Review: Taste of the NFL

Taste of NFL

(Guest post by The Boyfriend)

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Julie realized a few weeks ago that she wouldn’t be able to cover this year’s Taste of the NFL at Paul Brown Stadium.  Because of a long-scheduled performance of The Vagina Monologues at Falcon Theatre in Newport, she would be able to do little more than put in a quick and cursory appearance at Taste before heading to the theater.  She asked me if I would cover the event for wine me, dine me in her place.

Oh.

So you want me to attend this massive event where more than thirty-five of the area’s best restaurants break out edgy and intriguing new, potentially trend-setting dishes?  I have virtually limitless access to tasting portions of  these offerings and have the chance to chat with the chefs who created them?  I get to meet and hang out with the movers and shakers in the city’s culinary community, not to mention Bengals players, coaches, and staff?  Free drinks, did you say?

I might be persuaded.

When I arrived and reached the top of the escalator, I was offered a complimentary martini glass that commemorated the event by none other than eight smiling Ben-Gals (the Bengals’ cheerleaders, only five of whom are shown here).

courtesy Wordsworth/Ken Gilkey for Zipscene
courtesy Wordsworth/Ken Gilkey for Zipscene

Oh no, Br’er Fox, don’t throw me in that briar patch.

All brevity aside, this is a wonderful event that benefits the FreestoreFoodbank.  A silent auction, featuring dozens of articles of Cincinnati sports memorabilia and sports-themed outings, also raised much-needed money for one of the city’s most worthwhile charities.

And the main event here, of course, is the food.

Even to attempt to write about all of the dishes produced by the thirty-six restaurants at this year’s event would be an exercise in futility.  So I’ll just hit on what were, for me, a few of the highlights.

My favorite dessert was from Chef Summer Genetti at The Palace.   Get a load of this:
Taste of NFL
Taste of NFL
This is a Chocolate Crusted Dark Chocolate Tart with Salted Caramel Sauce and Caramel Pork Rind (with a touch of Cajun spice).  I was so totally caught off guard by the dish that I initially didn’t know what to make of it.   But one bite, and I was hooked.  It was delicious!  The salt causes the caramel to have a much more complex flavor.  The tart was moist, slightly chewy, and had a deep, rich chocolate taste.  The pork rind had a thin coating of caramel, which added extra crunchiness to an already-crunchy favorite.    Julie and I had Chef Genetti’s flight of assorted cupcakes a few weeks back when we stopped in for the Palace’s burger and beer special; we also sampled probably the most delectable cookies I’ve had in years.   So I knew she was an extremely talented chef.  But this chocolate tart was really something special.

Taste of NFL

Probably the most interesting item I sampled was Nicholson’s Breakfast With a Twist, a tasty Guinness-based Bloody Mary that included a dram of Tio Pepe sherry.  It was topped with a skewer of medium-rare beef tenderloin, bleu cheese-stuffed olives, and asparagus tips.   The drink, brainchild of Chef Patricia Helfenstine, is a nod to the possibility that Nicholson’s could be serving a weekend brunch in the not-too-distant future.  Nicholson’s GM Paul Stringer and Robin Breth, marketing director for the Tavern Restaurant Group, both told me that they are bandying about the idea of a weekend brunch in an attempt to get people into downtown Cincinnati on the weekends.  As a downtower who often laments the shortage of establishments open for business during daytime hours on weekends, I applaud this possibility as a most welcome development.   Stay tuned.

Oceanaire’s Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna with Napa Mango Slaw & Wasabi Soy Drizzle was the perfect summer fare…light, refreshing, and sweet with just the slightest kick.   The crab cakes from The Phoenix were the best I’ve had in a while (and I’m a real fan of crab cakes).

Other favorites included the Certified Angus Beef roasted Tenderloin Sandwiches from Jag’s Steak & Seafood, the Chicken Gorgonzola from Barresi’s Italian Restaurant, the Beef Tenderloin & Caramelized Onion Crostini with Aged Balsamic and Shaved Pecorino from Jeff Ruby’s Waterfront, and the delectable Bread Pudding with Amaretto Butter Sauce from Bella Luna.

I had a bite or two of several other offerings.  Most were extremely tasty.  When I left (or, more correctly, when they kicked me out), I was stuffed and remained so until the next day.

If Julie is involved with another theater production during next year’s Taste, maybe I’ll be asked to cover the event again.  If not, I’ll definitely stoop to whining and skullduggery to get an invitation.

Julie’s additions:
I went for the first 15-20 minutes, and mostly took pictures and barely ate anything.  Summer INSISTED (going so far as to take my camera and program out of my hand) that I try her pigskin tart– and it was delicious.  She gave me the special one.

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Jag’s sandwiches, which I didn’t try but Terry did:
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The ahi from Oceanaire– which was delicious.  Very light and summery, as Terry mentioned. Donna from Oceanaire told me she’d be offended if I took pictures and didn’t eat.  I complied. It was worth it!

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Here is the dish from MCI– didn’t try it, but it looked pretty.  Turns out Erin helped out with this dish!

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Apparently this thing was about football, not just food.

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If you go next year– and you should– a few tips:

  • If you want to meet a Bengals player, go early.  I mean, get there at 6:15 for the doors to open at 6:30.  I saw Chris Henry, Marvin Lewis, Carson Palmer, Domata Peko (who I see, like, everywhere with his adorable daughter), and Andrew Whitworth, who co-hosted.  I probably saw more, but just didn’t recognize them.  Lots of other local “celebrities” too.
  • The most entertaining spot in the place is where they decide to place the ice sculpture with the liquor sponsor.  Trust me.
  • There is too much food for one person to even take one bite of everything.
  • The most unexpected dishes always come from CinCOOKS, which is a program run by the FSFB.  If you see some dish that you can get anytime at a particular restaurant, skip it and try whatever they have.
  • The people watching is FANTASTIC.

Thank you to the wonderful folks at Wordsworth for giving us the opportunity! ~JN