Dinner and Derangement

Frank Bruni in The New York Times:

Bruni_new-articleInline-v2During thousands of elaborate restaurant meals over dozens of piggy years, I’ve received many exacting, even loopy, instructions. I’ve been prodded to dab a special scent on my wrist before savoring my salad. To proceed through the five microscopic canapés before me from left to right, as if they were words in a sentence that would lose all meaning if scrambled. To exhale a particular way as I chewed an avant-garde popcorn cluster so that the smoke inside it billowed from my nostrils. Romera New York is the first restaurant where I was told to “make a memory” of my water. Romera is Manhattan’s newest culinary oddity, an elegant hideaway whose conceits include the pairing of each dish in an 11-course meal with a lukewarm flavored water in a lidded grappa glass. One water might be infused with leek and radish, another with jasmine and dried seaweed. Most taste like indecisive teas, commitment-phobic broths or pond runoff. “Feel free to smell them,” said a server, as if I might otherwise feel jailed. “And to taste them.” He paused. “Make a memory of them.”

While blazers are optional at Romera, straitjackets would be a fine idea.

It’s the craziest example I’ve encountered of the way our culture’s food madness tips into food psychosis, at least among those with keen appetites and the means to indulge them. But it’s hardly the only illustration. Surf the cable channels and clock the time before you spy a spatula, a strainer, someone chewing, someone oohing or Gordon Ramsay. I bet it’s less than 11 seconds. Diners at the latest hot bistro or trattoria snap loving pictures of everything they eat, seeming to forget that it’s dinner, not “America’s Next Top Chicken Breast.” In New York, even the meatballs have paparazzi. Steaks come with discourses on breed, feed and dry versus wet aging; coffee with soliloquies about growing regions, grinding methods and the optimal pour-over technique; beer with overwrought tasting notes. We’ve tumbled far, far down the organic rabbit hole. And with Romera, which opened a month ago in Chelsea, we may have finally hit bottom.

More here.