After I failed last week to get a rise out of the folks at Which Wich by ordering something terrible, it occurred to me that the problem might have had less to do with the order, and more to do with where I was ordering from.
Eating a mix of grape jelly and Cheez Whiz was, I've promised myself, a once in a lifetime experience -- but the hand-written sandwich orders and disinterested workers on the assembly line seem like a system designed to let you ask for awful things without anyone knowing. They could sell jars of marshmallow whip or Pauly Shore DVDs the same way.
This week, then: a new approach. I'd go somewhere with its own tables and chairs, real, verbal ordering, and with at least one person paid to care how the food tastes. I chose the Asian Mint, the "Asian fusion cafe" up North Central Expressway. If they're willing to mash together thousands of years' worth of disparate culinary evolution, I figured they'd be into having someone fuse their menu items together at random.
That didn't turn out to be the case. The menu's long on Thai dishes, with a few Chinese items and a selection of sushi. Far from encouraging variation, the menu seemed to suggest you'd be insane to change a thing. The pad Thai prepared at Asian Mint isn't just pretty good; "We have perfected it!" the menu cheers. The salmon is prepared "to perfection" as well, and their pineapple cashew fried rice "never goes wrong."
Well, I'd see about that.
"I've got a question," I began, innocently enough, when my waitress approached. I asked for the pad Thai, but I pointing to the fried rice on the menu, I said I'd like to try the pineapple-cashew combo, but in my noodles instead. I'd take those instead of peanuts.
My waitress hesitated, searching for a way out, before parrying with an apology. Very sorry, but it'd cost an extra dollar to make that happen.
I told her that would be fine, and there was one more thing: instead of tofu, could they make it with calamari?
"No," she said.
This was more like it. Even with a less ridiculous order than my sandwich last week, I was finally getting some push-back. I was glad to see someone willing to defend their menu. It'd make mangling the dish that much sweeter.
It only took a few seconds looking down at the menu, appearing to mulling over that word "no," before she relented and agreed to play ball.
"Well, it would cost two or three dollars," she said, straining to lend some authority to the number she'd just dreamed up. I agreed.
She returned in just a few minutes, searching for the right words. "This is... a special request," she reminded me, trying to absolve the chef of wrongdoing. She had a look on her face as though she'd like to hold her nose, if she weren't already holding my food.
Even stripped of its perfection -- years of research down the drain -- the pad Thai stood up well, and probably didn't miss the original mark by too much. I'd failed to introduce anything took the taste in a different direction, so the only really odd thing about the dish were a couple bites of chewy, lukewarm calamari curled around blazing hot pineapple chunks.
It wasn't the abomination I'd managed to pull off at Which Wich the week before, but it was a more satisfying order. It was a negotiation for just the lousy concoction I wanted, and I'd won.