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Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation a Huge — Really Huge — Success

Written By Scott Joseph On June 7, 2010

Share Our Strength put on another terrific Taste of the Nation event Saturday. Sadly, it was the 21st annual.

I say sadly because the event’s purpose is to raise awareness and money to put an end to childhood hunger in the U.S. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have had more than a couple of these events. But there you go.

This year, the grand affair took place at Orlando World Center Marriott. I sure hope they gave Share Our Strength a good deal on the space, because they almost certainly made a hefty profit on the parking alone. Rates were $22 for valet and $8 for the privilege of parking in the hotel’s garage. There was no alternative. The resort is pretty remote and there is no other place to park and walk.

Taste of the Nation is a food and wine event, with area restaurants, caterers and purveyors setting up booths — some rather grandly decorated — to showcase their products. They were set up in two big ballrooms connected by a short passage way under two inflatable arches. The two rooms meant that everything was spread out, and even though there were lots of people there — I don’t know the actual count, but Marriott must be very happy with the parking revenue — it didn’t seem very crowded. On one hand there was plenty of room to move about; on the other hand, there was too much room to move about. There’s something to be said for having a bit of a crowded venue: it creates an air of excitement and mutual involvement.

The best collection of restaurants was in the “annex” ballroom. That’s where Funky Monkey, K Restaurant, Cuisiniers, Antonio’s, Journeys at Alaqua and a bunch of other favorites were set up. It’s also where I found my favorite dish of the evening: braised short rib with sunchoke and Maytag blue cheese mashed potatoes from Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. I can’t remember the last time I had a short rib that buttery tender. All the people around me were doing the same thing: taking a bite and letting out low moans. The Omni is where Zen restaurant is located, and its second dish was also quite tasty. It was a seared scallop (although I think I would call it more like a simmered scallops since it was finished is a poaching liquid) served on delicious cinnamon rice. kudos to the Omni’s Bernd Mueller. (Mueller’s been a force in area kitchens for a long time, and it was great to taste his food again.)

The Marriott had a delicious pork belly with black mint sauce. Emeril’s Orlando’s chef Jason Glus had a very nice Louisiana crawfish bisque with herb foam and citrus creme fraiche. Next door, Greg Richie of Emeril’s Tchoup Chop was also serving a pretty good short rib. His were braised in sake and served on an edamame polenta cake.

Darden Restaurants occupied an entire end of the main ballroom with booths from all the brands: Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Seasons 52, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze and Capital Grille. And who had the longest line? Longhorn, inexplicably. I seem to remember them having a ridiculously long line last year, too. Serve meat (slow-roasted beef tenderloin in this case) and the crowds line up for days. Oddly, Capital Grille was serving porcini-rubbed filet mignon practically next door and there was no line at all. Was the Longhorn meat better? I have no idea; there was no way in hell I was going to stand in that line when there were plenty of other options.

I did stand in line to get a glass of Stella Artois beer. Seems the beer line was longer than any of the wine stations. Not only was the Stella good and cold, you got to keep the glass! I went through the line several times. Now that gas stations no longer give glassware away when you fill up, I have to find other sources to replace my stemware.

All in all, a really terrific event to raise money for the cause. I sure hope it’s the last one. If there is a 22nd annual Taste of the Nation, let’s carpool.

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