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Astor Center NYC


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The recent opening of the Astor Center, a multifaceted culinary arts center at 399 Lafayette Street (corner of East 4th Street), is perhaps the best thing to happen to the New York culinary scene in recent memory. Restaurants and retailers come and go, but the Astor Center is an institution in the making. With its gorgeous event space, state-of-the-art demonstration classroom and absolutely first-rate kitchen facility it seems inevitable, given the scope of the project and the flair with which it has been executed so far, that the Astor Center will become an integral part of the fabric of New York City and the culinary world beyond. It's something that all of us who love food can be proud of.

Tonight was the first time I'd been to an event at Astor Center (the center is located on the floor above, and is a venture of, the Astor Wines & Spirits shop). The event was titled "Farm to Chef, Field to Table: An Intimate dinner with Chef Michael Anthony and Peter Kaminsky." Mike Anthony, the chef at Gramercy Tavern (for separate discussion of Gramercy Tavern see the Gramercy Tavern 2007 and 2008 topics), invited me as his guest (the retail on the dinner would have been $175 inclusive of everything). The Farm to Chef organization represents a group of small Upstate New York farmers and helps get their products on to the tables of serious restaurants. Most every major ingredient used in the evening's meal was accompanied by its farmer, and between courses we heard from each of them. Author Peter Kaminsky, chef Michael Anthony and a few other folks involved with the event spoke as well.

Everything about the event, to me, inevitably invited comparison to a James Beard House event, and the Beard House did not fare well on any point of comparison. The facilities, the service and the general warmth of the Astor Center stand in stark contrast to the ossified and depressing Beard House. The Beard House has long been the only game in town for events of this type, but that has now changed overnight. Today, were I a chef coming to town to do an event I would only go to the Beard House if I couldn't get a gig at Astor Center.

I won't go on forever about all the audiovisual trimmings and environmental technology at Astor Center. The website is here and has lots of information about all that if you'd like to follow up.

The benediction over the event, by Peter Kaminsky, consisted of a brief reading from his book, Pig Perfect.

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I thought it was a gutsy move to do a regional New York farm dinner in January. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to the dinner and he quipped, "Four courses of potatoes?" It turns out, yes, there were potatoes in all four savory courses, but those potatoes turned out to be some of the highest lights of a meal that had many highlights.

By complete happenstance I sat next to Patricia (Pat) Sheldon of Sheldon farms. She and her husband Albert were the potato farmers. There were no assigned seats. I just grabbed a seat and it happened to be next to her. The Sheldons' farm in Salem, New York, specializes in heirloom and specialty potato varieties. Each of the four savory courses had a variety of potatoes incorporated somehow. There were also potatoes used in two of the hors d'oeuvres (they were prepared by Mary Cleaver of The Green Table in the Chelsea Market).

The dishes in the dinner ranged from haute to rustic. The first dish was at the haute end of the spectrum: celery root and bacon custard with Adirondack red potatoes, almonds and paddlefish roe. (The bacon came from Mountain View Farms.) This was a superb dish, one of the better Michael Anthony dishes I've had. By the way, all the dishes were paired with wines from Channing Daughters. This course came with the 2006 sauvignon (with the hors d'oeuvres we had enjoyed the 2006 Scuttlehole chardonnay).

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This one is "Mosaic of Mountain View Farms chicken and rutabaga, chicken liver stuffed prunes and Sheldon Farms Austrian Crescent potato salad." Although the dish was great, I'd have happily traded everything else on the plate for ten of the chicken-liver-stuffed prunes. Paired with the 2006 vino bianco.

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Going all the way to the rustic end of the spectrum, I think this dish was the highlight of the evening: cotechino (from Mountain View Farms pork) with pistachio, slices of Adirondack Blue potatoes (from Sheldon Farms) and cipollini onions. The dish was served family style, a big platter for each table of six. We only had five people at our table, though, so there was extra for me and the other big guy. This was one of those dishes where you can tell it's what the chef likes to eat. And the potatoes made the dish, providing a nice waxy textural counterpoint to the soft cotechino. This was paired with the 2006 Meditazione, one of the best Channing Daughters wines. However, I think this dish could have used a red.

