Unlike in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the favorites mostly rolled in round one of this year's CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant tournament, powered by Whole Foods. When all the votes has been counted, smaller, critics' darlings like Nancy's Hustle, Doris Metropolitan, and Theodore Rex all came up short against larger, more high-profile establishments.
Still, at least one David triumphed in round one. Locally owned seafood restaurant Star Fish squeaked out a win over Yauatcha, despite the dim sum restaurant's international pedigree and prime Galleria location. Never estimate the power of a well-organized social media campaign.
Find out the winners of every category at the Tastemaker Awards party on April 4. We'll celebrate the year in Houston restaurants while dining on bites served by 20 of this year's nominees. Get tickets here.
The polls in the second round close at 11:59 pm on Friday, March 23, so don't delay. One vote per person per day, please. Results will be closely monitored to ensure a level playing field for all competitors. Now, let's break down round two.
Alice Blue vs. Field & Tides
This match-up both features new Heights restaurants in old spaces. Alice Blue replaced Shade's Southern fare with a European-inspired menu, while Field & Tides traded Zelko Bistro's cuisine for chef-owner Travis Lenig's perspective on Texas' diverse culinary traditions. Both Alice Blue and Field & Tides feature smooth service and well-executive beverage programs, but it's up to voters to determine which restaurant is the best addition to The Heights.
Star Fish vs. Potente
Who says fine dining is dying? At Potente, suit-wearing servers shave black truffle over chef Danny Trace's housemade pastas. Star Fish may not be quite as formal, but its lively dining room, extensive wine list, and refined seafood preparations make any dinner a special occasion. Both deliver memorable meals, but only one will move on.
Roka Akor vs. Feges BBQ
Japanese robata or Texas barbecue? That's the question for voters in this match-up that pits the upscale, Arizona-based steak and sushi restaurant against the homegrown concept in Greenway Plaza that's just about to complete the transformation from pop-up to restaurant. Both restaurants take their meat seriously, but only Feges features a chef that's won an episode of Chopped.
a'Bouzy vs. Emmaline
A head-to-head match-up was probably inevitable for these two wine-obsessed establishments that cater to Houston's boldfaced names. A'Bouzy offers an incredible variety of champagne, while Emmaline features a more diverse list (but still charges under $50 for the ever-important bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Both a'Bouzy owner Shawn Virene and Emmaline owner Sam Governale are high-energy personalities who are adept at making all of their diners feel like family, but only one of those consummate professionals will move on to round three.