Chow, Baby: Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The Chefs Must Be Crazy

In an episode of Chow, Baby’s favorite cartoon show, The Tick, one of the superhero’s punny cohorts is gearing up to battle evil: “This looks like a job for Bipolar Bear! ... But I just can’t seem to get out of bed this month.” The restaurant correlation is giant, which recently took over the Grape Escape space downtown at 500 Commerce St. Now, Chow, Baby normally isn’t amused by inventive typography, but “giant” with a lowercase “g” is an appropriately ironic moniker for this Texas (big state) tapas (small plates, traditionally, but they’re fairly big here) bistro, plus it has that charming “I’m mocking myself for saying I’m great” hubris/humility that, at least in the Chow, Baby household, is code for “I forgot to take my lithium.”

Inside giant — no, Chow, Baby refuses to enable this stylistic silliness. Inside Giant, unattended-to details like unfinished-wood tables in careless positions, keylights aimed at bare walls, and first-draft menus (exceptionally typo-ridden, on a Chinese-menu level) cry out that this is a restaurant owned by a temporarily depressed person. (It could also mean, “We’ve been open only two months and the artwork we ordered hasn’t come in yet,” but Chow, Baby is sticking with its premise.) Our waiter seemed happy enough and delivered great service — but instead of wearing Giant’s opening-week sharp uniform of pearl-snap Western shirt and big white butcher’s apron, he looked like he had just come in from pitching hay. In the Chow, Baby household, letting your sartorial standards lapse is code for “Hey, it’s been hard enough just to get out of bed this month — where’s my lithium?” And Chow, Baby thought all this before it saw the fine print at the menu bottom: “Blade is off his meds, so our menu may change daily.” Off his meds, eh? Hah-hah! Score for Dr. Chow, Baby, master diagnostician.

Blade is Blade Haddock, formerly of Blade’s Prime Chophouse and other local upscalies and maybe someday of Republic Texas, the Westside steakhouse he keeps threatening to open. But Chow, Baby likes him right here in the kitchen at Giant, where he has crafted a cuisine that is full-blown manic: inventive, ingenious, a little weird, and goosebump-raisingly delicious. We started with big drippy tacos (around $8 for two), marvelous melds of meat (brisket, smoked chicken, pulled pork) and unusual flavors like olive mix, pineapple-tomato salsa, and lime chili crème. In the pork and beans plate ($8.20), thick slices of fatty pork belly gain power from magic beans: spicy-hot and peach-cooled, delicately complex. And who would put popcorn in ceviche ($6.60)? Only a crazy person — or a person in Ecuador, where this combo is standard — but it works, the salty crunch a great balance to the firm shrimp and Bloody Mary sauce (including vodka, even).

The superb end to a great meal: Belzabub’s [sic] Hot Cocoa ($6.50), nominally “chocolate truffle pudding” but more like a brownie that a hyperactive cook couldn’t help taking out of the oven before it was quite done, still gooey and liquid-center decadent. A sane chef would have ruined this by adding whipped cream or vanilla-bean ice cream or marshmallows, something, but no, not Blade. That would be too normal, too boring. Sure, Chow, Baby could spot him some meds, but it likes the crazy Blade.

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