Recap: The 2nd Annual Big Taste of Houston

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Photo by Mai Pham
Uchi Houston took home the grand prize for presentation and best dish overall at Big Taste of Houston. Pictured here, "Machi cure."

"This is such a great event -- so many of Houston's best chefs all in one place!" said Matthew Lovelace, a sous chef at Osteria Mazzantini, as he offered me a sample of their Blackhill Meats lamb meatball and chicken liver mousse. His was one of the first booths I encountered at the 2nd Annual Big Taste of Houston this weekend at The Corinthian, a premier food event and charity fundraiser for the Houston chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Indeed, though the inaugural event last year was fantastic, the lineup of chefs and restaurants this year was quite amazing. "I felt like the entrants this year were much stronger than last year," said celebrity judge and blogger Adam Goldberg (Twitter: @LifeWorthEating). For the second year in a row, Goldberg had flown in from New York City to take part in the event, live-tweeting each dish (check out his awesome Twitter feed!) as it was presented at the judge's table for all the world to see.

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Adam Goldberg Returns as Judge for Big Taste of Houston

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Photo by PinqShueDesigns
From left : BBBS Houston President Ron Hadley, John Sikhattana of Straits Asian Bistro (last year's winner), Adam Goldberg and KPRC's Rachel McNeill

On April 13, the second annual Big Taste of Houston benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) Houston will take place at The Corinthian downtown. The annual food extravaganza will feature live music, dancing, free-flowing alcohol and tasting samples from more than 20 of Houston's best restaurants.

Last year's event was a such a success that the title sponsor, Audi Central Houston, donated an Audi Q5 (valued at more than $40,000) to be raffled off in support of this year's fundraising efforts. Raffle tickets are still available for purchase on the BBBS website, and will be available for sale until the raffle is drawn at 6:30 p.m. on the night of the event.

Additionally, for the second year in a row, the event is bringing back Adam Goldberg, author of the wildly popular blog A Life Worth Eating, as one of its celebrity judges. Master Chef 2012 winner Christine Ha; Greg Morago, food editor of the Houston Chronicle; and Courtney Bond, associate editor of Texas Monthly, round out the judges' panel.

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Churrascos Reintroduces Diners to Classic Cocktails With a South American Twist

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Photo by Troy Fields
The bar at the newest Churrascos is lit in shades of red and yellow.
In this week's cafe review, you can read all about the magnificent meat and tantalizing tres leches at the newest Churrascos restaurant at Gateway Memorial City. However, there's something else about Churrascos--and, indeed, all the Cordúa restaurants--that should not be overlooked: The drinks.

Back in March 2013, James Watkins joined the Cordúa restaurant group as sommelier and beverage director. Since then, he's overhauled the wine list and created a number of classic but uniquely Cordúa cocktails that have been wowing diners. Don't go to Churrascos or Américas expecting to fill up on steak and plantain chips alone. Sample some spirits or drink some wine, and I daresay you'll find the booze just as impressive as that classic grilled steak.

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Pre-Theater Dining Without the Hassle: These Houston Restaurants Offer Free Shuttle Service

Categories: Local Spotlight

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Photo by Brooke Viggiano
You don't have to dine in the Theater District to enjoy dinner and a show.
Who doesn't love a night out at the theater? The beauty. The culture. The pre-show dinner and drinks. It's all good and fun until you realize what a hassle it is trying to navigate your transportation/parking situation for the night. Do you have time to walk, or do you have to cab it? Should you park near the theater or the restaurant? Street parking, garage, or valet? Wait a minute, how much is this all going to cost?

Thankfully, these local restaurants offer a complimentary shuttle service to and from the Theater District so that you can fully enjoy your night on the town.

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Spring in Houston: 5 Standout Artichoke Dishes Around Town

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Photo courtesy of Backstreet Cafe
This stuffed artichoke is available at Backstreet Cafe for a limited time only.
We don't know about you, but we've got a little bit of spring (veggie) fever over here. We've already looked at the best places to get your asparagus on, but this week, artichokes are the name of the game.

The ever-versatile vegetable, which is native to the Mediterranean, has a peak season that runs from March through May. That means you have another two months to enjoy these green goddesses at their fullest.

We've rounded up five must-try dishes from Houston's finest (and we're not talking your run of the mill spinach and artichoke dip).

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Way Good Food Truck Really Is Way Good

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Photos by Molly Dunn
Way Good Food Truck sits outside West Alabama Ice House every day from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.
"This is way good," my fiancé and I unintentionally said to each other after taking one bite from our fried mac and cheese balls from Way Good Food Truck. Yes, the mobile eatery's name is a bit pretentious and forefront in describing its food, but you can't blame a food service for being proud of its products, can you?

