Courtesy of Musaafer

The biggest problem with reality TV cooking competition shows is that the people watching at home never get to experience the food that’s created for the judges. Sure, that exotic-looking creation may appear to be delicious, but how does it taste? Did the judges really make the right decision?

Thankfully, Houstonians who’ve been following along with the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship: Easter will get the chance to try one of the show’s winning creations courtesy of Musaafer pastry chef Ruchit Harneja. He is now serving a version of the honey-glazed ham cake that he created on episode three of the show at the Indian fine dining restaurant in the Galleria.

Harneja and his fellow contestants had to create a dessert based on a classic savory Easter dish. The choices included cornbread, potatoes au gratin, and deviled eggs. Having been awarded honey-glazed via a beer pong-style game, the chef got to work.

The finished dessert, which won the day’s challenge, uses a hickory-smoked honey cake and pineapple cherry jelly. For the Musaafer version, the chef has upgraded the presentation with cherry pâté de fruit, a ham crumble, and his made in-house pineapple and clove Peeps.

Ruchit Harneja Spring Baking Championship easter ham dessertThe original dessert Harneja created for the show.Courtesy of Food Network

“I enjoy pushing the boundaries to explore more interesting flavor combinations, and this dessert is no exception,” Harneja said in a statement. “It consists of all the components and flavor profiles of the classic Easter dish, including the ham, but with sweet elements that balance it to perfection.”

The dish, pictured above, will be available at Musaafer through Easter Sunday (April 9). It’s priced at $25.

As for the show,. Harneja continues to make his way through the 6-episode competition. Tune in at 9 pm on Monday, March 27 to see his latest creations.

Photo courtesy of Food and Vine Time

Food and Vine Time presents Villa Maria Garden Party

Attendees of the Villa Maria Garden Party will get a chance to wear flowy spring dresses and a Derby hat or fascinator and drink international wine selections paired with crafted culinary offerings. There will also be door prizes, swag, selfie stations to capture the moment, flowing wines, and a live chef presentation and pairing menu curated by Executive Chef Ryan Hallsted.

Photo by Marco Torres

Veteran Houston chef dishes on his seafood-focused Italian restaurant and eclectic cafe, plus hottest food news

What's Eric Eating Episode 274

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Justin Turner joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler. As the director of culinary hospitality for McCord Development, Turner currently oversees two restaurants in the Generation Park project near Lake Houston — Bocca Italian Kitchen and Lupo Caffe.

Justin Turner generation park bocca lupo
Photo by Marco Torres

Chef Justin Turner is this week's guest.

The conversation begins with Turner discussing his decision to close Bernie's Burger Bus and accept his current position with McCord. From there, Sandler and Turner discuss Bocca's evolution into a seafood-oriented Italian restaurant and Lupo's transition for a pizzeria to a more eclectic cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

One of Turner's responsibilities is to help recruit other restauranteurs to open their own concepts at Generation Park. The chef shares that he aspires to open an intimate, tasting menu space that would take some of its inspiration from his time as a private chef for former NBA player Shane Battier.

"I cooked for them. They ate at their island. They'd have guests over. I'd engage with them," Turner says about his time working the former Houston Rocket. "That experience was so great. I got to explain what I was doing and why I was doing it. I was so passionate about it. I want to create that experience."

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Linda Salinas discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: chef Philippe Schmit returning to restaurants at PS21; Best Regards, a new bar and lounge opening in the Heights; and Haywire, a Dallas-based comfort food restaurant that will open at Gateway Memorial City.

In the restaurant of the week segment, they share thoughts about their recent meal from PrimoHoagies. Listen to the full episode to learn whether Salinas and Sandler think the East Coast-based sandwich shop is a worthy addition to Washington Avenue.


Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Saturday at 2 pm on ESPN 97.5.

Photo courtesy of CKO Digital

Heights & Co. presents The & Co. Dining Series

Heights & Co. will present a brand new chef series featuring a series of local chefs for a curated dining experience and cocktail pairing.

Schedule of events

  • March 15 - Hugo’s Restaurant, Chef Vanessa Lee
  • March 22 - Concura, Chef Ilias Gugole
  • March 29 - Mastrantos, Chef Tony Castillo
  • April 12 - Belly of the Beast, Chef Thomas Bille
  • April 26 - Tiny Boxwoods, Chef Victor Cruz
Photo by Dylan McEwan

Talented Houston chef debuts new River Oaks-area restaurant with decadent dishes, caviar service, and buzzy vibe

eat for absolution

Throughout his career in Houston restaurants, chef E.J. Miller has been the guy behind the guy. Now, he’ll lead the kitchen at Muse, an eclectic new restaurant opening this spring in the former Emmaline space at 3210 W Dallas St.

