Monkey business a delight for man and beast at the zoo


June 16, 1993|By ROB KASPER

It was a four-banana night. I had them grilled and served in coconut shell. I drank them floating in liqueur. I spooned down some mixed with peanut brittle ice cream and I polished off one dipped in chocolate.

It was Zoomerang, the eat, drink and dance fest held Friday night at the Baltimore Zoo. Because the primary beneficiaries of this fund-raiser were the monkeys in the zoo, specifically the chimpanzees, bananas reigned. Working on the monkey-do, people-will-too theme, many of the 72 restaurants, caterers and beverage companies at the event served some form of the chimp's favorite fruit.

The first banana I encountered was floating inside a coconut shell. It was part of a grilled bananas and chicken dish cooked by Wickey's Caterers of York, Pa. I had never eaten out of a coconut shell before. It made me feel like king of the jungle. But it also made me feel guilty when I had to throw the "serving bowl" away.

The second banana appeared in smooth drinks served by the Omni Hotel's Baltimore Grille. Called "chimpanzee bonanzee," this mixture of creme de cacao, creme de banana, heavy cream and fresh bananas was an ideal cooler for the tropical evening. It made me want to swing from the trees.

I met my third banana right next to the dance floor in a chunky ice cream, mixed with peanut brittle and served by the crew from Pierpoint Restaurant. By the time I ate the fourth form of the fruit, a chocolate covered number served up by HarborView's Pier 500, I had reached banana overload.

I then began to eat food a little further along the evolutionary chain of supper. I ate grilled crawfish cakes with Voodoo sauce from Sisson's, lobster and crab burritos with fried spinach whipped up by Chef's Expressions, red snapper risotto cakes on marinated greens with a lemon basil vinaigrette from Linwood's Cafe/Grille, cream of crab soup from the Chart House, and Cindy Ireland's sinful Kahlua truffles at the Hiram Walker booth. I found some great grilled lamb served with garlic-flavored mashed potatoes at the Polo Grill booth. And when I matched it with some red wine -- a Silverado 1989 Cabernet Sauvignon poured at the Bacchus Importers booth -- it felt great to be a primate.

Earlier in the evening I was part of a team of clipboard-carrying judges who rated the decorations. Dressed in gowns and tuxedos, we judges visited the booths, picking the best work in each of four categories -- most creative, most beautiful, best interpretation of the chimp theme and most humorous.

We saw a lot of King Kong. Both Kaspar's Original Classic Cheesecakes and the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore had chairs that resembled the great ape's hand. I sat in both of them. The Grand Caterers had sculpted the apes in ice and Life of the

Party Inc. had a big Kong mask with eyes that followed you as you walked past. Someone worked in a monkey suit -- the hairy outfit, not the tuxedo -- at the Classic Catering People booth. The Linwood's booth had jungle bird noises and steam. The Charles Levine Caterers booth had more foliage than a rain forest. And the crew from J. W. Sea Grill at the BWI Marriott had the best costumes. One was dressed as Tarzan, one as Jane, one as a chimp and one as a combination Carmen Miranda and Attila the Hun. At the HarborView Pier 500 booth there was a jungle hillside covered with chimps -- all made out of chocolate.

Picking the top work was difficult, but that is what the judges were supposed to do. So we scrawled down our favorites on our scoring sheets. The results were tabulated. But midway through the awards process, someone discovered that virtually all the ribbons that had been passed out had "first place" written on them. So instead of first, second and third place finishers, the top three finishers in each category were all declared winners.

In the most creative category, the winners were: Charles Levine, Henry & Jeff's and Kaspar's. The most beautiful boothes were: Linwood's, Classic Catering and The Grand Caterers. Honors for best interpretation of the chimp theme went to: BWI Marriott crew, the Radisson team and Life of the Party. Awards for the most humorous decorations were given to: the Pier 500 booth, the Sheraton Inner Harbor Off-Premises Catering booth and Paolo's.

Which goes to prove, I guess, that if you monkey with the ribbons, everybody turns up a winner.

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