My wife and I recently went to an exclusively new restaurant in town called L’Hopital. I’d heard that L’Hopital was on the cutting edge but no one would explain why. “You’ll just have to try it yourself, we don’t want to ruin the experience,” replied my friends when I asked what was so unique about their meal. They seemed to stifle a laugh as they said it and when I invited them to join me, they politely declined. “It’s the kind of place where you really only go once. You’ll see.”
My wife and I arrived in the lobby of the restaurant. There were no reservations. Others come in after us and were seated before us. I thought about asking why this was happening but didn’t want to be rude and potentially get on the maitre d’s bad side. Who knows how long we’d have to wait then? Just as we were about to leave our name was called and we were escorted to a table.
We were ushered into a very modern dining room with sleek lines. The waiter was very polite and told us the chef would be out shortly. The chef? Really? This must be a very special place, indeed. As we worked our way through the bread basket, we saw the chef approach. He asked us about our food preferences as well as any allergies and left unexpectedly when another waiter pulled at his arm.
The waiter returned shortly and apologized that the chef was pulled away but assured us that the chef was working on a meal that reflected our preferences. I asked for more bread and we settled in – a good meal of this caliber was certainly worth the wait. Thirty minutes later, I was beginning to get impatient when the chef reappeared. He had more questions for us. Would we prefer a salad or soup? Do we prefer steak or seafood as a main entree? Asparagus or Spinach? When the chef had completed the second round of questions, he again disappeared into the kitchen. Another thirty minutes went by and we summoned the waiter. Where was the food?
“Oh, your salad was finished almost twenty minutes ago, the main entree just came out of the oven and dessert should be served in ten minutes,” said the waiter.
I pointed with incredulity at our empty table as the waiter described this culinary parade. “Where is this food that you speak of?”
The waiter looked quizzically at me and then knowingly smiled as he realized we had never been there before. “Sir, at L’Hopital we will be very attentive to your needs but you will never see the food. It remains in the kitchen for the duration of the meal. When the entire meal has been plated, pictures will be taken of each entree for you to review. Are you ready to see the pictures? They may be ready for viewing?”
We nodded reluctantly as we tried to understand this bizarre restaurant. Perhaps the pictures would provide some solace, some closure, a souvenir of sorts. The chef reappeared with a silver platter covered by an elaborately decorated silver dome. With great flourish, he removed the dome to reveal a stack of pictures resting on an otherwise empty plate. Sure enough, each course had been photographed and a small description in tiny font was barely visible at the bottom of each picture. The food certainly looked beautiful and my wife asked the chef to describe how he cooked the steak and what seasonings he used.
“Oh, lets just say it’s meat that comes from a cow. Then I marinated it in a sauce that you couldn’t make at home, then I put it on the fire. When it got hot enough, I took it off the fire. That’s basically all I can tell you. The rest is too complicated for you to really understand,” the chef said apologetically. Still hungry, I started to slide the pictures into my pocket and we got up to leave.
“Oh, sir, please understand that you cannot remove those pictures from the restaurant,” the chef politely said in a gentle but chiding tone.
“Why not? Wasn’t this our meal?” my wife asked incredulously.
“Technically, yes, and you can request the photos in writing and we will send you copies within two weeks but they cannot be taken home tonight,” explained the chef.
All common sense seemed to be lost at this point and we started to stand up again when the waiter appeared with several papers. “Please sign here and here, sir,” he said politely.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Your bill, sir.” I looked down at a cryptic receipt with undecipherable scribbles adjacent to shockingly high prices. The total at the bottom was more than we had spent on groceries in the past two months.
“I don’t have this kind of money, we can’t pay this tonight!” I exclaimed.
“Oh sir,” the waiter said laughingly, “we rarely have people pay us in full. You can pay us in installments. Just sign here and we will happily send you the papers in the mail. Please have a pleasant night and be sure to tell others to come visit us at L’Hopital.”