It wouldn't be a bracket competition without some buzzer beaters.
The eight first round matchups in CultureMap's first-ever Last Chef Standing online bracket competition are showing some close fights and some upsets. Right now it looks like upstart Roots Bistro might pull a Lehigh and take down downtown powerhouse Samba Grille.
But with voting for the first round ending Friday at noon, anything could happen. Here are three tight races we're watching:
It seems so wrong, to pit pizza against pizza. As with any fight between two Italians, both have come out strong. Right now Alto has a slim lead, although the James Beard nomination for Valentino restaurateur could lead to a boost for the swanky space inside the Hotel Derek.
Battle Asia is not quite as close as Battle Italy, but the numbers have been moving back and forth quite a bit. Galleria favorite Gigi's has the lead, but the strength of Blu, which opened in early 2012, is either a testament to the pan-Asian menu and skills of executive chef Junnajet Hurapan (formerly of Gigi's) or an indicator of the Sugar Land voting bloc.
This is a true nail-biter, with the tally at I write this tied at an even 50-50. Both restaurants offer casual but refined American fare, and both focus on a strong drinks program. Could the vote come down to whiskey versus wine? Now that's a Sophie's choice.
The Last Chef Standing online bracket winner will have the prestige of being named the Whole Foods People's Choice Champion, but all 16 restaurants will be on hand for the Last Chef Standing tasting event on April 9 at Hotel ZaZa, competing for votes from the crowd and the judges. Tickets for the tasting event are available now.
Fans can log in and vote every day, so keep clicking until your favorite restaurant is in the finals.