One of Washington’s biggest and most entertaining wine parties is…at a casino? You bet. The annual Taste of Tulalip celebrated its seventh year this weekend. The two-day event draws about 2,000 people a year to the Tulalip Resort Casino 30 miles north of Seattle. Highlights of the annual Taste include an opening night dinner gala on Friday, an all-inclusive grand tasting event on Saturday, a bubble lounge, craft beer poolside, demonstrations and seminars, a wine shop, and an Iron Chef/Chopped-style cook off.
The Celebration Dinner gala (a separate ticketed event) kicked off the weekend. This dinner had everything...
The good: An impressive, coursed family-style Italian meal cooked by the resort’s culinary team paired with delicious wines from around the world; an incredible operatic singer who entertained guests in Italian during the meal; and a presentation by Heartbeat, the event’s nonprofit partner, which provides emergency assistance and therapeutic services for wounded service members in Washington.
The bad: The Italian theme sort of unraveled by way of comically-bad Italian-English accents from emcees Bill Wixey and Kaci Aitchison of local news fame, and Tulalip executive chef Perry Mascitti, who was introduced to theme music from The Godfather (I couldn’t help but think that if this were a dinner with an Asian theme, would the hosts engage in some singsongy Chinese stereotyping? Likely not.) Also, images of Italian-American popular culture icons were portrayed on screen throughout the evening (Bruce Springsteen, Robert DeNiro, The Sopranos). That was weird. But the crowd of about 400 people seemed into it.
The ugly: This had nothing to do with the event itself, but between courses I watched a grown man consume two different whole fruits meant for table decoration. First, he went after an orange right after the second course. OK, maybe he was just famished, or needed a palate cleanser? But then a few courses later, I saw him fondling a lime. No, surely not. He wouldn’t. But he began to peel. Maybe he wanted to citrus up his water? Nope. He ate it. The whole lime. THE WHOLE LIME.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its occasionally uneven nature, the Celebration Dinner draws devoted fans every year—it’s always the first event to sell out, guests are full of energy, and the food and wine set the tone for the next day’s Grand Taste.
Tulalip goes all in for its signature fete—past special guests include some of the biggest names in the food world, including Marcus Samuelsson, Carla Hall, and Ming Tsai. This year, Chris Cosentino, champion of all things offal, owner of award-winning Cockscomb in San Francisco, and co-creator and chef of Boccalone, an artisanal salumeria, was the special food guest. Wine and spirit writer and educator Anthony Giglio was the headlining wine expert of the weekend.
If you want to interact with these special guests, you can upgrade your general admission ($110 gets you into the Grand Taste and all you can eat and drink) to an all-access pass ($350). The pass this year provided entrance to a wine seminar with Giglio and Tommy Thompson, Tulalip’s amiable sommelier, and a cooking demonstration with Cosentino. The all-access pass holders get access to the Grand Taste an hour early (essential if you want to avoid the floodgates when general admission opens), plus admission to a “private magnum party,” a separate tasting event featuring rare and high-end wines. Washington wine luminary Bob Betz told me that every wine in the magnum party room was worth a taste, and he pointed me in the direction of a 2011 Phillipe Colin Chevalier-Montrachet white Burgundy. If you’re looking for that kind of connection with winemakers and a chance to taste some top-shelf wines, the all-access pass is worth a splurge.
But it’s not as if the Grand Taste isn’t worth your time or dollars. The main event of the weekend puts you in front of some of the best wines of Washington, Oregon, and California. Unlike other food and wine festivals, the Taste opts to showcase the flavors and abilities of its own culinary team rather than drawing Seattle-area restaurants into the mix. And the team succeeded with dishes like sous vide scallops, Pacific poke, charcuterie and cheese, and much more.
All in all, the eclectic Taste of Tulalip is a fun time. Next year’s event is already scheduled for November 11 and 12. Plan accordingly.