Incomprehensible Vision, Proper Technique, and Blind Ambition Intrigue at "ʁ"

backwaiter.jpg
Steve Gregory via Flickr
A backwaiter at "ʁ"
When the "ʁ" Maitre d' approaches wearing what he describes as "the untanned hides of four of the queerest wolves in the Southwestern United States," you might be inclined to flinch in fear. But that visceral reaction ups your chances that the wolves' kin, who have been partially tamed and trained as backwaiters at this restaurant, will rip you to shreds for an amuse for the next guest. Eating at "ʁ"(an inquiry into the pronunciation of the name will earn at best a frown from the staff, at worst a maniacal laugh) will leave some mystified, others mortified, and most mutilated.

Every diner here is forced to question the conceptual boundaries of a restaurant, and not in a rhetorical sense. The emaciated servers will plead with you to answer--"What are the conceptual boundaries of a restaurant?"--while a man in a fedora holds a live lobster next to the server's ear and begins to roll the rubber band off the claw while whispering to the guest, "First the crustacean feasts, then you do. Course 17."

I do my best to respond, but find myself distracted: Charred tree branches litter the floor, a few still smoldering, causing the wolves to change direction and clumsily navigate the dining room. Live moss lines the walls, the muted green interrupted only by gilded sconces with broken light bulbs. The restaurant is suspiciously dark: Fireflies in decorative mason jars are the only means used to illuminate the space.

The service at "ʁ" can be eerily--perhaps intendedly?--clumsy. While many of the courses are in no way fit to print, the fourth course of "DIY pasta" is a minimalistic presentation of plain flour; heirloom semolina; a fresh-laid, in-shell hen's egg; a block of salt with a small chisel; and four olives with a small juice press. As the server explains how important it is to let the fresh made pasta rest, he appears to purposefully spill a beaker of boiling water onto my dining companion.

"Sometimes we must let the products speak for themselves," he explains over the whimpering of the wolves and the understandable gasp of my companion. "That beaker of outside-foraged water was screaming to douse your face, neck, and breasts."

The pasta that does see some water has the terroir of the city and a yielding chew that pairs well with the accompanying hen's eggshell puree.

Such praise cannot be bestowed on the course titled "Heartbreak in [Sea] Minor." Three Atlantic coast oysters, still closed, are brought out on top of a tussle of smoked seaweed. A musty odor permeates the air, but I am far more focused on who is bringing me the oysters: I am surprised by the serendipity of having my first high school sweetheart Kim presenting me with the piece of driftwood on which the mollusks sit.

The serendipity fades, though, as she begins to systematically belittle me, hurling personal insults while violently shucking the oysters one-by-one.

"More! More! More!" the Maitre d' delightfully shouts as my once-love brings to light a shameful sexual experience we had years ago. My eyes well up; a few tears run off my chin and drip onto the oysters.



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