The restaurant was one of those nouveau retro trendy southwest colored spaces where each room had a distinct color scheme and theme. The floors were terra-cotta tile throughout to provide some common elements, along with the white table cloths and black plates. It had an aura about it of design being more important to the owner than the food it served. I certainly hoped that the owner wasn’t directly in charge of the menu and kitchen.
Under the circumstances, I resigned myself to my fate, and allowed myself to be led to the table where my dinner date was already waiting. Except I didn’t recall having a dinner date.
On closer inspection, my date was not human. Or even alive, for that matter. My reservation having been placed for one, the staff had placed a life-sized animatronic at my table to provide the appearance of company. There was a distinct note of careful consideration about it, and although the figure could move it was carefully very far from flirting with the uncanny valley.
The amuse bouche was a single skewer of sugar cane holding a slice of blood sausage and a blistered cherry tomato. My companion, being a large doll, was served nothing.
The appetizer was at first glance a bat in flight, and my companion was served a plate of insects. The illusion didn’t last once my fork touched my plate. The bat was a clever sculpture, with black lettuce wings and a body made of a mixed grain pilaf colored with squid ink. My companion’s plate vanished once I touched my bat, I’m not certain it was ever actually there.
There was a discrete pause in the service, giving me time to wonder what I’d agreed to review, and to hope that the weirdness would continue at some level. I was here, after all, because of the rumors. Rumors of unforgettable meals, and an inscrutable menu. Now that I thought of it, I hadn’t actually been shown a menu yet at all. Nor had anyone asked me about preferences, allergies, or wines.
If they executed the remainder of the meal as well as they had so far, I was clearly in for a treat.
Something caused me to look up then, and realize that while I’d been musing, my companion had changed. He had shifted from a plain doll, to be more teddy bear. Were they probing me for reactions? Had they found out my secret love of teddy bears? What was the meaning of this?
Then the main course arrived. A perfect whole trout, poised on the plate in mid leap. Suddenly, my companion was not a teddy bear at all, but was a full grown grizzly, and was eyeing my trout with obvious hunger. The sudden realization that I was sitting across a small table from a hungry bear was startling, but I instinctively reacted as if the bear couldn’t possibly be there.
Again, once I dug into my plate and enjoyed the perfectly cooked pink flesh of my fish, my companion faded back to a background role. This time, he was allowed to snatch a trout of his own from thin air, bite it in half, then swallow the halves before his tooth-filled mouth was closed and sewn shut, his authentic bear skin fading back to threadbare well-loved teddy bear.
I had sudden apprehension for the desert.
Was there a desert planned?
What had this little adventure cost?
Was all this real or just a very vivid dream?
All of those imponderables rose up as a wall before me, then came tumbling down and I knew no more.
I awoke behind the wheel of my car, in an empty lot, with no sign of the restaurant visible anywhere.