Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Seattle’s three-day beverage and culinary event, Seattle Wine and Food Experience (SWFE), treated food lovers to everything from cheesy grits to Champagne, pizza to Prosecco, Washington state Merlot to Swedish meatballs.
Held February 22-24 at various venues around town, the Seattle magazine-produced SWFE hits that sweet spot between food-focused Feast Portland and wine-focused Taste Washington. What started as a sampling of food, wine and spirits and beerin recent years has grown to add two additional events: Comfort (featuring modern, clever takes on comfort food) and Pop! Bubbles and Seafood (which is pretty much what the name suggests) to the flagship Grand Tasting.
Each event was sold out, with 500 people attending Comfort, 800 at Pop! and 2,000 at SWFE. Folks attending all three – the gastronomic grand slam – had the opportunity to experience the amazing range of culinary offerings this city has cultivated.
Now that the delicious marathon is over, here’s a deep dive into each event.
By the looks of the crowd that turned out for SWFE Comfort---a modern take on Comfort food-- on Thursday night, February 22, at SoDo Park, Seattleites are united in their quest for a little comfort. The clear, cold night made the hearty food, creamy stouts, ciders and beers served that night all the more more appealing. A majority of the revelers came dressed in their “tech vest” best, but comfort-seekers ranged from twenty-somethings to retirees, tiny mason jar mugs emblazoned with the Comfort stamp hooked around a finger.
SoDo Park’s high-ceilinged, barn-like central knave -- exposed timber beams strung with white lights -- set the cozy scene. Thanks to the DJ Braden Landon, the “house party” was bumping with beats -- and an elbow or two. More than 50 food and beverage vendors filled the space. Tulalip Resort Casino chef Perry Mascitti was making friends Korean-street-food-style with a kimchi pork belly taco topped by a fried quail egg, sticky yolk oozing over the lip of the bao wrapper. It wasn’t exactly ideal first date food, but this taco could be a good litmus test for a relationship’s potential success.
Though IPAs still reign supreme here in Seattle, many breweries broke from tradition in favor of unique brews like Hellbent Brewing’s Warm Fuzzies Peach Cobbler Ale and Redhook Brewlab’s My oh My Caramel Milk Macchiato Stout — the latter was paired with coffee cured beef tongue pastrami sandwich by Redhook chef Brian Miyamoto.
Herban Feast’s cocktail meatball with Syrah-based sauce was so tasty it I could have eaten them by the dozen. Another standout bite (and break from the “sandwich/taco” standard), the New England clam chowder by Pike Place Chowder was comfort in bowl served with a side of “chance to win a free flight” by event sponsor JetBlue. At Slim’s Last Chance table, it was hard to decide which was more inspiring – the Texas red chili over jalapeño mac-n-cheese or chef Mike Lucas’s tremendous white beard.
Outside, a tent-covered annex housed the very popular Cozy Cocktail Bar courtesy of Seattle-based mobile “elevated” bartending service Perfect Pour Cocktail Co. Mustachioed bartenders were pouring locally-distilled 3 Howls and Heritage Distilling Co. brown spirits into an array of cocktails as fast as the spouts would allow. At the back of the tent, two of the best bites of the night sat side by side – the Katsu Burger nori-sprinkled fries and crispy hot Bok a Bok fried chicken wings drizzled with Gochujang BBQ sauce. Both paired well with Wenatchee-based Pear Up’s half Raspeary, half Watermelon Pear cider mashup. A “wagon circle” of food trucks outside the tent dished out shrimp and grits (Kiss My Grits) and an array of cheesy, meaty, curl-up-by-the-fire comfort food biscuits (Biscuit Box).
Saving dessert for last, it was tough not to take seconds (or thirds) of Seattle-based Sweet Lo’s rocky road ice cream loaded with generous hunks of nuts and pillowy marshmallows. Many guests had already grabbed a boozy drinking chocolate outside at the Hot Cakes table.
POP! BUBBLES & SEAFOOD
When the invitation says “cocktail attire,” Seattleites respond with typical confusion, showing up to this Friday night event (February 23, 2018) in a range of garb from their least-holy jeans to their classiest sweater vests to jumpsuits. Some women heeded the dress code, donning actual dresses, braving the snowy night air in bare legs and heels, statuesque and glittering like Seattle’s skyline after dark as they filed into McCaw Hall and up the stairs to the main and balcony performance space lobbies, where the event was held.
Stemware in hand, the effervescent promise of bubbly (Champagne and sparkling wines) paired with dozens of seafood dishes lured us in and with our first tinkling “cheers” of the night it was off to the counter of Taylor Shellfish oysters – briny Shigokus glistening in their half-shells. A drop or two of mignonette sauce, a tilt of the head, and a practiced slurp – Northwest seafood at its finest.
DJ DuBreezy’s talents contributed to the festive atmosphere, filling in the gaps between sips and slurps with some hip sways threatening to turn into a dance party. Vodka pours bookended the room – SoDo’s Glass Vodka and S.Pellegrino on one end and event sponsor JetBlue mixing up “RefreshMint” vodka-limeades at the other (in homage to their new, luxe fully reclining chair “Mint” flight upgrades to Boston and, soon, New York). Overheard in line: Party-goer: Can I get a lemonade sans vodka? Bartender: Well, that would be a virgin and that’s a whole other airline.
The seafood bites were all fantastic, but some dishes really stood out, such as the Spinasse scallop cavatelli by chef Stuart Lane, a perfectly textured dish with creamy chive sauce laced with black pepper. Another bite that inspired repeat offenders: the ahi tuna poke with sesame oil and seaweed salad on a crisp chip from Cutters Crabhouse chef Brett Howell.
