Wednesday, February 27, 2013

FoodTrek: First Encounters of a Seattle Wine and Food Experience

I came, I saw, I ate a lot. And then I took some antacid when I got home before slipping into a massive Food Coma. A Sunday not to be forgotten, I attended my first Seattle Wine and Food Experience, an annual gastronomiconvention that showcases food and drink from the Seattle area, as well as the surrounding Pacific Northwest region. Sensory overload be damned, it was a Super Monstertruck Sunday of food and drink for your digestive system!

One stop on the Omnomnomicon - lovely rillette from Copperleaf Restaurant - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Since 2009, the Seattle Wine and Food Experience has been dazzling tastebuds and oddly, this was my first time going. I tend to be a noncommittal ticket-buyer and like most popular events, tickets sell out, but I wasn't going to miss out on this one. I was getting tantalized by Tweets and Facebook posts, listing all the different restaurants, wineries and bakeries that would be in attendance this year and I gave into the social media peer pressure and a rumbling tummy, whimpering for a special day of indulgence. I picked up two tickets, one for myself and the Mister, and we partook of this edible/drinkable Magical Mystery Tour together. I told Brock this was my Valentine's Day present to him because in a way, it was like going to several great restaurants all at once, with wine and cocktails. I won't say this is the most Smoove-B of sweetheart gifts, but at least I didn't get him a bowling ball that said: HOMER.

Not just your typical wine and cheese tasting -- just hints of what was to come - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I really didn't know what to expect, but when we walked into the Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center, my mindgrape was surely blown. It was three full rows and all the surrounding wall areas filled with different food and drink tables. Food was spread out all over, wine was organized by Washington and Oregon, there were breweries and cideries, distilleries were in one pocket of the hall, and there was a big lounge area towards the back with live music and a red carpet, put together by Snoqualmie Casino. I wasn't sure if I'd take photos, I thought about just experiencing the day as a hungry/thirsty person (which I was), but my desire to not only taste but capture everything kicked in. Eye of the Tiger! Poor Brock was left to fend for himself as I flitted about like a hummingbird with the camera, snapping this and that. I didn't feel too bad, since he was able to snag some tasty bites in between wine and beer samplings. I managed to see some familiar faces in the crowd and I eventually found Brock again, and we continued our tasting whirlwind until our bellies cried "uncle."

Fresh starts - creamy chowder from Allium, roasted beet salad from Purple and mood music - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So I admit, I went a little crazy on the food choices, jumping from sweet to savory, back to sweet, then a random cube of cheese here and there. The food was organized like 52 Pickup, you just jumped around to whatever drew your gaze and any hope of staying on a single food course was lost for me -- I wasn't Alice in Wonderland, I was like one of the bad kids in Willy Wonka, going attention-deficit food-berzerk and trying everything like a lunatic. I couldn't help myself! 

In a perfect world, this blog post would have been the order I had all my samples -- I would have leisurely strolled over to Allium Restaurant's table, to partake of Chef Lisa Nakamura's lovely Oregon shrimp and wild mushroom chowder, with a zest of citrus for a refreshing finish. It was like a kiss of spring at the ebb of winter's frost. And then a saunter over to Purple Cafe and Wine Bar's roasted Chioggia beet salad tossed in an orange vinaigrette, topped with a minted yogurt mousse and crumbles of pistachio -- vegetal roasted sweetness with the creamy yogurt to balance out the sharpness of the citrus. I also had some of the creamy walnut soup topped with duck confit and cherries from The Hunt Club - lovely balance of savory, sweet and a bit of sharp tartness from the cherries. The soups and salad were beautifully prepared and felt very Northwest, with caramelized root vegetables and velvety, delicate soups.

Seafood course - nibbles from Ray's Boathouse and Ivar's, and a fish soup from Coho Cafe - Photos by Wasabi Prime
You can't have a Northwest food experience without featuring the creatures of the sea -- fish prepared as poke or tartare were popular bites. They work great for large crowds, since you can just grab a bite and go, and they don't need to be piping-hot or ice-cold. I really enjoyed the local albacore tuna poke flavored with ponzu and sesame seeds, served on little crackers with fennel fronds, from Chef Wayne Johnson at Ray's Boathouse. The King salmon spicy tartare with pine nuts, jalapeno and ginger oil, topped with radish sprouts from Ivar's Restaurants was just the right level of warming heat with the cool fish. I got a nice citrus zing from the coriander ling cod meatballs in a shiitake herbed ginger broth from Coho Cafe -- it reminded me of a Thai soup with the savory-sour broth.

