Monday, October 10, 2011

It smells whiskery

"Do you like seafood?" the waiter asked us right after he propped up the handwritten-menu next to our table.

"Eh . . . sort of. Yeah. Sure." (Is that convincing? What if it's paired with a face somewhere between a frown and a shoulder-shrug?)

"Okay, I'll try to explain the menu to you in English."

Great. Because I've been scanning the menu for words that I recognize and I only see one: linguine, and it's sandwiched between granchio and polpo.

He begins, "Okay, for the first plate we have these options. To begin we have this, it is fried octopus, crunchy on outside, squishy on inside, put it oven. Next, squid, sliced very, very thin, goes in oven. This is tuna done three ways, and in oven. This is a fried squid, very good if you like squid. This is octopus. I don't know the name of this fish. This is blue lobster, half lobster and half . . ."

All I can think about is my sort-of-yeah-sure-shoulder-shrug response to the waiter's first question and how funny it is now. And that I really wish this osteria had had a menu posted outside. And that I had known what polpo was before we came inside.

He finishes explaining nearly every dish on the menu.

Mikey and I sit there in silence. Stunned really. And trying to remember what seemed the least "squishy on inside."

"I'll have the salmon for my first course, and the cauliflower linguine for my second." I felt like those were the least scarey options presented to us. Mikey gets a tuna dish and some spaghetti with prawns.

When they bring out our first plate I see my salmon and immediately think I made a mistake. It's a huge mound of raw fish. Completely raw and sitting atop a pile of greens. And are those? Yes. Capers. Mikey's looks good though. And turns out, it really was.

I drizzle my pink mound of cold fish in a healthy amount of olive oil, pepper it, and dig in. To my surprise it actually isn't bad. Aside from the fact that it's cold and raw, I'm totally in to it. And when I shut my eyes and stopped thinking, I forgot about those two facts almost entirely.

When the second course comes out Mikey is given a small plate with a moist towelette on top in addition to his prawn-topped noodles. "What's that for?" he asks me.

"It's to clean off your fingers after you pinch off the tails of the prawns."

"Can you pinch off the tails?"

"No. They're your prawns." To be honest, I was afraid of them too. But I tried playing it like I was completely unintimidated.

Mikey cuts them off with his knife and discards a majority of the prawn on the small plate. No pinching here. We're such dining-out amateurs it's hilarious.

I ask Mike, "Does something smell fishy? You have an I'm-smelling-a-bad-smell look on your face."

"No, not fishy . . . It smells whiskery."

By this time I'm crying from laughter. Between Mikey's reaction when he saw the prawns complete with legs whiskers, antennae (do prawns have antennae?) and watching him try to eat around the thing, my body was shaking and tears began streaming down my face. Also, we were supposed to be in the city with the best food in Italy. And we were here?

Picture eating this. Only cooked a little and topped with parsley flakes.

By 8 o'clock the place was full of people who looked like they had made reservations and actually wanted to eat various and sundry sea creatures.  Turns out it was a Sicilian joint. With all the fish one could hope for. It promised to please the seafood-eaters but left the seafood-shoulder-shruggers wishing for some tortelloni con burro e salvia.

But the experience? Unbeatable. We are having so much fun.

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