LUCKYRICE, an itinerant Asian food festival by Danielle Chang that launched seven years ago, debuted for the first time in Houston Thursday night at The Astorian. It was hosted by Justin Yu of Oxheart Restaurant, who helped curate the list of presenting chefs and restaurants, and if there’s one thing the event confirmed, it’s that Asian food is universally loved by all.
Though many of the chefs and restaurants weren’t Asian per se, they were asked to be creative in showcasing Asian-inspired foods. To that end, the event featured the foods of Japan, Vietnam, India, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand and China.
Attendees gleefully slurped up bowls of hot ramen noodles by Samurai Noodle, feasted on handmade pan-fried pork buns with shrimp and chile oil by Sam Chang of Tea Ceremony, and waited in line patiently for plates of plump pork wontons drizzled with Vietnamese fish sauce by the owners of the upcoming Maba Restaurant in Midtown.
At the Great W’Kana Cafe stand, guests were instructed to pour a cilantro-lime tamarind shot into a small puffed pastry shell of Indian pani poori, before plopping it in their mouths.
Sashimi-style samplings were served up at KUU Restaurant by chef Adison Lee, who placed colorful plates of masu-viche, an ocean trout and vegetable-fruit ceviche topped with crispy salmon skin, atop a tabletop dais that had smokey wisps of liquid nitrogen spilling from it.
Meanwhile, Uchi Houston’s new chef de cuisine, Lance Gillum, and his team were rapidly plating a flounder sashimi with quino and olive oil, dubbed hirame usuzukuri for the style in which the fish was cut.
Chef Brandon Silva of Wooster’s Garden had a luxe take on sashimi. Perfectly cut pieces of pearlescent pink yellowtail sashimi were topped with a generous mound of sturgeon caviar. As if caviar weren’t enough, the bites were topped with freshly imported Italian black truffle and bone marrow cream.
One of the night’s standout offerings was the handmade duck confit caramelle by Bobby Matos of State of Grace. Small Italian dumplings shaped like candies were filled with duck confit and served atop a tangy sauce of kimchi puree and finished off with a few slivers of crispy fried garlic. “I’ve already gone through a thousand of these,” Matos lamented shortly after 8 p.m., when he was close to running out. “People have been coming back for seconds, thirds, fourths and even fifths!”
Other notable offerings included the Iberico consommé by Ryan Hildebrand and sous chef Nick Hill of Triniti Restaurant, which was loosely based on a Taiwanese dish that Hill grew up with. The delicate, fragrant consommé was poured over fried silky tofu, picked mustard greens, little chewy black sago (similar to tapioca), and a quail egg. The dish was the very definition of Asian fusion — a creative blend of contemporary Western technique incorporating Asian flavors and ingredients.
Cory Xiong of Mala Sichuan Bistro also had a great hit with traditional Chinese street food of Chengdu mini crepes, which were made à la minute by hand in a small pan. She offered a few different flavors, including a dessert flavor with peanuts that tasted a lot like a crispy peanut butter crepe.
And still there was more: Galinha a Africana chicken legs by Fat Rice of Chicago on behalf of the Macau Government Tourism Office offered a taste of Macau regional cuisine.
Cat Huynh of Les Ba’get wowed with square plates piled high with young jackfruit salad, accented with crispy toasted rice crackers.
Pondicheri’s Mary Cuclis served noodles with Indian cheese called paneer Rangoon. Gary Ly of Underbelly made a Vietnamese-syle beef jerky and rice paper salad called banh trang tron, which was served in small plastic bags. Omar Pereney of Peska Seafood Culture offered scoops of madai crudo, sea bream flavored with ginger, garlic, scallion, lime zest and topped with soy caviar.
Matthew Mui of Muiishi Makirritos food truck brought comfort with kakuni don, hot sushi rice topped with braised pork belly, finished off with fried leeks, spicy pickle and micro cilantro.
Jean-Philippe Gaston of Izakaya’s mazemen, made with fresh noodles with a garlic velouté and cured foie gras emulsion with sautéed chicken and wild mushrooms, was such a hit that it was one of the first stands to run out of food for the night.
Songkran Thai Kitchen's chef Jett Hurapan and his wife’s dessert offering of khao-neow deam (black sticky rice with taro, jackfruit and coconut cream) was also quick to go.
And that was just the food. One of the great things about the LUCKYRICE feast was the emphasis placed on libations. Asahi Beer complemented just about every single dish on offer. Bombay Sapphire Gin, a main sponsor of the event, kept guests happy with multiple drink stations featuring creative cocktails by some of Houston’s best mixologists.
The favorites included the Tokyo Pimm’s Cup by Wooster’s Garden, served by lady bartender Jessica Johnson; Realm of the Eastern Goddess by Kimberly Paul of Etoile; Traveling Plum by Justin Ware of Johnny’s Goldbrick; Lady Snow Pea by Akiko Hagio of Sanctuari Bar at Triniti; and the East Gin Silk Journey — all made with Bombay Sapphire East Gin.
A special American Express VIP Lounge also boasted a spin-the-wheel game with prizes and photo booth, further exemplifying the LUCKYRICE motto and hashtag, #eatdrinkgetlucky
This year’s LUCKYRICE Feast continues on for a stop in Miami later this November. With the success of the inaugural event, we look forward to seeing its return in Houston next year.