The Most Baffling Restaurant Experience of my Life

Posted on September 12, 2011 by


A few nights ago, there was a game on. American football season is about as comprehensible to us as School Cheer Expressed via Flip Flop Colour (something we see frequently in this city), so like brave little warriors, we scurried away — with the stated goal of consuming more tandoori chicken than would feasibly fit in the stomach of an elephant.

We decided to go to a restaurant up north, right on the outskirts of town. Last time we visited was on a weeknight; the service was amazing and the food was enjoyable, if not life-changing.

As I pulled up to the kerb, I noticed there was a smell, like one of us had stepped in dog shit. Boy Thing vehemently denied having farted in the car. It turned out to be a tiny drain under my left front tyre which presumably doubled as an outlet for sewer methane or something — bad strip-mall management, nothing more — but it proved an apt portent of the strange fate that awaited us within.

We entered, were seated, nothing peculiar. The manager-type pulled out Boy Thing’s chair for him, which was charming. Minutes later, he was back to take our order. We started reciting: tikka this, makhni that — only to be cut off, mid-sentence, by the appearance of a waiter, who announced to the manager that he would be taking the rest of our order because there was someone on the phone.

The manager blinked a little, but didn’t reprimand his waiter — who I’ll call Ponytail — only stared at him in silence for a moment. Ponytail said, “I’ll take this. There’s someone on the phone.” Finally, the manager left — after summarizing the items we’d already ordered, which Ponytail dutifully wrote down.

While this was going on, I overheard an error — so I told Ponytail that I’d asked for my chicken to be tikka-ed before it was makhni-ed. This was available on the set menu, and the manager said it would be no problem, but when conveying the order to Ponytail he’d left out the vital tikka step. This restaurant has a real stone tandoor — something I like to take advantage of — but Ponytail wouldn’t let me do it. He explained to me (slowly, as if I were an idiot) that chicken tikka is dry, but that chicken makhni has a sauce. I attempted to show him the item on the set menu, which clearly showed that yes, it is possible to cook the chicken in the tandoor before you bung it in the curry. His response was to explain it to me again, but even s-l-o-w-e-r. So I gave up.

Next it was Boy Thing’s turn. He’s intolerant to onion, so he asked for his tandoori assortment without the lamb kebab. Ponytail thought this was just the most adorable thing he’d ever heard, and then explained to Boy Thing that there wasn’t any onion in the kebab. The onion mentioned on the menu, he said, was grilled and put underneath the meat. Boy Thing knew this wasn’t the case, as we’d eaten there before and, well, the menu described the kebab as “ground lamb mixed with onion and chilis” but he let it go. We each ordered an appetizer and ordered some bread to split, which the menu said contained paneer and raisins. Ponytail read us our orders back when we were done, making sure to smile patronizingly at Boy Thing when he said “and no onion”. I wanted to slap him.

My appetizer was done in about two minutes. I wanted to wait for Boy Thing’s appetizer, because he was hungry and it wasn’t fair of me to start. He encouraged me to try my food. I did; it was fairly dry, but edible. I didn’t like it enough to hoover it up in front of Boy Thing; I was hungry, but I could wait.

And I did. Both of us did.

For 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, a porter came up and asked if I was done yet. I had half my appetizer still in its serving dish, so I said no, not yet, but thank you. He looked at me like I was something he couldn’t scrape off his boot and said, “But the food is ready.”

I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such surliness. I said, “Pardon?”

“The food is ready,” he replied. He shook his head at me as he walked away.

“Er, that’s okay,” I said. He was gone.

Boy Thing and I blinked at each other.

With the food came Boy Thing’s missing appetizer. The waitress who brought it to us seemed high on something — possibly life, or the abuse of power — at any rate, everything was just fine with her. When the table next to us wondered about their appetizers, she said, “It’s okay, I have them!” as if bringing them with the main course made everything just dandy again, and nobody had any reason to worry. When Boy Thing pointed out that his appetizer was, well, an appetizer, she said, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s here,” in such a jolly tone that Boy Thing was left speechless.

My chicken was of course not tikka-ed before being makhni-ed, and the lamb kebab had bits of onion throughout, but you know, the food wasn’t bad and we were left alone to eat it. Well, except for the bread — which had no raisins whatsoever and tasted like someone had dumped an entire shaker of salt in it. I didn’t want to speculate; I’ve been paranoid about restaurants since Fight Club.