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The last savory course wasn't competitive with the previous three. It was braised beef shank meat (the beef was from Manx Station) with la ratte potato puree and carrots. This was the second appearance of Manx Station beef -- it also came out with the hors d'oeuvres in the form of a mini burger -- and I was not enamored of the ingredient. The potato puree and carrots were tasty (particularly the potato puree), but ultimately a dish like this can only work if it's anchored by fabulous beef. Grass-fed beef, sorry, I'm still not a convert. With 2005 research cab.

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We had a selection of cheeses from Consider Bardwell Farm, which were very good, however there was some lack of clarity in communication about which was which so I can't give a reliable rundown. With 2005 Sculpture Garden, a wine too good to be served with cheese.

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For dessert, Nancy Olson (pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern) prepared a smoked milk chocolate and bacon tart with creme fraiche. Yes, it worked.

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Some remarks from Mike Anthony and Nancy Olson towards the end of the meal:

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Astor Center still has a few kinks to work out, for example the event would have benefited from having a master of ceremonies to improve the flow of all the presentations from the farmers and chefs. But that will come with time. As it stands, this event was impressive, and Astor Center is a triumph.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I was invited to a pre-opening Dom Perignon tasting at the Astor Center and have to say it was amazing. As Fat Guy says, this is the place to beat. The kitchen is uber-modern, the entire place high-tech, and the people warm, friendly and professional.

My review is here: http://vinotas.blogspot.com/2007/12/dom-pe...iday-night.html

Cheers! :cool:

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How many people attended the event and how many covers do they plan to have for them in the future?

The Center sounds fantastic.

Total guess, there were maybe about 80 people at the event. The "Gallery" (the nomenclature for the three spaces is the Study, the Kitchen and the Gallery) is 1700 square feet, so you could probably do a few more people than that, but I bet they're primarily focusing on 70-80 for the seated dinners. Needless to say, with 1700 square feet of open, loft-like space, you could do a cocktail party for 150 no problem. I can find out the exact numbers at some point.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I should have put 2&2 together. Pat Sheldon had mentioned the event to me previously (BTW, her summer farmstand in Salem, NY has to be amongst the very best around). I was in town for the afternoon and had lunch with friends at Devi. Two of my friends, a chef from Spain and her husband, was going to the event afterwards as a guest of Peter Kaminsky. While I couldn't have stayed for more than a few minutes as I had to drive home, it would have been fun to stop in, say hello and check out the facility.

As an aside, grass-fed beef is an acquired taste. I now prefer it to corn-fed.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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My GF went to an event there a few weeks ago for the unveiling. She said it was an amazing space and a great time. Seamus Mullen was there with Jamon Iberico, Joey Camponera with Little Owl's sliders, Josh Dechilles, Anne Saxleby was there and PDT's boys and Dale Degroff serving cocktails. There were also hiphop violinists playing into the night, apparently. I, unfortunately, was earning the rent and couldn't attend.

BTW, The third cheese from the left looks like Pawlet, a raw cow's milk. I just picked some up for our cheeseplate from Saxelby's, and I'm guessing she has the other three as well. The cheeses I've had from them are amazing.

Edited by ryanj (log)

Ryan Jaronik

Executive Chef

Monkey Town

NYC

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  • 2 weeks later...
The Chris Cosentino/Michael Ruhlmann-hosted Head to Tail Dinner sound fantastic.

I agree, and it seems to me like the most interesting event on the calendar for the near term. I spoke to Lesley Townsend, Astor Center's director, about it and she offered a 15% discount to any eG Forums participant or reader who wants to attend. If you go to the registration page and enter the promotional code EG030408 when you check out, you'll get the discount. On a $250 dinner, I think that comes out to $37.50 off, which is not inconsequential. That offer is of course only available as long as seats are available.

Chris Cosentino has been a favorite chef of our in-the-know California-based members for quite some time, and in 2006 there was an eGullet Society dinner at Incanto that sounded terrific. You can see the reports here.

Needless to say, Michael Ruhlman, who will be hosting the evening, also has a lot of admirers in the eGullet Society community.

