Thanks to some kind of sinus ordeal last weekend, I lost my sense of smell, and, in turn, my sense of taste.
I was out of town, which meant that I wasn’t at home and didn’t have to make any decisions about questionable milk or fret over potential natural gas leaks that my nose would have failed to alert me to. It also meant that every meal took place at a restaurant, and lacking the ability to taste tripped me up, opening a series of questions about why we eat the things we do and why, at restaurants, we order what we order. If food has no flavor, how is one to decide?
I was hanging with my parents in Alamosa for the Crane Festival (it’s about birdwatching ... don’t ask), and every time we’re in Alamosa we eat at Calvillo’s, which I adore for its extensive and mind-blowing Mexican buffet, chock-full of tamales, enchiladas, pozole, carne asada, carne guisada, you name it. I was set to do the buffet per usual until I considered my lack of taste. Is the point of a buffet to stuff my giant, obese face or is it to delicately sample a number of different options? For me, it’s both, but I lean heavier on the sampling opportunities (this is me trying to seem respectable).
Stuck with the menu, I began consider: Do I order the thing that will fill me up the cheapest – rice and beans – or something texturally interesting – fajitas – or perhaps something I’d normally order anyway and suffer with the thought of what I was missing? I went with the latter option – chile relleno/enchilada combo and silently pouted throughout the meal.
Monday, as my sense of taste was ever slow in returning, I found myself at Steamworks, again trying to make decisions about food while lacking a sense of taste. A veteran at taste-free food ordering at this point, I scoured the menu for the thing that would best suit my predicament.
I put the question to Sean Moriarty, on as barkeep that night, who was immediate with suggestions, most of which had to do with spiciness (the meatloaf with chorizo, chimichanga, hot wings), which Dr. Moriarty said would cut through my sinus catastrophe.
I went for the hot wings, for their simplicity and the pure filling protein factor. Sean added that the texture might be satisfying, in a primitive, rip-it-from-the-bone-with-your-face kind of way, I imagined. Plus, there’s the celery sticks, “so you can pretend you’re being healthy,” he said. Even better for me. I merely tolerate celery in my normal, tasting lifestyle, so a chance to eat celery without having to endure the off-putting flavor seemed enticing, though the tragic stringy texture would still upset me greatly.
For beer, Moriarty recommended the Conductor, one of the strongest tasting beers on the menu, not to mention being Steamworks’ strongest always-on mainstays at 9.3 percent ABV. He figured the flavors might awaken my senses. My take was that at 9.3 percent and with no taste, why not pick the option that’s gonna get me boarding that train the quickest? Nothing against the Conductor, but it didn’t faze my tastelessness. The chemistry associated with the ABV was another matter.
The experience showed me how complex the calculus can be when ordering a meal and why those decisions can at times be maddeningly difficult. Before, I might have given taste and flavor more credit than it deserved. Lacking taste demonstrated how much I had implicitly taken other factors into consideration when answering the question “What am I in the mood for?” Do I want the lightness and healthiness of a salad (despite its lacking value)? Do I want the straightforward fill-me-up-with-overwhelming-flavor of chicken wings? Do I want the flavor variety of a four-item Mexican combo? Do I want the thing on the menu that will fill me up for the least amount of money?
I’m on the lookout for the perfect meal that combines all of these. How satisfying that would be.