This past week I attended Taste of the Nation in San Francisco. This event travels nationwide to raise money for Share Our Strength, an organization to end childhood hunger. A ticket costs $85 or $140 and gives you access to unlimited tastings of food and drinks from local restaurants, wineries, and mixologists. Although I find this to be a great cause, it is a bit ironic how attendees can eat and drink until their hearts content while trying to end childhood hunger.
My friend and I arrived at AT&T Ballpark hungry. The vendors were set up all around the Club Level. I was wide eyed and ready to try a bite of everything. There were over 50 restaurants, 20 wineries, and 6 taste bars (they were making up interesting cocktails). There were definitely some stations I was looking forward to such as Jardiniere, A16, Aziza, Waterbar, and the Ahwahnee Hotel.
We just followed the circular club level of the ballpark hopping from one station to the next, sampling all that was being offered. Unfortunately, I was getting full quickly, even before we got to the central area. The food seemed very mediocre. There was not much wow factor in most of it. If this is partly a marketing tool for restaurants, which I think it was because restaurant menus adorned the tables, it failed. I should be impressed enough to want to go to a bunch of these restaurants, especially ones I heard of but haven’t gotten a chance to try. If I was a judge and this was Top Chef, I would be highly disappointed.
The Ahwanhee Hotel in Yosemite is where I had the best grass fed steak a few years ago for my birthday and this was another disappointment. They served a chevre with prosciutto, asparagus, and almonds tossed in olive oil. It was beautifully presented, but not very flavorful. I don’t mean to signal them out. They were much better than some of the restaurants that were serving foods on toast.
This was a huge event and there were a handful of winners. We all know and love Out the Door, the high end Vietnamese Restaurant that never seems to disappoint. This was true here as well. They served a random sticky rice with yummy ingredients served on a cone shaped paper. This was great presentation and tasted like moms.
I also discovered one unknown restaurant that was great in the midst of a lot of mediocrity. Mavericks surprised me with their pulled pork on a potato chip. Two of my favorite things made a great combo. The tender pork had a sweet barbeque flavor and the chip held it together and gave it a salty crunch. I went back to the table to let them know they had one of the best samples. From there, I took a good look at their menu and I noticed that they have a fried chicken dinner on their menu giving me good reason to try them out in the near future.
There were two restaurants that I would give an award for great effort. One was Delfina, famous for its thin crust pizza. They served a fennel sausage wrapped with a pastry dough. It was like having a gourmet bageldog which was cute, fun, and tasty.
The other restaurant was Paragon. They served a hot smoked cod and sweet corn chowder. This was delicious and I appreciated that they weren’t trying to get away with a gazpacho like a few other restaurants that was there.
I saved the best for last…at least the best story. Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake/Orson made assorted flavored macaroons. They looked and tasted great. The flavors included dulce de leche, chocolate coffee, citrus, and basil. I was star struck and obviously had to get a photo in there. This actually was the only booth that I noticed ran out of food early, so I don’t think that the rest of the audience would disagree that this was a winner.
To sum it up, there were a few highlight from the huge amounts of effort that went into this event. But there’s still something that didn’t make me feel good when I left the event. It appeared that there was a lot of food that was unconsumed and wasted. But it wasn’t just the food alone that bothered me, it was all the plates and utensils that got tossed after a small sampling. Yes, most of it was compostable and biodegradable, but there was so much of it. I’m not saying it was an unsuccessful event, this event has raised over $73 million nationwide over the years, but I wish it would do a little more to reduce waste.