Food-obsessed Houstonians may recall that Miller worked alongside Brandi Key at Coppa Ristorante and SaltAir Seafood Kitchen. They may remember that Ryan Lachaine recruited him to help open Riel and that he served as celebrity chef Michael Mina’s tie to Texas during International Smoke’s short-lived run in CityCentre. More recently, he’s been leading The Sporting Club, the lively restaurant and nightlife venue on Washington Avenue.

He’ll bring all those experiences to Muse. Part of Sundown Entertainment — the group behind the Sporting Club, cocktail bar the Sugar Room, and tequila bar Todos Santos — Muse will feature a seasonal menu that pulls from different culinary traditions. Miller tells CultureMap he’s been inspired both by the places he’s worked and local restaurants he patronizes such as Mein, Ohn Korean Eatery, Pho Binh, and State of Grace. The result is a menu with a range of hot and cold shareable items, maki rolls, and wood-grilled steak and seafood entrees.

Specific dishes will include:

  • Parker House Rolls with fresh dill, urfa everything spice, smoked salmon, and cultured butter
  • Wood-fired Alabama Oysters topped with fried chicken butter, fermented peppers, and garlic honey
  • Wagyu Potstickers topped with caviar and chives
  • Lobster ravioli with shellfish nage, sweet chili sauce, and fresh herbs
  • Caviar Service with brown butter potato madeleines, creme fraiche, and chives.

Pairing options will include a range of craft cocktails and a wine list with selections by-the-glass or bottle. General manager Patty Burbach, a veteran of establishments such as Mastro’s and MAD, brings more than 20 years of experience to her role.

Muse takes some of its design inspiration from restaurants such as Catch LA, MILA Miami, and Tattu UK, according to a representative. Large tables will feature Lazy Susans to make sharing easier. Both private dining rooms and an outdoor patio will be available.

“Our goal with Muse is to create a perfect blend of food, service, and ambience,” Miller said in a statement. “While food is always our number one focus, we also want to create a lively, buzzing atmosphere that can be enjoyed by all.”

Given the hysteria around Sundown’s other concepts, it seems likely that Muse won’t be a supermassive black hole in Houston’s dining scene. Indeed, we predict diners will be feeling good at this new born eatery.

Muse restaurant interior

Photo by Dylan McEwan

Here's a sneak peek of Muse's interior.

Photo by Darren Lafferty

Former Gatlin's BBQ top chef goes b'tween the lines on her new restaurant, plus Houston's hottest food news

What's Eric Eating Episode 273

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Michelle Wallace joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler. Wallace recently left her role as executive chef of Gatlin's BBQ to launch b'tween Sandwich Co., a new pop-up that she plans to turn into a restaurant.

The conversation begins with Wallace sharing some of her experiences opening Gatlin's Fins & Feathers, the comfort food restaurant that ranked as one of 2022's best new restaurants. From there, the discussion turns to sandwiches. Sandler asks the chef what the necessary components are for a great sandwich.

"Everything has to work like a song. You have a beginning, the middle, and the end," she says. "For me, having a complete song makes a great sandwich. What's giving me texture, what's giving me crunch. Is there a heating element? Do I have a sweet element for balance? All of these things come into play."

Listen to the full interview to hear Wallace discuss her experiences as part of the James Beard Foundation's TasteTwenty program and as a contestant on season three of the Food Network competition show BBQ Brawl. She also shares the timeline for opening her new restaurant.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Felice Sloan discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: the closure of seafood restaurant 1751 Sea & Bar; Berg Hospitality's plans to open Buttermilk Baby in the Heights; and Eloise Nichols moving to an all-day format.

In the restaurant of the week segment, Sloan and Sandler share first impressions of Fat Boy's Pizza, the Louisiana-based pizzeria that recently opened its first Houston location. They find a lot to like about the massive 30-inch pies, compelling appetizers, and friendly service.


Subscribe to "What's Eric Eating" on Apple podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify. Listen to it Sunday at noon on ESPN 97.5.

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Houston Grand Opera raises the curtain on a new season of fan favorites

a grand new season

Tragedy and triumph take center stage in Houston Grand Opera's 2023 - 2024 season, announced yesterday afternoon. The six-opera series includes a world premiere by Jake Heggie, Intelligence; , a co-production of The Sound of Music; the company's first-ever production of Wagner's Parsifal; and beloved classics Falstaff, Madame Butterfly, and Don Giovanni.

