Tag Archive | "Jesse Perez"

Arcade Midtown Kitchen to Close on Sunday

Arcade Midtown Kitchen in the Historic Pearl, 303 Pearl Parkway, is closing Sunday.

Jesse Perez at Arcade Midtown Kitchen in the Historic Pearl.

Jesse Perez has opened Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl.

After over two successful years at the Historic Pearl in San Antonio, chef Jesse Perez has decided to close the restaurant to focus on culinary expansions including his newest endeavor, Oxido, which is in New York City.

“I’m incredibly thankful for all of the support Arcade Midtown Kitchen has received over the past couple of years. We’ve experienced great successes as a restaurant and I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family and diving into new business endeavors and adventures,” he says. “After 20 years of focusing my energies in the kitchen, I am interested in more entrepreneurial freedom to explore different concepts.”

Perez will continue to be a strong ambassador not only for the San Antonio Culinary Community, but also for Texas. In addition to his other endeavors, he remains committed to the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Culinary Taskforce, which is working to bring recognition to San Antonio’s culinary scene, as well as Culinaria. He will also continue as an active partner in Oxido, a fast casual Mexican restaurant with modern influences, as they plan future expansion. 

“We at Oxido are excited and fully supportive for Chef Jesse for embracing new business ventures and opportunities to forge full steam ahead with his brilliant career,” says Daihwan Choi, CEO and co-founder of Oxido. “We congratulate Chef for all the success that he created and achieved with Arcade, and look forward to our continued partnership with Oxido here in New York City and beyond. “

Jesse Perez is closing Arcade Midtown Kitchen.

Jesse Perez is closing Arcade Midtown Kitchen.

The restaurant’s last day of operation is Sunday, and the meals leading up to the end will be filled with celebrations, including Arcade classics such as chile and lime calamari, chorizo mussels and lobster soft tacos. The Arcade burger will return for lunch and dinner. Drink specials will include barrel-aged cocktails as well as flight tastings Arcade’s bar menu. Wine specials by the glass or bottle will be available all week long.

Perez has spent more than 20 years in the kitchen. Prior to opening Arcade Midtown Kitchen in 2013, he earned numerous culinary accolades, including Top Latino Chef in 2009 by the Flavors of Passion Awards. Arcade Midtown Kitchen became one of Eater’s Top 40 new restaurants of 2013 San Antonio’s Best New Restaurant.

For more information on Oxido, Perez’s New AYork fast casual restaurant, which serves traditional Mexican food blended with modern influences, visit

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Arcade Midtown Kitchen Offers Great Start to 2014

Jesse Perez has opened Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl.

Jesse Perez, chef at Arcade Midtown Kitchen.

Arcade special offer for January

Start the new year off right at Arcade Midtown Kitchen.

Chef/owner Jesse Perez says the restaurant at the heart of the Pearl will be offering specially priced three-course lunch and dinner specials between Jan. 3-31. The lunch menu will be $14 per person; the dinner menu will be $34 per person.

To contact Arcade, call 210-369-9664 or visit them at

Arcade is at 303 Pearl Parkway.


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The Ingredients Are a Secret, But You Can Bet the Next Texas Cooks’ Co-op Dinner Will Be Good

cooks coop The Texas Cooks’ Co-op is hosting a Secret Ingredients dinner on Aug. 25, with chef Jesse Perez offering his Arcade Midtown Kitchen as the site.

The ingredients are a surprise to the diners and, until a few days before the dinner, to the chefs, too. But while the menu may offer a dozen surprise courses, the lineup of wines has been announced.

They include:

  • McPherson Roussanne Reserve from Texas
  • Blackbird Arriviste Rosé from California
  • Shaya Habis  Old Vine Verdejo from Spain
  • Chateau Baumard, a sparkling rosé of Cabernet Franc from France
  • What ingredients will be paired with the wines?

    What ingredients will be paired with the wines?

    Juan Gil Muscat from Spain

  • Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé from France
  • Macedoin Pinot Noir from Macedonia
  • Fontanafredda Barbera from Italy
  • Villa Ponciago Fleurie Gamay from France
  • Renato Ratti Dolcetto from Italy
  • I’m Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon from California
  • Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Moscato from Australia

You can also expect two cocktails.

Dinner begins at 5 p.m. Arcade is at 303 Pearl Parkway.

