The Daily Planet Sweeps Podium in Inaugural Best Bite Bash | Bite Club

The Daily Planet Sweeps Podium in Inaugural Best Bite Bash


The Best Bite Bash - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • The Best Bite Bash
Hey, everybody, it's Vermont Restaurant Week! After months of planning and organizing, we at Seven Days are thrilled to see the annual 10-day feasting event lift off. 

Actually, lift-off happened last night with a packed house at Higher Ground in South Burlington. Locals poured into the Ballroom for the inaugural Best Bite Bash, a tasting event and menu preview featuring nine Vermont chefs in a friendly competition. The  chefs spent the evening hunched over tiny spoons — 4,000 of them, in fact —  assembling bite-size samples of a dish from their restaurant week menu. Meanwhile, guests circulated, conferring points for flavor, flair and overall best in show. Proceeds from the event went to the Vermont Foodbank.

Host Shawn Lipenski of Winooski-based Velvet Catering & Events was a lively and witty MC, while DJ Disco Phantom kept food comas at bay with bumpin' beats and tunes.

So about the food... 
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Spoons!
Bacon jalapeño rangoon, Grazers - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Bacon jalapeño rangoon, Grazers
Near the entry, Grazers chef Katie Cote's bacon jalapeño rangoons  were hot from the fryer, brittle-crisp and stuffed with diced chiles, bacon and just-sweet Vermont maple cream. At the bottom of the spoon, a dollop of handmade honey-lime aioli cooled things off and added a tangy snap at the finish.

Next door, Thai Dishes  chef Peter Arthornprachachid's Spicy Duck Basil Chow Mein wa a tangle of springy noodles crowned with a deep-fried hunk of sweet-and-spicy  duck. Chiles mingled with garlic, bell peppers and lots of basil.
Duck chow mein, Thai Dishes - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Duck chow mein, Thai Dishes
Next up, Storm Café introduced new chefs John D'Avignon and Talmage Jestice (they'll debut a new menu at Storm Café next week), who chatted up diners over steamed Prince Edward Island mussels. Swimming in chile-tinged broth and garnished with pickled veg and cilantro, the mollusks offered a tart, vaguely Asian take on the bistro classic — modern and lovely.
Mussels, Storm Café - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Mussels, Storm Café
 At the head of the room, Cook Academy at the Essex Resort director Anthony Ploof  spooned out a crumbly, beautiful interpretation of a classic preserved-berry Linzer torte. In a new twist on the typical restaurant week "menu," Ploof is offering  special $40 cooking courses in Austrian cuisine and bistro classics. 
Linzer torte, Cook Academy at the Essex Resort - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Linzer torte, Cook Academy at the Essex Resort

Housemade mozzarella, Pizzeria Verità - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Housemade mozzarella, Pizzeria Verità
Next up: wobbly cubes of Pizzeria Verita's  house-made mozzarella, prepared and served by chef Jason Van Dine. Served with extra-virgin olive oil and zippy balsamic reduction, the wet and bouncy cheese was the night's most pared-down presentation. It was also proof of the old Italian adage that sometimes exquisite, fresh ingredients are best served with minimal fuss.

White truffle gnocchi, the Daily Planet - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • White truffle gnocchi, the Daily Planet
Around the corner, people crowded around for the Daily Planet's white truffle gnocchi. Chef Justin Bigelow's spoon revealed itself  in layers.

First, a wisp of cool microgreens, then the toothsome chew of a potato dumpling and the bird-y richness of tender confit duck. Toward the end, a wash of earthen morel cream and the shadowy sweetness of black fig agrodolce. Working through the dish's complexity and balance required more than one visit.
Salmon cake, the Bearded Frog - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Salmon cake, the Bearded Frog

If the Daily Planet's dish was sultry and rich, the Bearded Frog's sesame-salmon cake cut through the darkness with seafoam-scented flavors that rang of summer. Perched on a dollop of salty-sweet miso hummus and topped with briny seaweed aioli, chef Mark LaRiviere's tiny patties were buttery inside and offered sophisticated balance uncommon to the humble salmon cake.

The next spoon looked south of the border. City Market/Onion River Co-op prepared-foods manager Rod Rehwinkel rolled Shelburne Farms cheddar and savory rice into Vermont corn tortillas from Waitsfield's All Souls Tortilleria. Chile-soaked enchilada sauce gave the dish a slow-burning, spicy kick, while pickled red onion, cilantro and a splash of sour cream brought the cool. 
Enchiladas, City Market/Onion River Co-op - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Enchiladas, City Market/Onion River Co-op

Pork cromesquis, NECI on Main - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Pork cromesquis, NECI on Main
Finally, New England Culinary Institute chef-instructor Brandon Arms offered spoons of  pork cromesquis on behalf of NECI on Main at the back of the room. The layered bite offered a mouthful of buttery pork with sweetened, mashed butternut squash, caramelized cauliflower and pumpkin seed.

For a little more than two hours, guests circulated, visiting and revisiting their favorites and casting their votes before organizers tallied the winners. 

Finally, Lipenski brought the chefs onstage, introducing each one before announcing the night's winners. 

For flavor: The Daily Planet took top honors with 99 points, followed by NECI on Main and Thai Dishes, with 86 and 73 points, respectively.
Daily Planet chef Justin Bigelow - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Daily Planet chef Justin Bigelow

Next up: Flair. Which dish was voted the fairest of them all? Bigelow's savory-sweet Daily Planet gnocchi, with 43 points. Thai Dishes and the Cook Academy took second (34 points) and third (24 points). 

Having swept the first two categories, the Daily Planet took best in show, besting the other competitors by more than 30 votes. Thai Dishes and NECI on Main nabbed second and third overall.

And the tastiest part? These dishes — with the exception of NECI on Main's pork cromesquis — will be on available in full portions on each eatery's restaurant week menu, until the event wraps up on May 1.
Chefs at the Best Bite Bash - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Chefs at the Best Bite Bash