Public health officials will cringe to hear it, but raw meat and fish played a prominent role at Tuesday night’s 15th annual Epicurean Auction. Held to benefit Portland Ovations, which brings national shows and acts to Merrill Auditorium, the party at the concert hall brought out more than 250 supporters for an evening of food tasting and auction bidding.

All the money raised at the event goes to support Ovations Offstage, which offers free lectures and workshops to the community.

During the tasting portion of the evening, 14 restaurants served up small plates and finger foods, and tartare and ceviche seemed to be on tap at every other table.

David Turin, the chef/owner of David’s and David’s 388, gave guests a Pacific Rim tuna tartare. Havana South head chef Joe Boudreau offered a tuna ceviche. At The Grill Room table, servers Marga Hanson and Mary Fay served beef tartare made from Pineland Farms beef. And Bibo’s Madd Apple Cafe offered bites of a sake-marinated salmon tartare.

An apple pie salad from The Good Table gave a raw veggie balance to all the raw meat.

Those who preferred cooked dishes had ample choices, too.

Christopher Bassett, the executive chef of Azure Cafe, plated bite-sized pieces of honey-glazed duck, while Molly Basile, the chef/manager of Marche, offered mini braised beef sandwiches.

Grace gave guests lamb kabobs, 95 Ocean at The Nonatum Resort served beef tenderloin crostini, The Corner Room ladled out pasta and bean soup, The Front Room dished out grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and The Foreside Tavern plated chicken pot pie. Lobster could be found at the 157 Cafe at the Eastland Park Hotel table, which served it as a stew, and the Black Point Inn, which offered it in a ravioli.

“The reason we invite the restaurants is because our patrons usually go out to dinner before our shows,” Mary Campbell, Portland Ovations’ development director, told me. “Having them do little dishes keeps the ticket price affordable.”

Turin, who has participated in the event for at least a dozen years, couldn’t say whether or not guests at the party translate into new customers. But he did say being present at the event “helps people remember who you are. I see a lot of familiar faces.”

Janet Bowne, the chair of the Portland Ovations board, told me she was impressed with the turnout. “We’re up against the ‘Glee’ opener,” Bowne said.

Judging by the crowd, it looks like “Glee” fans took advantage of their DVRs for the night.

Once the food samples began to run out and the restaurateurs packed up their supplies, guests made their way into the auditorium and up onto the stage, where we sat at round tables and enjoyed Coffee by Design java and Dean’s Sweets hand-dipped truffles.

April Ylvisaker, who co-chaired the party with fellow board member Patti Roderick, invited me to sit at her table. Here I had the pleasure of chatting with Ylvisaker, her boyfriend, Jon Tardiff, his parents, Rick and Patty Tardiff, his brother Mike Tardiff and family friends Bill and Beth Becker.

It was an entertaining group, which I soon learned was also lucky in live auctions.

After we were all settled in, board members Felicia Knight and Mike Boyson took to the podium to add color and commentary, while auctioneer Gordie Holmes pushed the bids ever higher.

“I hope everyone had their fair share of wine,” Knight joked, when she picked up the microphone. “I’m a lot more entertaining if you’re good and liquored up.”

This quip got quite a laugh from the crowd.

First the auction team drew a raffle winner. Bethany Roberge‘s name emerged from the hat and she went home with an iPad and a $25 gift certificate for apps. Then Holmes got the auction under way.

The first item on the block was a jersey worn by former New England Patriots player Adam Vinatieri. When the hammer fell, Jon Tardiff had the top bid (and had to suffer much ribbing from his brother, who accused him of overpaying for “a shirt full of holes”). Later in the auction, Jon’s purchase led Knight to make a point of showing him a Springer’s Jewelers’ cuff bracelet and encouraging him to bid on it as a gift for Ylvisaker.

“She worked so hard on this auction,” Knight reminded him and the crowd, but, alas, the bracelet went to another home.

Bill Becker put in the winning bid for a pair of Liza Minnelli tickets and a backstage meet-and-greet with the artist after her performance this Wednesday. Other popular items up for bid included a private reception at the Thos. Moser gallery, a private tour of the Gateway Mastering Studio, a set of four Justin Bieber tickets and a dinner at the Cumberland County Jail (which caused Holmes to entice bidders by saying, “you might see someone you know”).

The auction’s priciest item, a limited edition silver cast statue called “Arabesque” by artist Rebecca Anelise Clark, was valued at $27,000. Rick and Patty Tardiff scored it with a bid of $3,900.

The sale price prompted Holmes to say, “That’s the greatest value I’ve ever seen at one of these sales.”

When I asked Patty what she planned to do with it, she said, “We’ll find a spot for it. It may move around.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com