Friday, June 11, 2010

Eating Out A-CoW

Greetings dear readers! What a freakin weekend we had! Rollins on Friday night, Burlesque on Saturday night and then the Celebration of Wine on Sunday! How in the heck did I suddenly develop a social life? Unthinkable!

Well, you got a peek at my letter to Henry that I’m screwing up the courage to send off. The show was really, really good. Without ruining album sales, let’s just say that he catches you up on his life over the past year or so and gives you some fun insights into his recent TV roles. And seriously, if you have seen one of his shows, stick around and meet the man. He’s nothing but kindness. And he brings his own Sharpie! Now if I could only have convinced the Phyllis Diller of punk rock to get her bewbs signed. Can’t win ‘em all I guess.

Saturday rocked with the ladies of the Valley Burlesque Society doing Wonderlesque, featuring Cap’n Scurvy’s Fantastical Armageddon Tea Party. What a show! The beer flowed, the ladies pranced about in their most beauteous choreographical manners and the Cap’n dazzled the crowd with the miraculous powers of his fantastical tonics. But then some horribly perverted rabbit flasher showed up! I don’t think I can ever eat carrots again. And all on the Cap’n’s birthday. At least he’ll have those pasties to keep him warm through the night terrors.

Which brings us to day 2 of the Henry Hangover. I probably shouldn’t have drank that half bottle of Polish brandy. But it was so damn good! Smooth, only a mild hint of sweetness. It was like a fine scotch, minus the peat. So, I’m just a wee bit frail going into Sunday and the 28th annual A Celebration of Wine (ACoW). But since there will be 32 different food vendors on site and nothing more liver-bashing than wine, I think we can make it.

Jumping pork futures! Upon arrival, we’re assailed by the odor of money. It probably helps that we’ve infiltrated the VIP area using skills honed by years of “I’m with the show” practice. But I’m fairly certain that my vintage Jimmy Buffet Hawaiian shirt and painfully pale legs will stand up to the scrutiny of the leg breakers hired to keep a wine fuelled riot in check.

So, we in! Let’s get to it! First spot was the catering table set up by Chef Delaney Boling from fame. And here I’m reminded the differences between a cook and chef. First off, it’s a gorgeous spread. Great cheese table, bruschetta bar, yakitori skewers, fresh chilled fruit, a slider station with burgers AND pulled pork. But what really rang my bell were his kebabs. First off, the meat was salami. I’ll say it again, the meat was SALAMI! Sound weird? I know, but it was insanely good. Especially in concert with the balsamic and onion marinade. Macerated onions in a marinade? Seems simple, but it was a revelation to me. Plus, it did amazing things to the green bell peppers on the skewers. Normally I dislike the overly bitter taste of the greens and prefer reds or orange. But something magical happened during the marinating process where all of the bitter was drawn out of the pepper and was replaced with a mildly tart and sweet flavor. Like it was a mildly pickled carrot. Chased down with a little Fresno State chardonnay and we were fuelled for exploration!

Armed with a wine glass and a silly looking but highly functional wine glass holder-type plastic plate, we set forth into the sultry, tree shaded morass of high dollar gentrified elites. Little do they know, a broke-dick ex-kitchen refugee walks among them, sampling and gobbling and grazing and mooing. Who knew bad fashion sense was fashion? But there were at least a dozen others in even louder shirts with even skinnier bone white shanks jutting from Target shorts. Apparently I’m supposed to be rich, my bank account just doesn’t know it yet. What fun!

So we immediately join, what has to be the most orderly line I have ever seen for free booze in my life. Maybe it was too many punk rock parties and the dog eat dog world of underage drinking, but I’m used to having to throw a few elbows to ensure that Daddy gets his cup full before the barrel runs dry. Not so much here. Instead people are politely chatting and droning and generally fucking up the orderly nature of getting my goddamn drink on! But given that there are ridiculous numbers of cases floating around and most of these pansies look like lightweights, I think I can hold out long enough to get a glass of whatever this dude is slinging. Turns out to be a decent chardonnay. But Christ, in this heat, I could go for something a little more chilled. So that pretty much means fuck all the reds.

The next booth we hit up is run by Cupcake Vineyards. And hosannah! They’ve got a Riesling! Happy happy happy! Joy joy joy! And suddenly it occurs to me. There is a metric fuckton of good vintners here! I don’t have to drink “everything”. I’m not even a wine snob! And even though they’re good, I’m fairly certain that Chateau Marmot isn’t here, so I ain’t missing a Rothschild or anything. I can pick and choose what to drink! I can just have a Riesling day! Well…maybe not totally. It’s a rarer wine to find than a chard or a cab. But from here I decided that I was going to stick to odd wines rather than swill any red or white that came my way. And it worked out quite well. There were 3 Rieslings that I could find, along with a couple very sweet muscat wines. The blended muscat by Ramos Torres was lighter and not quite as cloying. But the pure muscat by Quady was still very tasty. Would be a perfect dessert wine, or even poured over some ice cream with some sliced grapes or muscat raisins. Some of the varietals were really interesting. There was a really subtle Grenache and an insanely spicy Barbera at Two Friends winery’s booth. And when I say spicy, I mean burn your mouth for a couple minutes after your sip. But not in a bad way. It was like it had been decanted with hot peppers or something. Strange, but really good. There were others to be sure. But there’s food out there to rant about, so with no further delay.

