Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY 2009 – Food Station Review

Posted on: July 2, 2009
32 comments so far (is that a lot?)

On Thursday June 25, I attended Buffalo Spree’s “Best of WNY 2009” event at Sheas.  For me, it was basically just another excuse to go pig out – and write about it!  Yes, it’s a tough job…blah, blah, blah.

On hand were around nineteen food stations – everything from fairly typical hors d’oeuvres, to fruit, wine and cheese, martinis, and smoked sausage (yes, and even these jesters pretending to serve, what was quite invisible, food).

For once, I figured I’d give a run-down of (almost) all of the tasting station’s offerings.  Alas, the Spree “Best of WNY 2009” issue has them listed on pages 110 – 113!  So much for me laboriously writing them all down on my little pad!  Why bother?!  Well, I did rate each place… and I did have some comments.  Oh well, I might as well offer those up myself!

As a quick summary, I’d say that, overall, some presentations suffered from a lack of effort, creativity, and, certainly, budget.  Those on the low end of my rating scale chose to offer things that were “lowest common denominator” selections and/or were too miserly with the main ingredients.  On the other hand, there were almost just as many proprietors who chose to step it up and feature class “A” ingredients, lovingly prepared and handsomely presented.  Let’s just say, I know where I’ll be booking a table soon.  But look, these chefs are undoubtedly giving this away for free as well as preparing the food on-site – with barely any tools of the trade.  So, this may or may not be any sort of real indication as to their culinary skills or the quality that you might find at their respective restaurants.

Skipping the desserts, the to-my-palate super-average cheese, the actually very potable wine, and edible fruit arrangements (ick), I will attempt to provide a comment(s) to all the rest…. that, plus a rating.  Let’s stick to the order in the Spree issue, minus the ones I just mentioned above (you’ll need to reference that on pages 110 – 113).  Oh, these ratings are 1 – 10, 10 being the best.  Lastly, all the dishes were rated while the food was still in my mouth!  So, no long term mediation occurred between my oral sensation and my graded assessment.  …ya get that?

Here we go:

Chef Binks: rating – 6.  “I love Chef Binks.  Check out his excellent TV show on Sundays at WNLO.   But, I hate to say, this penne is very much like something you might get if you mixed good al dente penne with Classico’s alfredo sauce.  Skimpy on the prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes.”

rating – 8.  “Okay, it is a good salad – even with domestic blue cheese no doubt.  But what gives, I should take off two points for the fact that you’re a STEAKHOUSE… we want to taste your beef guys!!!”

Harry’s: rating – 7  “The bacon wrapped scallop is done correctly, minus a desired touch of crispness to the bacon which is only adequate.  But hey, it’s been cooked over a hotplate!  The scallop is just cooked through – which is how it should be.  Vodka-Leek fondue is bland but pleasant with no indication of vodka present.”

Joe’s Deli: rating – 9  “Really an eight with a point for creativity!  The soup base is a bit can-like but the solids are good quality and it captures the taste of a rueben quite well.  Nice effort!”

My Tomato Pie: rating – 7  “Very, very creamy – which is good.  But lacks tomato to a fault.  Nice rustic and buttery crouton though!”

The Old Bank Bistro: rating – ?  “Sorry, I missed this!”

The Other Woman:
rating – 9  “Almost a 10!  Vichyssoise shooter is very good.  I taste the watercress – a unique touch.  See, it’s not so hard!  Ahi tuna tartare, et al, could be spicier for me…but that’s just my predilection.  Well balanced, thought out, and executed!”

Red Coach Inn:
rating – 8  “Very solid offering.  Nothing earth shattering, but at least they’re giving us some very proper beef.  Chipotle aioli could have more chipotle (i.e. – smoke and heat).”

Salvatore’s: rating – 8  “Spartan in its parsimony, we’re offered a piece of steak on greens, on a Costanzo’s (I wager) roll.  Too simple, not very creative, but absolutely delish!!”

Sample: rating – 10  “A honey lavender martini made with gin…that says it all…and NO sour mix!”

rating – ?  “Closed by the time I arrive.”

Spar’s: rating – 10  “PILES of assorted smoked sausages:  German, spicy or mild Hungarian, peppettes, chorizo, andouille…please, that’s a 10 any way you slice it!”

