Mexico returns to the left of the pyramid.
The Shrimp Taco features a slightly different presentation than past years, the Sweet Corn Cheesecake replaces the Rice Pudding, and the Mango-Strawberry Margarita replaces last year’s Mango Habanero Margarita.
The $5.50 Shrimp taco — Fried shrimp, pickled habanero pepper and onions on a flour tortilla consists of a couple fried shrimp underneath peppers, onions, and a creamy sauce. The shrimp were prepared well, but became soggy sitting underneath the spicy chipotle mayo. Because Mexican food tends to be inexpensive, the price point seems high on these tacos, which would be a better value for $4.50. But you’re on vacation, which is exactly what the Daz is banking on.
The $5.50 Rib eye taco — Marinated rib eye, roasted chipotle salsa and grilled scallions on a corn tortilla
Portion size looks small, but it’s actually a large portion of spicy beef topped with green onions and a chipotle salsa. Squeezing fresh lime juice on top adds another layer of flavor. It’s worth trying, but it is on the expensive side of things and it will likely fill you up a bit more than you’re expecting.
Lisa enjoyed the Sweet corn cheese cake, which has a pronounced, rich corn flavor, more than I did. It’s semi-sweet with the whipped cream and caramel sauce adding another element of flavor. It’s otherwise interesting and a “little different,” while still playing it safe. I don’t think it’s worth waiting for on its own if lines are long, but you might want to attach it to the end of an order.
Store price: 10 cents/ounce.
Festival price: 63 cents/ounce.
Value: Still wringing out the tears over the Kirin in Japan
Your Budweiser option in Mexico is Dos Equis, a staple of just about every convenience store in the country. It’s certainly not terrible as part of a $7.99 six pack after a day mowing the grass, but the price here is awfully rough for what amounts to a macro-brewed light lager. The flavor is overwhelmingly malts and grains with very little hops. Not recommended. If you actually have been mowing the lawn all day and find yourself looking for a Dos XX, the 20-ounce drafts available at La Cantina and elsewhere for $8 are a better value.
$12.50 buys you three 1-oz cups of unnamed tequila. With the sheer number of Festival “sponsors,” it’s surprising that Patron or Milagro or something hasn’t come to the rescue of the Mexico Pavilion. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things this is a decent value if you’re looking to get your drink on. There’s easily twice as much alcohol here than in the $8.50 margarita.
The Mango-Strawberry Margarita tasted like fruit punch with no flavor whatsoever from the tequila, to the point where it could have just as easily been non-alcoholic. The flavor is otherwise not overpoweringly sweet and if it actually had some tequila in it, would be quite good.
Staffed by cast members with “Goo-day mates” of varying authenticity, Australia returns as a perennial favorite.
Each of the food items are 25 cents more expensive and all the wines/beer are new.
Garlic shrimp with roasted tomatoes, lemon myrtle and rapini – $4.75 with three plump, perfectly grilled shrimp with their tails on. This is a safe bet with just a subtle garlic flavor tempered with the lemon myrtle. Very good, but not very interesting in the grand scheme of things.
The $6.25 Grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies tends to be a bit fatty and the “potato crunchies” are fancy potato chip flakes, but the lamb is another above-average dish and a great use of a snack credit. While there is not much flavor from the mint, the crunchies soak up the flavor from the lamb and they do an excellent job of grilling each chop.
The Pavlova (crispy meringue shell with fresh berries and vanilla custard) – $3.50 is no longer brought to you by Driscoll’s, which either means they’re still serving Driscoll’s without the mention or we’re receiving non-branded berries, which seems distinctly unpatriotic. The meringue is indeed crispy and the vanilla custard subtly sweet. The few berries on top are fresh and liven things up a bit. It’s a fun and relatively inexpensive dessert to share early (or late) on in your Food and Wine expedition.
Store price: ? cents/ounce.
Festival price: 58 cents/ounce.
