It was a fairly sizable turnout at Talking Stick Resort last night for the Chocolate and Wine Experience, the decadent Day 2 of the week-long Scottsdale Culinary Festival.
True to title, the event offered all forms of chocolate indulgence and bottled vino, but left plenty of room for interpretation on the overall "experience."
For those in search of simple confection, their needs were met with classics such as assorted chocolate truffles from Chocolates by M Josephs including mint, orange, wild cherry, espresso, and merlot; as well as a chocolate fountain with skewered strawberries, cake balls, and cookies from Heidi's Events and Catering.
And for the more health conscious patrons, b Naked Chocolates offered a selection of wholesome, all-natural treats. However, we chose The Naked Brunette truffle and found it in serious need of some conditioner. The chocolate truffle, sinless as it may have been, could not be saved from the dry texture found too often in "healthy" desserts.
For festival patrons craving something more elaborate than truffles, Tracy Dempsey's Originals greeted them with a chocolate meringue tart and a Hostess-inspired chocolate dipped cupcake, both accompanied by a passion fruit crema. The petite pastries were a popular pick among the crowd and served as a nice introduction to the other tables at the event (maybe even too nice as it set the bar a little too high for some of the other festival participants).
Close seconds to Dempsey included Copper Creek Cheesecake's fluffy chocolate truffle cheesecake with a delicate crumble crust and Talking Stick Resort's B-52, a dark chocolate missile filled with semisweet milk and white chocolate, Kailua, bourbon, and Grand Marnier.
Only a couple restaurants dared to venture into more savory territory. Sassi paired duck crostini with chocolate marsala, strawberries, and marcona almonds with red wine chocolate shot (served in an edible chocolate mini mug); while Los Sombreros dished out samples of chicken mole sauce with chips and a chocolate tamale -- which was essentially chocolate cake and ice cream just served on a piece of corn husk.
The biggest stand out of the evening was Cowboy Ciao's table where pastry chef Country Velador and Sergio Velador were also representing Super Chunk Sweet & Treats . These guys went all out with mesquite chocolate chip cookies; red wine chocolate cake with maraschino cherries and chantilly cream; smoked chocolate mousse with cocoa pizzelle and chocolate nibs; chocolate bacon caramel corn; and our favorite, brutti ma buoni - an Italian-style cookie that carried a complementary foil of taste and texture, and truly delivered on what our concept of an "experience" should be - memorable.
So what were our complaints? Perhaps our love of sweets runs deeper than some but when you attach the word "festival" to an event, we expect to be overwhelmed. Instead we found ourselves making second rounds, wondering if maybe, just maybe, there were more chocolate vendors hidden away somewhere.
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Second, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the wine portion of the event. While at least two wine styles were available every station, the selection process behind the pairings seemed rather arbitrary and the knowledge of the wine itself was limited.
Nonetheless, we still managed to leave with a smile on our face, and an ache in our stomach.
This post has been edited from its original version.