Tickets for the meal are $75 apiece. Email for instructions on how to pay via PayPal.

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Big Apple Gets Some Texas-Sized Flavor

By Emily Stringer

Two of San Antonio’s local top chefs, Jason Dady of Jason Dady Restaurant Group and Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen, gathered with friends in New York recently to show how off their culinary skills, Texas style.

Jesse Perez, San Antonio chef and owner of Arcade, prepares for featured dinner at The Beard House in New York City.

Jesse Perez, San Antonio chef and owner of Arcade Midtown Kitchen, prepares for featured dinner at The Beard House in New York City.

Perez, whose restaurant is in the Pearl Brewery, debuted his culinary talents at the city’s prestigious James Beard House.

Perez is an award-winning chef known for his Latin-influenced cuisine, and he took pride in showcasing a fan favorite, his Lobster Tacos. Succulent, chunks of lobster were dressed with ají amarillo and sweet potatoes, then finished with a raja-corn relish and poblano crema.

Diners at The Beard House also welcomed Perez’s Crusted Akaushi Beef with creamy potato-turnip purée, caramelized brussels sprouts and a decadent pasilla chile-fig mole. The fig mole was the hit of the dinner: Diners commented on the flavor balance melding perfectly with the Akaushi beef.

Perez closed out his meal with a toast and a thank you to all the San Antonio diners who had traveled to New York to support him. His Latin style and honest food philosophy was surely the talk of the city that evening.

The following evening, Jason Dady showed a whimsical side to his culinary talents at New York’s City Grit, which bills itself as “a culinary salon.”

City Grit is brain child of Sarah Simmons, recently named one of America’s greatest new cooks by Food & Wine magazine. The salon describes itself as a place where an “inspiring chef” hosts a dinner showcasing his or her talents so that new flavors can be integrated into the New York culinary scene.

Dady’s dinner was a fusion of dishes from his restaurants. He showcased a bone marrow mousse and luxardo cherry jam macaron as an amuse bouche. This savory take on a dessert had a decadent, melt-in your-mouth texture and represented something one would see on the BIN 555 menu.

Bahn Mi for City Grit by Jason Dady.

Bahn Mi for City Grit by Jason Dady.

Dady’s Bahn Mi brought together giant shrimp, crisp pork belly,  buttered toast rounds, cucumber and carrot daikon pearls, before being finished off with a touch of Red Boat fish sauce vinaigrette.  Dady’s fourth course represented a bite from Tre Trattoria  and Two Bros. BBQ Market  — a tasting of eggplant with figs and some crisp Brisket Bark coming together for a true taste of Texas.

Dady and Perez attracted national attention with their meals in New York in June —  but you can try out their culinary talents here in San Antonio. Arcade Midtown Kitchen is at the Pearl, 303 Pearl Parkway. Dady’s restaurants are Tre Trattoria Downtown and Tre Trattoria Alamo Heights, Two Bros. BBQ Market and Bin 555.

Emily Stringer is a San Antonio blogger and freelance writer. Contact her at





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Jesse Perez to Cook for James Beard Foundation

Jesse Perez

Jesse Perez

Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen, 312 Pearl Parkway, has been invited to cook at for the James Beard Foundation in New York.

He and his team will be serving dinner for the prestigious culinary foundation on June 20.

It is his first invitation, he said, displaying a great deal of excitement at the prospect of bringing his cuisine to New York.

In other Beard news from this morning, no one from San Antonio made it to the finalist’s round this year. Several restaurants and chefs had been among the semifinalists, but not one made it to the finals round.

Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s St., was included on the list of Outstanding Service in the entire country.

Included in the list of semifinalists for Best Chef in the Southwest were Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St., and David Gilbert, who recently left Sustenio at Éilan Hotel, 17101 La Cantera Parkway.

The nominees for best chef of the Southwest:

Kevin Binkley
Binkley’s Restaurant
Cave Creek, AZ

Bryce Gilmore
Barley Swine

Jennifer Jasinski

Hugo Ortega

Chris Shepherd

The awards will be presented May 3 and 6 in New York City. The list of finalists can be found at the foundation’s website:

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Arcade Midtown Kitchen Brings a Touch of Comfort to the Pearl

Jesse Perez has opened Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl.

Jesse Perez has opened Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl.

