I wanted to write a post about the food at IFBC (the International Food Blogger Conference), but it was just too overwhelming. There was so much good food! From the swag bags to meal after meal of great food provided by local restaurants and bakeries. Rather than wade through a long list of yummy foods, I thought I’d just write about the best dining experience of the weekend. Spoondinner.
Spoondinner (#spoondinner on twitter was trending locally that night) was a really amazing benefit to the conference attendees. Sponsored by Urban Spoon, we were brought to one of 25 local restaurants and treated to a special meal, where we met chefs or owners, and mingled with new friends. I was taken to Café Flora, in Madison Park, because I’m vegetarian. Café Flora is already one of my favorite restaurants – I’ve been there for many a happy hour and birthday dinner. I was a little sad to not be sent somewhere new, but also knew I’d be treated to some great seasonal vegetarian food. I was right!
I arrived a little early, because I drove separately. There were 2 other bloggers already there, and we got to talking about food. It turns out that one of them, Pavi, is from the city in India I visited this summer, Chennai, and has a blog on South Indian cooking. I’m hoping we’ll get together soon to do some cooking.
Once the rest of the group arrived and we were all seated, we enjoyed 6 courses of wonderful food. Appetizers were a lentil-pecan pate and yam fries, my happy hour faves. Next we had chanterelle mushroom and potato pierogies with sour cream and chive dip. Then came my favorite course, the salads. It’s pretty rare I’m raving about a salad after a great meal, but the nectarine and black rice salad (arugula, avocado, radish, peanuts, with a citrus vinaigrette) was the perfect blend of textures and flavors using seasonal ingredients. And the other salad, a Caesar, was vegan! I dread restaurant Caesars because of the hidden anchovy. Instead, Cafe Flora uses fried capers for that hint of brininess.
As an aside, if you ever dine with a table full of bloggers who will be writing (and tweeting) about the experience, you’re going to need to wait for everyone to take photos of the food, from a variety of angles, before you dig in. And don’t be offended if they are on their phone during dinner, they’re tweeting about the food.
Next came the pizza course (which, btw, should probably be a regular course, like the fish course or the cheese course.) We ended up with about one pizza per person at our table, which was insane, but it was because the people at Café Flora were so accommodating. We had gluten free people, lactose free, vegan, vegetarian, and even a person with a tomato allergy. Our waitress was so sweet, and was able to juggle who had which restrictions (even after a few of us switched seats!)
The last course before dessert was the Café Flora classic dish, the Oaxaca Tacos. These are tacos filled with cheesy mashed potatoes. Um… do you know how perfect potato tacos are? I know of a few places in town that have them, and they are always delicious. The Oaxaca tacos are a perennial hit, and have been on the menu for years, even though the restaurant changes other dishes seasonally. We we served the entire meal, not a smaller version of it. I was so full at this point I just ate the mashed potatoes with smoked mozzarella (ha, like that would help with me being full?) and the pico de gallo and braised greens on the side.
We were all having a blast and laughing, telling stories about food (many of us are vegetarian but our partners are not, so we talked about how we navigate that.) All the sudden, the conversation froze, and after a brief pause we all started laughing. Dessert was coming out, and it was huge. HUGE. I’m not really sure why we weren’t splitting desserts at this point, but we weren’t. I had peach blackberry crisp. I love a fruit dessert, but honestly after tasting all three I liked the chocolate brownie one best (although about 3 bites would have been enough.)
So that’s the food, and I haven’t even told you one of the best parts! The owner of Café Flora, Nat Stratton-Clarke, came and talked with us about the restaurant and his history there. He used to work as the manager, and bought the café 8 years ago when the owners were going to retire. He has maintained the restaurant with much the same philosophy – local, fresh, vegetarian, and keeping the focus on produce and not proteins. I especially appreciate that last part, because I don’t connect with the reliance on “fake meat” in some vegetarian restaurants. As Nat said, there is so much great food that just happens to be vegetarian. Café Flora is also a “scratch kitchen,” so they make everything in house (including syrups for the cocktails). The chef, Janine Doran, has been at Flora for over 20 years!
They buy from at least 40 different farms, but really like Whistling Train Farm in Kent, WA (just southeast of Seattle). As an aside, I was at the Columbia City Farmer’s Market last week and I swear I saw Nat. He was asking about something called “cheese pumpkins” which they didn’t have in yet. I Googled it, and they look like a really nice squash, beautiful to look at and tasty to eat. Thanks for the recommendation, Nat! I tried to follow Nat to see what else he was getting, but he was so fast that he got away (another aside – following people at the market is a great way to learn about new ingredients!) I might go out to Café Flora again in the next few weeks to see what they do with the cheese pumpkin.
I’d like to thank Urban Spoon for hosting this dinner. I know it couldn’t have been cheap, but I think that it really was an inspired event. It’s one thing to have food delivered, but it’s entirely different to go out to a restaurant and spend the evening talking with new friends. And of course a huge thank you to Café Flora, for being delicious and gracious, and such a great Seattle tradition.
And as a reminder to my other food blogger friends, IFBC will be in Seattle again next September! You can register here. I highly recommend it, regardless of your level as a blogger. I’m new and had a great weekend. I think that professional bloggers got a lot out of it, too, judging by the responses on Twitter, Facebook, and in their blogs. It’s a great opportunity to network, learn a lot, and get inspired. I hope to see you there!