“Oh what a night!”
The Dallas Arboretum was in fine form last night at its inaugural food and wine festival. The temperature was practically perfect for the sold-out affair and the garden couldn’t have looked better. Thousands of tulips and cherry trees were in bloom, subtly perfuming the evening air. I took my food friend Kat with me and we were impressed before we even ate a bite.
A sturdy, well-made passport was handed to us as we approached. Given out along with an environmentally friendly bamboo plate (love that!) with a special spot for your souvenir wine glass, the passport served as a map of the grounds as well as a fun keepsake. They even included a few cocktail recipes in the passport! I’ve been to a lot of events but was instantly impressed with this one the minute I laid eyes on the passport: you know an event that spends that much on a souvenir booklet is going to be a classy affair.
The international food and wine festival was broken into five areas: Mediterranean, South American, Pan Asian, American Bistro, and Dessert. My regular readers already know how I feel about Mediterranean food. There are not enough heart eye emojis in the world to capture my deep love of Mediterranean food! In hindsight, we should have gone to a further location and worked our way back, as the Mediterranean area was quite crowded but totally worth it. Not surprisingly, most of my favorite dishes from the evening were from this section including the mussels in pesto sauce (and you know how picky I am about mussels!), chicken fried oyster, butternut squash soup, and tandoori duck breast with tabouli.
After sampling a fair share of wines, we moved on to the South American section. The sun was already setting so we rushed down in the garden to snap a couple of pictures before getting in line for South American food. Hands down my favorite dish here was the scallop. It was one of those bites during which you can’t even speak. You just have to savor. The Mirador meatball and the quesadilla were also excellent.
We meandered our way over to Pan Asia, which had an impressive Chinese dragon for photo ops. We were basically miserably full by this point but that didn’t stop us from sampling Uchi’s yellowtail tuna bite on a yucca chip and Chef Josh Harmon’s Deviled Belly, delightfully presented as a brown bag lunch. One bite…a second bite…a third bite…I would have licked that Deviled Belly container if it had been socially acceptable! I was blown away. (I found the recipe for you here, thanks to The Dallas Morning News.)
I am sad to tell you that we basically missed all of American Bistro, which appeared to include cheese and charcuterie, as we didn’t actually find it until vendors were packing up. We headed over to the Dessert section and were pleased to find a wide variety of desserts from popsicles to empanadas to cheesecake to tortes. Of the desserts I sampled, the strawberry cheesecake was my favorite. The Dessert area also had coffee – very friendly! – and a concert by the lake. Kat and I sat down on the ridiculously soft, lush grass (I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Arboretum has the best grass known to man) and discussed what a great deal the event was, since your ticket included a souvenir wine glass, concert, unlimited wine, and literally more bites than a mere mortal could possibly try in one evening.
My suggestions for next year:
- Spring for VIP so you can have early entry. We met several VIP folks inside who were relaxing and listening to music while the rest of us were waiting in line. They were able to hit many of the vendors before the rest of us were inside.
- Be a rebel and walk to the furthest area first, working your way back towards the entrance. I think it would be far more efficient than what we did.
- Hit the photo ops before the sun went down. We were too excited about the food and by the time we made it back to some of the photo ops, the sun was down and the pictures weren’t as good as they could have been.
- Wear flats or wedges. Many of the vendors were located on grass. I was so thankful that I wasn’t in heels!
- The portions are generous and there are so many vendors. If you don’t love something, don’t finish it. You’ll thank me later! In Pan Asia we were wishing we weren’t already so full.
I already can’t wait for next year! In the meantime, The Dallas Arboretum kicks off their Cool Thursdays concert series next week. I’m delighted to tell you that they’ve asked me to emcee two concerts this year: the Gloria Estefan concert on March 30 and the Elvis Presley tribute concert on September 14. I’d love to see you there! You can get tickets here.