Things I learned at this year's Chef's Night Out, the annual foodtastic benefit for FOOD for Lane County:
â€¢ Do not attempt to have a time limit, for lo, you will find yourself cursing the fates, and yourself, on your way out of the Hult Center.
â€¢ Do not attempt to have a plan, for lo, your plan will be flawed and un-carry-out-able.
â€¢ Do not forget to refill your beer glass.
In short, I didn't do as thorough a job stuffing myself this time. The things I missed! I ogled plates as they swam past me in the stream of diners: jello shots! Tiny sloppy joes from Davis'! More oysters and other small shellfish items than I could count on many fingers! The entire lower level!
I had this plan, see. I was going to start at the top and work my way down. But I didn't count on things like lines, and people, and the way certain tables are so popular (Soriah, I am looking at you, with your incredible banana desserts, always reliable, always delicious) that you have to trail person after person, delicately balancing your little tray while trying not to knock theirs out of their hands, just to find the end of the line. I didn't count on how the nicer-looking but smaller trays this year would make the piling up of food (in order to go find a corner in which to photograph and eat it) much more difficult.
That isn't to say I failed. I still left stuffed; I still made a boyfriend plate for he who couldn't join me. I just didn't even manage to hit half of the night's 50 tables. Still, here are hurried, from-memory notes on some of the things I ate, in alphabetical order:
(PLEASE NOTE: I am going to get things wrong. I am going to call them by the wrong names and things. Correct me if you remember. I didn't take notes. I don't have four arms. C'mon, now.)
Adam's Sustainable Table: Tofu pot pie! After a good dose of meat dishes, I opted to try the somewhat neglected tofu; most people were going for the kidney or chicken pies. The little cups were the perfect size, enough to offer more than a nibble but not too big, easy to pick up and easy to situate on a crowded tray.
Clockwise from top: pumpkin enchilada from Agate Alley; patÃ© from MarchÃ©, something I do not remember the name of from Red Agave and delicious puffy cream-filled pastry from MarchÃ©; ahi poki and cucumber salad from Agate Alley.
Agate Alley Bistro: Agate Alley's pumpkin enchiladas were spicy and tasty, but it was the pairing of ahi poki and cucumber salad â€” just spicy enough, just tangy enough â€” which I would have liked to have in a larger size. Say, an entire platter of the stuff.
Want to be even hungrier? Read on!
Bates Steakhouse: With all due respect, I'm going to have to disagree with the Bates server who said the sauerkraut was the best ever (I think he said best in the world, though it may have been best in town) â€” it was definitely good, but not Best! Ever! good â€”Â but the prime rib was delicious, straightforward and a nice change from some of the more elaborate flavors bouncing around my palate.
CafÃ© Soriah: The above-mentioned banana macademia flambÃ©, served over vanilla ice cream. The only thing I patiently waited for; they were working on more bananas when I got to the head of the line. I'm lucky that if this dish is on the Soriah menu, I've never noticed; otherwise, I might be tempted to eat it every time I'm at the bar. (Also, Soriah had pens. Brightly colored pens. Almost out of character brightly colored pens. Of course I took one.)
I just realized I missed out on Govinda's, which I really wanted to try. I think I should make a list for next year.
Larsen's Fine Candies: I went simple and snagged a chocolate-covered caramel that made a lovely one-bite dessert for my first trayload of food.
Mac's Restaurant and Nightclub: The booklet doesn't list them, but I could swear it was from here that I picked up tiny shrimp and crab cocktails â€” like last year â€” that acted, early on, as tantalizers for the heavier things to come.
The boyfriend plate, clockwise from left: kidney pie from Adam's Sustainable Table; fruit mousse from Palace Bakery; fortune cookie from forgotten location; ahi from SweetWaters; another Red Agave whatsit.
MarchÃ©: Look, I don't mean to play favorites, but the truth is, the one thing I ate multiple servings of this year (like last year's pork belly on a stick) came from MarchÃ©: Rich, decadent little cream-filled pastries drizzled with chocolate. I love not-too-sweet, just-right cream fillings, and these little buggers had plenty. I ate one. I went back for another. And another. And I put one on the boyfriend plate and made him eat it immediately, lest I eat that one, too.
MarchÃ© also had an array of patÃ©s on slices of baguette; I'm not honestly sure which one I had, but it surprised me: It looked like far too much patÃ© for such a little piece of bread, but â€” with the addition of mustard and a cornichon on top â€” was just right, the richness cut with spices (allspice? nutmeg?) and the cornichon providing a textural counterpoint.
Market of Choice: The good old MOC always surprises me at Chef's Night Out. This year I skipped the cheese in favor of a miniature reuben with, if memory serves, house-smoked pastrami, and a citrus seafood shot, bright and vivid and so tangy I wished I'd actually eaten it like a shot, rather than forking out the bits of shrimp, tuna and avocado. I feared the mess, you see. I only have two hands, and one had to hold the tray.
Ninkasi: I'm usually a dark beer girl, so I opted for the loved-by-Eugeneans Total Domination IPA, just for fun.
Palace Bakery: In a frantic dash to make up a boyfriend plate before said fellow picked me up, I grabbed one of the Palace's beautiful mini mousses without being sure what fruit it was â€” passion fruit, I think. Now, on this dreary afternoon, thinking of my single bite of the mousse is nearly enough to send me immediately to the bakery; do not pass go; do not stop for coffee.
Red Agave: Teeny pork things â€” I think very like but not quite the same as last year, pork confit on masa? â€” and even teenier cheesecake bites, the latter of which I sadly did not try, the former of which was a reminder that I need to head to Red Agave one of these nights to try the late-night menu.
Mini-reuben from Market of Choice; seared ahi from Three Forks
Three Forks Wok & Grill: I started with Three Forks and inadvertently set myself a tuna theme for the night with their seared ahi â€” which came on a plate with just a dab of hot sauce. More, more!
On the way out, stacking the boyfriend plate with a beautifully arranged bit of ahi on a rice cracker from SweetWaters, the aforementioned Palace Bakery mousse and a few other things, I nabbed a cookie on a stick and a chocolate-laced fortune cookie, and failed to see where the latter two treats came from. The fortune cookie was eaten before I could steal a crumb, but for the record, I was told I really should have eaten one myself.
What I most wish I hadn't missed: The Vintage's cheerful cocktails. Beppe & Gianni's lobster and crab ravioli. Crab lobster (did this night have a seafood theme universally?) bisque from Fisherman's Market. Govinda's. Vegan cupcakes from The Divine Cupcake (though I skipped these chiefly because I fall for them all the time at Novella CafÃ© at the library, and already know how good they are). Colcannon-stuffed baby potatoes (with Guinness and corned beef; it was, after all, St. Paddy's) from Mallard Banquet Hall. Oregonzola gnocchi from Mazzi's. Wine from countless places.
You can't beat yourself up too much about what you miss at Chef's Night Out, though, even if you're me and you're prone to beating yourself up over missed food opportunities: It's wonderful and it's overwhelming, and it's hard to navigate alone. You need a food buddy to help test things, to run off in one direction to load a plate while you veer in another, piling dishes high so that when the two of you spy an empty bench, you can claim it and gorge to your heart's content.
Up close and personal with the creamy puff of goodness.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm hungry...
* This title is a reference to last year's Chef's Night Out post.