A night out with Natural Delights

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by Gina Melton of Zest in order to extend an invitation to a Holiday Party sponsored by Bard Valley Natural Delights and taking place in one of the most popular spots in South Tampa right now, Pane Rustica.

I did not have to be asked twice, I accepted so fast, I think I did not give her a chance to say another word.

My first impression of Pane Rustica was that it was cozy and was bigger than I had imagined.  They are known for Contemporary American style cuisine and are very popular with the lunch crowd.  At night it elevates its casual lunch atmosphere for fine dining and a great wine selection along with a hopping full bar.

The hosted walked me to a private dining room, where I started to mingle with my fellow bloggers who I have met before and some who I was looking forward to meeting for the first time.  Isabel from Family Foodie, Cara and Megan from Healthy Tampa Bay Living, Mr. Jeff Houck from TBO’s The Stew (love this guy!), Tracy from My Other City by the Bay, Elizabeth from Food Nation Radio Network, Nina From Panache Vue magazine, Jim from Gastroblog and Jodi from HashtagFoodPorn.

This was a serious crowd and I was delighted to share a Wednesday night in their company.

Since the night was dedicated to showcasing Natural Delight’s Medjool dates, they wasted no time in passing out some mouthwatering appetizers.  First up, was the Mascarpone, Lavender & Almond stuffed Date.  They were truly one of a kind, plump, and filled with the creamy Mascarpone, these little bites were a big hit, even to those that never tasted dates before.

And because the mighty date never travels alone, the next appetizer was the favorite for me that night – behold the Grilled Prosciutto wrapped goat cheese stuffed Date.

Yes, they looked that good, and tasted A-MA-ZING!  I had to stop myself from actually grabbing the plate and hiding in a corner to gobble them up before anyone else got their hands on them.

We were then given a great demonstration by Debbie Frangipane of Dolce Debbie in how to make risotto, with lots of great tips and tricks. 

Then it was time for a quick taste, the creamy texture of the risotto was perfect for the Medjool dates, walnuts and watercress pairing – a perfect vegetarian dish.

After a quick welcome by our host Gina, we took our seats and the family style entrees started to appear.

To refresh our palates, the Date, Orange and Marcona Almonds over baby arugula, with the white balsamic vinaigrette hit the spot with me.  For some unexplained reason this salad reminded me of my mom.  She makes this great orange salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and this salad was a very close second to hers.

The Pumpkin Ravioli with Medjool dates, cured olives, dried cranberries dressed in a sage, brown butter made an appearance next. 

Then came the Pork rack stuffed with Medjool dates and sage.  Besides the before mentioned grilled prosciutto, this was my second favorite of the night.  First the racks were HUGE! And the filling of dates with sage was just the right amount of sweet to the spicy crispy-crusted coating of the pork.

And who does not like a side plate of French Bean Almandine with Medjool dates and toasted almonds?  They were all sorts of good.

Of course a great night full of good food cannot come to a close without a great sweet ending.  The finale was composed of a flaky strudel filled with spiced apples pistachios and Medjool dates.  I’m sad to say, that this was my least favorite, it just needed something extra and I’m thinking a nice cool cream would have been such a good pairing with this – or maybe even a simple scoop of French vanilla ice cream would have taken this sweet dessert to a very deserving encore.

With our bellies stuffed and our heads filled with ideas, we took our leave, but not before being surprised with a nice little gift bag from our sponsor.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this holiday party event to learn more about Medjool dates. While there, we were treated to food and a cooking demo. All opinions about the event and food are 100% my own and I was not requested to write about the event by all vendors involved.