I love events that combine food, wine, and a competitive spirit.

Last night I attended the 9th annual Greatest Caesar Salad competition, sponsored by the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food. The event pitted six of Denver’s better restaurants against each other; The Palm, Elway’s, Opus, Oceanaire, Panzano, and McCormick & Schmick’s all presented their Caesar salad and one appetizer. The guests sampled each of them while sipping wines and bidding on food-and-wine-themed silent auction items (wine baskets, winery tours, cookbooks).

Each person was given a judging sheet an asked to choose the best in three categories: Best Caesar, Best Appetizer, and Best Presentation. The end results for the entire event weren’t announced last night before we left, but for our table, at least, it was unanimous.

Best Caesar: Oceanaire. They had the perfect combination of crisp romaine, freshly shredded parmesan, a good garlic-lemon bite to the creamy dressing and fabulous croutons. They were also the only restaurant that offered fresh ground pepper on every serving.

Best Appetizer: The Palm. Their crab cakes were divine. Chock full of chunky crab bits, perfectly seasoned and just a bit browned around the edges. Delish.

Best Presentation: Opus. Chef Michael Long took the scenic route around the Caesar salad, serving up a nontraditional version. His Thai Caesar was gorgeous though, with two perfect Romaine leaves wrapped in rice paper and stuffed with crab meat and Caesar dressing, topped with a drizzle of spicy-sweet Thai sauce. Was it a true Caesar salad? That’s questionable. But it was by all means the best looking plate of the night.