Taste of the Nation Boston 2010

On Thursday night, I attended Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Boston fundraiser at the Hynes Convention Center.  Coworker-friend AZ and I volunteered from 4:30-7 pm (the doors opened at 6) and then dove headfirst into the extravaganza.  The event was well-organized, generously sponsored, and a true feast for the senses.  High energy currents electrified the exhibit hall all night, there was a strong community vibe, and it was a special pleasure for me witnessing chefs not just cooking but interacting with each other and enjoying themselves as well.  Of course, the main event was the food, impressive in quantity and spectacular in quality.  It was an extreme dining experience unlike any other; it stimulated, provoked, challenged, pleased, informed, intrigued, satisfied, then did it all over again.  I’m still processing that night (processing on multiple levels, yes) and will be for some time.

As a side note, I did want to walk away with some photos but did not want to obsess over that the entire night, so I don’t have photos from every booth we visited.  But I think the sampling here will speak to the variety of flavors and dishes that were displayed.

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Hamersley’s Bistro served a pan-seared duck breast seasoned with soy and sesame, alongside a complementary edamame salad.  This was some quality meat, and the salad demonstrated the virtues of sesame oil used sparingly. Hamersley was there cooking that night, stand-up guy that he is.  I think I might have offended him by offering a judgment of the duck (a little overcooked), but he took it in stride.  Now that I think about it, what was I doing criticizing his food?  He is donating his time and money and here I am telling him his meat is too well-done?  I am such an ass sometimes.  Sorry Chef!

House-made mortadella sausage — a tasty bite — kudos to the restaurant, whichever one it was.

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Uh, yes please. Slight gag reflex over raw fish be damned, I’ll try anything JGV throws at me.  But I will say I felt compelled to eat this spoonful out of obligation, not strict desire.

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Tuna tartare with avocado, radish, and an orange oil finish.  I swallowed a couple times and took a few seconds to prepare before shoving the spoon into my mouth.  It was subtle and refreshing — texturally playful, with the avocado and tuna melding together, and the crunch of the radish on top of that smooth harmony.  But I still had a hard time swallowing, which I eventually did.  It helped psychologically to think that the avocado contributed more to the mushiness than the tuna.  I’m not sure how I’ve been so finetuned to think that meat should have some resistance to it.  Neither of my parents, or my brother, have this problem.  I haven’t had any negative experiences with raw fish, either.

House-made passion fruit and blackberry marshmallows from Market. Lovely touch.  Nothing problematic about squishing these into my mouth.

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Lamb shank from Church: flaky meat, tart pickles, a piquant kick at the finish. Why don’t my pickled veg come out like these? On a night of several lamb dishes, this one distanced itself from the crowd.

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A surprise contender for best in show. Sensing showcased the fresh, clean flavors of spring with a spring pea and lemongrass soup.  I’m normally not a fan of cream soups but this one was a delight.

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Blue Ox: Frisee and arugula salad, dried tart cherries, blue cheese, roasted pistachios, (duck?) prosciutto, maple vinaigrette. This salad is a big-time dish– AZ and I both fell truly, madly, deeply, in love.  The restaurant is in Lynn, about 45 minutes outside Boston, but this salad alone might be worth a trip.

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Salmon cooking on rock salt:

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AZ’s salmon and smoked mackarel with avocado and pine nuts:

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Verril Farm in Concord, MA. Grass-fed beef with potato, microgreens, and a game-changing puree (cauliflower with some sour cream, maybe?). When I first tasted the beef, I found it lacking in flavor, but then I ate a piece swathed in the puree and had a moment of gustatory revelation. Verril also served the one dish of which I had to have seconds (too busy smacking my lips to photograph it): a meringue cake with passion fruit filling and coconut flakes. Oh my goodness so good. so good soo gooood. Seriously, the meringue was otherworldly. I had to go back at the end of the night to see if there was any cake left, and there was. They eyed me; I probably had a crazed look in my eyes, like I was thinking about taking the rest of the tray and sprinting away with it.

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Pork belly with cauliflower puree, bacon bits, and a raspberry accent.

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Bacon, anyone? @ the Hungry Mother booth.

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I’ll take some!

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See the rest of the Flickr set here.  Among the other things we sampled: seafood ceviche from Neptune Oyster, mini pulled pork burgers from Hard Rock, a variety of grapefruit-centric mixed drinks and fun wines, dessert tamales from Ole, Farmer’s custard from Henrietta’s Table, pretty damn perfect chocolate chip cookies from Panificio, artisanal chocolates, a spread of savory and sweet selections from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and on and on. Here is the rundown of all participants, and it includes the creme de la creme of Boston’s culinary scene. Mon dieu, what a night. Though the irony of such an extravagant feast-fundraiser in the name of ending childhood hunger was not lost on me; I’m sure the food wasted that night (mine included) would have lasted many children a good while. I find consolation in the fact that the money raised was worth it, because it was. Food can only go so far in fighting systemic hunger.

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