June 20th, 2008

monkey pirate

uWink Hollywood

I went to uWink Hollywood last night. It just opened, like - the day before yesterday. The original uWink was in Woodland Hills, but who goes to that godforsake corner of the world, that crapulous, infernally hot dung-heap? Fie on the Valley!

The concept of uWink is a touch-screen. Really, that's it. Upon arrival, a diffident host-staff finally paid enough attention to seat us. We got a quick demo of how the touch-screen works for ordering food and drinks, and then we were off. The menu is American bistro food, which is to say, a half-hearted pastiche of many different cuisines, from Mexican to Thai. It's a fairly limited menu, but every choice has pictures, a detailed description, and a pretty easy way to customize one's order. We started with drinks (of course!) and the "rock and roll quesadillas" which were actually excellent - your basic quesedilla jazzed up with incredibly plump, succulent shrimp, and given a spritz of jalapeno crema, which was spicy and delicious. Like a smart girl in a tight skirt,i t had just the right level of kick to say, "Hey! I'm interesting!" but not so much as to say, "Tomorrow you will regret me!"

We were both so impressed with the jalapeno crema that we got the fish tacos for entree, which promised more of the same. Unfortunately these were not as interesting. Like a shallow girl in a tight skirt, it said, "I've got a little heat, but am not very interesting."

The touch-screen can also be used to play games, cooperatively or competitively. We enjoyed the trivia games, but there weren't very many. While you're ordering food gaming is free, but after some pre-determined period of time, it reverts to "credits" - presumably to prevent people from ordering a side of fries and staying all night to play games. The time allotted was generous, and extended by our dessert - an apple torte a la mode that was like the very sheltered girl next door in sensible shoes; sweet, comfortable, but not much else going for her. There wasn't a huge variety of games, though periodically a pop-up would appear proposing a game against neighboring tables. (We ruled at that.) Over all the touch interface is a little too complicated - there are steps where you have to highlight your choice and press another, less visible green checkmark, and others where simply pushing your selection was suffiicent. After all was ordered, you still had to confirm and send the order to the kitchen - and even so there was some confusion in exactly whether we got our drinks or not. The cocktail menu was interesting; I had a fairly credible hurricane, which for some reason insisted I choose a vodka, even though hurricanes aren't made with vodka. Puzzling.

uWink exists in a strange place - it invites people to go out in public and do together something which is fundamentally a singular experience; pecking at a computer screen. The games are not truly interactive and multi-player, like any of the excellent Wii games that get people in the same room goofing together. They're fun, but there's a point at which you just want to talk to your dinner companion. Some of the food was really excellent, and some of the food was a little limp. I imagine that for families, an experience like this would be great - let the kids tap away at the games, leaving mom and dad free to actually have a conversation. The host-staff was far too jaded and bored-with-it-all for a place that just opened, and the wait-staff was a little disorganized. At the end of the day, it was quirky, fun, and maybe just a little pricier than the limited hilarity was worth.
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