2010 Redux: Culinary Happenings

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By all accounts, this extravagant two-day culinary festival that replaced West of Western at the Phoenix Art Museum was a success -- the mid-March weather was perfect, there was a lot of amazing food to be had (seems like more people preferred the lineup on the second day of the festival, though), and the crowds were energetic but lines weren't too long. Devour Phoenix, a restaurant-focused offshoot of Local First Arizona, was the organizer.

What struck me most about this year's event, compared to other large-scale festivals, was the sense of synergy. Thanks to social media and more cameraderie in the dining scene, there were Tweet-ups and opportunities to mingle with like-minded food lovers, as well as chefs, wine experts, and restaurateurs, that didn't used to exist. The dialogue on the who and what of Devoured continued on Twitter, Facebook, and local food blogs well after the weekend's festivities were finished.

Late Night Dining
Phoenicians' collective hunger for late-night dining -- that is, after 10 p.m. -- gained momentum in 2010 with
Petite Maison's Staff Meal, a budget-friendly dining option from 10 to midnight on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Chef James Porter would tweet his specials the day of, and sometimes invite guest chefs into the kitchen. Later, FnB's late night took off (chef Charleen Badman lured hungry customers with off-menu goodies like chilaquiles, brisket, pho, and more), and after a bit of peer pressure jolted chef Joshua Hebert into action, Posh joined the mix as well. Crudo and Noca have recently started their own late-night events. Late night shows no sign of slowing down, it seems.

Arizona Judgment
Restaurateur Pavle Milic of FnB put Arizona juice up against top wines from around the world, and he invited a slew of luminaries and sommeliers to judge the blind tasting event he held this past June, from local celebs Chris Bianco and Mark Tarbell to New York restaurateur Anne Rosenzweig and Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk

And you know what? The results were impressive, with three Arizona wines placing in the top five wines for both red and white categories. Local vino might've had a bad rap in the past, but that's all starting to change. 

CityScape, the big hope for dining in Downtown Phoenix, didn't debut with quite the fanfare I'd imagined. Several eateries should've been open by Labor Day, but there are still only three restaurants currently open -- Five Guys Burgers and Fries (a fast food chain), Lucky Strike Lanes (yes, you can eat pretty well at the bowling alley), and Vitamin T (chef Aaron May's tiny taco joint). 

But while the options are still limited at this multi-use complex, there's a lot in the works. The folks behind La Grande Orange will open LGO Public House, Fox Restaurant Group is planning an upscale chop house, and French bistro franchise called La Crepe Nanou will open a location. Also coming up is a second location of The Breakfast Club, another Tilted Kilt outpost, Oakville Grocery, Huey's Diner, Silk Sushi, Jimmy John's, and Brewpublic Craft House.

2010 was just a preview for what promises to be a much splashier 2011.

Rise of the Virtual Food Community

One of the most remarkable things about 2010 wasn't something in the brick-and-mortar world, but online. 

It was the strengthening of the local food community by way of the internet, whether in the form of food blogs, dining Tweet-ups, restaurant promotions, and late night gatherings announced via Twitter (remember Leekapalooza?), chefs reaching out to their fans on Facebook (Justin Beckett kept himself in the spotlight for months before he opened Beckett's Table), or sheer controversy on Yelp (if you haven't heard about the Crazy Amy debacle, you clearly weren't online)

I've made new friends this way, and I bet you have, too. 

Cheers to that, and to more good times ahead.

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