• More room in cupcake heaven!!! Very soon they’re going to knock down a wall and expand Jilly’s Cupcake Bar to accommodate 30 more seats and all the requests for Girl Scout Troop meetings and other social events. Owner Jill Segal recently adjusted the bar’s hours to include brunch on Saturday and Sunday. The added space will be filled with Valentine bliss; executive chef Dana Holland will prepare a multi-course dinner to be served Feb. 12 through 15. For reservations, call 993-JILLY.

• After weeks of after-hours cooking and sipping, chef Vince Anderson and tequila master Coby Arzola have doubled the dinner menu items at Agave, their restaurant in The Grove neighborhood. At the menu’s debut party last month, Arzola described the process through which he paired each dish to one of their 60 tequilas as more challenging than he had expected. Agave Mexican Table and Tequileria is the only place in St. Louis where fine tequila is served in complete Mexican tradition: in a 2-ounce curvaceous caballito glass with sangrita, a spicy-sweet tomato and chile chaser, in small, narrow glasses. Coby will teach you how to alternate sips…slowly.

• Three days of caffeinated competition commence Friday, Feb. 8, when the 2008 Midwest Regional Barista Competition begins at 10:30 a.m. at Third Degree Glass Factory (5200 Delmar Blvd.). Thirty competitors from seven states have 15 minutes to create four espressos, four cappuccinos and four original signature drinks to serve to four sensory judges. How do the judges handle all the caffeine? They consume lots of water and unsalted crackers. The finals are Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Kaldi’s Coffee, and admission is free. Every possible specialty coffee beverage will be available at attractive prices designed to cover only the cost of milk.

• Happy 5th to Atlas Restaurant. On Jan. 21 the CWE bistro hosted a full house of French and Italian cuisine devotees, who were treated to a Basque evening, courtesy of chef Michael Roberts. They dined on salt cod cakes with piperade (a stew of sweet peppers, tomatoes and onions), chicken croquetas, duck livers with Armagnac, lentils du Puy, and gâteau Basque. Communal seating allowed proprietress Jean Donnelly to enjoy the celebration with her guests. Let’s hope the gâteau makes it onto the dessert menu because it sounds wonderful: a tall cake with layers of tart black cherry jam and baker’s cream…Mmmmm.

• Congratulations to Mark and Patty Johnson of Hot Plate Dinner Parties on their victory at the 2008 Crystal Cajun Cook-Off Jan. 19. Their winning dish, called ‘New Orleans Seafood Fusion Tasting Plate,’ featured an oyster po’ boy, chipotle shrimp and bronzed scallops. Mark and Patty are repeat winners in the professional division at this crazy-fun event put on by Mardi Gras Inc. The surprise was the third-place win in the amateur division by Yours Truly for my ‘Maque-Choux Gump Boats.’ I served the classic Cajun corn stew in roasted red pepper boats with Forest Gump Bubba Shrimp hanging off the gunwales.

Want my winning recipe? Write to me at spicybits@laduenews.com and I’ll e-mail it to you.

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