My steak-eating crew and I came in here and tried 16 different items, so there’s no time for bullshitting. I will just get right down to it.
Dry-Aged Beef Tartare (bar menu)
This was damn good. Not as beautiful as Vaucluse, but it had a different flavor profile (Italian) that worked just as well as the classic French style.
Fried Soft-Shell Crab
So delicious. The zucchini puree underneath was a great Italian play for the sauce element, and the whipped ricotta just made it soar.
The radish, white bean and salsa verde made the perfectly tender and grilled octopus shine with a bright pop of acidity.
This had stracciatella, pesto and watermelon. Very refreshing.
This sounded amazing but it fell a little short. It was by no means a bad dish. It was just not as stellar as the other entrees. Of course I would prefer this over the tomato salad from the appetizer courses. Duh. I just didn’t get a lot of robust flavors.
Spaghetti with Blue Crab & Bottarga
Winner. This was so delicious. Every aspect of it popped, and the robustness was there, while still preserving the delicate flavors of the crab meat.
What made this really special was the corn pudding and toasted corn on the plate. I could eat buckets.
White Label Burger (bar menu)
My favorite of all the Michael White burgers. This one has Calabrian aioli and pickles on it, along with fontina, tomato and red onion. The blend is dry-aged Pat LaFrieda, just like the other White Label burgers as well. What’s really awesome here at Ai Fiori is the potato side that comes with it: pommes dauphines. I didn’t get a good shot, but they are basically breaded and deep fried balls of mashed potato. Again, buckets are needed!
Butter Poached Lobster
Insanity. One of the best lobster dishes I’ve ever had. So tender and flavorful, and it’s a really meaty lobster tail portion size with some sliced claw meat along the side.
These were wrapped in caul fat and crusted/glazed very nicely. The snap peas were a nice refreshing touch here to cut the fat, and I liked the use of barley in this dish. One of my favorite grains to eat when done right.
Tomahawk Steak (Costata)
This was an easy 10/10. Michael White’s large format steaks are just amazing at every one of his restaurants. While pretty much identical to the steaks available at Vaucluse and Osteria Morini, there is something to be said about the consistency of these steaks. Every time I visit, they are just as good, and they are all good at every restaurant. These are definitely signature items, and they are 100% worth ordering.
The charred lemon is killer! The rest of the meal was sides and desserts, which were all great but I won’t really dive to deep. My favorite dessert was the chocolate budino. There was some banana incorporated into that. Delicious.
I highly recommend both the burger and the tomahawk here. To start, split a pasta and a burger. Then hit the tomahawk for your entree, and get some extra pommes dauphines for the road!
Originally set up by the late meat enthusiast Josh Ozersky, this is the 11th Meatopia event. Meatopia also happens in other cities worldwide, expanding like my belt size after indulging in these delicious meats.
The concept here was pure wood and coal fire, no gas or electric. Just flames and meat carcass. Some shit was done quick on the flames for a sear, and other shit was done low and slow in smokers like these:
With heavy hitters like Creekstone Farms and Pat LaFrieda involved in the mix, you can imagine how excited I was to be here. And without mincing words I will simply say this: Meatopia is the greatest food event I have ever attended in my life.
Upon walking out onto Pier 92, I was blasted with the invigorating scent of roasting meat, and bathed in the billowing bovine smoke that was coming off of the giant Pat LaFrieda fire pit. Heavenly rays of sunlight shone down through the smoke and kissed the meat, as if God himself was proclaiming this to be a righteous undertaking.
What a sight to behold! And nothing was wasted from this animal. As you can see, even the head got picked apart by the savage carnivores that roamed the pier. Even the guys at Gotham Burger Social Club took a bite.
Want to know the most depressing part about the LaFrieda station? I didn’t know this meat was for the crowd. I thought they were providing the meat for all the other stations to use in their dishes, like a supplier of sorts. By time I figured out that I could eat this shit, they had run out. That’s right – they ran out of 1000lbs of meat!!! I was on line for it, five people away from getting a bite, when they finally called it quits on the beast. Not even a scrap!
I did try every other item at the event, however, which is probably a rare claim to make for anyone who attended, I would imagine. There was so much food. I think maybe 30 stations or more. It was very easy to get full if you weren’t smart, or fat.
My first and last stop of the day was this killer broth made by Marco Canora’s “Brodo.” This hearty and hot beef stock was just the right thing needed to keep warm on the windy pier.
As I wandered around with childlike wonder, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the Beatrice Inn station, where Chef Angie Mar was slinging pig for her hungry meat minions. I found myself just staring at this shit. Something deep inside me was triggered. Something primal and cave man -esque…
These not-so-little piggies were roasting on a spit all day and night.
Watch them spin!