HGO general director and CEO Khori Dastoor called that the season's theme "surrounds finding truth within art," in a press release announcing the shows.

The season opens October 20 with composer Jake Heggie's world premiere, Intelligence, with a libretto by Gene Scheer. It marks the first time the company has ever opened a season with a new opera. Based on a little-known story of the Civil War, it's the extraordinary story of two women from very different backgrounds who form a Union soy ring. Internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano and HGO Studio alumna Jamie Barton sings the role of Elizabeth Van Lew, member of a prominent Confederate family; soprano Janai Brugger, praised by Opera News for her "rapturously beautiful" voice, sings the role of Mary Jane Bowser, born into slavery in Elizabeth's house. The opera runs from October 20 through November 3.

Verdi's masterpiece Fallstaff is the other half of the company's fall repertoire, sung in Italian with English translation The story of Shakespeare's drunken knight who concocts a wild scheme to pay off his debts features baritone Reginald Smith Jr. in the title role. He's joined by other company favorites soprano Nicole Heaston as Alice, baritone Blake Denson as Ford, and soprano Andrea Carroll as Nannetta. Patrick Summers, HGO's artistic and music director, conducts. Falstaff runs from October 27 to November 10.

Opening 2024 for the company is Wagner's Parsifal, a vibrant production from Tony Award-winning director John Caird. Sung in German with projected English translation, it's the story of a group of knights on a quest to protect both the Holy Grail and their wounded king, who can only be healed by Parsifal and the holy spear. Tenor Russell Thomas, called "impressive" by the Los Angeles Times, sings the title role. He's joined by worldwide superstar soprano Christine Goerke, globally acclaimed bass-baritone Ryan McKinney and ward-winning bass Kwangchul Youn. The show runs January 19 through February 4, 2024.

Puccini's tragic love story, Madame Butterfly, lights up the stage with a diverse cast, including sought-after soprano Ailyn Pérez, as Cio-Cio-San, opposite tenor Yongzhao Yu as Pinkerton, making his role debut. They are joined by mezzo-soprano Sun-Ly Pierce as Suzuki, bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as Sharpless in Michael Grandage's production, directed by Jordan Braun. Summers will conduct. Sung in Italian with projected English translation, Madame Butterfly runs January 26 through February 11, 2024.

The spring repertoire brings two much-adored classics to the HGO stage. First comes Don Giovanni, Mozart's towering masterpiece about the womanizing title character who refuses to atone for his wicked ways. Superstar Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni sings the title role alongside sensational soprano Andriana Chuchman in her role debut as Donna Anna. The opera is sung in Italian with projected English translation and runs April 19 through May 3, 2024.

Closing HGO's season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved The Sound of Music, co-produced by HGO and the Glimmerglass Festival. This dazzling new production by Francesca Zambello is led by Grammy-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Maria, a nun sent to be a nanny to the seven children of Captain Von Trapp. Baritone Alexander Birch Elliott sings the role of the captain. It's set in Austria in the last days before World War II, the timeless love story, based on a true story and immortalized in the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The production runs April 26 through May 12, 2024.

Full season subscriptions start at $90 and are available for purchase online.

Houston Grand Opera Falstaff

Photo by Lynn Lane

Verdi's comedic opera Falstaff sees the title character engaging in a hair-brained scheme to pay off his debts.

Texas luxury boot maker kicks open the doors at newest Houston outpost


Iconic western wear brand Lucchesehasopened its 19th store at Baybrook Mall in southeast Houston. The Texas-based luxury brand is known for its extensive selection of cowboy boots, casual footwear, accessories, leather goods, and men's and women's apparel.

Lucchese opened its first store in 1883 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Since then, the brand has expanded to offer its customers a wide range of products symbolizing the authentic American West for over 140 years. The Baybrook Mall store comes on the heels of Lucchese Midland's grand opening last fall.

At 4,000 square feet, the Baybrook store is the brand's most expansive location. Shoppers will be greeted with a warm Western motif and find natural wood and leather elements throughout the boutique. As always, customers will discover high-quality boots and products at various price points and featured in multiple colors and leathers.

Those looking for a bespoke experience can create a pair of personalized boots in the store's exclusive customization area. The boots, hand-crafted in El Paso, will start with a customized fit and genuine sole-to-scallop design.

Lucchese's newest store will also feature the brand's first-ever custom hat bar. Guests can customize Lucchese hats with various hat bands and other accessories to choose from. Additionally, guests can also have their hats shaped by a professional hat shaper.

