Share Our Strength’s annual Taste of the Nation fundraising event took place this past Sunday night at The Houstonian.
The premier walk-around tasting event has been known to attract many of Houston’s fine dining establishments. This year, though smaller than years past, was no exception, with participating restaurants that included Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca, Noe at the Omni Hotel, RDG + Bar Annie, Mark’s American Cuisine, Rainbow Lodge, Killen’s Steakhouse, Mockingbird Bistro, Shade and Canopy, Franks Americana Revival, Eleven XI, Up and more.
I love attending these events because it affords everyone a chance to meet and greet many of our city’s finest chefs. Everyone is in a good mood because the event is thrown for a good cause, fine wine and beer are in abundance, and beautifully plated tastings can be had everywhere you look.
As in years past, host chef Neal Cox of the Houstonian turned out one of the night’s standout offerings with seared pepper crusted ahi tuna over eggplant caponata, with a raisin vinaigrette. Pastry sous chef Audrey Sam was also on hand with Dulce Valrohna chocolate cream puffs, and bite-sized Iranian pistachio eclairs topped with Opalys (white chocolate) Valrohna chocolate and dehydrated raspberries. Her pastries were such a hit that most people ate two or three instead of the allotted single serving, requiring Sam to return to the kitchen to prepare a second batch after running out mid-event.
My favorites of the night were the duck gumbo topped with duck cracklins by chef Mario Valdez of the Rainbow Lodge; Renato de Pirro of Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca’s delightfully refreshing fresh tomato gazpacho topped with crawfish tails; Brick House Tavern’s chicharron-topped barbecue meatballs with cornbread; Kevin Bryant of Eleven XI’s peanut butter mousse with chocolate and amaretto; and Mark Cox of Mark’s American Cuisine’s seared tenderloin with a trio of pepper sauces over a Tex-Mex hash.
Other notables of the evening were the mushroom ravioli prepared at the station by Macaroni Grill’s corporate concept chef; RDG + Bar Annie’s chilled sweet pea soup topped with lump crab meat; Nonno’s Tony’s giant meatballs in marinara sauce; Liebman’s Wine & Fine Food’s famous bread pudding; and Johnny Wesley for Killen’s Steakhouse’s marshmallow cookie sandwich.
Event goers also had a chance to drink wines like the Meiomi Pinot Noir, sip on Brugal rum cocktails, play wine games, and bid on cool silent auction items like the Wine Tasting Dinners for Six from Killen’s or Mockingbird Bistro, a luxury night at The Houstonian, or the two first or business class tickets on United Airlines. One of the more interesting silent auction items of the night was a six day, five night South African Safari Experience for two valued at $6250.
At the evening’s end, Frank’s Americana Revival emerged as the People’s Choice winner, earning them a trophy plate and choice of location at the following year’s event. The entire team beamed as they posed for photographs. Their offered sampling was a duo of crostinis: pecan smoked beef tenderloin w/ horseradish cream, carmelized onions, Maytag blue cheese on garlic toast and house smoked salmon w/ dill creme fraiche, capers and red onions on a toasted crostini.
For more information on Share Our Strength, and how you can contribute to the #NoKidsHungry campaign, please visit: www.nokidhungry.org.