Over the weekend the Great Arizona Picnic (GAP) rounded out a week of food-centric festivities during the 2015 Scottsdale Culinary Festival. This two-day marquee event brings more than 40 restaurants to the Civic Center Mall in downtown Scottsdale to serve up signature dishes to attendees, who indulged in good food as well as live music and beautiful weather.
Within the picnic were exclusive events such as the Southwest Festival of Beers, the Campari North American Spirit Tour, and the VIP Passport to the Picnic, all of which can be experienced for an additional cost. The Epicurean Expo, held inside the Center for the Performing Arts, was open to all general admission attendees, and featured kitchenware displays and live chef demos throughout the day. We visited the GAP to see just what the event had in store for food lovers across the Valley.
After scoping out our options for a good while, we noticed some appetizing looking dishes coming from the Roka Akor booth and jumped in line. Though the line was one of the longest at the festival, it moved quickly as there were only three items offered.
We settled upon the Robata salmon, "robata" meaning grilled on a skewer in Japanese. The salmon was topped with teriyaki sauce and a pickled cucumber and carrot slaw. Sadly, what looked like a delicious fish dish turned out to be overcooked. The salmon was dry and sub par, salvaged only slightly by the sauce and garnishing of pickled slaw. It seemed that in order to keep up with the continual inflow of orders, quality was sacrificed for quantity in preparing this dish.
Hoping for a remedy, we made our way to Squid Ink's booth for the chirashi rice bowl, a dish of white rice topped with seafood-quality salmon, tuna, and octopus, as well as a few slices of avocado and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The seafood portion of the dish was deliciously simple, but the rice could have used a bit more attention. In a typical chirashi bowl, the rice is prepared sushi style with some rice vinegar added to give it that subtly tangy flavor that enhances the raw fish flavor. Unfortunately, this rice was left plain, and there were no other interesting ingredients added to the bowl, such as Japanese egg omelet or fermented vegetables, to give the dish more depth. While this dish was not bad, it was certainly not a stunner.
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Veering off the seafood course, we went in search of some smoked meat and ended up at the Pork on a Fork booth to try their hand pulled pork slider. The slider was topped with a generous portion of pulled pork, and finished off with a bit of coleslaw for good measure. At first we wished for some barbeque sauce to moisten the meat and give it a little more punch flavor-wise; later we found the sauce semi-hidden to the left of the booth. With the addition of the sauce, the pulled pork slider had very good flavor.
Ready for dessert, we knew just where to go: the Caketini booth. We were drawn to the tropical entremet, a golden orb of mango mousse with a banana and strawberry filling and a butter pound cake base. Visually, the dish was uniquely whimsical with its vivid golden yellow hue, perfectly formed shape and tropical flower garnish. Holding it, we got attention from other event-goers, all wanting to know where we had gotten the confection. The flavor matched the good looks. The mousse had a fresh mango flavor, and the strawberry mousse filling was light and dotted with sweet chunks of banana. The butter pound cake was moist, and the ground hazelnut sugar mix sprinkled around the orbs edges provided a nice crunch and extra touch of sweetness.
After taking in the Great Arizona Picnic , it is clear that the event has a great social atmosphere and makes for a fun part of the weekend. Whether the food offered would satisfy more discerning diners is questionable. The selection of restaurants was quite standard and the cooking environment made for dishes that could not all be as well executed as if they were prepared in the actual restaurant. Nevertheless, as a part of the entire Scottsdale Culinary Festival, the GAP is a good and accessible event.