27th Annual Chef’s Sampler–Stuffed in Tallahassee

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Two years ago we attended and left with, pun intended, a bad taste in our mouth. Did things improve in the interim?

I think they did.

I attended my first Chef’s Sampler in 1997–pre-Culinary School–and looking back over that year’s program I see the highlights were the lavash at a now-defunct local Italian place, the char-grilled octopus from Angelo’s, and the bacon-wrapped shrimp from local steak-house favorite, Marie Livingston’s.

Back then, more than half of the attending restaurants were strictly local affairs.

That last visit, in 2010, seemed to be weighted much more in favor of chains, and was also a more casual affair with scads of kids running around.

I’m happy to report that after skipping a year, the Chef’s Sampler is back on our list of fun, foodie events once more.

With just about half of the 40 vendors present representing the strictly-local market (down from 1997’s total of 58), I’m happy to see the chains haven’t totally outnumbered the locals-only establishments, and this year was a return to the event I remember from my earlier, easier to impress days. They still had the live band I bemoaned from last time (live music in that space means you can’t hear yourself think, much less digest!), but there were more people a little dressed up and far fewer kids running amok.

Since Graphateria was a sponsor, this year, Todd and I were able to attend the VIP Reception hosted by Shula’s 347 Grill and Hotel Duval. They had the fabulous foresight to provide us with a cocktail party must have: plates with built in cup-holders and the stemware to go in them. (And for those not at the VIP Reception, they were selling the sets elsewhere along the grazing route.)

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We knew not a soul at the Reception, but close quarters make new friends in no time and a lovely couple with, wouldn’t you know it, some acquaintances in common shared our little cocktail table for the rest of the pre-party.

Overall the food was what we’ve come to expect from Tallahassee’s restaurants: good quality and a lot of common elements. Everyone and their cousin has their own version of Spinach-Artichoke Dip and any place that had any ties to southern cuisine has a shrimp and grits offering they like to trot out for these things. One surprisingly nice touch was the presence of smoothies and snow balls available in a couple different locations. You might think a syrupy snow-ball might be overkill in the middle of small-plate heaven, but it acted as an amazing palate cleanser.

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Some stand-outs of the night were the Fried Chicken Soup from Andrew’s 228/Andrew’s Bar and Grill,

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the sushi from Masa,

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and Jim and Milt’s mix of pulled beef and pork

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But, by far, we saved the best for last–accidentally. We got to start the grazing about 30 minutes before the event officially opened (again, thanks to that VIP early entry) and some places were still getting set-up. On what was our beginning route, one of the local food truck’s that we’ve not had a chance to try, Mobi, were in that boat and we made the point of looking for them on our way out.

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What you’re looking at, here, is Barbecue Pork Rangoon over Siracha cole slaw. Folks, even after all the rich food we’d eaten (and the 3 glasses of red wine that went with them), the flavor of this stuffed wanton were amazing. The richness of the pork cut by the cream cheese inside a very well-fried (crispy, but not greasy or heavy) wanton skin were amazing. On any other day I’d love a plate of these for supper.

Which means I’ll have to track them down at one of the Food Truck Thursday events and hope they’re serving it that night.

See the full photo gallery in my Chef’s Sampler 2012 Flickr Set.