Sunday, July 29, 2012

Afternoon grazing session at the Delectable FOOD BOWL


As much as I'd like to be in on the Brisbane gourmet news loop, I often get reminders of just how out of touch I am. I had never heard of the Food Bowl event until my foodie buddy Nina gave word on Friday. A quick Google search gave me all the information I needed and within the hour, I had secured my tickets. At that point, I still had no idea what the event entailed, only that lots of my favorite Brisbane restaurants were being represented... somehow.

The Delectable Food Bowl turned out to be more or less what I guessed it would be. There's an entry fee to get in and once inside, you buy 'Delectable dollars', which you then use to exchange for food. The food is available for purchase from many stalls set up within a fenced off section of the Botanical Gardens. The stalls are set up by popular restaurants, cafes and wine distributors, each showcasing one or two dishes (or beverages).

We were given wristbands instead of Delectable dollars

The event lasted from 10:30am to 4pm and we got there around 12:30, in time for lunch. There was a bit of confusion at the ticketing booth. I suspect the organizers may have underestimated the number of people who came because we heard lots of cries of "They've run out of food stamps inside!" and indeed, when we tried to buy our Delectable dollars, the counter had run out and we were issued wrist bands to use instead.

That initial hiccup aside, the rest of the day was quite enjoyable. I thank Brisbane for providing us with PERFECT outdoor weather today. We spent a good 3 hours wandering around, picking up food, eating and repeating.

I'll run through what we got to taste, in order.

When Marc and I first got in, we were disorientated and hungry. I spotted the 1889 Enoteca stall and made a beeline toward it. Enoteca is a restaurat that I've been wanting to try for over 3 years now, so I was really keen to taste their food. The dish they offered was a pork and fennel sausage gnocchi with black truffle cream. There was a vegetarian version without the sausage too.

1889 Enoteca - potato gnocchi, pork and fennel sausage, black truffle tapenade and parmesan cream

I didn't have very high expectations because honestly, I thought 'stall food... low standards'. Turns out, I was very wrong on that account because the gnocchi was unreal. I'm not crazy about gnocchi in general but in this dish, they were a fairly good consistency. What I really loved though was the sauce. It was a light yet creamy sauce with a pronounced hit of truffle and flavor bursts of pork and fennel. This dish set the bar for what was to come and by the end of our excursion, it remains my favorite.

After we lined our bellies with the gnocchi, we were no longer half-starved and could afford to browse the other stalls at a more leisurely pace. I got a bit dazed and overwhelmed in trying to decide what to have for our 'next course'. I really wanted to try Aria's dish but it was a beef pie and I wasn't in the mood for pie. The prawn dumplings at Sake sounded great but I've had that at Sake Restaurant so I didn't see the point in getting it today. The same applied for the ramen at Tank.

Il Centro - sandcrab lasagna

In the end, Marc went for the sandcrab lasagna from Il Centro, on my recommendation, and I decided we should try the chicken croquettes from Ortiga. I've had the sandcrab lasagna from Il Centro itself and even duplicated it at home, following the Gillian Hirst recipe. I've raved about this dish to everyone. I didn't try any today but now I'm thinking I should have because Marc didn't sound too rapt with it (comment: "it tastes dessert-like") and I'm curious as to whether it's similar or diffeerent to what I remember.

Ortiga - chicken and lemon croquettas

The chicken croquettas were simple but nice. I'm impressed that they stayed crunchy even though they were being churned out for the masses. The lemon gave it a nice freshness that I liked.

At this point, we were getting a bit fuller and started taking longer breaks to sit and digest. We came up with this genius plan. Rather than wandering aimlessly and forgetting what one stall served by the time we reached another stall (this happened to me a fair bit), I discovered that the map we were given upon entry actually listed all the stalls AS WELL AS what dishes they were serving. I eyeballed 2 items I wanted to try next and we found them on the map before heading there directly. They belonged to Tartufo and the Urbane Group and were conveniently located near each other.

Pork bun production line at the Tartufo stall

I'll term this course as our 'mains' because they seem the most like a full meal (although arguable gnocchi and lasagna is quite hearty too). Tartufo offered a pork belly bun whilst Urbane (also representing The Euro and Laneway) dished up a hamburger.

Restaurante Tartufo - tradional Italian-style roasted Kingaroy pork in a ciabatta roll

I had high hopes for the pork bun because a) it sounds delicious and b) I think Tartufo is one of the best, most underrated restaurants in Brisbane. The bun was too dry and the pork too oily. I think it needed more tender, melty pork meat and some kind of sauce. It was hard to eat because the braised vegetable didn't break apart when you bit into the bun and would sort of pull out and get stuck in your teeth.

Urbane/Euro/Laneway - The Wellington Wimpy with Darling Downs beef patty, pickles, mustard and cheddar

Urbane's hamburger was much better because the patty was juicy and there was a sauce. The rest of the burger was good but I can't say it was really outstanding in anyway. I didn't think this burger was more innovative, flavorsome or well-done than say, Grill'd.

We took another break from eating and Marc picked up a beer (the Duke Premium) from Burleigh Brewing. It was crucial that we took time to create more space in our stomachs because there was something we hadn't gotten around to trying yet... the all important sweet ending to a meal that I can't live without.

Goodies at the Boucher French Bistro stall

Throughout our travels, we had passed the Boucher French Bistro stall a few times and I noticed it had a selection of several desserts and there was always a queue. I knew that's where I wanted to go for something sweet. I was debating on whether to get 2 cupcakes or a cupcake and macaron when fate intervened and decided for me. The macarons sold out while we were in line so we bought 2 cupcakes instead.

Boucher French Bistro - chocolate sour cream cupcakes with Red Hill raspberry butter cream and vanilla bean cupcake with vanilla butter cream and praline

The chocolate sour cream cupcake was so lovely and moist. It was dense but not overly heavy like a mudcake. The raspberry buttercream was delicious. The vanilla cupcake was nice but a bit drier and the buttercream too sweet for my liking. I've never heard of Boucher French Bistro before today but the cupcakes were nice enough for me to Google the place and I'm now curious to go and try their other offerings. I suppose that's the whole point of this Food Bowl exercise. From the point of view of the stall-holders, it's a great way to advertise.

Lick Ice Cream - Scenic Rim macadamia nut praline ice-cream

We still had just enough Delectable dollars for a scoop of ice-cream each. Perfect. I had been eyeing off the flavor offerings at Lick from afar and it became the last stop of our food journey. It was slightly nerve-racking standing in line because as we moved up toward the counter, our top 3 choices for flavor were crossed off as 'sold out'. I really wanted to try the caramelized condense milk flavor but alas it was the first to go. I kid you not the queue acutally sighed audibly with disappointment. Marc and I both got the macadamia flavor instead. What originally deterred me from ordering this, even though I love macadamia ice-cream, is that lots of ice-cream shops offer this flavor and it's all same same. This particular one from Lick was intensely creamy and generally better than I expected. What a great way to end the day!

Three hours of eating and many Delectable dollars later, I was a truly happy camper. We walked home (not anywhere close to burning off the kilojoules ingested but we have to start somewhere) with our bellies full and spirits high. The event organization could be improved but overall, I think it was a great idea. As a restaurant-goer, I love that we get a chance to try dishes from so many different popular restaurants in Brisbane. Several left great impressions on me and now I'm buzzing to go to the actual restaurants. It was great fun eating fine-dining restaurant style food out of paper plates on the grass, soaking up sunshine and listening to jazz versions of Nirvana and Sesame Street. I hope they do this again next year.

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