Check out all the tasty-looking dishes in out slideshow from Feast With The Beasts.
For the last six years, the Houston Zoo has been home to an autumnal fundraiser and eating extravaganza cheekily referred to as "Feast with the Beasts." The feast part of the equation is provided by local area restaurants and food purveyors, and as for the beasts, the Houston Zoo is home to many.
My favorite on Friday night were the gentle-looking giraffes, long-necked wonders housed in a tall wooden building with a large viewing window for giraffe-gazing. I stopped by several times while getting lost in the winding maze of food stands, food trucks, wine and beer booths, and the estimated 4,000-plus throng of people in attendance.
The zoo did an amazing job of creating a wonderland-type ambiance. There was an ethereal quality to the night, especially around the reflecting pool, where the magenta colored trees framed round candlelit tables, and visitors could rest their feet and enjoy the food. Walking past the carousel and music stage, it felt kind of like Knott's Scary Farm, but instead of rides and ghosts, there were literally lions and tigers, elephants, and monkeys. And instead of cotton candy and funnel cakes, there was a lot of gourmet food.
If you didn't buy VIP tickets, the lines at the more popular booths were quite long, but on average the lines were about 15-30 people deep. My first stop, The Barbed Rose Steakhouse booth, set the tone for the night with what I thought were some very high-quality offerings. Chef Jason Chaney was giving out samples of a very tasty antelope rillette on butter-toasted sourdough crostini, topped with pickled shallots.
The Fusion Taco Truck and the Central Market Roadie truck looked good, but the lines were so long I passed them up in favor of melt-in-your-mouth sarsaparilla-braised sliders by The Glass Wall. Griff's, an Irish sports bar, had some hot and spicy chicken wings, and who could pass those up?
Chef Dominic Juarez of Masraff's had an unbelievably complex and delicious barbecue quail with apple-bacon corn relish, white truffle polenta, and a homemade barbecue sauce, arguably the best-tasting dish that night. Truluck's, not to be outdone, had a generously portioned seared ahi tuna slider, made all the more amazing by the fact that they painstakingly seared each bun to ensure that it would be crisp and buttery.
Le Mistral was also on hand with a well-appointed booth. Strategically positioned next to the VIP beer lounge exit, they had some mini-choux, a wild cream of mushroom soup, and a gorgeous display of their signature, super-creamy vanilla panna cotta. Brennan's was close by with their turtle soup, each tasting splashed with a dollop of sherry on top by a white toque-wearing chef.
There were so many more restaurants - more than 60 in all - that it was impossible to hit them all in the allotted time frame from 7 to 9 p.m., but I managed to stop by most of the booths, including: Trattoria Il Mulino, serving a large, three-inch meatball over penne; Noe at the Omni, serving a wild mushroom ravioli with black pepper sauce; Chipotle with a barbecue barbacoa taco; Fuddrucker's with some chicken and beef sliders; Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca with chicken ravioli in cream sauce; Niko Niko's with grape-leaf wrapped dolmas; The Melting Pot with chocolate fondue fountain; Piola with their famous Brazilian-cheese-topped thin-crust pizza; Nothing but Bundt cakes with a colorful assortment of chocolate and red velvet bundts; Michael's Cookie Jar with an assortment of cookies; Georgia's Farm to Market with a coconut curry and pumpkin soup; My Dee Dee's Pie Shoppe & Deli with the most sumptuous chocolate cakes and pies of the night; and Molina's Cantina with pork tamales.
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Taste of Texas won the "Beastly Battle," or popular choice award, with a juicy braised-beef short rib. By 8:30 p.m., many of the booths had run out of food, but it didn't matter, because most attendees were already at the "I've eaten so much I can't eat another bite" stage. Besides, it was time to head over to the performance stage to get a good spot for the main headliner of the night, the B-52's.
As strains of the band's singing "Roam if you want to" wafted through the chilly night air, I could see why Feast with the Beasts sold out for the third year in a row. Great food? Check. Great entertainment? Check. Great time? Triple check. If you missed this year, you can get in on the action again next fall. Just remember to buy tickets early, because they will be sure to sell out quickly.