It was flat-out impossible to taste everything at Sunday's Taste Washington, the massive annual wine event in Seattle showcasing 225 producers pouring more than 800 different wines. Sixty restaurants provide tasty fuel for the record-busting 3,500 people who attended Taste.
In a space that's as big as a couple of football fields, chefs sizzled in two Viking demo kitchens. Sippers played a grown-up version of ring toss (the winners scored a bottle of wine). There were a dozen "cheese stations" and a spectacular raw bar starring pristine Northwest oysters, mussels and clams. Many tasters juggled wine glasses, full plates and cell phones as they Tweeted impressions from the event. (Check #TasteWA on Twitter for 140-character reports.)
Sensory overload was definitely a clear and present danger. But over the years, I've developed a sure-fire strategy to taste as much as possible without collapsing into a food coma. I think of Taste as a marathon and pace myself. I go slow and steady, never sprinting.
After spending five hours—yes, five hours—chewing and sipping (and spitting) through various Tastes, I finished right where I started: at Elliott's Oyster Bar. I love those briny, bracing bites from the sea, especially the beautiful Virginicas, originally from the waters off the East Coast, now thriving in Totten Inlet. The Virginicas' texture is so rich and buttery. After eating about a dozen, I closed my eyes and felt like Hemingway at a Parisian café.
Continuing on my search for seafood to pair alongside the lovely whites I was trying, I hit the jackpot with the Dungeness Crab Louie Roll from Etta's and then wrapped my tentacles around the grilled octopus and Olsen Farms potato skewers with chimichurri aioli from Matt's in the Market. Oh boy.
Even though I'm kinda over the whole gourmet mac-and-cheese thing, I had to admit I really liked the deep-fried Dungeness cheesy pasta poppers from The Georgian, really fun bar food from one of the most formal dining rooms in Seattle.
As I shifted to reds, I went in search of meat like marathoners zoom into hydration stations. Absolutely loved the lamb chops in a dried Chukar Cherry barbecue sauce from Picazo 7Seventeen in Prosser, the heart of grape-growing country in Eastern Washington, and the steak from fantastic Snake River Farms was so incredibly tender, I barely needed to chew.
The generous charcuterie plate from Cured in Leavenworth was a little bit spicy, which was just the thing to pair with the finest wine I tried all day: the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Betz Family Winery. A gorgeously balanced wine, the intense fruit went on and on.
My favorite bite at Taste, though, was neither surf, nor turf, but the greenest of seasonal greens. SkyCity, the restaurant at The Space Needle, served a creamy, complex soup made with wild stinging nettles and peppercress. A sprinkling of chopped Holmquist Farms hazelnuts provided the crunchy crescendo to this symphony of flavors.
After five hours, I had done such a good job pacing myself, I still had room for something sweet. But, darn it, I waited too long to make my dessert dash. The line was hundreds deep.
Next year, I'll eat dessert first.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. She recently started a new project on her personal blog, inspired by Michael Ruhlman, she's exploring "An Egg A Day".
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