When professional chefs get good and/or famous enough, they sometimes get the urge to experiment. And this isn’t “Let’s try hot sauce on the macaroni” shit here — weird chemicals and gases creep into their recipes, which run the risk of becoming so complicated that the dishes are less like food and more like some weird, perverted form of modern art. It gets to the point where you need an instruction manual and a careful lecture from the waiter just to figure out what you’re looking at, let alone how to eat things like …
There are certain foods everyone knows to never order on a first date because you just look ridiculous eating them. You probably want to avoid any kind of noodle-based dish, for instance, or anything on a stick. And if you find yourself at Alinea, a restaurant in Chicago, you might want to avoid ordering their edible goddamn balloon. Here’s what you look like eating one:
Ridiculous. Or, if not ridiculous, sure to make your date jealous.
Of course, this “dish” couldn’t be brought into a three-Michelin-star environment without slight modifications. Edible balloons are made from a viscous mix of green apples and sugar, which is carefully inflated into a balloon shape. The string of the balloon is dehydrated apple. The helium is still helium.
There are two ways you can eat the edible balloon, and neither offers a single chance of retaining your dignity. The first is to use the pin that comes with the balloon to pop it, after which you presumably spend the remainder of your dinner scooping up its sad remains from all over the table (and your face). The second is slightly less messy, but no less ridiculous: You press your face hole in the side of the balloon and suck it up, along with all the helium inside. This has the benefit of both making you look like a moron and giving you the helium voice.
We’re betting that the second after you finish the edible balloon, the waiters come asking you complicated questions just for the hell of it.
Many high-concept dishes are not about the taste so much as they are about the experience. In other words, people eat them because they’re expensive and have some neat gimmick. In a refreshingly honest move, Moto restaurant in Chicago actually seems to admit this with their signature zen garden dish, which is custom designed for playing with your food rather than, you know, eating it.
The zen garden is a cheese plate consisting of Camembert, spices, chocolate, and frozen, blended fruit. It has been painstakingly shaped into the form of a Japanese zen rock garden, complete with a little meditation rake you can use for arranging the elements in the garden for some contemplative peace and quiet.
As with real zen gardens, this provides much relief to those who have no actual problems.
Of course, the nature of the dish is somewhat undermined by the fact that the zen garden is just one plate in a tasting menu of over a dozen courses. You’ll probably have to choose whether you want to actually eat it or just absent-mindedly doodle dicks in it until the next course arrives. Or maybe they wheel it out when it seems like a customer is too anxious. “Shh, it’s all right, calm down. The zen garden is coming. Everything is going to be fine. Rake your cheese.”