On May 16, the Smithsonian National Zoological Park held its Annual Gala. Featuring 100 of the area's finest restaurants serving dishes throughout the National Zoo, this was my type of gala. I much prefer being able to stroll outdoors in casual clothing, picking up plates at my leisure, over dressing up for a seated dinner. Though Open Top Sightseeing offered a shuttle to the event from the Woodley Park Metro Station, I walked up an appetite by walking to the event from the Cleveland Park Metro. From there, the walking never stopped. The tables of restaurants seemed to go on for miles and miles, and just when my friend would say "I think this is it" I would point in the other direction to another set of restaurant tables that seemed to go on for eternity.
I think this is the only event where I was actually relieved when some restaurants ran out of food. There is so much being offered that I know it really isn't possible to try everything, but it's so hard to say no to restaurants that are handing over plates to you. I tried to taste as much as possible by sharing plates with my friend, but 60+ sample plates split between a couple of people is still probably more food than I've ever consumed before.
At times the amount of pork being served made me think I was at Cochon 555 all over again. A couple of restaurants offering pork included Urbana, serving Tasso Ham with cognac mustard and pickled relish, and Proof, serving grilled caramelized pork belly with thai pickled vegetables. Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Company even had a whole pig on display.
Doesn't this look like a little cup of dessert? Jackson 20 served Local Lamb Forager Pie made with asparagus, english peas, kaleidoscope carrots, pommel puree and jus.
With the Sweet Eats Challenge By Capital One Bank, I felt like I was in an episode of the Food Network Challenge (though there wasn't any requirements for moving animals, or 5ft tall cakes). Teams of pastry artists created zoo-themed cakes to be judged by celebrity chefs.
Both Armand's Pizzeria and Paolo's Ristorante were serving pizza. I kept things simple at Armand's and grabbed one of their pepperoni slices, while I changed things up a bit at Paolo's and grabbed a slice of pesto pizza.
Both Old Glory Bar-B-Que and Taco Bambo offered delicious tacos, and Taco Bambo even used my favorite ingredient: chorizo!
A taste of a shrimp roll didn't come without a wait, as one of the longest lines of the night led to Luke's Lobster. The crew at Luke's Lobster kept things rolling however, and I don't imagine I was in line for more than 5 minutes.
The Milkshake Factory/Edward Marc Chocolatier, offering samples of their Edward Marc chocolates and new line of Snappers chocolates ( made of caramel, chocolate and pretzels) drew a line comparable to that of Luke's Lobsters. They also had a fun photo booth set up to promote the newest location of The Milkshake Factory (the only other location is in Pittsburgh), which will be opening up in DC soon.
Chefs from Bastille Restaurant and Wine Bar, Belga Cafe, and 1789 prepare dishes for the hungry masses.
The Cava Resturant Group provided tastings from each of their restaurant concepts: Sugo, Cava Mezze, and Cava Mezze Grill.
Overwood and The Hamilton fired up the grills.
Dean and Deluca and Cause served up the most unique dishes of the night, offering octopus and duck heart, respectively.
Charlie Palmer Steak, Cedar and Perry's also offered a nice selection of delectable dishes.
By the end of the night I had tried so much meat I was actively searching out salads. Cure Bar and Bistro and Mon Ami Gabi gave me just what I was looking for.
Just when my friend and I had officially declared we were done trying food for the night, we discovered the Living Social Lion's Lounge, and my stomach magically made room for more. With a Wizard of Oz theme, it appeared that the members of the Lollipop Guild had taken over Oz, as Oz was filled with everything made of sugar. There was mini cupcakes from Hello Cupcakes, mini cheesecakes and tarts from Whole Foods, giant lemon sugar cookies from Firehook Bakery, chocolate and cake from Cocova, ice cream from Ben and Jerry's, custard from Shake Shack, and more. Just as the amount of pork available made me think I might have been at Cochon 555, the amount of sweets available made me think I may have been at the Sugar and Champagne Affair. Zoofari is like all your favorite culinary events rolled in to one.
Though I previously said this about Chef's Best, which I attended the same week as Zoofari, I must say it about Zoofari as well: this is an event you must add to your DC bucket list (I promise I don't say this about every event I attend). On top the 100 different restaurants sampling dishes, their were over a dozen vineyards offering tastes of their wines. Eating and drinking to save the animals? How could you not want to attend?
To stay up to date on the latest events at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, visit http://nationalzoo.si.edu.