Last night we met some old college friends in North Beach for
dinner. Our intended venue couldn't accomodate our numbers, so one friend ran to an even fancier restaurant across the street. He asked if they had a table for nine, slipping the host a twenty in the process.
We were told they could seat us immediately, which was significant since all the restaurants in the neighborhood (including that one) had lines into the streets. Chuckling at the efficacy of the greased palm, we followed our host to the rear of the restaurant. However, our smugness turned to suspicion as we were led down one flight of stairs, then another. After the third flight, we joked about what dire fate must await us in the darkness below.
We arrived in a private room, almost two stories below street level. The walls were tile, like you'd find in a kitchen or shower, and the low ceiling was crisscrossed with pipes. A long, twisted iron candle holder lay on the table, and another lay on a brushed metal cabinet that ran the length of one wall. The candle holders were set in thick layers of old wax, like something out of a horror film.
One end of the room was partitioned off by hinged wrought iron screens, obscuring some source of mechanized hums and rattles.
All these details were lost on us at first, though, because of what hang from the ceiling. In a dense ring surrounding the table, on hooks along the overhead pipes, were maybe a hundred large cured pigs' legs. We had to duck slightly to get to the table, and once there, the legs filled our view.
Knobs of bone protruded from the torn ends, and cryptic stamps (encoding dates?) adorned wrinkled-gummy-brown-translucent skins. The air smelled musty and sour, like death in unholy chemical suspension.
This is their Prosciutto Room, and apparently they think of it as a feature. There's even a little picture on their website.
Now, I'm the first to admit I'm a mouth-breathing cretin when it comes to fine dining. But since when is meat-locker-chic-with-formaldehyde a desired theme for a meal?
I'm not complaining, really. We had a great time, and the food was good. I'm just wondering, now, what untold horrors would have greeted us if our friend had slipped the host a fifty instead of a twenty.