April 17, 2010 - Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting

    Despite the constant drizzle and 100% humidity, the annual Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting pulled in the crowds last night.  My culinary sidekick Brian Alford joined me again this year for the gastronomic feast that we end up discussing for months afterward.
   We lined up with about 100 other eager samplers
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outside the doors of The Long Center; it seemed that too many of us arrived simultaneously, and the fire marshal thought the Long Center lobby was over-crowded.  But our wait we brief, and the rewards were many once we were allowed inside.
   The chefs from Arcodoro and Pomodora restaurants in Dallas served up roasted suckling pig on homemade, multigrain bread with a stone-ground mustard.  The presentation was as stunning as the flavors.
   We chatted with Tyson Cole from Uchi before sampling his team's wonderful lightly-grilled amberjack served with apples and kemchi.  Uchi consistently stages the most popular table at Stars Across Texas, as evidenced by the long line that continued to grow through the night.
   The Hotel Valencia on the San Antonio Riverwalk showed off their signature restaurant - Citrus - with a South Texas antelope tostada layered with eye beans and grilled ramps.  We agreed that the combination proved to be one of our favorites from all the offerings.
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    Chef Kent Rathbun - who created the Iron Chef dinner event at his restaurant Jaspers a couple of years ago that I still have dreams about to this day - presented an amazing braised duck on a blue fingerling potato salad with blue cheese.  The Range Restaurant from Salado won raves for their pulled pork sliders on cheddar rolls.  And Chef Brian Luscher of Houston's The Grape Bistro dazzled with a rabbit mortadollo served with lentils and a mustard vinaigrette.
    We also loved Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill’s inventive “Green Eggs and Ham,” consisting of quail eggs lightly baked in the middle of a cheddar bisquit - topped with ham and salmon.  Creative and tasty.
    But our two favorite bites came from locally sources ingredients.  The Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts created a simple salad of seedless watermelon with yellow pear tomatoes, topped with feta, pickled red onions, and microgreens - all topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction.  The combination of the sweet fruit and the tangy vinegar made our taste buds tingle.  
   And the Hyatt Downtown demonstrated why Chef Javier Ortiz continues to garner raves for his locally-sourced menus, offering Texas grilled shrimp on sugarcane skewers, topped with microgreens and a mustard sauce.  It was probably one of the single best bites I have eaten
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all year.
   Wineries and distilleries were also out in full force, and Brian got to meet Bill Samuels, Jr., the president of Makers Mark.  We also enjoyed the Cotes de Tables 2008 from Tablas Creek Vineyard, a 2008 Pinot Grigio from Ferrari-Carano from the Russian River Valley region in California, and a wonderful Albarino red from Spain's Rias Biaxas label.
    We also spent some time chatting with Austin American Statesman food writer Addie Broyles and her husband Ian - who told us they are expecting their second child in September.  We also ran into the Statesman's Michael Barnes, Sandra Spaulding from Twin Liquors, new AIDS Services of Austin executive director Paul Scott and his husband, and Damon Holditch and his wife from Marquee Event Group - who supplied the elegant tents that kept guests and chefs alike dry and comfortable.
    True to the economic times, this year's event saw fewer participating restaurants than years past.  But the offerings were just as robust - and we believed more adventurous than
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year's past.
   We ended the night with a lovely Riesling from Texas label Messina Hof Winery and Resort, paired with a sinfully rich chocolate tart, enhanced with caramel and sea salt, from Austin's Annie's Café.  They went together beautifully with the hand-made chocolates from Dude, Sweet out of Dallas and the creative gelato flavors - Poteet strawberry, cornflake, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Capt. Crunch - offered by local favorite Teo.  Stars Across Texas proved once again that too much of a good thing - can be a very good thing.

     Tonight’s schedule includes the Rare and Fine Wine Auction at the Four Seasons, and a VIP, invitation-only dinner at Parkside with New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh.  I know - my life is so rough...

(Photos by Brian Alford - from top:
- Arcodoro and Pomodora's roast suckling pig;
- Tyson Cole from Uchi;
- Makers Mark president Bill Samuels, Jr. with Brian;
- Annie's Café owner Love Nance talks pastries with Rob.)