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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.