Before I jump into my experiences at the Taste of the Nation last week, I wanted to say a quick hello to all of you. I feel like I’ve been away for a long time. It’s only been a week or so since my last post but somehow it feels like an eternity. Maybe time expands when you are unemployed. Maybe I should start saying self-employed… though I’ve not been working so it seems strange to say self-employed right now. Anyway, I don’t want to ramble too long about nonsense, I just wanted to say hi and that I have missed you all.
I was lucky enough to win a ticket to the Taste of the Nation in Napa from Foodbuzz (they also provide the ads over there on the right hand side of my site). In exchange for the ticket, I promised to write up my experiences and post it here. I’m a bit tardy in my posting (the event was a week ago). So without further ado…
Taste of the Nation – Napa, Monday, August 17, 2009.
It was a warm summer day. My friend, Christine, and I left the Bay Area around noon and drove up to Napa. Our first mistake was not eating lunch before we left. Instead we waited then stopped for lunch at Taylor’s Automatic Refresher at the Oxbow Market in Napa. Christine ordered the bleu cheese burger and fries:
We cut each sandwich in half and traded halfsies. We were both starving and the sandwiches were both tasty, this combination lead to the consumption of both sandwiches in their entirety. Rumor has it that most of the fries (regular and spicy sweet potato) were consumed as well, but I can neither confirm nor deny this.
There we were in Napa, it was around 2:30pm and we were full of our second mistake. The Taste of the Nation did not begin until 5pm which meant we had time to kill. So from Taylor’s we drove approximately toward a winery. Which winery we did not yet know, but in Napa it is pretty easy to drive approximately toward a winery. That alone is reason enough to love Napa. We saw a billboard for Chandon and decided that would be our destination. We followed the signs until we arrived at the sprawling, manicured Chandon winery. It is a beautiful place. Christine and I tasted the Prestige flight of champagnes sparkling wines, which were bubbly and lovely on a hot summer day.
Finally, it was time to head toward Silverado Resort for the Taste of the Nation. When we arrived, the place looked quiet and empty. Not at all what I expected. I expected people, fanfare, decorations… or at least a few signs. Finding none of these, we went inside and asked the concierge “What gives?” (well, really we asked something much more polite and socially acceptable but that was the essence of the question). The concierge told us that it was being held in “the grove” which is behind the mansion and the bellman would take us there. So we went back out front and waited for the bellman as instructed, melting and evaporating simultaneously with no shelter from the sun.
After a few sweltering minutes, Christine asked the valet when we could expect the bellman. He said anytime now. A moment later, someone from the kitchen staff drove up on a golf cart marked “Kitchen Staff Only”. The valet asked if he could take the 2 of us to the grove and so there we were squeezed in with one of the caterers or waiters or chefs, zooming (as much as a golf cart can zoom) down the path to the grove. We were expecting a really long ride because both the valet and the concierge implied with their tones that the Grove which is “behind the mansion” was too far to walk. Granted with the heat that afternoon, they were probably right… even though it was only about a quarter mile.
We pulled up to the Grove, checked in and entered the Taste of the Nation. The first table had a series of rums and Crystal Head Vodka (which is made, in part, by Dan Akroyd). Check out the cool bottle:
And next to the rums, there was a man making Zaya punch. I had no idea what Zaya punch was or whether I should really be drinking any since we just came from Chandon, but I wanted a taste. It turned out to be a great summer drink… light, fruity, not too sweet… refreshing with a little kick.
Given our two great mistakes, Christine and I were not terribly hungry when we arrived so we nibbled our way through the food slowly. The lineup of food and wine was impressive. The venue was lovely – in the middle of a lush green lawn under a grove of trees (go figure… being called “The Grove” and all).
There were about 150-200 people in attendance and more than enough space and food to keep lines to a minimum (we never had to wait for more than one person ahead of us at any of the tables). I think both of our favorite dishes were a tie between the peach salad from ZuZu (arugula-like greens tossed in an orange blossom honey dressing, topped with a plump peach slice and a Spanish goat’s milk cheese called garrotxa).
Three hours came and went quickly as we made our way through the tasty treats and before we knew it, it was time to go home. Since the sun had begun to set, the pathway to the car was fully shaded so we opted to stroll back to the car (also I wanted to walk off some of the food I just ate, or at least give it an opportunity to adjust its position before the car ride home). All in all it was a wonderful event and a fun outing. I even got to meet the San Jose Sharks play-by-play announcer, Randy Hahn, who was the master of ceremony as well as auctioneer (I never would have recognized him except that his voice is so distinct… and also they announced who he was. haha).
In the end, I ate too much and my stomach did not forgive me for a couple of days, but I enjoyed the experience of tasting the many fresh, seasonal, delicious, creative foods. I was also inspired to come home and attempt to recreate the peach salad… I’ll post a recipe as soon as I’m satisfied with the vinaigrette (I’m very close so it should be soon). In the meantime, here are more of the highlights from the event:
St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc – notes of citrus. light, summer wine.
Salute Santé Vin Jus – A virgin vineyard grape juice. It was really good… this is to Welch’s what Scharfenberger is to Hershey’s.
The Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon
Raymond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
La Toque – roast beef with pepper jack and homemade pickle relish sandwich
Silverado Resort – Abalone with edible flowers – “tasted like the ocean”
the Carneros Inn – scallop ceviche (queso seco, black beans, cabbage, guacamole-like) served on a tortilla chip
Ventana – heirloom tomato gazpacho with halibut ceviche, sea salt, freshly ground pepper
Chandon’s Étoile restaurant – Chilled melon soup with diced black plum and pluot, basil, ginger, and ver jus. paired with Chandon Brut Classic.
The Grill – white peach gazpacho
ZuZu – peach, greens (arugula?), sea salt, virgin grapeseed oil, honey blossom dressing, garrotxa cheese (spanish goats milk cheese)
Simi – avocado soup with roast pasilla, fresh corn, rock shrimp and ginger
Siena – chocolate cake (almost flourless), with a hint of cinnamon topped with an orange-flavored whipped cream.
Bardessono – Crostini with watercress(?), sea salt, diced melon and proscuitto
Go Fish – Spicy tuna hand roll
Cole’s Chop House – Filet Mignon sandwich
Entourage Catering – Paella
“Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation is the nation’s premier culinary benefit dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America” read more on Share Our Strength(also check out the Great American Bake Sale – look for one locally, set one up yourself, or donate through the Virtual Great American Bake Sale (One of my recipes is included in the e-book for the Virtual GABS).