I'll almost definitely be attending the dinner and hope to see some of you there. If there are enough of us, maybe we can stake out an eGullet Society table (please contact me by PM, don't post here, if you want to organize something).

(P.S. Those who want to meet Cosentino without shelling out for the big dinner can also opt for the $45 Sunday afternoon discussion session, which was recently added to the schedule.)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Is anyone going to the Chris Cosentino dinner? . It is pricey, but the menu sounded too good to pass up

The Menu:

Passed Hors D'Oeuvres:

- Beef heart tartar puttanesca

- Fritto of honeycomb Tripe with olives and oregano

- Porchetta di testa with radish and pecorino

Paired with Zucchi Pignoletto NV, Emilia-Romagna

Dinner:

- Beef tendon and sweet breads, with chili and mint // Nero d'Avola, Feudo Montoni 2003, Sicily

- Turf and Surf: trotters and lobster with tarragon // Ribolla Gialla, La Castellada 2000, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

- Crudo of venison liver, with juniper, beets and balsamic // Sangue di Giuda, Tenimenti Confalonieri, La Versa 2006, Lombardy

- Whole roasted spring lamb neck with lambs milk polenta and gremolata // Nieddera Rosso, Contini 2003, Sardinia

- Candied cockscombs with riso pudding // Recioto di Soave "Col Foscarin", Gini 2004, Veneto

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Chris Cosentino's head-to-tail dinner tonight at Astor Center was of course delicious and fascinating, but more importantly being there felt like being part of something. There was an energy in the room that made normal restaurant experiences feel mundane by comparison. Everybody was there for and keenly interested in the food, which is something you can barely say about a tenth of the people at most restaurants. In particular, the encounter between the chef and the audience, enabled by Michael Ruhlman's hosting and Astor Center's technology, was a real delight.

Michael Ruhlman, stationed in the dining room (the "Gallery" in Astor Center's vernacular), played the role of master of ceremonies. Chris Cosentino, working in the kitchen, had a video camera aimed at him all night and his image was projected on a large screen. He and Ruhlman had live audio communication. So the effect was that Ruhlman conducted a real-time interview with Cosentino throughout the evening. This is the basic idea:

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I thought it was a great use of technology. Typically, when you go to any sort of special dinner event, you sit through the meal and then the chef is trotted out at the end, there's polite applause, maybe one person asks a dumb question, and it's over. Whereas, at this event, the chef was part of the dynamic throughout. Ruhlman and Cosentino had a good, informal, no-nonsense rapport. So the technology didn't have the effect of making the event Food-Network-ish at all. It was just plain good interaction.

Artichoke printed the menu and wines in the post preceding this one, but here's how the dishes shaped up on the plate. This is the tendon and sweetbreads. The tendon component of the dish, enhanced by hot chilies, reminded me a lot of the cold tendon appetizer you see in some Sichuan restaurants. Except, this was a much subtler version enhanced by mint and, oh yeah, big delicious fried chunks of sweetbreads. The portion seemed a little large for an appetizer, but hey, I wasn't complaining.

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The lobster with trotter cakes was an even larger portion: more than half a lobster, plus two massive and dense croquettes of pig-trotter meat. As far as I know -- and I discussed this with several well-positioned observers -- only one person in the whole room was able to finish the entire portion. Not because it wasn't good -- it was delicious -- but because it was so rich and so much. Rumor was the guy who finished the dish was Canadian.

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It seemed kind of an odd choice to regress to a white with the second course, and the wine didn't support the trotters at all (though it was just right for the lobster component of the dish). I wound up requisitioning some more of the red from the first course, which was much more friendly to the trotters (and vice versa).

The venison liver crudo was the most feared dish of the evening -- several folks expressed reservations in advance -- but turned out to be quite approachable. Cosentino described it as "Like the new-style sashimi at Nobu but with venison liver." For those who've not had the pleasure, the idea is that you put the raw slices on the plate and then drizzle boiling-hot olive oil over them. The oil lightly cooks the flesh.

