Bite of Oregon: Day 2 (Sunday)   Leave a comment

There are always survival strategies for food festivals. Back in Chicago, for Taste of Chicago, being the monstrous mess it was in terms of being spread out and full of so many people, it meant planning ahead to map what food you wanted, in order of how much you wanted the item and based on location, estimating the ticket cost (you paid for food in tickets), finding people to share items which were not available in "bite" portions who had the same taste, bringing your own beverages, and planning off times such as on a weekday and eating times (not so crowded that you had to wait in really lines, not so dead that food was just sitting around).

It's understandable to charge an admission fee- but payees
want to see the admission fee well at work at the event- and remember they might
be comparing multiple events offerings/costs. Particularly, Bite of Oregon comes after the Oregon Brewer's Festival, which in comparison has no admission fee but does require a one time $5 mug purchase if you wish to drink. For Bite of Oregon, the $8 per day is in otherwise high. Tip number one, there are always coupons and free passes given away by radio shows. This year they had a deal on Groupon even and did a two for the price of one weekend pass, which worked out for me to buy two admissions, and I went two days, which spread out the cost of admission to $10 for two people on Friday and me again on Sunday (and I could have gone Saturday but was too full and tired, so that is on me). Those seem like pretty acceptable costs, especially given the benefit to Special Olympics. The fact that the line for those paying at the door was moving twice as fast as the line of those who had prepaid- not so great. Oh, and try going though the gates on the waterfront side, not the street side where everyone who parked/public transited came from.

Second, the best part of the Bite has been the Wine Pavilion, not the food, because there is very limited representation of different restaurants and of those restaurants, even a smaller amount offering interesting foods that you couldn't just get anywhere else. Unlike other festivals where there are many wine booths and no place to just sit and relax, the atmosphere of the Bite allows you to get tastings and talk to the winemakers at your leisure because of their setup. Taste at a few booths, come back after eating a bit, or go sit in the shade for a while to chat, etc. No one is too intoxicated because drinking a lot is the not the main goal of the Bite, even if it's the Bite's best offering. For the chance to see this many winemakers in one place that includes tables and chairs and even several tents for shade, and several spread out bathroom locations (ok, still honey buckets) at a location easily accessible by public transit, the admission here isn't too bad. I created a "prioritized vendor list" to the wine area, even those I had visited before to see what new bottles they were now offering. And, the area is so small that there isn't a need to worry about mapping locations like the OBF.

Finally, don't plan to really get full here. I expect to try different tastes at the Bite, not have a meal's worth. I know it's advertised as Bite of Oregon, but when you see there are actually only 13 restaurants, 5 food carts, and 8 dessert booths, and of those 20 are from Portland, and realizing that just like many street food festivals restaurants are inevitably going to pick what's easy and cost efficient in this kind of outdoor atmosphere rather then what best exemplifies their restaurant/is tasty… so you need to set your expectations realistically. There's going to be the pizza or stir fry in a chafing dish or grilled/bbqed standbys that are usually forgettable, and lower the tasting list even more. It's sort of sad to think that event the Spring Beer and Wine Festival had more diverse offerings. I didn't even need to write anything down food-wise.

What drew me back to the Bite was the Oregon Chef's Table tent, and this is where you should look for offerings next year too. There, a
few restaurants hold a shift of 4 hours or so offering some examples of
what is served at their restaurant. Everything is in a taste portion, a
la Top Chef style during their episode challenges. This was the only authentic representation of
exploring new food that the Bite had (besides an offering of a few
food carts, which is nice for those who don't work downtown or come late
night to catch these carts- though honestly, the Food Cart Festival was
a better example of taste exploration then this, offering more variety
then the Bite).

Take my Sunday visit. Here is what I had.

A taste of the award winning chili  by Bill Hess, the Southern Oregon Regional Chili winner. Ok, maybe two tastes. And, this was free.

During the rest of my brief two hour snack visit, I sampled three interesting taste portions, and all were from Oregon's Chef Table for $3 and I didn't even have to buy a happy hour drink.

From Alu Wine Bar and Restaurant, a house smoked salmon with radicchio and kumquat salad with a tamarind reduction and poppyseed lavosh. Although I appreciated the nice mound of smoked salmon in the portion, this was a bit of a mess to eat in this atmosphere. You can't really get this all together in a bite.

 

From Soluna Grill, an ambitious concept considering this venue, their taste portion was oregon mushrooms, caramelized shallots, bacon, and roasted garlic corn flan. This looked beautiful, though the flan was a bit bland without making sure your forkful had the other accompaniments on it as well. And, as long as you assembled your bitefuls strategically, it was pretty tasty though a little on the saltier side for me.

From Pitxi Restaurant and Wine Bar, my favorite Oregon Chef's Table offering, a duck mousseline with berry chutney. This was a great snack in the bright summer sunshine, simple to prepare and assemble (and thus smart), but with bold flavors melding both rich savory and fresh tartness well in a package that works well for an outdoor summer festival like this.

I still give a hand to these Oregon's Chef Table chefs for rising to this mini-Top Chef challenge. And, maybe Bite organizers should hang out with organizers of the Food Cart Festival, of the Portland Monthly/Deschutes Beer n Burger, and this week, the Deschutes Street Fare, for some event planning advice, and how to get restaurant vendors to step up to showing their signature fare. Really, I can see the logistical argument being difficult on how to get restaurants several hours away from all over Oregon to camp here for a weekend feeding masses of people who probably will not make it to their actual location and make it worth their while to market to them… unless it was wrapped up much more obviously and neatly into a coastal or dessert or central oregon staycation or long weekend trip, those "zones" on the map aren't cutting it.

And honestly, we don't need all fancy restaurants or gourmet tastes to be added- even just a lot of ethnic restaurants offering examples to open up tastebuds to different cultural cuisines that some may not have ever tried. You might not commit to walking into for dinner but a taste of something you've never had of… isn't that what this is supposed to be about, some food exploration? Why not even go "International" instead of "Oregon"?

You can get a good experience out of anything- you just need to set your expectations and plan according to what is the most realistic return on your resources. I can see Bite is trying to grow, thanks to the addition of Food Carts this year and partner with Groupon- I hope they continue to think long and harder for next year. There's potential, but probably only so much patience by those coming to give the event another try while waiting for the Bite Organizers to understand and deliver to their audience.

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Posted August 9, 2010 by pechluck in Uncategorized

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