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Review: Taste of NFL

Okay, okay, anyone who knows me knows that I’m sort of sports-stupid. I really like watching baseball, but every game Terry and I go to, he ends up spending half the game explaining things to me. I know TJ Houshmanzadeh, Carson Palmer, and Chad Johnson by sight; everyone else is just a big guy in a jersey. I know more about football than I used to, thanks to Terry and our friends Tracy and Ron, who have all at some point or another explained things while we watched a game. My lack of football knowledge stuns my mother, who is a huge Bengals fan, and who had season tickets while I was growing up. She’s also still despondent that I don’t know how to swim, despite several summers of swim lessons. It just goes to show you that just because you expose me to something, it doesn’t mean it will stick.

My lovely blogger-buddy Shannan emailed me a few days before the Taste of NFL event to see if I wanted to go– 30 chefs? Sure! Good cause? Even better! The event was a blast– lots of Bengals players around to sign autographs, several of them pouring shots of vodka for anyone who wanted one, some really cool auction prizes, and all of it benefited the Freestore/Foodbank, which is so important, particularly in a time of economic downturn. I read somewhere that demand on food banks are doubling and even tripling, so having a huge organization like the NFL raise money and give money to food-related charities is so important.

Another great sign? Many of the executive chefs were serving food behind their tables. I chatted with Chef Travis Maier from Seny, spotted Jean-Robert de Cavel slinging French Castles behind his station, Chef Paul Sturkey was at Mesh’s station– everyone brought their A-game to this event, and it showed.

I don’t think I tried all 30 dishes, so I’m just going to highlight a few of my favorites.

Julie’s favorite dish of the night: mesh’s pork belly with sweet potato mash.

The pork belly was braised in cider, the sweet potato mash wasn’t too sweet or too overspiced, as sweet potato mash can be. It was not the perfect summer dish, for sure, but it was perfect for fall and football (pigskin? get it?).

Terry’s favorite dish of the night: The Palace Restaurant’s Croquette of Wild Mushroom and Oxtail with Port Wine Reduction.

Crispy outside, rich inside, melt-in-your-mouth good. He went back for a second one, which we didn’t do for any other dish.

Other awesome dishes:

Seny’s “steak and potatoes”.

I really couldn’t wait to try this, as I knew it would be something interesting. It was a fun twist on steak and potatoes– a piece of rare strip steak topped with potato skin “caviar”, with a side of pickled potato and avocado puree. It was presented to emulate sushi. Very pretty and quite tasty. I talked to Chef Travis and asked what people thought of the dish– he said people loved it once he explained it, and he really wanted people to ask questions so he could educate. Awesome!

Jeff Ruby’s Surf and Turf of Tuna “Bacon” and Braised Pork Belly on Spiced Watermelon-Sweet Corn Emulsion

This one was really good– loved the emulsion, loved the amazingly light-tasting pork belly– but was thrown off a little by the chunk of slightly underripe watermelon. Still, the tuna/pork “surf and turf” was delicious.

Cincinnati Cooks! Maple Chicken and Ribs

I didn’t try the ribs, but I did try the chicken. Lovely, sticky sauce– very maple-y. I’d like to try this at home, actually, as it seemed simple and had that air of home-cooking. Cincinnati Cooks is itself a program of the Freestore/Foodbank. It is a job training program, and graduates of the courses are hired by local companies, and the food they use to cook and cater is all donated. The catering brings in revenue, which allows the training program to flourish. Fantastic! Their catering menu looks really good, too; I will keep it in mind for my next catered event. Check them out here.

My only complaint (if I can call it that) is that it was elbow-to-elbow, making it a little hard to eat at times, but such is the nature of an event like this. It was a great time, for both foodie and football fan. This is the kind of event where someone could take a spouse or friend who wasn’t a huge football fan and they would still have a great time. I hope to check it out again next year, but in the meantime, I need to get to the Palace restaurant– Terry wants some more croquettes!

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