I don't always have 33rd birthdays, but when I do, I get surprised and delighted by being asked to be a judge at Restaurant Wars. This year’s Restaurant Wars was a battle of epic proportions. 18 restaurants competed for the top honors in three different categories, and each brought their “A” game.
When we walked into the stadium, there was a flurry of activity with chefs running around gathering supplies, prepping ingredients and getting ready for the huge crowd about to descend on Avista Stadium expecting some delicious, innovative food. Some truly delivered on that premise, and took home top honors as a result. As a judge this year with Sarah Carleton (my other half of the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild and a blogger at Gather and Savor), we were paired with a chef to decide the outcome of a single category. I was assigned to my favorite, Vegetarian, and Sarah took on Gastropub. Chandler Baird of SpokaneEats also judged, and took on the Meat Rations category.
There were such a wide variety of tastes and flavors, and we utilized the rubric provided to thoroughly evaluate the fare presented by our local restaurant competitors.
I was honored this year to judge at Restaurant Wars 2017, and especially to evaluate one of the most dynamic and interesting categories of the whole competition: Vegetarian. Durkin’s Liquor Bar, Forty-One South, Zona Blanca, Wasabi Asian Bistro, Tortilla Union and The Wandering Table.
I was equally thrilled to meet judge Stefhanie Meyers, Executive Chef of Pend d' Oreille Winery in Sandpoint, and instantly connected. The best part of an event like this is getting to meet people equally passionate about food as you are, and this was no exception. We arrived as strangers, and parted as friends. That's my kind of kismet.
We took our judging duties very seriously, as often the winner of events like this can be significantly impacted by the honors. I'm a teacher by day, and rubrics are my JAM. I love a good evaluation, and especially when the critical thought that goes into really looking at what makes a winning dish instead of a winning essay.
After founding the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild and designing my own rubric for evaluating restaurants, I noticed that the rubric heavily weighted appearance of the food and the plate (which I really thought could have been combined), the booth, the plate, and the aromas of the booth and the food. Taste was worth significantly less as a whole, and each taste component was outlined individually.
For our team, the dish we enjoyed the most overall didn't actually come out on top (and we both had the same favorite!). However, our category's winner - the Smoked Watermelon with shaved jicama, cucumber ribbon, brunt scallion puree, lime gel and toasted pepita and arbol essence from Tortilla Union was incredibly deserving, as they had the most balanced flavor profile of any of the highly innovative dishes from this category. It was such a close decision that we had to go back multiple times and re-evaluate the top scorers just to be sure.
The winning dish from Tortilla Union in River Park Square to visit their chef to learn more about her inspiration on the dish, and I saw their trophy proudly displayed right at the counter! Executive Chef Blerita Kaba was inspired
Taste wasn’t the only determining factor for the category winners. It was immediately clear that the outcome would be surprising, because the rubric was heavily weighted for presentation and and booth appearance.
Meat rations featured: Clover, Max at Mirabeau, Gilded Unicorn, Bruncheonette, Casper Fry and Chaps Diner and Bakery, with Casper Fry taking home the top honors for their braised pork cheek with smoked cheddar heirloom grits, pickled local peach, nectarine puree, asparagus, radish and micro greens.
Prohibition Gastropub, Manito Tap House, Palouse Bar and Grill, Timber Gastropub, Republic Kitchen + Taphouse, The Onion Bar and Grill rounded out the Gastropub category, and Palouse Bar took home that title with a pork belly skewer with dragon fruit and edible flowers.
Our adorable intern, Chelsie, helped take photos of the event while I was stuck in the judge's tent. She was invaluable as our time was taken up by our time evaluating the food and networking with the event's chefs and support staff. Thank you, Chelsie!
The other highlight was getting to share in the fun with all of our foodie friends here in Spokane. This was such a memorable event, and everyone made time to come out and support our local restaurants.
Next year, if you have the opportunity to join in the fun, be sure to grab your tickets early, and we will definitely be there after our experience this year! Updates can be found at https://www.restaurant-wars.com/ or their Facebook page, so be sure to give them a follow if you don't want to miss out.
We will be keeping you in the loop with any new events put on by the ubiquitous foodie Kris Kilduff - you can find him on Instagram at @gullyasduff and learn about what he's up to next - Chocolate Decadence Chocolate Festival because: 1. Kris never puts on a bad event and 2. CHOCOLATE. You can learn more at https://www.decadencespokane.com/.