EVER WONDER what became of pop art? Whip up a New Wave dinner and find out.
In the mode bizarre, of course. Halloween's on E the wax and Daylight Savings on the wane. Autumnal aberration is in the air, and it's time to turn it to good use.
Dinner of the absurd, or bite noir, is largely a matter of presentation. It's a combination of texture and shape and restraint: You want your guest to be amused, but you don't want to ruin his appetite.
Think stark. Serve a first course of dazzling geometric simplicity. Lay a quarter of an unpeeled avocado (choose a shell of regular curves and deep color) on its side, its curve matching the outer rim of the plate, and stab a cocktail fork horizontally into the meat. Cut a lemon into wedges, and remove the seeds. With a sharp knife, slice from one tip through the white layer about two-thirds of the way. Then fold the tip of the separated peel under the fruit, like a petal and leaf. Serve with the avocado.
If you have oval plates, carefully assemble long horizontal veggies (asparagus, braised leeks, even long fresh green beans) equatorially and slightly to one side; then place a small group of black olives or tiny red tomatoes alongside (a small mound of caviar would be acceptable). Serve the plate vertically, like an exclamation point.
For the main course, steam two good-sized lobsters. With the point of a knife, make an incision below the heart and let drain and cool somewhat. Then carefully sever the heads, claws and tails. Put the abdomen and legs aside for stock or sauce.
You could, for Halloween, present each lobster as a skull-and-crossbones: Cross the two claws below the tail and set the head on top. (Warning: Do not serve this to anyone who whimpers "Bambi!" when you order venison.)
More orientally, slice the tails into two-inch pieces, leaving the meat attached to the shell, and reassemble, slightly curved, on the plate. Insert a vegetable between sections: dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot water and a little rice wine; slightly steamed zucchini slices; trimmed artichoke bottoms. Then place the claws and head in appropriate places and serve. If you're really splurging, give your dragon more legs or little crab claws or large shrimp.
These are pretty basic suggestions, designed to banish the old 10, 2 and 4 o'clock theory of food design. But innovators can push on into techno-chopping and high-tech settings, with steel mesh screens for placemats and medical beakers for drinking. (Use solid-color plates and keep the laundry tag on the napkins.)
Start with a building-block salad: Buy a couple of cylindrical vegetables (zucchini, carrots, bamboo shoots), picking out specimens that are regularly shaped. Square off the ends, then make a diagonal cut somewhere in the middle (they should be different lengths). Then set them up on end like a skyline. Add blocks (tofu, cheese, square-cut sausage) and balls (black olives, loose grapes, melon balls).
For a main course, try lamb or pork chops. Trim all the fat and borderline meat alongside the "handle" part of the bone, then just before serving, wrap the bone in adhesive tape or pink hair-setting tape. (This works better on baked or broiled chops rather than skillet-fried, because the bone tips stay drier.) You could even replace the booties on a rack of lamb.
If you like stuffed entrees, such as breast of lamb or veal or even rolled stuffed roasts, prepare as usual but tie up in a pattern and leave the strings on when you serve it. If you're cooking a recognizable entity (a fowl of some sort, for instance), update the Versailles method of refeathering: Hang a glasses-and-nose mask on the front. Or slip the skewers out of a turkey and replace with super-sized safety pins.
Next: But seriously, folks . . . the Art Deco Dinner.