Way Good Food Truck held its grand opening on Friday, May 14, and has set up shop daily since then at the corner of West Alabama Ice House, inviting customers to grab some greasy, indulgent food and sit down at one of the many picnic tables outside. Ice cold beer, plus burgers, nachos and fries, make for one heck of a combination.

After creating their catering company, Way Good Food, LLC in October 2013, sisters Karen and Kathryn Fergus took over the Greek gyro food truck Papou Jerry's and turned it into Way Good Food in December 2013. Karen is the chef and Kathryn is the director of marketing and operations. They refurbished the truck and turned it into the bright-blue mobile eatery that sits on the corner of West Alabama Ice House seven days a week.

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Food & Wine's Best New Chef List Includes Three Texans (and One Houstonian)

Categories: Local Spotlight

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Photo courtesy Dana Cowin
Congrats to Justin Yu, a Food & Wine best new chef.
Of Food & Wine magazine's ten "best new chefs," a designation given every year to up-and-comers in the United States food scene, three are from Texas. Way to represent, lone star state!

The magazine released its annual list this week, and chefs from Houston, Austin and Dallas made the cut, proving that Texas is a culinary force to be reckoned with.

Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, announced the winners by tweeting Instagram selfies with the ten chosen chefs. On the list? Paul Qui of Qui in Austin, Matt McCallister of FT33 in Dallas, and our very own Justin Yu of Oxheart.

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Cupcake Campaign: California's Sweet Arleen's Takes Aim at Houston

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Photos courtesy of Sweet Arleen's
Arleen Scavone has won Cupcake Wars twice.
Fans of the Food Network show Cupcake Wars have probably heard the name Arleen Scavone or been told about her namesake bakery, Sweet Arleen's, a few times. This three-peat Cupcake Wars winner (she won twice and her baking assistant won once) began her baking business in the sunny state of California, but is now looking to spread her franchise to another large state, Texas. She is working on opening a storefront in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and has announced that she will be opening a bakery in Houston as well.

While many of you probably think Houston is pretty well covered in the cupcake shop department, with a multitude of bakeries such as CRAVE, Sprinkles, Celebrity Cupcakes, Petite Sweets and so on, Scavone believes Houston is a great market for her brand. As a banker, she spent many years in Texas and considers it her second home.

"When I look at the Houston market, along with the Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth area, those three markets within Texas I believe are very key to our brand," Scavone says. "We see some of the best chefs coming into the Texas area. We see the right economic phase. We also look at the ability to do fundraising in those cities that are inclined to support their community because we do a lot of fundraising and a lot of giving back to the community."

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Soter Winery and Akaushi: A Tasty Pairing

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Photo by Mai Pham
Got beef? Pepper-crusted akaushi ribeye steak is melt-in-your mouth tender at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted

Eclipsed by the street construction taking place on the stretch of Westheimer Road directly in front of it, 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, the restaurant by master chef Fritz Gitschner, opened this past November to little fanfare. Since then, however, the roads have cleared, and a new patio has been finished just in time to usher in the lovely spring weather. Suddenly, like the parting of clouds to let the sunshine through, it's as if the spotlight has finally been turned onto this River Oaks restaurant.

Certainly, that's the feeling I got when I arrived to a full house recently for an inaugural wine dinner featuring Soter Vineyards. Organized by Vanessa Treviño-Boyd, the beverage director at the restaurant, the evening promised to be filled with Pinot Noir and Gitscher's brand of "ranch-to-table" dining featuring steaks made of heart-healthy akaushi beef.

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Filling the Gaps: Taqueria La Macro

Categories: Local Spotlight

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Neither do men cook the trompo, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
I've lived in Houston for 22 years. It took me 16 of those to visit the Rothko Chapel for the first time. I didn't eat at Ninfa's on Navigation until I'd counted myself a Houstonian for nearly a decade. I still haven't eaten at Frenchy's. The list of glaring omissions goes on and on. Before you boot me from the city for civic negligence, or at least refuse to continue allowing me to write about Houston food, let me assure you that 2014 is the year I start fixing this problem. I'm making a list of places. Places I should have been by now. Places even I can't believe I haven't visited. This is the year I get (re)acquainted with my city. Maybe you'll find a few from your own list in these posts. I encourage you to follow suit.

Before my Vegan Lent started, there was a flurry of taco-related activity in my household. We must have had tacos six or seven times in a little more than a week. I grabbed tacos for lunch after a drive to the country to visit our niece. I grabbed tacos for a late breakfast after my youngest daughter's gymnastics class. On a midweek day off, I decided to fill the trompo void that had been slowly sucking away my anima. I think I got to Taqueria La Macro just ahead of the event horizon.

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