Tip 1: Find What Stands Out
Most restaurants cook up one big dish and serve bites. However, Jesus Nunez of Graffit made a codfish pintxo with "flavors of land & sea," which I was instructed to eat in four separate bites. The honey & almond segment was my favorite part of this hybrid sushi-bruschetta.
Tip 2: Look For The Seasonal Goods
Marcus Jernmark of Aquavit had a spectacular table of cold smoked Nantucket Bay scallops, just now in season, served atop red cabbage sauerkraut and horseradish emulsion.
Tip 3: Simple American Classics Can Be Awesome
Colicchio & Sons served two apple cider donuts with a butterscotch sauce that exceeded my expectations. The warm donuts were decidedly autumnal, and the sauce brought just the right amount of sweet.
Tip 4: Mimic an Actual Dinner
Try and save the dessert tables for last, for your palate’s sake (I admit, this is hard to do). Amy Eubanks of BLT Fish brought a caramelized banana & rum parfait that was impressively not too heavy on banana or rum. Crunchy crystals scattered throughout were especially memorable.
Tip 5: Challenge Your Tastebuds
Try everything you can muster, especially if it sounds scary. David Burke of David Burke Townhouse taught me how delicious liver can be. This dumpling of pheasant and duck liver with sage-cranberry barbeque sauce was a true highlight.
Tip 6: Watch Your Portions
Everything in moderation, Ed-Levine-Serious-Diet-style. This proves challenging when restaurants serve bite-sized dishes, such as Andrew Carmellini’s lamb meatball sliders with caprino and pickled cucumbers from Locanda Verde. (It's hard not to finish such a perfect little bite.) Lamb makes a great meatball.
Tip 7: Keep Hydrated and Palate-Cleansed
Tastings are like marathons, requiring liquids for ultimate palate-cleansing success. In extreme circumstances, you can use dessert as a cleanser... but remember, there’s no turning back afterwards. The "Best Chocolate Cake in the World," by Adriano Lucas, had a delightfully snappy meringue center.
Tip 8: Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Just because something is pink does not mean it is dessert. I passed this savory bite on my first lap because my eye skimmed it over, and then I had to bend my dessert chronology rule. Sisha Ortuzar of Riverpark made an inventive beet-pickled egg with smoked whitefish & horseradish. A nice touch: Riverpark’s business cards were actually small envelopes of seeds.
Tip 9: Empty Tables Hold Tasty Food
Zakary Pelaccio of Fatty Cue had a queue awaiting its whole heritage pig with maple cider and assorted winter green curry, for good reason. Talk about rich—even if the sides of kale and collards try to alleviate the guilt.
Tip 10: Ordinary Appearances Aren't Always Ordinary
Just a reminder to try a bite of everything! Buddakan’s Brian Ray & Yang Huang plated a plain-looking tuna tartare spring roll with crispy shallots and ponzu. It was one of the best things I had all evening. Had I not been reviewing, I might have passed it by because of its looks.