Jesse Perez has brought a touch of comfort food the Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway. His Arcade Midtown Kitchen opened this week.

Pork Belly Ragu with Ricotta

Pork Belly Ragu with Ricotta

At a preview party on Tuesday evening, Perez, once named best Latin chef in the country, served a host of local celebrities, including Mayor Julián Castro and fellow chefs Bruce Auden, John Brand and Jason Dady, as well as friends and family.

Dishes included several of his signature creations, including lobster soft tacos served with a poblano cream on top. P.E.I. mussels with chorizo in an orange-habanero broth, pork belly ragú with ricotta, and chile and lime calamari were among the other snacks offered that can be found on the menu. Others include P&B Meatballs (pork and beef, of course), Grilled Octopus and Arugula Salad, and Salt & Pepper Beets with Goat Cheese.

P.E.I. Mussels with Chorizo

P.E.I. Mussels with Chorizo

A flatbread topped with shrimp and pineapple was followed by slices of filet with garlic spinach as well as spiced lamb chops with lemon sweet potatoes and pasilla fig mole. Other entrees include Lemon & Pepper Peeler Farm’s Chicken, Ancho Chile Glazed Salmon with rock shrimp hash, a 12-ounce, house-aged rib-eye and Wild Mushroom Linguine.

Also featured were several of Arcade’s signature cocktails, including the Boulevardier, a Negroni variation made with bourbon.

Much of the decor reflects its historical part of the Pearl location with chandeliers made from old beer crates and door handles from made from salvaged pieces.

Dessert pastry features banana cream and cajeta.

Dessert pastry features banana cream and cajeta.

Another feature of the restaurant is the Zoltan Fortune Teller that stands near the restrooms. It does tell fortunes for 50 cents, and the proceeds raised will benefit a local charity.

Perez, a San Antonio native, has headed up the kitchen at Francesca’s at Sunset among other restaurants around town. He has also worked in Los Angeles and Atlanta before returning home. He recently shared a love letter for his hometown on The Huffington Post.

For more information on Arcade Midtown Kitchen, click here or call (210) 369-9664.

Photos from Phillip Kent and John Griffin.

Jesse Perez runs the open kitchen at Arcade Midtown Kitchen.

Jesse Perez runs the open kitchen at Arcade Midtown Kitchen.


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2012 Was a Year of Eating Well

The Pearl has become a food lover’s center for festivals as well as restaurants.

Bliss is aptly named.

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s time to look back on the many great flavors that we sampled. The list is lengthy, thanks to a decided upturn in culinary offerings across the city, both on the dining scene and for the food lover in general.

One of the biggest food stories of the year was the continued growth of the Pearl Brewery, which saw the opening of three praise-worthy eateries and a trendy bar. It also was the location of an increasing number of food festivals, meaning thousands from all over the city were showing up on a regular basis for cooking demonstrations at the Saturday farmers market, for paella, burgers and barbecue or tamales, and for the restaurants, all in the quest of good food.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the Granary.

The list of new restaurants includes the Granary ‘Cue and Brew, which restored beer making to the premises. Artisan barbecue, fine brews and an irresistible condiment known as ‘cue butter all made this a welcome addition. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden delivers on the belief that quality grilled meat is prerequisite in the Lone Star State, and the massive setting, covering two stories, is epic enough to complement chef James Moore’s ranch-style fare.

The most intriguing addition, though, is NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s full-service restaurant, which has provided San Antonio with its broadest and most authentic taste of South and Central American cuisines to date. These exciting flavors, from seafood stews and roasted meats to an inviting cocktail program, have somehow not been able to secure a foothold before in a city that values its Tex-Mex above all; yet in just a few months, NAO has developed a local following, and its client base should grow as word continues to get out to the rest of the country that the school has a campus and a destination restaurant here. When the visiting chef series returns, with culinary stars from countries as diverse as Brazil, Peru and Argentina, you’d be wise to make your reservations as soon as possible.

The CIA’s flagship restaurant in San Antonio.

NAO is also built on the concept of small plates, which has also not been widely popular in San Antonio. Yet Bite in the Southtown area and a revitalized Nosh on Austin Highway are joining in the effort to break that mold.

Southtown continued to attract diners from across the city, as Mark Bliss returned with a new restaurant, the aptly named Bliss. The warmth of the place, the impressive setting and the comfort of the food, especially when enjoyed at the chef’s table in the kitchen, all help place it among the city’s best.