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I thought the wine choice here was the weakest of the evening. It was reminiscent of a lambrusco: sweet, grapey, a little bit effervescent. I felt it was the wrong wine for the dish. I get that there's some sweetness to the dish but the main flavor was the gamy unctuousness of the liver and that demands a wine with a lot more structure. (I was there on a press comp, however had I paid, and to the extent these things can be meaningfully separated out, I'd have felt it well worthwhile for the cuisine and overall experience but I'd not have been thrilled with the value proposition of the wine component.)

The lamb's neck was so hilariously big nobody quite knew what to do with it. My photographic skills, as it were, don't convey it all that well. There was a heck of a lot of meat on the necks, which had been braised at low temperature for six hours. Cosentino instructed us to eat it with two forks: one to steady the neck and the other to pull meat off it. And you know what? That Canadian guy, he again was the only person to finish it. He deserves some sort of commendation. Good wine choice here as well.

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The candied cockscombs with rice pudding turned out to be quite mild. Texturally they were like -- everybody noted this -- Swedish fish. Flavor-wise they tasted like whatever was around them, in this case a delicious rice pudding.

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There were some other nice touches, food-wise. For example the butter (or so it seemed) on the table was actually a mixture of lardo, olive oil and butter. It was good (so was the bread). They even found little pig-imprinted wax-paper covers for the butter dishes. For the hors d'oeuvres, there were two dishes with heart (literally): the beef heart tartare noted by Artichoke above, and a pork heart crostini-type thing where the pork heart had been cured into a bottarga-like topping.

But the real star of the show was Cosentino and his relentless advocacy for offal. It was easy, in advance of the meal, to get misdirected by the novelty aspect. A lot of the food has, on paper, a "dare" aspect to it. But those are just unfortunate cultural biases. There were a lot of media people at the event, including three video crews, and I got the sense that for most of them the story was "Lookey! Here's this guy who serves all these guts and stuff!" But the reality is that Cosentino cares primarily about flavor and secondarily about not wasting half the animal. He gave a compelling account of his offal awakening, which occurred when he was present for the slaughter of a lamb. As he held and comforted the expiring lamb, he realized that if the animal was going to suffer and die to be food then at least we shouldn't throw half of it in the garbage, especially when that half contains so many tasty parts. I certainly buy that argument, especially since the food was so delicious. Cosentino also talked about sustainability, an argument I found less compelling given that, you know, the guy serves bigger portions than any non-Canadian can eat.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My jingoistic side was particularly gratified by Cosentino's comment that he prefers the lamb necks he sourced locally here to the ones he gets from Sonoma.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have some more photos from the night last night of the food as well as some of the action in the kitchen. I will post them tonight or tomorrow.

I purposely had an early, light lunch in case the meal was big -- I didn't expect it to be quite so big though.

The pass starters were great -- the Heart Tartare was tender and meaty, if you didn't know it was heart you would think it was the most tender beef you have ever tasted.

The salted heart crostini was good, but wish there was more of the shaved heart on top. The flavor of the soft cooked egg kind of washed out any meat flavor.

Coronets of deep fried tripe with gremolata -- awesome. Should have stopped at one cone, not had 2.

Testa -- had 3 of the passed forks. So tasty.

One thing FG forgot to mention is those huge hockey pucks were deep fried in duck fat. Awesome.

The lamb neck was big on the level of being Flinstonian big. It was seriously brought out to the dining room and people started cracking up. They were easily 1.5 - 2 pounds, probably the diameter of a huge pomelo and 4-5 inches long. If that wasn't enough it was served on top of cheese polenta. :blink:

After the meal the Chefs and a few others (including FG) headed over to Tailor for some drinks. My mouth was so saturated in fat that I was trying to figure out something that could cut it, a beer didn't work. I didn't want to go the Fernet Branca route so I ended up having a sidecar with 1/2 cointreau and 1/2 campari that did the trick.

John Deragon

foodblog 1 / 2

--

I feel sorry for people that don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day -- Dean Martin

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Here are photos of the passed hors d'oeuvres:

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Beef heart tartar puttanesca

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Fritto of honeycomb Tripe with olives and oregano

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Porchetta di testa with radish and pecorino

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Crostino of salt cured pork heart, eight minute farm egg

Photos from the rest of the dinner here.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The 'canadian-guy' plays some defence...

