Sunday, April 5, 2009
A few months back I was lucky enough to go to my first food and wine convention. I was a novice, not knowing what to expect. But not this time. This time I was prepared.
When we got wind of Taste Washington!, we immediately submitted our proposal to FoodBuzz. This was an event worth covering. I printed out the map of vendors including wineries, restaurants, services, and some crafts. Thinking that I might receive a limited number of food passes, I charted out a course to hit the food stalls with the most interesting menus (they were conveniently preprinted on the vendor list!).
Seeing as how this was a "Washington" event, there was quite a bit of seafood listed...lots of smoked salmon dishes, chowders, grilled pieces of fish, even an oyster bar hosted by Elliott's Oyster House.
And a fair share of beef (Washington Beef was a sponsor). A coffee bar and a dessert bar, my oh my. It was going to be tough to choose.
But, Taste Washington! was so much better than the last convention...there were no food limits! One could try everything. And not only that...the sun came out and Seattleites were very happy. We didn't even mind standing in the very long entrance line. Thankfully, there was a media entrance with no line at all.
The convention center was decorated with many many wine barrels and had a good amount of tall tables set up around the place.
The ambiance was dark, the people well-dressed.
I was excited to meet the vendors at Fare Start, an organization that provides job training and placement for homeless and disadvantaged individuals. They've been around for more than 16 years helping more than 2,000 people transform their lives and also serving millions of meals to those in need. One great way to support them is to eat at the Fare Start Restaurant located on 7th and Virginia in Seattle.
And I did my best to hobnob with the various publications...Northwest Palate Magazine and especially Edible Seattle (one of my favs). The guys at Edible were really friendly and helpful. Hopefully, I'll be meeting them again in the future for an article write-up!
There's no way I could fairly assess the huge numbers of wine vendors. For one, I can't drink that much! Also, though I'm an appreciator of the fruit of the vine, oenophile I am not. However, I did have a very nice Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay blend from Piety Flats Winery of the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail in Yakima.
I could give you a rundown of every food vendor, the good and the bad. But, I know you have other things you'd like to do today, so how about the highlights?
Let's start with the age old question, "Where's the beef?"
Best Beef: Goes to The Capital Grille's signature dry-aged New York Striploin with Courvoisier Cream. Full of flavor and delicious. The Lobster Mac'n'Cheese wasn't bad either!
Best Asian: Wild Ginger's Fragrant duck bao sandwiches with plum sauce and peppercorn salt, artfully presented in a giant bamboo steamer basket.
Best Seafood (in a soup form): Oceanaire Seafood Room's Campechana, a Mexican style ceviche full of shrimp, scallops, avocado, cilantro, and plenty of lime. Wonderfully balanced and seasoned. Served with a tortilla chip (they were one of the garnish of choice...we saw them everywhere!).
Best Vegetarian (savory): Of the few vegetarian restaurants in Seattle, Carmelita is the one I have not been to, but they brought their A-game with this Wild watercress flan, garnished with sunchoke chips and spicy maple syrup reduction. Notice the beautifully contrasting microgreens (or micropurples in this case)? They were everywhere, too.
Best Meat Lollipop: Okay, so I'm making a very specific category for this one seeing as it was the only meat lollipop, but Picazo's Lamb Lollipop with Chukar Cherries' Cherry Chipotle Barbeque Sauce was amazing! The perfect balance of sweet and savory, succulent tenderness and crisp charred bits. Wow! Plus they utilized a local company for their sauce...this is Taste Washington!, after all.
Best Overall Dish (savory): Drum roll please...(come on people, this is the "Best Picture" of the event)...hands down, it goes to Suncadia's Kasu Sea Bass, Jasmine Rice Stir-Fry and Coconut Green Curry! Absolutely incredible flavors. And I wasn't the only one who thought so...their line was deep and full of compliments. Where, you may ask, is Suncadia? Well, it's a newish resort (by the same people that brought us SunRiver in Bend, OR) near Cle Elum off of I-90 where a very great chef runs Portals restaurant. Can't wait to stay there sometime!
Best Use of a Whole Animal in the Display: I love the Dahlia Lounge and had to figure out a way to give them an award, so here it is. Roast Suckling Pig with Green Garlic Sauce.
Best Cheese: I might be biased by my past experience with Mt. Townsend Creamery (the Trellis cheese plate!), but I'm giving it to these guys for their Seastack cheese. It is soft and creamy. Perfect!
Best Presentation (of an otherwise bland dish): Salty's on Alki's Potato Vichyssoise with Maine Lobster and Arugula Essence. Loved the three colors of the potatoes, but arugula essence? I don't know. It didn't do it for me.
Honestly, there were more than 59 food vendors, so this is truly a shortened list of highlights! Let's move into some sweets...
Best Chocolate: It's a tie.
Carter's Chocolates offered up some beautiful and tasty truffles flavored with wines, ales, and liquers. Plus, talking with owner Matt Carter was fun. How does he make his chocolates so beautiful? It's apparently a question he gets asked a lot. His answer? Two years of pastry chef school (and some cocoa butter transfers, specifically). His favorite is the chocolate-ganache filled truffle. And will you check out those Easter eggs (they're the size of ostrich eggs!!)? They are still available if you order by tomorrow (I think).
Oh! Chocolate win's for their fantastic Mango Habenero Tuffle. So often Mango flavor translates as "soapy", to quote the proprieter. But this was good with quite a lot of heat at the end from the chili. And the Honey Orange Caramel's were super, too. Very creative flavors.
Best Non-Chocolate Truffle: Purple Cafe and Wine Bar's Tiramisu Truffle. Light and creamy, yet rich and full of that familiar tiramisu flavor. I loved it!
Best Overall Dessert: From the dramatic demonstration to the last delectable bite, Anita's Crepes wins wins wins! A fresh crepe filled with slightly bruleed sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, and garnished with Chantilly and a dusting of powdered sugar. I'd love to interview Anita for an article (maybe Edible Seattle). Please say yes!!
Best Coffee: Stumptown may have been the only coffee vendor there, but I know it would have been the winner of this category even if pitted against Starbucks, Tully's, Peet's, Tony's, or any other. They have been my favorite for many years ever since my sister hooked me on their Belmont Street store down in Portland. But, now it's a Seattle company, too (2 stores on Capitol Hill). Today they featured 3 coffees: an El Salvadorean bean called Finca Kiliminjaro, a Guatemalan bean, and an Ethiopean bean (very nuanced like a tea).
The woman at the counter informed me that Aida who owns the El Salvadorean beans, handpicks the peaberries off the coffee plants for this roast. Apparently coffee berries usually produce two beans per berry, but about 5% of the time they put all of their energy into only one berry. This is the peaberry which is supposed to have a bit more flavor. Very nice brew.
Thanks so much to FoodBuzz for letting me represent them at Taste Washington! I did my best to earn my ticket price.