Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Taste of the Nation Boston. A whole lot of awesome in one place.


Let me start out by saying that my friend Pam over at Cave Cibum is good to me. Recently, she was invited to this year’s Taste of the Nation Boston event at the Hynes Convention center and she somehow managed to get me invited as well. And oh my god, what an amazing event. Managed by Share Our Strength, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America, this year’s Taste of the Nation Boston boasted more than seventy of Boston’s finest restaurants, over forty wineries, and Bombay Sapphire drinks galore. To put it simply this event is foodie freakin heaven.

Now up until this Thursday, I had has only attended convention center events with the word fair tacked on at the end think: investment fair, job fair, school fair. So as I entered the Hynes I really didn’t know what to expect. We were offered VIP passes, meaning that we could enter at 5:30, and have full access to the VIP room. Being industrious foodies we of course arrived early, and checked our coats with the lovely volunteers.

As my friend Pam and I entered the convention hall, we were bombarded by fantastic smells and sights. In front of us was a veritable sea of chef’s stations and serving tables. Steam wafted from skillets and griddles around the room as complex culinary delights were created in miniature right before our eyes. It was an amazing site. This was the first instance that I turned to Pam and said ‘Wow, this is messed up, I can’t believe we’re here, for free. You rock.” She probably got tired of hearing this because as the evening progressed and I got more Bombay Sapphire drinks in me I said this more and more.

We were greeted by someone handing out glasses of preseco, a wonderful way start to any evening. Then we wandered off to the left, drawn by the cheese displays. There was a truffle company, that for the life of me I can’t remember the name of but they had some wonderful truffle oils and honey.

The Vermont Butter and Cheese Company was right at the front of the room with their elegant presentation of cheeses. They displayed four different goat cheeses and some fantastically creamy butter, the woman who was explaining the cheeses and butter informed us “This butter is 86% fat, the way butter should be.” Amen sister! The soft almost brie like Bijou is a ripened goat cheese that was very flavorful though a little too pungent for me. However the creamy Crottin, a younger version of the Bijou, had a light and subtle flavor that would work equally well as an addition to a salad or served on its own with some nice bread.

For my friend Ron, a Ziggurat of Cheese

Iggy's Bread sculpture

In the background, behind the din of clanging pans, sizzling food, and people having a great time wound the melodies of the Cassavettes a young Boston based band. The band was placed on a stage at the back of the convention hall and surrounded by, well, food coma tables. You could see people drifting in and out of the seats throughout the night, pausing to enjoy the music and contemplate if they had reached their limits. The addition of live music to this event made it extra special and the band was really a great choice, their upbeat music kept the crowds awake and flowing throughout the evening.

Though a fantastic event overall, the evening was a bit overwhelming. There just aren’t that many situations where you get to wander around a large room where people hand you food and drink with little to no prompting, so remembering everything that was consumed is frankly impossible. However, there were a few standouts worth mentioning.

Masa, a southwestern inspired bistro located in the South End and Woburn, brought their tapas A game with their duck empanadas and chocolate barbeque sauce. At the Gargoyles booth they were serving a black truffle soup with potato foam topped with beet pollen which produced a really complex flavor, the soup was rich and meaty, almost overwhelmingly so, but the potato foam calmed the richness of the soup while the beet pollen added a little extra kick to finish off the flavor. Davios delivered a light springy dish with their spring pea and fresh ricotta ravioli with lemon butter, grape tomatoes, and micro pea tendrils. ChocoLee grabbed our attention with their beautiful display of gourmet chocolates we stopped for a moment to savor rich almond marzipan coated in dark chocolate and the sinfully good salted chocolate caramels.

Yummy Duck Empenadas

Amazing Chocolates

Black Truffle Soup

Despite all of these inventive offerings, the restaurant table that stood out the most for this Bostonist was Lobby. While they presented a simple table, no frills or special gimmicks, Lobby’s food spoke for itself. A salty duck quesadilla with fresh guacamole and a sweet and spicy butternut squash soup with ginger were simple elegant fare done right. While all of the restaurants mentioned above have earned a visit from this Bostonist, Lobby’s delicious offerings have earned them first place on the list.

Duck Quesadillas

Last but not least we must mention the overabundance of alcohol that was available, well everywhere. Bombay Sapphire Gin, Stella Artois, and Harpoon Brewery were some of the sponsors to provide drinks to this foodie shindig. There were Beer stations set up throughout the event and glasses sporting the Stella Artois and Harpoon logos were spotted on several occasions. Bombay Sapphire was serving up Raspberry Tom Collins, Sapphire Royales and Gimlets. And while the evening started with tiny plastic martini glasses, by the end they were filling up wine glasses with their surprisingly delicious cocktails. Not interested in Beer or Liquor? That’s ok, wine and water were abundant as well. There were ziggurats of wine glasses strategically placed at the entrance and near the band, allowing easy access for anyone wanting to sample the offerings of the abundant wine tables.

GIN! in Raspberry Tom Collins

There was also a silent auction, raffles, and an ingenious ducky auction. The ducky auction was so intriguing we almost bought one. The idea is simple, for 25 or 50 dollars, guests could buy a small rubber duck, they came in a variety of costumes, which would enter you in an auction for some great prizes, and even if you didn’t win you’d go home with a duck! All of the proceeds of this event go to fight childhood hunger in America.

The Cambridge Culinary academy was present everywhere with their tables of French cakes in the main hall and their chafing dishes of inventive gnocchi dishes in the VIP tent. While these imaginative students made some amazing gnocchi, unfortunately they’re baking skills were a little lacking. Tiramisu shouldn’t taste citrusy, citrus cake shouldn’t be bland, and the chocolate cake with pears was a bizarre combination that frankly wasn’t very well thought out. Though I do have to say they had some seriously cool baked sculptures.

Yes Folks It's a Rooster

And a Flamingo!

Overall, this was a fantastic event. Well planned out and executed. Chefs, volunteers, and guests alike all enjoyed sharing in their love of great food and drink and everyone seemed to be having a genuinely great time. While the ticket prices are steep, $85-95 for general admission passes and $135-145 for VIP tickets, this event is worth the price. Though this Bostonist advises skipping the VIP tickets in favor of the cheaper general admission passes, the VIP room was a nice distraction but the separate band packed into the small VIP space made it too crowded and loud to really enjoy the extra drink and food perks. This is a great event for a great cause, we highly recommend this event for foodies and non-foodies alike.

portions of this post were originally posted to the Bostonist

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