Upstairs, more bubbles and seafood awaited. Hama Hama Oysters were shucking platters of their Hood Canal bivalves for happy customers while, across the hall, Maslow’s by Farestart (one of the job-training organization’s five new eateries in the South Lake Union Amazon complex) served a delectable smoked trout crostini.
As if a night filled with bubbly needed anything else, there were also local wineries pouring premium reserve red wines. Kevin White Winery, based in Woodinville, poured its 2014 Heritage (a Merlot-Cab blend) from DuBrul Vineyard; Walla Walla-based Tranche served its 2012 Blue Mountain Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
In classic saved-the-best-for-last fashion, the Seattle Wine and Food Experience grand finale tasting Saturday, February 24 from 1 to 5 p.m. was of epic proportions.To celebrate the event’s 10th anniversary, food stations were themed according to ten food trends, which gave this previously random, but fun, event more focus. Elliott Hall on the ground floor of Bell Harbor, was loaded with tasty experiences. “Pizza Heaven” included slices of Neopolitan-style pizza from Tutta Bella (TB’s mobile kitchen just outside was a double-tall glass-sided food truck housing a tiled pizza oven!) while the “Nacho Average Taco” station featured mouth-watering tostados de tinga from La Carte de Oaxaca.
On this floor, Washington and Oregon wines were flowing like the mighty Columbia that divides the two states. Walla Walla-based Dusted Valley also brought samples of stones from The Rocks District of Milton Freewater as a visual aid to accompany its 2015 Tall Tales Syrah – briny olive and prosciutto aromas are part of The Rocks’ funky signature. Running next to the wine corridor, “Snack Alley” – full of cheese and chocolate vendors – couldn’t have been more conveniently located. Like the company’s giving campaign (one bar = one donated serving), Jcoco’s rainbow of chocolate bar packaging brightened everything while liquid silky samples of melted Indi Chocolate nearby took it dark and delicious.
Though every bite and sip we took might count as a haphazard food and wine pairing, Charles Smith Wines showed us what the professionals can do – the Kung Fu Girl Riesling used her girl power to kick up the bite of foie terrine from chef Derek Simcik of Scout PNW at Thompson Hotel. Next door, guests kicked back in the futuristic-looking lie-flat JetBlue Mint seats sparking some serious FOMO as I contemplated an upcoming 10-hour flight in coach on another airline.
Feeling satisfied and like we had conquered the Grand Tasting, we were surprised and somewhat daunted to find out there were dozens more food and drink vendors upstairs. Ripping a page from our childhood playbook, we dug deep and located our “dessert” stomach (which, as it turns out, is located next to our gin, brunch, and bacon-wrapped shrimp stomachs). Our journey to the escalator took us past the Northwest Harvest table, the event beneficiary and Washington state’s only nonprofit food bank distributor delivering 2 million meals per month to those in need. “We were thrilled to meet so many new people at the Northwest Harvest table and experience such an outpouring of support.” The Northwest Harvest team reports raising more than 15,000 meals during SWFE.
Things got groovy in the Tulalip Resort Casino’s “That ‘70s Food Show” lounge where the centerpiece of Jell-O mold sculptures glistened and jiggled with creative and outrageous submissions by Tulalip chefs from a brain to a suspended floral arrangement. Masterminded by Tulalip’s executive chef after seeing the molds in every cookbook from the era, it was a “highly secretive and strategized competition amongst the chefs” with promises of “instant culinary stardom for the winner.” And the winner was “easy” to spot -- “Cheese Whiz and Cracker” featured a can of Easy Cheese suspended over butterfly crackers, each topped with a swirl of “sharp cheddar pasteurized cheese snack” – clearly a culinary comic genius, Journey’s East Chef John Jadamec took home Jell-O gold. Edible ‘70s offerings included an all-in-one Monte Cristo bite, a Keep on Truckin’ housemade spam-stuffed bun with pickled veggies, and one of the best bites of the day: toothpicks bearing a Swedish meatball dipped in cheese fondue. Everything was made by one of the eight restaurants on site at Tulalip Casino (which, in mid-Spring is debuting Tula Bene Pastaria and Chophouse, formerly Tulalip Bay.)
In the lobby adjacent to 70s heaven volunteers at the San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna “hydration station” pursued their duties like a mandated hangover-prevention calling filling up any empty goblet that sidled within reach. Passing under the gold Mylar #SWFE balloon arch with sunlight streaming through the windows to the adjacent event space featuring a mix of local and global spirits, California and international wines (it’s always interesting to see how well our Washington beauties stack up against these heavy hitters) felt like being ushered into foodie heaven. We celebrated our celestial accomplishment with some blanc de blancs bubbly at the Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard table followed by a dram of just-released Dark Door bourbon produced by Wildwood Spirits in Bothell.
Before succumbing to a sweet-tooth ending at the row of vendors in the “Sugar Shack” section, we hit the “Eat Your Veggies” tables for some of the best tasting samples of the day – particularly the Mamnoon Street & Anar “shwarminis” with eggplant, pomegranate molasses, and a vibrant orange hot sauce. At the next table, Novelty Hill-Januik Winery chef Seth Fernald served nutty crisp rye crackers topped with dollops of roasted beet puree, creamy labneh, and Cara Cara orange marmalade.
The seemingly bottomless Top Pot donut wheel was calling and, summoning every last cubic centimeter of “dessert stomach” reserves. We gorged on cheesecake, bread pudding, even a coconut ice cream cone scooped up by Shug’s Soda Fountain & Ice Cream. We sipped, slurped, licked, and savored like Grand Tasting Champs. Now time for a 364-day juice cleanse to prepare for next year.