On this night, the clothing made the meal


Until the other night, the expression "eat with your eyes" had not made much sense to me. I figured that in polite society you ate with your silverware. When no one was looking, you used your fingers.

The only thing you did with your eyes was to roll them with delight when you enjoyed something exceptional.

The "eat-with-your-eyes" routine started becoming clear to me Saturday night when I went to one of those gala events where every restaurant chef in the city had whipped up a dish and was passing out samples. This event was called "Splash!93," and was a $75-a-ticket benefit for the rain forest of the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Thirty chefs from area restaurants set up stations throughout the aquarium and passed out platefuls of food to a crowd of about 600 partygoers.

I knew that if I saw each of those dishes, I would become like Ado Annie in "Oklahoma" -- a character who couldn't say no. I would eat everything, in no particular order.

So I tried a new way to regulate my appetite. I attempted to control my cravings by being mindful of my wandering eye. I tried not to look.

Instead of ogling the food at each serving station, I simply stood in line and kept my eyes on the clothes of the person standing in front of me. I ate what the clothes in front of me ate.

First I got in line behind a dark blue blazer. It was good start. The blazer was headed for a dark green Caesar salad served up by Webers on Boston. Both the salad and the blazer were crisp. From there, I followed a flowered shirt to some exotic antipasto fare, marinated onions and spiced olives, served up by Linwood's Due.

A tasteful dark-print dress led me to a juicy serving of beef tenderloin, carved and served by the staff of Ruth's Chris Steak House. And a red silk blouse led me to a remarkable crusty napoleon made by Citronelle.

Since the event was a benefit for the rain forest, the party was awash with people wearing tropical hats. I picked one out at random and followed it over to a corner of the aquarium where an exhibit called "Sounds of the Sea" was set up. I lost track of the hat, but ended up with the catch of the night, a plate of delicious paella, served by a pair of red-coated waiters from Tio Pepe.

Next thing I knew I was surrounded by a couple of white coats. They were chefs Bill Aydlett and Bill Rothwell from Sisson's. They were among the seven restaurants whose chefs had served appetizers earlier in the evening. I had arrived late and missed the appetizers. Seven temptations avoided.

But more were around the corner. My nose led me to the barbecued ribs, served by Tom Matte's ARA stand. I polished two of them off quickly before following a black shirt to an ivory mound of mashed potatoes and perfect roast pork served by the Brass Elephant.

Keeping my eyes down, I walked down some steps, into the dolphin underwater-viewing room. Looking up, my eyes landed on a guy wearing either a bath towel or a sarong. I never found out for sure because he was standing near something more interesting, a dessert that looked like a taco. It was a tortilla made of coconut and stuffed with chocolate cinnamon mousse, made by Spike and Charlie's Restaurant. It was wonderful.

Then a white shirt led me to some dark chocolate. The chocolate covered some macadamia nuts, and they were served by the Pavilion at the Walters.

After a cup of high-test, dark roast coffee from Starbucks, I looked at the glass wall of the dolphin tank.

I saw a big white belly. It belonged to a passing dolphin, I think.

But it could also have been my reflection.

It was time to go.

On my way home, I wondered what happened to Chef Michael Rork. From time to time, I had seen a flash of white streaking around the aquarium. The streaker turned out to be the white-jacketed Chef Rork of the Harbor Court Hotel. Rork's staff had served some fiery stuffed Anaheim peppers at the event. But it wasn't the peppers that had Rork pacing. It was impending parenthood. His wife, Betsy, had telephoned, saying she had gone to the hospital for a checkup but not to worry, she was sure their baby wasn't coming yet.

Rork looked worried. But yesterday I called the hotel, and the word was that Justin, a 7-pound, 12-ounce baby boy, had arrived on Monday, the chef's day off.

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