It’s Only Food. Really

There are insanely adventurous diners in this world.

I’m not one of them.

I mean, I’ve eaten sushi, rattlesnake, hippopotamus, turtle, bear, alligator, and armadillo, so I’m not a total dud as a thrillseeker. But I won’t go near any kind of internal organs, suspicious-looking vegetables (sweet potatoes, eggplant, turnips, to name a few), goat, or goat cheese.

When my husband and I first met, he pointed out I ate only white and beige foods, like that was a big deal. Then, when we had kids, he hinted I was a bad vegetable role model for the children. Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I’ve reformed and now eat all kinds of formerly dangerous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and okra, which I like to loudly compliment myself for.

In spite of all my progress and sacrifice, my husband keeps pushing me, which is why we found ourselves at a restaurant called Mystery Cuisine when we were in Paris. I should have run when I saw the name. I like mystery in my books and my movies; I don’t like it on my plate or palate.

mystery food

The server/owner kept bringing us weird dishes and telling us how to eat them and how to drink the accompanying wine. (Did I mention this was costing a fortune, even if the euro had taken a nosedive?) Sometimes, he lit dishes on fire. Sometimes, he showed up in a mask.

“I think this is one of those molecular cuisine joints,” I hissed to my husband.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” he said. “I think this is the most incredible meal I’ve ever eaten — ”

“I’ve always hated the idea of molecular cuisine,” I continued.

” — the way they combine the tastes and ingredients is remarkable — ”

” — and I would have been perfectly happy to die without ever eating the stuff.”

The server came back with a slew of new dishes and bossy instructions on how to eat everything. This reminded me that I have real problems with authority. I could have sworn my husband had problems with authority, too, but you couldn’t tell it tonight.

“I refuse to eat anything in a single bite,” I told my husband after the server left. “My mouth’s too small. And I’m so tired of looking at foie gras that I may join PETA soon.”

“The way they’re combining tastes is extraordinary,” he said. “It makes me think of food in an entirely different way.”

He looked almost seraphic. I wanted to strangle him.

“I hate it when people fetishize food,” I said.

“What they’re doing is pure art,” he said.

Art? Oh, brother. I finally said what I’d been thinking the entire billion hours we’d been there: “You know — it’s only food.”

“That’s a sad commentary,” he said.

“Also,” I added, “foam is not food. I’m a little tired of finding foam on every course.”

We ate seafood, we ate sauces, we drank wine, we inhaled foamy mystery dishes, and — did I mention it earlier? — we paid a fortune. The euro might have been down, but it wasn’t subterranean.

We ate, we paid, we flew home, but in many ways, Mystery Cuisine lingers with us. So far, I’ve had to listen to my husband rapturously recount the whole ordeal mouthful by mouthful. He told our friends John and Helen about it at great length. Helen was intrigued; John was not.

“It’s only food,” I said again, and John agreed loudly. (John and I have decided we were either married in a past life or maybe we were the same person. In our past lives, they probably didn’t have molecular cuisine.)

Helen and John. He has good taste.

Helen and John. John has good taste.

In fact, my husband ended up writing an over-the-top review on Yelp about how Mystery Cuisine transformed him and made him think differently about dining experiences. He may have also said something about a rich cognitive and theatrical perspective, but I’d nodded off by then.

I almost never write reviews for Yelp — but I’m pretty sure I know what I’d say if I did: Just four little words.

(Copyright 2015 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about Forgiving Kitty Carlisle Hart




9 comments… add one
  • FOAM IS NOT FOOD. The emperor is seriously nekkid, and I’m glad you said it!

  • I’m like you, Ruth, with my definite likes and dislikes and general mistrust of anything that ever walked on four (or two) legs and is supposed to be consumed. You are a very brave woman to eat a mystery meal. Is the meal ever revealed, or will it forever be a mystery?

  • this made me smile. I think I am midway between you two: am impatient with foams, food that pretends to be something else, and precious presentation. On the other hand, the place didn’t call itself a restaurant, did it? Up next for you: Heston Blumenthal! I have heard that you get to lick the walls sometimes!!!!

  • This makes me think of a restaurant we ate in the 90s in Toronto when “tall food” was the rage. They stacked everything up on the plate like a high stakes game of pick up sticks and when you touched it, it all crumbled into a flat mound. Ridiculous. I love food and I love good food but pretentious food makes me crazy.

  • Jenny Link

    I love almost all kinds of foods, but there’s no way in the world you’d get me into someplace called Mystery Cuisine!

  • Chris Link

    I definitely enjoyed this restaurant review, as I am quite interested in food and write a monthly food column. Ironically, I just wrote about strange food this week–some experiences eating insects at the recent UT Food Lab Challenge. I appreciate artistic plating & table decor but think many establishments have gone too far. I think country-style food will always be popular and is even becoming trendy so hopefully molecular food will not be our only choice.

  • Your story and all the comments are making my family look weirdly at me because I’m over here laughing in my little office space.

    As for mystery cuisine, no thanks. My food must be clearly identified.

  • Ruth, I am not sure that was a dining experience you had — sounds more like participatory theater. At least you’ve made a funny story out of it —

  • Christine Link

    If you want to drop a lot of money on a meal, go to The French Laundry…or The Willows Inn on Lummi Island – you get a lot of little courses, no bossiness, and best of all no spittle – I mean foam. That stuff looks disgusting and I’d refuse to ingest it.

    PS – am loving the Euro vs. USD rate. Hope it continues until our trip early next year.

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