The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (NOWFE) Grand Tasting is a little bit like your favorite all-you-can-eat buffet, except with way better, gourmet food. Instead of tater tots and chicken fingers, you get arancini stuffed with braised short ribs and mozzarella from Mangé Catering, and oyster shooters from M Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton. Instead of the typical buffet desserts of generic green Jell-o and chocolate pudding, you get a Po’Boy Ice Cream Sandwich from New Orleans Ice Cream Company, and cantaloupe panna cotta with Meyer lemon meringue from Cavan Restaurant and Bar. Also unlike your ordinary, run-of-the-mill buffet with lukewarm food that’s been sitting out since it came out of the microwave that morning, the Grand Tasting has countless chefs on-site, preparing their dishes fresh, there on the spot, and serving them to you directly. It’s thousands of square feet of tables and booths laden with all sorts of delicacies from local restaurants, such as the Gulf seafood tostada from Tableau, or the pico de gallo fish tacos from Adrii’s Kitchen.
Perhaps the best part of all: in this “buffet,” the alcohol is included! NOWFE’s Grand Tasting event is also an all-you-can-drink buffet as well. St. Germain, Absolut, and Hendricks were serving specialty cocktails, and Stella had beer and cidre. There were wines and wineries from around the globe—such as Europvin, Maison Saint Aix, Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards, and Crimson Wine Group—pouring wine of all varieties: sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs, pinot noirs and pinot grigios. As always, Barefoot Wine offered a huge selection of refreshingly fruity wines, while Old Bridge Cellars promised “the best Moscato you’ve ever tasted” and pretty much delivered exactly that. The only thing that was sadly missing was Riesling. There was not a Riesling grape in the house. There was, however, live entertainment from Mike Epstein, the New Orleans Piano Man, the Mia Kylie Duo, and Michael Liuzza and Patrick Pearson Duo. There was food, wine, a knife demo, a silent auction, merchandise for sale, and Lexus cars. And food. And wine.
You’re definitely going to need to use your best buffet strategy for the Grand Tasting, to be able to sample everything: wear loose-fitting pants, take breaks for digestion, avoid seconds until you’ve tried it all, and eat your favorites first before you run out of room.
My vote for best bites of the night goes to Toast, for their “Aebelskivers,” which are essentially the equivalent of the offspring of a pancake and a donut. They are round, warm, soft, and can be smothered in your choice of sauce, from caramel or chocolate to lemon curd. Another honorable mention goes to the Royal Sonesta’s “brown butter pecan ooey gooey cake with Cajun spiced rum Dip N Dots.” This dessert was so good, the line to get it stretched all the way across the room (or maybe those people just needed an excuse to take a break from eating for a while).
The NOWFE Grand Tasting is two days this year, on both Friday and Saturday. That means there is still one more day of all-you-can-eat (and drink) fun. It’s not too late to come out and stuff yourself silly. (My plus-one ate so much, he had to go straight home and lie down afterwards.) The final tasting is Saturday, May 26, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Don’t miss out. And, I might add, don’t eat lunch (or breakfast) first, either.