06/15/2010 03:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On the Culture Front: Gourmet Latino Festival and Simon and Garfunkel Summerstage Gala

The Gourmet Latino Festival wrapped up this past week with a series of dinners at restaurants across the boroughs. I found myself on Thursday night at Palo Santo, an enchanting South American wine bar tucked away in a Park Slope brownstone just off the R train at Union Street. It's easy to miss, and if you're like me, you've probably passed by it on the way to Union Hall down the block, but it's truly a rare find, blending tranquil ambiance with top-notch food from Chef Jacques Gautier, who treats his patrons like treasured house guests -- he lives right upstairs! From the exposed brick to the rustic chairs and tables and greenery bursting from the small back garden, it's easy to forget you're in the city as you linger for hours over dinner.

We started out with refreshing razor clams dashed with a bit of citrus followed by an unusual pairing of spicy raw tuna with a few pieces of popcorn thrown into the mix. It was a surprisingly good pairing. Who would have thought? Next up were scallops. I'm not generally a fan as they can often turn up bland, but Chef Gautier's were cooked perfectly and had a wonderful texture. After the trio of seafood, we cleansed our palate with a small plate of fresh greens from the rooftop garden. Next up was a flavorful duck followed by an impossibly tender pork that was the highlight of the evening. The accompanying wines paired by Jayne Rockmill were equally impressive. I've always found it a bit jarring to go from white to red throughout a meal, but Rockmill's choices made the transition seamless. I particularly liked the Malbec that was paired with the duck and the Cabernet blend that went with the duck. Just when we thought we were finished, out came dessert: a small trio of strawberry ice cream (made from real strawberries!), bread pudding and a warm ginger tart. It was paired with a desert wine that was more complex than sweet. All I could wish for is more.

On the music front, Simon and Garfunkel received a tribute at the Summerstage gala. The weather was perfect with a cool breeze wafting through Central Park, and the evening began with several celebrity intros including Mayor Bloomberg and Art Garfunkel himself. There seemed to be a large representation of the "Lilith Fair" type singers -- Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams -- but a number of strong performances as well. One of the best of the evening was Ollabelle's (who served as the house band for the night) psychedelic take on "Scarborough Fair." The band's inventive arrangement and solid skill was a joy to hear throughout the evening. I'd like to see them do a Simon and Garfunkel show of their own. Other highlights of the intermission-less evening included Loudon Wainwright III and his daughter Lucy singing the classic ballad "Bleecker Street," and Dean and Britta taking on "Homeward Bound." The show ended with all the performers gathering onstage for a rousing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" that filled the air and brought the crowd to their feet, ending the evening on a powerful note.