After all the goodness Saturday's Devoured offered, we sent two more of Chow Bella's finest out to tag-team the more than 40 vendors at the event on Sunday. Heather Hoch and Minerva Orduna roamed the aisles of Devoured at Phoenix Art Museum to bring you the good, the bad, and the blah of the event. Dig in!
First, we have what Heather ate at Devoured . . .
I've never been so stuffed in my entire life. Walking around and grazing on small plates from as many tables as I possibly could, it became clear that this unrelenting onslaught of meaty excess and alcoholic decadence would only be briefly punctuated by the occasional salad. Case in point, Beckett's Table's deep-fried deviled egg with bacon and smoked red onion -- a naughty-for-the-sake-of-being-naughty dish that only got more rich with the addition of the hot sauce aoli.
Depending on what booth I was near, the foodie horde was either a mosh pit or a painfully slow-moving herd. That's one way to slow down on the eating.
Despite several bottlenecks, I got my fill. During a demo of pig-strami and a Midwest Manhattan pairing, Citizen Public House discussed the fact that it will be opening a new concept called The Gladly in Phoenix this summer. The restaurant, which will aim to focus as much on quality service as quality ingredients, will replace the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in the Biltmore neighborhood and feature craft cocktails on draft and some brand-new culinary creations from chef Bernie Kantak.
Just thinking about this new spot made me hungry, so I swung by the CPH booth and grabbed a plate of delicious five-spiced duckling ham (duck cured like ham) with chilled creamy Teff porridge and black garlic gastrique.
Duck was a common theme for the day, but unfortunately Fez's duck salad fell short with odd spicing and an overly chewy texture on the duck itself.
Some of my favorite themes of the day were refreshing summer cocktails and light salads and appetizers. The cucumbery No. 17 cocktail from Windsor and their sister restaurant Federal Pizza's ginger and grapefruit wine cooler were great for cooling down. I also loved St. Francis' non-alcoholic offering of mango, pink grapefruit, and guava juices with rosemary simple syrup, ginger ale, and a strawberry-basil garnish. On the beer front, Goose Island Brewery of Chicago put its best brew forward with three samplings from a vintage ale series, including the Pepe Nero, which is brewed with peppercorns.
I also loved Windsor's salad, which combined cara cara oranges (my personal favorite), heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, pine nuts, cucumbers, fennel and a shallot and citrus vinegarette. St. Francis' was the only salad there that was actually more savory than sweet, which was a nice break. Best of all, Crudo's albacore sashimi crudo was so light, fresh, and citrusy, with spring garlic and carrots that I was tempted to get a second plate. But I totally didn't because only jerks get seconds when there's limited supply. Right, guys?
Now I know it wasn't a challenge, but if it were, House of Tricks kicked everyone else's butts. The pozole verde with crispy, smokey duck and cotija was a delicious start, but its pair was even more impressive. The foie gras taco was so delicious that it made some tasters literally giggle, and it made me wish I could eat that, and only that, until the end of time. Its sweet and spicy chipotle caramel and pickled shallot balanced the dish perfectly,making it my favorite dish of the day.
For dessert, I noshed on Pig and Pickle's pb&j with bacon creation and Nami's vegan blueberry fritter. After all that richest of the rich food and drink, I started to feel a bit like the goose before it was foie gras whose liver I'd sampled from a few booths -- stuffed and stuffed and stuffed again, so if you'll excuse me, it's time to check out what Minerva thought of the rest of it. (Full disclosure: Minerva is now employed by Upward Projects, so she did not comment on any of the company's restaurants' offerings.)
Next, Minerva dishes about Devoured . . .
Imagine what you wish your high school reunion were like, loud, buzzing with energy (or alcohol), full of happy chatty people, little plates of food stacked in their hands, wine glasses swirling, forks waving . . . Or just attend Devoured Phoenix Culinary Classic on a Sunday. I'm always glad to see familiar faces working those booths. Devoured is a perfect example that while the Valley may be a giant pancake of a city, the culinary scene in this town is nothing but one big happy (and slightly dysfunctional) family. On the second day of this bigger-every-year culinary festival, those brave souls working both days may be exhausted, or nursing a hangover. The Sunday-only folks might look slightly fresher, but these guys will take that extra day of prep time and bring out the big guns, and I have to admit, I do love that.
