Animal House

ZooFari is billed as one of the most important black-tie culinary events in the Valley. It's always been an exciting opportunity to sample some of the best savories in town, at booths manned by the Valley's top chefs.

But this year, the food display at ZooFari looked like any intersection around town -- crowded with the chain restaurants that have been cropping up on our culinary scene like crabgrass after the rain.

It's inevitable, with ZooFari coordinators working overtime to stock more than 60 food booths across a two-acre party area in the zoo. More than 2,500 guests swarmed the lake area Friday night, stuffing themselves silly in a valiant effort to support the zoo's children's programs.

Yet, at $200 a ticket, do we really want to fill up on chain fare like Redfish Cajun Seafood (a T.G.I. Friday's cousin that's coming to north Scottsdale), Rainforest Cafe, Rusty Pelican, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Alcatraz Brewing Company and -- gasp -- Marie Callender's?

Not really, especially when ZooFari's claim to fame historically has been an opportunity to feast on all-you-can-eat crème brûlée prepared by Vincent Guerithault, meat loaf from Eddie Matney, and chocolate towers from Christopher Gross.

The only true celebrity-level restaurants in attendance this year, in fact, were Barmouche and Cafe Terra Cotta, with upscale appearances by Avanti, Bistro 24, the Arizona Biltmore, the Boulders and the Wrigley Mansion Club.

The more relaxed culinary collection is a sign of the times, perhaps. A disturbing number of guests mistook black tie for casual Friday wear, after all. Since when does formal attire include jean shorts and tee shirts? What's next for our elite dining circle -- flip-flops, baseball caps and Happy Meals?

Razz Returns: After a long, hot summer of renovations, Razz Kamnitzer reopens his popular Razz's Restaurant next week, just across the parking lot from his former location at Scottsdale and Shea. This Razz's is easier to find, facing Scottsdale Road instead of hiding in the very back of the strip mall.

Razz himself will be easier to find, too. The showpiece of this smaller, more intimate eatery is an island cooking station, where Razz will cook, within touching distance, for 18 guests.

The interactive setup was by popular demand, says Razz's wife and restaurant partner, Bobbi Jo Haynes. At his previous restaurant, rabid fans would refuse to leave their dinner tables until the personable chef had an opportunity to escape his kitchen and come out to chat.

After Dinner Mint: Good news for all those folks jonesing for Jamaican food out there. Fat Pattie's at Montego Bay has risen from the ashes of Likle Montego Jamaican Cafe in Tempe. The island-themed eatery at Price and Baseline is open for lunch now, too. Now, there's yet another delicious reason to boycott poseur "Caribbean" crap like the Olive Garden company's Bahama Breeze chain in Chandler.


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