The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2011

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Page 34 of 128

TEXAS Houston's Sean Beck mixes a punch called Orange in the Blush, with raspberries, fresh orange juice, pisco, Prosecco and Canton Ginger Liqueur. A Top Texas Talent T he announcement early this year that Bobby Heugel of Anvil Bar & Refuge was a semifi nalist for a James Beard Award as an Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional was a validation for the burgeoning cocktail scene in Houston, the nation's fourth largest city. Heugel had previously gained recognition for his mixology at Beaver's, an unusual, if very appealing, barbecue-themed spot from lauded chef and restaurateur Monica Pope, whose well- regarded t'afi a, rather fi ttingly, takes its name from a toast. A characteristic of these standouts and several others has been evident earnestness and seasonality in their cocktail programs. At the vanguard has been Sean Beck, 35, at Backstreet Café. Set in a comfortable former house with an expansive patio, and across the street from the wealthy River Oaks neighborhood, Backstreet is best described as an eclectic, locally attuned bistro. Jalapeño fettuccine featuring black beans and cilantro, and coffee-crusted tenderloin are two signature dishes. Backstreet has proven remarkably popular during its nearly three decades. Part of that success is due to Beck's inventive work as the Sommelier/Beverage Director. This initially required him to work Backstreet's busy Sunday brunch. Soon after beginning these duties in late 1999, he sensed impending boredom if all he had to recom- 34 / the tasting panel / october 201 1 mend were well-worn weekend warhorses like traditional Mimosas and Bloody Marys, so he began experimenting. Pomegranate juice— before it was commercially available—was an early cocktail component. The palette has grown from there, with the focus on seasonal herbs and fruits. Beck has made a mark with wines, too. His list at Backstreet contains about 350 selections divided equally between the New World and Old, including more than 50 by the half-bottle. His preference is for smaller, "earth-friendly" produc- ers who have "a good story" for customers. In 2002 Backstreet's owners opened Hugo's, the city's most ambitious Mexican restaurant. Surprising to many who assume Margaritas and beer always accompany Mexican fare, Hugo's promoted wines from the start. Sangiovese and achiote-rubbed pork, and Amarone and mole poblano have been two of Beck's inspired matches. Today, revenue from wine is about equal with liquor, and reds outpace whites by a fair margin. With the Italian-oriented Trevisio in 2005, he had a third unique venue in which to showcase his talents. It's certainly been appreciated by area restaurant-goers. Beck and his work have won every possible honor at the respected annual Houston Culinary Awards, including becoming the only individual inducted into its Wine Hall of Fame. HOUSTON'S SEAN BECK HAS COCKTAILS FOR THE SEASON AND MORE by Mike Riccetti The Red Plum Mojito as served at Backstreet Café. PHOTO: KENN STERNS PHOTO: KENN STERNS

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