Sunday, October 29, 2006

TasteDC's 1st Annual Unique and Unusual Food and Wine Festival

Jake Slagle's Unique Culinary Adventures' Oct. 19 podcast heralded this Washington, DC. event, which Taste DC hosted on Oct. 25 at the Whittemore House on New Hampshire Avenue. When the date came, we attended and tried everything from llama to calf testicles. For the adventurous, rarely do opportunities to sample such a diversity of offbeat culinary indulgences present themselves so close to Baltimore.

Pictured above from Executive Chef Russell Cunningham of Dupont Grill, at DC's Jury Hotel is Smoked Duck and Fried Squash Blossom Salad with Port Reduction and Pumpkinseed Oil. Unfortunately, this was the only picture I was able to shoot. On my second shot, the not so trusty Samsung SCHa990 3.2 megapixel cell phone camera went on the blink. It had been my intention to photograph each of the 30 or so dishes, put them up on Flickr, and provide a link. As a result, you get to see the third squash blossom photo to have appeared on Unique Culinary Adventures. Interestingly,squash blossoms were the only goody for which two different preparations were served up by two different chefs.

But for camera problems, the next picture was to have been of "Calf Fries," which Chef Cunningham was also doing. They looked and tasted to me exactly like a a little nodule of calf's brain, breaded and deep fried. You sometimes hear calf fries referred to as "Rocky Mountain oysters." Either way, you're eating testicles, though the "Rocky Mountain oyster" label can mean the testicles of bulls, sheep and other animals. Calf fries are considered quite a delicasy in Italy, Spain and France.

Wine tasting was also a part of the event. Enough different wines were available that it probably would have been possible for one to have been matched with each of the approximately 30 food dishes being sampled. Most of the wines were from Eastern Europe. Included were wines from Greece, Turkey, Hungary, Georgia, and Moldavia. All that I tasted proved most agreeable.

As for the food, I tasted just about everything, each dish of was named in our podcast. You can subscribe to it from this site or download from iTunes by going to iTunes Store---Podcasts---Arts---Food---Jake Slagle's Unique Culinary Adventures. If you get it, please accept my apologies for any pronounciation lapses. Here is some after-the-fact:
  • Rattlesnake Gumbo with Sassafrass Scented Rice from Chef de Cuisine James Phillips of Juniper Restaurant, Fairmont Hotel: This came across as a pretty straight forward file gumbo bearing some small pieces of very tender white rattlesnake meat along with bits of a reddish sausage, most likely andouille. My past experience with rattlesnake had led me to expect that it would be tough and perhaps laden with cartilage, but the rattlesnake in this gumbo was tender as tofu.
  • Pink Peppercorn and Wattleseed Crusted Ostrich Leg Roast with Diablo Holandaise, also from Chef James Phillips: I've had ostrich dozens of times, and never before has it been this tender---even though meat from the leg is said to be toughest. This magnificent juicy pink/red rare ostrich meat was the best I ever tasted. Chef Phillips told me the secret was to sear it quick in a pan on high heat in order to contain the juices. I've tried that many times with the Ostrich we get from Whole Foods, but it's never been anywhere near this good.
  • Chicory Greens in olive oil with garlic from the Lebanese Taverna in Alexandria: This had been listed as dandelion greens. Three past Unique Culinary Adventures posts have dealt with dandelion greens, so we were eager to try. Unable to source them, however, Lebanese Taverna had to substitute chicory, which worked great. It provided my first taste ever of chicory. I found it to be every bit as pleasing as dandelion greens, and with a quite similar taste. While on the subject of Lebanese Taverna, be on the watch for one slated to open soon in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East.
  • Jerk Frog Legs with Jamaican Spices by Chef Daniel Labonne of Tabaq Bistro: Frog legs aren't really that exotic, nor is jerk. The combination, however, was one that I'd never before encountered. It seemed obvious to me that a dish like this would work, and it did.
  • Llama Slider with Bleu Cheese and Rosemary Red Onion Jam by Executive Chef Bryan of Bryan's Kitchen: Served on toast, this was a juicy delicious little burger that tasted to me something like a cross between a bison burger and a lamb burger. Chef Bryan was also serving up Grilled Cayman (crocodile) tail with Smoked Tomato and Basil Butter. For this one, you might just as well think alligator. I liked it, just as I like the meat of most reptiles, even though they all taste quite similar.
  • "Bacon and Eggs": House Cured Berkshire Pork Belly with Fried Quail's Egg from Executive Chef Daniel Kenney and Executive Sous Chef Neal Bailey or the Willard Hotel. It was the best bacon and eggs I ever had.
  • Buckwheat Blini with American Caviar and Creme Fraiche from Executive Chef Dan Wecker of the Elkridge Furnace Inn. They had two kinds of American caviar, both made with whitefish, one black, one red. What I really would have liked to try was their Nut Crusted Sweetbreads with Pomegranate Syrup , which unfortunately was not ready when I passed by. The Elkridge Furnace was the nearest to Baltimore restaurant to participate.

I'm not sure I know how to have much more fun than to eat my way around this kind of event.