TEATRO ZINZANNI'S DINNER & DREAMS
Under the red velvet roof, Sixth and Battery, 802-0015, $89-$99 for dinner and show; beverages and tip not included 6:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat.; 5:30 p.m. Sun. open run
LET'S DO THIS thing right: If the idea of dinner and cabaret instantly appeals to you, if your mom's in town, if you need a venue to accommodate your rhinestone-studded tiger sweater, and/or you do not immediately blanch at the idea of paying $89-$99 to have actors with painted faces and funny voices improv at your table, you should head down to Teatro ZinZanni's spiegeltent (a Belgian mirror tent from 1910, and a rather elegant one at that) and enjoy your salmon.
Someone's going to get a kick out of Dinner & Dreams, the second incarnation of the popular food-and-entertainment extravaganza that started here in 1998 and has since gone on to success in New York and San Francisco. In fact, a lot of someones will see all this as a wild night out; it's colorful, eager to please, and has its share of engaging middlebrow pleasures.
But it wasn't my idea of a hundred bucks (even though I didn't have to pay for it). Were it not for Kevin Kent, playing the perfect hostess Mabel Dean, an Auntie Mame-ish broad in increasingly outrageous costumes, I don't think I could've toughed it out at all. Kent brings the room up every time he comes back into the ring; pedaling in on an airplane bicycle as a jungle adventuress, he spotted a table of happy homosexuals on opening night and quipped, "Ooooh! It's a herd of gayzelles."
The rest of the international cast isn't so quick, a comic acrobatics pair called Die Maiers and fine Parisian contortionist Aurelia Cats notwithstanding. Manuela Horn limply plays her "Mae 'She'" as a Berlin-accented S&M diva (a German dominatrix? Stop, you're killing me). And does anyone head into a cabaret thinking, "I hope I see a Russian hand balancer"? Finally, who approved the tap-dancing used-car salesman?
Someone has to step back and take a sharp look at these things. The evening has a too-random, haphazard lack of continuity—it's a noisy but rather bland "let's put on a show" affair that doesn't yet know what show to put on. Even El Vez, lookin' mmm-mmm good in several tight, terrifically kitschy ensembles, is used like a trick pony—the musician is not on his own turf, and this turf isn't sure how to comfortably work the "love child of Charo and the King" into an evening also featuring creamy asparagus soup.
If you've been itching for ZinZanni's return, well, yes, go and enjoy. For the rest, wait for another $15 Circus Contraption show and open a can of Campbell's.
DINNER THEATER is a strange concept for anyone who cares about either dinner or theater. Pizza in front of the TV is one thing; a five-course meal and a madcap floor show would seem to each warrant one's undivided attention. Teatro ZinZanni evades this potential conflict of interest by incorporating the eating into the show: Service is a choreographed assault, then you're given a respite to concentrate on feeding (plus there's a soup-making skit that involves the ever-pleasing brandishing of sharp knives and throwing of liquids on the audience). T.Z. also dodges the am-I-eating-or-am-I-watching issue by deploying food so thoroughly mediocre that the danger of it distracting you is nil. Presumably this is unintentional; Tom Douglas "created" this menu, and the new location has far better kitchen facilities than the last time around. But perhaps the challenges of simultaneously serving 275 people five separate dishes are insurmountable—it's sort of like trying to serve gourmet food on an airplane.
That said, the service, while necessarily frantic, is friendly; our waiter warned us about the potential "New Orleans hangover" of the sticky special cocktails (and indeed, a couple of LouLou's lemon drops before the main course will have you wanting to crawl under the table). The thick pur饠of asparagus soup was surprisingly peppery (and impressively hot temperature-wise), and the sesame-dressed, mostly spinach salad with crunchy, spicy cashews was tasty. But it seems that anytime more than a few of the same entr饠are prepared, the whole slew devolves into less than the sum of its parts; the T.Z. main dishes are, sadly, no exception. The salmon (sigh), with a fine if too sparing merlot sauce, was better than the vegetarian option of weird, dry potato-eggplant samosas; both were accompanied by moribund lentils, perfectly crisp pea pods, and cute tiny yellow squash. Dessert, a goopy lemon meringue tartlet, was delivered in an artificial melee that became real when our whole tiny pitcher of cream was pitched across the table, which was exciting.
You get the idea: If you want madcap theater accompanied by thoroughly edible food to shove down your gullet, go to Teatro ZinZanni. If you want some of Tom Douglas' fine food, take your hundred bucks down the street to the Palace Kitchen.
Bethany Jean Clement