Wine dinners are a great opportunity to enjoy many different wines paired with food. The same goes for beer dinners. Now imagine a beer and wine dinner, where one of each is paired with every course. That's like the pairing dinner of the pairing dinner world. Travaasa Austin did just that recently and "kicked it up a notch," as Emeril Lagasse would say, by bringing their executive chef and some of Houston's most beloved chefs together to create a farm-to-table dinner to benefit Urban Harvest, the organization that hosts two weekly farmers' markets and "promotes healthy communities, sound nutrition and respect for the environment by educating children and adults and facilitating harvest and habitat gardens."
The dinner consisted of one course each from chefs Ben Baker of Travaasa Austin, Kevin Bryant of Eleven XI, Jon Buchanan of Trevisio and Ryan Hildebrand of Triniti. Brew pairings came from Buffalo Brewing Co., and the wines were sourced from all over. The meal raised $5,000 for Urban Harvest; evidently, Houstonians are more than happy to eat and drink for a good cause. And why wouldn't they be? Everybody wins when you eat and drink for charity.
Chef Ben Baker shone with his first course, a colorful arrangement of collard rolls with marinated zucchini noodles, green onion, roasted beets, cilantro, mint, orange-blossom dressing and poached fuyu persimmons. The herbs and produce were so fresh that they tasted as if they had been picked minutes prior to being served. None of the produce came from too far away -- it was sourced from Atkinson Farms, Cloudstone Farms, Plant it Forward Farm, Lightsey Farm, Sturdivant Farms and Utility Research Garden. Buffalo Bayou's clean, refreshing and smooth Watermelon Wit was the perfect pairing for the farm-fresh dish. The 2011 Care Tinto Roble that the dish was also paired with was a fabulous Spanish blend, but its intensity competed with the course.
Pan-seared gulf snapper bouillabaisse with sautéed kale, pickled elephant garlic and saffron aioli served as the second course, prepared by chef Jon Buchanan. While his main ingredients were from local sources -- Airline Seafood, Animal Farm, Atkinson Farms, Gunderman Acres, Knopp Branch Farm and Texas Hill Country Olive Oil -- the saffron aioli gave the fragrant and delicious dish a lovely international flair.
This time, it was the beer's hop-iness (More Cowbell) that overpowered the dish, while the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir out of Oregon's Willamette Valley paired really nicely with the local food. One of the beauties of a beer-and-wine-pairing dinner is that you can choose to drink one or the other, depending on which you like best, or drink both of them if that floats your boat.
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Ryan Hildebrand's main course of roast quail from Texas Quail Project and Conservation with autumn squash Stuffing, pumpkin "tofu," onion petals and spiced demi made from the bounty of Atkinson Farms and Gunderman Acres was a highlight of the evening. Never would I have imagined that you could take all of the flavors of the fall holiday season and condense them into an adorable ten-bite main dish. And though they're completely different types of alcohol, Smoke on the Bayou and Care Crianza both served as great pairings for the main attraction; their spicy notes rounded out the Thanksgiving flavors.
Eleven XI's Kevin Bryant ended the dinner with a duo of pound cakes -- zucchini and carrot with produce from Atkinson Farms -- accompanied by goat cheese-mascarpone (cheese from Blue Heron Farms) house-made nitro ice cream and Texas honeycomb from Big Creek Farms. No element of the fall-flavored dessert was excessively sweet, a welcome way to end a hearty harvest dinner. Paired with Polvaro Tenuta Dulcis sweet wine from Italy, my wine went to waste, as the ever-so-slight sweetness of the dessert was more than enough for me. By that time, I had long forgotten that the dinner was a benefit for Urban Harvest, and not the diners.