Slideshow: Our Top Ten Bites from Taste of the Nation 2013

Tru's maitake mushroom chip
Tru's maitake mushroom chip
Tru wins the award for the most beautiful and intricate presentation of the evening. Maitake mushroom tapioca chips with mushroom purée were served atop logs that the mushrooms actually grow on, according to Executive Chef Anthony Martin. Oxalis greens sprinkled on top add a surprising sourness once you bite into the flowers.
Spiaggia's Venetian grilled calamari
Spiaggia's Venetian grilled calamari
This Venetian grilled calamari salad appears on Spiaggia's current pasta tasting menu with the addition of corzetti. Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg makes calamari en saor with a smoky eggplant purée, made by throwing eggplants in the coals, then puréeing the meat with olive oil, honey and lemon zest. "I always use honey over sugar," Grueneberg says. "There's just more flavor." Pine nuts, currants, fava beans and a mizuna garnish top it off.
The Bristol's smoked carrot salad
The Bristol's smoked carrot salad
Chef Chris Pandel crafted a delightful vegetarian offering for The Bristol— a smoked carrot salad with barley, fried kale chips and sumac yogurt and black olive. Pandel simply cooked the barley with a little rice wine vinegar for a refreshing summer base to this exotic salad.
Signature Room at the 95th's grilled baby octopus
Signature Room at the 95th's grilled baby octopus
Executive Chef Rosalia Barron from the Signature Room at the 95th delivered one of the most complex dishes of the night with superb execution. Baby octopus was grilled to tender perfection, then presented with an assortment of vegetables— heirloom tomatoes, hearts of palm and artichoke hearts. A bacon vinaigrette and crispy purple potato curls added a little fat and crunch to the equation.
Bar Pastoral's smoked pork rillette
Bar Pastoral's smoked pork rillette
Chef Chrissy Camba's smoked pork rillettes on soft cornbread was one of the heartiest offerings of the evening, courtesy of Bar Pastoral. Blueberry chutney and crème fraîche added a little lightness to the meaty dish. Five-year aged Gouda was grated on top to finish it off. Worth every bit of stomach space it took up.
HotChocolate's grilled chicken gizzards
HotChocolate's grilled chicken gizzards
Let's be honest, HotChocolate is known for their desserts, not their savory items, but both were on display at the event tonight. Although Pastry Chef/Owner Mindy Segal was the event's 2013 honoree, Executive Chef Dennis Stover stole the show with his grilled chicken gizzards (fatty, and a little tougher than chicken meat) served along compressed melon and hot wax chili vin, the most adventurous dish I tried.
State and Lake Tavern's brownie ice cream sandwiches
State and Lake Tavern's brownie ice cream sandwiches
Pastry Chef Toni Roberts from State and Lake Chicago Tavern knew my weakness: ice cream sandwiches. And she delivered with a stellar rendition of fudge brownies filled with a coconut-milk chocolate ice cream sprinkled with toasted coconut. The brownies were soft and rich enough so as not to be messy to bite into, and the lighter ice cream flavor was a refreshing contrast.
HMPC's DIY pie
HMPC's DIY pie
Paula Haney, owner of Hoosier Mama Pie Company, allowed guests to create DIY pies, choosing crust, filling and an assortment of toppings to make pies that might not be found in stores. This was the most interactive of the food offerings and Haney brought plenty of pie crusts. The first of my creations was a kaffir lime cream pie in a chocolate cookie crust topped with candied orange peel, fresh blueberries and blackberries, chocolate chips and a drizzle of Templeton caramel sauce.
Another HMPC pie
Another HMPC pie
I had to come back for seconds and try a passion fruit curd pie in a classic dough crust with blueberries, lemon zest and chocolate sauce, with a dollop of crème fraîche.