The Taste of Sunnyside was a welcome change of pace from many of the fancier tasting events I had attended in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This was truly a neighborhood event, with community leaders mingling with hungry foodies and local chefs.
Mom-and-pop restaurants displayed the best that they had to offer culminating in a multiethnic feast free of pretension.
My first taste of the gut-busting evening was the rich rice pudding with coconut, almonds and raisins from Saffron Garden, a recently opened Indian restaurant.
The treat was milky thin and creamy, and it hit just the right note of sweet with the chewy basmati rice providing a pleasant contrast in texture.
Anise Fusion, a newly opened Indian-Chinese-Thai fusion restaurant, offered its unique take on vegetable fried rice. The oddly addictive dish had all the elements of the typical Chinese dish, with broccoli florets, zucchini, peppers, onions and squash thrown in.
But it was the unusual Indian-themed flavors of cumin and coriander that dominated the dish and elevated it well beyond cheap takeout.
The slow-poached shrimp with roasted carrot puree, truffled corn salsa and fried capers from Salt & Fat was another unexpected favorite.
The sweet corn salsa nicely balanced the flavors of the dish—including the creamy carrot puree—while the capers gave it a salty crunch.
Souk el Shater filled almost every square inch of its table with popular Lebanese dishes. Standouts included the smoky and pungent baba ghanoush, the mild falafel with a subtle crunch and the smooth, flavorful hummus.
The restaurant also rolled out grape leaves, spinach pies and a variety of meat dishes that, although they looked and smelled scrumptious, your intrepid reporter didn’t have the stomach space to try.
Bliss 46 Bistro showcased thick cuts of its hangar steak with garlic butter sauce, rosemary and garlic. The juicy red meat had been marinated for 12 hours in its own juices.
The chicken and waffles from the newly opened Sunrise Restaurant and Grill were an unexpected surprise. The American soul-food restaurant served up thick Belgian waffles topped with a choice of honey barbecue, jerk, fried, grilled or honey parmesan chicken.
“We’re known for our ribs, chicken and waffles,” said Marie Alphonse, one of the owners.
De Mole chef and owner Ramiro Mendez took particular pride in his sea scallop ceviche, which has become his signature dish. The colorful dish included onions, cilantro, jalapeño peppers, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers and lime juice for a kick.
He eschewed traditional cups and served the savory salad instead in baked tortilla chips.
“It’s my own interpretation,” Mendez said.
Dazie’s Restaurant served up heaping portions of pasta, the sort of classic Italian dishes that helped to put the red-sauce restaurant on the map.
The rigatoni pomodoro was a thick and hearty pasta dish, with basil, olive oil, tomato sauce and mozzarella. It was just the sort of home-style meal that my Italian grandmothers would have approved of.
The roast stuffed turkey with ham from Bar 43 added an Irish flair to the evening.
“It is actually the traditional Irish Christmas dinner,” said chef Larry Zaitschek. “It is the quintessential comfort food.”
The vegetarian empanadas from Mama’s Empanadas were another favorite of the night. The chain restaurant, which boasts 50 flavor combinations in either a fried or baked corn or wheat shell, were like a veggie-packed, Latin-spiced samosa in a satisfyingly thick maize pocket.
The pretty Tahitian vanilla bean cupcakes from the soon-to-be opened bakery Pink Icing had a crowd of patrons scrambling to snag one.
The cake was light, moist and not too sweet, allowing the flavor of vanilla to shine through. It was nicely complemented by an absolutely delicious smooth, green-hued buttercream frosting slathered on top and decorated with an iced flower.
I ended the evening at Arriba Arriba, which served up shrimp ceviche, guacamole and a variety of alcoholic beverages, including margaritas. The brightly colored ceviche and creamy guacamole—which had a nice kick to it, thanks to the addition of diced red onions—flew off the table.
But the margarita stole the show. Cool, tart and salty, yet not too weak nor strong, it was the perfect way to end the night.