"Lucchese Baybrook marks our 19th Lucchese store, and it is slated to be our most bespoke experience yet," says Doug Kindy, Lucchese President. "From custom cowboy boots to custom hats, we aim to provide a product of the highest quality to our Houston-area customers that will last generations to come."

Lucchese Baybrook will host a Texas-sized grand opening party to celebrate the new store on April 1. There will be live music from Catie Offerman, a Parker McCollum guitar giveaway, complimentary drinks and bites, a hat shaping demonstration, a $1,000 Lucchese gift card raffle, and a Kendra Scott pop-up in the store. Additionally, the first 50 attendees will receive a gift.


Lucchese Baybrook; 700 Baybrook Mall Dr., Friendswood. For information, call 346-384-8169 or visit Lucchese online.

Photo courtesy of Lucchese/Instagram

Lucchese's newest store is now open in Baybrook Mall.

Bustling Brazilian steakhouse chain lightens up with new plant-based options

Vegan News

Well, here's a twist: Fogo de Chão, the churrascuria-style restaurant concept from Brazil known for its dedication to meat, is expanding its menu in an unprecedented new direction:

They're adding tofu.

Effective immediately, the restaurant will offer new plant-based and nutrient-dense dishes, alongside an enhanced Bar Fogo beverage list that has new non-alcoholic craft cocktails made with low-proof spirits (less than 0.5% alcohol).

Fogo CEO Barry McGowan says in a release that they're responding to demand from their younger, more health-conscious customers.

"Our young and dynamic guests consider themselves food explorers who seek new culinary discoveries with each visit,” McGowan says. “For nearly 45 years we’ve had nutrient-dense and plant-forward dining options for every occasion and dietary tribe through our Market Table. With the rollout of our new dining choices and clean cocktails, we continue to offer our guests the variety and discoveries they crave while doing it in a wholesome and flavorful way.”

The Market Table is their famed salad bar, which has sated many a vegetarian diner or else those just not up for the whole skewered meat thing that is a trademark of Fogo and other churrascuria-style places.

Two new plant-based innovations will join Fogo's existing Vegetarian and Pescatarian dishes such as the Cauliflower Steak, and will be available on the main dining menu available for lunch, brunch, and dinner as an alternative to the Full Churrasco Experience, as follows:

  • Seared Tofu with Miso Black Bean Pasta - Chimichurri-marinated tofu served atop black bean pasta sautéed with green onion, Napa cabbage, pickled onions and carrot ginger-miso dressing. Vegan and gluten-free.
  • Roasted Power Vegetable Bowl - Roasted eggplant, marinated mushrooms, roasted zucchini, asparagus, and baby peppers served with chimichurri spinach rice. Vegan and gluten-free.

togo power bowlRoasted Power Vegetable Bowl at Fogo de Chao.Courtesy of Fogo de Chao

They're also rolling out new dishes on the Market Table which for the past 45 years has showcased nutrient-dense and flavorful choices including seasonal salads, micro greens, natural and plant-based proteins, imported charcuterie, and more.

New items on the Market Table are as follows:

  • Spring Hummus - Fresh hummus blended with herbs, roasted garlic and citrus, topped with radish, fresh mint, edamame, and olive oil.
  • Baby Kale & Mango Salad - Fresh baby kale, Napa cabbage, red radish and mango, tossed in a lime honey dressing.
  • Miso Black Bean Pasta - Gluten-free black bean pasta tossed with green onion, Napa cabbage, pickled onions and carrot ginger-miso dressing.
  • Apple Manchego Salad - Granny Smith apples and Manchego cheese tossed with honey, cracked pepper and black mission figs.
  • Power Greens - A seasonal mix of vitamin-rich greens, fresh herbs and micro-shoots

The Bar
The Bar Fogo menu now features five new cocktails, including three made with Clean Co’s non-alcoholic spirits with less than 0.5% alcohol, as follows:

  • Yellowbird - Desolas Mezcal, Passion Fruit, Pineapple, Cointreau, La Marca Prosecco
  • Espresso Martini - Diplomatico Reserva Rum, Caffe Borghetti and Licor 43
  • Clean Cosmo - CleanCo V (Vodka) Apple, Cranberry, Fresh Lemon
  • CleanR Sour - CleanCo R (Rum), Passionfruit, Pineapple, Aquafaba, Bitters
  • Clean Cucumber Martini - CleanCo V (Vodka) Apple, Cucumber, Basil, Lemon Twist

Founded in southern Brazil in 1979, Fogo has eight locations across Texas including three in the Houston area: Friendswood, Westheimer, and The Woodlands.