An outsized buffet called Taste of the Town, a food extravaganza featuring an international sampler of local restaurant dishes seasoned with music, made its debut at the Shoreham Hotel this weekend. It made some friends, too. Favorable reaction came from the public, which paid $2.50 for admission, from participating restaurateurs and from sponsors who led the organizers to forecast an enlarged return engagement next year.
While attendance for the two days was well below a projection of 40,000, pre-person spending was higher than anticipated. A charity event, the food festival's profits, if there are any this year, will benefit the District's division of the American Cancer Society.
By 5 p.m. Sunday, piles of paper plates filled with leftover crabcakes, red cabbage and coleslaw and half-empty cups of beer were lining windowsills of the hotel. The barbecue grills behind the hotel were cold and piles of ice were melting in the parking lot.
But inside the Ambassador Room, latecomers were making last-minute trips to the booths for chili, lobster bisque and fruit covered with chocolate fondue. "We were all ready to make dinner, then we decided to run down here," said Gloria Rosefeld. "And in half an hour we've eaten what should have taken two hours," she said, as her husband, Warren, ran off to spend his last ticket on a beer.
Bradford Slye, chef from the Sheraton Washington's Americus Restaurant, said that he had noticed many customers returning shamelessly for seconds of his fruit in chocolate fondue. "But we were going so fast dishing it out we didn't have time to intimidate anybody about how many times they'd been here."
It was a calm scene at the Shoreham Saturday afternoon, a clean scene and, despite the heat, a pleasamt sceme. Visitors, holding strings of tickets to be traded for food or drink, wandered through two ballrooms and under a large tent on the hotel's terrace. They came in numbers large enough to keep people in the vending booths busy, but not so great as to cause long lines or frayed tempers. There was room enough to execute the dance steps necessary amid the crowd to save plates and cups from being jostled and spilled. Live music from two stages provided diversion between bites.
If there was a repeated refrain as people walked and eyeballed other shoppers, it was "What's that called? Where did you get it?"
The item might have been delicately seasoned chicken pieces in foil wrap from the Szechuan, slices of roast pork on white pizza from the A.V. Ristorante, ceviche from El Caribe, or a samoza (a triangular fried pastry filled with highly spiced vegetables) from the Kathmandu. Happily, the Kathmandu/Tandoor booth was quite near one operated by Beowulf, which provided an ideal chaser for the Indian creation, a cooling soup called white gazpacho.
In another room, cooks from the Candelas restaurant were preparing and dealing out agnilotti, filled green pasta coins. It was one of the few booths where food actually was being cooked, and the effort brought its own reward. The fragrant aromas, one important aspect of a food festival largely missing at the Shoreham, drew passersby like a magnet. Across the walkway, an amiable young man was telling customers inquiring about the quality of his minced barbecue, "We've got O'Brien's beat." It was all in fun. O'Brien's, the Rockville barbecue restaurant that had brought ribs and brisket, was equally busy in the other ballroom.
In all there were more than 30 participants, serving items that cost from 50 cents to $1.50. Beer was provided by Anheuser Bush, wine by Taylor California Cellars and the Monterey Vineyard. There was a minimum of supply problems, which brought high praise for the logistics corrdination work of Jeff Ellis of Ridgewell's.
Taste of the Town was dreamed up by Sandy and Donald Whyte, Alexandria consultants and convention specialists, who had been impressed by similar events in Toronto, New Orleans and other cities. They took their idea to the Cancer Society, then enlisted American Express, Anheuser Bush and the Washingtonian magazine as sponsors. The restaurants paid a $600 fee to participate and were to keep 40 percent of their receipts.
The organizers of the event said the only problem was the Washington police were being very liberal with parking tickets outside the Shoreham.