The Wrap-Up: Voracious Tasting & Food Awards"/>
If you were there at the Paramount last night, you already know how much fun our Voracious Tasting event was. Around a thousand of Seattle's most dedicated gastronauts and night creatures came out to eat, to drink, to meet and greet and get weird all together at the biggest, coolest party around. It was loud. It was crowded. But it was also one helluva good time.
If you missed it, have no fear. While Seattle Weekly might not have the funds (yet ...) for funding our own time-travel project that would allow you to go back in time and buy tickets before they all sold out, what we do have is a killer slideshow picking out all the highlights of the big shindig and the promise that, since we not only sold out the event but managed to get through it without setting fire to the Paramount or doing any real and lasting damage, we'll be having another one next year. Swear to God, it's already being planned. Because really, what's one great party but an excuse to have another?
In the meantime, since I was on the floor all through the event (except for the time I spent up on stage judging the Chef Showdown), partaking widely and incautiously of all the food and booze on offer, I figured I'd give a quick wrap-up of the good and the bad, starting with the restaurants working the crowds on the main floor.
At most events like these, the food can sometimes get a bit sketchy. There's always a restaurant or two who put off their planning until the last minute or suffered some sort of last-minute breakdown resulting in nothing but a table full of bruschetta, or worse. There's always some knucklehead restaurateur out there who tries to cheapskate his way through the tasting by offering salad or a table full of bruschetta. Or worse.
But last night, there was none of that. Seriously. Maybe it was because this was the first event of its kind and everyone wanted to put their best foot forward. Maybe it was because no one wanted to be publicly shamed for trying to squeak through on lukewarm pizza, toothpicked bites of fruitcake or bruschetta. And, as a matter of fact, the two guys who did decide to do bruschetta (talking about you, Ethan Stowell, and you, Guy From The Metropolitan Grill), rather than cheaping out, did fantastic versions of it: a smoked-mackerel bruschetta for Stowell, carefully assembled, and a brilliant bit of foie gras on toast from the Met, gently salted, topped with a thin slice of raw, beautifully marbled beef, a dab of preserved fruit and a single lovely leaf of tarragon. The Met's liver-and-beef toast actually turned out to be one of my favorite bites of the night--as evidenced by the fact that I ate four of them before I actually started working the floor with any serious purpose.
Maneki brought sushi and it was excellent, offered by costumed servers off platters stacked with spicy tuna rolls and local salmon. There were competing cupcakes from both Trophy and Cupcake Royale (the winner: Cupcake Royale's salted caramel, made tiny enough to be eaten in one bite) and tortilla Espanola with fried jamon Serrano from Harvest Vine which, all alone, was good enough, but was made better by the fact that it came on a stick. As we all know, everything is better when it comes on a stick. Even omelets, apparently.
SkyCity did a stinging nettle soup with creme fraiche that actually had people in the crowd re-thinking their previously held opinions on SkyCity in general--wondering if, perhaps, it was time to make a return visit to one of Seattle's most visible (and touristy) addresses. Boka was offering bacalao salad, served on potato rounds, with piperade (first actual dish I tried last night, and I went back for seconds), Barrio was slinging achiote-rubbed prawns served tail-up in a shooter full of house-made sangrita--which was awesome because I don't think enough restaurants utilize sangrita, which is both a fine sauce/broth and an excellent morning-after wake-up drink and hangover cure when used to chase a light pour of good mezcal.
But the single best dish of the night? I gotta give it to the boys from Spur who came strong with tiny, beautiful little foie gras torchons, each about the size of a piece of Botan rice candy, set with a little brioche tuille handle and topped with a dab of rhubarb jelly and a shiso leaf which, together, looked like a cherry on top. The foie itself was silky and perfect, the texture like eating a mouthful of butter. And with a dash of rhubarb to cut the fattiness, it was as close to a single, perfect bite as anything I had last night. I was honestly stunned by how good it was.
What's that you say? Were there cocktails? Oh, there were cocktails, my friends. There were enough cocktails, done by enough talented cocktail artists, that I can't actually recall most of what I drank or who poured it for me. And while that may be a sign of bad journalism on my part, it's also the sign of a really good party. I can recall someone handing me something pink with jalapeno in it. I know Barrio was pouring a classic Brown Derby. The Triple Door was doing a Vietnamese pickle martini which tasted so much better than it sounds. But the rest of it is really just a blur ...
Finally, there was the big Chef Showdown which pitted Seth Caswell from Emmer & Rye against Jason Stratton of Spinasse, both of them having to put together four courses for four judges in just sixty minutes, all of which had to utilize our night's secret ingredient ...
Jason Stratton's sous for the night, Sara Harvey
Okay, I'm with you. Lamb might not have been the most interesting secret ingredient in the world, but it was probably better than turtle (which we seriously considered for about a day), live eels (which would've been excellent because in order to fillet them, the best way to keep them in one place is to nail their heads to a board) or chicken (which was never really a possibility, but still ...). Lamb was where we came down when every other idea we came up with was either too strange, too complicated, too simple or too eel-y, but considering neither of our competitors had ever really done anything like the Chef Showdown before, and since we at Seattle Weekly had never tried to put on a contest like the Chef Showdown before, we decided that a little simplicity might be best.
And not for nothing, but the chefs cooked the hell out of that lamb. They made lamb Bolognese. They made lamb tartare and lamb chops and little lamb meatball things and roasted lamb loin. And while neither side went so far as to make lamb ice cream, both guys had their thinking caps on and never let their plates get dull.
Now granted, Caswell's first dish of lamb carpaccio a la Harry's Bar (minus the lemon) was virtually inedible despite the fact that he spent his first 10 minutes on his stage doing nothing but beating his meat (ha!), and Stratton's final plate of lamb chops over some kind of Indonesian bean concoction was terribly undercooked. But beyond that, everything else was shockingly good (in particular, Caswell's final two dishes--that Bolognese and a chop over a salad of potatoes and artichoke--over which I threatened to stab one of the runners on stage when she tried to take them away from me), and the final tally had the two chefs separated by just seven points out of a possible 100.
In the end, Caswell took home the prize, and will now go down in culinary history as the winner of the first annual Seattle Weekly Chef Showdown--an honor which I hope follows him for all of his days.
The chop in question
And who knows ... Being the reigning champion, maybe he'll have to come back next year to defend his title.
Or, better yet, maybe we'll just throw another Chef Showdown, and this time we really will make the chefs work with eels, Pop Rocks, chicken McNuggets and giant turtles. That would be awesome. And like I said above, any excuse for another party ...