A New (But Familiar) Food Sensation

| 17 Feb 2015 | 05:07

    Foodies will join together in May to celebrate the culinary boom on the Upper West Side

    Upper West Side Looking for something fresh to do this spring? Look no further than the New Taste of the Upper West Side event to get your mouth watering and wishing it were May.

    Don Evans, the New Taste of the Upper West Side event chair, describes his idea of how food has been evolving in the neighborhood over the past years, and how the annual New Taste helps promotes businesses and bring community together. His personal involvement has been a major force behind the event.

    "Several years ago, Shake Shack was about to open next door," Evans explains. "Restaurants were opening and I had read about arts' and foods' events and I didn't know what I was going to get myself into - different restaurants were cropping up, the West Side was changing drastically. I knew many restaurant owners, I started to make calls."

    Around this time the Upper West Side had also gained a better culinary reputation, according to Evans.

    The seventh annual New Taste of the UWS, which is perhaps a bit of a misnomer as there will be some old favorites as well, will see participation from 83 restaurants this May. Some of these restaurants haven't even opened yet. Parm, for instance, is headed for the area this summer and plans to participate. The event is also sponsored by some featured restaurants, including the upscale eatery Rosa Mexicano, on Columbus, between 62nd and 63rd Streets.

    "I grew up here and have been here for forty years, my perspective is that the [U.W.S. cuisine] keeps getting better," said Haley Fox, co-founder and owner of Alice's Tea Cup. "I like that the risks get higher, the downside is that the price point goes up -- it's an unfortunate part of risk."

    Fox has watched the area transform into the culinary destination is has recently become.

    "I miss the neighborhood when it was mom and pops, we try to keep that going. I miss side street restaurants, but now there are so many places to choose from and new chefs," she said. "Price points (or perhaps demographic) has changed the neighborhood. When I was growing up, we had a bakery, an ice cream shop and one Chinese restaurant. There was nothing magically culinarily."

    Some of her favorite places are Red Farm, Koi and Mughlai, all of which are participating in the festival.

    "At New Taste, we consider ourselves a bakery, and we don't try to compete," Fox said.

    The New Taste event does in fact have a competitive element. Last year Momofuku Milk Bar took the title for "Best Comfort Food," while this year it faces new contenders, like The Meatball Shop and Treat House.

    The three-night event will also be a charitable effort to preserve Theodore Roosevelt Park, tucked just a few blocks away from Central Park, and a force for general community improvement. "It's a good deal for everyone," says Evans.

    Just as it had been in transition when Evans first organized a major food event on the UWS, Candle Cafe's Emma Larson talks about how the area continues to change, though Candle Cafe remains rooted in its personal mission.

    "There's definitely more trendy restaurants opening," Larson says. "We're on the quiet side so we don't see too much, but I would say we're trying to build more restaurants that appeal to younger people, a lot of kosher restaurants are appearing because of the current residents."

    Candle Cafe, and its affiliated restaurants, has always had a clear mission: feed people in healthy, organic ways.

    "We want to have good food for people to eat," says Larson, "Especially for those who are intolerant, have allergies and whatnot."

    Evans says restaurants are more than actively participating in the New Taste event. "It's a wide universe, within parameters," he says. "We have Indian, to Michelin-ranked, to Shake Shack, to Magnolia Bakery...and chefs will be there at the tables." There will also be celebrities from the Food Network and Iron Chef.

    Some of the managers at restaurants to be represented were not even aware their establishments would be be participating, while others, like Steven Hall, a rep for Tavern on the Green, are looking forward to being a presence this spring.

    Tavern on the Green, which sits in Central Park, just underwent massive renovations and was set to open last month, just in time for the season of rejuvenation - but the opening date continues to be pushed back.

    Based on Larson's insistence that Candle's mission has remained the same since day one, this event will be a celebration of "old" and new. More than anything it seems the West Side is embracing a time of eclectic culinary proliferation.

    To highlight the event's significance, when the West Side Spirit asked Evans if he was afraid bad weather might dampen the mood, he responded, "Is the weather worried about us?"