Taste of the Nation

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for the second time at Taste of the Nation Boston. Taste of the Nation events occur all across the country and are sponsored by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. All proceeds from the event support Share Our Strength’s mission, and the event is made possible through the generosity of local businesses that donate their time, resources, and goodies to the cause.

Many of the Boston area’s most popular fine dining establishments presided: L’Espalier, Hamersley’s Bistro, Rialto, Gargoyles on the Square, Craigie on Main, Hungry Mother, Church; as did more casual places like Trina’s and Redbones. Shops specializing in desserts were also there in full force: Kick Ass Cupcakes, South End Buttery, Glutenus Minimus. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts also decided to go the pastry route this year, donating an impressive pastry display filled with lots of colorful little treats.

Each restaurant served a small plate of its choice, and the offerings ran the gamut in size, daintiness, and flavors. But I pick up on some trends: hors d’oeuvres served on house-made potato chips, tartares, house-cured meats and homemade sausages, and pulled meats served slider-style. It seemed like there was a pretty clear split in thinking between restaurants who decided to go the comfort food route and those who decided to serve more refined plates. I thought one that bridged this gap beautifully was Brasserie JO, which served the most unctuous braised Kobe beef cheek on brioche:

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It was a close call between the beef cheek and this steak tartare from Upstairs on the Square for my favorite savory dish of the night (and that coming from someone who is not a huge fan of raw proteins, or beef!):

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I mostly dislike raw proteins for their texture –I like to masticate– but I really enjoyed the textural interplay between the steak and potato chip, and I thought the steak was seasoned really nicely and provided an almost grassy element that held up to the assertive flavors of the potato chip and shaved cornichon. There might have been capers in the tartare as well. I like to masticate and I like salt.

Rialto’s salt cod and spring salad on a potato chip. Fresh peas are one of those ingredients that gets me all giddy (fresh ricotta and wild mushrooms, too). I’m a sucker for those guys.

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I also swooned over the lamb tamales from Taranta because they were awesome.

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For dessert, I loved the macaroons from Levy Restaurants, but was blown away by the setup from Chef Jason Santos of Gargoyles on the Square. After being instructed to munch on a pinchful of bud-like nubs (nubs made with aleppo pepper, it turned out) and feeling a surge of numbness wash over my mouth, truly sweet relief in the form of liquid nitrogen lychee ice cream coated my taste buds, thankfully returning them to normal so they could properly resume their duties. True, it was maybe gimmicky, but I don’t know if I’ve ever put my trust in a chef in that way before, or anticipated my next bite as much as I did in that moment while I was desperately waiting for the ice cream, working up an anxious sweat hoping that it would save me. And it did; not five minutes later, I was off and running to the next booth, burying my face into the next dish of the night.

Not a shabby way to end the evening:

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More pics from the event here.

Definitely learn more about Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Pledge to ending childhood hunger in America by 2015 — and feel free to take the pledge now.

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