The third annual Big Taste of Houston benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters took place Sunday night. For the third year in a row, KPRC 2 News’ Rachel McNeill presided over the festivities. Celebrity food judge Adam Goldberg (Twitter: @Lifewortheating) also returned for the third year running, flying in to Houston for a day to attend the event for one evening before Drift Magazine, of which he is editor-in-chief, goes to print.
As in years past, some of Houston’s best chefs and restaurants were in attendance — 19 restaurants and four dessert places — presenting food for the audience to sample while being judged by a panel, which included Goldberg, chef and restauranteur Robert del Grande of RDG + Bar Annie, former NFL player Chester Pitts, and former Little Brother and co-owner of Cousins Maine Lobster, Sabin Lomac. There were also libations a-plenty, among them, Pisco Porton, Dripping Springs Vodka, Casa Noble Tequila, Crown Royal Rye, Becker Winery, Karbach Brewing Company, and more.
Title sponsor Audi Central Houston, which donated an Audi Q5 for auction at last year’s event, hosted this year’s function at its beautiful new digs off of Southwest Freeway and Greenbriar. A 2015 Audi A3 was also donated this year, and raffled off (raffle tickets were available for purchase at $100 a pop) at the end of the event to one lucky winner.
The mood was festive as the event kicked off, with live music and Cirque du Soleil-garbed entertainers mixing and mingling among guests (there was a turquoise blue woman on stilts, and a hot pink woman wearing a Cinderella-type ball gown). The Rockets game was on at the start of the evening, so many were gathered around the TV watching. By the time the game ended, people were partying in full force. The band was rockin' it out, cocktails were flowing, and oh, the food.
Though it was a friendly competition, you could tell that the restaurants and chefs in attendance all wanted to win. Premium ingredients and creativity came into play in the form of an Axis Venison Tartare topped with quail egg, fried caper, and thin sliver of fresh black truffle at the Frank’s Americana Revival table helmed by Colin Shine.
One of my personal favorites of the night was the lobster watermelon salad by John Sikhattana of Straits Restaurant in CityCentre who described his dish as “Compressed watermelon topped with lobster, Singaporean laksa curry tapioca, and then a jalapeno vinaigrette on the top.” The flavors, temperature and textures were such a delight, I indulged in three.
Mark Cox of Mark’s American Cuisine had rosy-centered ovals of wagyu sirloin, roasted peppers, steak vinaigrette, and balsamic. Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti had a corn panna cotta. Cory Xiong of Mala Sichuan Bistro was on hand with flank steak with chiles and Sichuan peppercorn. Joe Cervantes of Killen's Steakhouse had cubes of barbecue pork served atop blue cheese ravioli.
Over at the Radio Milano table, Jose Hernandez was doing a stuffed quail leg, but not the run of the mill variety. “It’s stuffed with duck and foie gras sausage, and served over red cabbage with huckleberry sauce,” said Hernandez of his beautiful plates.
Another standout for the night was Chris Leung of Cloud 10 Creamery’s delectable goat cheese sundae, which tasted like a cold and whisper light goat cheesecake. To make it, a lightly sweetened goat cheese ice cream was served over pickled cherries, milk chocolate, and whip cream, drizzled with honey, and topped with a cracker-sized sugar-crusted puff pastry.
“I saw one guy holding six baskets,” said Uchi Houston's John Gross apologetically, when I arrived to an empty table with no food left. “We made 600 portions, and we normally never run out,” said Gross, whose team had been serving a 72-hour short rib with pickled fennel, rhubarb and foie gras curry. Indeed, by the time 6 o’clock came (the event started at 4:30 p.m.), more than half of the booths had run out of food.
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Chris Williams of Lucille’s was serving just a soupy shrimp because he’d run out of grits. Mockingbird Bistro was wiped clean, as was KUU Restaurant, which purportedly had one of the strongest offerings of the night, a chilean sea bass wrapped with bacon served with pan-seared sea scallop. Paul’s Kitchen and Cousins Maine Lobster truck also ran completely out of food.
In the end, Dish Society swept all three categories — Judge’s Choice, Best Overall, and People’s Choice — for Albert Vasquez’ crispy Black Hill Ranch pork belly served with ancho-chile cured honeydew melon and coconut-lime gastrique. "We had a great group of judges," said Goldberg, when asked what he thought of the result. "For the final decision, our group taste-tested our top entries twice." Congratulations to Dish Society for their incredible win, and to the Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston chapter for another successful event.