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STANDING O

Cheers for the Brooklyn Eats chefs & the crowds who ate their impressive smorgasbord

for The Brooklyn Paper

If one doubted that Brooklyn’s food scene was alive and thriving, a glance into the Grand Ballroom of the New York Marriott Brooklyn, where the seventh annual Brooklyn Eats Festival was held on Oct. 20, would assuage their uncertainty.

In that vast room, tables were covered with exquisite food contributed by 49 of the borough’s finest restaurants, caterers and gourmet shops. Rich, complex red and light, delicate white wines were poured, and the aroma of strong coffee mingled with the scents of garlic and pungent cheese. The super-sized event, sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, would have the hungriest eater asking, "Isn’t this a bit much?"

Restaurateurs rose to the occasion, creating displays that matched the drama of their dishes. Russell Guarneri of Lundy Bros., the venerable seafood establishment in Sheepshead Bay, arranged shot glasses of heady lobster bisque atop layers of granite. Under a hut of sorts, Saulo Zamorano of Fort Greene’s A Table cut rare slices of leg of lamb. Café Scaramouche owner and chef Grace Martinez, whose baked goods ship daily to Dean and Deluca and the United Nations, baked a huge, pumpkin-colored castle that served as the centerpiece to her fruit tarts, sweet and savory scones and carrot cake.

Rebecca Peters of Cocotte in Park Slope presented a sprightly salad that resembled a tiny Jackson Pollock in the plate. Over thin slices of tender potato, Peters sprinkled cubes of garnet-colored roasted beets. A couple of dabs of creamy goat cheese added a piquant taste; grains of sea salt and crisp slivers of shallots lent crunch and sweetness to the beautifully conceived dish. Another great start to the festival was offered by Park Slope’s Aunt Suzie’s restaurant. James Moccia’s sweet and savory eggplant caponata was a mix of soft squares of eggplant - not mushy - with capers that brought a pleasing saltiness to the mix.

Newcomers Debbie Lyn and Marco Morillo of Crave in Carroll Gardens presented a multi-textured salad that balanced the richness of duck confit (meat cooked and stored in its own fat) with the freshness of slightly bitter, curly frisee greens, cilantro and chives. Tiny, caramelized pearl onions, slow-cooked until buttery and sweet, and tart, crunchy pistachio vinaigrette united the flavors.

Soups were plentiful. Paul Vicino of Five Front in DUMBO ladled out a hearty, autumn-appropriate roasted corn chowder redolent of smoky bacon. James Henderson of Gage & Tollner in Downtown Brooklyn captured the delicacy and sweetness of she-crab in a smooth-as-velvet bisque.

Marco Polo Ristorante in Carroll Gardens reprised the fabulous pasta dish they served at last year’s festival. In a huge, hollowed out wheel of parmesan cheese, Francesco Insingo swirled al dente strands of spinach fettuccine. The pasta absorbed the flavors of the cheese then Insingo finished the dish with earthy truffled olive oil.

Cheryl Smith of Butta’ Cup Lounge in Fort Greene crowned a crisp plantain chip with spicy jerk chicken and sweet mango chutney. The watermelon martini that Smith served as a foil to the chicken’s heat looked and tasted like innocent pink punch but its undetectable gin and vermouth could leave an unsuspecting drinker lying face down on the street.

Gary Jacobson, of the Columbia Street Waterfront District’s Alma restaurant, braised pork in orange juice and garlic, added a dollop of spicy guacamole and chopped red onion then heaped the mix on a fried, corn tortilla.

Monica Byrne and Steve Deptula of Liberty Heights Tap Room & Restaurant, topped focaccia with an assortment of ingredients. Their caramelized onion and mozzarella cheese was the best of the delicious lot. Marc Elliot of Whim in Carroll Gardens, tossed tuna tartare in a sesame-ginger dressing that enhanced the freshness of the fish. Serving the tartare on a brittle taro chip brought the smooth texture of the fish into the spotlight.

Robert Ubhaus of the French cafe Paradou in Park Slope set unctuous snails perfumed with garlic and parsley against a thin-as-paper tart shell, placing the filling in high relief.

Great Performances, the caterer of BAMcafé, featured an offering that lived up to its name. Chef Carlos Gomez’s tuna mignon with carrot risotto was outstanding. The tuna’s crust of sea salt and Sichuan peppercorns amplified the meaty flavor of the fish and added great contrast to its buttery texture. Fresh ginger in the pretty, orange, slightly sweet carrot risotto lent a mild heat to the sumptuous dish.

Carnivores happily downed slices of Jim Tackas’ smoked beef brisket, a staple of the Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic Avenue, where Tackas serves as chef. Slices of rich, rare duck breasts were carved and served to the crowd surrounding Chef Walter Plendner, of the Marriott’s Archives Restaurant.

Desserts ranged from the familiar to more unusual fare. Approaching Tuller Premium Food of Boerum Hill’s table one was met with a hill of chewy, not-too-sweet chocolate chip and walnut cookies that didn’t stray far from the Tollhouse variety - a good move since Tollhouse cookies can’t be improved on.

Sweet Melissa Patisserie of Carroll Gardens, known for its elaborate, special occasion cakes and high teas, didn’t disappoint. Pastry chef Andrea Lekberg’s devils food cake with malted milk frosting will remind diners of why layer cakes make better eating than the flourless chocolate cakes that have been popular for far too long.

Robert Morris of the Peaches and Cream Cafe scooped out servings of light, creamy hand-cranked ice cream. His ginger, with pieces of ginger snaps, and cinnamon and nutmeg-flavored pumpkin varieties should lure new customers to his Clinton Hill shop.

Congratulations to Ebow Dadzie, "Monica" Chun Hui Ng and Peter Pinkhasov, students enrolled in the hospitality management department of the New York City College of Technology in Downtown Brooklyn. The three were awarded the second annual Brooklyn Eats scholarships of $1,000 each for outstanding academic achievement and community service. The trio passed out recipes and golden squares of their almond and butterscotch gateau to festival attendees.

And there was so much more. Vegetable, meat and poultry pates that can’t be faulted; crab cakes, codfish cakes, ravioli filled with seafood in wine-laced sauce, and hot curries. Michael-Towne Wine & Spirits poured Château Haut-Belian 2002, a white Bordeaux with a fresh citrus perfume. Brooklyn Brewery served up their famous lager and weisse beers on tap and then in bottles when the taps ran dry.

At the end of the evening, when the lights were turned up, guests and festival participants broke into heartfelt applause. For the chefs who created and served the great food, and those who ate their way through the night, the ovation was deserved.

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