Monday, March 2, 2015

FoodTrek: Delightful Annual Food Coma at SWFE

Pardon the lateness of this report on this year's Seattle Wine and Food Experience (SWFE), but I felt like I was still digesting all of the deliciousness a full week after it had happened. What an adventure for the tastebuds this event is! I had the benefit of attending with a small group of friends which I'll say is the best way to explore a day-long food/wine festival. Not just for the social factor, but you have a SWAT team of culinarians, strategically planning routes to specific sample tables and it's easy to share bites so you don't wear your appetite out too soon. Consider this your survival guide for making the most out of a delicious day of food and drink!

Lobster salad from Purple Cafe and Wine Bar at SWFE - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The first thing you want to do when you get to an all-day food/wine festival sounds like the most mundane: GET A TABLE. It's easy to get sidetracked by a booth full of delectable sweet or savory bites, or a favorite winery pouring your most favorite-est wine in the whole wide universe -- but stay the course, make a beeline for whatever seating is available and stake that claim like it's Pure Gold. Having a group of people, you can head out in teams of two or more for sample-gathering, while at least one person holds down the fort. This Hunter-Gatherer method for food festivals is ideal -- not only do you have a place to sit, you can actually take a moment to savor your samplings without fear of dropping your plate or glass.

Sitting near breakfast goodness was a wise thing at the beginning of the event - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Our group of four nabbed a table towards the far end of the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, conveniently near the Top Pot Doughnuts booth. We could get a coffee, a mini doughnut, and leisurely settle in to peruse the event brochure to organize our plan of attack. It was also conveniently near Kaspars Northwest potato hash station, the Area 51 flying saucer-sized skillets working away to crisp up enough potato hash to feed an army. A savory pile of crisped potato and veggie hash covered with milk gravy is the perfect counterpart to balance the sugary sweetness of a doughnut and an Ovaltine mocha (Top Pot, you so naughty).

A sampler's delight -- so many different things to try - Photos by Wasabi Prime
You definitely want to sample food first, not just because it's wise to have a solid base of food before sampling wine/beer/spirits, but popular samples will go fast. I eschewed propriety and on my sample-gathering trips, I piled on everything I could. Unlike my dad and OCD TV detective Mr. Monk who both don't like their food to touch, I got over such rules and boundaries and all the food touched, so that I could carry as much as I could back to our home-base table.

Be it sweet, savory or somewhere in between - pile it on the sample plate! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
These were the dishes I really liked: Agave's slow-cooked pork tostadas, roasted vegetable tagine over couscous by Andaluca, Duke's herb encrusted salmon, creamy potato gnocchi with mushroom sauce by Gnocchi Bar, a cool crab salad slider by Palomino, and Purple Cafe's zesty lobster salad with celery and shallots. I also liked the small quick bites like Falls Terrace Restaurant's mini tuna melts, Macrina Bakery's salmon mousse-topped flatbread, and Mama Stortini's Tuscan meatballs -- you often only have one hand free if you're sipping wine, and you want something savory and single bite-sized to go with your sips.

Bites of all sizes at SWFE - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There's plenty of sweets, I was just more selective since I prefer savory foods. I really liked Gelatimo's berry-sweet pink Champagne gelato -- a good choice when you're wanting to refresh a palate overwhelmed with rich foods. Yakima Valley Tourism's area had plenty of sweet apple and cherry desserts, although I was partial to their Glacier Basin Cherry Brandy spritzer, which was quite literally party in a glass. QFC's Advantage Lounge was full of fresh fruit and cheese -- a big bite of aged cheese, preferably blue, definitely perks up your tastebuds. The notable sweet that could also be considered savory was The Georgian at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel's foie gras-filled truffled macaron. Yes, this thing exists. And it's insane. I had three. After having a salted vanilla ice cream with truffles in Whistler, Canada last year, I've become addicted to the unusual earthy flavor that truffles impart to dessert-sweet vanilla. It may not be for everyone, but once you get on board with this unique flavor combo, you'll be looking to Break Bad with vanilla and truffles any chance you get.

