Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Favorite Bites at Choice Eats 2012

Choice Eats 2012 took place three weeks ago (in fact, it was the day I started my new job!) and this year's edition was the biggest to date, with more than 80 restaurants in attendance.

JoeDough's The Strong Island sub

Unfortunately, more restaurants did not equate to more vegetarian options - in fact, there were fewer vegetarian dishes this year as compared to last year. And, unlike last year, I didn't have a VIP pass, so I didn't have access to the subterranean vault full of sugar (which was probably a good thing). We had about 15 dishes, maybe a third of which were sweets. Keep in mind there were more than 80 restaurants there! So there were slim pickings for vegetarians. But among the few dishes we had, there were several standouts.

Tomato-chipotle cotton candy from Dirt Candy

I kicked off the evening with a visit to Dirt Candy's booth, where Amanda and Danielle were spinning tomato chipotle cotton candy. Yes, cotton candy. Cotton candy! Savory cotton candy sounds strange, but it was really good - tomatoes are naturally a bit sweet, but their savory flavor and the heat of the chipotle definitely came through. It was totally different from everything else being served, and it made me feel like I was five, which is always fun (I think). I ate about three of these before realizing that consuming so much sugar so rapidly would lead to an inevitable crash, so I quit before I started to irritate my faithful dining companion Matt.

JoeDough's The Strong Island sub

JoeDough - the sandwich shop spinoff of JoeDoe restaurant - was serving several 6' subs, and I was surprised that two of them were vegetarian. One was a spin on eggplant parm and was dubbed "The Strong Island" (which meant I had to like it), and the other was a blue cheese wedge salad stuffed into a sub. Of the two, the former was our favorite. Both were good, but the salad sandwich was a nightmare to eat, and what little of it made it into my mouth (half of it ended up on my hands, face, and plate), while good, wasn't quite as good as the fried zucchini, tomato sauce, ricotta, and pecorino on The Strong Island. It was sort of like eggplant parm, but with zucchini, and it worked. Thumbs up.

Szechuan bhel from Chinese Mirch

Chinese Mirch, which bills itself as an Indo-Chinese restaurant and is one that I've visited several times and have always enjoyed, was one of the restaurants whose food I was looking forward to, and they didn't disappoint. They were serving Szechuan Bhel, their take on bhel puri, a traditional Indian street food made of puffed rice, strands of fried chickpea batter, potatoes, onions, cilantro, and a variety of chutneys (usually a sweet/tart date and tamarind chutney and a spicy mint, cilantro, and chile chutney). They used a spicy Szechuan sauce in place of the chutneys, but it just tasted like a mix of the two aforementioned chutneys. Regardless, it was a solid version of bhel puri and a welcome sight in the sea of pork dishes.

Tofu banh mi from Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches

I've been to Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches many, many times - I live a few blocks from their Atlantic Avenue location and I used to live around the corner from their East Village location and will admit to having ordered in a mushroom banh mi and two of their killer lemonades on several Saturday mornings - so I was hoping they'd bring either their tofu or mushroom sandwich. The former was being served, and, luckily for me, there was no line for those sandwiches despite the long, snaking line for their classic pork banh mi. No surprises here, just a very tasty, solid banh mi. I prefer their sandwiches to Hanco's and I highly recommend them.

Xi'an Famous Foods' Liang Pi cold noodles

I used to work near Chinatown, and it was there that I discovered and fell for Xi'an Famous Foods' Liang Pi noodles. I was excited to see it being served at Choice Eats and surprised that it was the only dish they were serving. The dish could've used a little more salt, but, despite that minor lack of seasoning, it was still delicious. I may or may not have eaten two of these.

Butterscotch semifreddo "Tony Style" from Del Posto's Brooks Headley

The best dessert there was one that I've had before - butterscotch semifreddo served "Tony style" from Del Posto's Brooks Headley. [Warning: Del Posto's site plays music. Not cool, but you have been warned.] It was just as good as I had remembered it, the lightly tart apricot sorbet perfectly complementing the rich but not-too-sweet butterscotch semifreddo. I could've eaten two of these but the line was too long for me to endure it a second time.

Ample Hills Creamery's PB&J ice cream

Coming in close second for dessert was Ample Hills Creamery's peanut butter and jelly ice cream. I've had peanut butter and jelly ice cream before, but this was undoubtedly the best. The ice cream was insanely smooth and creamy and the ribbon of concord grape jam running through it was not too sweet and just the right level of tart to balance out the rich ice cream. I was loathe to share this one with Matt (but don't tell him I said that...although I think I actually told him that).

So there you have it: my favorite bites from Choice Eats 2012. Despite the limited vegetarian selections, we left pleasantly sated courtesy of these standouts. Hopefully next year's edition will have more in store for vegetarians, but I'll take quality over quantity, especially if there are delicious dishes like these.

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