Sometimes cooking classes can be like a creepy dating game, but not at Astor Center, a brand-new venue offering educational programs on just about everything that’s consumable. Options vary from hands-on sessions at the stove to highbrow assemblies of culinary luminaries, with a whole lot more in between (Absinthe 101: Introducing the Green Fairy, for instance). I attended a course on Japanese party food that included a sake tasting presented by Marja Samsom, from The Kitchen Club (in Nolita), and her collaborator, Yukari Pratt. It was two hours long and full of tantalizing yet simple dishes for entertaining; Astor’s ultramodern facility, which somehow still manages to be intimate, was the icing on the cake. The attendees (about 20 of us) were full-on foodies: knowledgeable, fanatical, and quirky. We traded restaurant obsessions like Wall Streeters swap inside tips. Astor Center also serves as the Manhattan outpost for The Culinary Institute of America. (212-674-7501; astorcenternyc.com; from $45 to $250, more for CIA professional programs)
What I Learned
Japanese markets are full of prepared ingredients—from roasted-sesame paste to sweet miso—that make great building blocks for quick dishes.
There’s a lot more to choosing a sake than whether to order hot or cold.
Before You Go
Study the center’s calendar of options.
Where to Stay
The Bowery Hotel (212-505-9100; theboweryhotel.com; from $525). Gilded Age glitz meets downtown chic.