Before I even mention incredible dinner and very deserved awards, let me tout the amazing culinary talent and skills that our Houston Region embodies! Our City is truly blessed by the magnitude of eating options, hugely talented chefs, and the finest hospitality industry in general. We are on par, if not above, any NYC, San Francisco, or New Orleans. We love and appreciate food, and it shows!
The Houston Culinary Awards were presented last night at the University of Houston Hilton School by My Table Magazine. Warning: this post will be lengthy...there is so much to say!
The cocktail reception provided passed hors d'oevures prepared by John Sheely (Mockingbird Bistro), Claire Smith (Shade), and Robert Del Grande (RDG + Bar Annie). They prepared 3 different items -- all delish. But, I'm going to focus on the meal.
First Course: 1st Part: Taro "Rosespud" and Huancaina Sauce, prepared by Michael Cordua (Americas). The beautiful crispy potato "chip" was sitting on our table as we arrived. It was light, airy, very crispy. The sauce was creamy, yet spicy.
2nd Part of the First Course: Farro and Shell Pea Salad, Honey-Butternut Gremolata, prepared by Monica Pope (T'afia). Okay, if I could have just swam in a big old bowl of this pea salad, I would have been a very happy camper. This dish was my favorite and beyond the simple description of "delish." The farro (an Italian, chewy grain, somewhat similar to barley) and the peas were dressed in a scrumptious gremolata. Gremolata is a chopped herb condiment usually made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I could taste each component distinctly. Fresh, flavorful, and fabulous. Each bite was cooked to perfection. I don't believe this dish is on the T'afia menu...will she add it? I'll be there every day....
The Entree: Slow-roasted Prime Rib and Texas Wild Shrimp with Artisanal Local Grit Cake, Autumn Vegetables in a Spiced Lemon Butter Sauce, prepared by Mark Cox (Mark's American Cuisine) and Randy Evans (Haven). My second favorite dish (although side dish in this case), was the vegetable melody as part of the entree. The veggies were cooked perfectly -- no small feat when the kitchen must feed about 400 people at once! They were tender, yet still retained their crispness. The veggies -- a selection of mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, and red bell pepper -- cooked in a spiced lemon butter sauce, with oregano. The vegetables popped in my mouth. Not over powering, just the perfect burst of flavor.
The prime rib was tender with great flavor. Excellently seasoned. The Shrimp was cooked appropriately and was sitting on a very delicious grit cake -- kernels of corn with grits in a perfect combination. It had a nice consistency, which allowed it to remain intact without falling apart, yet the cake was still extremely tender. The grit cake had a big ole kick of spice that exploded in my mouth with happiness.
Finally, the sweetest part of the meal...Dessert! Lemon Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwich with Whipped Caramel and Cinnamon Asian Pear, prepared by Rebecca Masson. What an interesting combination of flavors and textures. Bold. Innovative. I loved it. The lemon ice cream sandwiched in between the crispy snickerdoodle cookies was a light and refreshing ending, yet still gave me something to sink my teeth into. The whipped caramel tasted of butter...ah...butt-ah! The pear was cooked perfectly retaining firmness and crispness with a hint of cinnamon.
So, in summary, dinner was a True Treat. Each chef displayed excellent technique, skills, and favor combinations. They are all truly exceptional in their field. I was honored to be a part of the evening.
You can check out the winners down below, but, let me Congratulate a couple of winners -- first I'm so happy for the Mandola Family! Congratulations to Damian, Vincent, and Tony for receiving the 12th Annual Legend of Houston Restaurants Award! My Daddy, Sonny Look, received the first Legends award several years ago. It is truly an honor to receive this honor from your peers.
Congratulations to Chris Shepherd of Catalan for receiving the Chef of the Year Award. He also received a standing ovation!
And...Restaurateur of the Year -- Congratuations to Alex Brennan-Martin of Brennan's and Bistro Alex. He, too, received a well deserved standing ovation!
7,000 votes were cast for the 2010 Culinary Awards, and the winners are.......
Houston Foodie Star Awards:
Favorite Bakery: French Riviera Bakery & Cafe
Favorite Barbeque: Goode Co. Texas Bar-B-Que
Favorite Breakfast: The Buffalo Grille
Favorite Burger: Becks Prime
Favorite Coffeehouse: Empire Cafe
Favorite Houston Food Blog: Cook's Tour (Allison Cook)
Favorite Ethnic: Fadi's Mediterranean Grill (Middle Eastern)
Favorite Food Truck/Cart: Little Miss Cupcake
Favorite Late Night Spot (serves food after 11 pm): House of Pies
Favorite Mixologist: Sean Beck (Hugo's, Backstreet Cafe)
Favorite Outdoor Dining: Backstreet Cafe
Favorite Supermarket: Central Market
Favorite Pub or Bar: Anvil
Favorite Sweets/Ice Cream: The Chocolate Bar
Favorite Wine Cellar: Spec's
Houston Culinary Awards:
Best New Restaurant: Haven
Best Interior Design: Americas (The Woodlands)
Houston Classic: Carrabba's
Service Person of the Year: Sean Beck (Backstreet Cafe, Hugo's, Trevisio)
Outstanding Bar Service: Capital Grille
Pastry Chef of the Year: Ruben Ortega (Hugo's)
Outstanding Wine Service: The Tasting Room
Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year (age 35 or younger): David Cordua (Americas)
Chef of the Year: Chris Shepherd (Catalan)
Restauranteur of the Year: Alex Brennan-Martin (Brennan's, Bistro Alex)