Fresh on the heels of the recent Kiss My Grits throwdown last week, I wondered: What kind of creativity would Houston's gourmet food trucks bring to the table for this year's 3rd Annual Curry Crawl throw down competition at Straits Asian Bistro?
The answer was easy: A whole heck of a lot. In all, there were 13 competitor-participants -- most of them food trucks, with a few restaurants thrown in to make things more interesting. And though the brick and mortars put in a good effort, it was the food trucks that shined.
Consider Oh My Gogi's ramen bacon curry mini slider. Chef Nathan Chang, with the help of his aunt, made mini ramen buns, which he topped with curried pork and beef patties, curry aoili, persian cucumber and triple cut bacon. A potato chip topped with curry clam dip completed the offering, which had wonderful textures and flavors.
Chef Adrian La Cerda of Ladybird Food Truck also came up with a cool idea: Why not make okra and corn curry fritters and top them with a a cilantro mint sauce? The fritters, like small just-fried donut holes, were crispy with a great chewiness and subtle curry flavor. Nice.
Also nice: Chef Anthony Calleo of Pi Pizza Truck's smoked, roasted curry pork tacos topped with an apple, honeydew, and candied ginger raita (and Indian yogurt sauce). When I took my break in the uni-sex restroom, one of the guys who was washing his hands next to me said that Pi Pizza's taco was his favorite.
My girlfriend, who stopped by the judges table (I was judging with Greg Morago of the Houston Chronicle; Taylor Byrne-Dodge of My Table Magazine; and Katherine Whaley of KHOU news), said she really loved Chilantro's curry chicken salad, which was topped with honey caramelized kimchi, and served on a small garlic crouton.
Still, there were other standouts, like Jason Hill's HtownStreats garam masala cake donut, served over a sweet curry mango jam. The tasting offered a preview of HTownStreats upcoming donut shop, which they will soon open in the Heights, and it was a big hit, making his one of the first tables to run out.
On the restaurant front, Pak Tsui of Fat Bao was offering a really delicious coffee curry braised brisket over turmeric rice. Adison Lee of Kuu went molecular with a curry sphere, cilantro semifluid gel, pork belly and micro shiso on a taro chip.
Newcomer Springbok, which will soon open in downtown, went South African with his offering of a "Bunny Chow," essentially half a loaf of bread which had its innards scooped out, which he filled with a beef cheek and bone marrow stew mixed with house made pineapple mint chutney and banana.
Susie Jimenez of Trenza Houston created four day braised lamb carnitas, and served it over tortilla chips with a cabbage fennel slaw; she took home People's Choice of the night.
Rounding out the evening's offerings was a pretty plating by Cat Huynh of Les Ba'get food truck, who did a lemongrass curry butter-braised duck wing over garlic confit and coconut taro; GastroPunk Food Truck's black pepper ginger chicken taco with Thai curry sauce; and Reign's food truck's smoked apple chipotle cornish hen over red curry risotto with yellow mandarin orange marmalade.
Matthew Pak of Golden Grill Food Truck was the big winner of the night with his curry-fied grilled cheese: Fluffy brioche stuffed with Japanese curry-braised pork shoulder; pickled apple skins, onion and cauliflower; smoked gouda cheese and curry butter; topped with a cinnamon apple jam.
The event was made all the more fun with a lively dragon dance routine, high-energy DJ music from the bar, and free flowing Prosecco, wine, and Grey Goose cocktails. A selection of French macarons, chocolates and cupcakes was also offered by Sweet Houston.
It was a great way to spend a sunny spring evening while indulging in creative food, libations, music and song -- all for a charitable cause. Each year, the Curry Crawl pledges all proceeds from the event to a specific charity, but this year, the pledge had a deeper meaning. Said host chef John Sikhattana "This year, all the proceeds will benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society (LLS). It's an important charity to me because my sister passed away from leukemia."