Johnny Hernandez opened two distinct venues in the Southtown area, if not Southtown proper. They include the Frutería at the Steel House Lofts, where you can get everything from market-fresh fruit for breakfast to an impressive array of, you got it, small plates for dinner, and Casa Hernán, an airy catering facility and brunch spot in his own home.

Another welcome addition to the Southtown scene was the Alamo Street Eat Bar, a food truck park that featured crazy good burgers from Cullum’s Attaboy, the Peacemaker combination of pork belly and fried oysters from Where Y’At and the DUK Truck’s duck confit tacos. Add Zum Sushi, The Institute of Chili, Wheelie Gourmet and a few other visitors, as well as a great beer lineup, and you’ve got some wonderful fresh treats. And what do food trucks provide but small plates, albeit from different plates, giving you the feel of being on a tapas trail?

An “Eat Street” crew films at the Point Park & Eats.

Another food truck park that opened up north in Leon Springs was the Point Park & Eat, which also offers a great beer selection and a wide array of foods from a lineup that has changed in the months that it’s been open. The culinary confections come from trucks such as Skinny Cat, Gourmet on the Fly, Blazin’ Burgers and Say-She-Ate.

Television continued to discover may of these culinary gems. Say-She-Ate was one of four food trucks filmed for the TV series, “Eat Street.” The others include Rickshaw Stop, Tapa Tapa and Society Bakery. Meanwhile, PBS celebrity chef Ming Tsai came to town to film segments of “Simply Ming” with Diana Barrios Treviño from Los Barrios, Elizabeth Johnson of the CIA, John Besh of Lüke (visiting from New Orleans) and Johnny Hernandez at La Gloria.

Sustenio, with Stephan Pyles’ blessing and David Gilbert’s gifts, made people realize the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa off I-10 was not just a pretty façade. Its menu, with much of the dishes derived from local meats and produce, features an exciting array of ceviches that captured the freshness of the sea and a number of dishes using South Texas Heritage Pork products.

The $13 Burger at Knife & Fork.

The gastropub movement continued with the opening of Knife & Fork in the Stone Oak area. An outgrowth of the Bistro Six food truck, it offered a $13 Burger worth every cent, an extensive cocktail program and a laid-back atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the bistronomy craze — a hybrid of “bistro” and “gastronomy” — could be found in Laurent’s Modern Cuisine on McCullough Avenue. Next door to the still-vibrant and dependable Bistro Vatel, it proved that a segment of San Antonio does love its French food.

For those who enjoy a meal every now and then at home, the number of gourmet groceries grew, thanks to the addition of Trader Joe’s in the Quarry Extension and a second Whole Foods on Blanco Road, north of Loop 1604. The food warehouse Gaucho Gourmet expanded its hours to the public to six days a week, while Groomer’s Seafood reeled in even more seafood lovers, especially when lobsters hit a mouthwatering low of $5.95 apiece.

Classic cocktails have made a comeback.

San Antonio lifted it spirits high during the year. Distilled spirits, that is. Mixed drinks, both shaken and stirred, got a huge boost from the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. But it didn’t stop there. The Blue Box in the Pearl and the downtown Brooklynite joined the likes of Bar 1919 in the Blue Star Complex and the bar at NAO as havens for hand-crafted classic cocktails. A rye sour shaken with traditional egg white, a real martini made with gin and a pisco sour bright with freshly squeezed citrus were all incentives that made exploring these nightspots fun.

Expect beer’s popularity to soar in the new year. Beyond the excellent brews at the Granary, we await Alamo Beer’s ambitious plans for a downtown complex that will feature a restaurant as well as a brewing facility as well as the launch of Branchline Brewery.

What else can we expect? The Pearl will continue to expand with the openings of Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen and an as-yet-unnamed venture from Steven McHugh as well as the move of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, all of which will add to the draw of the campus. Culinaria has announced plans for a community garden center offering food and agricultural education for the city. Andrew Weissman is taking over the former Liberty Bar site on Josephine Street.

With these strides forward on so many fronts, the city’s culinary scene should continue to offer some enticing new flavors for anyone with a healthy appetite.

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This Christmas, Treat Yourself to Some Homemade Eggnog

Raise a toast to friends and family with a punch bowl full of homemade eggnog.

