What's cooking in the Central Texas food scene.

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

On Saturday, Feb. 1, the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner fundraising series for Project Transitions (454-8646) celebrated another successful year. Nearly 300 donors were guests at dinner parties in 25 private homes across the city. Party hosts had volunteered to entertain guests in their homes, designed party themes and menus, and donated the food and wine. Invitations went out describing the various dinners with themes such as Parisian Bistro, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made, Dinner of the Czars, Honey, I'm Home, and Comfort Food in a Comfort Zone. Donors paid $75 per person for dinner and spent an evening eating, drinking, and making new friends. Then all the guests and hosts came together for a champagne-and-dessert reception at the Design Center of Austin. Caterer John Sutton and his crew transformed the hilltop showroom into a festive party scene and guests gobbled up desserts such as petit fours from Russell's Bakery, voluptuous cheeses from Grape Vine Market with tropical fruit from Centex Produce/El Meson, bite-sized meringues from Marta's Desserts, petit Italian cream cake squares and brownies from Central Market, and espresso meringues from Asti Trattoria with glass after glass of champagne. This makes the sixth year that the innovative fundraising program has benefited Project Transitions, a local nonprofit that provides much-needed services to members of our community who are living with HIV. I was lucky enough to attend the Parisian Bistro dinner co-hosted by Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey and Judy and Bobby Earl Smith, with a menu based on bistro favorites the Graceys have enjoyed on their many musical tours of Europe. Our little group of eight new friends ate rustic pork pâté with cornichons, crisp panisse dusted with fleur de sel from the coast of Brittany, a lusty eggplant gratin, followed by Joe Gracey's personal recipe for coq au vin, which had just been featured in Saveur magazine. We drank Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf du Pape, discussed everything from criminal defense tactics in local murder cases to anti-war demonstrations, and left the Smith's house much richer for the evening's experience. If you would be interested in hosting or attending a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner party next year, contact the Project Transitions office and they'll be glad to put you on the list.

Last-Minute Delight

If you're still desperately seeking that one-of-a-kind Valentine, may we suggest you look for Sweet Venus Delights (442-6083, luscious new filled chocolates in a variety of flavors and shapes. Local pastry chef Achim "Chef Keem" Thiemermann has created this new line of specialty sweets and partner Diana Quicksilver handles marketing. The duo dropped off samples of their new products at the Chronicle office recently, much to the delight of the staff. There's a Texana line with cowboy boots, hats, ponies, armadillos, and a large Texas molded in Guittard dark chocolate and filled with custom-made SweetHeat fruit jams in orange or raspberry flavors with just a hint of habanero, chipotle, or jalapeno pepper to tantalize the taste buds. For lovers, they've developed a more risqué naughty line, with lips, nipples, and custom-made breasts draped in bras of elaborate pulled sugar, filled with the same tongue-tingling fillings. Currently, the chocolates are for sale at both Forbidden Fruit locations (476-4596, 513 E. Sixth Street; 453-8090, 108 E. North Loop). Chef Keem also sets up a booth at the Westlake Farmers' Market every Saturday and takes custom orders over the phone.

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