Chef Jason Bangerter of Luma offers up lobster sliders.

For the last few years, President’s Choice has hosted the 1000 Tastes food festival as part of Luminato. This event rounded up local restaurants, who in turn, offered a sampling of their culinary magic for the hungry hordes in exchange for tickets (at $5 apiece). With regular shift-changes over two days, there was always a lot to see and try. It was a fun way to spend a few hours with friends, strolling and sampling. But this year was different.

Based on previous 1000 Tastes events, I’d timed my arrival at 5pm on Saturday to cover two shifts, guessing that there’d be a rotation at 6pm. When my first pass over the two blocks (John Street between Adelaide and Wellington) took about 10 minutes, I was a bit perturbed at so few stations. But I was truly aggrieved (demanding, aren’t I?) when I discovered that the vendors were also static this year! That meant less than 20 restaurants were participating in total, making this the smallest 1000 Tastes that I’d attended. To add salt to the wound, by 6pm (with another 3 hours scheduled to go!) at least a few restaurateurs had already wrapped up operations. I’d have been more disappointed if I’d needed to do more than just roll down the street.

That being said, I ended up attending both days anyway since I had madeleines on the brain.

Woodlot‘s glazed chocolate madeleines were the reason for my return to 1000 Tastes on Sunday. Though I managed to score two loaves of bread for the price of one ticket as they wrapped up their Saturday, I missed out on everything else. Taking the first bite through the sweet and crunchy shell of glaze and down to the chocolatey goodness of airy cake made me crave a cappuccino. The madeleine was worth returning for, even without the caffeine accompaniment. I also snagged a sandwich of prosciutto, goat cheese, pickled fennel and cucumber, dill, and apples. Thought the apples went well with the goat cheese, but I would have preferred something milder and creamier. I’m just nit-picking though, it was a good sandwich overall.

But my absolute favourite thing of the entire festival (also from Woodlot) was this pistachio ice-cream float with a house-made lemon-ginger soda. A marinated cherry topped the paper straw. Really great flavours and a neat concept made this a very cool treat.

Luma had lobster sliders on offer. With marinated and compressed cucumber, fried onions, and mayo. Though small, this was a tasty snack. The fried onions added a really nice crunch and the lobster smelled so intense.

From Khao San Road, the pork belly “chiang mai style” sausage was good but very heavy on the lemongrass. Decent snap to the casing. The freshness of the papaya salad complemented the sausage. “Dry” khao soi with braised beef shank and a sweet mango on sticky rice (with coconut milk) were the other dishes on offer. All of these were accompanied by a cup of Thai iced tea. One of the better deals for your ticket.

Wasabi mayo on one side and Japanese curry on the other of this Kobe beef hot dog from EDO. I thought the Japanese curry topping was pretty tasty. The sausage was juicy, but I couldn’t actually say I tasted the difference.

We were one of the last to get pies after 9pm on Saturday at Queen Margarita Pizza. Very cool they had the wood-burning oven set up. A whole pie was 2 tickets and easily shared. The smell was so enticing while we were waiting. I could have done with more basil on my pizza, but it’s a minor complaint. While I enjoyed it, it just made me want to visit QMP proper. Which, I guess, is the point.

Champion oyster shucker Patrick McMurray of Starfish does his thing. While I didn’t partake, 6 oysters for your ticket was one of the great deals at the festival – as evidenced by the long lines and the fact that he’d sold out on both days. I read online that he’d sold over 2000 oysters over the weekend. That’s a lot of shuckin’.

Milagro had chicken tinga and cochinita tacos on offer. They were out of the tinga when I got up to the front of the line. The pulled pork was really oily and messy to eat, which was a bit of a detractor. I really enjoyed the pickled spicy onions, however.

Another good deal was Dufflet‘s tart and brownie combo.

I love Delight’s mint chocolate chip ice cream and will be making a point to eat it again this summer. At 1000 Tastes, they had Ontario strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla up on offer.

As a side-note, the ice cream vendors were somewhat ignored by the crowd. I noticed this for both Delight and Jedd’s Frozen Custard. On the other hand, both Poutini‘s and Chippy’s had a perpetually long line ups. I like them just fine, but I couldn’t figure out why everyone was going nuts over them. Lee was offering their staple cheeseburger spring roll (with a spicy crispy tofu as a vegetarian option). Cruda Cafe I saw briefly on Saturday, Aravind was there all weekend, and I didn’t see Rendez-vous at all.

Sunday afternoon had a better atmosphere than Saturday evening – things felt more lively and there were fewer empty tables (or almost-empty tables). But with the reduced number of vendors, 1000 Tastes shrank from (I’m guessing) 60+ options and being a 2-3 hour event, to something that you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than an hour at.

I also think the event also suffered from its location. Missing the warmth of Queen’s Park, the John Street venue came off as a little cold and oddly set up with all the vendors on one side of the street and no ready places to sit and eat. But what I really missed was the vendor rotation. I’m sure it’s a big pain to organize, but it really made things more interesting. Though I would have been happy with no rotation and just more vendors.

I’ve had a lot of fun at past 1000 Tastes and will that they can turn things around for next year.