Foodstuff: Overindulging at JAS Labor Day Experience
Special to The Aspen Times
“We did this wrong,” my husband said at about 5:30 p.m. last Sunday at JAS Labor Day Experience.
He was right, but I couldn’t quite figure out exactly where we had gone wrong — though I’m pretty sure it occurred somewhere between the truffle potatoes and the two “mini” desserts, namely the crème brûlée and the dark chocolate mousse. All I knew was, I literally couldn’t take a full breath because my belly felt so full.
We knew better; we are experienced culinary-food-stuffers. But to be fair, it had been almost two months since my last assignment to write about an all-you-can-consume dining experience, and that was a lobster fest — and there’s a limit to how quickly you can tear apart those hard-shelled critters and down them (especially if you’re not from the East Coast). Before that, we have to stretch all the way back to last fall, when I visited a handful of restaurants to put words to the debauchery that involves chefs presenting us with, on average, five appetizers and salads, four entrees (yes, just for the two of us) and two desserts. So, apparently, we had forgotten how to pace ourselves.
A few other things worked against us. First, we had celebrated my mom’s birthday at Cinzetti’s, an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet, in Denver the day prior, and it was the first time I walked away without a horrible stomachache for the remainder of the afternoon and night. So, yes, I had a bit of overconfidence brewing. Second, we didn’t have the wisdom and hard-earned experience of the other festival attendees, who had spent the previous two days feasting on the culinary buffet at JAS. I didn’t realize the toll it could all take until I talked to a Houston woman who was completely exhausted from the eight-hour-a-day food, drink and music festival.
Third, and perhaps key to our overindulgence within three hours of passing through the entry gate: Each food station presented such beautiful “artwork” on small white plates, it hardly seemed like we were eating a lot. It felt more like nibbling on an artistic, three-dimensional painting, and who ever heard of getting a bellyache from art?
But I knew I should’ve listened to myself when I felt the weight of the mashed truffle potatoes the server placed on my plate; I told myself: Do not eat all these potatoes. But honestly, they tasted so light and fluffy on the palate, so different than traditional Thanksgiving mashed potatoes, that I figured I had overestimated their weight — or that they would magically feel as light in my tummy as they did on my tongue.
I also may have gone wrong by eating the entire slow-braised, melt-in-your-mouth short rib portion, which, along with the bone marrow, was Sunday’s main entrée. Though it was quite good (and gluten free, which is bloat-proof, right?), it did leave a bit of a salty aftertaste, and, upon reflection, I would’ve done better lingering at the eight food stations outside the main VIP tent, instead of filling up at the salad buffet and international artisan cheese station (oh, the hummus, the whipped goat cheese, the artisan bread, the little pita wedges!). While one man from Texas commented that the main entree was “a little heavy” for the hot temperatures, I found it just fine to eat in the shade.
But everything was SO right in terms of the food. In fact, I missed visually taking in most of Marc Broussard’s spirited and groovin’ R&B, rock and soul show (well, I did kinda dance in my seat under the tent, and I eventually made it near the stage) because I was busy eating, as well as getting a literal shot of vitamin energy from Mobile IV Therapy, where nurses come to your home (or parties and festivals, apparently) to provide IV-drip hydration or vitamin shots for jet-lag, immunity, stomach flu, hangovers and more (unfortunately, they couldn’t do a thing about my food consumption, but if I would’ve had it in me to get a hangover from the open bar, they were just steps away).
If all-day lines are any indication, the Chilean sea bass with fermented Chinese black beans, lemongrass oil, spicy corn, fresno chili and fava beans was the hit of the day. Granted, it took the team quite a long time to prep the artistic bite — and the plates went fast as soon as they added the last touch — but this fresh fish was delicious, made even better with its crispy top and hint of sweet sauce.
The hamachi crudo was another favorite, with black garlic and charcoal aioli (which seemed to mostly contribute to the visual aesthetics) and a citrus yellow pepper salad and yuzu ponzu. I especially appreciated the hints of cucumber, mint and watermelon.
Had I not eaten four desserts (I admit it: when presented with an open bar or an all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, I will overindulge in the dessert, particularly if it involves chocolate or crème brûlée), I would have gone back for a second serving of Mix 6’s Turkish spiced lamb meatballs. The lamb delivered the perfect blend of heated spice and subtle sweetness.
My only solace is: At least I know I wasn’t the only one who overindulged; even before Stevie Nicks took the stage (and what a spirited performance she gave, complete with a Led Zeppelin version of “Rock and Roll” that really did rock the park), servers circulating with duck breast and seafood paella could not easily, or quickly, clear their trays. Chef Martin Oswald (of Pyramid Bistro and Mix6) certainly went above and beyond as the donor VIP caterer.
While my husband and I may have done it “wrong,” Oswald and his team certainly did it right.
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