Walking in through hazard-sign bedecked doors I saw immediately Unagibomber deserves its reputation for severity. Throughout the main dining room hushed couples and tense groups of four and more hovered over their plates with an intensity usually employed by surgeons in operating rooms.
Around the ceiling above their heads ran the establishment’s manic mission statement decrying the industrial-consumptive system and condemning the dogmatic pursuit of “health-image-positive” food. It is in this dazzlingly bright hall Chef Kaczynski presents his ode to the Kamikaze’s myopia, the menu with a single offering: whole grilled eel. A singular treat with a fanatic following, this infamous delight comes at an additional cost to its price tag. Every eel is rigged to explode with enough C4 to level the block.
Kaczynski gained fame for himself as the 15-year-old child prodigy CEO of a Michelin-notable eel-by-mail delivery company. Twenty years later Unagibomber stands as his magnum opus. As a reviewer of culinary excellence, I long avoided the location for its pretension and hackneyed premise. Sadly, I could only put off the inevitable for so long. With only a couple of hiccups it has stood as a beacon of perfectly executed gimmicky dining; a temple providing an experience sought out by the most discriminating diners around the world. Crowds still stand in lines hours long circling the block - a wonder considering that even waiting to dine is as dangerous as actually eating inside.
However inside the undamaged tiles and lack of blast-proof equipment blow its cover. It seems that if bombs were actually being served in this establishment, they have never gone off and nobody ever plans for them to. Servers, the host, and the door to the kitchen were woefully underprepared, lacking even the most basic protection in the event of an emergency. Even the chef stood utterly unprotected on his pedestal as he lorded over the dining room.
The staff too was very out of touch for my taste. Though technically competent the service was mechanical, almost robotic. The host seemed focused on imaginary tables far off in the distance as he deftly set the table. A backwaiter ignored my attempt at small talk, his eye fearfully gazing at the chef on the pedestal. On his first visit the waiter’s speech was jaded and scripted, his eyes as unengaging as his description of the main (see: only) course. It was a hollow account by a dead man for a non-existent and unappealing meal. I understood that Unagibomber had a reputation for well-managed service but this was my first meal eaten under the iron grasp of a tyrant.
Maybe it was the chef’s intimidating glare, the ashen faces dining around me, or the newly petrified look on the advancing waiter’s face but my doubts as to the lethality of the establishment were swiftly bound and gagged. From a straight-backed cushionless metal chair I nervously watched my plate on its approach, an ominous saucer carrying a notorious payload. My heart rate slowed and my eyes ran in and out of focus as it became my turn to face the beast. The plate landed softly on the table. The now-animated and trembling waiter leaned in close to the eel, gazing at it lovingly, the timer wound tight and the key pinched in his fingers. I sucked my breath in as he anticlimactically breathed out, “the Eel,” and released the bomb.
Deep, rich mahogany glazed eyes stared into me as I locked my gaze with the resplendent corpse. Ripples of charred flesh ran a hypnotic spiral around a pristine pile of rice. The sweet, smoky aroma of the eel was sumptuous to the point of distraction; I almost missed the obvious red wires snaking from the back end of the eel, disappearing into an irregular lump within the mound of rice.
I looked down at the wire snips on the table, a hefty shining key to a kingdom of heavenly delight. Following the point of the blades I saw an out-of-place, worn cocktail napkin under the plate. Carefully I freed it. Scrawled in dark brown eel sauce it read, “Help Me.” I looked back up at the waiter patiently staring me down and in his tired eyes I saw the author of the note.
The waiter’s eyes broke contact with mine abruptly, his silent plea interrupted. I turned to find the intruder and was met with a baleful glower from the chef on high. The dark eyes beneath his cap ground me down beneath their fury and then snapped to follow the waiter back to his station at the back of the restaurant. They came back to me, as though at once reprimanding me and daring me to act.
I turned back around to see my waiter in quiet conversation with the host. Their hushed tones ceased as I stared at them and after a brief glance at the tyrant on the pedestal behind me they shuffled apart immediately. The host assumed a stilted position, his back severely straight with his hands in clear view. The waiter took a similarly wooden pose in the opposite corner, displaying his hands in bizarre compliance.
These people were captive in this place. There was nowhere to hide in the white, dazzling dining room with its fluorescent lights and intimidating architecture. They were under constant scrutiny, a tyrant’s oppressive miasma from on high, scrutinizing every behavior. The experience they had crafted here was as strictly managed as a maximum security facility. There was no escape, no refuge from the dictator in this dining room. I began to understand. The restaurant around me resembled a prison more than a service establishment.
I looked closer at the server’s face and the way the host held himself and I saw the truth. What I assumed was slovenly, poorly managed service was instead simply worn. This service was not sloppy, it was worn out emotionally. Deep within the wrinkles and hunched shoulders and the blank despair on their faces was utter exhaustion. Prison sentences have limits; did anyone here deserve a life or death sentence with this lunatic? Even the prestige of such an establishment could hardly be worth what amounts to trusting perfect strangers with your life.
We the customers are the weapons that threaten the wait staff. Our hunger, our desire for a delicacy be it exquisite eel or perfect pasta or flawless fish becomes a gun that we point directly at their heads and then take away in under ten seconds. Every order is a new threat; every plate another smiling guest asking if you’re prepared to die. We are the hostage takers, the lunatics waving around the loaded gun making demands of the authorities. At some point any such hostage would hold that gun firmly to his head and ask you to pull the trigger.
I looked down at the note in my hand again, its wrinkles too numerous to be only mine. Not a rescue note - this was not a simple hero’s calling. I was not being asked to whisk these people from this madman. I was being asked a favor much more specific than its plea. I began thinking of the smoothed over wrinkles and the hands that had passed over this paper. I thought of how many times it was left on these exact licked-clean plates, found again and again like some mocking devil to be recycled endlessly. There was no damage on these walls, no cracked tiles or shattered light fixtures. These were people patiently waiting for a savior’s deliverance. They had cozied up to the barrel of my gun and were politely asking me to put them out of their misery.
I held in my hand the cross Jesus bore. I was Joan of Arc, leading my people to victory at any cost. I was Martin Luther King facing endless death threats in pursuit of a better life for my people. I held Socrates’ tea and was poised to drink deeply for my republic. I was Mahatma Gandhi, eschewing the savory delights before me to protest the injustice of the system. I saw history stretch before me, those who had come before and answered the call to take their place in the pantheon of legends to have their story echoed throughout the ages. I looked one last time at the wire snips in my hand. My job was even simpler than theirs. I needed only to not act.
Why to go: The perfect place to find out you are the coward you’ve always known. Unagibomber is located on 1st and 4th.