The Foodie's Dick Vitale
Breaking down Houston's Final Four restaurant bracket: Five ridiculously toughfirst-round tilts
The NCAA Tournament may be weeks away, but 32 Houston restaurants are already feeling the heat.
The Big Dance Restaurant Challenge just started on Monday and already the competition is fast and furious. There are a few apparent 1 vs. 16 "games" (Gigi's Asian Bistro vs. P.F Chang's?) but there are plenty of heavyweights facing tough battles in round one. I'm going to handicap a few of the toughest matchups in a breakdown of the bracket. Move over Dick Vitale.
And remember, you get to vote (as often as once per day) to determine the winners. It turns out there can be Cinderellas in the restaurant bracket too. Gigi's is only leading P.F. Chang's 54 percent to 46 percent as of Wednesday afternoon. (Which just shows what I know.)
The winners of the first round will advance to the Sweet 16 with the champion of The Big Dance Restaurant Challenge getting to serve food during the Final Four concert series at Discovery Green. The Big Dance concert series will feature free entertainment and A-list musical acts throughout the extended Final Four weekend in Houston.
Now, to break down some almost too-good-to-be-first-round matchups:
Del Frisco vs. Rainbow Lodge
Battle of the carnivores! Can the soaring spaces of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse compete with the lush grounds of Rainbow Lodge?
In the summer the patio alone might tip the scales and Rainbow Lodge also has one of my favorite fireplaces in town, but this challenge is all about the food (you can't bring a fireplace to Discovery Green) and it's a tough matchup.
Del Frisco's does traditional steakhouse favorites very well, but Rainbow Lodge cuisine is wider (from pasta to bison to duck) with dishes that feature more complex flavors.
The Edge: Rainbow Lodge, with a boost for keeping it local.
The Reality: Rainbow Lodge led 53 percent to 47 percent as of early Wednesday afternoon.
Is Houston a wine town or a whiskey town? With this vote we might find out.
Although technically it's the food that matters, we'll call it a draw with Tasting Room taking brunch honors and Hearsay victorious at dinner. So is Houston loyal to the wine bar or the place with the best Old-Fashioned in town?
The Edge: Hearsay, just for my love of their mac and cheese.
The Reality: The Tasting Room held a 59-41 percent advantage.
Which luxe hotel restaurant will reign supreme? Monarch has had a lot of change in recent years but seems so have settled in with a solid (though not average) menu under executive chef Adam West. Quattro has lately upped its game under new chef Maurizio Ferrarese.
The Edge: Unlike USA Today, I'm giving it to Monarch.
The Reality: Quattro is out to a 60-40 percent lead.
This is probably the best match of the incredible tough first-round matchups. It's the best of traditional Tex-Mex against the bastion of modern, interior Mexican cuisine. Both Ninfa's and Hugo's offer amazing testaments to the richness and quality of Mexican food in Houston. Only one can move on.
The Edge: If I could only eat at one of these for the rest of my life, I'd pick Hugo's. But I would really miss Ninfa's.
The Reality: Ninfa's had 57 percent of the vote as of early Wednesday afternoon.
How do you like your comfort food? Served in swank surroundings with high-end ingredients and plenty of wine? Or ordered up the way your grandma made it (but, you know, better) with a friendly face and a minimum of fuss?
The Edge: The grandma you wished you had. The Breakfast Klub.
The Reality: Max's Wine Dive is putting an early hurt on Breakfast, 57 percent to 43 percent.
Who gets your edge? Make your case in the comments and remember to vote in the restaurant challenge. No matter what I think, you get the ultimate say.