As far as tasting events go, the Big Taste of Houston, which debuted this past Sunday night to a crowd of about 700, was all that it promised to be and then some.
Billed as a premier foodie extravaganza and fund-raiser for the Houston chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the elegant, high class soiree exceeded expectations with a little bit of something for everyone.
For people wanting to dance, a live band was playing upbeat, booty-bopping, catchy tunes like Earth, Wind and Fire's "September." For people wanting to catch glimpses of celebrities, celebrity judges Houston Dynamo Calen Carr, polo champion Ameer Jumabhoy, talk show host Cleverley Stone, KPRC 2 anchor Rachel McNeill, and Adam Goldberg, photographer and author of the popular blog "A Life Worth Eating," were present and mingling among the guests.
An extensive silent auction full of chefs' tasting dinners, wine and other food items was on display for those in the mood for some shopping. Drinkers could enjoy an open bar of Grey Goose vodka martinis and cherry cocktails, along with Evamor water, Shaggy Dog Bloody Marys, Silver Eagle and Vintners Own wine.
And of course, there was the delicious. Seventeen of Houston's premier restaurants and five dessert companies had signed on to compete in a friendly throwdown, all bringing their A-game with scrumptious offerings ranging from beef tenderloin to tuna tartare on hydroponic lettuce.
John Sheely and team Mockingbird Bistro offered a beautifully presented trio of beef carpaccio with pickled vegetables and peanut sauce, French cocktail rock shrimp and a mint spring pea soup. Ronnie Killen and team Killen's Steakhouse offered a dual tasting of pulled barbecue short ribs with pickled sweet and sour red onion, and smoking liquid nitrogen Arnold Palmer.
Manabu Horiuchi and team Kata Robata had Japanese oxtail curry with housemade pickles over butter rice. Tyler Malson of Line & Lariat at the Hotel Icon offered Texas jalapeño tuna tartare. Steve Haug of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse also had a dual tasting of lobster shooter with kaffir lime tomato broth, accompanied by beef tenderloin on a smoked cheddar truffle polenta cake, topped with bourbon chipotle glaze.
Team Goro & Gun brought its big mascot, a taxidermied lion, along with spoons of smoked hamachi kama. Del Frisco's Grille offered full-sized, thick-cut sliders, while at the adjacent booth, Brio Tuscan Grille offered crab and shrimp fondue with jutting triangles of parmesan crisps.
Jean-Philippe Gaston of Cove Raw Bar took an Asian approach with what he called "smoked lamb tinh huan pho" topped with pickled vegetables, sriracha, and hoisin. Soren Pedersen of Sorrel Urban Bistro offered tastings of roasted pork belly on blinis topped with a fresh apple slaw.
John Sikhattana of Straits served my personal favorite of the night: delicate plates of fantastic scallop carpaccio topped with red chile caviar, pickled cucumber, and slivers of yuzu and kumquats. Peter Laufer of the Royal Sonesta Hotel offered delicious, full-sized, jerky-crusted u10 scallops soaked in beer, served on top of barley.
Horacio Degante of Sullivan's Steakhouse hand sliced porcini-crusted beef tenderloin, which was served with a three-cheese truffle macaroni. Renato de Pirro of Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca offered Sardinian pasta with a homemade sausage ragù.
Kaz Edwards, Michael Castillo and team Uchi Houston offered a trio of tastings: hamachi sashimi on fresh orange wedges with ramp and Thai chili, hydroponic romaine with edamame cream and jalapeño, and a peanut butter blueberry dessert with yuzu and amaranth.
On the dessert front, Chris Leung of Cloud10 Creamery offered an intricately layered dessert of frozen strawberry Greek yogurt with a sliver of torn white chocolate on top. Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar offered a sinfully delicious take on the Lion's Bar, which included smooth and silky chocolate crémeux accented with stroopwafels, crisp cornflakes and caramel.
Michael's Cookie Jar was on hand with a pretty assortment of cookies in all shapes and sizes. Cake Pop Delicacies had a beautiful arrangement of cakeballs and mini cupcakes, along with pralines from Pappaw's Pralines and color popcorn from The Popcorn Bar.
In the end, Manabu Horiuchi and team Kata Robata took home the prize for Best Presentation. The Winner and People's Choice awards were both tied: Edwards and Team Uchi's three offerings tied with Sikhattana's scallop carpaccio as the winners of the night; Sikhattana also tied for a People's Choice award with Horacio Degante of Sullivan's.
"The response from the restaurants was overwhelming," said Matt Harris, co-chair of the event. "Each dollar raised goes directly to benefit the children we serve in Houston. Agencywide, we serve over 10,000 kids. And we will be able to serve many more from the dollars we raised from The Big Taste."
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In a surprise announcement and overwhelming endorsement of the event, Harris continued: "We are so pleased to announce that Momentum Audi, our title sponsor, has signed on for 2nd Annual Big Taste of Houston." One of the cooler parts of the event is we announced the raffling of a brand-new 2013 Audi Q5. Raffle tickets are $100 and can be purchased through BBBS. Said Harris: "We will draw for the winner at next year's event, April 13, 2014. Many many thanks to Jared Lang and his team at Momentum Audi for their support of mentoring in the Houston community."
Congratulations to the organizers and participants for putting on what was undoubtedly one of Houston's finest food events of the year.