Value: Average depending on whether it’s hard to find in your area
Coopers Brewery Limited is Australia’s largest and only wholly-owned brewery, dating all the way back to 1862 when some guy brewed beer in his house. They are also the world’s largest producer of home brewing equipment. Foster’s is probably better known, but it’s actually owned by the British firm SABMiller. Their Original Pale Ale looks hazy and has a thinner-than-you-might-expect mouthfeel with a floral hoppy aroma. It’s an easy drinking beer and because it’s not a staple of every AM/PM on the planet, comes recommended if you haven’t tried it before.
Both white wines tasted like wine. They’re inexpensive enough that they’re worth a try, particularly as I couldn’t find bottles locally.
A major change of scenery for New Zealand, which has historically been located closer to Morocco.
What we’re looking at down this corridor.
The Lamb Meatball returns 25 cents more expensive and the Pinot Gris replaces the Pinot Grigio.
“Green Lip” seems like an unfortunate name for a food item, but the turquoise edge is indeed pretty. Otherwise, $3.50 buys you three Steamed Green Lip Mussels with Garlic Butter and Toasted Bread Crumbs. These were grit free and tasted like garlic butter with a crunch from the bread crumbs. They were really quite good and come recommended in front of the other items at this booth. Also easily shareable.
The Lamb meatball with spicy tomato chutney – $5.25 is exactly the same as last year’s. Despite advertising a spicy tomato chutney, I thought it was a bit on the bland side. But the various spices do give the meatball a bit of character.
A fairly substantial meatball hides underneath, wrapped up inside an airy bread bowl. The meatball itself was spicier than the chutney on top. I enjoyed this one too and it’s a reasonable portion for the money. I’m not sure it’s special enough to go out of your way for though.
Venison sausage with pickled mushrooms℠, baby arugula and black currant reduction – $4.25. The black currant reduction is slightly sweet and adds some sugar to the sausage, which is much more meaty than game-y. The arugula is more of a side salad and the mushrooms™ had a gummy texture that made them “feel” like they came from a can. The sausage wasn’t flavorful enough for me to go back to get another, but it’s another dish worth a try.
Store price: 63 cents/ounce.
Festival price: $1.16/ounce.
Kim Crawford wines are from New Zealand and the Unoaked Chardonnay is a bit different than most, with no woody flavor from the typical oak barrels used in the fermentation process. That leads to more of a pineapple, fruity flavor than your typical chardonnay. Lisa and I didn’t care much for it, but it is a little different and potentially worth trying.
Store price: 75 cents/ounce.
Festival price: $1.58/ounce.
It’s more expensive than most pours, but what you receive is an elegant, complex red with dark cherry and strawberry notes. Recommended for those that will enjoy it over some of the less expensive options.
Store price: 55 cents/ounce.
Festival price: 88 cents/ounce.
This is the grassiest sauvignon blanc I’ve ever tasted with a crisp acidity and a grapefruit aftertaste. It’s not for everyone, but this is a nice way to sample the style.
I’m not real sure who deemed it necessary to re-purpose Argentina as “Patagonia,” but here we are with basically the same menu as the largely bankrupt country last year. The Empanada and Beef Skewer return for 25 cents more money each. The Pascual Toso Sparkling Brut is a whopping $1.50 more expensive than last year and the Cono Sur wines are new.
This year’s $4.50 Empanada may be the least exciting looking item at any Marketplace.
And it’s about what you would expect with a flaky fried crust leading to spicy beef, onions, and pepper inside. As I’ve mentioned in past years, I’d love a dollop or two of sour cream to liven things up even more. This is otherwise a relatively “safe” dish for the unadventurous, though kids may stick their noses up at the presence of onions. There are certainly more interesting flavor profiles out there.
The $5.50 Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato purée is a Festival favorite and one of their biggest sellers, but I haven’t had as much luck. On my samples, I’ve only received a couple bites of overcooked, shriveled beef. The website will give it another whirl on Thursday.
The puree underneath is really good though.
