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A Grand Tasting with Room to Spare

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Chef Jesse Perez talks with patrons at the Grand Tasting.

Culinaria's Grand Tasting, sponsored by Ambhar Tequila Saturday night, was a grand mix of glitz and glamor, side-by-side with  a casual ambience that gave the event more the feeling of a gathering of friends. Where last year's event was something of a noisy mob scene, this year's audience was scaled down, with plenty of space to mingle, taste and talk. The food, while small in scale in terms of portion size offered diversity as well as a great variety of flavors, from tenderest breaded calamari with a sweet and sour sauce from Citrus to Jesse Perez's scrumptious albondiga on an unexpected base of creamy white bean hummus; from molecular sorcery to whole-grain cookies. Within a few steps you could down a tiny, open-faced meatloaf slider from the JW Marriott, then sip a watermelon-based gazpacho with seafood from 20nine.

Culinaria CEO Suzanne Taranto Etheredge (left) and Jenny Niemann enjoy the Grand Tasting.

While strolling through the grotto area under the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, we found plenty of treats to love, including the strips of tender beef in a cognac cream sauce, served on a rich spoonful of mashed potatoes from Kirby's Prime Steakhouse. The restaurant also offered dessert right at the next table -- three delicious varieties of hand-rolled chocolate truffles -- chile, tangerine and walnut. Chef Steven McHugh, of Lüke San Antonio presented a colorful, updated chicken salad, sans mayonnaise, but bursting with flavors from tiny tomatoes, sprouts, mini-croutons and a light, spiky dressing.

Peeler Farms chicken in a salad from Luke San Antonio.

Chicken tinga tostadas from Paloma Blanca and Chile en Nogada from Picante Grill were among the Mexican flavors of the evening, while Jason Dady offered a tequila ice made in a smoky bowl of dry ice.  It was a fun feat of molecular cooking, though his Thai-infused treat of coconut, curry and various spices tasted even better.

Chef Jason Dady swirls some dry ice to cool off his drink.

Flour Power Cafe and Lux were among those offering sweets to finish off the tasting. Numerous other restaurants and wineries kept patrons happy, while the lines moved quickly, whether they were after food or wine, tequila or beer. An icy glass of Kim Crawford Saugivnon Blanc from New Zealand, a chilled California Chardonnay from  J. Lohr and some Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon with winery founder Gary Hogue himself on hand were some of the wines on hand, while Ambhar offered tastes of silver, reposado and añejo tequilas and explanations to guide you through what makes each special. And again the weather cooperated with the event, providing a gentle breeze. Culinaria's 2012 festival concludes Sunday with Burgers, BBQ and Beer at the Pearl Brewery. Click here for details.

Flour Power Cafe offer tastes of several varieties of cakes

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