The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair 2017

While the Houston area may boast several events for wine and food enthusiast, the ultimate food and wine celebration in Houston is the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair.  Over the past 6 years Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has been raising the bar on the culinary standards in the city with a decadent celebration of food, wine and spirits in a collaboration that is truly unforgettable.  This year the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair is making some exciting changes to the mix to not only showcase some of the best food Houston has to offers and the top tier of wine and spirits from around the world.  Attendees win as the festival gives you an insider’s glimpse that will take your knowledge and appreciation to the next level.

In lieu of some of introductory events the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair will take on the road as teacher as it showcases food and wine in a more intimate setting.  In order to provide the perfect setting the On the Rocks Bartender Challenge has been replaced with private dinners to kick off the weekend festivities.  Choosing either the Boiling Point seafood boil or The Italian Invasion Dinner guests can mix great food and wine with intimate company and some great insight as they enjoy their favorites or try something new.  Additionally the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has added several learning experiences that guest can attend Friday and Saturday.  There is nothing like identifying the why of your love for some of your favorite flavor profiles.  Taking the time to get deeper into the educational side only strengthens your appreciation for your favs and gives you clues on how to find other top picks based on your own palette.

The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair made sure not to mess with the best, with their program changes, and Friday nights Grand Tasting is sure to be one for the books.  The Sugar Land Marriott Town Square serves as the perfect location to meet food and wine nirvana.  With everything from inventive culinary creations (I still dream about the upscale Frito pie) and tried and true favorites from HEB and local restaurant superstars the event provides a something for everyone in an unforgettable night.

Other favorites, such as Saturdays Sip and Stroll will keep more recent location changes, now done at Constellation Field but enhanced it with a two day option so you have all of Saturday and Sunday to get a chance to grab your favorite bites and beverages while enjoying some of the great performers who always deliver during the event. As the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair promises more of the core that has built its following as well as some great new opportunities to appreciate the food and wine on a different level this event is going to be a must on any food and wine lover’s schedule.

Dinner Lab Houston – a culinary extravaganza

Dinner Lab Houston coverDining is almost religious here in Texas.  Houston is a city full of great restaurants and chefs with a range of cuisine to fit any palette.  You can get lost in the mix of the amazing food options and oversized plates, however, it can be easy to miss some more adventurous dining and side instead with old favorites that are a sure fire win.  With the descent of Dinner Lab to Houston there is a movement to change the traditional approach to food and replace it with an adventurous walk with a local expert that seeks to redefine eating as an experience.

Dinner Lab Houston (12) Dinner Lab Houston (7) Dinner Lab Houston (6)Dinner lab was born out of the desire to ignite a passion for all things new when it comes to eating.  Instead the typical restaurant, Dinner Lab brings together eaters who like to stride on the wild side with equally progressive chefs in a pop up restaurant.  The result is an experience where everything is new.  You come in to a group environment were much of the night is a mystery, and only one thing is for sure you will be surrounded by others who share your passion for food.  With the drinks flowing and the music bumping strangers quickly become friends as you anxiously await the star of the night…the food.

Dinner lab four courses and chefAs the chef and waiters bring your courses for introduction you begin to fully realize that you are not in Kansas anymore but on a type of food safari.  With an inspired chef you begin to understand the development of pairings of dishes and ingredients that are as full of innovation as they are of passion.  With quality, fresh ingredients, the night is master crafted for a flavor explosion.  I am a fan of the term “foodgasim” and this is a place you are sure to have one.  By the end of the night my thoughts reminiscing about my favorite flavors of the evening could only be interrupted by the lively table mates of mine as we laughed, sang and cheers the night away.  If you are interested in trying new foods, up and coming chefs or just a different experience than the usual then get in on the monthly Dinner Lab experience and prepare yourself for the surprisingly familiar taste of the unknown.

