The Sagebrush Classic's big event was a full-throttle exercise in good old-fashioned American-style hedonism. More than 1,300 Bend folk wandering to and from each of the 18 chef stations was quite a sight. From 5 pm until dark, the plates kept coming and the Deschutes beer kept flowing. Everyone was happy. No one left hungry. There was no one there to say "no." And the event raised a lot of money for local charities—so much that it's still being tallied.
The Sagebrush Classic isn't a competition so there's no prize for best tapa. However, judging by the long line of pleated-khakis queuing up for a damn-near perfect study of edible marine life, the pan roasted Chilean sea bass bathed in a miso brown butter sauce with diced choi sum, baby seaweed and umebashi plum rice by Hiroshi Fukui of Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas in Honolulu was the favorite. The bass also the top choice among food writers, though Bear Ullman's watermelon and rosewater sorbet, from the Marc Restaurant in Walla Walla, was a close second. Sorbet is an especially refreshing treat after one's third piece of lamb.
Other favorites: Ken Frank of Napa Valley's La Toque prepared large pearls of perfect tapioca bathed deep in cheddar sauce with a hunk of Angus beef on the side. Randy Evans of Brennan's in Houston brought class to comfort with a spicy duck confit sauce piquant over a slightly sweet duck fat biscuit. There were few duds in the repertoire.
Now my belly is big and full of animals. If you cut me open you'd find duck confit, Kobe beef three ways, Chilean sea bass, shrimp hot and cold, one seared scallop, a rare chunk of tuna, lobster in pudding form, grilled lamb, pork sitting on a toasted bun, red snapper buried in curry, herring tartare on rye, and about 15 fresh oysters. What's more, I had seconds. I even had thirds. An open bar and cuisine by some of the best chefs in the world is a dangerous yet delicious combo. It was awesome, but I'll be eating salad for two weeks. A food writer's best friend is a gym pass, and mine will be seeing a lot of use between now and next year's event. There aren't many parties like Sagebrush in the entire country, so the opportunity to sample the fare of some of the world's top chefs in one place is rare—especially at a place three hours from Portland.