Joe and I went to a James Beard Dinner at Winter Park’s Ravenous Pig gastropub this past Sunday. The meal was designed to be similar to a “Central Florida” themed meal that was served at the James Beard House earlier this year (go ahead and click to learn more about that – I certainly was not sophisticated enough to know what a big deal something like that was. And yes, apparently it was), albeit not exactly the same because the chefs involved wanted the meal to be as locally-based as possible and some of the foods available for the New York dinner (which they had FedEx’d from Florida because it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight) are not in season right now. We certainly didn’t suffer because of that, though. 😉

The event had been advertised several weeks beforehand and apparently I was the very first person to call and make a reservation. At that time, the restaurant really didn’t sound very sure of what they were doing with or at the event, but they were more than willing to take my credit card number and email address, with a promise to send me more information via email when it become available. Well, I never got an email so I called them the day before to get the specifics – fortunately, they seemed more prepared by then, LOL! However their initial disorganization (and the lack of the email correspondence) was, admittedly, still nagging in the back of my head.

Really, I should have known better.

Joe was working until 5pm and had nearly an hour drive from work to the restaurant so we agreed that he would go straight from work and I hitched a ride from our friend L., who was also going and lives just a few miles from us. We arrived at the restaurant a good 30 minutes early (L. admits that she is habitually late most of the time. Since I know about that and didn’t want to be late for this event, I suggested a meeting time 20-25 minutes earlier than what was really needed. AND THEN SHE GOT THERE ON TIME!) but were happy to see that at least 2 couples had arrived before us (the ultra extra early birds?).

Scott Joseph, previously a longtime food critic for the Orlando Sentinel (our local newspaper) and now a very successful independent food critic in Central Florida was on hand – he had been to the James Beard dinner in NY, was the first one to promote the event and, as it turned out, was one of the announcers for the event as well. Both Joe and I have been longtime readers of Scott’s and have generally respected his reviews since, as it has often turned out, we’ve tended to agree with a lot of what he’s said, be it good or bad. Of course, there was the time a few years ago that my father-in-law introduced me to Scott Joseph as “his biggest fan,” which embarrassed the crap out of me (made me sound like something Annie Wilkes in “Misery”) but Scott seemed to take it well and has even spoken to me since, LOL! Anyway, Scott was also there to promote his new book, “Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide” (more on that later).

But on to the food!

A choice of sparkling wines were offered as soon as we entered: Rotari’s “Talento”, a brut rose from Trento NV or Naveran’s “Dama,” a cava from Pendedes (that’s in Spain, y’all), 2007. Always a “sweet girl” (shut up), I went for the brut, which was very nice indeed. Sharon loves her “bubbly stuff” LOL! So yeah, I had 2 glasses of the brut rose.

At 5:45pm or so, they began passing out hors d’oeuvres (I fully admit that I had to look that one up to spell it correctly.  44 years on this earth and it is the one word in the English language – OK, the French language – that I just CANNOT learn to spell. If anyone has a mnemonic to help me learn how, I’d appreciate if you shared). These included:

  • Miniature Biscuit B.L.T.’s (made with Ravenous Pig’s famous Gruyère biscuits – they were very good, although a little too big/tall to really be able to take a comfortable bite)
  • Palmetto Creek Pork Terrine, Pickled Carrots, Sourdough Crostini (I liked these and had 2 of ’em)
  • Winter Park Dairy Bleu Cheese Tart, Heirloom Tomatoes, Balsamic Caramel (I love tomatoes but they lost me on the bleu cheese. When Joe got there around 6pm, he had one and gave me one of the heirloom tomatoes off his and it was good. But you will never see the sentence, “Sharon knowingly ate bleu cheese.” Ever.)
  • Deviled Quail Egg, House-Made Duck Ham, Brioche (beautiful presentation and the quail eggs were just so damn CUTE! I had 2 of these, too.)
  • Grilled Octopus, Romanesco (It was fine but I’ve never been a huge lover of octopus)

7 o’clock arrived and were invited to be seated. It was assigned seating and L. had requested to sit near us. I think just about every seat in the house was taken, including all tables (turned into several “long tables” that ran the length of the restaurant) and booths. L. wound up at the head of one of the “long tables”, with me catty-corner to her and Joe next to me. However a party of 3 (2 that were directly across from Joe and I, plus the seat next to Joe) was a no-show so we actually had that end of the table all to ourselves.

The 5-course meal was fabulous. Here’s a picture of the menu:

And if you go to Facebook and look at the photos under “Ravenous Pig” (here’s a direct link: CLICKY), you can see photos of the food (hello, food porn!) and the meal that the restaurant recently posted.

My favorite part of the meal was the sweet corn veloute – there was lots of bacony goodness mixed in with the strong corn flavor. The smoked pork as well as the dessert were yummy too, although I didn’t get to enjoy as much of them as I would have liked because by the middle of the flounder course I was already bursting at the gills.

I was less thrilled with the wines, but that’s more my own weird opinions when it comes to wine. The one red was too earthy/minerally for my tastes and, of course, I’m not a fan of any white wine besides icewine, a few muscats and unoaked chardonnays. The INOX wine was indeed an unoaked chard (in fact, INOX is our table wine of choice at home) but their special-made label/version/vintage, according to the owner of Ravenous Pig, is kept in the steel barrels longer than regular INOX, which gives it a stronger, smoother taste. Problem is, I prefer the lighter, crisper taste of the “regular” INOX. Ah well, can’t win them all…and not really liking most of the wines ensured my capability to drive home unimpaired (especially once the 2 glasses of bubbly, on an empty stomach, had worn off)! 😉

Anyway, I got a copy of Scott Joseph’s book while I was there and, after thumbing through it for the past few days, I’ve decided that I really like it and would strongly recommend it for anyone who eats in Central Florida on a regular basis. He’s brutally honest and, for example, won’t give high praises to popular restaurants at Disney just because they’re popular and at Disney. If they’re good, they get high praise but if they’re not, well, too bad so sad. The book is a fun, interesting read, with the restaurants listed in alphabetical order and then indexed based on category, organized by town (Winter Park, Hunter’s Creek, etc), nationality (Italian, Greek, etc), special interest (dog friendly, kid friendly, cheap eats, etc.) and so on. It’s available as a softcover and on the Kindle. The link is here, if you’d like to give it a look-see: CLICKY Scott Joseph’s website (a Flog, which is short for “Food Blog”) is http://www.scottjosephorlando.com/

So yeah, the dinner was great and I never, ever should have doubted them. Or, as I wrote on my Facebook, it SO didn’t suck!

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