Hold the passport; bring only an appetite. At this year’s Edible Escape, I “escaped” to the far corners of the globe without the trouble of travel. Tucked in the Lower East Side, the Angel Orensanz was transformed into an ethereal space alive with aromas like sesame noodles with a golden quail egg by chefs from Japan and duck wonton tacos by Noah’s restaurant in Greenport, Long Island.
Neon purple and blue lights, suspended over the dome of New York City’s oldest standing synagogue-turned-venue, created a sensational scene of a rave meets food bonanza.
Entering the 163-year-old Gothic Revival landmark, I was greeted with two initial offerings: a fork and a wine glass. These would become symbols of the evening.
First stop: South Africa. Having celebrated 350 years of winemaking in 2009, South Africa is no stranger to great wine. Kaia Wine Bar offered a tasting of its bright Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc and to go with it boerewors rolls with chakalaka. I am a big fan of South African food (malva pudding is my weakness), so I was excited about tasting these South African–style sausages topped with a spicy relish. They were excellent.
Next detour: Japan. A team of chefs from Saga City in Japan flew into New York City exclusively for Edible Escape. Known for their refined hospitality, the Japanese chefs—some of whom wore beautiful kimonos—didn’t cease to impress. I sampled chilled sake and sheets of delicate nori. Nori is dried, pressed and toasted seaweed. Nori is absolutely delicious. I like to eat nori crisps en lieu of traditional chips. Nori can also be eaten in soups, crumbled atop rice or accompanied alone with sake. High-quality Nori has a beautiful translucent sheen, is silky to the touch and has a dark-forest-green hue that can only be noticed when looked at against direct light; otherwise it looks black to the blind eye. This particular nori met these criteria and was simply the best I have ever tasted. The brininess was subtle but sufficiently traceable. I suspect the nori was harvested from the Ariake Sea in Saga City—known for the finest-quality nori—but I never confirmed this. Some of the chefs did not speak English, and so I tried communicating my admiration for their product with awkward hand gestures. I think they finally understood because they proceeded to push packages of nori into my arms. I happily conceded. Equally exciting were the ahi poke push pops. These were best described as tuna tartar in the form of a popsicle that I shot into my mouth. The presentation was clever and quirky. Although some chefs did not speak English, their food spoke for itself. With polite head nods and big smiles, we exchanged expressions of gratitude and thanks. They left me further intrigued as to what chefs on the other side of the globe are innovating in their kitchens. I love seafood, and so this was my favorite part of the night, but there were more tastings to be had….
Next I traveled to the Caribbean and Thailand by way of ice cream flavors like Alphonso Mango by DF Mavens dairy-free frozen desserts. The Key lime pie with West Indian limes and Thai coconut was delightfully piquant with an even-keeled sweet undertone. Admittedly, any recreated dish without its base ingredient can make me suspect. But DF Mavens is producing exceptional ice cream sans the cream, using coconut “cream” instead.
I continued the party upstairs on the mezzanine with some entertaining people-watching. Eventually, I found myself laying leisurely on textured oversize pillows and enjoying a plate of chickpea ragout with roasted vegetables, cumin and yogurt sauce by Sylvia’s Table; the ingredients came from its farm and center with the same name. The Sylvia Center upstate is recognized by famed chefs for its fresh herbs and vegetables. The center is also leading a movement to teach children, in particular those from underserved communities, how to cook with the seasons. Great food with an even better social cause tied to it means I am instantly loyal to Sylvia’s Table.
Edible Escape reminded me that cooking is, above all else, an emotional act of sharing; the result of which is a feeling of discovery. I playfully discovered new, unusual tastes as well as new friends from near and far. As the evening came to an end, I was struck with a serious case of wanderlust. Now excuse me while I book a flight to Japan.
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