Change is good.
The Phoenix Art Museum has been hosting a springtime culinary festival for years, but it was just last year that it debuted under the Devoured moniker, thanks to new leadership from the Local First/Devour Phoenix folks. This past weekend, Devoured's sophomore effort showed a bit of evolution, and demonstrated just why this is the Valley's most-talked-about celebration of all things food and drink.
Restaurants seemed better prepared this time around, turning out small tastings at a steady clip that helped keep the lines in check. There's nothing worse than waiting for a two-bite dish as the sun beats down on your head, and thankfully things kept moving along -- for the most part.
But didn't it feel more crowded? Both Saturday and Sunday reached elbow-to-elbow density, the glass wine glasses gave way to plastic ones, and some folks wondered aloud whether there was actually any cap on attendance. It was great to see such an amazing turnout, but at some point, there can be too much of a good thing.
(Plus, some dudes showed up looking like slobs ready for some PBR at a backyard barbecue. At a $69-a-head event. At a classy venue like an art museum. Have some freaking self-respect! Jeez.)
I appreciated the variety of bites -- some of the best showings of the weekend were from restaurants that presented more than one option.
On Saturday, Barrio Cafe's Mexican trifecta of grilled corn with jalapenos and cotija, a cool salad of sweet shrimp and baby coconut, and the restaurant's legendary cochinita pibil with pickled pink onions, were worth coming back for seconds, and the corner location with live art and music, benches, and a neat lowrider bike with built-in barbecue created its own funky atmosphere within the festival.
Likewise, on Sunday, Kai dominated (as always), with pulled pork and date jam on olive frybread, a gazpacho shooter, mini French toast bites topped with sunny-side-up quail eggs, beer-soaked chocolate balls, and strawberry-cucumber push pops. It was a bite-sized smorgasbord, and presented very artfully.
Both days were a barrage of pork, ceviche, and bruschetta. And more pork. (Last year, it was tuna tartare at every turn. Where does this group-think come from?)
After too much pig, I seriously longed for something unusual, like octopus (thank you, The Parlor, for indulging us!). Petite Maison's ice-cold absinthe was a welcome novelty. And The Breadfruit's scallop was the only scallop I encountered. You want your restaurant to be memorable enough for folks to visit you for dinner? Strive for originality, and give us some choices.
Also, think about the weather, chefs. It was utterly gorgeous, but the sun was very strong. I wasn't seeking warm, comforting food like Tuck Shop's chili with cornbread (delish, and spicy as hell, but not right for the season), but rather running into the shade for a snowcone from new Cycle, that "mystery" restaurant opening at the Lexington Hotel. (The name refers to the pop-up nature of the space, which will have rotating chefs, food trucks, and events, all in the interim before the hotel gets a full-on renovation.)
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What a relief that Devoured sprawled more into the shady side of the courtyard this time around. Frequent trips out of the sun were my survival secret (and sneaking into the museum to see Yayoi Kusama's magical fireflies installation).
A few more strategically placed umbrellas on the grounds would've helped, big time. And a few more seats on the periphery would've been great.
And how about those wine tables? I loved how they were scattered throughout the event, not clustered in one spot. Not only did it quench my thirst on a whim, but it made it easier to appreciate a good cabernet or chardonnay. Good wine should be paired with food.
Bravo to everyone who presented, and all the hungry Phoenicians who came out to support the culinary scene (do you have a food hangover? I sure do.) May next year -- the third time -- be the charm.