Spring fun at the food and wine festival of festivals: The Sugar Land Wine and Food Affair

Sugarland Wine and Food affair logoThis weekend the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair rolls into town and without question for me this is the most well organized and memorable wine festivals that Houston and the surrounding areas have to offer.  From bartender challenges to wines from all over the world to more food that can be conquered in a weekend the event offers the best of what local chefs and internationally wineries have to offer.

Starting tonight you can get in on the fun with the New Amsterdam Vodka On the Rocks Bartenders Challenge.  The event lets the creativity of five of the top local bartenders shine through as each bartender offers their unique spin on the featured ingredient.  As this year New Amsteredam Vodka is the main ingredient I am sure the variation of concepts will be mind blowing.

As TGIF rolls in the weekend offers an assortment of events all meant to give you the finest of food, wine, beer and cocktails.  Friday presents the premier event, the Grand Tasting.  Come hungry, thirsty and ready to have some fun.  As the event is inside it is the only opportunity you have to enjoy the pleasures the festival has to offer all inside, and sometimes climate control is a win in Houston weather.  With the festive crowd and the delicious cuisine inside it is an event not to be missed.

If being outside, or drinking beer, is more your cup of tea check out the Sip and Stroll on Saturday.  This events offers variation galore with food samplings sprinkled throughout the two building setup.  Even better for your beer lover there is a beer garden dedicated to give you the variation in familiar and new tastes of beers that you can get at a few other venues.

To wrap the weekend, the Bistro Brunch is a great way to not dread the end of your weekend as you are surrounded in the savory and sweet better known as brunch.  The brunch provides a smooth finish to a weekend of fun with live jazz in the middle of Sugar Land Town Square.

Barre non this event is the crème de la crème.  For more details of the fun of the weekend check out last year’s recaps!

http://playhardplaybook.com/on-the-rocks-bartender-challenge-recap/

http://playhardplaybook.com/my-top-10-loves-from-the-sugar-land-wine-food-affair-grand-tasting/

http://playhardplaybook.com/sugar-land-wine-food-affair-sip-and-stroll/

http://playhardplaybook.com/bistro-brunch-recap/

Sunday Brunch at Weights and Measures

IMG_0454What better way on a beautiful Sunday in Midtown Houston, to kick off your R & R than a great brunch? Ask and you shall receive when you head over to Caroline St. and visit Weights and Measures.  This new restaurant combines an eclectic kitchen, with a vibrant bar, and a bakeshop to deliver on the hard to attain claim to fame something for everyone.

IMG_0455 IMG_0443As usual I was a little backwards and ended up coming in through the back patio.  Although this confusion did not deliver me to the hostess, it did let me make instant contact with the bar.  Filled with fun bartenders and eclectic recipes this restaurant pours up more than great drinks, they are giving fun in a bottle.  First with the Smallest Room and then with their take on the Bellini you can quickly tell their attention to detail and passion for mixology.  The Smallest Room takes bourbon for a spin by adding their own maple favoring while the Bellini gives the traditional Bellini flavor in a fun new twist that is more like a Bellini snow cone.  Amanda and the other bar staff take the drinks way more serious than they take themselves, making the drinks and the mood light and easy.

Once we took our seats outside we were able to enjoy the beautiful day and prepare our stomachs for the feast demanded of us.  To help smooth our stomach pain while we waited we received an assortment of freshly baked bread with butter and jam.  Honestly it was so good it could have been my meal.  For the main course, while my friends went with some of their egg sandwich variations I opted for something new and tried their Donuts and Fried Chicken. The egg sandwiches were the winners in this rounded each delivering on the delicate balance of toasted bread, smoky bacon, and fried eggs.  By adding mushrooms or house made sauces to the different sandwiches the taste packed entirely different punches despite being built on the same foundation.

IMG_0448 IMG_0447Once the food is devoured and drinks are a wrap you still can walk out with your head held high of avoiding gluttony by taking your desert to go.  My friend walked in and immediately tempted me with her sighting of cookies “as big as her head”.  Fresh backed baked goods are always a favorite for me and with tastes as good as these the restaurant will have you peaking your head in during the week too to grab your favorites.  With a great mix of eclectic fun and soul Weights and Measures is a great way to step out of the ordinary in Midtown Houston eateries.

