Friday, September 24, 2010

Restaurant Review: Return to the Tarnished Ladle

After posting my review of the abomination that is the Tarnished Ladle, I received an email from the owner. I have received his permission to reproduce this communication here:

I've read your review of my place, and I have to admit it--buddy, I just don't get it. Did you go to the real Tarnished Ladle, or did you get disorientated somewhere along the way and wind up at Bowl of Glop or something? I mean, your article has little or no relation to my eatery and what we do here. Your article is comical at best, and somewhat insane. But I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and invite you back. I want to show you what the Tarnished Ladle is really about--not the fantasy story that you wrote. So here's what I'm going to do. You come down to the Tarnished Ladle, any day, any time, and I will personally greet you at the door and show you what we do here on a daily basis. I will personally be your host, maitre d', waiter, waitron, server, chef, and dishwasher! And I think you're going to be pleasantly surprised!

I'm sure as you read this e-mail you had the same reaction I did. This communication is nothing more than a thinly veiled (I'm talking see-through) threat. Obviously, the owner--or CEO as he styles himself--of the Tarnished Ladle had a problem with me posting a truthful, accurate review of his establishment. And now he's "inviting" me back. Yeah, he's inviting me back all right. Greet me at the door? That sounds terrifying. Terrifying and menacing. But as always, I will take the supreme risk for you, my readers. And so, here is my full report concerning the RETURN TO THE TARNISHED LADLE.

As I pulled my car into the scant parking lot of the Tarnished Ladle, I noticed a beefy guy standing by some traffic cones and a velvet rope. The guy was wearing a weird chauffeur's outfit that didn't fit him in the least and seemed to be made of black vinyl. "Hey!" he bellowed at me. "Hey hey hey hey hey!" Terror gripped my brain as I sat there idling, looking through the windshield at this behemoth as he approached.

"Are you the food journalist?" he asked. I nodded. He signaled me to get out of my vehicle. I did so. "Didn't I tell you in my e-mail you were getting full service today? That means...valet parking!" This man, obviously the owner of the Tarnished Ladle, plopped into the driver's seat of my car and pulled it into a parking space stenciled CUSTOMER OF THE CENTURY...AND BEYOND!

The owner locked my car door and led me to the entrance of the Tarnished Ladle. "Now do you get that kind of service at Pork Belleez? I think not." The air in the parking lot was palpable with terror and menace. I was aware at every moment that what seemed to be a friendly conciliatory gesture on the part of the owner may have been nothing more than a crude set-up. What would happen to me once I stepped into the lobby of the Tarnished Ladle? Terrifying fantasies oppressed my inner eye as I followed the owner to the hostess station.

"What was all that horse hockey about a wax dummy? My hosts and hostesses are lively, vibrant professionals!" The owner jumped behind the lectern. He made a big show of looking over a seating chart then looked up at me as though I had startled him. With false alacrity, he said, "Will you be dining alone, sir? Or have you company?"

It's always weird when a Bluto clone like the owner is polite. I mean, I appreciate it, but it's always unexpected. "I'll be dining alone," I muttered bitterly. "We dine alone as we later die alone. It's just a question of one letter's difference," I said.

The owner pounded the lectern, guffawing. "Where do you get these gags, Las Vegas? You should put some of that humor in your articles, buddy. Here, walk this way," he said, speaking that last phrase with the kindness people throw into a factual statement when they feel pleased by you because you made them laugh. Shaking his head, the owner walked into the dining room. Amazingly, though not surprisingly, the dining room had completely changed since my last visit.

It was exquisite.

I can't explain to you how a sordid, shabby, moth-eaten type of diner suddenly becomes transformed into a sparkling, atmospheric, sophisticated eatery. But this transformation happened...seemingly overnight. And I cannot explain it!

Almost like a character in some medieval folk tale, the dining room of the Tarnished Ladle went from horrible to wonderful as though with the stroke of a magic basting bulb.

The tablecloths, which before were mildewed and put iron bands of terror around the soul, were now bright and laundered, like laundry in some television commercial. The horrid fluorescent lighting had been replaced with jazzy ceramic fixtures, orange-spotted cylinders that created a warm ambiance in the room.

"So what do you think?" the owner said. "Cool, huh?"

It was certainly a change from my last visit. But this may have simply been a cosmetic operation. Maybe the essence of the Tarnished Ladle was still the same. The only way that I would know would be to taste the food.

"Your server will be right with you," the owner stated. He spread his hands out as though balancing and spun around. "I'll be taking care of you this evening," the owner said. "What would you like to drink?"

I asked to see the wine list. The owner said, "Let me call in the Wine Cryer."


A man dressed in a tricorne hat with a large lavender artificial feather stuck into it, a coat, and tights, stepped into the room and began shouting out the names of wines from a scroll he'd unrolled. Just to stop him, I chose one of the first wines on the list, an introverted Cabernet.

The wine was palatable--potable? I was a bit disturbed when the Wine Cryer informed me that it was available in both Regular and Diet, but I soldiered on and drank it...again, as I remind you, for you!

Instead of the clear broth I had last visit, this time I had the Cool Whip soup in a cantaloupe bowl. Fantastic! The owner wasn't kidding--the Tarnished Ladle maybe wasn't as tarnished as it first appeared. It was as though a tarnished ladle had itself been dipped into that liquid they used to advertise on UHF television during the daytime...way back when...when I used to sit spellbound by the antics of the Galloping Gourmet. Rubber chickens are falling from the ceiling!

Suddenly, the image of a rubber chicken dropping onto a stove snapped me back to reality. Fear seized my mind in its grip. This had to be an illusion! Nobody could makeover a dump like the Tarnished Ladle in that short a time. Who knows what sort of trickery was working behind the scenes to make the Ladle appear to be an acceptable, even excellent dining establishment.

"This can't be real," I murmured to myself, slapping the table over and over. "This just can't be real!" I jumped back from the table. Out-of-tune trumpets shrilled as the room spun and purple polka-dots whirled through the air, ending in a plummeting black-out.

* * * * *

When I awoke, I looked around me to see that the Tarnished Ladle was once again Tarnished. Perhaps it had only been an illusion, perhaps it had been real but temporary, but the eatery was no longer the Polished Ladle. I creakily rose to my feet. The dining room was empty, and the owner was nowhere to be seen. The eerie aria of the ceramic doll began once more. I had to get out of here. Disoriented, I tried to remember how to get back to the lobby. I took what I thought was the exit, but found myself in a corridor bound on one end by a pair of swinging doors into the kitchen, on the other by a unisex restroom. I made my way through the kitchen--deserted as it happened--and left through the back exit. In the humid, chilly stench of the dumpster area, I stood with pounding heart, wondering what had happened. I knew that I must document everything that happened that night...

Well, there you have it. Through some kind of mind control trickery, the owner was able to make me think the Tarnished Ladle was shining like gold. If I were to rate the illusion, I would give it five stars. But since I know now that what I took to be a polished ladle was nothing but a cruel illusion, I must give the Tarnished Ladle a cantaloupe bowls.

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