Menu of Menus® 2014

Lots of food and lots of fans.

Menu of Menus®

Urban harvest will have a cajun theme for the kickoff of its new location.

Silver Street Station had a lot of new things going on forMenu of Menus®this year. Air conditioning, for one, had people happy to be inside eating warm comfort food from spots likeFrank's Americana RevivalandFish & the Knife. There was a lovely photography show up on the walls as part ofFotoFest. There were new restaurants like VERTS, Heights General StoreandNaradebuting their food for Houstonians, some of whom had never tried it.

But one thing remained the same: Kevin Naderi, chef of Roost, won the competition this year for the third time in a row.

Kevin Naderi works on a dish at Menu of Menus.
Kaitlin Steinberg
Kevin Naderi works on a dish at Menu of Menus.
Kevin Bryant shows some knife skills.
Marco Torres
Kevin Bryant shows some knife skills.

The competition, emceed by Randy Evans of Haven, was fierce — it wasn't clear what Naderi was making until the very end of the 45-minute time limit, while Kevin Bryant, chef of Eleven XI, was very transparent about what he was preparing. In the end, though, Naderi edged out Bryant with his use of the secret ingredient, citrus. The judges all agreed that Naderi put the ingredient to use better than Bryant did, though Bryant's incorporation of the twist ingredient, bananas, with a pistachio mole was masterful.

So Naderi took home the title and the lron Fork (quite a heavy trophy), while Eleven XI's general manager, Joe Welborn, said he'd be working with Eeyore the rest of the week, referring to Bryant's sadness at having been beaten.

For the first course, Naderi served up a simple citrus salad with chile powder, olive oil, radishes, celery and grapes. It was a lovely dish to look at and a great way to showcase the secret ingredient. Bryant made ceviche that he cured in the citrus juice and topped with his signature "caviar" — little rounds of citrus that emulated fish eggs in the way they popped in your mouth.

Next, Naderi made chicken wings with a lemon jalapeño glaze, while Bryant prepared pork wrapped in bacon and stuffed with lemony kale. In this round, Naderi's wings were the clear winner, since they came out hotter and had a wonderfully complex flavor.

For the third course, both chefs had to incorporate bananas into a dish, which sounds nearly impossible for a savory item. I say nearly impossible, because they both did it, though neither banana offering was great. Naderi prepared rockfish on a bed of sliced bananas and a citrusy cream sauce, while Bryant cooked the bananas slightly and served them with quail in a pistachio mole. All the judges agreed: The mole and bananas worked much better than the rockfish and bananas.

The chefs weren't required to make a fourth course, but Naderi did. He attempted to make a dessert using a biscuit in a chai tea and citrus broth and topped with Greek yogurt. He should have stopped at three courses.

Still, the competition was close. For each of the judges, the scores came down to about one point separating Naderi from Bryant, and we had to hand it to the chef of Roost for his inventive dishes and use of citrus.

Elsewhere, the chefs and restaurateurs of the nearly 50 invited restaurants were celebrating the huge crowds and unlimited free wine, beer and cocktails. Each attendee was given a token to vote for his or her favorite restaurant based on the dishes each eatery was serving, and I hear the competition was steep.

Favorites included crawfish étouffée from The Cajun Stop, lobster rolls from Maine-ly Sandwiches and a daring squid dish from Nara. There could only be one winner, though, and the restaurant with the most votes from the crowd was Ciao Bello, which served individual tortellini-style pasta bites with a bolognese sauce and freshly grated Parmesan. It's very appropriate that Ciao Bello won, too, as the No. 1 dish on my list of 100 favorites this year came from that restaurant.

Congrats to Kevin Naderi and Ciao Bello for their big wins, and thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the amazing food we have here in Houston.

Top 10

Top 10 Oatmeal Cookies in Houston
Just like Grandma makes.

Molly Dunn

While some kids sulked at the sight of an oatmeal cookie in their lunchbox, I rejoiced. I love the chewiness that oats add to a cookie, and I can't get enough of it.

Oatmeal cookies are comforting, sweet and simply a joy to eat. Brown sugar and butter hold together the flour and tender oats to create textural complexity. Classic recipes stick with raisins, while others think outside of the box and throw in a multitude of ingredients, like nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, coconut and even crushed cereal. Here in Houston we can find cookies just about everywhere we go. So to help you find the tastiest oatmeal cookies, here are ten you must try.

10. Central Market

For those who enjoy a citrus ingredient in their oatmeal cookies, might we suggest the orange-cranberry oatmeal cookies from Central Market? You get six in a container, each bursting at the seams with sweet-tart cranberries. The cookie has a slight hint of orange, which balances nicely with the oats, brown sugar and cranberries.

9. Dessert Gallery

Dessert Gallery offers a wide variety of treats, but the oatmeal raisin cookies are a sweet treat you can't resist. You can taste the brown sugar in each bite of these large oatmeal raisin cookies. Each is loaded with oats, but you might have to search for the raisins. You'll be a happy camper once you find the soft, sugary raisins.

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