After the first day of the Devoured Food + Wine Classic, we're stuffed.
The overcast skies and intermittent rain didn't keep crowds of Valley food lovers from drinking and dining the day away at the Phoenix Art Museum. With nearly 50 restaurants and more than 30 wineries at the first of the two-day event, attendees had a wide selection. And in addition to the impressive roster of local restaurants, this year's event also offered cooking demos, wine panels, chef panels, and more.
This year, restaurants offered a nice selection of breakfast foods -- a smart move since doors open at 10:30 a.m. for VIP attendees -- and a lot of dishes featuring seafood and duck. We were also impressed with the number of restaurants that handed out dishes with upscale ingredients -- including lobster, foie gras, and oysters -- a clear indication as to why this has become the favorite food event of the year.
One of the most memorable offerings of the day came from Nocawich, the fast-casual sandwich-centric concept from Noca owner Elliot Wexler. Though we enjoyed both of the restaurant's sandwiches, we preferred the Wilbur with Kurobutta porchetta, chili aioli, shaved fennel, and pickled red onion of perfectly crispy faccacia bread. The Daffy -- featuring duck confit, duck cracklin, and foie love -- was a close second.
Another stand out was the plate from Tonto Bar and Grill, the rustic restaurant in Cave Creek. Tonto served up small but satisfying bites of Meyer lemon butter poached lobster tail with black trumpet huitlacoche puree, and pickled Fresno chiles that made for a surprisingly fancy feeling sample.
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We were surprised by how much we liked the options from Sam Fox's Little Cleo's Seafood Legend. The restaurant's Bacon and Eggs was a fun take on a breakfast classic with housemade sturgeon bacon, crème fraiche, and a fried egg over toast. Early in the day, they also handed out oysters on the half shell with a choice of two accompanying sauces.
Lon's at the Hermosa Inn offered a nice bite in the form of a beet salad with housemade bacon and ricotta cheese, though it wasn't one of the most memorable dishes of the day. We were also disappointed by the shrimp bahn mi from Clever Koi. The sandwich featured a strange shrimp patty accompanied by yuzu slaw, Sriracha aioli and black sesame bun that fell on the drier side than we would have liked.
Chef Michael Rusconi served a tasty Dungeness crab and shrimp salad with yellow gazpacho and avocado that -- like many of the layered dishes of the day -- was difficult to eat out of a small cup. Another inconveniently-plated but enjoyable dish came from Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House, which served a warm canella braised duck with bourbon braised peaches, smoky bleu cheese, and a crostini.
Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden served one of the most interesting bites of the day, in the form of a saffron macaron with coriander ganache and a cilantro marshmallow. The restaurant's savory dish, which combined goat, tepary beans, smoked corn, and cotija cheese, didn't bowl us over. St. Francis' Skuna Bay citus and beet-cured salmon with dill pickled mustard seed and crème fraiche made for a simple but refreshing bite. And The Vig's piping hot gazpacho was a surprisingly complex and delicious dish.
There's no way we could have tried all of the wines at this year's event and remained upright but of those we did, one of our favorites was the 2013 Meskeoli from Dos Cabezas Wineworks. The white wine blends a unique variety of grapes including Voignier, Reisling, Albarito, Muscat, and Malvasia to create a well balanced and easy to enjoy wine. Winemaker Todd Bostock joined three other Arizona winemakers -- Kent Callagan of Callaghan Vineyards, Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars, and Rob Hammelmann of Sand-Reckoner Vineyards -- for an Arizona Winemaker's panel led by Pavle Millic of FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale. Each of the winemakers poured one of their wines, talked about the state of Arizona wines, and fielding questions from the audience.
We also quite enjoyed the 2012 Voyager Red from Grand Canyon Winery in Willams. The Rhone River-style red blends Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Syrah grapes to create a medium bodied wine with a fruity and peppery profile. Ariozna Stronghold's Dala Chardonnay was a surprise favorite, too. Though we've been fans of the winery's Tazi white blend for a while, we hadn't previously tried the Dala, a 100 percent Chardonnay aged in neutral oak, giving the wine a clean profile and notes of apple and citrus.
From Pillsbury Wine Company, we tasted a lineup of wines, but most enjoyed the Diva, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes that create a fragrant, fruit forward wine that's hard not to enjoy.
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Lastly, we caught the Old Fashioned-inspired punch featuring Arizona Distilling Company's Copper City Bourbon. The cocktail, served by Scott and Co. in Tucson, was one of only hard liquor offerings of the day, which was fine considering how great it was. Blending bourbon, Demarara syrup, Angostura bitters, and smoked bitters, the cocktail managed to highlight the Arizona-made whiskey and deliver a semi-sweet profile.
The lineup of restaurants will be different tomorrow (Sunday), but if it's as good as the offerings today, Sunday's attendees are in for a great event. We're particularly excited to see what Barrio Queen, Citizen Public House/The Gladly, Crudo, Hana, Petite Maison, Kai at Wild Horse Pass, and Posh have planned.
Be sure to check back for our coverage of Devoured day two.