The saddest thing about Chef’s Night Out, FOOD for Lane County‘s annual fundraiser of deliciousness, is that it’s pretty much impossible to enjoy all of it. I ate until I was stuffed, then ate a little more, and felt like I’d only scratched the surface of what the 50+ booths in the Hult Center had to offer. I think the best way to manage your time and properly pace yourself would be to go with another person, so you can split everything (and so they can hold your bag and tray when you want to take pictures, thereby resulting in better pix than the ones I’m about to post), but it didn’t work out that way. So I traipsed through the Hult’s many floors alone, stopping to say hi to colleagues and a couple of familiar faces.
The second saddest thing about Chef’s Night Out wasn’t actually sad at all, but sort of funny: I found my holy grail of the bites on offer way too early. But let’s save that for last. Here’s what I can remember eating, with apologies for the crappy pix:
Red Agave won me over right off the bat with little sashimi balls of tuna wrapped around a white fish I didn’t immediately recognize, and with sweet, tangy, falling-apart pork atop a masa wafer. I resisted the urge to go back for more of the pork, because, well, it was filling, and this was my first stop.
(Right to left, roughly: Ceviche from El Vaquero, sashimi ball and pork/masa from Red Agave, porksicles (more on these shortly) from MarchÃ©, parfait and pork confit from Davis’, Sweet Life treats.)
(PLEASE NOTE: I am going to get things wrong. I am going to call them by the wrong names and things. Correct me if you remember. I didn’t take notes. I don’t have four arms. C’mon, now.)
Adam’s Place: Continuing the pork trend with what I remember as sliced pork loin on a slice of baguette. I remember it was good. But I missed the meringue mushrooms from two years ago.
The Vintage: Deeeelishus (pardon the internet spelling) mojito-margarita combination drinks that had a funny combination name I cannot bring to mind. On the way out, I grabbed a little stick of berry and krispie treat goodness that was so simple and perfect it was a lovely little finale, even without the chocolate fondue it was meant to be dipped into..
Market of Choice: Oh. Em. Gee. An entire plateful of delights came from the trusty MOC â€” and that’s even considering I passed up half of their options:
What you see there is a mini pulled pork sandwich (like an Atkins dieter, I ate the inside and left the roll); a fresh, mild little cream tartlet with one seedless grape on top (a wonderful variation from the cherry I half expected); and a sweet skewer with housemade truffle, marshmallow and caramel. Oh, caramel. How I can never resist you.
Ninkasi: This is just a shoutout to Dave Lawrence for manning the taps and therefore providing a familiar face in a packed building of strangers. Also, Believer. Mmmm.
CafÃ© Zenon had an array of rich patÃ©s on offer; I only took the pork liver one, if memory serves, and found it rich and almost overwhelming, so strong and different was the flavor in comparison with everything else I tried.
Another NOTE: There is too much going on at Chef’s Night Out for me to have anything but the most rudimentary comments on most things. Too much tastiness, too much scarfing down of things while moving on to the next, too much goodness. Which isn’t really a bad thing.
LCC Culinary Program: There is no possible way there was as much oohing and aahing going on anywhere else in the building as there was in front of the LCC table, which was piled with exquisite little chocolate treats:
Shall we look at some of those a bit closer?
Iraila: God forbid you go to CNO and miss Mark Zolun’s spicy nuts. They’re a must have, and someday I must dig up the little recipe card I got two years ago and make my own. Iraila also had hearty (but not too hearty!) spinach dumpling creations (malfati-spinach-ricotta dumplings with egg in marinara sauce, says their listing, helpfully) and lamb meatballs with an unexpected kick to the spice. The description says saffron; did I taste cinnamon in there? Cardamom? My palate can’t remember.
Mac’s Restaurant and Nightclub and McCallum’s Catering: I eyed the fried oysters, but it was getting on in the evening; the mini shrimp cocktails, on the other hand, were a clean, slightly kicky flavor that cut through the layer of sugar left on my tongue by the impressive array of dessert items I’d been snacking on.
CafÃ© Soriah had the same thing as last time I went to CNO, and it was just as good. I nearly walked on by, but the lure of butter, bananas and ice cream was just too strong. Oh, bananas flambÃ©. I could eat you for dinner. Constantly. Everything about this dish is perfect. I will freely admit that after finishing the last solid bite, I tipped the bowl up and drank the melty bits. It’s that good.
Salishan Spa & Golf Resort: I think this was the place serving more delicious pork, sliced on a little wafer with an interestingly crunchy-crackly texture and topped with something like an apricot preserve (though the booklet is telling me West Bros. River Ranch had something similar. I apologize for any mixups!). Regardless, I overheard a woman telling her friend Salishan’s offering was one of the best things she’d had, but it was tucked away at the top and no one was going up there. I hope snackers found their way up eventually!
(I’m regretting not eating the Ax Billy Grill’s lobster pot pie. So pretty, so cute, and I passed it up for fear of exploding. Silly me.)
Davis’: Generous servings made this a popular table, I suspect. Two key things on offer: parfait cups filled with thick layers of strawberry, chocolate, lemon and, er, something else, so massive in relative size I couldn’t finish mine, and a tasty pork and asparagus dish that came atop a chunk of butter-and-pork-juice-drenched bread. I ate a lot of pork. This is a good thing.
Sweet Life: I don’t need to tell you that Sweet Life was awesome. Tiny little tartlets and cupcakes and goodies in a wide array of flavors â€” so many that the desire to try one of each had to be smothered, and quickly. I had something citrussy, something chocolatey, all delicious, of course, and all beautifully presented. And I snagged a couple treats for the Boyfriend Plate:
Those who do not get to go to Chef’s Night Out but are kind enough to pick up those who did get to go deserve a treat, yes?
Also on that plate you’ll see my one, my only Chef’s Night Out True Love: the porksicle.
I’d heard tell of this elusive MarchÃ© treat before, but tonight, I saw it, I tasted it, I fell for it. It’s got a classier name, of course â€” something about fried pork belly â€” but to me, it’s the unmatched porksicle. The crispy lean bits, the fat that melts in the mouth are so perfect that I found myself â€” the kind of kid who picked all the fatty bits off everything she ate â€” seeking out the fattiest porksicles on the tray. I ate one. Then I went back for two more. Then two more. Then two for the Boyfriend Plate. He wasn’t notably impressed with the crispy one, but after the second, thick and fatty and decadent, he understood.