I love going to restaurants and while I am not a ‘foodie’ I do have some basic requirements that I thought were des rigueur, until I experienced a whole new dining experience. It was one of those minimalist places; wooden screens, architectural lines and tables in booths behind bamboo screens – you know the kind of thing. The décor was similar to sushi places I’ve been in except for one detail. In the center of each table there were mini barbecues sunken into wood. At first I thought they were there for ambience, a take on a pit fire, but it turned out to be more prosaic than that; the food they serve you is not actually cooked.
I’m still struggling here. Isn’t the whole idea of a restaurant that they get to cook the food and we get to eat it? That’s why they’ve caught on surely.
‘Do we get to do the washing up as well?’ I wondered.
This is broadly how it works. You pick from a menu, then the waiter brings you little packages of meat, fish, vegetables, whatever you’ve ordered, wrapped in aluminum. They tell you what’s inside each parcel and after that you’re on your own.
By the time our packages arrived I’d had a couple of glasses of sake and was getting into conversation. I kept unwrapping and tossing my prawns onto the grill then forgetting to fish them out again. My onions all turned to charcoal and I completely lost the asparagus because it shriveled and dropped through the mesh. I was also lathered in sweat from leaning over to rescue things and as we left the restaurant had indigestion and an assortment of hot sauces and pickles down the front of my shirt. It wasn’t cheap and I was confused when my friends started working out the tip. Surely service was included.
Judging from the delighted expressions on the faces of other diners, I can see this method of eating probably answers some primal hunter-gatherer impulse. Certainly it’s the closest people on the west side of LA are likely to get to foraging for food.
What is it about sushi? I’m not convinced that uncooked fish wrapped in seaweed or a tasty treat of raw egg topped off with sea urchin is a delicacy. I also like to be comfortable when I’m eating. Call me old fashioned but I appreciate a regular chair at table height. Balancing on a stool trying to grab a plate as it jigs along on a conveyor belt is not my idea of relaxing, especially when the additional challenge of chopsticks awaits when you’ve finally located your food. No. YOU are the restaurant. YOU do the work.
If this trend continues there’ll be ‘do it yourself’ hamburger kits at the local grill and we’ll be making our own iced vanilla, one-shot, sugar-free latte in Starbucks. I now have a whole new appreciation for the service at our favorite French restaurant. Come back ‘fine dining’ all is forgiven.