Yesterday afternoon I headed out to the First Annual Westside Chef's Throwdown. It was a fundraiser held at La Centerra to benefit MDA. Think 'Throwdown with Bobby Flay' meets 'Next Iron Chef'. The secret (and seasonal) ingredient was pumpkin.
Here are my thoughts on the 10 booths I visited:
First up, Babaloo International Cafe & Bar and 3 Olives Italian Restaurant. Both have the same owner, so it was like a two for one deal. Score. From Babaloo I sampled the Arancini Di Zucca with a creamy, sweet sauce. It was delicious fried pumpkin risotto goodness with a healthy dose of coconut. Tasty, but maybe a little too sweet. From 3 I tasted the Penne with mild Italian sausage and a creamy pumpkin/tomato sauce, as well as a Toasted Pumpkin Ravioli. These pasta was pretty good, but the toasted ravioli wasn't my favorite. The filling was good, but the 'pasta' was actually a pastry crust that was a little soggy.
Then I hit Thai Spice, just for a change of pace. And because I was really curious as to how they were going to incorporate pumpkin. Yeah, ummm, I don't think they did incorporate pumpkin. Or, if they did, I couldn't taste it. But I do love me some Pad Thai, so all wasn't lost. In addition to the noodle dish they served a pork dumpling. Both were okay, but nothing to write home about. (Personally, I prefer Khun Noi's Pad Thai.) What was delicious was the red chili pepper sauce/condiment they served on the side. Mmmm.
Vida Loca is a local tex-mex joint with a fabulous patio and really fresh food. This place has it all - a great bar, private party rooms, a sand vb court, an outside stage for live music, a huge (and gorgeous) patio and a playground for kiddos. I haven't had a bad meal there yet. However, the food they were serving the visitors on Saturday was not up to their usual standards. The Jalisco Chicken Wrap had a stale tortilla and dry chicken. The Spicy Red Pumpkin Salsa was a miss also. Very runny and even though I really like heat, the spice was so strong that you couldn't taste the pumpkin at all.
Ahhh, Carmelo's. I love you. This West Houston restaurant is a 'must visit'. They serve consistently good Italian food. I have only been a couple of times, but each was incredibly memorable. Their offerings: Pumpkin Risotto garnished with a fried sage leaf and a Pumpkin and Parmigiano Reggiano Souffle. The risotto was really good. The texture was nice and the flavor was pumpkin-y without being too overwhelming. The souffle was divine! Seriously, I could eat a whole bowl of that stuff. It wasn't sweet at all, instead it was incredibly earthy. Wow. I was sure to tell the chef just how amazing I thought it was. I sure hope they add it to their seasonal menu at the restaurant!
At this point I started to feel full. Not good, considering I only ate half of everything I had been served (except that divine souffle) and I was only 4 booths in. Time to walk around. It was a gorgeous day and the Moe Hansum Band was excellent! After taking 30 minutes to regroup I was back in business.
Another great Italian restaurant, Antonia's, also had a booth. Right next to Carmelo's, in fact. Head to head competition... I love it! They were serving Pumpkin & Butternut Squash Ravioli and Veal Saltimbocca. They were out of the Veal Saltimbocca when I visited, so instead I got a shot and a half of a limoncello-type drink. Fine by me. The ravioli was served with an amaretto cream sauce. Sounds syrupy sweet and heavy, but it wasn't. It was perfection. Absolute perfection. I wanted to lick my plate so badly, but I had to remind myself that I wasn't at home. And the limoncello was amazing also. Nice and lemon-y, with a kick, but not so strong that you couldn't enjoy it. Dangerous. Very dangerous.
Time for another break to listen to the band. Also, about this time my mom joined me after being released from her shift at the hospital a little early. We walked around to check out all of the booths and enjoy the gorgeous weather. I was so glad for some help getting through the last 4 tickets.
She hadn't eaten much at all, so we visited Lasagna House III's booth for some of their Lasagna and Pumpkin Tiramisu. I've been a fan of Lasagna House for years. It's always a great choice for dine-in, carry-out, and catering. Seriously, next time you are hosting a dinner and don't feel like cooking, call them! The pans are reasonably priced and delicious! The Lasagna we were served was very tasty (as always), but the Pumpkin Tiramisu was off texturally (chunks in the creamy part) and had a 'soapy' aftertaste.
My jeans were stretched to the max at this point and I really thought the button was about to pop off, so I gave my mom my next two numbers to use as she pleased. She hit up Antonia's in hopes of snagging one of those raviolli I had been raving about, but alas, it was not to be. They were out of the ravioli, but miraculously had more Veal Saltimboca. It was okay. Next booth: Catfish Mike's for some of their gumbo. Big disappointment for me. I like my gumbo to have a bit more body, be a little chunkier and not quite so dark. Maybe I just got a bad batch. And it was near the end of the event...
Down to one last number to spend. I felt as though I had no room left, that I could not eat another thing. Then I saw Mooyah's booth. Who cares if there wasn't a lick of pumpkin in their food?!?! I can't ever say no to french fries. Yes, they were every bit as good as they look.
Great way to wrap up a great afternoon. Good food, good music and fabulous family.
Oh, and to whom did I give my vote?
Yep, I think the limoncello tipped the scales in their favor...