Restaurants used to be places where people went to relax, be comfortable, get waited on, places where part of the appeal was that they got to choose from a whole menu full of dishes — with sauce on the side if you wanted it that way. (The very word restaurant, remember, comes from the French verb restaurer, to restore; you were supposed to feel better leaving than you did going in.)
Today, restaurants are something else: experiences, challenges, sometimes ordeals. Arrive at 5:30 or 10:30, not any reasonable dinner hour; sit in cramped quarters on tiny chairs; eat what the chef tells you to eat, and you'll take the damn sauce and like it. Oh, and no friggin' photos, dirtbag! What's important isn't being cosseted and well-fed, anymore, it's submitting to the authoritarian strictures of some arbiter of culinary taste who is obviously far, far hipper than you'll ever be. And — even more important — doing it before anybody else does.
Competition for reservations at such establishments is heated, and actually winning a (probably uncomfortable) seat at one of them is considered by some restaurant-goers to be the ultimate personal accomplishment. With that in mind, The Daily Meal has decided to showcase the four restaurants around the country that everybody who's anybody wants to go to most — places that are too cool to show up in the guidebooks, and far too in for any outsider. Restaurants, we regret to inform you, that an ordinary food-lover like you can only dream about.
Chunkie's Corner — Brooklyn, N.Y.
Taking the concept of "street food" to its inevitable apotheosis, 19-year-old Otto "Chunkie" Blutwurst— who honed his skills as a grammar-school cafeteria monitor, then went on to earn instant acclaim for his ill-fated Eat It Or Starve on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which opened to great fanfare in late 2010 and closed after lunch — has eschewed not only bricks-and-mortar but also trucks, trailers, carts, and stands. "You could call this a 'virtual restaurant'," says Blutwurst. "If you were some stupid phony, or something."
How does it work? Exactly 19 lucky souls (chosen at random from the membership rolls of Match.com and the New York City Municipal Credit Union) gather on the corner of Keelhaul Terrace and St. Flocellus Street in the Rottenwood section of Brooklyn exactly 19 minutes after sundown every evening (a security force of pensioned-off Guardian Angels enforces the temporal parameters), mill around aimlessly until the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of a driveby gang shooting is heard from two streets over, and then line up in ascending order of height along the curb while Blutwurst and his team race by on their vintage Schwinn Couriers and toss exquisitely crafted morsels (Mangalitsa pork-fat shooters, rattlesnake-and-cannabis hand rolls, rabbit tartare with catfish-liver crostini, and the like) — though never quite enough of them to go around —into the air above their heads. Hilarity ensues.
4-Edge — Poisonfish, Mont.
Diners at Abraxis and Aphelion Satansdottir's rustic retreat — with its damp log walls covered with undulating bog moss, dirt floors alive with earthworms, and mismatched kiddie-size camp stools haphazardly arranged around massive moldy tree stumps — don't have to ask how fresh their food is: They know because they've had to forage (get it?) the ingredients themselves. "We're loco for locavoring," chirp the stylishly emaciated sisters in eerie unison.
Would-be customers have to pass a 30-page written exam covering botany, orienteering, divining, and warp knitting, among other topics. Those who get at least a B+ receive a trail map to the restaurant (be forewarned: rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, and a slog through quicksand are involved), and an illustrated guide to victuals they might encounter along the way — among them, 49 varieties of leaves, six species of river toad, and two kinds of edible pebbles.
"You eat what you bring, period," note the siblings, who add that they are minimalists in the kitchen: Most foraged foods are simply steamed over glacier water, then seasoned with nothing more than cobwebs from the Satansdottirs' extensive personal collection.