Getting Stuffed at Big Bite Night

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There's something discomfortingly meta about gnawing the spicy flesh off a piece of jerk chicken as you stand, staring idly, next to an exhibit filled with stuffed fowl: Atwater's prairie chickens, ducks, cranes, all manner of birds that were once alive but are now transformed into macabre semblances of their former selves for your educational pleasure.

Every time I attend an event at the Houston Museum of Natural Science that serves booze -- and there are, surprisingly, quite a few throughout the year -- a large part of me hopes that someone out there will finally reach that singular point of inebriation that enables them to shed their last vestiges of sanity and inhibition, grasp the tail of the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex that stands in the main paleontology hall, and use it to swing down from the balcony onto the museum floor below.

Alas, this spectacle didn't happen last night. What did happen, however, is that I stuffed my gaping maw full of some of the best food I've yet had at one of these events. Between Big Bite Night, the HLSR Best Bites competition, our own Menu of Menus party and the numerous, smaller grazing events that are held throughout the year, it only makes sense that each successive one would up the ante, bringing in more high-profile restaurants along with up-and-coming places you haven't heard of yet, but will soon.

The best dish of the night came somewhat surprisingly from Cova. Not surprisingly because Cova serves boring food, but because of all the other heavy hitters in attendance last night: Brennan's, Grotto, Textile, Gravitas, Truluck's and Bistro Alex, among many others. Cova served up only one bite, but it packed a punch: a silky pate of foie gras on a slice of baguette with candied cherries on top. My friend and I both turned to each other the moment we popped the treat in our mouths: "Oh, God," she moaned. "I know," was all that I could manage to reply. The excellent salt and pepper shrimp from Fins encouraged an almost similar reaction inside the main hall.

Other treats were found at Reggae Hut's table, which had the longest line of the evening owning in part to the full meal they were serving up. Jerk chicken -- which snuck up and lit your tongue on fire in the best possible way -- alongside rice and peas, three different kinds of shrimp, plantains and a trio of patties (beef, chicken or veggie). The table was also serving up samples of Carribbean juices, much to the curiosity of the crowd. As we walked away from the table, the owner -- the same Marcus Davis who also owns The Breakfast Klub -- passed out coupons for the restaurant. It's burning a hole in my pocket as I type this.

Some restaurants oddly chose to feature only desserts, such as the chocolate truffles at Gravitas and the almond and orange-scented tea cake with macerated blueberries and chantilly cream from Bistro Alex. Both desserts were splendid, but I wondered why the two restaurants wouldn't want to also feature something from the savory side of their menus.

As for booze, both Anvil and Saint Arnold kept the crowd well-lubricated. Lennie Ambrose passed out samples of Lawnmower and Amber beer while Kevin Floyd concocted Border Storms with their housemade ginger beer. But as much as I love a good Border Storm, I also found it puzzling that the crew would serve such a "tough" drink to a pretty easygoing crowd. The spicy ginger beer will slap you hard across the face; it's so strong, in fact, that Anvil has to use special rum to stand up to it. My friend couldn't finish hers, and had to clandestinely dispose of it: "I don't want to waste good rum!" she lamented.

Upstairs, I was pleased to see an old favorite wowing the crowd: Blue Nile and a retinue of gorgeous women in full Ethiopian dress were passing out samples of piquant yessiga wot, kitfo and spongy injera bread. The bread was tougher than usual and the food less spicy, perhaps in an effort not to alienate potential customers. But curious guests seemed to take it in stride, approaching the table like wild dogs being offered scraps of meat, coming away happy and well-fed.

A few tables over, Melange Catering and Events had taken the science theme of the evening to its logical (if cartoonish) conclusion: The chefs were dressed as mad scientists, complete with lab coats and -- in one case -- wild gray wig and Coke bottle glasses. Bunsen burners and vials of colored liquids bubbled away as they created things like "basil balls" out of basil water slowly dripped into a container of oil. The water formed into tight spheres almost immediately, looking for all the world like large, dark green caviar. It was like watching "Future Food," but in person.

The only thing that could have possibly made the evening better at that point? A drunken leap onto the T-Rex. Maybe next time.

For more photos from Big Bite Night, check out our slideshow.

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