BOSTON. At the July meeting of the Young Women’s Professional Circle, a group of high-powered, up-and-coming female business leaders that holds monthly lunches where members network and share stories of success and struggles, Cindy Pelham is making small talk with her tablemates when an appararently innocent question causes her to panic.
“We don’t get into town much anymore,” says Julia Alston, a forty-something banker who moved to the suburbs when she had her first child. “What are some of the hip, new restaurants people are going to these days?”
“Excuse me,” Cindy replies, obviously flustered. “I need to go to the ladies room to . . . pluck my eyebrows.”
Across town, Cindy’s twin brother Dan is chatting with a partner at the accounting firm where he works, and a query of the same sort causes a similar reaction. “What are you guys doing this weekend?” asks Bob Sciortino.
“We’re going to meet the Ferbers at, uh . . . ” Dan begins before freezing up and changing the subject. “Say, what do you think of the new accounting standard on accelerated depreciation of weasel pelts?” he asks, drawing a blank look from Sciortino.
The Pelham twins are victims of Hip Restaurant Aphasia, a disorder that prevents a person from remembering the unconventional names that fashionable restauranteurs adopt to project an au courant image. Public health officials say the disease is spreading rapidly as baby boomers enter the Alzheimer years, a tough economy increases the number of restaurant failures, and hot chefs adopt ever-stranger names to distinguish themselves.
“It used to be that a French restaurant had a French name, like ‘La Putain’, and an Italian restaurant had an Italian name,” says food service industry analyst Martin Scholes. “Then things sort of got blended together in an Esperanto Cuisinart, and now the names are all over the parking lot.”
The Pelhams are working with a neurologist to develop mnemonic devices they can use to recall restaurant names in stressful social situations, using a series of simple categories to divide dineries up into easily identifiable groups. “There are the ‘number’ restaurants, like Grill 23, Bin 47 and No. 9 Park,” says Dr. Philip Weinstein of the Massachusetts General Hospital, a stone’s throw away from many trendy eateries on Boston’s Beacon Hill. “Then there are the nonce words–Truc, Bano, Urk and Grunk. They’re so hip nobody knows what the hell they mean.”
Cindy Pelham hopes future medical breakthroughs will bring relief to her and Dan, but until then she’s taking no chances as she flips through a phone book at the maitre d’s station and scribbles restaurant names on her cuff. “I’ve always been close to my brother,” she says as patrons stare at her curiously. ”Why can’t we just eat at ‘Mom’s?’”
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