Tiny Cars and Expensive Wine at the 3rd Annual Italian Expo

The 3rd annual Italian Expo was held this past weekend at the George R. Brown Convention Center, directly next to one of the gun shows that seems to rotate throughout Houston every other weekend. Walking up to the convention center, it was fairly easy to pick out the attendees of each: gun cases for one group, cases of wine for the other.

And the wine really was the best draw this year at the Italian Expo, which also showcases a few other things Italians do well: tiny cars, fast cars, fashion, food and very small models of very expensive boats. I'm only interested in one of those other things -- food, obviously -- but the most interesting thing I witnessed on Saturday afternoon had nothing to do with food or wine.

Instead, it was a woman's mons veneris on the runway at one of the many fashion shows. My friend Judy and I did double-takes as we looked from each other back to the bare mound, in disbelief at what we were seeing.

"Is that...her vagina?" Judy asked, incredulously.

"It sure is," I replied. "See? They cut a little panel out in the dress so you could see it."

"I do not understand fashion," Judy sighed. We looked at each other in our plain black dresses and flat sandals, then decided it would be best if we moved away from the runway and back into our comfort zone: food.

Nine chefs from Italian restaurants around Houston were offering samples of their cooking all weekend, as well as participating in the "Who's Your Chef?" competition that would culminate with a verdict on Sunday afternoon. The word "chef" was stretched a bit, however, as Judy and I spotted several "chefs" who are undoubtedly extremely hard-working and talented guys, but not chefs; they are kitchen managers. But six of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose.

And their food was good, even if you had to purchase a sheet of tickets, State Fair-style, to sample it. My favorite came in the form of a very simple spinach calzone from Arcodoro, topped with thin shavings of prosciutto that were being carved off a massive pork leg by Chef Giancarlo Ferrara himself.

Throughout the rest of the Expo, gelato and espresso were being served in a genteel manner unbefitting a hulking convention center, and slim, beautiful women browsed racks of designer clothing and sculpturally fascinating shoes. We continued to move toward the end goal: the Spec's food and wine area.

Once inside, however, we found that it was more akin to a Saturday afternoon at most Spec's in town: small samples and tastings with long lines and noisy crowds. I managed to find a few gems amidst the crush of people, such as an unusual Masi Campofiorin that was not something I expected to like. With notes of bitter cherries and licorice, I quite expected to dislike this 70 percent Corvina blend from Veneto, but instead found it charmingly funky and couldn't help thinking how wonderful it would taste with the tiniest bit of chill on it.

Ditto the 100 percent Grechetto Arnaldo Caprai Grecante, a dark yellow wine that was surprisingly light and fruity with a mild minerality. And I was equally enamored of a much lighter Donnafugata Anthilia with a more pronounced minerality that would be an ideal summer wine.

All three pours came from the same table, too, an oddity. But Folio was doing a terrific job of explaining its wines in a friendly manner while keeping the crowds moving, something I would have liked to see more of at the Expo overall.

On the way out, I stopped and sat in one of the tiny Fiat cars near the exit. They're alluringly small -- almost like Smart Cars -- and alluringly priced. I imagined myself jetting around town like a suave European, purchasing cases of wine and sculptural footwear and dresses that have convenient portholes for my lady bits.

And then a friend reminded me: "That car would get crushed like a Dr Pepper can in Houston traffic." With that, the Italian Expo was over. But I'll still be stopping by Spec's for some of that wine.

See more photos from the Italian Expo in our slideshow.

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Katharine Shilcutt