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[Fiction] Quanta - Ambrosia


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Life can be quite the rollercoaster ride as a food critic. Jolene Klein had been visiting, tasting, recording, and critiquing restauranteurs and chefs for over twenty years. She’d eaten her way through the French Quarter, toasted to masters of Chicago, rubbed elbows with the beautiful people in Pasadena, smelled patchouli mix with savory scents in the Bay Area, finished pots of beans in Boston, and made and broke countless restaurants in New York, both new and old alike. She’s been pleased, let down, and merely satisfied countless times, building to the point where there was little surprise left in her work. If there was a high queen of approval in the American food industry, Jolene was it.

So it fell upon her, the Mistress of All Cuisine, to be the first person to critique the new and foreign nova’s skills as a chef and to determine if this “Quanta” was worthy of her approval. No critic would dare to be the first person to review such a rare and unique location and certainly not before Jolene has given her approval or distain. With so much attention, so much anticipation, and so much expectation involved, no one else could possibly be able to handle the situation; a nova, a Terat who cooks for her so-called inferiors.

At the moment, Jolene’s self-titled cuisine column is the premier column of its type, published and syndicated throughout print media and the OpNet every Thursday morning (so her loyal readers will have a chance to make or break reservations for the weekend if they’re in the region). And this means a sunny Monday afternoon is the perfect time to taste this “superior” nova’s fare: one day to eat, one day to write, and one day for her editor to review. If she’s efficient with her time, as she always is, she’ll have some time to hit some of her favorite places in Baltimore while in town. After all, novas might be able to fly, destroy mountains, and sing perfect verses, but that has nothing to do with cooking. Everyone falls somewhere on the same spectrum in the kitchen.

The exterior and the interior of the restaurant, at first, do little to impress the critic. It seems so pedestrian, really, to incorporate foreign décor in such a piecemeal fashion. Apparently this Terat didn’t have a quantum power for interior design; the location barely looks better than an Olive Garden. But the dining area is so muted, filled with the quiet noises of patrons eating instead of conversing. Could a nova’s cooking be so tainted that it destroys all pleasure in experiencing someone’s company?

The wait staff is cordial and attentive enough, sitting Jolene and one of her “dining girlfriends” without committing a faux pas. She hadn’t used her real name when placing the reservation, as usual, to be sure she got the… average quality of service here. And with her friend, it’s possible to get a review on two of the entrees and two of the desserts.

The wine, apparently from some unknown label in Catalonia, is acceptable but not that inspired… until Jolene tries a handful of the almonds in the small dish at the table. The flavor! The scent! Even the texture… how could a roasted almond have so much potency or could make the wine seem so much more rich?

Once their orders are taken, Jolene and her friend are each brought an ensaïmada and a sampling of mahón cheese. Pastries aren’t supposed to be eaten before a meal, but who cares?! It’s like she’s biting into air that’s taken the form of a delicate pastry, filled with so much sweet flavor and impossible surprises. And the mahón… it feels like butter on her palate, subtly changing the taste of the ensaïmada, the wine, and even the almonds in ways she never expected.

She barely notices the zucchini flowers, the first thing she actually ordered herself, when they’re brought out. Fried food, even fried petals, shouldn’t be so delicate yet rich in flavor, it just isn’t possible, but these flowers are. And the room, it feels warmer than she remembers in a comfortable, sun-baked fashion…

Flavors and scents are still swirling when her sofrit pages arrives. Sobrasada, botifarrón, and even the potatoes unpack an infinite variation of subtle flavors on her tongue, reprising all of the tastes and textures she’s already experienced while adding even more sensations to the mix. Jolene doesn’t even notice her girlfriend’s equal amazement over her fava pelada; she’s too lost in feeling the comfortable warmth of the sun baking old stone walls and hearing the lulling crash of the sea against the beach as she’s introduced to tastes she never knew existed… and taunted with more that her poor human palate could ever perceive or conceive.

And then she’s brought the flaó and the crema catalana…


Human critics are rarely the object of Anna’s attention and even less so the object of the Network’s attention, hence it’s a slight surprise to her to find an OpMail in her inbox with the subject “Serving Jolene Klein” from a fellow Terat. She’d suspected when the reservation had been made a month ago and knew when the human showed up two weeks ago that her restaurant was being reviewed, but she hadn’t given it much thought since the event. Well, not much more than wondering why that uncouth human had the gall to insist on an Italian appetizer to go with the meal. A keystroke and a click of the mouse bring up the message:

I heard your place was going to be reviewed by this Klein woman a few weeks back but her column has been doing for two weeks now. I thought I’d check it out to see if someone was censoring her but, get this, the only thing she’ll submit to her publisher is the word “ambrosia.” That’s it, just that one word, and she insists that she can’t express it any other way. And it gets better: she refuses to review anything else. She told her editor that any other food tastes like wet cardboard or something like that.

Keep up the good work and do you mind shooting some of those orelletes my way?

Well then, at least that American mono knew true divinity and godhood when she experienced it. One down, three million to go…
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