Last night, the missus and I trekked out to a fancy local restaurant for dinner. It was definitely one of the trendier places I’d been in a while — many of the really nice eateries screen ‘my kind’ at the door, of course — and made for quite an interesting experience. A few highlights from our Zen dining experience at Om:
Like I always say, ‘When in R(Om)e, eat as the R(Om)ans.’ Or words to that effect. Loosely translated, it means, ‘When faced with an odd and fancy-pantsed menu, order something outlandish — because you’ll be back to white-bread tuna sandwiches and microwave burritos soon enough’. I hopped right in with the appetizer course, and ordered something called the ‘Deconstructed Caesar Salad’.
“If they’d ‘deconstructed’ the thing any further, they’d have driven me out to the farm to harvest the head of lettuce and squeeze the egg out of the chicken. “
Why that starter? Partly because it sounded interesting. Partly because ‘deconstructed’ anywhere on a menu means ‘frou-frou‘, and that’s what I’d just said I was shooting for. But mostly because my wife picked the appetizer I was going to order, and I’m not allowed to get the same thing. Marriage rules, you see. So I had to find another app fast, and this one had the distinct advantages of being both somewhat familiar and reasonably pronouncable. I may have accidentally called it ‘deconvoluted’ or slipped and said ‘Caesarean salad’, but the waiter knew what I meant.
(And thank heaven for that. I hear placenta can make one a mite logy.)
When the dish arrived, it certainly displayed characteristics of a Caesar salad. There was lettuce, and croutons, and crispy little anchovies, and even a poached egg with a little spoon for digging out the goodies and mixing with the dressing. But true to the menu’s word, none of the edible elements were actually touching one another. If they’d ‘deconstructed’ the thing any further, they’d have driven me out to the farm to harvest the head of lettuce and squeeze the egg out of the chicken. Also, there were extra bits of food I wouldn’t normally expect in a Caesar salad — bits of potato, and shaved something-or-other, and some sort of chopped other… thing.
Frankly, I should know what those extra little culinary doohickeys were. Not because I make it a point to learn about every component of every bit of food I stick inside me — who the hell has time for that? Or wants to really know what those McNuggets are made of? No thanks, cookie. Ignorance is bliss — and it’s delicious.
Instead, I should have painstakingly detailed — and near-carnal — knowledge of the ingredients in our dishes because the waiter pointed each of them out and explained them after he delivered the plates. You could see he really enjoyed his job, too — he was in the zone, expounding voraciously on the virtues of our various victuals. The man just loved talking about food. He could describe a demiglaze or wax poetic about waxy beans. I’m not positive, but I think he gave us the daily specials in haiku form. It was impressive.
Sadly, I didn’t listen all that closely, and so I have no idea what the hell it was I ate. The lettuce and the croutons and the crunchy little fishies, I got. After that, it was a blur of foods and preparations and possibly foreign languages that I’d never heard of before. So I did what I was told to do as a small child — I shut up, I ate what was in front of me, and I didn’t ask any questions. No way was I getting sent to my room without dessert this time.
Speaking of dessert, that was an interesting twist — and eerily similar to the appetizer experience.
(In between, we had our entrees. They were both pretty good — lamb for her, pork for me — but frankly nothing to IM home about. The best part of the main course was the snippet of the waiter’s description of my dish that I tuned in for:
‘…and the sweet and sour cabbage, harvested from the north face of a particular mountain in the heart of Nepal. It’s lovingly tended by Buddhist monks, packed and shipped to a secret underground bunker outside of Washington, D.C. There, the sweet and sour glaze is prepared by our chefs, who are sworn to protect the secret recipe and confined to the bunker without any contact with the outside world. The pork shank is sliced with knives that have been blessed by the Dalai Lama himself, and served with a delicate and savory apple moustarda. It’s like mustard, only more pompouser. You’ll like it.‘
Okay, maybe he didn’t say all of that. But he could’ve. And I’m sure the Dalai Lama had something to do with the cabbage, because it was pretty damned tasty.)
For dessert, I ordered the ‘ras malai’.
Did I know what a ‘ras malai’ was? No.
Did I know how to pronounce ‘ras malai’? Not especially, no.
Was I daunted just a bit when the waiter said, ‘Oh, that one’s interesting. It’s sort of like a sponge cake. Only it’s not. It’s cheese.‘? You betcha.
Did I order it, anyway, instead of a boring old cheesecake or pie dish? Hell, yes. A little spongy cheese never hurt anyone, right?
It turned out to be quite tasty. I might have been a bit happier thinking that the squishy, soggy, doughy things were ‘cakes’, rather than ‘congealed milk’, but I got past the mental image and enjoyed them, anyway. The assortment of extras that came along with them made me wonder if I’d missed a ‘deconstructed’ detail somewhere in the dish description. There were pistachio bits, mint sauce, and a bunch of other add-ons that the waiter must have described after he mentioned the ‘curry ice cream’.
When you hear ‘curry ice cream’, the bits of your body responsible for hearing tend to take a back seat for a few seconds, while the bits of your body responsible for involuntary shuddering and making gagging noises take over. I pondered whether maybe I’d misheard him saying ‘slurry ice cream’ or ‘hurried ice cream’, or even ‘furry ice cream’, which might be tricky to pick out of your teeth, but would still sound marginally more palatable than curry ice cream. That’s the sort of thing I always imagined they force-feed the Iron Chefs as punishment when they lose a match to a challenger.
When he brought the plate, I discovered that it really was curry ice cream. And happily, it was quite tasty, too. Like cinnamon, with an extra earthy kick. It was at least as good as all of the other dollops and pastes whose descriptions I missed while I was making ‘blech!‘ noises at the waiter about the curry ice cream.
Overall, it was a nice dinner. The dishes were a bit of work to assemble — hell, even at 7-11, they’ll put the hot dog into the bun for you — but they were tasty, and it was good to get out of the house for ‘real food’. And how often is dinner a learning experience, with your very own gastronomic guru available to detail what you’re eating? I was almost afraid I should have taken notes, in case there was a test after the dessert course. Luckily, they let it go, and let us find our own path out. How zen of them.Permalink | 2 Comments