“L’Atelier Adventure,” by David Schneider

Jan 30th, 2019 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

Several years ago my wife’s employer–a multi-millionaire businessman–gifted us with an evening at Atelier, an exclusive bistro catering to the trendy and peculiar tastes of the upper crust in the nation’s capital. Atelier specializes in pairing marvelous wines with superb, cryogenic cuisine prepared by a bevy of highly skilled, hypermodern New Age chefs. Cryogenic cooking, to the uninitiated, means rendered sanitary by immersing in liquid nitrogen (compressed sea fog we later decided). The waiting time for a reservation is measured in months and a well-heeled sponsor is needed since you must produce notarized evidence of substantial net worth to obtain one.

I was guzzling a beer, chomping on some Planter’s salted peanuts and watching my Nationals blow another ninth inning lead to the N.Y. Mutts when Erin surprised me with news of this exceedingly generous endowment from her employer.

Although I am generally just a basic “burger and fries” guy, I did not want to hurt any feelings so I generated as much enthusiasm for this gastronomic undertaking as I could muster, and then casually inquired if a suit and tie were part of the mandatory costume to visit this establishment.

Weeks later, after Erin had spent slightly more than the cost of the outing on a new wardrobe–dress, shoes and assorted accessories–we embarked on our venture into the elite world of haute cuisine.

It actually took us quite some time to locate this epicurean venue. We spent several evenings a week that summer driving up and down various streets and byways in Ottawa’s chic West End trying to find the darn place. The name, Atelier, does not actually appear anywhere on the outside of the building that houses this gastronomic experience. The gentry seem to have a special radar or sixth sense that allows them to hone in on ultra-exclusive eateries. It’s an innate ability, apparently coded into their DNA, and which Erin and I sadly lack.

When by process of elimination, an embarrassing story for another time, we finally did pinpoint the locale we were somewhat baffled by the austere, forbidding entry including what appeared to be a solid steel entry door. I was almost certain that a secret knock was required to gain admittance. The first night I tried all the secret knock variations in my repertoire – including the special Masonic knock that I am forbidden from revealing to anyone under penalty of death (two quick, soft raps … pause … followed by one loud). No one let us in or, perhaps forgivably; no one could hear us through 3 inches of steel.

On our second night of attempting to “knock our way in”, another couple–obviously members of the cognoscenti–appeared and almost magically opened the door. It seemed as though they merely turned the door knob although I’m sure there was more to it than that. We shadowed them in.

The Decor

I was immediately overwhelmed by the art adorning the interior walls: the “artiste” in a passionate fit of post-modernist angst had cleverly pasted (glue gunned?) bits of colored paper on plain mattes under glass, in black frames. It reminded me less of the work of the Old Masters than the unorthodox output of a mutant Andy Warhol–perhaps a deranged, distant cousin of the Campbell’s soup can Maître?

The Wine

Wine improves with age: the older we get, the better we like it. We were vaguely disappointed that our wine steward for the evening went by the rather pedestrian name “Steve.” We had anticipated being greeted by a dark and mysterious Renaissance sommelier–a “Ramon” or an “Enrique” or a “Ricardo.” “Steve” seemed an unlikely sobriquet for someone who specializes in unleashing torrents of descriptors for the fermented product of the grape.

Speaking of which, henceforth I will never be able to employ my two most common adjectives for describing wine: I learned from Steve that wine may be “fruity, nutty, full-bodied, flavorful, subtle, aromatic, acidic, complex, delicate, cassis, elegant, full, herbaceous, luscious, opulent, peppery, racy, sassy, sharp, robust, supple, toasty, young, zesty, vegetal, vivid, smooth, grassy, edgy, crisp, earthy, or bright,” but “plonk” is never simply “red” or “white” as I once used to describe it.

And was it Kierkegaard or Wayne Gretzky who, while engaging in the fruit versus vegetable debate, once opined that a fruit is a vegetable with looks and money? Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something asparagus never does.

It took Steve more time to rhapsodize about our next selection than for us to down it so a certain amount of impatience grew. However as the evening progressed we continued to dutifully murmur and later slur our appreciation for Steve’s wine pairings.

The Meal

The 12 course meal naturally was unlike anything I’ve ever had at home. By the way, I certainly do not hold myself out to be an epicure. When I was a child, my sainted mother served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal was never found.

On that glorious summer evening the Atelier master chef produced an awe-inspiring, incomprehensible repast comprised of the following courses: Down by the Bay; Wall-I; Jessica Albacore; Tomatrix Revolutions; Lobster Ravioli; Thai Curry; Duck Confit; Carmel Apple Pork; Snack Food; Subterranean Homesick Alien; Swedish Berries; Peaches and Cream… and French fries. They must have known I was coming (just kidding about the fries).

We eagerly awaited the feast. My doctor had told me to stop having intimate dinners for two, unless there was someone else present, and I was prepared to abandon my first principle of dining, “Never eat more than you can lift.”

The first course, called Down by the Bay, consisted of a rather large rock, encrusted with bits of caviar (which tastes surprisingly like fish eggs), a splayed Nova Scotia oyster, some lichen, and pan-seared bits of watermelon. Erin quickly announced that she will not eat oysters. She maintains that she wants her food dead–not sick, not wounded–just dead.

Our server, Eloise, was a remarkably pleasant young lady but her bubbly, ebullient personality changed quickly when I remarked that there were no salt and pepper dispensers on the table, and unfortunately she became downright rude when I asked for catsup. And I’m quite sure that I couldn’t do with catsup what she suggested I do.

The three hours that our meal lasted went surprisingly quickly. Well, at least the food went quickly as each course consisted of a tablespoon of something or other, smoking slightly from its recent re-introduction to oxygen. Naturally, some courses were better received than others. We especially enjoyed items we could identify, such as duck and, and well, the duck. We were completely fooled by the course called “Snack Food.” Instead of the expected cheezies or potato chips we were served something that had been rolled in crushed pretzels. We did not want to try to identify whatever might have been embalmed in the salty crust.

Thankfully we had several glasses of wine between courses to fill in the caloric gap and steady our nerves for the next artfully arranged spoonful.

Erin’s boss had provided us with some sort of gold-plated, pre-paid credit card with which to pay for dinner. That’s the only reason we were allowed to leave without signing over the house. We could tell as other diners fainted when their bills were presented to them (quite over the top body English) that we could not afford to eat there.

It was a gastronomic experience that we will not soon forget, or repeat for that matter. We shall continue our fine dining in establishments that don’t argue the point with us when our 2 for 1 coupons have already expired


David Schneider is a 71 year old cancer survivor. He has worked in many different fields, including the tobacco fields of southern Ontario. Other jobs were clerk in a grocery store, machine operator, waiter, teacher and special assistant in the Senate of Canada. Sometimes he feels compelled to write about a random experience. He does this for personal amusement, but his wife thinks he should share my stories. David has been published by Oxford University Press. His submission, “Radical or Rational? Reflexive Law as Res Nova in the Canadian Environmental Regulatory Regime” was not funny.

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