The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been called our city’s version of Mardi Gras, and by the looks of the Rodeo Uncorked and Best Bites competition at Reliant Center, Fat Tuesday came a few days early. The sold-out event showcased elaborate bites from many of Houston’s best restaurants and celebrated wines from around the world, prompting some to wish there was some stretch in their denim.
Guests were handed a signature wine glass and Rodeo Uncorked buffet plate upon entering and sent into the circles of food and wine. It was a delicious labyrinth heavy on beef — short rib sliders, sweet meatball lollipops and slow-cooked flank steak. Not to be outdone, there was also duck, lamb, seafood and pork, plus nods to the local Tex-Mex heritage. In all, more than 50 of Houston’s best restaurants filled up plate after plate, impressively serving dishes at the right temperature most of the time.
It was a delicious labyrinth heavy on beef — short rib sliders, sweet meatball lollipops and slow-cooked flank steak.
There were ample opportunities to put that wine glass to good use since 2,454 wines from 736 wineries were hoping to land the Grand Champion Best of Show honors. France, Australia, Italy and plenty of domestic varieties were poured, but with all that red meat, cabernet and cabernet blends were popular choices.
My personal favorite was Texas’ own Becker Vineyards Raven 2009 Petite Verdot. It was jammy, full and a Reserve Class Champion, Texas Class Champion. Glass Wall departed from the wine theme of the night, serving a refreshing and curiously kicky Texas tea that would make an August summer night almost bearable.
Guests and celebrity judges were tasked with choosing their favorite dishes of the night by placing colorful beads at the restaurant booth of their choice, culminating in the highly-anticipated Best Bites winner circle. Royers Round Top Café, with long line all night, won first place in the Popular Choice category. Previous winner, Hasta la Pasta landed the second place spot.
In the Trailblazing Appetizer/Entrée Award, Beaucoup Bar & Grill won third place for barbecue shrimp and grits, Straits Asian Bistro and Lounge won for braised Singaporean Spice Short Ribs and Valentino Vin Bar landed the top spot for slow smoked flank steak with fregola and smoky tomato demi-glace.
Judges eschewed chocolate in favor of fruit and cheese in the Two Stepping Bread/Cheese/Dessert award giving Ooh La La Dessert Boutique’s blackberry pie bars a second place honor. Veldhuizen Cheese once again impressed with its raw milk artisanal cheese, nabbing a first place win.
Rodeo Uncorked general chairman Stephanie Baird also honored Houston Community College’s culinary students.
“These students have participated in Best Bites for several years and this year and last year they came close to winning regular competitions against all these chefs,” Baird says. In addition to serving tasso Bites with celery jam and goat cheese on brioche toast, the students were also were awarded a winning belt buckle at this year's event.
Best Bites ushers in the start of rodeo season and serves as an excellent warm-up for the next big eating event. The World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest starts Thursday. I’m seriously considering wearing pajama jeans.