Shortly after the beginning of “The Ref,” my all-time favorite Christmas movie, a customer is heard grumbling to a sales clerk, “I have 25 relatives coming in one hour and you have one bottle of eggnog. What am I going to do? … I promised them I’d have eggnog.”

When the clerk suggests that she make eggnog, the customer’s incredulity and rage boil over. “I can’t make it,” she screams. “You make it!”

Well, this year, you can make the eggnog. From scratch. And it’ll blow your mind how good the real stuff is.

The recipe we offer comes from Christopher Ware, the elixir magician responsible for the cocktails at Jesse Perez’s upcoming restaurant, Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl Brewery. We sampled a few of his concoctions recently, including a barrel-aged cocktail, and asked him to provide us with a punch that was perfect for Christmas.

But first, a few words about punch.

The following background comes from the 1937 classic, “Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em” from Stanley Clisby Arthur:

“Punch is the ideal beverage to serve at large gatherings and many are the kinds from which to choose when you are preparing to entertain in a big way.

“The Punch Bowl, or Bowl O’Punch, as our English cousins call it, has long been a feature of Christmas and holiday festivities. The word punch comes from India, and is derived from the Hindu panch, meaning five, the original beverage being composed of five ingredients, viz.: spirits, water or milk, lemon, sugar, spice or cordial. The punch field is covered by arrak, brandy, claret, gin, milk, rum, tea, whiskey, wine, and fruit punch. The drink is usually qualified by the name of the principal ingredient, as, for example, whiskey punch. ”

Or eggnog.

You can find various conjectures as to the origin of the “nog” part of the name (does it refer to “noggin” or “grog” or what?), but what is important is what goes in it.

Ware’s recipe calls for an Italian walnut liquor called Nocino that you can find in town and a specific rum that has a special quality.

“The actual recipe for the egg nog on its own is 2 ounces rum, .5 ounce Nocino, .5 ounce heavy cream, .5 ounce simple syrup and 1 whole egg,” he says. “I used Smith & Cross Rum in the actual batch, which is one of the last readily available rums still produced that would seem to mimic rums from a hundred years ago. The customer should be wary that this is naval proof, or 57% ABV, so good things shall come from this concoction!”

Christopher Ware’s Eggnog

To transform the recipe from a serving for one to a punch happened as follows:

“To start, I took a 750-milliliter bottle of Smith & Cross and steeped a bouquet garni of allspice berries, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon for 24 hours to bring the spice level to Christmas ideals,” Ware says. “After 24 hours of infusion, add an additional 250 milliliters of water to bring the alcohol content down and remove the spices from the liquid. Take the rum and strain through a coffee filter to remove any additional particulates that may have escaped the bouquet garni.

“Now mind you, we are making a punch, so measuring is important, but so is flavor and balance,” he continues. “We have 1,000 milliliters of rum mixture, which is equal to 33.8 ounces, or for our purposes 34 ounces. This is enough product for 17 to 25 servings of nog, depending on the gluttonous behavior that no doubt will ensue once one or two of these are consumed. Our recipe list should include 17 eggs, 8.5 ounces of heavy cream, 8.5 ounces of simple syrup (to make simple syrup combine equal ratios of granular sugar to hot water), 8.5 oounces of Nocino (Nocino is a traditional Italian Walnut liqueur; commercially I like Nux Alpina Nocino — I got mine at Joe Saglimbeni’s, but it’s also available at Spec’s).”

So, what do you do with it?

“Before combining all of the ingredients, take your 17 eggs and beat them with a whisk till emulsified completely. Next, add your cream, simple syrup, Nocino and rum to the mix while continuing to stir. Once thoroughly mixed, put in the fridge and allow to sit for at least 2 hours, so all of the nog’s flavor will bind to each other and mellow. This batch will keep for upwards of 1 week.”

Unless you know you’ll be drinking plenty of this, you may want to keep the ice in each individual serving, instead of the punch bowl. That way, the ice won’t melt and dilute the entire bowl of eggnog.

Ware suggests that you pour about 3.5 ounces into a glass, then add ice and grate fresh cinnamon over the top, if you like. Only one step remains. “Sit back and enjoy the festivities,” he says.

