Tastebuds is a local collection of foodies in the Fresno area. An off-shoot of Taste Fresno and organized by Alisa Manjarrez (@alisa_m_) Tastebuds has become a loose confederation; semi-organized to eat together every 8 weeks or so. I use confederation specifically, because we, the independent foodies and bloggers, look to Alisa to organize and develop the program, but we are free to leave the group or not participate at any time. There are no meetings, no dues, no schedule. Each of the regulars often participates or hosts his/her own gatherings independent of Tastebuds.
While the history and organization of the group is important, the recent events of Tastebuds are more intriguing. Within the last year, Alisa organized the confederation for a brunch of dim sum, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, Breakfast for Dinner, and Russian and Spanish themed potlucks. She also, perhaps knowingly, got local foodies to talk to each other face-to-face not under the guise of blogs or twitter.
Brunch at Imperial Garden, while I did not attend, is close to my heart. Dim sum is not easy to find in Fresno. By my calculation, there might be two, maybe three places that serve well prepared dim sum in Fresno. For those that have never had dim sum for brunch, you're missing out. I lived in The Richmond District of San Francisco for 8 years where dim sum flourishes, dozens of places within blocks. I recall many a Saturday morning walking 3 blocks to Ton Kiang for deep fried whole prawns, soft shell crabs in black bean sauce, hot tea, and two Excedrin as medication for the night before. Nothing cures a hangover better than dim sum.
I have never been to Ethiopia. I have never been to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Thanks Alisa for putting the group together. There still is a grand total of one (there are two, thanks readers) Ethiopian restaurant in Fresno, Lucy's Lair. But for how long? (Before you write me hate mail, just be honest with yourself and the Fresno restaurant scene before you write me. That location is ripe for a Mexican-American restaurant, because it already has a Me N' Ed's, no lunch business, 360 degrees of residential and perfect for take-out...can anyone say Sal's, Antonio's, Don Pepe, or Robertito's? Cutting edge Ethiopian is not what Fresno families want after a long day at work and taking kids home from football and soccer practice. Kids want pizza, burritos and chicken fingers. I haven't heard the kids go cuckoo for Kosta and Doro Wat. Hey Downtown/Tower advocates, Lucy's is a natural restaurant for the scene south of Shaw, not north of Shepherd in tract home city)
Let's face it, there is no such thing as Russian food in Fresno, unless it's cooked by a Russian grandmother. Again, we have Alisa to thank for the confederation getting together to cook Russian food. I can tell you from experience after traveling to Russia, having Prussian grandparents, and living in The Richmond (huge immigrant Russian population), Russian food takes a backseat to my Italian heritage when it comes to cuisine. However, kudos to Alisa for giving it a whirl with the group and getting Fresnans to experience a cuisine they might never otherwise try.
This leads me to our last event, Tastebuds Spanish night, held just last weekend. Spanish food is nothing new to Fresno. There has (past tense) been several restaurants dedicated to hard-core Spanish cuisine. La Paella was probably the most popular of the Spanish restaurants in Fresno and I was a regular guest. But all of the Spanish restaurants have failed in Fresno. Why? Probably a combination of reasons, but most likely bad management and relatively inconsistent food and service. Bummer, because I'd love to take in more Spanish cuisine. One step backward.
Once again, I thank Alisa for arranging and giving a small group of foodies their "fix" for Spanish cuisine. Shylene, a regular participant, made two outstanding paellas directly on the grill. I saw Spanish wine and beer on the table, plenty of cheese, and a wonderful dessert made by Alisa in a Spanish-inspired style. I personally cased 6-feet of sausage for the event (with a shout out to Mike Shackleford at Trelio for giving me some hog casing) Our host for the evening, Pamela, was also very gracious allowing the confederation to come into her home. One step forward.
While at the recent Spanish themed Tastebuds, I spoke with several foodies about the next Tastebuds dinner and of course, gastronomic pursuits in Fresno. Some were pissed off that the tri-tip cookoff wasn't happening, while at the same time were looking forward to this week and the Taco Truck Throwdown. One step backward, one step forward.
The Greek Festival, happening that same night as Tastebuds Spanish, has been a fixture in Fresno for years. Name one Greek restaurant in Fresno? You can't. You can however name several Armenian restaurants, but they're not the same. One step forward, one step back.
We spoke about Limon, the one and only Peruvian restaurant in town. Are their days numbered? How much in rent do they pay? Do Fresnans understand what Peruvian food is and do they care? One step forward...for now.
Wassabi. Great marketing but how many rolls on the menu contain spicy sauce and have some deep fried element to them? The sushi purist at the table Matt (@custom_drywall) rolled his eyes in disgust at the Americanization of sushi at Wassabi. I tend to agree with Matt. If the fish is fresh, it doesn't need spicy sauces, breading, and 18 other ingredients to taste good. The step forward is a greater supply of fresh fish in Fresno, the perverted step backward...I can't taste the freshness over all that f'ing sriracha mayo!
What about The Venue? Nighclub yet?
The Schoolhouse? Worth the drive?
Lela's where Parma used to be on Herndon and Marks...what's the story there?
Cosmo's...when are they open for dinner?
What happened to those Kickstarter campaigns? Is there a timeline for those trucks coming on-line?
We discussed what Alisa is going to do next with Tastebuds (after she left of course). Luckily, Alisa's surrogate Oliver (@bitterasianguy) was there to take notes (NOT).
While I have enjoyed the Tastebuds food, I'm beginning to enjoy the conversation more and I hope it continues. Keep it up Alisa, we appreciate it...Tastebuds is taking one step forward.
And I stand corrected...there are two Ethopian restaurants in Fresno. Thank you readers