The manager, who seemed nice but ineffectual, came to ask us about our food. I told him about the bread; after a few moments of utter and entirely unnecessary confusion, he put the order in for a new, edible batch with raisins. We had to make it clear that yes, it said raisins on the menu. (When the second batch arrived it became clear that these were actually sultanas, but…whatever.)

Next, the bill and the take-home boxes. (We’re both European but we’ve gotten used to the “doggy bag” custom by now.) Prozac Waitress brought me a metre of aluminium foil for the remaining bit of bread, which I had to package at the table, and a box for the remaining curry.

Ponytail gave the bill to Boy Thing, who doesn’t even have an American bank account. I’m used to this by now, but I don’t know, for some mysterious reason it annoyed me this time. And then, when we thought it was all over, Ponytail said, “Was everything okay?” We didn’t want to start a fight or anything here in The Twilight Zone, so we looked down and mumbled something like, “sure, fine” — but Ponytail clasped his hands to his chest in horror and shrieked, “Oh no!”

Boy Thing and I (understandably startled) stared at him, open-mouthed. Ponytail, realising his mistake, said, “Oh, I thought you said it was awful. And then I was like, ‘Oh no!’ because I thought you said that.”

Like goldfish we were. No, carp. Big-mouthed bass. Ponytail stood there for a minute, and then left. I put my card in the bill fold.

He came back for it after a few minutes, blessedly silent.

No such luck when he brought the receipt to be signed. He set down the obligatory sugared cumin seeds and opened his mouth; I cringed. This time he tried to talk to Boy Thing. “What was in that appetizer you had?” he asked.

Boy Thing and I stuttered for a few moments before admitting we didn’t know.

“Oh, you don’t know?” said Ponytail, like it was our obligation to know the ingredients of the food he served.

Boy Thing tried to explain what his appetizer looked like. Of course Ponytail let him fumble around without trying to help. “You don’t remember its name?” he said. I suggested that we might be able to tell him if given a menu.

Ponytail pulled a menu from under his arm. “Good for you I have one with me!” he said.

“Is it?” said Boy Thing.

Two things went through my mind: a) ” ‘Good for me’? Is that a threat?” and b) “How do you expect us to know the menu if you don’t? You wait tables here.” But I pointed it to him on the menu anyway — just to see what happened next, I suppose. He looked at my finger, looked at the item it indicated, and then said, “It looked good.” Boy Thing replied in the affirmative.

Apparently all of that fuss was to enable Ponytail to complement Boy Thing on his choice of food, because he left.

He came back five minutes later and said, “Is it stuffy in here to you?”

He was addressing me, so I said, “I…hadn’t noticed anything.”

“No,” he said, “it’s stuffy in here. I’ll see what I can do about it.”

I said nothing, so he stood in Boy Thing’s background awkwardly for many agonising seconds before leaving.

By this time, Boy Thing and I were giggling maniacally into the crooks of our elbows. We felt like victims of no-man’s land — the kind of shell-shock one can only experience when one’s entire set of expectations have been kneaded like pretzel dough and then, bafflingly, thrown from a 2nd-storey window, for the low low price of $50.00 plus tax and gratuity. At any rate, Boy Thing was exhausted and demanded espresso.

We proposed several hypotheses on the way to our favourite coffee place. Perhaps Ponytail had Aspberger’s and his bizarre behaviour was attempts to banter with us so we’d give him a hefty tip. Perhaps the entire restaurant had been exposed to some kind of mind-altering drug. Had there been LSD in the samosas? Last time we ate there, our waiter had told us the kitchen could make anything we wanted off-menu; this time there even seemed to be trouble making things that were on the menu. So perhaps the restaurant had been bought by new management, who had no clue how to run a restaurant.

There was a silver lining to our strange evening. I told Boy Thing that I’d been so confused I often found myself looking around the room when searching for something to say — as though answers would spontaneously appear on the wall, and he laughed so hard he snorted a little. Boy Thing doesn’t laugh like that very often. We also successfully avoided the football crowd, and my chicken made for delicious leftovers.

We’re never going back. It was amusing, but ultimately not worth the money. If you want a tour, we’ll be happy to take you — but you’re paying. Don’t forget your Groucho Marx glasses-and-moustache set.

Posted in: Food