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Food at a conference. I promise I paid attention to the actual sessions as well

So Saturday was the 11th Annual Fabulous Chocolate Party – and it was amazing, but I’ll post about it next because I made actual notes on the next part. But suffice it to say that if you had cut me this weekend, I would have bled chocolate. Delicious, gourmet chocolate of the gods.

ETA: No, I never did get around to writing up that post. I’ll try to do better for the 2009 one.

Meanwhile: there’s a work-related conference I go to this same weekend, and I’ll only tell you about the food bits of it —

Sunday, February 23
Usually the conference is at The Ritz, but they are renovating their main floor bar/lounge, so the conference relocated two blocks south to the Bellevue Hyatt, so things were a little different while still being just as luxurious.

At the breaks? OMG fresh fruit! Their standard tray of fruit had blackberries, raspberries, crosswise sliced blood oranges, sliced mango, amazing pineapple, and a sliced honeydew.

The tea was – wow, I can’t believe I didn’t steal a wrapper to give you the brand – anyway, so it was one of those big, luxurious silken pouch things with corners so that your looseleaf lea has room to expand and flavor the pot… only we were drinking from your standard dainty coffee cup, so the bag pretty much filled the cup. The tea was saved from being too strong, however, by the water from the carafe only being kept warm by a wee little sterno (but they sure were pretty urns – and they were clever enough to have no trace of coffee flavor coming from the hot water urn). The tea, while plenty tasty, was complicated by the small cursive writing of the variety names and similar pastel colors for the packages. While they had Vanilla Rooibus tea, the only decent black tea (I’m not counting Lavender Earl Grey as decent) was an Organic Breakfast. It ended up taking quite a while to search through all of the other herbal or barely caffeinated varieties to get to the real stuff.

At night there was a welcome reception up at the Rose Garden on the 19th floor (which didn’t have any roses, but that’s the hotels main area with reception and the restaurant – it’s because the first two floors are fancy shoppes and a food court and floors 4-12 are office space). This venue is also brilliant with vegetable! This was some of the best crudite I have ever had – sweet snow pea, grape tomatoes, baby zucchini sliced lengthwise and blanched for maybe two second to just improve the color and take away the fresh astringency, baby yellow squash, asparagus, red peppers, etc. – no carrots – all at the peak of freshness and perfect. I loved the french onion dip, but perhaps one of the three dips could have been dairy-free.

The walking hors d’oeuvres were amazing! There was a deliciously rich mushroom in puff pastry concoction that I’d guess also had chestnuts or something else rich in them, too. The teriaki steak was tender and incredibly flavorful – with decent amount of mellow garlic. There were halves of baked baby potatoes topped with curry chicken and garnished with almond slivers. And there was very tasty phyllo-wrapped sun-dried tomatoes with feta.

There was a carving station with perfectly tasty turkey roasted with a dried fruit compote, accompanied by a chestnut gravy – but it was incredibly boring compared to the rest of the fare

Monday, February 24
Breakfast involved rather good bagels (even seeded ones) with wonderfully not messy pre-sliced small squares of plain and flavoured cream cheese and /or butter. And there were tasty pastries – croissants, cheese-filled croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, danishes, and muffins – the cheese croissants had the best mix of being tasty while just moist enough not to be obscenely flaky/crumby on my businesswear (Yes! I have accumulated a wonderful 3-day selection of comfortable businesswear just for the sake of this conference, but it’s a starter set for a time when I might want to transition into being more respectable).

More of the amazing fruit at the later breaks. I can not eat too many blackberries! And the Hyatt was one of the best places I have seen for not clearing away the food from the previous break – they left it (and tidied it) throughout the day until it was eaten.

For lunch, I went out with a charming woman from the Copyright Clearance Center and the only attendee to whom I mentioned the Chocolate Party – who it also happened had been there, too! We went out to Indian Buffet, and then I tempted them into crossing the street to try the Naked Chocolate Cafe. They got tasty stuff (even toughing out a spicy beverage), but I just watched and enabled because this was a rather food intense few days.

And then that evening was the convention’s 50th Anniversary Gala Reception at the ballroom of the Academy of Music. The people working there are fabulous and friendly – especially the lovely butch woman in the tux with was the shift supervisor. I think she said she’d been there 20 years, even though she looked to be about my age.

The flowers were breathtaking – dense columns of orchids in glass vases, lush perfect roses, everything sumptuous and elegant and perfectly matched to the colors in the room.

The catering was also unbelievably good. Okay, so their hot hors d’oeuvres were unremarkable (the quesadillas tasted primarily of olive… I’d give you a list, but the couple other ones were unremarkable enough to have slipped my mind completely).

But the buffet – was amazing. There was a 3-tier stand with a mound of the most amazing prosciutto that just melted in my mouth – underneath was delicious shaved parmesan – and then there was a display that was an artistic bouquet of breadsticks and huge triangles of tasty flatbread. I had a lot of fun putting the prosciutto and parmesan on these flatbreads. So good! And that was just the start. (Oh, and the third tier was salami, which I am sure was excellent, but I didn’t even bother wasting stomach space on it.)

There were delicious roasted vegetables. I am just going to assure you that the bell peppers and the marinated portabellas and the summer squash drizzled in balsamic reduction were all wonderful and move on to the artichoke hearts, which were an entire stem of artichoke, trailing off about 4-5 inches long – soft and delicious. I have never seen the like.

There was delicious cheese and rice.

And then – *swoon* there was tenderloin of beef. Not heated, just sliced. And it was perfect. It was the platonic ideal of beef – both incredibly tender and incredibly flavorful. It melted like butter. If that wasn’t good enough, there were topping available: wine (I forget which kind) reduction with mushrooms, blue cheese crumbles, and light and crispy fried onion strings. This was right up there with my best ever beef experiences.

Oh, and if the walking hors d’oeuvres had not impressed, the small desserts passed around more than made up for it – passion fruit ice cream, cute tiny creme brulees, and chocolate brownies with chunks of chocolate and topped with peanut butter mousse.

I rolled over to the bus stop.

Tuesday, February 26
Breakfast – Same tasty tea, same tasty pastries, same tasty fruit.

And then there was an awards lunch. There was a decent caesar salad. The main was a lovely grilled sirloin that would have been amazing, if it hadn’t been immediately following the genius beef from the night before. The catering coordinator guy who’d been overseeing everything the past few days was chatting with us during lunch (since the volunteers ate at the registration table instead of upstairs with everyone else) and he mentioned that the hotel got their beef from the same supplier as The Palm restaurant on the ground floor and that it was probably $30/lb. But what was really good about the main – was the vegetables. Really, these people are very good with veggies. Root vegetables (a little bit of mashed potatoes to hold things in place) cooked so that they were soft and flavorful while still maintaining vivid colors – a baby turnip, a red beet, and a golden beet – they were sliced in half and delightful to eat.

Dessert was pretty much a giant truffle garnished with raspberry coulis and a raspberry. Very good, but almost impossible to finish – especially by this part of the week(end).