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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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Offering more decadence, Jacques Fox and team Artisans were sampling confit of quail leg, with foie gras torchon and pommes sarladaise, so French and tres delicieux. Peter Laufer of the Royal Sonesta offered one of the healthier offerings of the night with a smoked salmon over a salad of pretty bright purple superfoods.

Moving on, Randy Evans of Haven was hand slicing 44 Farms smoked sirloin and serving it with an eggplant sauce and sorghum pickled mustard seed. I loved it, but even more so, the Mediterranean octopus salad by sister restaurant Cove.

Clark Cooper Concepts was in the house with small toastettes topped with charcuterie by Brasserie 19. At sister restaurant Ibiza, Kenneth Burke made one of the standout savory offerings of the night, a seared pork belly over smoky tomatillo, which was topped with bright red cubes of compressed watermelon. I shamelessly went back for seconds and thirds of these one-bite wonders.

Other offerings included: Manuel Pucha of the newly relaunched The Table on Post Oak with an Asian inspired salad topped with shisito peppers; Maurizio Ferrarese of Quattro at the Four Seasons with a parmesan panna cotta, truffle asparagus, and marinated piopinni mushrooms; Frederick Perrier of Aura with a ceviche with taro root and compressed melon; The Remington at the St. Regis with seared duck and chocolate profiteroles; and Veritas Steak and Seafood of Sugar Land with mini lamb chops.

Mexico City-based chef Arturo Garcia Mogollon, who had flown over with the Visit Mexico delegation, offered the flavors of Mexico with a classic conchita pibil and a sopa de chicharron (topped with tomato and chile pasilla caldillo) -- super tasty and very authentic.

On the dessert front, Rebecca Masson of Fluff Bake Bar wowed with flutes of caramel corn -- a concoction of salted caramel panna cotta layered over chocolate gelee and topped with salted caramel corn and chocolate pop rocks -- to die for. Mr. French's Chocolates was also present with a lovely stand of hand made chocolates. I was lucky to taste the last one.

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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