Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Astor Center

Lest you think I would leave you without your food fix while I pack up my things and move, I've saved a few special blogs for just this occasion. Sure, my pots and pans are packed away, the contents of my pantry are taped up in a box and even my spice rack is hibernating for the next week, but that doesn't mean I can't find something food related to talk about. That's why this is exactly the right time to discuss the opening of The Astor Center, a new food and wine venture here in Manhattan, from the good people that have run Astor Wine & Spirits for the last 50 years.

The Astor Center is a new facility that encourages progressive thinking and interaction between wine makers, food makers, and tastemakers of all sorts. I attended the center's recent opening (my first ever with an invite as an official food blogger) with Gloria as my date and fellow aperitif attacker (that's right, we befriend the caterers). The night began with quite the treat--something that is so pricey is the United States, that I have only ever eaten it in Spain, and even then it's only when someone in my family is willing to foot the bill. This delicious treat is jamon iberico, more specifically, jamon de pata negra, a very expensive ham that until quite recently was illegal in the United States. In Spain it is traditionally cut so thin and by hand that you can almost see through it. Like all delicious things porcine, it is sweet and salty with a buttery ribbon of fat that literally melts in your mouth.

Although the young man from Boqueria (who provided the jamon) was using a hand cranked slicer and not a proper knife, I couldn't get to the front of the line fast enough. I finally made it to the cutting board, and without wasting time to grab a baguette cube, secured the last piece of jamon and placed it directly on my tongue. Just as I started to savor it's delicate flavor, I was brought back from my reverie by the young man behind the slicer. Totally ruining my food buzz, I heard him say, "It's kind of like procciutto," which is to say that a Kia is kind of like a Mercedes. Realizing that I was on the verge of lecturing this poor unsuspecting fellow, I decided it was time to sample the many drinks available and come back when I felt a buzz of a different sort.

There were bartenders and mix masters from some of the best restaurants in Manhattan, and among the many drinks we sampled were smoked drinks, one of a kind wines and mystery mixers that I just couldn't reconcile. In between grabbing drinks and attacking waiters for tiny fish tacos, we ventured towards the back of the space near the classrooms and found another foodies dream: six men shucking fresh oysters by the bucketful. Needless to say, by the time the cupcakes came around, I was too stuffed to even look at them. Instead, we took in a classroom demonstration on bacon wrapped figs. By the time the music started towards the end of the night we were exhausted, full of delicious gourmet treats, and possibly the tiniest bit intoxicated. There was clearly only one thing left to do: eat cupcakes on the train ride home.

*In case you're interested* Cooking and wine classes offered at the Astor Center (where the blackboard sits behind a full Viking range and each student has their own sink) are taught by everyone from master mixologists to CIA professors, and classes run the gamut from 'how to mix a spicy cocktail' to 'one dish meals'. For more info on classes, guest lecturers, events and party space, check out http://www.astorcenternyc.com/


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