A veritable feast! NOWFE Grand Tastings

Thanks our friend (and sometimes employer) Kendall, John and I were able to attend this year’s Grand Tasting event at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. We left the house early on Friday, both hungry and anxious to get to the Morial Convention Center downtown. Believe it or not, we hopped onto a streetcar, got off at Lee Circle and trudged our way through the sticky heat to Convention Center Boulevard, only seven blocks away. Fortunately, we were able to enter the convention center lobby and cool off in the air conditioning before we reached the center of festivities in Hall J.

The darkened hall was already packed when we finally arrived at 6:30 PM and I had to harangue John a bit for not believing me when I said we should get there early. After some minor bickering (ain’t love grand?), we headed for Lüke, the first offering in front of us. Besh’s “Franco-German” brasserie was serving “Shrimp en Cocotte” with brandy and green peppercorns over grits. I looked up the word “cocotte” because I wanted a clearer definition of the cooking process and I didn’t learn that one in French class. Apparently, it means either an individual serving-sized, fireproof dish OR a prostitute…I’m assuming they meant the former, but either way it was delicious! The shrimp were not overcooked (which is stunning in such a setting) and I watched them cook it in tons of creamy butter in a huge saucepan. It seems my next Besh outing now leans heavily towards Lüke.

Though I wanted to get back in line and go for another round, John urged me towards another table just across the way displaying a huge bucket full of crawfish.  We got in a short line for Palace Cafe’s Creole Tomato & Louisiana Crawfish Poached Beef Tenderloin, say that ten times fast. The dish was actually quite good, though I am not a huge fan of any type of red sauce. Best of all, due to a half-hearted joke about wanting to eat the boiled crawfish display, the chef gave us one to try. The crawfish was delicious and seasoned so perfectly, though different from what we were used to. John even ate the claws and sucked the head!

Right next door was a table that was crowd-free and I’m really not sure why. Galvez Restaurant was serving Chef’s Laura’s Summer Gazpacho topped with fresh cucumber and it was perfect! The cool tomato soup was  so tasty, with just the right amount of spiciness and kick.

After slurping down our gulp of gazpacho, we turned to the Red Fish Grill’s offering, a beef tenderloin-wrapped yellowfin tuna served with a squash puree. Talk about surf & turf! John and I quickly gobbled it down and headed for our next treat which turned out to be Arnaud’s wonderful Chicken & Andouille Sausage Gumbo. There was no line at the table when we arrived, but as we left carrying our bowls of gumbo and its rich, heady scent wafted into the crowds, people started to eye our food as we passed and a queue soon formed.

Our wanderings really had no rhyme or reason, except that we avoided lines that were way too long, the only exception being the St. James Cheese Company. I simply couldn’t have been more pleased with the selection of cheeses we got to try, among them black truffle goat cheese, cranberry chipotle cheddar, brick cheddar and burrata (a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) which was served on a thin water cracker. The cheese was all fabulous. I even got to eat John’s serving of burrata since he didn’t quite dig the texture, which was fine by me!

Right after I popped the last bit of cheese in my mouth, we turned around for the grand display by M Bistro. The Ritz Carlton Hotel restaurant was serving two items, a Peaches & Cream “shot” and Corn & Crawfish Crepes with creole tomato jam, goat cheese foam and ghost pepper caviar. Admittedly, I loved the dessert with a fan of cotton candy on top and buttery crumble on the bottom, but the star of the show – the whole show, mind you – was the Corn & Crawfish Crepes. The crepe was a light, airy affair filled with creamy corn and crawfish, John inhaled his serving and nodding in delight before I turned around after picking up the dessert. We both agreed that it was easily the best dish we tried at Friday’s Grand Tasting, although I think the shrimp from Lüke ran a close second.

By this time, we were both getting pretty full and we hadn’t even hit half the tables in the hall. We forced ourselves to move on and headed next for Martin Wine Cellar who was serving Smokey Abita BLT Shrimp. As I understand, they were supposed to be serving the shrimp on a sweet potato biscuit (which I think would’ve been awesome), but it was getting toward the end of the evening and they must have ran out. Anyhow, the shrimp was still very good with a both sweet and savory sauce with large bits of bacon.

We rounded the bend to see something we’d both been craving that day, New Orleans Coffee Company’s CoolBrew. We got a shot of our favorite flavor, Toasted Almond, over ice with milk and finally found a place to sit down and enjoy some time off of our feet. While taking a much-needed breather, we noticed people walking away from the Wolfe’s in the Warehouse table with an interesting dish, so I sent John over to investigate. He returned with a cute, black plastic ramekin filled with Vanilla Bean Braised Short Rib with goat cheese and green onion blue grits. It was oddly sweet, yet nonetheless delectable and as I took the last bite, I realized that this was indeed my last bite.

Okay, not quite my absolute last bite. As we were heading back around the room towards the exit, we passed the Cochon 555 seminar and while we listened for a bit, we sampled some of the remaining luscious charcuterie scraps left on the table. Filled to the brim, I knew it was time to head home.

You’re probably asking yourself, “She said this was a food AND wine experience right? So where does the wine come in?”  Well, we did indeed drink wine, lots and lots of wine, but being the grape newbies that we are, I didn’t know what to say about it. We tasted Chardonnays, Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, Shirazes, Pinot Noirs and Bordeauxs…all of them were good to us, but what do we know about wine?

Essentially, we were there for one thing and one thing only, the food! Thanks NOWFE!

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