimmy's No. 43 had a smokey pork dish also. Spicy Bampa had not too spicy cold sesame noodles. There was a lamb and goat cheese puff pastry that mixed the sweet and savory in decadent form from Kaia Wine Bar. After savoring as much as we thought we could take we passed by the dessert aisle to find Yemen Café! I had visited their storefront with Ramen & Friends a few years ago and have been hooked by Yemeni food (and especially Yemeni tea) ever since. Their basmati rice and lamb were flavorful and the lamb fell of the bone!
Highlighted desserts were from one of my favorite Asian bakeries Fay Da Bakery that had egg custard and strawberry shortcake as well as bubble tea. If you've had cake from a Chinese bakery you know how light the sponge cake is that you feel you can eat pounds of it rather than slices. This was the perfect strawberry shortcake for me, not dense, just fluffy. Also available were Carlo's Bakery that had a great red velvet cake with super creamy cream cheese icing. I adored Butter & Scotch's (aka the Drunk Bakers) drunken caramel cupcake and wish I'd gotten multiples instead of just one. Also there representing the sweet were Robicelli's with a super rich brownie and The Good Batch's s'mores cookie that people were waiting in line for towards the end of the event. And SCRATCHBread had mainly different breads and sauces but also had some rich, thick, buttery shortbread cookies.
There were so many more vendors to name. Unfortunately many started to pack up close to 8:30 (even though the event goes to 9:30) due to being sold out. Sad. Whole Foods was around as a sponsor providing bags of snacks and the opportunity to win a giftcard if you followed them on Twitter on the spot. SmartWater was in abundance as well at various tables throughout the armory in case you needed to stay hydrated. I have to say that they thought of everything, booze, coat check, food and sweets galore. What more could you ask for? Nothing much really.
I'll definitely be going to Choice Eats again next year. It'll become an annual thing for me and perhaps I'll better prepare my stomach to get through more than one row of good eats but notes were taken mentally of who I'll be visiting soon and where I'll be bringing friends.
But let me leave you with a few tips if you go next year (which you should!):
1) Try to get in line at least 30 minutes before if not an hour before. The line extends far down and while everyone will get in at some point being closer to the front gets you in faster and on line for eating sooner.
2) Use the coat check! I don't know if people didn't realize there was a coat check or thought they had to pay. It's in the basement and is free! Many people were sweating and having to wear thick coats/jackets. With all the food and burners going and the increasing amount of bodies roaming around you get hot, fast. Utilize the coat check and do tip those working it.
3) This is not the best event for vegans and vegetarians. Are their items for vegans and vegetarians? Absolutely but not in abundance. There's a lot of meat dishes around and often I had to turn away because many contained pork. If you're a vegetarian there'll be eats but not necessarily a lot. So be forewarned.
4) Get water first to carry around. Yes, the bottle may be big but it'll be worth it because those go fast. There was a lot more this year than last so perhaps the organizers got hip to the fact that water was a huge commodity, but it doesn't hurt to stock up as you're going through the aisles.
5) Take breaks. Go drink something, have water, go hang downstairs by the coat check where it's cooler but don't keep stuffing yourself. Listen to your body, but enjoy the event and if you can pocket a couple desserts for home if they'll carry.