Charlotte's annual Taste of the Nation is by far my most anticipated food event of the year. 2014 marks my third consecutive year in attendance, and it continues to get better every year. With 100% of ticket sales and all proceeds from the silent auction going directly to local and national charities, it's nearly impossible not to get excited about feasting on seemingly endless plates from dozens of Charlotte's fine dining restaurants. In addition to supporting the national campaign "Share Our Strength - No Kid Hungry," the local organizations Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Community Culinary School of Charlotte were also benefitted immensely.
It took a lot of arm twisting to have my parents act as my dates for the evening, but they willingly obliged to include the event in their Easter weekend trip to Charlotte.
Each year the selection of food is fantastic, yet the restaurants manage to keep raising the bar of excellence. This year I was impressed with the incorporation of more vegetarian dishes, vegetable sides, and more generous wine pours. Upstream prepared one of my favorite plates - halibut cheek, seaweed salad, and miso sticky rice (below left). Beside their table was Mimosa Grill, with a great selection of seasonal vegetables and a slice of grilled lamb (below right).
This dish featured duck confit over a bean cake. While the duck was moist and flavorful, the bean cake needed a bit more moisture and flavor punch. My favorite entree of the night - Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar's lamb sadly went unphotographed. It was quite possibly the most tender and flavorful piece of meat that I have ever consumed.
I've yet to visit Gallery Restaurant at the Ballantyne Hotel, but based on their "Snicker's" dessert, it quickly moved to the top of my "must-try" Charlotte restaurant list. A crunchy peanut base was layered with a rich chocolate mousse, wrapped in dark chocolate, drizzled with a buttery caramel, and dusted with sea salt. Over the course of the evening, we had to make a return visit for a second taste of this incredibly decadent dessert.
As you can imagine, this giant smoked pig generated lots of attention for Uptown Bar and Grill's (opening Spring '14) table. Last year, pulled pork seemed to be the most popular dish, with plate after plate of barbecue. This year, however, there was only one pork slider. With the abundance of mouth-watering plates, I opted for only a tasting bite of this before deciding it needed a healthy splash of a sauce to be worth of continued eating. They did, however, have a really great sweet potato hummus with crudités that I loved.
Baku was recently named one of the top restaurants in the country, so I was very anxious to see what they prepared. The presentation of a diver scallop, foie gras, and micro greens was impressive, and I can now officially say that I've tried foie gras.
Two Wells Fargo is always a great venue for Taste of the Nation and we were once again granted clear blue skies, though a bit chilly, for the evening's festivities.
I've included only a handful of the dozens of plates that we feasted on, and the last was a lemon gnocchi and sautéed shrimp dish from Ilios Noche. The lemon flavor was bright and the gnocchi were some of the more palatable that I've tasted.
The evening wouldn't be complete without a father-daughter selfie!
I think I say this every year, but if you are fortunate enough to live in a city where Taste of the Nation occurs, you absolutely must put the local event on your calendar and get yourself there for an evening of fabulous food, entertainment, and fundraising for a great and worthy cause. Without a doubt, I'll be back again in 2015!