This was one event where even the most devoted cowboys likely regretted their decision to squeeze into some Wranglers.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo isn't officially underway, but the seventh-annual Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites competition brought the crowds.
For the fare, forget the midway staples. This event brought in over 60 of the area's best restaurants, as well as more Rodeo Champion and Reserve Champion wines than I could count, much less taste. (Though, bless my heart, I tried.)
As in previous years, the crowd awarded their top favorites by bestowing an oversize strand of Mardi Gras beads. The first place winner, in an upset, was Hasta la Pasta catering, which served crowd-pleasing southwest chicken cannelloni and chocolate bread pudding with an unusual and tasty merlot ice cream. Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse in second place, with an excellent sliced tenderloin of beef, a jalapeno-infused mac and cheese and bread pudding.
For the first time ever, the competition featured a celebrity judging by local members of the culinary intelligentsia, including this writer, Houston Chronicle's Greg Morago, Houston Chowhounds founder Jenny Wang, My Table editor-publisher Teresa Byrne-Dodge, KTRH's John Demers and Houston Press blogette Katherine Shilcutt, as well as rodeo bigwigs like Chairman of the Board Butch Robinson. Quarantined from chefs, the judges were split among five groups, with a superpanel to rank the dozen earning the highest marks. (Of course, a blind tasting is only so effective when serving turtle soup, as one judge noted.)
Judges crowned winners in two distinct categories. Sage 400's tuna tartare and miso-chilean sea bass took first place in the Trailblazer appetizer/entree category. Sage 400's victory marked the first time an Asian or seafood dish earned top marks. Del Frisco's beef tenderloin (again!) took second; Valentino Vin Bar's delectable baby back ribs with pork and ravioli with BBQ Tuscan sauce was in third place.
In the Two-Stepping Bread/Cheese/Dessert Award category, the créme brulee bread pudding from Killen's Steakhouse earned the top spot while the handcrafted cheeses from Veldhuizen Cheese came in second.