Friday, March 30, 2012

Taste of the Nation

Tonight I attended the SF installment of Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation event, a benefit to try to end childhood hunger.  There were ~50 of the area's top restaurants there serving up 1-4 dishes each, along with some breweries, wine makers, and mixologists.  Plenty of tasty nibbles and sips to be had!  You can see the full line up here:

The most fun part for me, besides the eating of course, was that at almost every station, the executive chefs were there themselves.  They were friendly, personable, and happy to tell you all about the exciting things going on at their restaurants.  Most of the places were already on my TODO list (or are places I've been to recently), but of course, I added a few new ones.  The list never ends!

I decided not to take photos this evening, as there were far too many dishes to take photos of, and managing a drink and all of the food was enough of an ordeal in itself, I couldn't imagine also attempting to take photos.  I'm also not going to review each and every dish, again, there were just far too many.

But, some things were particularly noteworthy:

  • Asparagus is especially delicious right now.  AQ had a particularly good dish with asparagus prepared several ways - some grilled, some in an amazingly flavorful puree, some compressed.  The Village Pub had a fantastic asparagus panna cotta with lemon creme fraiche - creamy, full of asparagus flavor, yum!  I'm loving the culinary trend of savory custard/pudding/panna cotta/brulee/etc. 
  • Peas are also delicious right now!  Spruce's Bellwether Farms ricotta gnudi with fresh peas was pretty delightful - soft gnudi, delicious sauce, and plenty 'o fresh peas.  Jasper's sweet pea deviled egg was the winning deviled egg of the night, the pea really making a light and fresh dish out of something normally heavier feeling (which was a pretty big contrast to Marlowe/Park Tavern's version, which was served warm and topped with aged provolone, pickled jalapeƱo & bacon).
  • Interestingly, the most unmemorable dishes of the evening were the ones I thought I'd like the most: the assorted seafood dishes. Tuna conserva from A16, tuna and caper stuffed peppers from Casa de Case, halibut crudo from E+O, razor clam ceviche from Fifth Floor, brandade from Scala's Bistro, smoked oysters from Commonwealth, and shrimp & pork wontons from Slanted Door were all good, but failed to leave much of an impression.
  • Dosa wins for the best spicing of the evening.  The flavors in their Hyderabadi shammi kebabs were incredible.  A lot of other places actually really lost in the spicing department, in particular, a lot of dishes were really over salted.

Steak tartar, black truffle soil.
Wagyu Beef, Smoked Mushroom Puree, Pickled Mushrooms, Wild Greens

  • Most dishes were presented on interesting serving-ware, but the most beautiful plating of the evening, hands down, goes to Alexander's Steakhouse and Prospect (images from their Twitter posts).  Alexander's steak tartar was served in a little plant pot, topped with black truffle soil, and tiny adorable flowers.  Stunning.  And Prospect's Wagyu belly was beautifully topped with pickled mushrooms, onions, and greens.
  • Cupcakes and burgers are still just awesome.  Luella's ground sirloin slider with bone marrow butter, topped with aged white cheddar on a soft house-made bun was just as delicious as you'd imagine, even when being prepared catering style like this.  And Kara's cupcakes, while ridiculously heavy on the icing-to-cake ratio, were the perfect sweet finish to the evening.
  • Speaking of catering, RN74 really does a great job! I still haven't eaten in the restaurant itself, but their two dishes this evening were among my favorites, and every dish I had at the last event they catered were great too.  Tonight's comte walnut tart was fantastic, a mousse-like whipped comte cheese, full of flavor, paired wonderfully with the red wines we were drinking. While I'm definitely a dessert-o-holic, and never go for the cheese platter, dishes like this could convince me to change my mind!  They also had the most interesting dessert offering, a black sesame profiterole, filled with passionfruit cream, with some stewed rhubarb on the side.  Really balanced flavors and textures, with the fairly savory bready profiterole, the sweet gooey passionfruit filling, and the slightly sour rhubarb.  Even my non-sweet liking friend enjoyed a bite of this.
  • I was surprised by how much things met my expectations - even in this strange catering-like setting, restaurants really represented themselves accurately.  For restaurants I was familiar with, the ones that I've particularly loved had some of the best dishes of the evening.  Ones I've been underwhelmed with were underwhelming here as well.  And ones at the top of my lists to try out turned out to be pretty great.  I was also impressed by what some of the places were able to pull off in this setting, particularly Osteria Coppa, where they were serving up a freshly made nettle gnudi.  This was the sort of dish that would not taste very good had it sat for any length of time, and they were executing it really well!


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