Friday, November 20, 2009

Weirder and weirder at Room Service

On Sunday evening, after getting back to the city from Princeton, AV and I headed to Room Service for some Thai food. I've been there twice before, for some reason, despite the fact that it wasn't great either time around. But hey, we had a yen, so we made our way there.

Room Service is still one of the more bizarro restaurants around. The giant chandeliers, the crazy metal chairs, the techno music... it's like being in some tripped out club, only it's 7PM. We took our customary 1.5 seconds to figure out what we wanted to order, and soon our waiter sidled up and took our order with about as much awkwardness as a three-sentence exchange can embody. While we waited for our appetizer to arrive, we eavesdropped on-- nay, were subjected to-- the conversation of our neighbors, which went a little something like this: "You're skinny." "No I'm not." "Yes you are." All righty then.

Finally, our dumplings arrived to arrest our attention. Thank you, dumplings. Although I still argue with the presentation-- all clumped together in a pool of sauce, rather than presented separately with dipping sauce on the side-- the dumplings were really quite good and piping hot. The dipping sauce was sweet soy, and I still would have preferred a bit more of it. And on the side. Did I mention I like to control the dipping?

Big ol' mass of dumplings

After we scarfed the dumplings, we paused for a brief interlude to let a passing waitress spill a stream of steaming hot tea-water on AV's arm. By way of apology, she produced a stack of paper napkins. Sweet, thanks. Fortunately, the brief sponge bath fortified us for the entree course, which came shortly after our neighbors' tea. AV went with the traditional pad see ew with chicken; he enjoyed it, noting that, like the dumplings, it was also steaming hot.

Hot, like the tea water

My choice was the Thai Salad. This was the most difficult-to-eat food I've had in a very long time, perhaps ever. It's tough to see from the picture, but it came in a deep, flared vessel about a foot high, which AV compared alternately to a medieval helmet or a bedpan (thanks, darling). There was a little ladle holding about a cup of peanut dressing (quite good), which I removed from the veggies. And then I tried to tackle the salad. I gave up on the slippery plastic chopsticks immediately, grabbing my fork like a trident. The huge discs of cucumber were too large to dip comfortably, and of course I had neither a knife nor a flat surface on which to cut, so I just made do. Underneath the cukes, pallid tomatoes, and huge wands of dessicated fried tofu was a melange of julienned carrot, red onions, and bean threads. And another six inches down was a bed of stiff iceberg lettuce, cut into pieces about 3" by 3", which of course also rendered them nearly inedible by themselves without the right utensils, let alone in combination with any of the other vegetables. While I tried gamely to spear, dip, and chew the veggies, the table on the other side of us filled up with two of the most obnoxious couples we've ever had the displeasure of running into. So I tried to eat faster so we could get out of there. But I couldn't eat fast enough. Each bit revealed more veggies underneath, each more awkwardly cut than the last, and my sad, knifeless fork couldn't keep up. Finally I just gave up. We paid and left.

There's about a pound of vegetables under the visible matter here

So what I've learned about Room Service is thus: The restaurant is all about form, pretty much constantly sacrificing function along the way. The chairs are visually arresting but uncomfortable. The presentations are interesting but sacrifice the food on the altar of style. The huge green plastic chopsticks are striking but are difficult to use. You get the picture. The salad would actually have been a pretty good value if it were at all accessible, but c'est la vie. Will I go back to Room Service? Alas, probably. Hey, sometimes I get a craving for some more avant-garde Thai than our old standbys. Which makes Room Service the prototypical three Offset Spatula restaurant-- some pros, some cons, but good enough to go back.

Room Service
9th Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets

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