The Foodbuzz Florida Foodie Gathering
Last Saturday, Foodbuzz sponsored a gathering of Florida Featured Publishers for a meal at Todd English's bluezoo in the Epcot Dolphin hotel. We considered bringing Christey's Canon 10D and wondered about the lighting, but in the end decided we were really just going to enjoy ourselves and meet everyone who we've read about -- and meet some new bloggers as well. So, the photos are from our cheap point-n-click and the quality definitely reflects that (or, possibly refracts that). The camera certainly doesn't do the meal justice.
The menu was a custom five course meal, with an additional amuse bouche at the beginning, a little neck clam with a bacon ragout, delicately balanced on a wide shotglass with what looked like shaved ice, yet the clam and sauce were warm, and I later saw that the "ice" was actually coarse salt. English and his chefs have been experimenting with molecular gastronomy, and I wonder if the ice/salt confusion was supposed to happen (MGers love illusion). In any case, the clam was delicate and wonderful.
The next course was a shrimp cocktail "steamroller", which, if I remember correctly, includes a lemon foam, then celery, diced shrimp, bloody mary cocktail sauce, and a cucumber. These were all crammed into a glass tube, held on a lucite base. The idea was to basically "inhale" this deconstructed shrimp cocktail.
Everyone had a lot of fun with this, and it was delicate and yet crunched in the right parts. Here's Chris from Pickles and Cake in mid-experience:
The salad course was a beet salad with candied walnuts and powdered walnut, and a goat cheese sauce. I'm not a huge beet fan, I've tried them often, and with my Polish/German upbringing, beets were a common side-dish when I was a kid. I've even tried Thomas Keller's roasted beet salad recipe because it looked so pretty, and I hoped their pungency would be reduced a bit by oven roasting. Alas, no. But! This salad was amazing and I ate every bite. The yellow beet ribbon was crunchy, and the red beet cubes were bite sized, but went well with the goat cheese and the sweet walnuts.
Next course was arctic char with beluga lentils, carrots and (I believe) a carrot sauce, and a yogurt sauce. The char was wonderful -- somewhere between salmon and trout, but more salmon-like than rainbow is. I thought the beluga lentils were dyed black to look like caviar, but I found out today that they are really that black and that's how they got their name (I am under-educated in lentils). The skin was crisped like a potato chip. Better than thanksgiving turkey.
The main was a sous vide amish chicken. I've never had sous vide yet, and was interested in this one, but it was surprisingly a little overcooked and bland. The skin was pan fried after the sous vide and was as crispy as duck skin, and very tasty, but the chicken itself was a little underwhelming. As I glanced around the table, it seemed to me that the chicken was the one dish that wasn't immediately demolished by everyone. However! Underneath the greens was a parmesan polenta medallion which was meltingly good, and the green olive sauce was thick and dropped on the plate in what I imagine was a tribute to English's flagship restaurant, Olives.
The dessert was a warm chocolate cake with a liquid center, some chocolate pudding around the outside, with peanut ice cream on the top. The ice cream was cold and solid, and I wonder if liquid nitrogen might be involved. It was fantastic, and went with the chocolate cake like...well...peanut butter and chocolate.
The serving staff was well informed and a team that Escoffier would be proud to have fronting for him. Invisibly topping off glasses, removing crumbs and replacing napkins, announcing the ingredients and nuances of each course. I couldn't remember if char is a land-locked fish or not, like rainbow trout, so I asked one of the servers. He wasn't sure either, but he asked the chef and returned with the full story (char can actually be landlocked, or sea-going, depending on the location, but ours in particular was Icelandic and landlocked).
The chef came by to chat with all of us afterward, and hopefully I didn't insult him when I was asking about the chicken, but I'm a foodie, not a restaurant critic, and I was seriously interested in the technique.
Saving the best for last, it was really great meeting a bunch of people so interested in food, in all forms. There was a lot of cross-table chatter, we even got up and switched seats before dessert to meet people who were too far down the table to mingle with over dinner.
The gathering was organized by Jenn (the The Leftover Queen), along with Ryan (who flew in that day from San Francisco) from Foodbuzz and her own blog The Pink Spoon, and Judy from No Fear Entertaining.
I was lucky enough to sit by the Queen herself, and her husband and photographer, Roberto. We decided to record the event. Cook pose:
After dinner, a bunch of us went to try Jellyrolls, a piano bar at the Disney Boardwalk, but they wanted a $10 cover, which was odd as it's definitely off-season and the whole resort was dead. So, Christey and I suggested a cozy bar in the Boardwalk hotel itself, a little nook with couches and an old radio playing swing and Jack Benny skits, with a lot of 20s and 30s memorabilia around (it's one of our favorite hangouts in Disney). (l-r Roberto, Ryan, Judy, Jenn, and, I believe, a bit of Rachel from My Little Marshmallow
It was a great time, and it seemed like everyone bonded instantly. We're ready to do it again!