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Chefs’ Corner: Two Approaches to Sweet Potatoes, One Great Taste

Lemon Sweet Potatoes

At the recent San Antonio Cellar Classic, those who got past the vast array of wines found themselves faced with two similar sweet potato dishes that were simple yet sublime.

Yet the road each chef took to get that dish to the table was different, even if the end results mirrored each other.

Jesse Perez of the upcoming Arcade at the Pearl Brewery served his lemon sweet potatoes as a foundation for flank steak with a chimichurri sauce. To make the sweet potatoes, he roasted them in a convection oven at 400 degrees for 90 minutes until they were tender. Then he puréed them with lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and a little cream.

A handful of tables away, Stefan Bowers of Feast, 1024 S. Alamo St., had a similar recipe but a different approach. He roasted his sweet potatoes for 10 hours at 200 degrees. “Sweet potatoes loved to be cook slow and low,” he said. Then he added lemon juice, salt and a touch of cream.

The choice of cooking the sweet potatoes is yours — you could use a crock pot, if you wanted — as long as they’re tender. The beauty of this recipe goes beyond its simplicity. It has no added sugar, and it doesn’t need any. You’ll taste for yourself how naturally sweet these bright and colorful tubers really are, perfect for fall dinners including that great sweet potato day, Thanksgiving.

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Griffin to Go: Mac and Cheese Me, Please

What comfort macaroni and cheese brings.

The second annual San Antonio Cellar Classic drew hundreds to the Pearl Brewery Stables Saturday to sample a wide variety of wines that they could then take home at a discounted rate.

Taking tastes at the San Antonio Cellar Classic.

Shoppers looking to shore up their cellars with some age-worthy bottles or those just wanting to get an early start on holiday treats lined up before the doors opened and then lined up at the end to collect their purchases.

In between, there were dozens of wines poured alongside some small plates available from a series of restaurants, both established and soon to be on the dining scene, offering proof once again that fine wine loves great food.

A floral Terrazas Torrontés 2001 offered a nice balance to Feast chef Stefan Bowers shrimp ceviche, while Bending Branch’s new Cabernet Sauvignon and the Col Solare, Washington state’s answer to Italy’s Super Tuscans, both went well with sous vide flank steak from Jesse Perez’s upcoming Arcade. The tangy Ripa delle More 2008 from Castello Vicchiomaggio and veal polpette from chef James Moore’s soon-to-open Boiler House Texas Grill. Clint Connaway of Max’s Wine Dive offered a strata that was made for the Ruinart Rosé Champagne.

Jesse Perez plates his dish.

Urban Taco, NAO, the Bright Shawl, H-E-B and Ms. Chocolatier also offered treats ranging from flautas and gazpacho to salted caramel cake balls and red velvet cupcakes.

Cake balls.

While the guests were sipping and snacking to their hearts’ content, the real work was taking place in a corner under the staircase. Five of us had to judge seven different macaroni and cheese dishes from the participating restaurants. TV and web personality Tanji Patton, food writer Chris Dunn, Suzanne Taranto Etheredge of Culinaria, Lenny Friedman of Los #3 Dinners, which provided the great background music, and I were all set for the difficult task, while food writer Julia Celeste Rosenfeld served as tie-breaker, if one were needed.

How  do you judge macaroni and cheese, we asked ourselves. Quality of the pasta counts, of course. So does the nature of the cheese. Is it creamy and velvety? Does the cheese complement the rest of the ingredients? How well do the rest of the ingredients, whatever they may be, fit in with macaroni and cheese?

A judge reaches for a sample of macaroni and cheese.

The choices we were faced with ran the gamut from two made with bacon to one that featured duck confit and spinach. One was more like a casserole, in that that the meat took over, leaving the cheese in the dust. Some had breadcrumbs on top, others arrived under the protection of a crispy shield of cheese.

In the end, we were almost unanimous in our agreement that Feast’s Stefan Bowers had come up with a winner with his smoky, spicy mac and cheese with shishito peppers folded in. The smokiness carried over into the cheese. Not that the others were slouches by any means, but in Bower’s version, everything played together to provide that pure comfort that comes from a top-notch macaroni and cheese.

And the not-too-hot spice in the dish would have been perfect with the fruity Tortoise Creek Grenache Rosé d’Une Nuit 2011, a French rosé with a very New World label and approach.

Hard work, folks. Just be glad there are folks willing to sacrifice time and taste buds for a good cause.

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