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AN INDELIBLE FEAST
by Alex Shvartsman
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Men make stupid decisions when they go through their mid-life crises. They get into bad relationships, buy muscle cars, and book trips to climb the mountain peaks on Mars.
The day after Cynthia left him, Pete spent his life savings on a single meal.
“Have you dined with us before, sir?”
The waiter was as pretentious as the venue itself. He was a trim, older gentleman with graying temples and a bow-tie. If not for the lack of facial hair, he could’ve been a spitting image of Alfred, Batman’s butler from the old comic books.
Alfred looked down his nose at Pete, as though he already knew the answer to his question. Pete wasn’t the sort to be a regular diner at the most expensive restaurant in the world. He wasn’t the sort to eat there even once; yet there he was, seated in a spacious private dining room and about to consume the most unusual meal of his life.
“First time.” Pete flashed a feeble smile at the waiter.
“Welcome to Adria’s. Founded in 2015 by the legendary molecular gastronomer Ferran Adria, we have been at the forefront of food science for fifty years. We are the only restaurant ever to be awarded four Michelin stars.”
The waiter’s practiced tone suggested that he gave this speech several times a day. Not that Pete needed to hear it—like any dedicated foodie, he knew all about Adria’s. Alfred’s tour-guide rhetoric was about as useful as summarizing “Casablanca” to a movie buff.
“There are no menus at Adria’s. Order any dish you can conceive of. In fact, we encourage you to challenge us and push the boundaries. We guarantee that our chefs will be able to prepare any three-course meal you desire, or your dining experience is on us.”
Pete thought better of his extravagant expenditure, and tried to get his money back a few weeks after making the reservation. He decided that thirty grand was too high a price for any one experience. But Adria’s offered no refunds. His one chance at seeing his money back was to stump the wizards in the kitchen.
“For my first course,” said Pete, “I’d like a bowl of sea turtle soup.”
Recently Pete caught a program about sea turtles on a nature channel. They were thought extinct until a small colony was found in 2035. Since then a network of zoos tried desperately to rebuild their population, each specimen carefully tracked. No way could Adria’s kitchen get their hands on one.
Alfred made no comment as he took down the order. He merely returned twenty minutes later with a steaming bowl of delicious-smelling broth. He smiled at Pete’s baffled expression.
“Adria’s grows our own stock of every edible animal you can think of,” he bragged. “We even offer vat-grown meat of extinct animals engineered from their DNA. Perhaps you’d like Stegosaurus steak or Woolly Mammoth stew for your main course?”
Pete had another ace up his sleeve.
“I’d prefer a simple pork chop with mashed potatoes and apple sauce,” he said. “Prepared in accordance with the rules of Kashrut.”
Pete wondered if the restaurant would call him on it. Ordering the non-existent kosher pig had to be against their rules. Yet Alfred didn’t protest.
Pete tried the soup, and it was almost worth the price of admission. Subtly flavored and savory, it was easily the best thing Pete had ever tasted. He ate every drop, forcing himself not to gulp it down but to enjoy every spoonful. Even so, it was over all too quickly. Then, the main course came out.
The pork chop looked as good as the soup.
“This is a popular selection with our Jewish and Muslim patrons,” Alfred said smugly. “Our biologists worked hard to redesign the pig digestive system to ruminate. Finding a Talmudic scholar willing to rule that the resulting lab-grown animal isn’t, strictly speaking, a pig, and can therefore be kosher, was the really hard part.”
He set the plate in front of Pete.
“What would you like for dessert?”
“Let me think about it some.”
Pete dove into the pork chop and it was divine. Still, his enjoyment of the meal was marred with regret over losing all that money. Only one chance remained, and Pete was ready to try something drastically different.
He pushed away the empty plate and Alfred appeared almost immediately.
“Have you made a dessert selection, sir?”
“Yes,” said Pete. “Bring me a Twinkie.”
“A Twinkie. Childhood comfort food, you know. A perfect way to round out a meal.”
Alfred scurried off to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later, frowning.
“My sincere apologies, but the chef is unable to fill your order. The man was indignant. He insists,” Alfred sighed, “that he cannot, in good consciousness, serve items that aren’t food in this establishment. We have a reputation to uphold.
“Please make another selection. Your meal will, of course, be complimentary.”
Pete smiled and set himself to the pleasant task of picking out a dessert.
Alex Shvartsman is a writer, editor, translator, and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. His short stories appear in the journal of Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy's Edge, and many other magazines and anthologies. He's the editor of Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series of humorous SF/F. His fiction is linked at alexshvartsman.com.