THE RESTAURANT OF MY DREAMS

Oh, the places you'll dine when the only limits are in your mind

STEVE BARNES SENIOR WRITER
Section: Food,  Page: E2

Date: Thursday, February 12, 2009

What some believe will be the next cutting-edge dining trend is getting its start right here in the Capital Region. It manages to address both our straitened financial times and the foodie urge to experiment with new and interesting ideas.


After text-messaging a hexadecimal password to an anonymous cell number (someone had slipped both into the Macy's circular in my recent Sunday paper), I found myself dining at a new place called Finzione. I can't tell you where it is; you have to search for your own password and number. It's worth such rigmarole to experience a restaurant where glasses of sparkling air are delivered to each newly arriving diner by miniature zeppelins, and every member of the staff looks like an unrequited crush from high school.


What's both electrifying and daunting about Finzione is the range of its menu. The restaurant offers the chance to experience fare limited only by your imagination, a feat possible because Finzione serves no literal food at all. None. Instead, it creates a comfortable, conducive atmosphere in which to wax rhapsodic about perfect meals. Anyone caught actually eating is thrown out.


"I love that we get to talk about food for two hours -- and we're burning calories instead of ingesting them!" exclaimed one of my companions. (She's right: According to an online database I consulted, normal talking eats up 120 calories per hour, and the sort of excited discussions we were engaged in could boost that figure to 12,000.)


There are so many other advantages to a dinner like this:


Cost: Finzione charges just $20 per person per hour, tax and tip included, meaning my dinner group paid only $40 apiece -- less than half of what we spend at top area restaurants -- for the chance to pass a couple of carefree hours deeply discussing something we love.


Carbon footprint: Aside from vehicle fuel and heat and electricity for the restaurant, an evening at Finzione consumes few precious resources: no fiery grills or powerful stoves or energy-sucking fridges and freezers or water-hog dishwashers.


Conscience: Ours are clear because no animals were killed or vegetables viciously torn from their plants to feed us. As a note on the bottom of the menu says, "All of our food is certified as 100 percent absent."


You enter Finzione through a wooden back gate, passing along a garden walkway where fauns -- yes, fauns, not fawns -- cavort, and into a brick building. Inside is a small, elegant room containing either one big table or two or three smaller ones, comfy leather-upholstered chairs and warm, low lighting. The staff tells me that on good nights, when the light is just right from the sunset, you can see the Eiffel Tower out of the west-facing windows, the Taj Mahal to the southeast.


Newcomers tend to ask for menus, created fresh each day and bearing photos newly stolen from the Internet. After you've been to been to Finzione a couple of times, you won't need any help and will just start talking.


"Hedgehog cheek," I said, letting my imagination fly, "with, I think, persimmon -- no, quince. Yes, hedgehog cheek with quince."


"Excellent choice, sir," purred the waiter. "We happen to have hedgehog cheek two ways this evening. Would you prefer that as a cold composed dish -- it's like a terrine, but of course not so pedestrian -- or seared and accented with quince-sorrel salsa?"


"Oh, dilemma!" I said. "Hmmm. The sorrel sounds deliciously bold, so I'll take the seared version."


"And for wine?"


"I'm told the 2007 lunar gewurz is -- if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor -- stellar. The dark side of the moon brings out otherworldly sweetness from the grapes."


"Very good, sir."


And so it went.


One companion had a different course representing each continent. Only one flopped: It turns out that being fanned with a penguin's feathers does nothing to ameliorate the rubberiness of its feet, even after a 24-hour sous-vide braise.


Another diner asked for and received perfect versions of her favorite foods from childhood, each tasting exactly as she recalled it -- because they'd been created by her memory. A third ate an entire meal of vegetarian food and decided that, at Finzione at least, he could go totally vegan.


We finished with elderberry-flower powder, served in paper straws like Pixy Stix. I understand they're very rare and created by neurons.


Finzione just may be the perfect restaurant, but I'm a little troubled by the name. It's Italian for figment.


Steve Barnes can be reached at 454-5489 or by e-mail at sbarnes@timesunion.com. Visit his blog at http://blogs.timesunion.com/tablehopping.