by Jonathan Vatner | April 01, 2011

Little is more telling about food trends than hors d'oeuvres. That's where banquet chefs let their creativity run wild, serving up micro-meals that will please the most exacting of gourmands.

To find out what's hot in reception fare -- and to garner inspiration for menu-planning -- we sampled a bevy of new creations by Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Abigail Kirsch, Catering Relationships, one of the region's top caterers.

In addition, two New York City event planners joined the table to offer their expert opinions. Jaclyn Bernstein, president and partner of Empire Force Events, has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, planning events for heavy hitters such as American Express and Sony. Dana Lowenfish, vice president of Global Events Group/Paint The Town Red, has planned events for 16 years, for clients such as Foot Locker and the Toy Industry Foundation.

After taste-testing 15 delicious courses, this is what we found.

Tomato Basil Hand PieTomato Basil Hand Pies Trend: Gastropub/comfort food

At first glance: Featuring house-made peppered ricotta, micro basil and sherry-vinegar syrup, this is an upscale lasagna contained within a pastry shell -- and it's small enough to consume in one bite.

Tasting notes: For a small hors d'oeuvre, it's very hearty, with the roasted tomatoes coming through most strongly.

From the panel: "There's a lot of great flavors in here, but the pastry is still very light." – Jaclyn Bernstein

Lobster 2WaysLobster Two Ways
Trend: American regional

At first glance: Lobster corn dogs are garnished with mango-horseradish mustard, alongside lobster rolls with tarragon, lemon zest and micro cilantro. This is a lot of food: full-size lobster rolls next to lobster lollipops. They would be ideal for a reception that is not followed by dinner.

Tasting notes: In the lobster corn dog, the corn coating works surprisingly well with the lobster, and the stick makes it a cinch to eat. The lobster roll is simpler and more traditional, but fresh ingredients make it delightful.

From the panel: "I wouldn't put two hors d'oeuvres on the same tray. If people wanted both, they wouldn't be able to grab them both easily -- unless they were somewhat smaller." – J.B.

"I liked the presentation of two, but it's a good point. How would you hold both?" – Dana Lowenfish