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Try the Salsa

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When Jasper suggests they go to Romanoff's for dinner after work, Phil has certain expectations. Something about the name sounds quiet, maybe upscale, something with some good solid food. Russian, most likely, though it could vary; either way, Phil is looking forward to it.

"You're gonna love this place," Jasper says excitedly, as Phil climbs out of the car, and Phil wonders if they're in the right parking lot. The place is a little run down, kind of dive-ish; the sign out front is neon, violently purple. Inside, the decor matches, everything definitely past its prime but spruced up, though clearly spruced up by someone who had no sense of anything even approximating style.

"Huh," is all Phil can think to say.

An inappropriately efficient woman seats them, handing them garish, plastic-covered menus. Everything points towards Tex-Mex, combinations of food that just don't occur in the wild, things involving lots of corn. It doesn't sound bad, necessarily- the fajitas look pretty tasty, if nothing else- but it is not precisely the kind of cuisine promised by a restaurant named Romanoff's.

"Did you want to get an appetizer?" Phil asks, just to be polite, though he already feels like he wants to get out of here as soon as possible.

"Ignore the appetizers," Jasper says firmly. "The salsa is all that matters. Everything else pales in comparison."

Phil looks at the menu; apparently Clint's Famous Salsa is "Based on the owner's totally secret recipe" and "World-renowned, where 'world' means 'tri-county area.'"


A server comes by to deliver a basket of fresh tortilla chips and some of the apparently legendary salsa. The salsa is served in a clear plastic boot, and Phil considers getting up and leaving before this can get any worse. Jasper picks it up, pouring it into their respective bowls. "Trust me on this. I'd never steer you wrong when it came to eating."

Jasper does have something of a reputation as a person to trust when it comes to finding the best food, so with much trepidation, Phil picks out a chip and scoops up some salsa.

Phil takes one bite and sees the face of God.

"What did I tell you?" Jasper says, grinning.

"Jesus Christ, what is this made out of?" Phil says, taking another bite, resisting the urge to shovel the whole bowl into his face.

"Happiness," Jasper replies, setting to work on his own salsa; nobody says anything until the first boot is well and truly demolished and there is a second on the table.

The food is pretty good, a cut above the usual fare from a restaurant like this, but still improved with judicious application of a third boot of salsa. Phil is, however, starting to become more and more suspicious, because it looks like an enormous blond man is setting up, God help him, a karaoke machine.

He really, really hates Jasper in this moment, more than he has hated anyone in quite a while.

"I think I'm going to get the check," Phil says.

"We have to stick around for this," Jasper says. "You have never seen anything more amazing than a huge Scandinavian guy singing 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn.'" Phil frowns. "We can get more salsa," Jasper offers.

It occurs to him that Jasper has the car keys; he's not getting out of this without a fight, because Jasper apparently finds all of this hilarious. "I'm going to the bar," Phil says.

"Don't get a Bowl-a-Rita," Jasper advises as Phil stands up, though there was pretty much no chance that Phil was going to drink something by that name- ever.

Phil makes his way over to the bar; now the big blond guy is singing, and it is very, very lucky that they haven't given him a mic, because his rendition of "Take It Easy" is already loud enough to be heard by everyone in the bar.

Phil sits down on a barstool, loosening his tie. "What can I get you?" the bartender asks.

"Out of curiosity, what is a Bowl-a-Rita?" Phil asks.

"A bowl full of frozen margarita with a bottle of beer- your choice- in it," the bartender says. "Serves two, though I have to warn you, you can only have it if you answer me these questions three."

Phil looks at him for a moment.

"What's on special?" Phil asks.

"Raspberry margaritas, half off," the bartender tells him.

"Why not," Phil says; it sounds kind of horrifying, but not as much as the Bowl-a-Rita.

"Coming right up," the bartender tells him. It takes a minute of preparation, limes to be cut and things to be blended, and Phil's not above watching the bartender as he works. He's got short, dirty-blond hair, and he fills out his slightly-too-tight t-shirt very, very well. It's riding up just a little in the back, so that a sliver of his tan skin is exposed, and Phil's torn between looking at that and looking at his arms, muscles moving as he shakes and strains.

Phil looks up quickly as the bartender turns back around, trying to pretend he wasn't just blatantly checking the guy out. The bartender either didn't notice or doesn't mind, because he just smiles, putting a fresh napkin down in front of Phil and setting his cocktail on it.

Phil frowns; this isn't quite what he expected. "Why is the raspberry margarita bright green?"

The bartender shrugs.

Phil gives him a look, but he takes a cautious sip. It does taste surprisingly like raspberries, which is strange for something that looks radioactive. "It's actually not that bad," Phil says, before he realizes what a dick he sounds like.

The bartender just laughs. "Here," he says, putting a basket of chips and a boot full of salsa down in front of him. "Make you feel better."

"Thank you," Phil says, pathetically grateful, pouring some salsa into the little bowl he's offered and proceeding to devour it. "I wish I could shake the hand of the man who made this."

The bartender winks at him. "Stick around, and you can do a lot more than shake his hand."

Phil doesn't know quite how to respond to that; he's just about to open his mouth when someone yells from the kitchen. "Clint, move your ass, I got orders stacking up."

"Duty calls," the bartender says, and Phil just gapes at him. Clint grins, going off to take care of business.

"So, that's Clint," the big blond guy next to him says.

"I gathered," Phil says, still gobsmacked.

The guy doesn't seem offended by Phil's persistent rudeness; something's wrong with him tonight. He thought it was nothing that couldn't be fixed by getting out of here, but now he's not as sure that he wants to. But then, is he really going to be one of those deluded people who thinks the bartender is genuinely into him, even if Phil didn't really start the flirting himself?

"I'm Steve," the guy says, putting out his hand, interrupting Phil's internal freak-out.

"Phil," he says, shaking it.

"First time here?" Steve asks.

"You can tell?" Phil says.

"It's like they say in the ads," Steve tells him. "Romanoff's is an acquired taste."

"I don't think they're wrong about that," Phil says, looking around him. This place is kind of- well, it's kind of a jubilant clusterfuck, to be perfectly honest.

"Clint seems like he likes you," Steve says innocently, like he's not trying to matchmake with some guy he's never met before.

"I'm sure he says stuff like that to everybody who orders a drink," Phil says dismissively.

"Not really," Steve says, smiling.

Phil looks across the restaurant; Clint is putting food down on somebody's table, laughing and smiling. He looks up suddenly, catching Phil looking, and he grins, wide and pleased. Phil turns away, embarrassed, more so by the fact that Steve seems incredibly content with himself. Phil drowns his sorrows in more salsa, not sure what to do.

Nothing about this restaurant is to Phil's taste, and he doesn't really fit in here at all. But then again, there's this salsa, and there's this guy who makes this salsa.

Maybe it's a taste he should think about acquiring.