Rallying after two hours of sleep, I met up with my friends Paula and D and we headed over to the Fontainebleau. After a sort of awkward "champagne reception" where a singer belted out both the French and US national anthems, the doors opened and the crowd moved into the main ballroom. The first stop was the main table where each received a wine glass along with a little holster that allowed you to carry your wine around your neck so your hands were free to chow down. This was key because most, if not all, eating was done standing up by the booths that served the food. It was also extremely emasculating to be standing there with a wine glass necklace on.
We made our way to the back and, after a bite of braised shortrib with a creamy, parmesan-laden polenta, found ourselves staring at Miami Beach's own Andrea Curto-Randazzo of Talula plating up some meatball sliders with ricotta and "Sunday Sauce". At first I was a little surprised that they went so simple with a slider. After all, they were a local restaurant with a chance to impress and draw in customers. The slider was a winner though, with the subtle coolness of the fresh ricotta and chiffonade of basil taming the warm ball of meat and sauce. Apparently others thought it was a winner too as I saw many a guest walking around the ballroom with one in their hands.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of most of the dishes that we tried and even more surprised to see that many of the exhibiting restaurants were plating offal in the likes of trotters, livers, tongues, and even head cheese. The crispy pig trotter from Fig in Charleston, SC was an early favorite of mine. It was served in a paper cone with some microgreens and a beet mustard that had a beautiful fuchsia color to it and an even more beautiful flavor. I trotted my way back to that booth for seconds. A dish I found surprisingly good was the kimchi stew with bbq Korean kogi and tofu from Chicago's Urbanbelly. The stew was piping hot and loaded with flavor from the kimchi and bbq kogi. Another favorite of mine came from another Chicago restaurant. Charlie Trotter's booth served a 72hr braised oxtail ravioli with umeboshi, curried squash, and shaved bonito. Delicious!
Charlie Trotter's 72hr braised oxtail ravioli with umeboshi, curried squash, and shaved bonito - photo by Paula of Mango & Lime
Morimoto's Pork Belly w/ congee - photo by Paula of Mango & Lime
We eventually made the decision to attempt to get a dish from Masaharu Morimoto's booth where the only real line in the entire ballroom had formed. The Iron Chef made sure to plate every dish himself and did so with a smile and a little banter for each guest. Morimoto is just a class act all around. His dish was very good and the pork belly stood out to me for being extremely tender and minimally fatty. We ran into Sara from All Purpose Dark who told us that the foie gras bon bons from Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, OR were a must try so we sauntered over for a taste. Dozens of little foie gras bon bons sitting atop cracked pepper shortbread and topped with a quince-champagne gelee looked like royalties on a plate. The cool, rich flavor of the foie played nicely with the quince and sweetness of the shortbread. We went back for another round that we called "dessert" and were able to score the last two available. Sweet, indeed.
Beast's foie gras bon bons w/ quince-champagne gelee and cracked pepper shortbread - photo by Paula of Mango & Lime
I was determined to find the booth for Boston's own O Ya, owned by Tim Cushman and named one of Boston's best year after year. I had just had dinner there Thursday night with my mum and it was a fantastic meal. I found the booth serving a hamachi sashimi with viet mignonette, fried shallots and basil and walked up to grab a bite and introduce myself. Tim and I spoke for a second before he motioned to one of his employees and told him I'd been at the restaurant the night before. Turns out it was the sushi chef who created many of my dishes right in front of me that night! Funny stuff!
McCready's Scallop & Pork Jowl w/ Sunchoke Pickle - photo by Paula of Mango & Lime
My favorite dish of the night, hands down, came from Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, SC. My buddies Chadzilla and Chef K have been telling me to visit Sean's joint next time my travel brings me to Charleston but after this dish I may have to make a special trip. I also know he is a bourbon fan. Sean had an immersion circulator at the back of his booth set to 69.2C with cryovac'd scallops taking a nice bath. They were plated with a magnificent crispy hunk of pork jowl and sunchoke pickle that provided a refreshing crunch. I cannot for the life of me remember the sauce that was on the plate but I remember it being salty and awesome. This was an incredible dish. After we finished, D spotted Rev Run of Run DMC and went over to compare Adidas kicks. A woman in a skinny white dress looked familiar to me. Turns out it was Real Housewife of NY, Kelly Bensimon, who I had seen recently for the first time sans clothing on the pages of the latest issue of Playboy magazine. Let's just say the airbrush guys deserve a raise...
Overall, I thought the Best of the Best showcased many dishes that were worthy of the title. I was happy that it wasn't too crowded and we were able to try many dishes without having to wait in long lines. Perhaps the $350 ticket price had something to do with that? I enjoyed the event and left weathered, weary, and tired. I think I managed to try about 15-20 plates (including those I went for seconds). We headed to Scarpetta for a bourbon nightcap before heading out so we could avoid the mob scene at the valet stand. People have asked if I would do this event again. For $350? Not likely. The event showcased some fantastic dishes and top shelf wines and bubbly but $350 is about $100-$150 too much for a stand-and-eat-dinner if you ask me.