If you're going to eat like a pig and drink like a fish, there's nothing better than a little scavenger hunt across New York's Meatpacking District to work off the calories and walk off the buzz.
Just ask one of the hundreds of participants who picked up a map and set out across the Manhattan neighborhood Friday night for Meatpacking Uncorked, which is part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival 2011.
The New York City Wine & Food Festival began in 2007 with one single event, SWEET, and was expanded into an entire weekend of gastro-crazy gluttony the following year. Under the sponsorship of the Food Network, the festival continues to bring together both legendary culinary icons from around the globe and America's most beloved television chefs.
All of the net proceeds of the festival go to charity.
This year, the festival is hosted by and benefits the Food Bank for New York City, which fights hunger in the five boroughs, as well as Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit organization working to end childhood hunger in America.
In 2010, the festival raised over $1.2 million for charity, and organizers hope to raise even more this year.
As in past years, the 2011 festival takes place primarily in the fashionable Meatpacking District, and Friday Night's event, Meatpacking Uncorked, presented by Corcoran, was specifically designed to explore the neighborhood's boutique stores and stylish restaurants.
Maps -- or passports -- in hand, hundreds of participants wandered the cobblestone streets in an attempt to pack in as many bars, restaurants, shops, and food trucks as they could in three hours.
Most of the evening's venues were located in the area between West 14th and Gansevoort streets, from Washington to Hudson streets.
Upscale clothing and retail shops housed the majority of the wine tastings, while restaurants offered participants single-bite snacks.
Most of the wine tastings Friday night were easily forgettable, and the evening's big sponsors were some of the biggest bores. The Hob Nob Pinot Noir served at Paige was unmemorable and bland, while the Yellow Tail Bubbles at SCOOP NYC's Men's store tasted like grape-flavored Perrier (though the Yellow Tail Moscato sampled at SCOOP Street was surprisingly delicious).
However, it was a big night for sauvignon blanc in the Meatpacking District. The Napa Valley Girard Sauvignon Blanc was quite refreshing, particularly in the hippie-chic environment of Charles Nolan on Gansevoort Street. Yet, The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand, served at Calypso on Hudson Street, was by far the most elegant of the night. It was crisp, grassy, and the perfect remedy for an Indian summer.
Standout red wines included the Castello di Monastero Chianti Classico served at Lilla P on West 14th and the Chilean Llai Llai Pinot Noir at the hidden basement shop Buckler.
At each wine-serving shop, festivalgoers perused the local merchandise while sipping on their large samples (no stingy Long Island winery pours here!).
Throughout the night, as the yellow-bracelet-wearing participants strolled in and out of the Meatpacking shops, the marketing scheme seemed to pay off.
At 6 p.m., people came in for the wine and left immediately like participants on CBS' The Amazing Race. By 8 p.m., participants in Meatpacking Uncorked were being talked into all sorts of bizarre purchases.
At Buckler, the sales clerk was promoting men's underwear -- but not just any men's underwear. These upmarket panties came complete with a condom-size pocket in the rear.
It comes in handy, the store clerk remarked. The man next to me agreed and bought a pair, though he acknowledged that they were not even the right size.
By 8 p.m., most participants -- myself included -- were headed to the snack stops to sober up.
First was Fatty Crab on Hudson Street. Despite what the name may have you thinking, the restaurant offered up a disappointingly bland chicken wing. However, the olive pesto crostini next door at Corsino hit the spot.
While in line, I met Cary Hattery and Charlie Nuss, who live in the neighborhood. This was their second event in the 2011 NYC Wine & Food Festival, and they quite enjoyed the premise of Meatpacking Uncorked.
You have to walk around and interact with people, Nuss said. It's unlike the other events, you're not just standing there being fed food. You can go out and find it.
Nuss and Hattery recommended Gorilla Cheese NYC's gourmet grilled cheese (which I regrettably did not have the chance to try) and ASIADOG's The Sidney, a delicious all-beef dog with mango relish (mango, cucumber, red onion, peanuts, and a dash of fish sauce).
As we parted ways, I asked them where they were headed next.
Looking at their Passport like a treasure map, Hattery remarked: I don't know. This way is a wasteland, and we've already covered Gansevoort. Maybe north?
I went up Ninth Avenue and sampled the melt-in-your-mouth meatball at Gaslight before chowing down on a goat cheese and chicken quesadilla at The Diner.
Yet, surprisingly, one of my favorite meals of the night was at the chain bakery Le Pain Quotidien -- and I wasn't alone. A group of ladies from New Jersey agreed.
Mmm, this watermelon cooler is delish! Audrey DiNino told her friends. But the ricotta tartine really put her over the edge. I don't know. It's just so good. The hearty bread, the cheese... umm!
The sweets across the street at Sweet Street Deserts were the perfect end to an exhausting night of consumption and gluttony.
There's nothing better than holding a piece of apple pie in one hand, and a piece of pecan pie in the other.
When the clock struck 9 p.m., the scavenger hunt was officially over. As I looked at my watch, I felt a sadness come over me -- like a kid in a candy shop whose mom was forcing him to leave.
I didn't want to leave the candy shop ... so I got some treats for the road!
The nice lady at the Sweet Street Deserts truck handed me a goodie bag of gourmet deserts, and I went off on my merry way a little bit fatter, a little bit drunker, and with a purple-toothed smile.