One of the best events I have attended in the past year was Taste of the Nation last April. For months, I was eagerly awaiting this year’s bash, and last Thursday, the wait was finally over. Over 70 local restaurants and caterers and 40 wineries (plus some delightful liquor brands) were on hand to raise money for the event. All of the money from tickets and the silent auction went to Share Our Strength, which is dedicated to ending childhood hunger.
On entering the hall, my friend Ann and I were handed glasses of prosecco and set free into the wilderness of delicious foods. We were drawn first to the Food Should Taste Good table, a local snack company that manages to meet the expectations brought with their name. They had all of their chip flavors available for sampling, and I especially enjoyed the new cheddar flavor as well as the chocolate (both sweet and salty, which is clearly something I like). Their olive chips are still one of my favorite snacks out there. Right next to Food Should Taste Good was Corzo Tequila, which was serving margaritas and watermelon-and-cucumber-infused tequila. I loved the mix of watermelon and cucumber – very light flavors – and the way they mellowed the tequila out a bit. I’m not one for tequila shots, but these went down easily.
We wandered a bit, tasting bites from the Oak Room (grilled halibut with fresh pea shoots and a parsnip puree – nice use of both winter and spring veggies to make this an ideal dish for this time of year) and Sensing (a phenomenal cream of pea soup – smooth and sweet), as well as a mocktail from POM Wonderful (would have tasted better with a dash of gin, I bet). From there, we were sucked into the VIP room, where things started to get hazy. There was a Bombay Sapphire booth, manned by some ladies from LUPEC – the drinks were ice cold and perfectly mixed, who was I to say no? We also stopped by Chocolee’s table. She is possibly the best chocolate maker in town, and her new shop just opened in the South End. Make sure to order a salted caramel (there’s that salty and sweet thing again), which needs to be eaten in one bite so you don’t lose any of the amazing gooey caramel.
Back on the main floor, we wandered some more, and time seemed to speed up. Blue Ribbon BBQ showcased a whole roast pig and had bottles of all their different sauces to try. We enjoyed tastes from Verrill Farm (steak with spring greens and a roasted purple potato), Market (handmade passionfruit marshmallows), Laurel (decadent but not heavy lobster mac and cheese), KO Prime (so-so sloppy joes and amazingly fantastic A-1 potato chips), and Ole (dessert tamales). We enjoyed more drinks from a second LUPEC/Bombay Sapphire table and from Guatamalan rum, Ron Zacapa. We went to a bunch of other tables, but either many restaurants ran out early or I had more to drink than I think I did. (OK, it’s probably the latter.)
My two favorite bites of the evening, however, were not from regular restaurants, but from a caterer and a bakery. The chicken and potato gaufrettes from Season to Taste Catering were phenomenal and layered together crunchy potato, salty chicken, and a sweet caramel-y sauce. I came back for seconds of these perfectly proportioned appetizers and would have had more if I didn’t want other people to try them as well. We stopped at the Glutenus Minimus table because I had heard of the bakery before and was interested in trying their things for my gluten-free friend. I was totally blown away, though, by their baked goods. Gluten-free pastries often feel heavy and definitely don’t taste quite right, but that wasn’t true of anything I tried here. In fact, their chocolate chip cookies were better than some I’ve had at other bakeries – mind-bending!
And did I mention that the local band I enjoyed last year, Cassavettes, was playing again, and when I talked to them at the end of the night, they remembered talking with us last year? I’m listening to their new cd, Shake Down the Sun, right now, and it’s killer.
Taste of the Nation still has another local event coming up. Taste of the Nation Worcester is next week on April 19th, and if it’s anything like this event, it’s bound to be a blast.