photos by Natalie Holl
When we think of FIG, we usually think more of a fruit and less on the Fashion Institute Gallery, and on this last Wednesday, it seemed a bit more fitting as the Dallas Observer, in conjunction with Whole Foods, Fuze, Avion tequila and many other local establishments, created an event centered around food and wine. The highlight of the evening was an “Iron Chef” style cook-off between Charlie Palmer at the Joule’s executive chef Scott Romano and Suze Restaurant’s Gilbert Garza. We purchased a VIP pass and got in early, a key element to being able to taste and drink everything.
The Iron Fork event took place on two separate levels of the FIG, meaning there was going to be stairs involved in the evening. On the bottom level, there were some definite high points, like the Pecan Praline cheese spread from the Mozzarella Company. When paired with bread from Empire, it was both sweet and savory. Not a bad way to start an event.
Avion tequila had two stations, one on the top floor and one on the bottom floor. Honestly, the Orange Fuze margarita on the bottom floor was one of the best drinks of the night and the line at the station proved it. It was always at least 10 deep after 7pm. The drink was bright with lots of orange components (Orange Mango Fuze, Cointreau) and sweetness (agave nectar), balanced by strong acidity from the lime juice and you got yourself a tasty cocktail base. Mix in some Avion Blanco tequila that had just enough bite on the mid to late palate to make it great.
After a walk up the stairs, many of the “Forkers” entered the long hall with side rooms with plenty of restaurant choices.. This is where I met with the biggest surprise of the day, Lockhart’s. I am not a regular of the OC (Oak Cliff for those not in the know) but I may have to be after tasting some of the brisket here. Lean, fat or, my personal favorite, bark, were all available and ready to sample. After three samples, I just want a large piece of bark to chew on like a piece of beef jerky. It was fantastic and the best thing I ate all night.
There were some other highlights worth mentioning, like the Dallas Chop House/Dallas Fish Market creating raw dishes (steak tartar and tuna tartar) along with the best Chinese restaurant, First Chinese BBQ. Another favorite that deserves special recognition is Kenichi. They made a delicious lump crab meat spoon dressed in a Tahitian vanilla bean sauce and topped with chives. I admit I had more than one of the delectable spoons. The crab had that inherent sweetness that carried your palate to the vanilla in the sauce with a long finish.
By 7pm, the venue was packed and we were searching out some good wine or spirits. We passed by the VIP room where Abacus, Nana and Inwood Estates were making some fabulous eats and drinks. The problem we had with the room and the venue as a whole can be described by Marc Moberg of Inwood wines. By 8 pm, Marc looked at me and said that they had brought two cases for the night and were completely done by 8. They were gone by 8:30 with no more wine to drink. This also happened at several food stops as the venue became crowded. Luckily for us, we had made it through all of the food and wine whereas there were several people who were not happy that the purveyors picked clean.
Now onto the critique of our leader, Steven Doyle, who participated in this event through his sense of smell and taste to see who the winner was. After waiting 45 minutes for some intelligent conversation to start up, the only question Steven asked the chefs wasn’t even about the food they were preparing. The contest “secret ingredient” was California avocados and Steven could only comment that he liked the ingredient and that California avocados were superior to Mexican avocados.
After the tasting and several photos later, Steven confirmed that Scott Romano did have the better dishes and that all three judges believed so. Congratulations Scott. Your play on a scotch egg and your scallop wrapped in avocado looked amazing. Scott is now the reigning champ and, according to Chef Rathbun, will be back next year to take on another challenger.