Between 300 and 400 Needham and Newton residents entered hog heaven at the annual local restaurant and food tasting event Monday evening, with almost 40 food vendors doling out bite-sized portions of their most popular dishes to doting diners.
Spring Seasonings: Tastes of Our Neighborhood, produced by the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce at the Newton Marriott Hotel, was designed to showcase both the economic vitality of area eateries while introducing new patrons to small restaurant owners, said Ronda Flashen, the organization’s special events chair.
“This is a way to bring the two communities together, and for the Chamber to give something back to the restaurants,” Flashen said, adding that the eateries receive free advertising through the event.
The Chamber is also showing people that diners do not have to go to downtown Boston for great food, Flashen said.
The Chamber used the proceeds from tickets, which ranged between $25 and $35 per person, to pay for the event.
“We’re breaking even,” said Flashen.
At the event attendees and event planners alike exchanged salutations, swirling their wine glasses alongside peers, brushing elbows with town officials, and schmoozing with celebrated restaurant owners.
With over 40 different eateries to sample from, the dominant restaurant theme proved to be American cuisine with individual creative twists, such as Not Your Average Joe’s, BOKX109, B Street Restaurant, Center Café, and Riverbend Restaurant.
Italian restaurants, cupcake bakeries, French bistros, Indian fare specialists, ice cream shops, and even grocery stores were sprinkled into the mix as well, rounding out the recipe for diverse sampling choices.
Wegmans’ sushi platter booth warranted one of the longest lines of the night, with plenty of colorful plates filled with the raw fish delicacy.
The grocery chain, which opened its first Massachusetts store in Northborough last October, has scouted out a location in Chestnut Hill – where Omni Foods previously stood along Rte. 9 – and plans to open the location in fall 2013, said executive chef Daniel Tartaglia.
Sweet treat tables also proved popular, as Cabot’s ice cream sundae bar line never shortened, and Cupcakes on Centre’s cupcake holders diminished quickly.
Enticed by Asian-themed lettuce wraps and fresh focaccia bread, a steady stream of passers-by enjoyed cuisine from Not Your Average Joe’s. The chain has been in Needham since 1996. It now has 16 locations, and plans to continue expanding.
Store manager Sara Anderson said the restaurant is in high demand, and that she has enjoyed watching kids grow up while eating at there.
The Rox Diner, a new addition to the Newton restaurant scene, delighted potential customers with fluffy buttermilk pancakes topped with maple syrup from a family-run farm in Vermont.
Rox owner John Fortin also said the diner specializes in food that has green, sustainable, and organic touches, and that their diner attracted new customers from the get-go.
Another new addition to Newton’s food landscape, B Street Restaurant and Bar, was opened by owner Elli Kaplansky with 50 seats. The American-themed restaurant focuses on creativity and depth, Kaplansky said, while providing a sophisticated atmosphere.
“Someone recently told me they can put ‘cool’ together in a sentence with ‘B Street,’” Kaplansky said, standing behind her display of rhubarb mini-pies and a hummus-feta-cucumber signature snack. “Customers tell me it reminds them of restaurants in the South End, which I take as a compliment.”
Jarrod Moiles, executive chef at BOKX 109’s American Prime steakhouse, barely received a break during the event, as he speedily prepared beef carpaccio – a seared beef tenderloin served on a crostini with a relish of capers, red onions, and truffled mushrooms.
“Our meat has no steroids, hormones, or antibiotics,” Moiles said, adding that the restaurant has been open in Newton for just under three years. “It’s a small bite with a big flavor.”
Newton-Wellesley Hospital also was present, offering vegetarian chili and chicken piccata, two dishes the hospital serves in-house.
“We want to showcase our best-tasting healthy food – you would never know these dishes are low in fat and calories,” said executive chef Don Mayo, adding that the hospital serves the same food to patients.
Fiorella’s Italian Restaurant owner Remon Karian said his Newton location, which has been open 12 years, proved so high in demand that he nearly doubled the size of his restaurant to about 114 seats and opened two express take-out locations in Brighton and Belmont.
“I liked the demographic of Newton, and while the location is a bit off the beaten path, it’s still a great city,” Karian said. “People tell me I have great value and good quality food.”
Petit Robert Bistro owner Jay Spencer said the French restaurant opened one of its four locations in Needham three years ago – the other three are in Boston – and said that the Needham eatery features a larger patio and different food specials that cater to a suburban crowd.
“It’s a great space, and a great fit for the community,” Spencer said as he offered bite-sized duck confit and coconut-less maccarons to attendees walking by.
Overall, Flashen said with the success of this year’s tasting, next year’s event will be easy to organize.
“Next year will be easy – all the restaurants want to come back,” Flashen said.
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