It was another good tasting event at Taste of the Valley two weekends ago. Every year the Lehigh Valley chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local puts on the event at Melt and invites some of the top restaurants around to showcase their foods.
There were a few changes to the event this year. They still had the VIP session, which they introduced last year, but also split up the main tasting into two sessions. This didn’t really work at all. I stayed after my session time and it seemed like everyone else did as well. There was no discernable time when they said, “OK, the people here for the 1-3pm have to get out now, the 3-5 session is here.” It wasn’t really that crowded so it didn’t bother me at all, but something they may want to note for next year.
They also added in judging this year. Restaurants were vying for the best dish and I was a little surprised who came out on top (more on that later). The crowds were noticeably lighter and it was very relaxed. The first year was absolutely insane and you couldn’t move. Last year was much better, and this year has been the best so far. The weather was also subdued, which meant for nice relaxation in the lounge on the rooftop.
Things started off in the VIP session this year with tastings of Subarashii Kudamono’s Asian pear brandy and a pear chutney with cheese in a phyllo dough cup. The brandy is like rocket fuel…extremely harsh and alcoholic. It might be good in a cocktail but this eau de vie is not a straight sipper.
Glasbern Inn’s liver pate on brioche with grain mustard and pickled onion was OK, but I failed to taste any of the liver. It was completely overwhelmed by the mustard and onion. They won the overall best dish, which surprised me because there were far better, more balanced dishes there. Sangria really surprised me with their citrus corn, Israeli couscous, house-smoked duck breast and arugula dish. The duck was moist, medium rare, delightfully smoky and the courcous was cooked to perfection. This was really a stand-out dish.
Frecon Farms was sampling an apple cider and a pear cider. I had never had pear cider before but it was smooth, balanced in its sweetness, and ridiculously quaffable. I really wish I had picked up a gallon of it at the Easton Farmer’s Market the day before. Dolce Patisserie was dishing out an almond and apple cake with cinnamon yogurt ice cream that was to die for. This ran out quick as it was only for the VIP session, but Chef Alan really does wonders with his pastries.
Balasia, as usual, was a standout. Chef Landiak’s soup really stood out and with her typical penchant for extra spicy heat, I was once again invigorated by her food. One that surprised me a bit was Chef Javan Small’s maple dijon pork roast with roasted pumpkin. Most of the dishes I’ve had out of the Farmhouse from him have been mediocre to good at best, however this was very well done, with great seasonal flavors and interesting contrast to wake up the palate even to the last bite.
There were a few misses here. Two of the biggest, most shocking disappointments from the event came from two of my personally highly-regarded establishments: Emeril’s Chophouse and Bolete. Emeril’s was dishing out smoked trout on top of horseradish lentils with goat cheese, meyer lemon olive oil, and pickled cipollini onions. I am usually a big fan of Emeril’s food, but this dish was completely unbalanced, with certain flavors completely wrestling others into submission. Bolete’s just seemed completely uncreative. They were serving up peach jam on brioche with cheese. A few other places had similar ideas, which you can’t blame Bolete for, but when you’re (in The El Vee’s Eyes) the most revered culinary institution in 20 miles, you should really consider stepping up the game a bit. Sette Luna’s heirloom tomato gazpacho was just kind of a mess. The Brew Works had a slow-roasted pork butt in porter sauce with cheddar on top would’ve been much better if it wasn’t so damn cold.
I think this year’s food was very hit-or-miss. There were a few that were just okay, which is why you won’t see them mentioned specifically above. Some of the dishes were fantastic, most coming from establishments that surprised me and I had written off once or more in the past. A couple of the really revered places disappointed. I think this was not only the most interesting Taste of the Valley food-wise, but also the most enjoyable due to crowd size. Hopefully next year will go just as smooth and the chefs who lacked this year really bring their A game.