by Rachel Perlow
Monday evening, May 5th, the annual Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation 2008 New Jersey event was held at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany. In previous years, it had been held at the Madison Hotel, which always seemed too big, being spread out over the grand ball room, The Conservatory, and a third smaller ballroom. Last year it was held at the Olde Mill Inn, which was a little too small – just one regular sized ballroom. The Birchwood Manor was just right. One very large ballroom, with adjacent patios and lounge to escape the crowds. Or, I may just be prejudiced towards the place, as my high school prom was held there I don’t want to tell you how many years ago.
But the size of the venue is besides the point, that being to raise money to fight childhood hunger. To that end, it was a huge success, bringing in lots of money to benefit The Community FoodBank of New Jersey and Eva’s Village, while allowing area restaurants, caterers and merchants to promote themselves to their ideal customers.
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I sneaked in a little early and watched some of the vendors set up. Up front is Chiffafa House (a picture of their lobster bisque is below) to the left, and Demeter’s Pantry/Taste of Crete setting up their olive oil and bread on the right.
My first bite of the evening was by Caterer Maria Lynn: halibut aji over mashed potatoes with pickled onion. This was a delicious cold dish, which seemed unusual but was intentional. Probably a smart idea to serve cold food at an event like this. You can concentrate more on your plating if you aren’t as concerned about getting the food out while hot and not over cooking it.
Tim Schafer’s Cuisine presented a tasso ham jambalaya which was quite spicy.
A chef from Whole Foods offers some of their prepared dips. Although, the biggest hit at this table were the recycled, reusable, grocery bags they were giving away!
The band was really good this year, providing a lively atmosphere.
Joe Mucerino was there from Cinque Figlie. He did an Italian spin on the Spring Roll. Filled with vegetables and provolone cheese, quite a delicious filling.
Rod’s Steakhouse was a welcome sight. They were again presenting Diver’s Scallops wrapped in prosciutto. The scallops were cooked just medium rare, served with a delightful onion relish. And, I was most impressed with Due Terre’s dish. I approached and said Hi to the manager, who remembered me from a PR dinner I attended there a year or so ago. He handed me their plate and I absentmindedly took a bite. It wasn’t until I did that I realized it was fried. (Eek, fried! My diet!) But, it was really good. Nice and crunchy. I think it was asparagus enrobed in a cheesy creamy something with bread crumbs. This is a really horrible way to describe the dish. I apologize. It was really good. And, did I mention fresh? Immediately, my brain went to lessons from reality TV chefs – most notably, Erik from Top Chef – who was told to pack his knives and go for serving corn dogs at a block party that were pre-cooked and had lost their crunch while waiting to be served. Not so for Due Terre –- I looked up and was impressed with their simple solution: butane burners and a pot of oil. They were freshly frying at a massive event. Good for them! Unfortunately, I have to offer apologies for not having pics of these dishes, my camera battery died early on, and I forgot to go back and take pics of the dishes I sampled while I was giving it a quick charge.
Semolina restaurant (Millburn) had a delicious dish of mussels in a basil cream sauce. A note to them for the future, while your mussels were delicious, it is very awkward and messy to eat while standing and holding a glass.
I was pleased to see the Olde Mill Inn participating despite not being the venue this year. They served a lovely seared tuna over Chinese black fried rice with a carrot puree.
Chiffafa House presented a cold lobster bisque in a pastry cup.
The Wine and spirits poured freely. In fact, it appeared that most the center area of the room was filled with wine or beer.
There were tables from Gary’s Wine and various vineyards, as well as Michelob beer.
Orange V Vodka made some delicious fruit flavored martinis.
Costco had a table with sodas, but the Fiji water people never showed. What’s up with that? Unfortunate for me, since water is what I mostly drink. A very kind Birchwood Manor banquet manager came to my rescue when I begged for a glass of ice water at the kitchen door.
Before leaving I had to stop at the Ciao Bella table – I haven’t had real ice cream in a quite a while, so the small scoop of Key Lime with Graham Cracker gelato was heaven. Tart and creamy, mmm.
And finally, a dessert theme of the evening, cheesecake lollypops, the best of the evening were served by Restaurant MC. Who also presented Watermelon and Feta Kebabs and Cupcakes.