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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: October 27, 2014

Rollicking good times at Harvest on the Harbor, 2014

This year’s Harvest was another power-packed gala with lots of food, music and table hopping; but it was the opening night event, Dinner on the Stage, which stole the show.

Written by: John Golden

I didn’t attend every event at this year’s Harvest on the Harbor, the seventh year running of this incredible food affair celebrating Maine’s culinary bounty in the country’s most northeastern state.

The crowd was thick and intense at the Grand Taste on the harbor

The crowd was thick and intense at the Grand Tasting on the Harbor

But I did squeeze into a few, including the signature event, The Grand Tasting on the Harbor, where hundreds of ravenous ticket holders stormed the portals of the Ocean Gateway Terminal.  The crowd was so thick and wide that Yankee Stadium would have been a more suitable space for the foraging throng.

Attendees galore at the Grand Tasting

Attendees galore at the Grand Tasting

While I wended my way through, there were some good bites, though identifying the source of these was difficult as some of the participating restaurants and vendors didn’t display their names prominently.

Many food and wine vendors

Many food and wine vendors

The next night I attended–with much trepidation since my phobic tendencies towards tight, crowded spaces was still piqued—the rough and tumble Portland Company Complex (on its ways to being waterfront condos and luxury accommodations) for the Triple B Barbecue: Brews. Blues. Booze—a fitting event that even the impecunious fringe could call home.   Again a thick crowd clucked from table to table, noshing with abandon.

Inside and out it was a crush filled with BBQ,fun and froic

Inside and out it was a crush filled with BBQ, fun and frolic

Perhaps one of these days the festival could figure out a way to offer parking for visiting paid guests rather than doing ring-around-the-rosy to find a place to park.  The giant lots that abut Ocean Gateway are off limits. And the Gateway Garage is always available — the self-service parking behemoth that’s so confusing to navigate (in and out) that only parkers with MENSA degrees should dare to tread.

If the Grand Tasting at Ocean Gateway event lacked the glamour of past festivals, and the Triple B’s (a homage to Guy Fieri’s Triple D’s?) rockin’ n’ rollin’ rhythms blared, to the sorely missed  competition of best farm-to-table restaurant chef (I guess that’s old hat by now) what saved the day for me was the incredibly orchestrated  Harvest Dinner on the Stage, a stupendous (truly) undertaking, which heralded this year’s gala. It’s where 7 Portland chefs cooked a dish for each of the  courses (plus an intermezzo) served on the stage of Merrill Auditorium.

It was like a surrealist's dream dining on the stage at Merrill Auditorium

It was like a surrealist’s dream dining on the stage at Merrill Auditorium

The visual was amazing, dining on stage like virtuosos with the darkened orchestra and loge for an audience. The setting recalled the satiric classic Luis Bunuel movie, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” — the surrealist’s dramatic portrayal of incredible events that occurred to a group of upper-class French dandies tripping over the social rigors of fine wine and dining.

Magical, grand moments on stage where dinner was served

Magical, grand moments on stage where dinner was served

It was a stellar crowd, though, all dressed up, especially the glamourous 40-something blond from the Midwest, a single woman who flew in from Kansas to attend every event.  At 6-feet tall in towering spike heels and dazzling dress and adornments, she was the life of the party.

Miss Kansas (left) with CVB president Lynn Tillotson

Miss Kansas (left) with CVB president Lynn Tillotson

Chef Harding Lee Smith (left)and Shannon Bard with her sous chef, participating in the event

Chef Harding Lee Smith (left)and Shannon Bard with her sous chef, participating in the event

Otherwise there were no catastrophes (well, maybe one) of dining and almost every course quickened to ignite one’s dormant appetite. Opening with chef Cara Stadler’s (Tao-Yaun and Bao Bao) beef tartare — redolent of gamy blood-red meat  — followed by chef Harding Lee Smith’s (the Rooms) remarkable foie gras torchon, the food and wine-paired dinner was off to a rousing start.  Notable other dishes included chef David Turin’s magret of duck ( he just back from a triumphant cook-fest at the James Beard House in New York) and  chef Shannon Bard’s (Zapoteca) red chile dusted venison loin, to name a few.  And of true noteworthy mention, the  eighth course — the intermezzo — was a lemon sorbet prepared by Donato Giovine of Gorgeous Gelato, which makes me wonder why that other ice cream parlor across from his Fore Street establishment gets all the attention.

Courses at the dinner from left, clockwise: Stadler's beef tartare; Smith's torchon of foie gras; Eric Flynn's ocean perch with carrot puree and Turin's magret of duck with chicken boudin

Courses at the dinner from left, clockwise: Stadler’s beef tartare; Smith’s torchon of foie gras; Eric Flynn’s ocean perch with carrot puree and Turin’s magret of duck with chicken boudin

The wine pairings were excellent, selected by sommelier Erica Archer whose effusive comments could have been pared down just a tad. As it was, the dinner took nearly three hours, which was OK. This was a bravura event, and kudos to the festival planners, CVB, for making it so special.

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