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Scottsdale Culinary Festival's Best of the Fest 2014: Beautiful Tablescapes, Memorable Food

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The weeklong Scottsdale Culinary Fest came to an extravagant end last night at the annual Best of the Fest dinner held at the Scottsdale Hyatt Regency. The event brought out eight of the Valley's top chefs who each prepared a coursed dinner for two tables of guests. It's a sort of unofficial competition between the restaurants to put together impressive and elaborate tablescapes that either reflect the restaurant or the chef's menu of the night.

See also: 10 Best Culinary Events in Metro Phoenix

We were assigned to dine at one of the tables assigned to chef Matt Carter of The Mission, Zinc Bistro, and The House Brasserie. For the evening Carter represented Zinc Bistro, the stylish French restaurant located at Keirland Commons in Scottsdale. Carter's six course dinner was paired with an impressive lineup of wines from O'Connell Family Wines.

Of all the Scottsdale Culinary Festival events, Best of the Fest is a hands-down favorite. Unlike some of the other festival events, which offer plenty of entertainment and fun but lose points on quality of the food, this dinner focuses on the chefs, the wine, and still promises a memorable time. The community-style tables mean you're almost guaranteed to meet new people while you share a delicious meal.

Carter's menu started with a dish of foie royal, a creamy mousse of foe gras, topped with frais de bois (wild strawberries), fried capers, strawberry aigre doux, and crispy shallots. The combination of rich foie, salty shallots, and sweet strawberries played perfectly against the oatmeal crisp. It was a playful way to start the meal, albeit also a slightly complicated one.

Next came a stinging nettle veloute, considered one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. The dish, which the chef described as a "true Spring dish," also featured French butter, black garlic puree, Verpa morel mushrooms, mornay, and parmesan foam. This was one of our favorite courses of the night thanks to the unique presentation and layers of bright, fresh Spring flavors.

The third course brought Alaskan Halibut cheek to the table served over a rich double chicken consommé. This dish, complemented by grilled baby zucchini, garlic creama, spring onions, and crispy artichokes, was the highlight of our dinner. A piece of snow crab not only added a artful touch but also an unexpected flavor to the dish. Paired with the Pietro Famitly Cellars '12 Sauvingon Blanc, this course also offered our favorite pairing of the night. With more body than a typical Sauvignon Blanc and very little sweetness, we thought the wine stood up well to this dish.

Courses four and five, which featured espresso cocoa rubbed squab and smoked veal New York, weren't as impressive as they looked on paper. Both the squab and the veal fell a little on the undercooked side for our taste, making it difficult to cut the very-pink meats with a fork and knife. The saving grace for these courses was the wine, which included the Gabrielle Collection '10 Equilateral Cabernet. Made in a French-style and due to the cold weather in Napa that year, this vintage veers away from a typical Napa Cab by delivering more herbal notes and less fruit flavors.

The dessert course ended the dinner on a high note with a fried vanilla croquette with yogurt meringue, more fraise de bois, macrona almonds, and strawberry coulis. The smell alone was amazing and with the barely-sweet meringue mixing with the fresh strawberries this was a perfect way to end the night.

The wine with this final course was definitely our favorite of the night, a unique rose made with 100 percent Cabernet grapes. The Rose d'Ete had none of the sweetness you'd associate with a rose, making this a much more food-friendly wine than you'd expect. In fact, all the wines we had from O'Connell Family wines seemed designed to be enjoyed with food, the kind of wines that serve to clear the palette rather than compete against the food's flavors. You can read more about the winery and it's collections on the O'Connell Family Wines website.

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