The Stranger

A food meant to be served flaming must involve a Vegas-style presentation. The food itself is never the most delicious food. This is why they set it on fire. It becomes a blue and orange light show, and you gape and squeal and gobble like a village idiot. It's fun!

So when you walk into Aqua by El Gaucho on a sunny evening, and you tell the hostess that all you want is their famous Baked Alaska, and she says "Yes!" and seats you with haste on the outdoor patio, you are giddy. Soon you will discover that there's no fire show allowed on the patio; you can have the dessert charred, but no live flambé. Upon this revelation, you will relocate indoors. But once there, you will discover that no fire show is allowed period until the sun has gone down in the sky, and this, you will feel, would have been good to know when you first arrived, two solid hours before sunset. "It's on the menu," your waiter will defensively tell you. He will then acknowledge that, true, he has not given you a menu, and, in fact, he is only visiting you for the first time though you have been in the indoor lounge for an hour, and only after you explicitly asked another surly waiter to summon yours. "Well, it's the lounge," he will inexplicably explain. "It's not the dining room." You do not point out that in being relocated from the patio to the lounge, you were reassured that the full menu is served in the lounge, seeming to promise, also, the existence of service. A complimentary glass or plate of anything is not forthcoming.

Some late satisfaction arrives—with the moon—in the form of a cart and a server who pours liquor in thin, flaming waterfalls as long as his arms can span, much longer, proportionally speaking, than Niagara and Snoqualmie combined. This Baked Alaska, going under the name Emerald City Volcano (the small, serving two to four people, is $20; the large, serving four to six, is $35), comes from a tradition that began in 1913, the server/entertainer says. It was a notable year, 1913: the Armory Show storms New York, Louis Armstrong is sent to the Colored Waif's Home for Boys in New Orleans after firing a gun in the air on New Year's Eve, Harriet Tubman dies. But later research shows that it was not the year in which Alaska was purchased (1867), a few years after which it was feted with its own dessert made of a core of ice cream encased in sponge cake surrounded by a thick layer of snowy meringue that, after the fire, tastes like toasted marshmallows and is coated in chocolate syrup. In Hong Kong, this is called Flame on the Iceberg. At Aqua, it looks like an apocalyptic landscape: Mount Rainier on fire.

It tastes just okay, as flaming food does. recommended