Lewis and Clark may have done a lot of discovering, but finding fresh food wasn't their forte. Two centuries ago, the two intrepid explorers and 31 other members of their expedition subsisted on roots, berries, pounded fish and an interminable ration of boiled (and ofttimes spoiled) venison while holed up at dreary Fort Clatsop. Little wonder they were eager to return to St. Louis.

No member of the Corps of Discovery, as the Lewis and Clark Expedition became known, could have imagined our present plethora of culinary riches. Nor could they have envisioned a feast such as Lite Bite, a contemporary celebration of Northwest food and the chefs who prepare it.

Arguably Astoria's most compelling, delightful, delectable and rip-snortin' annual excuse for eating out - high praise in a city counting numerous topnotch restaurants that host wine dinners and other special events - Lite Bite IV, this year's event, will showcase a dozen restaurants and their respective chefs. The buffet-style gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 29, and will benefit the Clatsop County Women's Resource Center, an Astoria-based agency that assists survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Featured chefs have emulated Lewis and Clark's spirit of adventure but, thankfully, have eschewed the explorers' lack of culinary expertise. "Passport to the Discovery Coast" is the theme of Lite Bite IV, and the food will range from salmon cakes, sturgeon and grilled chicken skewers to roasted vegetable salad and vegetable bruschetta, miniature crawfish pies, maque choux (creamed corn) tartlets with andouille sausage, oysters finished with a Bloody Mary sorbet, Scandinavian delights and an elk stew far better than anything the Corps of Discovery ever tasted.

And if Lewis and Clark's crew sampled a form of Indian fry bread, surely it didn't come coated with smoked salmon and chive goat cheese, like it will at Lite Bite. Desserts will include bananas Foster and a slew of petite treats.

"Chefs are so creative. When they get together there's this energy, and they feed off each other," says Jennifer Holen, one of Lite Bite's organizers and the co-owner of Baked Alaska restaurant, the venue for the bash. "They're all artists and chemists, too. They can take ingredients and just put them together."

Holen notes that the upcoming version of Lite Bite will be bigger than before. In addition to more participating restaurants and chefs, adequate seating will no longer be a concern. A 40-foot by 40-foot heated tent with walls and windows will be erected on the 12th Street pier adjacent to Baked Alaska; eventgoers can access the tent via the restaurant's riverfront deck or its Northern Lights Lounge. "We want people to have a place to sit down, but we don't want to oversell Lite Bite," says Holen, adding that the event will be limited to the first 200 customers. "We want our guests to have an outstanding time," she adds.

Inside the tent, Astoria's Carolee Trio will entertain with sassy jazz and standards throughout the evening. All Lite Bite entrants can participate in drawings for four weekend getaway vacations at lodgings such as the Shelburne Inn (Seaview, Wash.), Cannon Beach's Stephanie Inn and Astoria's Hotel Elliott.

Holen's husband Chris, the executive chef at Baked Alaska, is one of the participating gastronomic gurus. He'll be joined by Baked Alaska's Christopher Huff, plus Dana Gunderson from Astoria's Cannery Cafe and Joshua Taylor from The Schooner Twelfth Street Bistro. Alex Cabalona and Michael Gilson from The Ark Restaurant in Nahcotta, Wash., will participate, along with The Depot's Michael Lalewicz, Cheri Walker from 42nd Street Cafe and Ann Kischner and Lynne "Red" Pelletier from The Shoalwater; the latter three establishments are in Seaview, Wash.

Joanne Leech from The Sanctuary in Chinook, Wash. is coming, as is John Sowa from Seaside's Lil' Bayou. The Cannon Beach contingent includes John Newman from Stephanie Inn, The Bistro's Matt Dueber and the Wayfarer Restaurant's William Leroux and Lisa Grillone.

The Holens donate the use of their Baked Alaska restaurant for Lite Bite, the chefs contribute their food and time, and all the proceeds (tickets cost $35 in advance, $40 at the door) go to the Women's Resource Center. Last year, Lite Bite raised more than $6,000; the 2005 goal is $10,000. "We'd be very happy with that," Jennifer Holen says.

Pat Burness from the Clatsop County Women's Resource Center concurs: "I'd be delighted, and so would our clients."

Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail mouth@dailyastorian.com

Lite Bite IV

Passport to the Discovery Coast

What: A gala buffet of food, live music and giveaway prizes benefiting the Clatsop County Women's Resource Center

Where: Baked Alaska Restaurant, No. 1 12th St., Astoria

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 29

Cost: $35 in advance, $40 at the door, $15 for ages 12 and younger. Advance tickets are available at all participating restaurants.

More info: (503) 325-7414