Very Good Food at the U.S. Open's Tennis Center
Whenever I think sports venue or stadium food, I think the typical hot dog, burger or any other mediocre fast food (with a high price tag) while watching the über talented athletes like Serena Williams or Rafa Nadal, grunting, running around the court, and swinging their racquets exponentially better than I could ever humanly try. But the U.S. Open USTA National Tennis Center, located within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, has accomplished changing my perception of stadium food. I was invited to the US Open Food Tasting preview pretty much everything this huge venue has to offer.
Seeing and meeting the four chefs: Tony Mantuano, Chef/Partner, Spiaggia, Eduardo Romero, Gilbert Verdugo, and the highlight of the event, Masaharu Morimoto, and their Wine and Champagne Specialist of Moët & Chandon, Seth Box. It shows promise as the chefs expressed ideas of making familiar foods but with a creative twist (an example would be the surprisingly delicious portabello “fries”.
As for Mr. Box, we marveled at the lovely effervescence of the Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial. The Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial was surprisingly good, even though I’d never imagine drinking my glass of Champagne on the rocks with a sprig of mint. It’s bright and very drinkable to quaff on throughout this three-hour meal (for me, at least).
They did have a few cocktails: the Honey Deuce, the U.S. Open’s signature cocktail made of Grey Goose vodka, lemonade and raspberry liqueur. Sweet and easy to drink. The other was the Watermelon Samuba that is not as sweet as the Honey Deuce as the strong anise kick (which I appreciated) cut the sweetness of the watermelon.
Instead of giving you the rundown of the 19 dishes, including the two cakes as dessert, I’ll give you my top 5 (but not in order of preference). The one you see above is a showstopper because of the flambé of ouzo. It does taste pretty good from the hint of anise flavor along with the large shrimp and diced potatoes. (Here’s the link to my YouTube video of this cool spectacle.)
The seared scallop with sweet cornbread and corn shoots was very good. A large, sweet scallop worked with the unusual pairing of the sweet corn shoots. The cornbread that was served in here was a touch too sweet for my preference but I did like the moist texture.
Primarily the reason why I’ve schlepped my butt over to this stadium, I am a huge fan of Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s food ever since I saw the original Japanese version of Iron Chef. His sushi and nigiri did not disappoint at all and I’m in awe of how he made those mosaic tile-like maki rolls. (I need to know how he rolled it.) The fish were silky and sublime. If I didn’t have to try everything else from this lunch, I would not have mind polishing off that entire tray by myself.
Even though, I’m surrounded in a room filled with local food bloggers and some who are sports media, we were graced with the presence of Mr. Mark Bittman, most notably as “The Minimalist” of The New York Times. Since the entire restaurant knows that he’s here, Chef Morimoto created a special plate of gorgeous, pristine sashimi for him and his table.
The raw bar is a beautiful sight to see, if you like shellfish. This gleaming three-level tower filled with fresh shucked oysters, mussels and clams, steamed lobsters, huge prawns (the length of my palm!). They were divine to slurp and pick through.
To end this post on a humorous note: To those of you who never met Chef Morimoto in person, he is a very cool and funny person to talk to. Here’s my YouTube clip of his speaking portion (when all the chefs introduce themselves and their food):
My YouTube video of Chef Morimoto speaking about baseball vs tennis and his food at the US Open
Overall, this has changed my perspective for stadium food – at least at the US Open. When I come back here to see a match, at least I know my palate and stomach would be content.
To see the rest of my photos of this lunch, please scroll through my slideshow below.
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