Romance is focus of season’s first food tour

BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer

Though Valentine’s Day had come and gone, the Downtown Alliance’s first Lower Manhattan food tour of the 2011 season revolved around foods associated with lust and romance.

On Saturday, February 19, Liz Young, a certified culinary professional and licensed city tour guide, led 20 epicures through the Financial District and the Seaport, where they learned a little Downtown history and savored food and drink at five stops along the way.

Some foods in various cultures have been “believed” to stimulate love and sexual appetite, Young explained. She mentioned oysters, avocados, arugula, chocolate, ginger and foie gras, and said that there was, in fact, some validity to calling these foods “aphrodisiacs” (a word derived from the name of the Greek love goddess, Aphrodite). Some of these foods are high in zinc and other minerals, some stimulate circulation and digestion and some release brain chemicals associated with pleasure.

A food tour loaded with aphrodisiacs could not help but please. The first stop was Les Halles at 15 John Street, where manager Pam Gill presented the group with history about the restaurant, (founded 21 years ago and housed in a century-old building), and foie gras on toast points accompanied by arugula, walnuts and Champagne. Then it was on to the Seaport, where the group imbibed bartender Nate Lockwood’s “love potion” special at Stella’s, a bistro at 213 Front Street. The next stop was Mad Dog and Beans at 83 Pearl Street for some outstanding guacamole, queso fundido and margaritas.

Avocados, the primary ingredient in guacamole, are rich in vitamins and were named “ahuacatl” by the Aztecs, said Liz Young — the same word they used for “testicle.” Carlos Ortiz, a manager at Mad Dog, said that there was one cook at the restaurant whose only job was to make guacamole — it’s that popular — for whatever reason.

At La Maison du Chocolat, 63 Wall Street, the group drank dense, rich hot chocolate and nibbled on truffles and chocolate-coated ginger. Chocolate doesn’t have to come in a heart-shaped box to boost romance, Young explained. Apparently it contains the mood enhancers, phenylethylamine and serotonin. Biochemistry aside, La Maison’s chocolates, flown in from Paris, have a devoted following. Some people swear they’re the best in the city. 

The final stop on the three-hour tour was California Wine Merchants, 15 Bridge Street, where Jennifer Frank and Taylor Senatore, the enthusiastic proprietors, poured a sparkling wine from Spain and two California wines — a terrific pinot noir from The Pinot Project and a spicy zinfandel blend and offered a 15 percent discount to anyone in the group who wanted to buy a bottle of those wines or anything else in the store.

Liz Young, who is new to the Downtown Alliance food tours this year, is not new to Lower Manhattan. This was where she lived when she first moved to New York, she said. “For five years,” she recalled, “I didn’t go north of Chambers Street.” At one time, she was general manager of Fox Hounds restaurant in Battery Park City. One of 13 children, Young said, “I started cooking for the masses when I was knee-high. I grew up in the restaurant business.” She attended the New York Restaurant School and has a master’s degree in Food Studies and Food Management from New York University.

The next Downtown Alliance food tour is on March 12 and will feature some of Lower Manhattan’s Irish pubs. For more information or tickets ($25), go to www.downtownny.com/foodtours.