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Wine, Food and Booze: Recap of the 11th Annual Sugar Land Wine & Food Festival's Grand Tasting

The 11th Annual Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair took place this past week. Last Friday, hundreds gathered at the Marriott Sugar Land Town Square for the week's signature event, the Grand Tasting.

As in past years, the evening featured endless choices for wine and food. This year, however, there were also numerous choices for liquor, including Don Julio Tequila, Herradura Tequila, Hendrick's Gin, Glenfiddich Whiskey and a small showcase on Belgian Beers. In other words, it was a party.

Kicking off the festivities was a lively mariachi band, which had been brought in as part of a delegation from Visit Mexico. From the moment the grand ballroom opened its doors at 7 p.m, the room was flooded with throngs of well-dressed, hungry patrons.

I bypassed the first few stands in favor of the stand in the farthest left hand corner, ending up at The Houstonian's stand, where chef Neil Cox was doing a crab salad topped with crispy bacon. Catherine Rodriguez, The Houstonian's pastry chef, offered a delicious dessert to go with it, a strawberry rhubarb pavlova with candied kumquats, valrohna and opaly whipped ganache, and pistachio.

At the adjacent booth, Shannen Tune of the Hotel Derek had chicken fried kobe ribs, each sporting a small squirt pipette of smoky cream sauce. They flew off the table like hotcakes as people reached for multiples and gushed about the decadence of it all. His was one of the first tables of the night to run out of food.

Moving along, the Marriott's Burning Pear did shrimp and grits and pork belly and grits, while Grotto offered an assortment of antipasto. The title sponsor, H-E-B, occupied a huge stand in the middle of the room, with decadent displays of cheese, charcuterie, cakes and desserts, sushi rolls and hot foods.

One of the most interesting offerings of the night came from Brian O'Hea from the Kennebunk Inn in Maine. He and his team, who have made regular appearances over the years, offered a mini truffle pizza topped with a generous amount of just-sauteed lobster.

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham