It happened to Frank Bruni a few weeks ago. It happened to me years ago.
For Mr. Bruni, who can write a mean article, until recently as the New York Times' restaurant critic and now as a more general food writer or op-ed kind of guy, a line was crossed at a restaurant called the Romera New York.
It's pretty easy to extrapolate from Bruni's recent NYT piece that Romera, named for its chef, Miguel Romera, made him nothing short of crazy. Straitjackets, he suggests, rather than blazers, would be a fine idea there.
To explain, Romera opened in September on West 16th in Chelsea, now the transplanted heart of New York's art scene after SoHo became too tiresome, too mainstream. (Remember the infamous old brick Hotel Chelsea? Now closed, it was once home to many a writer and rocker in its glory days, including Dylan Thomas and a wasted Sid Vicious, accused of killing his girlfriend there.)
Romera's location was well chosen. The district's avant-garde vibe couldn't have been lost on Mr. Romera who, before his incarnation as chef there, worked as a neurologist in Barcelona, a two-hour drive from Roses on the coast of Spain.
Roses, if the name vaguely rings a bell in your gastronomic belfry, is home to the famous, pretentious, undeniably influential elBulli restaurant and its "molecular gastronomy" created by chef Ferran Adrià and described in last week's Epicurious? column. It, too, is now closed, as of this past August.
Romera — and I'm sure the parallel construction to the pseudo-scientific "molecular gastronomy" was also not lost — is home to neurogastronomy, described on the restaurant's web site as embodying "a holistic approach to food by means of a thoughtful study of the organoleptic properties of each ingredient." "Organoleptic," according to my handy dictionary, is from the French organoleptique, meaning to act on or involve the sense organs.
Mr. Bruni's article jumps right in to his impressions of his organoleptic feast. "Dinner and derangement" is the title, and it picks up speed from there. Early in the 11-course meal, the waiter invited Mr. Bruni and his dining companion to "make a memory" of their water. Huh?
Apparently, among other curiosities, including flashcards bearing long-winded explanations on ecology, etymologies and philosophies you're supposed to squeeze in between actually eating and conversing with your dinner companions, each of the 11 dishes was paired with a lukewarm, flavoured water — one flavoured with leek and radish, another with jasmine and seaweed.
The line was drawn.
Romera, Bruni concludes at one point, demands notice "mostly because it's such a florid demonstration of just how much culinary vanity we've encouraged and pretension we've unleashed." When does our food mania become a food psychosis?, he asks in his tweet about his Romera column. When, indeed, and when did it start?