Sunday, August 26, 2012

Taste of Tennis Aces it Again

With the official start of the U.S. Open tomorrow, everyone's excited and all the top tennis talent is in town.  I'm of course all about it, and have started to observe the season early, with Thursday's awesome Taste of Tennis event at the W Hotel that I cover each year.  I'm happy to report both an elevation in talent (Serena!) and the food really aced it. Let the games begin!

Before we get to all the tennis talent, let's talk about the food and the awesome star-studded chefs.  Some of the names have been on the Taste of Tennis docket for a few years now, and they keep folks coming back, while some chefs like Barbuto's (and Top Chef MatersJonathan Waxman and culinary TV personality, Gail Simmons made their debuts this year.  I hope they'll be back next year, along with some of these awesome veterans:

Marc Murphy of Landmarc
John Mooney of Bell, Book & Candle
Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto
Craig Wallen of Spasso
Kerry Heffernan (Top Chef Masters Season 4)
Roberto Deiaco of Armani Ristorante
Daniel Holzman of The Meatball Shop
Brian Ray of Buddakan
Frank Maldonado of Sazon & Sofrito
David Craine of BLT Bar & Grill
Emma Hearst of Sorella
Julian Medina of Yearba Buena
Marco Porceddu of Asselina
Fernando Navas of Sushi Samba
Adriano Ricco of STK Out
Marc Anthony Bynum of M Bynum Anthony
Chris Leahy of Lexington Brass
Angel Elon of Baking by Design
Peter Andino of Heartbeat
Jehangir Mehta of Graffiti
Romuald Jung of Bagatelle NYC

My Favorite Eats:
While everything at the event was delectable, there were a couple of stand-out dishes that kept event goers lined up and swooning over each bite.  Here are my personal faves that have inspired me to try some of these restaurants in the future.

Sea Scallops with Potato Foam from Armani Ristorante - Surprised that this place actually exists, it was even more astounding to see a huge line of people waiting to try it.  Once I got a look (and a whiff), I understood why.  The giant sea scallops were impressive, and cooked to perfection, sporting a beautifully caramelized crust.  But the most interesting part was the light-as-air potato foam that was served along the side, as well as the fragrant baby artichokes, kissed with a bit of truffle flavoring.  It was wealth on a plate so to speak...very Armani.

Gnocchi a la Parisienne from Bagatelle - Being a total sucker for gnocchi, I really enjoyed this bite sized portion, placed in a wide serving spoon.  Even though it was a small bite, a lot of thought went into it--the tiny gnocchi dressed with truffle pesto and additional truffle sauce. Since the flavors were pretty strong, I immediately comprehended the small portion - it was another luxurious dish worth trying at the actual restaurant.

Arroz Negro Paella from Yerba Buena - Originally I wasn't even going to go for this, but then the friendly Yerba representatives including Chef Medina talked me into it.  Deliciously out of this world, the squid ink rice was perfectly cooked and contained deep seafood flavors from the white fish, calamari and scallops.  I liked that it was pretty light despite a complexity of ingredients, dressed with a green pepper sofrito that gave it an earthy edge.

Roasted Stuffed Fig from Asselina - Another big highlight for me, this was presented beautifully on a rustic wooden board.  Chef Porceddu proudly displayed the perfectly round figs, which were enveloped by a golden prosciutto blanket and stuffed with creamy goat cheese and fresh herbs.  It reminded me a little bit of The Spotted Pig's Devils on a Horseback, which is a fabulous combination of sweet and savory.

Red Velvet "Love" from Baking by Design - Since I'm a huge dessert person, I couldn't wait to dig into these little beauties, which were presented in adorable little parfait cups.  Layered with the red velvet cake, cream cheese mousse, raspberry jam and chocolate rice crispies, it was the most interesting rendition of a deconstructed red velvet.  I loved digging down all the way to the bottom of the cup and mixing in the jam with the decadent cake - heavenly!

Heavy Hitter Tennis Talent:
Besides photographing all the awesome tennis stars on the "green carpet," I got to see them again at the event, a lot of them actually lending a helping hand to the chefs.  It was so neat to see them pitching in, with their aprons on and serving customers, chatting them up and really interacting.  It was a brand new element to this event, and I thought it was a great move.  Here's who was present:

Serena Williams (2012 Wimbledon winner and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist - USA)
Bob and Mike Bryan (2012 Olympics Gold Medalists - USA)
Victoria Azarenka (BEL)
James Blake (USA)
Sam Stosur (AUS)
Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
Janko Tipsarevic (SER)
Mardy Fish (USA)
Mirjana Lucic (CRO)
Tommy Haas (DEU)

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK - my home country!)

I hope you're all excited about the games, which start tomorrow.  And look out for my upcoming U.S. Open guide to good eats!

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