published Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Braly: New date, venue for Bella Sera

Fans of Bella Sera won’t have to worry about the heat or busy schedules at this year’s event. Instead of its regular slot in late May/early June at Renaissance Park, the food-and-wine fundraiser for Chattanooga Endeavors has moved to an earlier date, Saturday, April 9, and an indoor venue, the Tennessee Aquarium.

Tim Dempsey, executive director of Chattanooga Endeavors, said the changes have been made in response to exit polls from guests who attended in previous years. They didn’t like the heat, he said, and it fell too closely to other big events.

“Early April is the best date we could find with no other event conflicts,” he said. “Plus, people are really excited about the new venue at the aquarium.”

Eleven restaurants and food establishments will bring delicious samples to share with patrons. These will include handcrafted artisan breads from Niedlov’s; iced coffee from Chattz; and chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter and lemon cupcakes from Whipped Cupcakes. Greenlife Grocery/Whole Foods will provide a selection of cheeses from Mountaineer Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, Va., and Landaff Jasper Hill Farms of Greensboro, Vt.

Wines will be poured with each dish, as selected by experts from Riverside Wines. The entrees and their pairings are:

  • Alleia’s ricotta and Georgia peach bruschetta with vincotto, house-made penne pasta with spring peas, grilled pancetta and mint. Wine: Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio.

  • Blue Orchid Bistro’s Tuscan chicken salad and white chocolate peppermint mousse. Wine: Layer Cake Virgin Chardonnay.

  • Blue Orleans Seafood Restaurant’s crawfish pasta salad, Abita shrimp skewers and raspberry Napoleon. Wine: San Huberto Malbec and Marques de Casa Concha.

  • Bluewater Grille’s sweet-and-spicy wonton chicken. Wine: Snoqualmie Naked Riesling.

  • FoodWorks’ cocoa-crusted Wagyu beef with arepas and chimichurri sauce; Thai tuna tartar with wasabi vinaigrette and micro greens; goat cheese/tomato/caper bruschetta. Wines: Benziger Sauvignon Blanc and Aquinas Pinot Noir.

  • Niko’s Southside Grill’s Riverview Farms corncake with Sequatchie Cove spicy pork and pickled Crabtree Farms kohlrabi; stuffed peppers with whipped feta and capers; semolina cake with honey-thyme syrup. Wine: Estancia Shiraz.

  • Taco Mamacita’s chicken tortilla soup; homemade guacamole and chips. Wine: Domaine Manuel Villafane Torrantes.

What a remarkable lineup.

Bella Sera will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $70 per person, which includes a commemorative wine glass and unlimited wine and tapas-style servings from all the restaurants.

Proceeds go to Chattanooga Endeavors, which provides education and resources, including employment, for offenders recently released from prison. I can’t think of a more worthy, tasty way to spend $70. For an additional $30, you’ll be treated to a special offering in the Wine Taster’s Select area, offering tastes from more than 50 premium wines, along with even more food.

It’s little wonder that Bella Sera has become one of the most anticipated events of the year. Bring your checkbook ... There’s an auction, too. And good music to help set the mood. For ticket information, log onto www.bellaseraevent.com.

Last week’s Taste fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation of the Greater Chattanooga Area was a resounding success. Brought back after a yearlong hiatus and held at Warehouse Row, it was filled with supporters wanting to get a taste of 20 restaurants and to watch five local chefs go head to head in a cooking contest.

The participating chefs — John Lopopolo (Mount Vernon Restaurant), James Wade (212 Market), Aaron Long (Market Street Tavern), Blackwell Smith (Blacksmith’s Bistro) and John Palacio (Porter’s Steakhouse) — had to create a dish around a secret ingredient — pickled watermelon rind, of all things — not revealed until moments before competition began.

The winner was Lopopolo. He wowed the judges with red snapper served over a bed of cheesy grits topped with an avocado relish mixed with a bit of watermelon rind. A side salad also was topped with a sliver of the sweet rind. Delicious.

All the chefs created incredible dishes, so it was hard to pick a winner. I can’t wait till next year.

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