So the actual food item being served here was a whole roasted wild boar, blackberries, port and mash. Here’s what a small plate looked like. My photo does it no justice:
This was succulent, juicy, crispy and savory. It had a slight hint of sweet from the berries that made the pig flavors pop. It was one of my top choices of the day, for sure.
Another favorite was Hometown Barbeque. This was a masterful execution of beef rib. So tender and juicy. I know those words are used up like cheap hookers, but they are accurate. The bark on these ribs was crisp without being too hard – just enough to lock in all the meat juices. It had sweetness, but the savory beef flavor was the star of the show.
Occasionally some meat angel would come around and plop one of these dinosaur bones in your hands for you to gnaw on for a while. Some were from Hometown, and some were from LaFrieda.
Another favorite was this sri racha pork belly by The Backroom at Moody’s. I went back for it twice. The belly was cooked sous vide style for 48 hours (okay that probably involves electricity), and THEN smoked. It had a nice pungent flavor that reminded me of fish sauce or Vietnamese food.
They also presented a nice array of charcuterie:
My favorite of the day, just slightly ahead of that pork belly, was this hot beef tongue sandwich by Harry & Ida’s Meat & Supply Company. The meat was so soft, unlike what you might expect from common tongue preparations that can sometimes be rushed, or have the consistency of deli meat.
This was more like pulled meat, or braised stew meat. Absolutely delicious. And they even had a nice tongue hanging on display for food porn photos:
I’m jumping around again here, because I want to front-load this review with the most interesting shit up top, in the event that you meat minions start to nod off, or the ADD kicks into high gear.
CHORIZO ICE CREAM!
There. Did that wake you up a little? It was actually good. These novelty ice cream flavors always strike me as purposefully odd – done with the intent of shocking someone rather than actually delivering a good flavor. But this chorizo ice cream was lightly chorizo flavored, and it was balanced by the presence of caramel. Oddfellow’s is not pulling stunts here. This is good shit.
There was a healthy variety of rib eye and prime rib preparations going around (Hawksmoor London, Andre Lima de Luca and Balthazar, in particular). Never did I feel like the shit was overlapping or redundant. I was actually surprised at how nicely cooked they all were, given the windy conditions and an open flame that is hard to control or regulate in terms of temperatures.
Speaking of those wind conditions causing problems, I think Jason French and the guys at the Ned Ludd station were battling what was probably the worst of the wind conditions. They were one of the first booths next to the large tent in the back. As the wind whipped in from the southwest, it gathered along the tent walls and flowed directly to their station, which was on the south-facing side of the pier. WHAM. The wind over there was bonkers. I have no idea how they were even able to cook in such conditions.
The meat quality of their lamb dish suffered a bit, at least in the plate I had, as it was overcooked and slightly tough. My guess is that these guys were concerned about serving something raw, and wanted to keep the meat roasting despite the wind – so they had to keep stoking the flames. It was still really tasty despite all that nonsense, which is a testament to the chef and cooks. I think if they had more control over the environment this would have been a winning dish: Whole roasted pastured lamb with grape leaf cumin yogurt sauce, and a basmati rice salad with golden raisins and cilantro.
And I was glad to see a nice lamb carcass gracing their work station:
Perhaps the most prominently featured cut of the day was short rib. Check out all the different varieties below:
Tough to choose a favorite between those. If I had to, I’d probably lean toward The Cecil (their veal was really memorable), or Hill Country.
Naturally there was some brisket as well:
One interesting item was this braised beef cheek terrine from Employees Only. Super soft and flavorful. I was hoping to see more cheek represented at this event, but this was really nice with the pickled tomatoes and radishes on top.
The only place featuring strip was El Blok. It as really nicely cooked with fresh turmeric and sour orange, sitting on a side of smoked calabaza.
And several other pork and non-beef items, most notable of which was probably this Portuguese porchetta fried rice from 42 The Restaurant – a very interesting mash up of Asian and Portuguese flavors:
Funny thing about that last photo: I was joking that chicken doesn’t really count as meat. The sauce on there was actually really great though, so it became acceptable to serve at this event, in my eyes.
This station sent me home with a packet of Badia spice seasoning. I always like samples!
There was even some dessert as well. I didn’t take a picture of the cookie I ate, but this banana chocolate turnover with maple bacon and peanut butter from Oceana was excellent. In fact their menu looks pretty brilliant, and it’s somewhat nearby, so I will have to go with my wife soon to try it out.
Don’t look so glum, whoever you are working back there in the pit… There’s meat hanging behind you and I’m sure there will be other Meatopia celebrations in the coming months. Can you say MIAMI?!?
That about does it guys. What an amazing day. I don’t want to wash any of my clothes because the lingering smell of smoke and meat is too precious to cast aside. It should somehow be bottled and sold as cologne.
Oh yeah… one last photo – my stalker pic of Iron Chef Michael Symon, who was the host of the event. People were waiting for hours just to press the flesh with him. I was too busy eating for any glad-handing with celebs!