For the past eight years, the Village Voice has invited dozens of their favorite restaurants to one annual bonanza of an event to showcase some of their signature dishes. For New York-area fans of good food (and lots of it), Choice Eats is the happiest place on earth. But we decided to take advantage of this gathering of gastro-brilliance for more than just stuffing our faces, asking the amazing participants some of our most pressing culinary questions. Get the inside scoop on how these top chefs turn out such tasty food below.
1. How do you pick the tastiest lobster in the tank?
We asked: Red Hook Lobster Pound, 16 Extra Place, Brooklyn, NY
They said: Pick the most active lobster. You want one that’s moving around a lot to ensure that it’ll be extra fresh.
2. What flavors define Ukrainian food?
We asked: Veselka, 144 2nd Ave., New York, NY
They said: People don’t appreciate how seasonal Ukrainian food is or how bright and clean the flavors often are.
3. What’s the key to good schnitzel?
We asked: Edi & The Wolf, 102 Avenue C, New York, NY
They said: The key to this traditional Austrian food is using the best oil you can find so that they fry quickly and evenly. And offsetting the heaviness with something a little sweet like lingonberry jam.
4. Does the water you use really affect a bagel’s flavor?
We asked: Baz Bagel & Restaurant, 181 Grand St., New York, NY
They said: Not at all! Other than the ingredients—they use traditional malt instead of sugar for a lighter sweetness—a bagel’s flavor all comes from the technique. Hand-rolling (as opposed to using a machine) gives bagels a better twist, which makes them sturdier—in a good way!
5. What are the best spices to keep around the house?
We asked: Bustan, 487 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY
They said: Zatar with sesame seeds—and as many different paprikas as you can find.
6. How do you pick great shrimp for cooking with?
We asked: Luke’s Lobster, various locations
They said: Shrimp from cold ocean waters are the tenderest.
7. How do you pick tuna that is safe to eat raw, like for tuna tartare?
We asked: Genuine, Gotham West Market, 600 11th Ave., New York, NY
They said: The fish should smell like nothing–once it starts smelling fishy, it’s already going bad—and be so deep in color that it’s almost purple.
8. What’s the best unusual mac and cheese mix-in?
We asked: Queens Comfort, 4009 30th Ave, Queens, NY
They said: Buttermilk ranch, and something spicy.
9. How do you cook a flawless hard-boiled egg?
We asked: Fort Defiance, 365 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY
They said: Start with the egg in cold water and turn on the heat. As soon as the water starts to boil, turn the heat off and cover the pot tightly for exactly five minutes. Once the time is up, run the egg under cold water until completely chilled.
10. How do you pick the right oysters based only on location of origin?
We asked: Littleneck, 288 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY
They said: It's mostly a matter of which coast they come from. East Coast oysters taste briny, like the ocean. West Coast oysters taste like cucumber, melon, and grass.
11. Why are most whiskeys brown, but some are clear?
We asked: Manhattan Moonshine
They said: All liquor starts out clear, what turns it brown is the char inside the barrels in which it's aged. During the aging process, the liquors get a heavy, sometimes vanilla-y flavor from the barrels. This is a desired effect, but when it comes to mixing up cocktails, un-aged liquor is often better to work with because you don't have to consider conflicting flavors of both the liquor itself and whatever you're mixing it with.
12. What's the best cut of meat for grilling if you're not going to heavily season it?
We asked: Fletcher's Brooklyn Barbecue, 433 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY
They said: Tri-tip, which is a cut from the bottom of the sirloin where the grain runs in two directions. The meat is lean but still juicy and flavorful and all you need is a little salt and pepper.