I’m not talking about a meal that’s poorly cooked, or a server who might be planning your murder — that sort of thing happens in the fat lump of the bell curve of bad. Instead, I’m talking about the long tail stuff — the sort of meals that make you feel as though the fabric of reality is unraveling. The ones that cause you to reassess the fundamentals of capitalism, and whether or not you’re living in a simulation in which someone failed to properly program this particular restaurant. The ones where you just know somebody’s going to lift a metal dome off a tray and reveal a single blue or red pill.
I’m talking about those meals.
At some point, the only way to regard that sort of experience — without going mad — is as some sort of community improv theater. You sit in the audience, shouting suggestions like, “A restaurant!” and “Eating something that resembles food” and “The exchange of money for goods, and in this instance the goods are a goddamn meal!” All of these suggestion go completely ignored.
That is how I’ve come to regard our dinner at Bros, Lecce’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, as a means of preserving what’s left of my sanity. It wasn’t dinner. It was just dinner theater.
No, scratch that. Because dinner was not involved. I mean — dinner played a role, the same way Godot played a role in Beckett’s eponymous play. The entire evening was about it, and guess what? IT NEVER SHOWED.
So no, we can’t call it dinner theater. Instead, we will say it was just theater.
Very, very expensive theater.
I realize that not everyone is willing or able to afford a ticket to Waiting for Gateau and so this post exists, to spare you our torment. We had plenty of beautiful meals in Lecce that were not this one, and if you want a lovely meal out, I’ll compile a list shortly.
But for now, let us rehash whatever the hell this was.
We headed to the restaurant with high hopes — eight of us in total, led into a cement cell of a room, Drake pumping through invisible speakers. It was sweltering hot, and no other customers were present. The décor had the of chicness of an underground bunker where one would expect to be interrogated for the disappearance of an ambassador’s child.
Earlier that day, we’d seen a statue of a bear, chiseled into marble centuries ago, by someone who had never actually seen a bear. This is the result:
And this is a perfect allegory for our evening. It’s as though someone had read about food and restaurants, but had never experienced either, and this was their attempt to recreate it.
What followed was a 27-course meal (note that “course” and “meal” and “27” are being used liberally here) which spanned 4.5 hours and made me feel like I was a character in a Dickensian novel. Because — I cannot impart this enough — there was nothing even close to an actual meal served. Some “courses” were slivers of edible paper. Some shot were glasses of vinegar. Everything tasted like fish, even the non-fish courses. And nearly everything, including these noodles, which was by far the most substantial dish we had, was served cold.
I’ve checked Trip Advisor. Other people who’ve eaten at Bros were served food. Some of them got meat, and ravioli, and more than one slice of bread. Some of them were served things that needed to be eaten with forks and spoons.
We got a tablespoon of crab.
I’ve tried to come up with hypotheses for what happened. Maybe the staff just ran out of food that night. Maybe they confused our table with that of their ex-lover’s. Maybe they were drunk. But we got twelve kinds of foam, something that I can only describe as “an oyster loaf that tasted like Newark airport”, and a teaspoon of savory ice cream that was olive flavored.
I’m still not over that, to be honest. I thought it was going to be pistachio.
There is no menu at Bros. Just a blank newspaper with a QR code linking to a video featuring one of the chefs, presumably, against a black background, talking directly into the camera about things entirely unrelated to food. He occasionally used the proper noun of the restaurant as an adverb, the way a Smurf would. This means that you can’t order anything besides the tasting menu, but also that you are at the mercy of the servers to explain to you what the hell is going on.
The servers will not explain to you what the hell is going on.
They will not do this in Italian. They will not do this in English. They will not play Pictionary with you on the blank newspaper as a means of communicating what you are eating. On the rare occasion where they did offer an explanation for a dish, it did not help.
“These are made with rancid ricotta,” the server said, a tiny fried cheese ball in front of each of us.
“I’m… I’m sorry, did you say rancid? You mean… fermented? Aged?”
“Okay,” I said in Italian. “But I think that something might be lost in translation. Because it can’t be-”
“Rancido,” he clarified.
Another course — a citrus foam — was served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. Absent utensils, we were told to lick it out of the chef’s mouth in a scene that I’m pretty sure was stolen from an eastern European horror film.
For reasons that could fill an entire volume of TimeLife Mysteries of the Unknown, THIS ITEM IS AVAILABLE FOR SALE AT THEIR GIFTSHOP. In case you want to have a restraining order filed against you this holiday season.
Now, at this point, I may have started quietly freaking out. A hierarchical pecking order was being established, and when you’re the one desperately slurping sustenance out of the plaster cast of someone else’s mouth, it’s safe to say you are at the bottom of that pyramid. We’d been beaten into some sort of weird psychological submission. Like the Stanford Prison Experiment but with less prison and more aspic. That’s the only reason I have for why we didn’t leave during any of these incidents:
- interviews with experts in their fields, including Dr. Margaret Seide, Dr. Christina Bjorndal, Dr. Mandy Swinden, and Dr. Kaycie Rosen Grigel.