Rich salumi from Olli Salumeria Americana - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The tasting continued with heavier fare like nibbles of rich salumi from Olli Salumeria Americana -- big bites of pepper to cut through the fattiness of the meat. There were quite a few meaty selections to choose from throughout the hall and there was a Beef Bistro area to one side, where there were beef dishes and even a tasting comparison by the Washington State Beef Commission between corn and grain-fed cows. This was probably one of the more popular sections -- you had to stand in a line to get to any of the tastings and I managed to get a nice bite of seared tenderloin drizzled in a port wine and cambozola demi-glace from Capital Grille. I didn't get to Andaluca's Moroccan beef tagine or Barking Frog's braised beef shortribs, (both two favorite restaurants of mine!) but I admired them from afar as I continued to jump around and be too impatient for lines. I took a moment to get some action shots of the nearby Serafina and Cicchetti table, searing off some gorgeous lamb kefta served with tomato jam, feta and yogurt on flatbread. The crowds indicated this was a clear winner -- there was quite a line for this one and I'm sad to say I didn't get a chance to sample it, but still glad to have gotten some photos of the kitchen team at work. I wasn't too worried, as the lamb kefta is on Serafina's regular menu, so I always know where to go when I want a whole plate of it all to myself!

Where's the Beef? At Capital Grille. Where's the Lamb? At Serafina and Cicchetti - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I made sure to visit Local 360, who had a wonderfully flavorful and spiced lamb merguez sausage, sourced locally from Anderson Ranches, topped over a heap of onion marmalade on a bite of bread. It had a little dollop of mustard with a pleasant kick. I could have eaten that all day, it was so hearty and strong. And I couldn't help but take notice of their upcoming Bacon Happy Hour on March 8th -- they take reservations, so if you dig on swine, give them a call to save you a seat!

Eat Local (360) - their lamb sausage is like a punch of flavor IN YOUR FACE - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I continued my feast with what I can only describe lovingly as Dude Food, but in a wonderfully elegant way. I really took a shine to Copperleaf Restaurant's lamb rillette served over pretzel bread with a smear of apricot mustard -- it was familiar ingredients, but put together so artfully. One bite and you recognize all the hearty, cozy flavors, but to look at the carefully composed canape, it's an exotic edible gem. The shaved lamb sliders topped with spicy-sweet pepper relish from Trellis Restaurant were a manly mini-treat. It's like a hamburger, but better -- nice chew from the the tender slices of lamb and that relish makes you never want anything else on a sandwich again. I thought about grabbing one of the giant jars of the relish and making a break for it -- and I hadn't even had a drop of alcohol yet! That was eventually remedied, as the Northwest Cider Association was conveniently close to the Trellis and Local 360 table, as were several breweries and cideries. My first frosty beverage was a fragrant apricot cider from Tieton Cider Works. I also tried a preview taste of Ninkasi Brewing Company's Spring Reign Pale Ale, which was very bright and refreshing -- that's going to be perfect for summer, if it's not already gone by then.

Burgers, beer/cider and hash - Dude Food! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There was an epic potato hash station from Kaspar's Special Events and Catering, handing out bites of wild boar chili over potato hash, and a chopped mix of vegetables, ham and potato hash. Instant breakfast. Sometimes you don't want fussy or fancy stuff, you just want something simple, mixed with all your favorite ingredients, which I totally appreciate. At this point, you have to be thinking, so much savory... where's the sweet?

Stop the world, I need a doughnut - Photos by Wasabi Prime
All the desserts, confections, baked goods you can imagine... and I go wild for a doughnut. I'm a sucker for cake doughnuts, and the platters stacked high like an ode to Twin Peak at the Top Pot table drew me in like a sailor to a siren's sugar-glazed song. Thankfully they didn't have my kryptonite, their Apple Fritter of Doomed Self-Control, but their classic glazed was enough to get my Doughnut Jones on. I went to Sugar Eleven, all systems GO with marvelous absinthe caramels from Jonboy, cookies from La Panzanella Croccantini, rich chocolate cheesecake (with gluten free crust) from Rusty's Famous Cheesecake, and the badazzmofo of all campfire snacks, a sea salt, almond and ganache s'more-beast from Dirty Oscar's Annex, which is out in Tacoma if you happen to be in T-Town anytime soon.