 

 

Culinary Carnival Recap

Ballon helmetsWho doesn’t like a good carnival???? There is something about the mix of clowns, games, entertainment and cotton candy that brings out the kid in almost anyone.  Sunday’s First Annual Culinary Carnival  meet and surpassed all of the youthful fun expectations I had in going to a carnival and added a grown up twist with cosmic cocktails.   Sword fightAt first step into Eleven: Eleven this weekend you stepped into a tented spectacle where everyone, from the food vendors to bartenders, were on and ready to perform.

 

Cupcakes on a stick Bacon on a stick Two balls please Pork Belly on a stick Lobster Corndogs 2 Gumbo on a stickThe food was the first stop, as you would expect in any carnival, was food on a stick.  The twist was the nimble balances between fun and sophistication all the chefs delivered in their creations.  The food challenge: to take ingredients from bacon to pork belly to lobster and make them a reflection of the kid at heart vibe the event centered around.  With delicious bites available like gumbo on a stick, lobster corndogs, and chocolate covered bacon competing for the title of best bites you got bites of the things you loved as a kid with a great grown up spin on them.

Cocktail Competition 3 Cocktail Competition 2 Batenders 1 Bartenders 2 BartendersNow the food was all fun and games, however, the drinks set the tone for a real adult playground.  The cities best bartenders did some wondrous things on the cocktail version of chopped.  Out of a selection of ingredients that ranged from classic to a little bit strange the mixologists delivered some adult beverages you would be hard pressed to find again.  After I ran a round of ice cream shots and adult snow cones I began turning back the hands of time at each station.  Adult Snowcone 2Somewhere between the spray tattoo and salsa dancing I lost sight of who was the kid after all.  Each game stop or game I played encouraged this transition as I rejoiced in my spin of the bowling ball climb and pouted over my loss at the arrow target game.

Games games 3 Games 2

So at the end of it after a long battle with my daughter with our new balloon swords and helmets, eating and drinking until I could no more, playing games, dancing and even being captured by the carnie folks Carnival was an incredible Saturday that gave me a whole new way to relate to my daughter and back to the child within.  The fun of the event really shone a light on a really great cause, the PULSE young professional group of St. Luke’s Hospital and was a great reminder of the wonderful things that can happen when giving is at the heart of any event.

Houston International Festival 2014

ifest signThe Houston iFest is back for the next two weekends again celebrating the fun and beauty of diversity with a focus this year on Australia.  The International Festival offers a festive peek into some of the food, music and dance that defines cultures throughout the world.  Spread across several blocks in downtown Houston each street offers an opportunity to explore a new region of the world.  Vendors 2 WatchesThese streets are transformed with the music and goods of the different regions to give a glimpse at each regions cultural heartbeat.  While the festival offers a chance to explore something new in a different part of the world, it still provides the festival staples we all know and love to produce an eclectic mix of things to do and see and eat.

Without question my favorite part of the international festival are the performances on the five stages set up throughout the festival.  Where else can you enjoy different performances hourly on five different stages at one time? Heart of Texas Stage Down Under Pub Center Stage Each stage takes a different perspective on entertainment.  Some smaller stages work to both showcase and educate on the evolution of music and dance in their region.  In the vast differences in the music and dance you also learn to see the common thread of endurance and love that is shared throughout the world in the expression of dance and music.  In addition to some of the smaller stages, the World Stage and Center stage pull in some headliners from throughout the world and expand your entertainment palette.  AudienceWhether it is something new to you or an act that you love that drew you in there is nothing like relaxing in the grass or letting the music move your feet in dance as you enjoy a weekend at the festival.  Cultural Dancing Cultural Dancing 2Click here to check out the performance schedule for the rest of the festival to see what strikes your fancy.