The $4.75 Roasted Verlasso salmon with quinoa salad and arugula chimichurri.
The salmon is expertly roasted, but the arugula didn’t add much to the dish other than color. The quinoa underneath is refreshing and soaks up the flavor from the salmon nicely. There are more interesting dishes out there, but this is a reasonable value and the dishes are generally executed very well.
The Pascual Toro Sparkling Brut has nearly doubled in price from last year, but remains the least expensive champagne-esque wine available. You could pick up eight glasses for the same price as a glass of Dom P from Desserts and Champagne and it’s $2 less than the Carnaval Moscato in Brazil with about 75% more alcohol. While it’s not a great value compared to the $10/bottle store price, it remains recommended if you’re looking for a sparkler in the area.
The Pinot Noir Rose is interesting and significantly sweeter and more fruity than your regular pinot. At $2.50, it’s worth a try if you’re in the market.
Argentina used to offer several Terrazas varietals, but the single offering left is their best. Aficionados will want to spring for the extra cost over the Cono Sur Pinot Noir, which is a good value compared to the $20 bottle price.
terra returns as the vegetarian-friendly Marketplace that you’ll run into first if you head toward Mexico.
Each of the food items are new and the Paperboy Red replaces last year’s Vegan Red.
A potentially unattractive look at the $4.25 Blackened Chick’n Breast, farro wheat and spicy gumbo sauce featuring Gardein Chick’n Breast, which features a sizable chunk of Chick’n topped with a spicy gumbo sauce over farro wheat. This replicates the texture and flavor from “real” chicken and rice quite well and should be a favorite among vegetarians. Meat eaters may be surprised how much they enjoy it.
The $4.25 “CraB’less CraB Cake” with pepper slaw and Cajun remoulade featuring Gardein comes with “quotations marks” that aren’t mine for once. This was perhaps the most surprising dish of the Festival and packed a very nice crab flavor topped with an excellent, spicy remoulade sauce. I dare say two of these would be better than the Maryland Crab Cakes Liberty Inn introduced back in August. This should be another favorite of vegetarians and meat eaters may want to pick one up as well. It’s seriously tasty.
The $2.25 Chocolate-blood orange cupcake with tofu icing was worse. Anyone familiar with BabyCakes’ vegan treats should be aware of just how dense they tend to be and this cupcake is no different, offering a very dense, subtly chocolate hunk of dough with a squirt of blood orange gel in the middle. The tofu icing is similarly dense and doesn’t offer much flavor different than the cake itself. Vegans may enjoy a “safe” choice, but there are far better desserts out there.
The $2.75 Fresh Watermelon Juice is exactly what it sounds like – a few sips of not-quite-chilled-enough watermelon juice. You’re probably better off saving your money for a melon back home, but if for some reason you’re in the mood, it’s here.
Apparently wine is not vegan, despite being made from grapes. According to the Vegan Vine website:
“Animal products can be utilized as fining or filtration aids in the wine making process. They assist by removing solids. Although typically filtered out of the wine prior to bottling, the use of these animal ingredients can make many wines unsuitable for vegans. The most common animal ingredients used in making wine are:
- Isinglass: a very pure form of gelatin from sturgeon fish bladders
- Gelatin: extract from boiled cow’s or pig’s hooves and sinews
- Albumin: egg whites
- Caseins: a protein from milk”
So when I say the wine “tastes like wine,” I guess I’m really saying that it tastes like sturgeon fish bladders and egg whites. It’s not an award winning white and for this money, there are better wines abound.
Paperboy Red arrives in interesting packaging.
Amusingly, plastic is about the least sustainable substance on earth and the bottle is basically made from it, even if the outer portion is recyclable, should anyone actually remember to follow the instructions after enjoying a bottle or two. This is otherwise a supermarket quality red that lacks the complexity of the better wines we’ve enjoyed, particularly the Terrazas at Not Argentina for only a quarter more. It’s a skip at $3.50.
I think Craft Beer is all that’s left.