In a city where celebrity chefs and multi-course tasting menus are becoming part of the norm, it is only natural that Houstonians are craving more in the way of dining out. No matter where you rank on the foodieness level, I welcome you to join me as I explore the exclusive, underground scene of pop-up dinners and their hip locales. From art galleries and photo studios to karaoke bars and clubs, the city is full of eclectic venues which—when transformed for an evening—provide a backdrop for dinner wildly different than any restaurant. Each week, I'll be spotlighting a "pop-up experience" introducing the city to a new chef and their distinct cooking style, while showing you how to can get in on all of the delicious action yourself.
Quite possibly the pioneers of easing pop-up dinners into the mainstream scene in Houston, Aces of Taste is a group which has mastered the art of the "pop-up experience." Allowing local chefs the opportunity to host diners at an exclusive "one-night-only" event and prepare dishes that you may not typically see on even the boldest of restaurant menus, an Aces of Taste event should be next on any warm-blooded Houstonian's food-related bucket list. With 10 full-service pop-up events under their belt—each at hip locations scouted out by their team of mindful creatives—Aces of Taste has managed to successfully come up with the recipe for one-of-a-kind, upscale pop-up events.
As someone who dines out more than the average bear, the aspect of an Aces of Taste event which I find most appealing is that each location is kept secret and made different every time. While guests are notified of the major details of an event, such as the guest chef, the date and time, the location itself is typically kept under wraps until the week of the actual event. The anticipation only adds to to the fun, and with a consistent effort to stay within the Loop, the host sites are centrally located no matter what part of Houston you're coming from.
Adding to the exclusivity, events are limited to approximately 40 people, ensuring each guests a stellar evening with not only excellent food, but quality service. Community tables offer diners the opportunity to mix and mingle over their shared love of food, and house DJ Charlee Brown creates an ambiance with a carefully chosen playlist unique to the theme of the evening. A special Q&A portion of the evening truly sets Aces of Taste apart from any other dining-out experience, with guests invited to ask the chef questions and get to know them in a more intimate setting.
In the short year they have been operating, Aces of Taste has already managed to team up with an impressive list of sponsors and local chefs. Popular Houston-based companies like MALK and Snap Kitchen often sponsor Aces of Taste dinners, donating goodies for guests to take home. Educating diners on Houston-based companies, restaurants and chefs is a large part of what Aces of Taste stands for, and the focus on Houston's booming food scene shines through at each and every dinner. Founding sponsor and Cointreau key account manager Abigail Diaz proudly says of the man who started it all, founder Ahrif Sarumi: "I had been wanting to be a part of a pop-up series, and his vision for creating a unique dining experience every time seemed like the perfect place for Cointreau." Needless to say, craft cocktails made with the vibrant, orange-flavored liqueur are a refreshing start to each event.
From the first dinner at a private home in River Oaks featuring Benjy's on Washington Executive Chefs to this month's all star collaboration at the brand new Sugar and Cloth Studio in East Downtown, Aces of Taste's pop-up events are becoming more and more of a destination worth popping into.
On Friday, August 28 Ashley Rose, Houston-based DIY and dessert recipe blogger will open up her visually striking studio to Aces of Taste for a sweet and savory dinner collaboration with Tout Suite executive chef David Rodriguez, Lisa Driver of Maple & Love and Kathleen Morgan of Honeychild's Sweet Creams. Immensely popular on social media, (with over 100k followers on Instagram alone) Ashley Rose's blog Sugar & Cloth has garnered interest from all over the world with eye-catching pictures and mouth-watering dessert recipes since its start in 2011.
Rose explains that her super blog started as a simple idea. "I started writing Sugar & Cloth as a way to stay accountable to being creative, and to keep up with friends and family back home in West Virginia." And creative she is—Rose has been teasing followers of her blog with posts of a special chicken and waffle macaron which will no doubt make an interesting sweet and savory addition to the Aces of Taste dinner on August 28.
Teaming up with local foodie favs like Tout Suite, Maple & Love and Honeychild's Sweet Creams ensures that the high-profile event is surely the place to sample sweet and savory dishes like never before, in a space like no other. The four-course dinner is priced at $75/person and will include two Cointreau cocktails and a champagne toast, treats from the sponsors for every guest including Snap Kitchen meal cards and Honeychild's Sweet Creams vouchers, along with raffle tickets for giveaways, and much more. As the Aces of Taste team has managed to perfect the charm of Southern hospitality, nobody leaves an event hungry or empty handed.
To make a reservation for the upcoming Sweet & Savory Dinner on August 28, you can RSVP at acesoftaste.com or follow along on social media to stay updated on future events: @acesoftaste on Instagram and Twitter. With limited seating for each event, it is those with a fast trigger finger who will be able to fully experience what it means to be an Ace of Taste in Houston.
Aces of Taste Sweet & Savory Dinner, Aug. 28, 7-10 p.m., Sugar & Cloth Studio, address TBA