I must confess that I am a festival junkie.  There is something addictive to me about a good mix of food, music, dancing and art.  A great festival can provide a much needed break from the hustle and bustle that work and life demand every day.  Painting Art Inspriation Me and Chy At my time in the festival I got a chance to paint with my daughter, share some of our favorite foods, enjoy performances of music and dance, and close out the night in a boogie at Tranquility Park.  Not too shabby of a feat for a Saturday evening.  You still have three days for your chance to get in on the fun and explore the country from down under with the celebration of Australia at this year’s International Festival.Tranquilty Park Sunset Downtown

Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Sip and Stroll

To Be or not to beThe Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair outdid themselves once again with another great opportunity to discover new food and drinks in a setting perfectly suited for the occasion.  This day time jump into exploration of new foods and wines offers a chance to both wind down and wine up.  Sip and Stroll 1Set in the Imperial Sugar Factor grounds the Sip and Stroll lets you pick your pleasure as you walk through the buildings and tents throughout the grounds.

 

 

Tullamore DewFrom the second you walk in, greeted with a smile, your glass and champagne you get a sense that the fun is about to commence.  The layout for discovery is split between two buildings and the outside tents.  BandThe great music and band drew me quickly to the outside tents where the beer garden offered an opportunity to check out some of the best brewers you could find in the state.  St. ArnoldsFrom hometown favorites such as St. Arnolds to craft beer experts the selection was the equivalent to a beer lovers dream and offered an opportunity for tasting rarely offered to beer lovers at a wine tasting.

As with the Grand Tasting the power of the event is in the fusion of what you come across.  Just as you think you have had your fill of drinks or your last taste of food you wonder upon something that gets the blood going and the inspiration to make the space you need.  With all of the wine and food booths set up you have to go in with a plan of attack on how to make it all happen.  Tres Leche from ChurrascosThe larger building serves as the main stage for the tasting with rows and rows of food and drinks in the mix.  Gourmet Hot DogsLocal favorites and everyday staples are highlighted as they remind you of the great quality that made them beloveds in the first place.

The event also gave a chance to continue the exploration in to Mexico as you escape over to building two.  The festival gave a great nod to Mexico with some of my personal favorites, Churrascos, and tequila heavy hitter, Don JulioDon Julio.  There is also the chance to really challenge yourself to take the fun and love of the food and wine that brought you to the festival home with you with the cook book pop up shops.  For a foodie getting a chance to meet these authors serves as an extra inspiration to bringing the recipes to life at home.  After all the exploration was done you still have a chance to grab a seat and enjoy the music and great vibe of the Sip and Stroll.

My top 10 loves from the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Grand Tasting

IMG_5487The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Grand Tasting puts most wine tastings in the Houston area to shame.  Not only is there a phenomenal selection of delectable food and wines and cocktails, but the planning and set up flows seamlessly.  Instead of being bogged down in one line or another you can quickly flow from food to wine to spirits to conversation in the striking setting of the ballroom in the Sugar Land Marriot Town Center.   There are hundreds of reasons to enjoy this event but here are my top ten loves from a fantastic night in Sugar Land.

10. The Crowd:

The CrowdYes festivals are supposed to be fun but I have been to more than my fair share of them that had the fun drained out by a grumpy crowd.  The crowd for the Grand Tasting came ready to celebrate food and wine in high spirits.  Mixing drinks and lines can be tricky but everyone was ready to mingle and share their discoveries of what moved them from the festival.

9. Don Julio:

Don JulioThis is an old favorite for me but tasting like this really allow some brands, like Don Julio tequila, to showcase not only the great traditional approach but also shine through in a new light.  Don Julio made some great cocktail creations that hit the spot when circling the Visit Mexico tables.

 

8. Tullamore Dew:

Tullamore DEW

If you are not careful at a tasting all the new wines you taste can become pretty murky in your memory.  There is nothing like a brief break to wake up your palette and Tullamore Dew provided that for me.  They are the epitome of service with a smile, always willing to share the great legacy and tips to make the whiskey more accessible to drinker’s palettes.

