Having bought our tickets to the West of Western Food Festival (where did they come up with that name?) some days ago, the spouse and I had some trepidation as the day grew closer, what with all the wet weather and gray skies we've been having. Fortune smiled on us, however, with good perfect weather to be out in the open air eating and drinking. Joined by an East Coast friend and an Az native, we set out to discover we'd gotten into.
The event at the Arizona center was divided in two halves, the "Grand Tasting" -- i.e. the food half -- and the Wine Table, or the drinking half. The trek between each took you past an office tower, so your experience was clearly divided. Wine and food, apparently, should never mingle.
Any concerns that we were paying $65 dollars for overpriced food on a stick were quickly dispelled. The restaurants were many of those talked about on this board -- Kai, Elements, Zinc, Mosaic, Atlas Bistro, Barrio Cafe -- and it was clear they were working to please the crowd. There were so many tables with so many things to sample that it required pacing -- eat for a bit, retire to the wine tent and drink until you'd recovered your appetite (or couldn't drink anymore), and then repeat. I cannot give a table by table description, but I'll try to list the highlights (and who provided them).
By general consensus of our small tasting group, the bests of show were:
Red wine braised chicken thighs with risotto and mushrooms (alas, I can't remember who did this. Zinc, perhaps?)
Chocolate-coconut cakes from Tammie Coe (the ladies raved about these)
Lobster bisque with black trumpet mushrooms from Different Pointe of View (my East Coast friend declared it the best lobster bisque he'd ever had; I likened it to drinking pure lobster-flavored butter)
Cedar-planked salmon with molasses-lavender glaze served with crema or tomato conserve from Kai (several rounds of seconds were required)
Other strong contenders were:
Raw snapper sashimi with smoked grapes (how do they do that?) and preserved lemon from T. Cooks
Squash and creme fraiche soup with pepitas, chile oil and oregano(?) oil from Twisted
Buffalo-bean chile, also from Twisted
Thai-style soup with shrimp and crab from Mosaic (some loved it, others found it a little too sweet)
Simple seared scallop with red chile mole and cauliflower puree from Arizona Kitchen
Seared Ostrich with a balsamic (?) reduction from Meritage
Pork belly sliders with a hoisin mayonaisse from Elements
Vegetable Ragu over polenta from Quiessence
Fresh burrata with olive oil and bread from Taggia (the best I've had since New York)
Pates of venison/pistachio and guinea hen/foie gras from the Phoenician (I think)
Goat-cheese cheesecake in a corn tortilla cone with a crust of pistachios and fennel pollen from Kai
Cake topped with cinnamon-chocolate mousse and chocolate with a goat's milk cajeta sauce (again, the wine keeps me from remembering who did this)
Seared scallop "chop", stuffed with pork and served with a curry sauce on a lentil salad bed. Everyone wanted to love this, but thought pork needed more seasoning to make it work
Duck rillette with pear risotto, sweet potato chip, and maple foam (Binkley's) -- too precious and the flavors didn't meld
Veal cheek carne seca (again, Zinc?) -- a little too chewy
There were many other things I can't even list properly (or never had room to taste). I blame the Wine Table.
As for the wine, it was an interesting to bad selection of low/moderate wines. Fortunately there were enough choices that everyone could find something they liked. There were enough Spanish wines to make me happy, dry roses for the SO, cabs for our East Coaster and just wine for the Az native. Plus there were generous amounts of bottled water so we could pace ourselves.
All told, we all agreed it was an excellent time for the money, surprisingly uncrowded (compared to what might have been in other cities), much fun, and thank goodness we used a limo service!
Oh, and hi Winedubar, it was great to meet you! Now I have met at least one Phx Chowhounder!