Summertime is festival time, and I’m not complaining. After attending Savor a week ago, I had no idea what to expect going into The Food and Wine Festival at National Harbor. Would it be fancy? Would it be lame? Would they have enough food and wine to keep me happy? Actually, does anyone ever have enough food and wine to keep me happy? Is there enough food and wine in the world to keep me happy for life? Ah! So many existential questions, but I digress. Basically, Jasmine and I headed over to National Harbor with zero expectations, and wound up extremely happy, totally entertained, bellies satisfied, heads full of wine.
We took the water taxi over from Alexandria, quite nice. Pretty views of Alexandria and National Harbor, and I generally just love boats. Period. If you’re a regular reader, you already know that if there is an event or location near, on, or around water, I’ll like it. It’s a guarantee. So National Harbor already had that going for it, as the festival exhibitors lined the boat docks, so we were on water the entire time. Combine that with wine, and food, and I think you’ve got a total winner.
The festival promised Seminars and Guest Chef Demonstrations, a Belgian Beer Café featuring Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and; Leffe, and Artisanal Products and Boutique Wines. They delivered wholeheartedly on all fronts.
When I first got our tickets, I declared to Jasmine about 50 times that I wanted to get to the Festival in time to see Top Chef contestants Carla Hall, Spike Mendelsohn and Ariane Duarte do a cooking demonstration. I was totally stoked. We got there about an hour early and were able to walk around, grab drinks, and taste some food. Like Virginia Peanuts with wine pairings. What? That’s right, peanuts and wine pairings. I’ve never been asked before if I would like a little Bacon Peanut Brittle paired with a nice Cabernet. Uh…sure? It was exactly like it just sounded, weird, but whatever, I was up for anything. I didn’t think it could get more random, and then the large peanut mascot wandered into the crowd, ya’ll. Then I’d seen everything.
The cooking demonstration started at 2:30 .m., and Chef Spike was nowhere to be found. That’s okay, if I want to see him, I know where to find him. I was in this for Carla, ya’ll. And I like Ariane also, but Carla is my girl. Ariane whipped up a fresh corn-based veggie salad, and Carla made us a poor-mans potato salad with red bliss potatoes. During the cooking they joked with the audience, discussed Top Chef drama, and their busy travel schedules. I didn’t realize that a year after the show ends, Bravo is in control of their schedules, so Ariane and Carla were both overwhelmed by the amount of travel they’ve been doing as of late.
After watching the Carla and Ariane show, which subsequently made me really really want to take Carla’s cooking classes (dear parents, hint on Birthday/Christmas/anytime presents!), Jasmine and I wandered up and down the exhibitor booths. Most notable were the Virginia wine booths, tasting wines from Barboursville, Naked Mountain, Rappahannock, and Chrysalis. I’ve been to all but the Chrysalis, so I tasted the 2005 Bottled Norton, and was a big fan. We ate shrimp, tacos, gazpacho, and lots and lots of cheese. There was a random amount of non-food vendors, like hotel chains, boat companies, and other national-harbor-esque type things, that made no sense to be there. But if you ignore those types of exhibitors, which we did, the entire festival is a food and alcohol free for all.
At the end of the dock, there was a Belgian beer cafe, run by Belga. Bart Vandaele, Executive Chef and Owner of Belga Cafe was behind the bar, good-naturedly yelling “THERE ARE NO LINES! THIS IS A BAR!” at people, so we would treat it like a bar. Whatever, we were so conditioned to line up for tastings that it just seemed intuitive to line up for beer. They served full beers in keepsake glassware, and so Jasmine and I perched at the end of the dock and hung our feet out over the edge.
We had basically seen, ate and drank our way through the entire festival, but our tickets for our return ferry weren’t for a while, so we looked for someplace to sit. They had docked this luxury yacht, Miss Ann, along the beer cafe and people were on it. I looked at Jasmine and went “Man, I wish I could get on that boat!” and this lady turned around and was like, “you can! Just go over there and board.” OKAY ANGEL LADY FROM BOAT HEAVEN, let me do that. Sometimes having a loud voice and outgoing personality gets you places. Just remember that the next time you’re trying to shush me. Anyways, so we sat aboard the ridiculously nice Miss Ann for a half hour, overlooking the festival. It was nice to be away from the crowds but still in the middle of everything. Plus, I love boats. Have I mentioned that I like things on the water yet? I don’t think I have, so, fyi, just so you know: I like water.
We took our water taxi home, bellies full, happy, and totally content. I REALLY enjoyed my time at the Festival, and can’t wait to go back next year! Generous food portions, lots of wine and beer, and the sunshine. It honestly doesn’t get any better.