7. Grand Auction:

Grand AuctionSome auctions try to get a little for a lot but the Grand Auction really showcased some heavy hitters in wine, food and travel.  The auction was irresistible as soon as you enter and really got your imagination going on all the possibilities that the night could hold.  I got away with a trip to the JW Marriott San Antonio for a steal and am ready for my getaway.

6. Chef Interactions: For a foodie there are few things that connect more to the food than the getting into the mind of the person who created it.  Being able to talk to the chefs first hand at some of the best restaurants in Houston gives you a glimpse into what is store when you visit their restaurants.

5. Flora Dora:

HendrickI thought Thursday I had explored all I could explore with Hendrick’s gin.  The Flora Dora was a great light and refreshing getaway from the wine selections that abound that night.  The ginger beer was really a great hidden ingredient and offered some of the great ginger flavor while lightening up the gin flavor.

4. Merlot Rosado:

Merlot RosadoHonestly I have never heard of a pink merlot until last night and it was instantly love at first sip with this offering form Dubacano Wines.  The wine was a great match for both red and white lovers as it offered the full bodied favor of a merlot with a smooth balance usually found in a rose.

3. Haak Madeira Blanc Du Bois:

HAAK MadieraOffering a port with undertones of Carmel seemed like a stretch to me but Haak Wines delivered on their Madeira Blanc Du Bois.  It is a great after dinner treat where you can quickly forget pulling out dessert plates as the drink offers dessert in a bottle.

 

2. Photo Booth:

Photo Booth FunI have a baby obsession with photo booths but I hate when you are limited in space or props.  The photo booth at the Grand Tasting was stocked with easy to use equipment, fun props and pliantly of room to play and a staff to show how it all works.  A review station let everyone get in on the fun to review your pics, find fun pictures from other guests and quickly send the ones you love via SMS or email.

1. Bon Bons!

Frenchs Bon BonsI walked up impressed with dainty display and cookie bon bons, grabbing two and sliding to the next booth.  With every bite of bon bon deliciousness though I was regretting every step away from this delicious treat.  Mister French’s Gourmet Bakery really outdid themselves with the sweet treats in several delicious favors that were truly finger licking good.  It was the one thing at the tasting I wanted to make it back around for round two but atlas, the delicious secret had been exposed and the table wiped clean.

Discover your own favorites at the Sip and Stroll today!

Making a map back to your favorites at a wine tasting

tequilaCeviche

I love the opportunity to explore that wine and food tasting presents.  You have a real opportunity to try out new things without feeling bound to your order when you find it’s not exactly your cup of tea.  In this moment you can tap into your sense of adventure and try tastes and smells outside of your normal palette range.  With the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair upon us there is the perfect opportunity to try out some of the best of the best when it comes to food and wine in the Houston area and beyond.  There is, however, some skill required to successfully bringing what you love from a tasting into what you love at home.  The challenge can be overwhelming when at a tasting as there are good food and smells all around.  Ambiguous attempts to try everything can result in being too full of food and drinks to remember which ones were the perfect fit.  Even when you find something right up your alley it may slip from your mind two or three stops later.    Here are some tips to winning after a tasting so you not only find the treasure but also complete the map back to it so you can find it again.

1. Less can be more.  It is very tempting to start off a tasting in a sprint and end up at a slow crawl.  Trying some of everything can be an impossible task.   An important lesson can be learned here from the tortoise as slow and steady can really win the race at a tasting.  Unless you absolutely love it, you are not obliged to finish it.  By going at a manageable and steady pace you have space for the things you love while giving more items a shot at make the list of favorites.

2. Devil is in the details.  You know what you like so finding what moves you can come easy while tasting.  It’s two or three days or weeks later that it becomes more of a challenge to remember what you loved and more importantly why.  You may, for instance, find a vineyard with a wine you adore and quickly jolt down the name to purchase later.   When you show up at the store, however, choosing from the merlot or cabernet can seem a lot less clear.  When you write down what you like give yourself more specific details like the type and why you like it.  Your answers to the “why” helps with the recall when the restaurant or wine would work perfectly for your craving or occasion.