The only reason I was able to eat that much food is because it was so darn tasty and I had a busy day of chopping wood and playing hockey. Besides, I only had half a stack of pancakes for breakfast before I had to hop in my dog sled.

My toque goes off to the excellent food prepared and the wonderful people gathered for a high-energy evening.

Pierre A. Lamielle

illustrator

Calgary, Alberta

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  • 3 weeks later...

There's a class coming up on Sunday that looks especially interesting. It's a four-hour pizza-making seminar with Mark Bello. It's a hands-on class, limited to 12 students. Mark Bello runs an operation called Pizza a Casa, and has been teaching similar classes for several years at Murray's (the Murray's class for this year is already sold out, but there's still space in the Astor Center class -- and the facilities at Astor are superior). The class is oriented towards teaching how to make good pizza in a home oven.

Details here

I'm planning to go, most likely. If you use the discount code EGPIZZA you'll get 15% off, which brings the cost down a bit.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The 'canadian-guy' plays some defence...

The only reason I was able to eat that much food is because it was so darn tasty and I had a busy day of chopping wood and playing hockey. Besides, I only had half a stack of pancakes for breakfast before I had to hop in my dog sled.

My toque goes off to the excellent food prepared and the wonderful people gathered for a high-energy evening.

This has to be one of the finest and funniest posts I have ever read. :laugh: There must have been a lot of maple syrup in that food. :raz: I wish that I could have been at that dinner. It sounds like it was incredible in every respect (except perhaps the wines).

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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  • 4 months later...

I've been on their mailing list and I have to say I'm really impressed. This martini challenge/gin tasting is only $25, which is remarkable, and if you haven't forced your non-mixologist friends to sign up for the PDT home bar class, well, shame on you.

Has anyone been to anything recently?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've been on their mailing list and I have to say I'm really impressed. This martini challenge/gin tasting is only $25, which is remarkable, and if you haven't forced your non-mixologist friends to sign up for the PDT home bar class, well, shame on you.

Has anyone been to anything recently?

[shameless plug] If anyone is planning to take the Home Bar Basics class please use the POSTPDT code for 10% off. [/shameless plug]

I have taken a few classes and been to a bunch of events and I have to say that there hasn't been a single one I didn't enjoy. Most recently I attended the liquid nitrogen demonstration by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot of Ideas in Food. Their blog is one of my favorites that I refer to and find inspiration in all the time. It was great to see them in action and ask questions as they did their demo. Here are a few things they went over:

Shrimp Powder

Popcorn Gelato

Rum Rasin Ice Cream Balls

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I've been on their mailing list and I have to say I'm really impressed. This martini challenge/gin tasting is only $25, which is remarkable, and if you haven't forced your non-mixologist friends to sign up for the PDT home bar class, well, shame on you.

Has anyone been to anything recently?

I went to the Martini Challenge/Gin Tasting last week -- it was easily the best $25 I've ever spent on drinks, just for the blind tasting of 18 gins in the back room. I was expecting my favorite to be Plymouth, Aviation or Broker's, but no -- my top pick? Whitley Neill, a newcomer with a very complex, spicy profile. Second was Blue Coat, which I'm scoring a bottle of when I go to Philly later this week.

Incidentally, the winners among the media and professional tasting were:

#1 Tanqueray Rangpur

#2 Broker's Gin

#3 Zuidam Gin

the public tasting winners were:

#1 Two-way tie: Martin Miller's and Beefeater Gin

#2 Blue Coat Gin

#3 New Amsterdam Gin

Up front there were some talented folks slinging drinks, almost none of which were evenly remotely related to a classic Martini, but there was too much going on with most of the concoctions, and I don't want to taste anything with Canton Ginger liqueur in it for a while. Sam Kershaw's Pink G & T was a hit, though. The crowd was large, young, and loud, but everyone seemed friendly.

I was impressed enough with Lesley's MC'ing that I sent an email about it to the Center. I'll definitely be back for more events; it was thorough, professional and very informative!

Yojimbo

"The thirst for water is a primitive one. Thirst for wine means culture, and thirst for a cocktail is its highest expression."

Pepe Carvalho, The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban

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