In its first annual festival, Houston Oktoberfest pays homage to the centuries-old German shindig by corralling more than 30 different beers from both local breweries and the Deutschland itself. German beers such as Hofbräu, Spaten, and Warsteiner swirl with crisp, effervescent flavors that pair deliciously with German morsels. Diners can also enjoy local seasonal pours and complement them by nibbling on autumn leaves. As participants mingle and sip, they can also swing their hips to the sounds of 10 different bands throughout the grounds. Louisiana’s Grammy-nominated Pine Leaf Boys headline the fest with a Cajun set complete with a squeezebox, raspy vocals, and fiddle, and Houston’s own The ‘71’s churn out hard-rock anthems such as “Confession.” The strains of traditional German music bounce off the nearby carnival area, which features games and rides for children, adults, and sentient lederhosen.
"Don't worry if you don't know much about wine," Manager Mike Kurth told the Houston Press just after the restaurant's grand opening in 2010. "I'll find you something you like." Drawing from a palette of more than 170 wines, Cork Soakers' bottle-handlers exude a casual confidence in dispatching potions to pair with a menu of artisanal meats and cheeses. As they consider the flavor notes of herbed Da Vinci gouda, chévre goat cheese, and smoked duck breast, the wait staff never cross over from savviness into snobbery: as Kurth notes, "Anyone who says they know everything about wine is lying. You can always learn more."
While continuing to build their knowledge base, the Cork Soakers team marinates in an atmosphere of full-on wine culture: cork-covered tabletops and menus, wine-barrel light fixtures, and a giant grapevine slowly entrapping the kitchen staff. At the center of the rustic space, a big table carved from a single mighty tree trunk holds a scrumptious brunch spread every Sunday. In fine weather, diners can take their beverages and bites out to the expansive patio.
The Houston Italian Expo, which is hosted by the Italian American Chamber of Commerce, immerses visitors in a three-day tour of the fashion, design, fare, and art of the boot-shaped nation. Amble by more than 100 displays and kiosks from vendors from Italy and the U.S., including more than 30 gourmet vendors distributing noshables of authentic Italian pasta, olive oils, and cheese. Live cooking competitions and demonstrations show off the culinary prowess of some of Houston’s top Italian chefs, hailing from such restaurants as Arcodoro, La Griglia, and Valentino. The expo also honors Italy’s rich history of design with fashion shows from such designers as James Martinez, Danny Nguyen, and Simran Rihal, as well as displays from all the country's regions that display handcrafted items, luxury cars, motorbikes, and sculptures of Sophia Loren made out of mashed gnocchi. In addition to admission, this Groupon entitles guests to wrap their teeth around two complimentary pizzas.
Houston Margarita Festival’s organizers throw a party based on a combination almost as classic as tequila, salt, and citrus: drinks, music, and sunshine. In the crisp fall air, guests sample a variety of traditional and flavored margaritas, from samples to full-size premium drinks using top-shelf liquors. The fest also hosts salsa and limbo competitions with cash prizes and trophies for the winners. Although the winner of the limbo competition is determined by the deepest back bend, the organizers use an Apollo-style judging system for the salsa event, with the winners chosen by the loudest cheer from the crowd or the brightest spotlight from the sun.
Inside the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, executive chef Maurizio Ferrarese draws on his Italian upbringing to create an ingredient-driven menu of locally sourced Italian fare. Ferrarese always puts his guests first, leaving the kitchen to visit tables as much as he can and even inviting guests to make special requests if they want to test his creativity with original dishes. He doesn't mean to downplay the regular items on his menu, saying, "I designed it so that I have a menu full of dishes that I would recommend blindfolded."
Inside the dining room, servers deliver orders of veal and seared tuna with puffed pantelleria capers or house farm greens with Texas Lone Star goat cheese in small-plate form to share with friends or purposely hide from mortal enemies. Main-course options include seasonal risottos, veal osso buco with glazed root vegetables, and the chef's signature housemade braised-beef ravioli with black truffle and corn purée. During Sunday brunch, cooks mix together eggs and fresh vegetables behind omelet stations and replenish the seafood bar's platters of roasted salmon and striped-bass broccolini.
The modern decor contrasts the rustic recipes with its vivid color, red leather accents, and tabletop holograms. Four private dining areas offer different experiences for small gatherings, from the chef's table with views of the kitchen to the cozy wine cellar with a corked floor and a display of 1,250 bottles.
Visitors to the Dionsio Winery Wine Festival sample the award-winning rich reds, crisp whites, and sweet fruit wines from a selection of local wineries. Local restaurants and vendors whip up delectable dinners and food pairings, while merchants peddle memorable keepsakes and handmade jewelry. Energetic classic rock outfit Thermal Fusion fills the air with a catchy live soundtrack, as staff fill commemorative wine glasses with endless samples of Dionisio's delicious wines. With food, wine, and tunes provided by Houston-based bands and businesses, the fest is a better way to celebrate the local culture than nibbling sandwichs into the shape of the Astro's stadium.