3. Ask questions.  Tastings are a great opportunity to get one on one with the people who know the product the best.  Take advantage of the opportunity to engage them on how things are made and why their brand is so different than the rest.  Taste may be the most important factor, but other factors like availability, price, and even where it is made may make an impact on you purchasing the product in the future.

4. A picture says a thousand words.  The schedule of wines provided by most tastings is nice but how often do you keep it long enough to really gain from the notes you made in it.  I like to take a picture of what I love in my phone.  It is pretty easy to make an album in most phones and by dedicating an album to your foodie or cocktail loves you can go back to the things that catch your eye quickly and with ease.  If you have a group of folks who have a similar palette you can also share the album and get everyone in on the fun that discovering food and wine can be.

 

Food, fun, and wine…On My!

winepairingOne of my favorite events, the Sugar Land Wine and Food Festival, is on deck this weekend and I could not be more excited!  The festival offers a multitude of events so regardless of if you like more of a low key experience or the equivalent of the wine tasting decathlon, there is something perfect for you.  Here is a peak into what you can expect for a weekend of jam packed events, learning, food, and fun.

On the Rocks Bartender Challenge: Thursday the festival events spring into action at the Sugar Land Regional Airport.  Houston has really developed its mixology prowess over the last couple of years and this event is meant to showcase some of the best of the best in the bartending world.  An event this fabulous has to have a great foundation, so the drinks of the event will feature Hendrick’s Gin.  For old and new gin drinkers alike Hendrick’s is a pleasant surprise.  The gin’s small production and unique recipe of flowers, roots, and fruits break the mold on what you would expect in a gin.  With the five competing bartenders all sure to bring it for the competition you are sure to experience gin and cocktails in a way you have never seen them before.

Fred Parks Wine Seminar – Battle of Sexes: This seminar prepares to tackle the challenge of what wine really does fit men vs. women.  Put away your preconceptions and really face the challenge head on to see where you are on the palette scale as you explore the gambit of wines in a flight from reds to whites to sparkling.

Herradura Tequila Seminar: With Cinco de Mayo coming up now is the time to power up your tequila knowledge.  Herradura Tequila sources from carefully grown blue agave to produce a masterful tequila loved by aficionado’s everywhere.  The seminar offers a chance to learn about the love and people who go into making one of my personal favorites.

Whiskey Seminar – Tullamore Dew: I recently heard about the Tullamore Dew story at a seminar and the incredible history of a boy working at a distillery that transformed into an Irish whiskey powerhouse was only topped by the smooth taste of this single malted spirit.  You are sure to have a great time raising a glass to some fun Irish toasts throughout the event and learn some facts about whiskey as well along the way.

The Grand Tasting: When you combine the best of food and spirits how can you not be guaranteed a phenomenal night? The grand tasting is an unbelievable opportunity to reconnecting with some of your old favorites as well as find new ones as you make your way through the ballroom.  With 14 of Houston’s best restaurants and 28 different wine and spirit companies represented I double dare you not to have the time of your life!

Sip & Stroll at Imperial: More of a daytime or outdoor type of person? Well you can have all of the fun of the Grand Tasting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a celebration of the best of the best in food and wines.  Take the spirit of the food celebration home with you by stopping by one of the pop-up book shops and come face to face with some of your favorite cook book authors.

Bistro Brunch: The perfect weekend is wrapped up with the perfect meal…Brunch!!!! The mix of savory and sweet brunch when combined with the global reach of this event is a memorable way to wrap up the weekend of fun.  The event is sure to leave a great final impression so you can start the 362 day count down until next year!  Plus you can work off some of the calories from the weekend to the sounds of Joel Guzman, Sarah Fox, and Los Aztex to prevent the guilt from creeping up on Monday.

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