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March 16, 2006

Remember when you were a kid and you'd see the cake your mom (or your dad) made for dinner and wonder aloud, "Why can't we have dessert first?"

The parental response was probably along the lines of "It'll spoil your appetite."

The debate could move on to, "But they always have dessert first in China?" (Is there any truth to that at all?)

Then, "But we don't live in China."

"But, but... " And so on and so forth.

Now that you're grown up, you make your own rules and only common sense stands in the way of eating dessert first or nothing but dessert -- that and your adherence to basic dining etiquette rules laying out the order of courses in a meal.

Those rules may fly right out the door (along with any sort of diet you might be following) next Thursday, when you attend Eureka Main Street's exercise in culinary temptation, A Taste of Main Street. They've lined up 22 restaurants and/or guest chow purveyors in non-food businesses to offer "tastes" of this, that and the other.

How should you approach a feast with 22 courses laid out in random fashion? Mary Smith of Eureka Main Street says there are no rules. "There's basically no method to the madness. You can do it however you want. There's one group of ladies who go together every year; they get together and map out a route. Then we have people who just open the ticket book and follow the order by location. Some start on the outside of the district and work their way to Old Town."

The Journal offers this suggested route for the sophisticated diner who wants to approach the tasting adventure in a more proper fashion. Of course you'd want to start with appetizers, or as they describe them at Hurricane Kate's, "hors d'oeuvres with a twist." There are more next door in the lobby of the Vance Hotel, where North Coast Co-op offers hors d'oeuvres, canapés and, since you need something healthy to wash it down, juice.

Moving on to the cheese course, you head for Cotton Works for some Loleta Cheese, then over to Plaza Design for assorted goat-milk cheeses from Cypress Grove Chevre.

Time for another drink: A splash of Lost Coast Brewery Beer at the Lost Coast Brewery & Café, where they also have chips and salsa. Or if you're worried about mixing beverages, you could skip the beer and head for the wine. They're pouring Riverbend Cellars 2000 Resolute Red and Fieldbrook Winery 2004 Sauvignon Blanc at Art of Wine, in the same building as Roy's Club, where they have fresh-baked bread dipped in Roy's Basil Vinaigrette.

This leads into the soup course at Los Bagels (they also have bagels), and then the salad from Curley's Grill, set up in the Eureka location of their Ferndale neighbors The Blacksmith Shop, to dish out Curley's famous Caesar salad.

Moving toward the main course, we stop at Smug's Pizza for a bit of a slice, and pocket a cookie for later. Then it's down to Organically Delicious for some wholesome vegetarian chili and, in the same neighborhood, deep-fried prawns dipped in cocktail sauce at Gallagher's Irish Pub, and chicken tostaditas across the street at Chapala Café.

Now we're getting serious. We walk back to The Linen Closet, where Mad River Farm (the jam folks) have a spread including pulled pork with blackberry pomegranate chipotle sauce, corn cakes with jalapeno jelly and shortbread cookies spread with their lemon curd.

You might want to hop on the shuttle for your trip to Bless My Soul Café, the furthest out venue, where Sweet Mama Janisse is dishing out little BBQ pork ribs and casting a spell with her mysterious "voodoo pudding."

Yes, it's finally time for dessert. Ramone's Bakery and Café has chocolate decadence torte, pistachio cranberry biscotti and coffee to keep you going. Marie Callender's is set up at Shoreline Gallery with assorted pies. Maybe you could take your piece over to Bon Boniere and go ala mode with some of their ice cream, or to Restoration Hardware, where Humboldt Creamery is dishing out more frozen goodness.

More coffee? There's Starbucks, where they also have cookies and pastries. Or Old Town Coffee and Chocolates, where, as you might expect, they have chocolate: fudge, truffles and dipped cherries.

And if that dipped cherry makes you want more, you can finish up at Avalon, where the chocolate fountain will be flowing, ready to dip whatever's on the table, or even that cookie you saved from Smug's.

As mentioned briefly above, to facilitate traversing the wide area included in the tour, there will be several buses circling through town. Smith explains, "The shuttle takes people from Bless My Soul Café, to Starbucks, to Plaza Design, then it goes down to the Lost Coast Brewery/Avalon area to let people off in Old Town. It picks people up there to take them down to Chapala, Gallagher's and Organically Delicious. It's basically a big loop with a shuttle every 15 minutes."

Since the tasting event is a prelude to the Redwood Coast Jazz Festival, there's jazz involved. At 5:30 by the Gazebo (weather permitting), the Lindy-hopping dancers from Rhythmically Challenged swing their partners. Nice 'N' Easy plays throughout the evening in the lobby of the Vance. There's a jazz combo at Avalon, and Old Town Coffee has Mr. Calamari, the jazzy version of Dr. Squid.

Your ticket book also gets you reduced admission to the Big Band Dance at the Adorni later that evening (7-10 p.m.), where you can dance off the many tastes with Blue Street Jazz Band, aka "The Bad Boys of Dixieland." You also get $2 off admission to Indigo (8:30-11:30 p.m.), where they have Dixieland jazz by the young Canadian band 51st Eight and conguero Mario Flores and his Latin Jazz Band playing a style he calls "tropo-boppo." Plus, if you've already paid at the Adorni, you're in at Indigo (and vice versa).

And for one more choice in après Taste entertainment, there's The Playhouse, a classic silent movie by Buster Keaton showing at the Eureka Theatre (7:30 and 8:30) with a live soundtrack supplied by the Humboldt Ragtime Band.

The 14th Annual A Taste of Main Street runs from 5-8 p.m. next Thursday, March 23, rain or shine. Tickets are $22, which, as Ms. Smith points out is, "a buck a venue -- a good deal!" Tickets are available at all four Ramone's locations, at The Linen Closet or at the Eureka Main Street office, 442-9054.


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