BY EVENTSEEKER STAFF
Upon seeing the smorgasbord of food that lay in wait at The Concourse for ZAP Festival’s Epicuria, I silently cursed myself for wearing an outfit that was belted at the waist. What on earth was I thinking? Here were 50 restaurants spread out before me with over 50 wines to match, and I was thinking about trying to look stylish while devouring pulled pork, roasted duck and balls of creamy cheese. Tabia C. and I quickly picked up our glasses and handy food trays, and headed off into the fray. We’ve singled out some dishes that we particularly liked, and some dishes that were not quite as successful. The Zinfandel? Well, the Zinfandel was good all around.
Let me start off with some of my favorite pairings of the night. While we were disappointed to see that some of the restaurants weren’t offering what the schedule said they would be, you will not hear any complaints from me. The enthusiastic owner of Tres Sabores winery, Julie A. Johnson, spoke excitedly (though briefly) with me about what types of pairings are the most successful, and I agreed with her wholeheartedly: earthy, spicy/rich and creamy flavors and textures bring out the best of both the wine and the food. Follow those basic guidelines, and you’ll experience a bloom of flavor that will engulf your senses.
Case in point, Tres Sabores and Dean & Deluca paired a wonderful Zin with a spicy, rich AND creamy curried pork and chickpea dish. While it wasn’t much to look at, I can assure you it was a surprising and delightful mix of warm and sweet flavors. M2 wines (the man behind the table was charming!) brought two Zinfandels to pair with Alebrijes Mexican Bistro’s Cochinita Pibil Tacos (slow roasted pork flavored with sweet and sour achiote paste and baked on banana leaf). M2’s wines really brought out the dry, peppery flavor in the achiote paste–each sip added an indescribable something to every bite. Chef Ethan Mantle (Componere Catering) brought a fried pork cheek that was resting on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes. The surprising floral punch of the roasted fennel and the herbs was excellent with the Zin from the Mauritson Family Winery.
For me, this event was definitely a learning experience. Meeting the men and women behind the vines and seeing their enthusiasm was definitely one of my favorite aspects of this event. With this hefty tasting experience under my belt, I feel ready to take on the wine aisle with a new focus on the Zinfandel. To take you further through our experience, Tabia will detail our favorite dishes. Enjoy the unadulterated food porn!
The first step of the actual culinary journey took us to Singapore–I mean, The Straits, which paired their dish with the Lange Twins winery. It was an adventurous way to start the evening with some braised pork, excellent mashed potatoes and sprouts that were a wonderful fusion of the East and West.
The star of the festival–besides the Zinfandel wines, of course–were truffles.
Both Rose Pistola, paired with Storybrook Mountain, and Il Davide, paired with Starry Night Winery, featured incredible truffle based dishes. While neither of us were raving fans of truffles, that might have changed after our experience at the ZAP Zinfandel Festival. Rose Pistola (truffle and ricotta ravioli pictured right) and Il Davide (tortellini poricini pictured left) paired truffle oil perfectly with rich creams and cheeses. Even wine novices like me knew that these were truly delicious.
Wine & Roses also provided a classic pairing with McCay Cellars’ wine–a simple slice of manchego cheese and quince jam. It was a perfect pairing for those who were only beginning their exploration of wines and their subtle joys and secrets.
The most visually impressive would have gone to Paul’s Paella (paired with R&B Cellars), with its paella balls and purple kale. It was a new twist to a traditional paella dish, but also a bit of a puzzle for how to eat. Did I eat it wrapped in the kale? Should I only eat the paella ball without the decorative kale? Did it require a fork, or did it need a more hands-on approach?
Matched with Dogwood Cellars, the dessert winner for the evening would have gone to Sift for their incredible Zinfandel macaron. While likening it to bubble gum hardly seems appetizing, it was a dessert that had more flavor the longer you chewed it, and partakers had a little pleasant surprise with the jam filling tucked away in the center of the cream.
Honorable mention would go to Radio Africa Kitchen with their lavender honey roasted duck with winter squash purée. It was the best duck of the evening with its tender juiciness that added an extra sweetness to the winter squash. Paired with a sip of wine from Mazzocco Winery, the squash’s sweetness was softly enhanced.
Despite the overall deliciousness of the festival, there were, sad to say, some “bombs.” Namely, Central Market’s duck chili. The chili flavor completely overpowered the natural flavors of the duck, and the duck itself had been ground up to the point that it could have easily been ground beef. As a result, the best thing about the duck chili was, in fact, the crispy fresh tortillas on top.
All in all, the Epicuria event at the ZAP Zinfandel Festival was a feast for wine and food lovers alike. If you like food and/or wine, this is definitely an event that you cannot afford to miss. The atmosphere had a mix of different people and the dress style ranged from classy to casual, but every single person was enjoying some aspect of the festival, be it the excellent food, wine or company.
As far as I was concerned, I enjoyed it all. Cheers, Zinfandel Epicuria!