Zoofari: Big-time Dinner at the National Zoo

Lions and tigers and bears . . . oh, my.

That’s what you usually might expect to be thinking when you go for a visit to the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

Actually, it was more like sushi and cupcakes and pate and red snapper and steak and barbecues and beer, ohmygod May 16 at the Zoofari, the annual food-tasting event where celebrity chefs, vintners, guitar players, auctioneers, and confectioners and their wares were the star attraction at the National Zoo, which, for two or three hours was decorated with tents, smoke from barbecues and enough chefs and restaurants (some 120) to start a theme park.

The big fellas—the lions and tigers and bears, oh my—were not in sight, but some of the smaller critters could be seen at animal demonstrations, with reptiles and small mammal demonstrations at the Rainforest Oasis. It’s quite possible to imagine that most of the meat eaters at the zoo surely must have had their noses in the air like tuning forks what with all the foodie smells of steak, burgers, barbecue, and sundry tastes in the air. Chances are that the lion did not sleep during the course of things.

Like many events in Washington, this one has grown like topsy—you got a very good sense of just how much of a restaurant town the Washington area has become with the presence of food tents, featuring D.C. restaurants or regional restaurants. It’s the kind of occasion where a 100-yard jaunt could make you gain at least a pound or two. For the gourmet, the hungry or reckless, this was the kind of experience were caution—pertaining to calories, being smart about mixing food types—was thrown to the wind. You wandered or bounced from tent to tent—here’s some wine from the Coppola (as in Francis Ford) vineyards in California, here’s several types of pates, along with tasty (we tried it the next day) Hazelnut flavored coffee, here’s genuine Jersey-style pasta fixings from Carmine’s downtown, our very own Georgetown cupcakes, which seemed to have been tried by everyone there. Pizza from Armand, country barbecue from Hill Country, out-of-your-mind good red snapper in a bun, flavored whiskey, pizza, ham, elegant soups, lobster and things that looked so good we ate them without knowing what we ate.

If you started fast, you slowed down fast, to the point where you ended at some point at the entrance of the Great Ape House listening to nostalgic tunes, tending to your small children, taking tourist pictures, drinking lemonade as the duo of Jay Britton and Gary Smallwood dug up songs by way of Johnny Cash, Ben E. King, Sting and other familiars and gathered up a small resting crowd around them.

You could have danced and stayed all night—some people were just arriving around 8 p.m., when the carousel was still running, when there would be a silent auction and sweepstakes, the sweet eats challenge, the raffle for a Jaguar getaway and a chance to see the mighty Geico Gecko exhibit.

When we first saw the promotions for the Zoofari, with that steely tiger invitation, “We want to have you for dinner,” we had no idea what the word “dinner” could actually encompass. Now we know. Can’t wait for the next one.

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Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:36:50 -0400

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