Feast with the Beasts at the Houston Zoo

See the spread of gourmet food at the zoo in our slideshow.

Over the past five years word must have spread that the Houston Zoo's annual "Feast with the Beasts" is one of the city's most unique and entertaining fundraisers ($95 regular admission, $150 VIP). Last Friday night, approximately 3,300 patrons gathered to sample gourmet fare, pet reptiles, and rock out to the Spin Doctors. I don't usually think of man-made animal habitats as particularly romantic, but the delicate white lights around the sunken courtyard fountains and dark purple, pink, and green (leopard print) table dressings brought out the amorous side of the Houston Zoo.

More than 50 local restaurants occupied white tents throughout the length of zoo, allowing attendees to admire the active wildlife (re: seals showing off to techno music) in between bites of avocado and shrimp ceviche, margarita pizzas, and pomegranate sausage risotto. Lines for food were long, as expected, but the efficient army of volunteers, the jovial restaurateurs and the crisp evening temperatures kept the crowds patient and even relatively quiet.

The food was overwhelming in the best way possible way, and it was hard to get samples of all the dishes offered by all the restaurants. Standouts included The Capital Grille's beef tenderloin skewer and butternut squash risotto, Mi Pueblito's succulent pork belly and spicy rice and beans, and Gravitas's sweet-savory goat cheese risotto balls with red pepper jam.

Just after 9 p.m., Taste of Texas was announced as the winner of the "Beastly Battle," the contest for the top participating restaurant, for its Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin with horseradish sauce, and pecan pie squares. While the Spin Doctors started their first set, patrons transitioned to the "Dessert Corner." Most of the desserts were portable, like the amazingly moist red velvet cake pops and chocolate-dipped brownie pops from Ruggles Café Bakery, as well as the frozen strawberry bars from Blue Bell Creameries. I also got a kick out of the delicate pistachio and strawberry macaroons offered by Thierry André Tellier Café & Pastry Shop.

Feast with the Beasts was definitely a commercial success, good news for the more than 4,000 animals supported by the Houston Zoo. And given that the number of participating restaurants has steadily increased each year, get your tickets early -- and go with an empty stomach.

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