Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recap: Taste of the Nation in Portland, Maine

On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to attend Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation in Portland, M.E. thanks to a contest I won through FoodBuzz. 100 percent of ticket sales to Taste of the Nation events around the U.S. go to Share Our Strength's efforts to end childhood hunger. To date, the chefs and restaurants who participated in Taste of the Nation events have raised over $265 million for Share Our Strength's cause.

Portland's event, which was from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., featured over 20 Maine-based restaurants and chefs. The restaurants served their finest cuisine for guests, with plenty of specialty cocktails, local and Belgian beers and wine to wash everything down with. 

Not only was I fortunate enough to attend this Taste of the Nation event (and, in turn of winning the tickets, cover it for this very blog), I was also lucky enough to enjoy the evening with Z, as well as the winner of my Taste of the Nation giveaway, Juli!

Z and Josh (Juli's husband):

Juli and I:

In addition to the food, the event had an outdoor seating area where the band No Means No performed around 6:30, after the food vendors closed for the evening, and the chefs mingled with the crowd.

Now, let's go to the important stuff - like what I ate. Over the course of the evening, I gorged on a number of gourmet, high quality eats (wild boar, anyone?), but I, per usual, will only share with you some of my favorites. Before I get to it, though, I must express my only gripe of the evening: The lack of vegetarian options. There were only about three vendors who had meatless dishes (or made a meatless version of their meat dish), and, even though I am an omnivore, even I was a little sick of meat by the end of the evening. Z, unfortunately (or fortunately?) had more of a liquid dinner than anything - but he took it like a champ.

OK - now on to the highlights of the evening!

Sweet Pea Pate au Choux Gnocchi with Port Clyde Lobster & Dandelion Farm Peas - Lily Bistro, Rockland:

Talk about locally grown and completely fresh. This dish by Lily Bistro was absolutely outstanding, and perfect for a hot, humid day. The hunks of fresh lobster melted in my mouth, and mixed with the fresh peas? Divine. However...I still don't know where the gnocchi is. But I'll let that slide this time.

Goat Cheese with Beets - Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth (Blogger does not want to rotate my photo):

Despite the sideways photo, this dish was simple, yet incredibly tasty. The beets were insanely fresh, and the cold, fried hunk of tangy goat cheese proved, yet again, that sweet beets and goat cheese are meant to be together.

Pacific Rim Tuna Tartar - David's, Portland: 

You wouldn't think crunchy, salty potato chips would do wonders with tuna tartar (I sure as heck didn't). But potato chips with tuna tartar has proved to be genius. The salty chips tasted outstanding against the cold, only lightly salted tuna. Bonus: The chips also worked as edible cutlery to scoop up the tuna with.

Mini Chorizo Papusa Atop Fresh Tomato Sauce Garnished with Radish & Cabbage Slaw - El Camino, Brunswick:

After eating a lot of colder entrees, this warm, delectable puff chocked full of chorizo flavor was a welcome change. The crunchy slaw helped bring texture to this otherwise soft dish, and the tomato sauce helped to round out all of the complex, yet well married, flavors.

Harbour Wind (Chambourd, ginger, lime, gold tequila) - Natalie's Restaurant, Camden: 

Tequila. Enough said.

Maine Summer Flounder - Fore Street, Portland:

This just may have been my favorite dish of the evening. The presentation was gorgeous, and the fish was perfectly cooked - it fell apart like a masterpiece with a touch of my fork, and the skin was crispy and well seasoned. The sauce that was drizzled over the top of the fish was also extremely silky and citrusy, and complemented the fish extremely well.

Cow with Red Onion & Quail Egg on a Crostini - Primo Restaurant, Rockland:

Confession: I've never had quail egg before (or at least, not that I can remember). And believe me when I tell you, I've been missing out. This mixture of rich, grass-fed beef with the oily, runny, rich quail egg was pure decadence. Grass-fed beef makes a world of difference, too - for our taste buds and our overall health (not to mention the cow's overall health).

Coppola's Director's Pinot Noir (California):

We were high rollers this evening, and were able to order this red wine in the VIP section of the tent. I'm a big fan of Pinot Noir, and this glass made me an even bigger fan. The wine was smooth and full of rich cherry and chocolate flavors.

Brioche Grilled Cheese with Aged Cheddar & Bacon - The Front Room, Portland:

Grilled cheese will never taste the same again. The crusty, well-buttered brioche mixed with the sharp, salty cheese and bacon (with some sweet, bthinly sliced apple in there) was completely and utterly amazing. Bonus: The Front Room was one of those vendors willing to make their dish without meat. 

Frozen Zabaglione with a Rhubarb Angelica Sauce - Swan's Way, Camden:

Cold, creamy, and the perfect serving size for such an event. 

Mini Chocolate with Salted Caramel Buttercream Cupcakes - Buttercup Cupcakes, Portland: 

These bite-sized delicacies were intensely moist, and the rich chocolate cake married beautifully with the salted caramel frosting. Not being a huge sweets fan, I really liked the addition of the salt here - and the buttercream was intensely airy and not jam-packed with sugar.

Root Beer Float made with Capt'n Eli's Root Beer:

I don't know what vanilla ice cream was used in this, but it was incredibly creamy and full of sweet vanilla flavor. This batch was actually so rich, I only drank/ate about a quarter of it.

Cranberry Colata (light and dark Cruzan Rum, cranberry juice, pineapple juice) - Sean Bishop:

My final drink of the evening was just as refreshing as the previous three (or eight?). Very light and refreshing, and not overly sweet.

Finally - my non-food or drink-related highlight of the evening was the Bagpipe Salute sponsored by the St. Andrews Society. I'm Scottish, so bagpipe players are fascinating to me. 

Our evening at Taste of the Nation was packed with delicious food, tasty cocktails, and plenty of musical entertainment. Due to the large crowd that was in attendance, I am confident Share Our Strength was able to raise even more money for such an important and worthy cause. Thank you again, FoodBuzz, for this wonderful opportunity!

Have you ever attended a Taste of the Nation event? What's your review?


  1. I didn't get to attend Taste of Nation in Boston but I will say that I love some of the restaurants you sampled, including the Sea Glass Inn where I got to dine in March. Thanks for sharing!

  2. great write up, everything looks so tasty!