Sweet treats, including beer and champagne gelato and truffled macarons - Photos by Wasabi Prime
 It's not all stuffing one's face with food. Although that's a large part of it, I freely admit. I also love SWFE for a chance to see people, even for just a short "hello," and exchange hugs. The Seattle area food community is very friendly and supportive. You're always excited to hear about a new restaurant or product, and you want to help spread the word because it just builds that community's strength and ensures the love of good food and drink will always have a welcome place in the area. Seattle isn't so big that it's overwhelming to try and take it all in, not so small to where cheese biscuits at the Red Lobster is haute cuisine -- we're the porridge that's just right.

Good food, good friends, good times - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Okay, okay, that's the food, what about drinks? Well of course I was sipping away, visiting my favorite winemakers and cideries, and I made a good trek along the Distillery Walk. I didn't have a specific goal for wine tasting beyond finding at least one new favorite, and I'm glad to say I found several: Martedi Winery's Dry Riesling 2013 from Yakima Valley was a superstar, and at under $20 I need to buy All. Of. It. Serra Vineyards' 2013 Rose from Applegate Valley in Oregon was another notable springtime-fresh sip that I want to drink more of -- a limited vintage, they package it with the unique glass stopper, similar to European wines. My spirit sampling included Heritage Distilling Company's HDC Coffee Vodka, which I have to say is ridiculously good, and I'm not one for buying pre-infused flavor vodkas. Lightly sweet, strong coffee flavor, like Kahlua minus the cream -- you can easily sip it on its own, paired with a little salted caramel or dark chocolate. I also tried Pacific Distillery's new vodka, which just released last November -- clean, creamy, grain-sweet neutral spirit that's martini-able-and-ready. Skip Rock Distillers was pouring their seasonal Nocino walnut liqueur, which is heaven in a bottle -- nutty and maple-sweet, it would be wonderful to jazz up your coffee or pour a little over ice cream. I need to get over to their tasting room before they run out!

Sipping my way to discover new favorites - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Something new at this year's SWFE was the VIP Lounge, a special tented area reserved for VIP ticket holders. If you're looking to make a day of it, it's absolutely worth getting the VIP ticket -- they sell out early, so keep an eye out on the SWFE site for when tickets start to go on sale, usually as early as late December. Along with early entrance for an extra hour of tasting, you get a swag bag, and this year had a special area with exclusive tastes for VIP ticket holders. Oh, another helpful tip -- don't worry about claiming your swag bag right as you enter SWFE; it's a mob of people in the beginning, so save yourself a line-wait. Organizers have a way of keeping track, so even if you wait until the event is almost over, the bag will be waiting for you. I was lugging a big camera for most of the day (or a plate full of food), so I didn't want to worry about knocking someone over with an extra bag on my shoulder. You gotta stay nimble for these crowd-heavy events!

VIP -  Very Important Palate. Lamb tortellini by Restaurant Zoe - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Not that you have any less of a good time with the regular ticket, but it is kind of nice to take a break from the main crowd and sip/nibble more leisurely in the VIP tent area. Also, it was within a covered event tent outside, so you had a pleasant breeze coming through -- it's amazing how much body heat people can give off in an expo hall, it's quite literally the hottest ticket in town. (har-har) Bad puns aside, there were some really special dishes in the VIP tent. The bites were delicate and needed that extra time to be presented properly, like Restaurant Zoe's lamb shank tortellini in sage butter sauce, and a lamb pastrami on crostini with a pomegranate foam. This was truly food as art -- a crowded hall of thousands won't wait for foam. Terra Plata had a heady, flavorful lamb shoulder confit with potato-cauliflower escabeche, topped with salsa verde -- definitely not your average food festival fare!

VIP bites - makes you feel special just looking at it! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So as you can see, I think our gang of hearty eaters/drinkers made the most of the day, we pretty much stayed from beginning to end, and we left with our event brochures dog-eared and marked-up with many notes. It's such a great opportunity to sample local dishes and products -- you can't always do that in the store. They definitely don't want you just opening up a box or bottle of something and sampling it yourself, JFYI. These food and wine festivals have helped inform my decisions when I'm shopping or deciding where to go for a meal, and it's probably the most enjoyable "research" I do all year!

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