by Anne McGregor & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & et's face it. There aren't many multi-generational occasions in Spokane that are truly black tie. I once went to the opera on a Saturday night, only to be seated in front of a man wearing, presumably, his best plaid flannel shirt. But at Epicurean Delight last Friday night at the beautiful new downtown Convention Center, that Northwest predilection to avoid being overdressed at all costs was tossed aside: Tuxes were in abundance. Most striking perhaps, was the gentleman in full-dress kilt. Women stepped out in dramatic full-length gowns, updo's and elegant wraps of all kinds.

The event is the premier showcase and competition for Inland Northwest restaurants. This year, more than 25 area restaurants competed to win for best hors d'oeuvres, first plate, entr & eacute;e and dessert. The competition was spirited and required incredible logistics.

"They're not allowed to use any of the convention center kitchen facilities," says Paul Oleniacz, development director for the Inland Northwest Blood Center and organizer of the event. That's right. Imagine catering dinner for more than 850 people using a hot plate and outdoor grill. Still, "People said the food was the best it's ever been," Oleniacz adds.

The event celebrated its 25th anniversary with a new location, the Convention Center, and a new beneficiary, the Inland Northwest Blood Center, with proceeds slated to go toward purchase of a new blood mobile. Nearly 70 percent of the total blood supply for almost a million Inland Northwest residents comes from mobile drives, and the new blood mobile will help to expand the blood supply by about 6,000 units per year. That's enough to save as many as 18,000 lives. Which is reason enough to celebrate.

And celebrate is just what attendees at Epicurean Delight did. Arriving to complimentary valet parking and ascending the escalators under the glare of live news coverage from KREM 2, ticketholders were greeted with live piano and vocal music. Beverages from nearly two dozen Northwest wineries and breweries flowed freely. Delicate pink martinis (the "Jasmine") crafted by the man who wrote Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, Paul Harrington, issued forth from behind a 15-foot bar made entirely of ice and lit from below.

In the adjacent room, restaurants took full advantage of their ample booth space, lining three walls of the large space. Each booth was decorated with floral and fruit displays, while teams of workers carefully plated foods as beautifully as if they were in their own restaurant kitchens. Tables were topped with chic square glass vases and striking tall flower arrangements.

Judging took place before the event started with committees of judges presented with all the items in each category simultaneously. Items were identified by number, with the restaurants revealed only after ballots were turned in. Taste and presentation were weighted equally. The People's Choice Award was the favorite among all entries as determined by guests at the event.

In the hors d'oeuvres category, there was a tie between an Indian-spiced lamb chop with couscous from Max at Mirabeau and a wasabi rice crab cake from newcomer Vin Rouge. The little lamb chop, warmly flavored with a blend of Indian spices, was charmingly presented on a scoop of couscous, and perfectly complemented by a sweet tomato fig sambal. Equally successful were crispy crab cakes from Vin Rouge, with a hint of wasabi and a crisp Asian slaw accompaniment.

C.I. Shenanigans took top honors for first course with a seared sea scallop salad. One large sea scallop was nicely cooked and placed atop a salad of greens, pomegranate seeds, almonds, Maytag blue cheese crumbles and a zesty pomegranate vinaigrette. Yum.

Lamb chops from Outback Steakhouse were the judges' choice for top entr & eacute;e, while attendees selected another entr & eacute;e, the veal petite osso buco with white cheddar grits from Wild Sage American Bistro, as their top overall choice.

Outstanding dessert went to the warmed fudge and naughty cake from Spencer's for Steaks and Chops.

The variety and quality of ingredients attests to the importance of the event to local restaurants. They have a whole year to get ready to compete again, when Epicurean Delight returns on November 2, 2007.

Newport Rodeo & Festival @ Newport Rodeo Grounds

Fri., June 25, 1-9 p.m. and Sat., June 26, 12-9 p.m.
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