News From Home 13, Part II
2/8/2004 (updated 2/8/2004)
I have never before gone to a restaurant attracted by the name alone; but I thought I would chance it in the case of The Ironic Grill, a new establishment opened by a former food critic of the Los Angeles Times. It was doing fabulous business with the glitterati the night we went – myself, Mrs. RT, and young Brandi and Keanu, the newlyweds. The attraction, I suppose, is that things are not what they seem – take a few extracts from the menu:
T-Bone Steak Viennois – tasty is hardly the word for this extraordinary feat of imagination from chef Louis.
Risotto al Funghi – Never have we dreamed up anything quite like this before.
An Honourable Lamb – Feeling lean and hungry?
And the comments from the waiters (All out of work actors steeped in Becket and Stoppard):
“How is the Bouillabaisse?”
“Oh, magnificent – need you ask?”
“And how about the Stuffed Chicken Breast?”
“You’ll be amazed, Sir.”
“And the Truite aux Almondes?”
“One of Chef’s best efforts, Sir.”
Working on the principal that irony says the opposite of what it means, I decided to search for the least favourable description in the menu, and came up with:
Sea Bass Reginald – a shy and unassuming little dish, that may under whelm in its presentation, but yet is no mean fish.
This I ordered, but pointed out to the waiter that this wasn’t really irony, but rather a deliberate understatement to achieve emphasis, or litotes. “My, but that jacket does suit you, Sir”, the cheeky lad replied, and shuffled off. While waiting for our food, I took the opportunity to take in my surroundings; it was then that I deduced, from the fluted columns, faux-crumbling pediments, and hastily painted-over view of the Acropolis, that in its previous incarnation, the restaurant was undoubtedly Greek, and almost certainly called the Ionic Grill. I popped outside for air at one point and noticed the clumsy conversion job on the neon sign. When the Sea Bass arrived, I must say, it was exquisite; everyone else’s food was mediocre, indeed, seemed rather crudely thrown together. From the dessert menu I then chose something called Bitter-Sweet. Again, I had to point out to the waiter that this was only irony in the debased modern sense – really it was a compressed paradox, or oxymoron. The waiter rolled his eyes, and went to speak to the manager, probably to have me thrown out in some cruel, Pinteresque manner. He came back to say that desserts were on the house. “Bitter-Sweet” was exactly as described – a delicious Belgian chocolate concoction in such a tiny portion as to leave one angry and frustrated. All in all, a bizarre experience. At least the bill was reasonable – or was it? Although main courses were a paltry eight or nine dollars, starters, basket of rolls and desserts were all over twenty each.