Sunday afternoon: It’s hot, humid and sunny. Not to be deterred, curry lovers across Houston arrived in droves for a taste of the 4th Annual Curry Crawl Competition, hosted by Straits Restaurant in CityCentre, Memorial City. As in years past, 10 competitors set up on the sprawling, two-sectioned patio, offering samples of their own creative take on curry. Last year’s chefs all came from food trucks and we saw a ton of creativity. How would the competing chefs fare this year?
Right at the start, Brittany Eaden of The Tasting Room impressed with a beautifully plated red yellow curry compressed beef short rib that had been braised for 24 hours, which she served with a plantain and graham cracker-crusted baby organic carrot atop a purple potato coconut puree, lime meringue, and a smear of spicy curry paste. “You have sweet, spicy, savory, umami,” she said, which was all true. The dish had an exotic Hawaiian feel to it, most probably because of the purple potato, which reminded me of Hawaiian taro, and the sweet coconut flavors. The beef short rib was fork tender, and it was a solid dish. The effort won her the People’s Choice award for the night, with good reason.
To follow, Jason Hill of the new Hugs & Donuts, which has been open since early April, came with Jamaican Chicken Curry kolache. It was brushed with curry and lime juice butter, and served with mango jam. The filling was plentiful, and because the bread was hot and a bit crisp, this tasted a lot like an empanada.Chris Leung of Cloud 10 Creamery had another wonderful dessert dish, which thankfully helped us cool down somewhat. His offering? A Carrot-lychee ice cream with a curry puff pastry, carrot and curry puree, and lychee pate de fruit.
Jose Hernandez of Radio Milano offered the most traditional interpretation of curry, inspired by one of his sous chefs, who is half indian. He did an Indian lamb curry with raita, lentils, a cilantro chutney and a yogurt sauce over white rice.
Michael Sanguinetti of Commonwealth on Washington Boulevard came out with an impressive Thai-inspired whole Gulf Texas Prawn. He’d marinated it in red curry and it was wrapped in a katafi, with garlic confit, fried coconut milk, and Thai Basil salad with a curry mayo and mint.
Still there was more: Matt Lovelace of the upcoming Pour Society in Memorial Gateway came up with a green curry chicken and dumplings that was just extraordinary. The hot concoction, more of a soup than a traditional curry, resembled Mexican pozole and tasted of comfort. It was deep and rich and left a lasting impression, a reason why it tied for the judge’s first place vote.
Omar Pereney of the new Peska Seafood Culture in BLVD place offered a deconstructed curry apple pie served with thyme ice cream. The crust was a crumble with a very strong component that let you taste the curry in a not too overpowering way. Its creativity and overall presentation got him the first place tie with Lovelace.
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Rounding out the entrants were a Barrie Fourie of Spice Runner with a pork belly, jasmine coconunt rice, and mango and pickled ginger relish; Don SchoenBurg of Woodrows’ in the Heights with Coconut Curried Gator Tacos; and Jonathan Levine of Jonathan’s the Rub with a Thai Curry Mac ’n Cheese.
The fun event also included wine, Leprechaun cider, creative cocktails by host restaurant Straits, and prosecco, and ended with a festive traditional Asian lion dance. Chefs this year went light on the curry, but high on creativity. Congratulations to all the winners.
People's Choice Award Winner
Chef Brittany Eaden of Tasting Room - Red Curry Compressed Beef Short Rib
First Place (Judges Choice) - Tie
Omar Pereney of Peska Seafood Culture - Deconstructed Curry Apple Pie
Matthew Lovelace of Pour Society - Green Curry Chicken and Dumplings