Time for dessert... I'll just have a bite. Well, maybe another bite. OK one...more...bite.. - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And STILL MORE SWEETS! Seattle Magazine couldn't have planned their chocolate/Valentine's Day issue better -- they had copies of that delectable chocolate-laden magazine out in stacks, along with several of their featured chocolates displayed for admiring and tasting. Mostly tasting. I was particularly taken with Hot Cakes' smoked chocolate chips. I know their bakery of clever sweets is the most adorable thing on the planet right now, and I have to say just a few nibbles of those smoked chocolate chips makes them worth the hype. Any sweet fool can make a sugar-laden dessert, but it's one smart cookie who realizes giving chocolate chips an almost savory, woody undertone elevates the humble cocoa nib onto a greater plane of dessert existence. Chocolate chip cookies like a boss.

Pass Hot Cakes' smoked chocolate chips on the left hand side - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I mostly browsed the candies, with just a few tasting exceptions - I didn't want to overwhelm my sweet tooth before visiting Macrina Bakery's table. They had stacks of their lovely cookbook on display, as well as an invading army of little shots of Guiness pot de creme with whiskey whipped cream. They were previewing a treat for St. Patty's Day, which was like a bittersweet chocolate pudding with extra depth of flavor from the dark beer. There were spoons, but the creamy dessert was being knocked back like sweet little shooters -- I couldn't have been the only one doing this! In general, the tables that had one-handed tastes and bites were particularly appealing, especially when you're trying to wrangle a big camera.

Chocolate, more chocolate, and even more chocolate! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I'm getting a food coma just recapping all these tastes, nibbles and full-on nomz. It's a little mind-blowing to think this feast is possible under a single roof, and that I still feel like I only scratched the surface, as there were several tables I didn't get to. And so you may or may not be surprised to hear I didn't even have a drop of wine at the Seattle Wine and Food Experience. Seriously, my stomach was just overwhelmed, and all this variety of food hosed my wine palate, I honestly felt like the wine would have been wasted after all these rich tastings. I had some beer and cider, and I did peruse the distillery area, getting some thimble-sized sips of Lemon Balm Liqueur from broVo Spirits, Sound Spirits Old Tom Gin, strawberry liqueur from Sidetrack Distillery, and a rhubarb brandy from It's 5 Distillery. It was nice to see so many local distilleries and how they could take over a whole little section and not just a table or three. So no wine at the Wine and Food Experience, but don't hate on my Food Fail, I'm planning on making up for it this weekend at the Golden Grape Awards in Woodinville.

Caffeinated finish from Fonte and goodies to take home - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As much as I wished I designed my Sunday tastings like this blog post, I was eating a little of this, a little of that, all over that expo hall, driving my tastebuds and stomach mad with confusion. And for a first time attendee, I'm sure it's to be expected. In the end, I was just glad for a finish everyone can appreciate -- a good cup of coffee. Fonte Coffee and their baristas were a godsend and I think every food and wine festival should have one or two coffee tables. Much like a big meal, that roasted, smoky-bitter sip of java signals every cell in your being that it's time to relax, recover and possibly take a nap. They were nice enough to let me take one of their full bags of coffee home so that they can power my whole week with precious caffeine. I'm no longer a SWFE n00b -- see you next year!


  1. The kefta at Cicchetti and shaved lamb sliders from Trellis were two of my favorite dishes. So sorry I missed you.

    Wait, you didn't have ANY wine?!?

    1. Crazy, right? No wine for me! Felt a migraine creeping up on me all day and wine can sometimes set it off. But I wasn't going to let an iffy health day ruin tasty food! Sorry to miss you too, but I know we'll see one another soon!!

  2. Was there wine at this event? you talked a lot about food, Oh I did see 1 picture. and 1 of soda? and 1 of cider. The event is called Seattle Food & Wine. I'm just saying....

  3. Holy food coma..amkes me drool, and want to move to Seattle.


Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)