My favorite of the Sunday only participants was Hana Japanese Eatery. With a small army of talented hands working, Hana was churning out four dishes, including two of my favorites -- a monkfish liver (ankimo) slider with a perfect sunnyside-up fried quail egg, and the shio koji yakitori. Grilled on-site, the beef marinated 10 days in miso was so meltingly tender that I thought we had died and gone to Hana heaven. The chawan mushi, a savory and beautifully smooth egg yolk custard with mushroom, dashi broth and fish, and the ni mono (colorful pickled vegetables) also were huge favorites, but I had to leave room.
We forced ourselves to walk away from Hana and move on to their tasty also Sunday only neighbor Kai, not an easy feat considering their very cramped quarters. The port marinated foie mousse with currant and date jam was clearly a crowd favorite at Kai, and I loved the lighter consistency of the mousse paired with the just sweet enough jam. The wild game machaca was also a big winner, with a mix of buffalo, boar and venison. Sadly, the heat was affecting the texture of the corn cheesecake with saguaro syrup and candied corn, and the mesquite smoked sugar creme brulee. Their flavor was still top-notch, but a runny creme brulee is a sad thing. Better to take the road trip out to Kai and enjoy it the way it is meant to.
Also suffering from the heat was District's macaroni and cheese with housemade chorizo, as nothing makes a cheese sauce break faster than the blazing Arizona sun. I'm still not sure about the cheese puff topping on the pasta dish or the crispy fritos on the chilled lobster and shrimp torta. I love comfort foods, and have a soft spot for childhood junk foods, but keep it classy, folks. .
I was very glad to see new Atlas Bistro chef Chris McKinley maintaining the high quality and big flavor that former chefs Josh Riesner and Keenan Bosworth brought to the joint. His roasted bone marrow topped with crispy lamb belly confit and red onion jam made me wish I could have had some private time alone with it, and his plate of roasted Duncan Family Farms radishes, golden raisin mustard and soft cheese (d'Affinois Poivre) was one of the perfect one bite plates at the event.
Some other great eat-with-one-free-hand plates at this year's event were Barrio Cafe's flavored packed jumbo shrimp with chile de árbol and sesame seed, Talavera at the Four Seasons' thinly shaved Arizona beef with mustard and root vegetable hash, and The Breadfruit's regular menu item, ginger grilled squid, magically transported me to their dark and cozy Rum Bar.
Gallo Blanco's beer-braised barbacoa tacos were a mouthful of flavorful goat meat, served on freshly pressed corn tortillas, and would have been perfect were it not for the topping of pungent raw onions and slightly too doughy and too small tortillas. To wash it down, I got Hula's painkiller cocktail, packing a refreshingly alcoholic wallop of Appleton's Jamaican rum.
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Of course, not every dish at Devoured was a stand-out. Relish Burger Bistro at the Phoenician brought some of the prettiest food along, with a whole hog crispy taco with pineapple salsa, but sadly, the flavor didn't match the looks of the dish; however, I thoroughly enjoyed their very portable take on bacon and eggs. Equally pretty, and delicious up to the very salty last bite was Blue Hound's barely cooked wild steelhead salmon. I blame the radish puree under the fish, and I was slightly bothered by the unthoughtful salad mound on the dish.
Other disappointments of the day were Carte Blanche Gourmet Tacos' coffee-rubbed pork tacos. Despite the long list of ingredients rattled off, the dish was less flavorful than I would have hoped, and it was a less-than-inspiring plate. Try as I might, I got nothing more than the 18-hour Japanese coffee from the Tuck Shop-Astor House booth, with its barbecue sliders being either absent every time I stopped by. Equally hard to sample were J&G's panko-breaded shrimp and whatever other offerings it might have had. Even with plenty of staff on hand, they seemed to be having a hard time keeping up with the crowd.
This year's Devoured left me with a full belly and a slight buzz, as usual, but also with a slight claustrophobic panic attack at the tight arrangement of the booths, narrow circulation aisles. I also found myself sometimes wondering what restaurant's food I was eating because the large signs of the past were notably absent this year.