kelp - The Perspective from a Washed-Up Food Critic
kelp. Everyone’s heard of it, but how many Neopets can actually get into the fine establishment? In a place where the hosts make a higher salary than the star players at the Altador Cup, and the servers can find themselves thinking that they are better than the actual Neopets that dine there, one has got to understand that being accepted to eat there is like being granted a place in a mercilessly regal club.
Allow me to introduce myself. I was once the most famous food critic in all Neopia; I rated every restaurant this side of Meridell. Unfortunately, after the owners of all the eateries discovered who I was and my cover was compromised, I had to go into hiding. It wasn’t until most of the buzz about me had died down that I was capable of going back into my old profession.
And so here I sit, after one of the most expensive meals of my life, recalling for this grand newspaper my night’s accomplishments, in hopes that one day you, too, will somehow find a way into this underwater establishment and, hopefully, have the best meal of your life.
As I stand, or rather float, outside the entrance of kelp, I can’t help but notice the brilliance that it gives off. In the dark waters, the sun having set hours prior, kelp is one of the few buildings around. Light pours out the many ornate windows illuminating its beautiful detailed tile work. The place is packed; Neopets and their owners are sitting inside, enjoying themselves but focusing more on their manners than the soups they are sipping. I check my reflection in my pocket mirror, fixing my necklace and tucking a loose hair behind my ear. I sigh, and push open the door into my night's awaiting duties.
I push my shoulders back and stride past the many waiting parties, all waiting for the Scorchio behind the pedestal to find their name on his list. I proudly state my name and say that I am a party of one, then wait for his response. He clears his throat, pulls out a menu from a pile next to him, and escorts me to my table.
I can’t say the staff is very warm. Not once did the Scorchio acknowledge my presence or soften his frown. He did, however, give me a wonderful table. It was tucked toward the back, enveloped in its own little nook. I had a window to look out of and, more importantly, a view of the Maraquan Ruins. I hear a woman clear her throat and turn to see a Uni standing over me. “Can I get you a drink, Madame?” she asks. I order a Seaweed Surprise, trying to stay as local in items as I can. As I wait for my cocktail, I watch the various groups, all stifling laughter and holding their conversations in whispers. Soft music is coming from the ceiling; I instantly recognize it as the Philharmonic, having previously been to one of their shows only a few months prior. I turn to my menu and pore over the choices. As the Uni sets down my drink and asks if I’m ready to order, I opt for the Kelp Gazpacho as an appetizer and inquire as to the fish of the day. She replies that it’s a fresh tuna, caught only a few miles east of kelp. I state that I’d like the Fish Special, and that the chef should take mind not to undercook my pasta. She nods and glides off toward my right, pushing through a large swinging oak door.
As I wait for my soup I take notice as to what is coming out of the kitchen, watching the dessert tray go to a group a few tables ahead of me. I sip my cocktail and instantly pull three of my favorite seaweed flavors from the brew. It’s a bit tangy, a tad sweet, and served in a tall green flute. It reminds me of a similar drink I’d had a while back in Mystery Island, not a bad thing at all. It's one of the better cocktails I’ve had recently, but not the best. I pull a piece of paper out of my bag and draw three stars next to “Beverage.” As I tuck the paper under my seat I see the Uni bringing a large orange bowl toward me. I touch the sides of the bowl; it's chilled, as all gazpachos should be. I taste the lime and pesto instantly; I also see small slices of funnydew, bits of cilantro, and light green shavings. I stir my spoon around, bringing up the settled flavors. The gazpacho is cool, and trickles down my throat well. It's one of the most refreshing soups I think I’ve ever had. I casually pull the slip of paper out and draw four stars next to “Appetizer.”
It’s been about 45 minutes since I’ve sat down, and most of the original tables near me have been cleared, the bills paid, and the diners ready for their long journey home. I finish the last drops of my soup, careful not to slurp any, and try to smile at the Uni as she clears my bowl. Not more than two minutes after she disappears into the back, I see her briskly striding out, her black and white uniform gone and replaced with a purple and blue summer dress. She pulls her coat over her shoulders and glances at me, quickly smiling, being the first and only staff member to give me any sense of warmth that night.
As the cold sea air blows toward my table from the opening of the front door, my entrée is set down in front of me by a new face. He’s a young Jetsam, obviously feeling a bit out of place in such a fine establishment. I thank him and pick up my fork, moving a large pink leaf to the side of my plate. The fish is delicate and moist; a little undercooked for my liking, but nonetheless a tasty treat. I move on to the pasta, smothered in a light red sauce. It’s warm and smooth; it complements the fish perfectly, more than making up for the lack of preparation in the fish. Seeing that the pasta is the highlight of my course, I push myself to drawing three stars. I mean, really, you're spending all that money at a gourmet restaurant thousands of miles from home and they undercook the fish?!?
I flag over the Jetsam and he clears my plate, dropping off a dessert menu and telling me he’ll be back with the sample tray momentarily. I read over the choices, anxiously awaiting my favorite part of the meal. He meanders back to my table, a large coral tray filled with cakes, creams, and pastries. He points at them and tells me their names, which ones are his favorites, and how much they all cost. I smile and order the Coral Cake, a luxurious deep shade of purple, unsure if anything that color could even be edible. A few minutes later, he brings over the cake, nestled on a blue platter. Unlike the showing of it, this one has exquisite detailing, the icing wrapping itself around the cake to form bubbles and plants. I take my fork and push it into the cake; no resistance is given and I freely take a bite. It's moist, with a hint of vanilla and the rare and exotic flavor of coral nectar. This is easily the best cake I’ve ever tasted, and I realize what all the rave is about with regard to this tiny eatery nestled below the waves. I smile and think about all the stars this cake is going to get, excited about this amazing find.
After the Jetsam comes and collects my plate, he drops off the bill. I’m almost afraid to look, knowing that my book company no longer sponsors my journeys to the unique restaurants I visit. Opening the blue leather case I hold my breath, letting it all out in a huff when I see the grand total. The bill is almost as much as my stock portfolio's net worth! I cringe and sign my name, dropping the bills on top of the check quickly. I realize that this was a nice meal; I deserved a treat and received one fully. I push my chair back and smile at the Jetsam, careful to take my purse and slip of paper.
As I push out the front door, I wrap my coat around my body tightly. You’d never know it was the middle of July here once the sun sets above the sea. I make my way back to the Maraquan branch of the Royal Neopian. I walk through the revolving door and take the stairs up to the third floor, taking out my key and sliding it into the lock. I throw my purse on the bed and pull out the slip of paper, ready to do my job for the first time in years.
That was my night -- nothing grand, nothing meager. I look at the paper and tally up the stars.
Beverage - ☼ ☼ ☼
Appetizer - ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
Entrée - ☼ ☼ ☼
Dessert - ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
Overall the meal was good, with the only thing standing out in my mind being the Coral Cake. I pick up my pen and start writing my first review in at least three and a half years, realizing just how much I miss this profession. As I shuffle through my papers my mind wanders. Spending all of your savings on a meal doesn’t make it the best, having eaten at dozens of restaurants all over the globe I remind myself to add that in the article tomorrow morning before checkout. As I crawl into my bed, luxurious Lenny feathers in my quilt and pillows, my dreams drift to my favorite place of all, I need to go and write it up again. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It's called The Golden Dubloon.
[Critic’s Note: Due to the many allergies of myself and my Neopets, my palette for underwater eats is quite limited. I urge all diners to branch away from my tastings tonight and try the new and other things on kelp’s glorious menu.]