Taste of the NFL 2011

(Guest post by The Better Half)

Why do I do this to myself?

Every year when the Cincinnati Bengals’ Taste of the NFL rolls around, I make myself a solemn promise:

“I, The Better Half, solemnly swear not to stuff my face until I’m beyond miserable. OK, so maybe there will be forty or more of the area’s top chefs there, each one tempting me with his or her culinary delights, but that’s no excuse for gluttony. I will not “Oooooh!” and “Ahhhh!” over the aromas that fill the terrace at Paul Brown Stadium like some country yokel in the Big City for the first time. I will eat no more than one small bite of any chef’s offerings, no matter how visually appealing, tasty, or spiritually fulfilling said offerings might be. I, The Better Half, am better than that. I, The Better Half, am strong.”

I repeat that ten times before heading out the door.

Three hours later, I’m back home on the couch, flat on my back and in serious pain, staring at the ceiling and cursing myself for having no self-control.

So why do I do this to myself? Is it because the food really is that good? It’s definitely a factor. Is it because the festive and convivial atmosphere around the event makes one forget one’s promises?  No question.  Is it because the annual gala benefits the Freestore Foodbank and that each ticket sold and the accompanying silent auction provide upwards of 600 meals for the neediest families and children in our community?  I certainly hope so.

As always, there are too many talented chefs and too many spectacular dishes at the event to mention all of them, but my own personal highlights of the event:

  • Chef Sarah Wagner of Barresi’s Italian prepared probably the best seafood bisque I’ve eaten in years.  Rich, creamy, buttery, and loaded with seafood. Chef Wagner said that most people think that the dish contains a mixture of exotic cheeses, but she swears there’s no cheese in the dish.  I ate three small cups’ worth of this tasty delight, a regular offering on the restaurant’s menu.  This may have been the beginning of the aforementioned end-of-event misery.
  • smoQ’s dry rub St. Louis Ribs were killer.  I initially avoided them because they’re my favorite thing on the smoQ regular menu (along with the cheddar grits).  As a confirmed barbecue snob, I figured the ribs might not fare well in making the journey from Springdale.  I needn’t have worried.  Chef Jackson Rouse’s offering, which I prefer to think of a pigsicle, were moist and falling off the bone.
  • Chef Renee Shuler, of eat well Celebrations and Feasts, had the evening’s most fun and whimsical offering:  Tiger’s Breath Popcorn. Tasty popcorn, given a quick bath in liquid nitrogen, gave samplers a rush of fog from the nose and mouth.  (Hey, everybody, I’m a fire-breathing…blog reporter!)
  • Chef Jose Salazar of The Palace featured a deconstructed Caesar salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes and a savory Parmesan bread pudding topped with a crispy chicken skin.  This was another of the dishes I sampled more than once.
  • Senate was this year’s host/honorary restaurant.  I expected that Chef/Owner Daniel Wright would prepare one of his signature gourmet hot dogs for the event.  Instead, he went off the board with a Maine lobster roll, topped with crispy onions.  Lightly seasoned to let the lobster speak for itself, it was perfect fare for a warm late summer/early fall evening.
  • My favorite dessert was a dead heat between Sugar Cupcakery’s organic cupcakes (the chocolate with salted caramel frosting was amazing) and View Cucina’s (Chef Dawn Beckler) pumpkin bread pudding (ah, the tastes of autumn).
OK.  So maybe if I’d had one fewer cup of the bisque and hadn’t gone back for seconds on a few other items, I wouldn’t have been so miserable at the end of the evening.  Live and learn.  There’s always next year.