I GOT TO EAT CHEF KARSTEN’S GRUB FOR UNDER $100!! I’m sure you’ve heard of Erna’s Elderberry House. Easily one of the most expensive spots to eat in the area and one that carries a big reputation. I’ve run into the guy during midweek shopping trips to the farmer’s market. Seems fairly pleasant in general. So, we’re served by a lovely lady at the booth. And already I’m giddy. For, I see a beautiful terrine of duck on a wee thin crouton. Out of everything else served that wasn’t cold cuts. This was the only spot that served the One Perfect Bite. I know, I know. It’s pretentious as hell. But for the prices that they charge at the restaurant, I want some fucking pretentious. And hot damn in a preacher’s drawers is it pretentiousing all over my mouth. Smooth duck liver and chives, lightly chilled. The crouton is a bit soggy. But, it’s a cattle call here. There would be no realistic way for them to make them all to order on site. But I’ll say this, they’ve enticed me enough that I very well might try their Broke-Dick $40 Menu. $100 a head is still too rich for my blood. And with my luck it’d be the Celebration of Onions menu.

There were other fine food establishments represented as well. I even got to rub shoulders with Chef Vatche from Cracked Pepper Bistro and Scott Sauer from Max’s Bistro. Vatche brought out the CPB’s demonic dessert of decadent delight that they simply call bread pudding. What a cruel bastard! He KNOWS that if I start eating that, I’ll go back for more and be so stuffed that I won’t be able to try any of his competitor’s food! Wicked, evil, Chef Vatche! You must be spanked!

We also hit up the Roe booth. Man, if those girls actually WORK there, I’ll cruise there for sushi before I bother with overpriced wings at Boobers. Yow! Plus they had some nice, well chilled California rolls and some cute little bite sized apple chicken salad wraps. Certainly one of the lighter snacks of the day and rather refreshing in the Fresbergian heat. Bella Pasta’s spread was ok I guess. Their orzo pasta salad was pretty good. The potato salad was…potato salad. But their bowtie pasta was a trainwreck! Uncovered, dry, no flavor. I’ve got no idea what they were going for, but I would have tossed those last dregs before I served them to someone, in hopes that it would draw them to eat at my restaurant. They get a big Fail on that one. Although, they were one step ahead of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos and several others who just outright ran out of food in the first hour. Nothing makes you feel like a valued potential customer like an empty booth and a sign. Dammit a fish taco sounded hella good on a hot day like this. Guess I’ll just have to learn to make my own.  Nyah!

But it’s always darkest before the dawn right? Well this time, the sun rose in the North. Now, I’m as much a detractor of the Fresno-North, Clovisian set as anyone. But as soon as I turned the corner, I smelled curry and there was the North India Bar and Grill booth. This is another spot that has had a lot of buzz and glad handing around the Fresno Foodosphere. So the bar is already set high. They’re throwing down some rice with a bit of vegetables, a garbanzo bean curry and about an 1/8th pound chunk of chicken breast. My god! Where Erna’s was very up front about their elegance in their presentation, North India was almost belligerent in their desire to feed you. And friendly! I had heard some rumors about a particularly surly manager serving the previous year. But it appears that the owners paid attention to the debacle and instead sent in a team of folks that just about talked me out of my distaste for travelling that far into Lexus country. And to top that, they even served up an amazingly tasty curry, moist chicken and some pretty flavorful rice.

There was all that and a lot more. There were a ton of cold cut plates available. Two different cheese makers, Bravo Farms, who has an AMAZING sage cheese. Insanely good with scotch. And Fiscalini Cheese Co., who brought a strong Cabernet washed cheddar and also made a sexy ass horseradish, cheddar, sour cream dip. Oh my god, that was the shiznit! Fresh horseradish and their really sharp cheddar cheese with just enough sour cream to bind it to a pretzel. You can blow your onion dip out your ass Mabel! There’s a new queen of the Super Bowl party!

Sadly, between the ghost of the hangover and the heaviness of many different wines and foods put me over the top on fullness. I was Fullerton Von Fullingham. Although, I must say, it was the first time in my life where I wished there was a vomitorium. Seriously, I was at a point where I wasn’t eating for nutrition. I just wanted to have the room to be able to taste more food from more restaurants. I think I might have a problem… That, or I’m an incredibly cheap bastard and wanted to get as much experience with each establishment’s cuisine, without mortgaging the arm and leg that they’ll charge for a full meal.

And really that brings me to the brilliance of the whole event. For $80 at the gate or $70 pre-buy, you get 3 hours to tear through the cellars and larders of some of the best that the greater Central Valley has to offer. Just the wine tab alone would run you double that at any reputable grape guzzling establishment. And don’t even get me started on what you’d be dropping to get to Wagon Wheel Sampler your way through places that normally charge you $40 for soup and fucking salad! Never mind that you’re at a gorgeous ranch right off the San Joaquin River, shaded by large trees and parading around the well manicured backyard of the ranch’s owner and main sponsor of the event. You’re even serenaded by the smooth sounds of the middle aged classics cover band, while you sit and work your way through one of the many bottles that you won at the silent auction and argue with your compatriots which one of you is going to call friends to come pick your drunk asses up.  Shoulda rented a limo...

Plus, you never know ladies. The weird guy taking photos might be a blogger in disguise. Now I’ve got the EoF Cheeleaders!

Great event. Great time. Great booze and incredible food. It only looks expensive until you see how much you get for the ticket price. Beats a trip to the Renaissance Faire any day of the week!