Saving Lives at the Sweet & Savory Dinner

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When pastry chef Rebecca Masson teamed up with her friends to host a fundraising dinner for Lucky Dog Rescue three years ago, she sold 40 seats and raised $3,500 to help forgotten and unwanted Houston dogs find homes. There were three savory courses and three sweet courses at Masson's first Sweet & Savory dinner and two chefs.

Six of these bi-annual dinners later, Lucky Dog Rescue is luckier than ever: This past April, the Sweet & Savory dinner featured an all-star chef lineup from Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts and raised an amazing $19,100 to rescue dogs from shelters and the streets, and to give them life-saving treatments and rehabilitate them in foster homes before they're adopted out. Not even doggie cancer is a deterrent to Lucky Dog's rescue activities, said founder Millicent Gerdes.

And last night's sold-out dinner hosted 128 guests while raising $21,754. It's all thanks to the roster of supporting players who make each of these dinners a success: Ralph Smith, who donates his photography studio for the event; volunteers who pour drinks, check in guests, sell raffle tickets, serve food, pass appetizers and clean up afterward; restaurants and vendors who donate food, wine, table linens, flower arrangements and other products for the silent auction; and the chefs who donate their time to cook courses for the $100-a-person dinner.

Last night, those chefs included Randy Evans and Philippe Gaston from Haven and John Sheely from Mockingbird Bistro, whose passed appetizers of shrimp corndogs, beef tartare and smoked salmon creme fraiche kicked the night off in style. Ryan Rouse of Grand Prize Bar handed out cool cocktails in glass bottles with bendy straws, perfect for warding off last night's unseasonably muggy weather.

And when 6 p.m. rolled around, there was almost no encouragement needed to get people seated and ready for the six-course dinner.

Philip Speer from Uchi and Rassul Zarinfar of Buffalo Bayou Brewing launched the crowd straight into a fun menu of autumn-inspired dishes. Speer's cured yellowtail tuna featured powdered applewood for a smoky sweetness, while Zarinfar served a snifter of Buffalo Bayou's 1912 -- a beer brewed with bright Centennial hops in celebration of Rice University's 100th anniversary.

For the second course, Ryan Lachaine from Underbelly served a family-style skillet that was very much in keeping with Underbelly's aesthetic: thick cuts of cornmeal-crusted bacon in a light maple sauce with roasted fall vegetables.

The third course spoke to cold-weather food, too: Ned Elliot of Foreign & Domestic drove in from Austin to serve his twist on a ploughman's lunch that featured a rye and hazelnut "cereal," similar to a granola, enhanced with yeast and layered with sharp cheddar from the Houston Dairymaids, all topped with pickled onions. It was both sweet and salty at the same time and -- judging by the chatter at my table -- Elliot's unusual dish was the favorite of the night.

By the fourth course, the sweet side of Sweet & Savory had kicked in. Monica Glenn's dessert of corn pudding with jalapeños, blueberries and tart Skyr yogurt was a nice counterbalance to the surprisingly sweet savory course that had come before it. Glenn, the pastry chef at Uchi, had added savory notes of her own with the salty corn pudding and sharply spicy jalapeños for a perfect transition into the two remaining dessert courses.

The fifth course featured Masson herself, serving a dish that was back by popular request: chocolate syllabub, a traditional English dessert that's part mousse, part custard, all amazing. If the texture had been any heavier, it would have simply been too much to bear -- but, as usual, Masson's light touch and deft use of salt in her desserts kept it dancing merrily along that fine line.

Lastly, Joe Baker of Le Cordon Bleu dazzled with the sixth course of the night: chocolate two ways that was spiced up with a smoky chipotle mousse. I was still working on my booze pairing from the course before -- Buffalo Bayou's brand-new Black Forest chocolate stout aged on cocoa nibs -- and the subtle, dry, barely sweet stout was an ideal match for the sugary ending.

Guests left the dinner with stuffed stomachs and equally stuffed goodie bags from Whole Foods, which each held one very important item inside: a pamphlet of all the wonderful pups that Lucky Dog Rescue currently has up for adoption. And if you didn't get to attend last night's dinner, that's okay: You can always donate to Lucky Dog online and view all their adorable dogs at their website. I'm in love with Avery (that's him above). Hopefully someone else will be too, and give him -- and all the other pups -- a forever home.

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