Tandoori: rating – 3  “that’s one point for each item and nothing more.  Look, I am an Indian food FANATIC!  I cook it myself.  It’s the hardest cuisine in the world to get right, and to make great!  I have a whole cupboard dedicated to Indian spices and ingredients – I am a nut.  I also go around defending Tandoori because, for some reason, folks around here find it fashionable to criticize it.  Yes, it is more expensive.  Yes, they do add a lot of heavy cream to many of their dishes …on and on, I’ve heard it all.  But, still, I do think they have some darn good Indian food and at least it’s not like all the others (who somehow manage to pretty much prepare everything the same as each other, with some exceptions).  OK, so why 3 stars??  Because they have these horrible, half cold fritters that were probably not even homemade (but frozen).  The chutney’s are always great but it’s like stone soup to me – no lead character on the stage.  Where is the lamb, shrimp, chicken, curry, something??  Poor, poor effort.  And the nice woman at the table is some non-Indian who seems to know nothing about it all.  Like she’s just tending the table, hired from a temp-agency or something.  Worst station at the event.”

Verbena: rating – 10  “BEST in show!  And we’re not talking dogs here but duck!  …confit that is!  Believe it or not, uber-Iron Chef America challenger, Bruce Wieszala, is actually serving the food – and with a smile!  This is duck confit strudel with cucumber and white grape gazpacho…topped with a combination hoisin/ duck bone demi-glace.  There’s an ‘A’ for effort right off the bat!  Why is it that this prized chef, hailing from one of Buffalo’s most demanding kitchens (his own), can find the time and muster the effort to bring the “goods”, the REAL deal, to a one-off, non-competitive event like this?  It shows some real culinary panache.  What a class act!  And the taste?  Sheer heaven.  How could it not be? …days in preparation, technique stretching miles on miles.  This is what it’s all about sir.  Bravo chef Bruce!

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32 Responses to “Buffalo Spree’s Best of WNY 2009 – Food Station Review”

  1. Eliz Says:

    Since all I had were the martinis and the vichyssoise (both excellent), I’ll take your word on this. Nice, thorough summary!

    The only cavil I’d have is that if the food had been good at the Tandoori table you wouldn’t have commented on the nationality of the server; I don’t think it’s relevant.

  2. nelson Says:

    It’s pretty relevant in the world of Indian cuisine, as it is in Chinese and many other so-called ethic cuisines. It’s relevant because – being “real” here and not simply politically correct – the best chefs in these disciplines are, for the most part, people who grew up in those cultural and culinary milieus. They know how it should taste, look and smell. Their grandmas cooked it and they ate it everyday. There are always exceptions, but statistically speaking, this is a mere truism. There is a reason that, when you go to your local Chinese take-out, the new Indian restaurant, the Thai place, the Asian grocer, the Vietnamese sandwich shop, 29 times out of 30, the nationality/ethnicity that you see serving and preparing the food matches the ethnicity of the food itself. It’s no accident and it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge it. Also, I know the wait staff, the kitchen staff, and the proprietors ARE all Indian (in this exact case, you are very lucky and one of the chefs is “only” half Indian). Nevertheless, to see a white woman serving the fritters – and seemingly knowing nothing about them or why they are there or what is going on period – is not the best of signs that the food was prepared lovingly, carefully, correctly, etc. I doubt an Indian would’ve been able to stand there and not feel a bit ashamed of this display of minimal hospitality, creativity, skill, and national (or, yes, ethnic) pride. Sure, if the food was great, I would have only privately wondered why there was a non-Indian working the table when everyone I know who is in the employ of Tandoori IS Indian. But, with the food being so lackluster, it was a clue that was indeed borne out into culinary fruition.

  3. nelson Says:

    …yet another comment. During Judging for the taste of Buffalo, I ate at all the Indian places. I thought that Tandoori’s was probably the best! (Kabob and Curry was also good.) The owner was super attentive and everything was being run like a Navy ship! So…it just proves that you can’t always judge a place by one experience! …unless we’re talking about Marinaccio’s… which got too many chances and was consistently horrid. …should’ve stopped at experience number at that place!

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