Stark Raving Wines, Joel Stein, Food Trucks and a Crazy Good Time at Cottonwood

When I saw the H-Town StrEATS post about the Stark Raving Wines book signing with free wine and street truck food, I didn't hesitate. Seriously. Street food and wine, plus the opportunity to meet regularly featured Time magazine columnist and book author Joel Stein -- how could I resist?

It didn't matter that I knew little to nothing about Stark Raving Wines, or Joel Stein, for that matter. Nor did it matter that I'd never been to Cottonwood, the new craft beer bar and indoor/outdoor hotspot in Garden Oaks. The spirit of the party was so great that by the time I left, I was a fan of all three.

For those of you who've never been to Cottonwood, let me preface this by warning you that the parking sucks. Unpaved, uneven, unlit dirt roads will greet you, and if you're one of those people who are scared of the dark but have no choice but to park in a far corner that makes it feel like you're in the middle of the woods somewhere, you might be inclined (like me) to give up and drive away.

To that I say: "Don't give up." Once you reach the entrance of Cottonwood itself, the scene is so picturesque, it feels like a set from the movie Sweet Home Alabama. The hanging string lights were what did it for me, setting the fuzzy, kick-back mood that made it easy to be social.

People smiled as I took random pictures of the scene. Someone's big black dog licked my backside. Stark Raving wine was free-flowing and gourmet food-truck fare was being enjoyed all around. Life was good.

Speaking of the Stark Raving wine line, I tried each of the four selections -- Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red and White -- and enjoyed them all. Straight out of the bottle, all four of the wines were easily drinkable. Of the reds, I enjoyed the sweet plummy boldness of the Malbec the most, though I could picture pairing the Stark Raving Cabernet with a number of dishes. The white wine was my favorite, however -- fruity on the nose, with peachy aromas and a light, fast finish.

Of note, though the winery is based in Napa, they source their grapes from all over the world, using a blend of Argentinian Malbec grapes to make their Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from France to make their Cabernet. And the best thing about these wines? They retail for about $12.

I also got to meet Joel Stein, the author of Man Made, a book about his "stupid quest for masculinity." Stein was on hand to sign books and, well, be Joel Stein. Funny, engaging and a dead ringer for Will & Grace's Eric McCormack, I know even before reading it that I will love this book -- even if I'm not a Millennial male looking to find my inner manly man.

Attendees of the event also got to sample two items of their choosing for free. At the end of the evening, the food trucks created specialty items to pair with Stark Raving Wines for a friendly competition.

Here's how the competition played out: Phamily Bites Food Truck offered up garlic noodles with clams, cooked in Stark Raving White wine; H-Town StrEATS did Stark Raving Red wine braised flatiron steak sirloin with Stark Raving White braised local greens, foie gras mustard and deep fried foie gras; Soul Cat Cuisine paired Chef DC's Firecracker Shrimp with Stark Raving White wine and pork loin pinwheels stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes paired with Stark Raving Red.

In the end, Soul Cat Cuisine won the food truck competition, and received a check for $2,000 to be donated to the Meals on Wheels charity in their name. And the event went exactly as the flyer promised: "Joel Stein's book + food truck food + Stark Raving Wine = A Crazy Good Time."

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