Mirrored from Sythyry.
There is a special look of panic that crosses a headwaiter’s face when he first sees that a Zi Ri is flying unannounced into his restaurant, intent on dining or other unimaginable acts of ancient, archaic wizardry. I haven’t inspired that panic all that often lately. In Eigrach, we mostly made reservations in advance. Barency is used to Zi Ri; several of us live there. The Chef of Great, regarded by one out of five tourbooks as the Best Up-and-Coming Restaurant in Torwosis, only opened two years ago, and there are no Zi Ri living in Torwosis, so I was probably their first Zi Ri customer ever.
This panic is thoroughly understandable. Everything about us is troublesome. We cannot sit in the chairs that the populous species use. Sometimes we can sit on the backs of chairs, or on the tops of couches — but that looks improvised and haphazard, which is not the atmosphere that a fine restaurant wishes to convey. Sometimes we must sit on the table, which is an extra trouble: not only does the restaurant look utterly unprepared, it takes up extra space on the table and imperils the meals of other diners. Or we can just levitate, which makes the restaurant look even worse (a diner who must expend zir own magic for zir comfort at table!) and emphasizes to everyone just what sort of person is being ill-served.
Dually, we do not eat very much, as we are small people. Generally I try to be polite and order a full-sized meal anyhow, thus paying as large a bill as anyone else. Still, one may understand that a typical waiter does not know this, and expects to undergo substantial trouble for a very small tab.
Anyhow, a considerably flustered waiter sat me on the corner of a table, with Arfaen on one side and Phaniet on the other.
I proclaimed, “Ah, Yistreia! How could one truly enjoy mice, if it were not for your adventures in cuisine! O waiter, do you have mice today?”
The waiter wagged her tail. “Indeed we do, O Zi Ri, for service to those who wish to eat the traditional food of our region. But we are a very cosmopolitan restaurant, a panoply of delicacies of many nations. Allow me to recommend the Aradrueian goulash, the honeyed beetles in the style of Daukrhame, the awe-inspiring blue curry in the manner of distant, ruined Dossimar!”
Phaniet laughed. “Well, we have recently been in Lenkasia on Aradrueia; we are from Vheshrame next to Daukrhame, and we are the ones who ruined Dossimar.” Somehow, this failed to unfluster the waiter in the slightest. Phaniet and I may have been working at cross-purposes on this point.
I noted, “Not that we tasted any of the cuisine of Dossimar when we were there!”
Arfaen giggled. “Ill-mannered pirates they were! What sort of a lout tries to rape a woman without offering her so much as a single taste of the local delicacies?”
It was at about this point that I realized how much of an adventurer Arfaen has become. I suppose it is inevitable, and perhaps not too terrible. The waiter, however, was even less put at ease by Arfaen’s jest.
After a certain amount of discussion, I ordered a Sequence of Seven Various Mice, with the proviso that Phaniet would eat half of each one. Arfaen ordered Something With Fish, and Phaniet ordered a Grand Cassoulet of Arhoolie and Peppers upon Spicy Sausage. The waiter all but bolted for the kitchen with our orders.
The first mouse was butterflied, skewered, sprinkled with coarse salt, grilled, stuffed with spinach, and served on a sauce of a light yogurt cream, sprinkled with purple flowers. It was every bit as good as it sounds.
Phaniet said, “Very basic — one really could get something like that anywhere, I think.”
I disputed, “The yogurt in the cream sauce is particularly particular!”
Phaniet wagged her tail. “Perhaps only a quarter of anywhere. It is certainly finely grilled.”
The second mouse was butterflied, skewered, sprinkled with mustard-dust, and served raw with a chiffonade of arhoolie leaves. “O honored guests,” said the waiter, “Please be careful and take lightly of the arhoolie leaves! They are potent and pungent and powerful! A single bite of them and it will feel as if the top of your head were being prised off by a nycathath, and your brain sprinkled generously with ground quachammog peppers! If this occurs, please do not destroy the restaurant!”
“I thank you considerably for the warning,” I said. I have been eating arhoolie leaves for well over a century. (Actually, they are every bit as bad as she says, and they do not get better with practice.)
The third mouse was butterflied, skewered, sprinkled with green herbs, grilled over a camphor flame at the table, and doused with melted cheese. Further commentary is unavailable, as, due to the melted cheese, it has to be eaten very quickly. It certainly slid down quite fast.
The fourth mouse was butterflied, skewered, marinated in sweet brandy, dipped in cumin salt, grilled over a source of radient heat, and wrapped in the leaves of bitter woodmock and hyssop.
Phaniet said, “Oh, that is delicious!”
“It is. Still, may I give either of you the forequarters of my mouse? I am getting rather full,” I said.
Arfaen eliminated the quarter-mouse with a simple yet elegant stab of the skewer.
The fifth mouse was butterflied, marinated in pepper sauce, wrapped in arhoolie leaves, heavily buttered, dipped in a thick egg batter, and deep-fried, and served with a potent tamarind pepper sauce.
“Oh, dearie. Maybe I’ll have just the head, if that’s OK with you, Phaniet?”
The sixth mouse was butterflied, marinated in vinegar, skewered on cinnamon sticks, and simmered for hours in a light mushroom broth.
“That’s pleasantly light after that egg-battered mouse!” I managed to engulf nearly a third of it. It was fortunate that I was not levitating or perched on the back of a chair, for I was nearly spherical with mouse by then.
The seventh mouse was butterflied, skewered, battered, deep-fried, chopped into little bits, and served in a thick honey sauce.
I ate one little bit and fell into a stark coma, in which dreams of skewered mice tormented me with dramatic recitals of the menus of all the restaurants I had ever eaten at. (Or, at least, pushed the plate over to Phaniet and Arfaen, and acted generally drowsy and overfed for the rest of the meal.)