Woodland Park Zoo Rain Forest Pavilion
5500 Phinney Ave N, 684-4800
Spring hours: 9:30 am-6:30 pm daily

MY ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT (AA) made the observation during a typical Chow staff meeting. The good vodka was flowing, and the usual culinary suspects were being tossed around, when she slurred, "You know, a city is only as good as its zoo food." After a pause, the room erupted with excitement. We quickly made plans to visit Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.

While it's possible for "Zoo Fever" to be quieted by freezing Spring temperatures, even the uncooperative elements couldn't dampen our anticipation of eating an entire meal in the midst of wild and stinking animals. Upon entering the zoo, we were tempted by the promise of a fulfilling Animal Contact Experience ("Touch domestic farm animals and learn more about them in supervised areas in the Family Farm!"), but there would be time for that later. We stared straight ahead and made a bee-line for the Rain Forest Pavilion.

At the height of the season, the Pavilion features up to seven different venues, all under one roof: JC Peppers, Pizza Hut, the Naturally Untamed Grill, the Bamboo Hut, Tornadough Pretzel Twisters, Dreyer's Ice Cream, and the Rain Forest Deli. On this inclement day, only the Naturally Untamed Grill was open, although the adjacent Pizza Hut seemed either recently closed or about to open. Selections from the Rain Forest Grill were also available, and our ordering commenced.

The AA chose the Untamed Burger ($3.50) and Fries ($1.25), and had little trouble working her way through both items in a steady and graceful manner. The best approach to eating food like this is to be really, really hungry, which we both were. While the burger was hardly "untamed," the accompanying fries caused quite a buzz at our table.

With their crisp exterior and chewy insides, they were indeed better than most. This was good news for me, because I had ordered a huge paper container of Chili Fries ($2.50), in which the pleasant and full-bodied fried potatoes were covered with a mild and beefy chili. The chili fries would be an excellent item to share, but you might need to ask for an extra container--see, they don't really have plates at the Naturally Untamed Grill, just wrappers. It was deeply saddening to witness the AA squeezing her ketchup onto the plastic tray, and I later wished I had procured a spare container for her fry-dipping activities. From the Rain Forest Deli came the Veggie Sandwich ($4.00)... this item is truly a must-avoid. This forlorn and limp little sandwich had so many things going against it that any further mention of it or its ingredients would be foolhardy at best.

As we left the Food Pavilion, we encountered the Gum-Ball Machine Bar. Attractive double-decker stacks of Fruit Mentos, Reese's Pieces, Good-n-Plenty, Fruitart Chews, Plain M&Ms, Runts, Shock Tarts, and Skittles beckoned with vivid color and a shiny, fresh appearance. We chose Fruitart Chews (25¢), and were pleased with their punchy fruit flavor.

Could there possibly be a better venue for a post-repast stroll than a zoo? First we sauntered past the Zoo Store, with its inspiring "art by elephants"--pachyderm-produced oil paintings with prices ranging from $35-$250. As we strode past the various animal enclosures, we came to feel reconnected to both our animal planet-mates and the other zoo-loving humans. It was poignant indeed to gather around the otter enclosure elbow-to-elbow with total strangers, all throwing our heads back in frisky laughter as a playful otter furiously disemboweled a dead fish, flinging its guts several feet in the air. The zoo has a way of bringing strangers together; we felt this bond most keenly as a mother shrilly screamed at her children, "Anybody gotta PEE?"

We were saddened to leave our animal buddies at the zoo. As we departed, we pointed and chuckled at the tapir, with its funny head and cute snout, marveling at the shape of the docile-looking weirdo. From the right side of the fence, these filthy zoo animals can seem so playful; we humans naturally fantasize about what fun it might be to pet them, dress them up, or parade them around in little wagons. When the AA recounted a story about an Oklahoma City zookeeper who had her arm ripped off by a crazed tapir, we nodded quietly, recalling the awesome power of nature. Moving silently through the icy sheet of rain back to the parking lot, we felt glad we had come to the zoo. Happily full of fries, we were buoyed by the zoo's living testament to the undying principle that everyone on Earth-- animals and humans alike--can come together for the ultimate common cause: the entertainment of humans.

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