Monday, November 17, 2008

Too Hot to Handle: The 2008 San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival's Grand Event

If you don't live in San Diego and instead live in a cold climate, I apologize in advance. You're craving warmth, and a chance to walk around in shorts and flip flops. I understand. But, 90 degrees in November just isn't natural and we're fed up with it here. And, it's completely irritating when you attend a large outdoor food and wine festival.

That was the challenge organizers of the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival faced on Saturday. The Grand Event, held downtown at a gorgeous bayside setting, should have been a breezy stroll from one wine maker's booth to the next, with culinary fortification from some 60 chefs. But the heat wave wilted me before I even got started. I'm a lightweight anyway when it comes to wine but the temperatures kept me from trying any of it. Instead I was relieved to find some beers and the last bottle of water offered in icy tubs.

The food was what I was actually there for so I had high hopes. The quality should have been high. After all, among the restaurants represented were Arterra, Crescent Heights, Currant Brasserie, The Oceanaire, Nobu San Diego, Quarter Kitchen, Cowboy Star, Urban Solace and Sea Rocket Bistro. But, it seems that cooking for thousands at one time is more of a challenge than most were up to, particularly during a heat wave.

One of the first purveyors I hit was Brandt Beef. I was thrilled to see them grilling up a brisket. They had done a splendid job at last summer's Taste of Slow Food San Diego in Old Town. The brisket was like eating candy. This time it was good, but not divine. A bit disappointing.

Not much better was The Oceanaire's seafood shooter. With a raw quail egg, oyster and uni swimming in soy sauce with tobiko caviar, it should have been a winner.

But, while each of these ingredients can shine on their own, together, and particularly in the heat, it was pretty much of a mess going down. Of course, chef Brian Malarkey was having fun tossing sake shots down an ice luge, and he had everyone at his booth completely entertained, as usual.

Saveur Magazine made a big mistake with its cardboard-like slices of pizza.

There were, of course, some culinary highlights. I enjoyed the ceviche from Sea Rocket Bistro. There was a lovely little tamale from Indigo Grill. But, the best, by far, was something unexpected, a sensational grilled lamb chop with tabbouleh salad, punctuated with pomegranate seeds. This was offered at the Mondavi wine tasting and chef demonstration. They also had a lovely piece of seared tuna with a spicy white bean salad.

I also enjoyed the creativity of the folks at Arterra. It was county fair time, what with little root beer floats and bags of duck fat truffled popcorn.

Then, of course, were plump corn dogs.

And, given the temperatures, thank goodness for Vignette sparkling drinks. These non-alcoholic beverages come in three flavors: Chardonnay, Rose and Pinot Noir. I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay, with its burst of freshness.

And, while I was happy tasting all sorts of wonderful desserts, the ones from Opera Patisserie I found to be simply terrific. The raspberry pastry was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, as were the lovely petite Parisian macaroons.

I think these large events have their place, but my preference is for the smaller tasting events like Celebrate the Craft. The chefs don't have to prepare as though they were fast food joints and can really focus on the ingredients and technique. And, perhaps if the weather had been less of a daunting presence I would have enjoyed the event more and tried some of the wines. But, if nothing else, The San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival is an opportunity for those unfamiliar with many of San Diego's chefs to get a taste of what they might find in the restaurant.

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  1. Yay for San Diego!

    Kudos to America's finest city for really stepping up with a FUN event that highlights some of the local culinary delights. Just years ago, we were a city of three - Georges, Pamplemousse...oh okay, maybe just two. Now we have so many wonderful restaurants! It was great to see them all out showcasing their talents at this fun event.

    And the wine - yes! I can't believe how many great ones there were to choose from!

    As far as this post goes, live in San Diego. The beautiful weather in November is why we live here!!! At least that's the case for me.

    Now that we have great food and wine too, I think I'm staying put for a long time to come...

    Smile. You have great food. Great wine. Great weather. And a crapload of people to enjoy it with. That's all anyone can ask for, isn't it?? Or maybe, you're one of those who prefers a nice bottle of wine along.


  2. ...who prefers a nice bottle of wine ALONE, I mean...

    Didn't mean to get sassy. Apologies. I just liked the event, that's all :-)

    I like that you're blogging about food in SD. Keep it up.

  3. Hi:
    Thanks for writing. I'm glad you enjoyed the event. It was just too much for me. I prefer the smaller ones where the chefs can really shine. But, I love your enthusiasm!

    No, I don't prefer a nice bottle of wine alone. Just like it at the right temperature ;) When the weather is 90 degrees and you have thousands of people -- a crapload, as you say -- it's kind of hard to achieve that! But, I'm glad that there are a growing number of these great events and I hope people take advantage of them to learn more about the restaurants and vendors in town so they can patronize them.


  4. I attended the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival and was thoroughly impressed from top to bottom! We learned of many new restaurants and also some we had been wanting to try for a long time. I loved talking with the chefs about their passion for the food they cook and with local wineries on what makes their wine like no other. It’s these personal touches that make the difference to me. Their menus tell a story and makes the dining experience that much more enjoyable. There is no event that comes close to the caliber of the SDBW&FF. They keep their standards high and it shows. We’ve been attending for the past few years and every year it only gets better! Thank you SDBW&FF staff! KUDOS on a great event!

  5. Yes it was hot and yes it was difficult to find an ice cold non-alcoholic beverage. Faults of the San Diego Food and Wine Festival Promoters, No. I think it is ridiculous to imagine that we would have 85+ temperatures in San Diego in November. I had absolutely no problem finding room temperature Perrier water and enjoyed every sip.

    This was my first wine and food event in San Diego and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. I have been to many events up and down the coast of California and have always wished that we could capture the same experience a little closer to home. I thought the San Diego Food and Wine Festival was a perfect opportunity for vineyards with smaller productions to gain exposure as well for us wine appreciators to learn of them! Last year I learned of a new fantastic wine tasting region near Ensenada, Mexico called the Valle de Guadelupe and was so thrilled to see this tiny up-and-coming wine region represented at the SDFWF.

    Now for the food, I was also excited to be given the opportunity to taste samples from various fine dining restaurants around San Diego County. Where else but here will you be able to sample foods from Temecula, east county, downtown San Diego, La Jolla, and Del Mar all in the same area. Nowhere. A highlight for me was meeting Chef Deborah Scott, the mastermind behind Kemo Sabe, Indigo Grill and Island Prime restaurants. She was so thankful for my praise and even served me the sample herself!

    I had such an amazing time at the SDFWF - I am definitely looking forward to next year!