IT'S STARTING to be game season -- another reason to miss Le Lion D'or -- and one of the first kitchens to go whole boar on the subject is Les Halles (1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202/347-6848), whose game festival runs through Nov. 7 and includes not only wild boar but wild rabbit and hare, venison, partridge, pheasant and so on.
And, since Halloween is Courses' favorite holiday, we have to say that while most Halloween "recipes" are pretty obvious - pumpkin-mousse tartes with jack-o'-lantern outlines in chocolate, "crispy critter" calamari, etc. -- one of the holiday entrees at Les Halles did raise the fun-shivery specter of all those old-fashioned haunted houses where you stuck your hand in the cold spaghetti "innards" or fingered the peeled grape "eyes": It's sauteed sweetbreads with garlic cream sauce, dedicated to Frankenstein, whose brains, after all, were a crucial ingredient. Even better, anyone wearing a costume to Les Halles this weekend will receive a complimentary glass of Pommery. We hope you'll raise it to us.
We will also salute Market Street Bar & Grill in Reston (Presidents and Market streets; 703/709-6262), because on Sunday their spooky snacks -- yes, crispy critters and "bat wings" -- are only $3 starting at 5:30. And the Einstein Bros. Bagels stores, which will drop a pumpkin bagel with pumpkin cream cheese into the goodie bag of every costumed trick-or-treater up to age 18 (and probably older, if you can really show you love this make-believe stuff) brought in between 7 and 5. Although good nutrition isn't exactly our Halloween craving . . .
NOT-TURKEY TALK: Courses is an equal-opportunity column, so for non-carnivores, we have an irresistibly oddball contest involving that famous mystery anti-meat, the Tofurky. Last year Americans purchased more than 50,000 of its vegan holiday dinners, and this year the manufacturer, Turtle Island Farms, thinks it will sell twice that; so the company has decided to launch an art contest to draw a Tofurky in the wild. (Don't think too blobby -- Turtle Island has also launched "Tofurky Jerky Wishstixs," sort of X-shaped wishbone alternatives.) The winner gets a trip to the farm's B&B and wildlife sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Log onto www.tofurky.com for details.
SPEAKING OF favorites, and wackos: We're longtime fans of the Japanese TV cult hit "Iron Chefs," from even before you could get it dubbed in English. (It's actually more fun in Japanese, more crisp and frenetic and concentrated: The dubbing is too conversational.) Anyway, the four chefs from Spike & Charlie Gjerde's mini-dynasty of Baltimore restaurants -- jr., Atlantic and Joy America Cafe as well as the eponymous Spike & Charlie's -- are going mano a mano Nov. 10 at the flagship restaurant in an in-house competition roughly based on the show. The mandatory ingredients won't be entirely a surprise, as they are in Japan, because the dinner showcases seasonal harvests, but the specific foods and course assignments won't be unveiled until 30 minutes beforehand. Each chef has 30 minutes to get it together -- each course being produced and served in overlapping turns -- while diners watch them race about the kitchen on closed-circuit TV.
After consuming all four courses, plus desserts from the pastry chefs, the audience will vote, and the winning chef gets a high-quality Japanese knife. (Courses is deeply addicted to the Global brand, but this one is Masahiro, which is no small sushi.) Spike Gjerde gets to play emcee which, if you've ever seen the real show, you'll know is the best part.
It should be pretty wild, and for $59 a head, which includes the wines, it's a fair five-course bargain. Hey, you eaten at a dinner theater recently? For reservations call Spike & Charlie's (1225 Cathedral St., Baltimore; 410/752-8144).
TRICKIER TREATING: We, like many Washingtonians, love to dabble in a chef's menu. (We're not crazy about the phrase "grazing," because it sounds positively bovine and in fact seems to have a stupefying effect on people in large, noshing crowds.) So whenever a restaurant unveils a little tasting trick, we like to pass it on and hope other chefs pick it up. Two nice -- and nicely priced -- examples come from near neighbors, the Mark (401 Seventh St. NW; 202/783-3133) and Cafe Atlantico (405 Seventh; 202/393-0812), and would be perfect for pre- or post-theater.
Every night, Mark chef Alison Swope sets the tone for the night with what she calls "Foreplates" (we like it!), a selection of small noshes chosen partly from the appetizer list, partly from the night's specials and partly on whim, and available only at the bar after 4. They range from $3.95 to about $8.50. And every Saturday, Cafe Atlantico chef Jose Ramon Andres offers a "Latino dim sum" brunch, an artist's palette of small portions of everything on the menu for a fixed $19.95, making it one of the two best $20 brunches in town (the other being the $19.75 Sunday brunch at Gabriel's in Dupont Circle; 202/956-6690). Starve all week and go nuts on the weekend.
AND SPEAKING of herds (sorry): There's another of those superchef chomp-o-ramas on Nov. 10, this one a March of Dimes benefit at the Marriott Metro Center, which combines the classic wine and food samplings with silent and live auctions. Among the 20 or so chefs participating are Galileo's Roberto Donna and his former right hand, Todd Gray of Equinox, Michel Richard of Citronelle, Neal Langermann of Georgia Brown's and Bill Jackson of the Carlyle Grand. Tickets are $75; call 703/824-0111.
SPEAKING OF Bill Jackson: In the column listing some chefs' picks for nights out, Jackson was surprised to find himself dining with Patrick O'Connell and Reinhardt Lynch instead of his family. For the record: Jackson's sons rave about the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW: 202/347-4801), his daughter picks Vidalia (1990 M St. NW; 202/659-1990), he and his wife opt for Greenwood at Cleveland Park (3529 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202/833-6572) and New Heights (2317 Calvert St. NW; 202/234-4110), and the entire family unit has a neighborhood fave, Mamma Lucia's in Annapolis Plaza (410/266-1666). Clearly a culinary democracy.
FINALLY: Every once in a while someone asks us just how far we are willing to go for good food. We're not sure they meant actual miles, but a recent national survey conducted for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau happens to have an amazing statistic: About 28 percent of respondents said they would drive 50 miles each way to visit a particular restaurant, and nearly 10 percent said they'd go 100 miles and back. They must live a long way outside the Beltway.