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World's strangest restaurants
Nicole Alper, Travel+Leisure

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December 17, 2008

You cross a wooden walkway, walk down some steps, and find a restaurant with just six tables. Not so strange. On the menu are items like reef-fish carpaccio and Wagyu beef. Not so strange either. But look up and you'll see what makes Ithaa, a $5-million eatery in the Maldives [Images], so unique: an acrylic bubble overhead that showcases the stingrays, collared butterfly fish, and blue-faced angelfish that swim through the crystal-clear water. Welcome to the world's first aquarium-style underwater restaurant.

Ithaa is part of the oddball restaurant revolution, which today can land you in some shocking places -- ones that will, amidst today's frenzy of rock star celebrity chefs and limitless restaurant openings, make an indelible impression. We're not talking about theme restaurants, which have been serving mediocre food via swashbuckling pirates and celebrity look-alikes for years. These are places with serious food, despite their kooky settings.

"People love to do extraordinary things that distinguish themselves from their neighbors, colleagues and friends," suggests restaurateur David Ghysels. "They want unusual and adventurous experiences." His restaurant company -- Dinner in the Sky -- offers just that: Guests are hoisted 165 feet in the air on a platform table attached to a crane. Five staff members -- chefs, waiters, even performers -- stand in the center of the aerial platform setting, while strapped-in diners can swivel 180 degrees to take in the views of cities like Paris, London [Images], and Dubai.

A privately ordered and arranged event, no two Dinners in the Sky are alike. Guests choose their location, chef, even entertainment. And they need deep pockets, as the average starting price for a dinner is a soaring $30,000.

Some of the more memorable dinners, says Ghysels, include a Helsinki feast during a fireworks display, as well as a nighttime fete hovering over illuminated Istanbul. "But my favorite," he said, "remains the one when Chef Alain Passard from the three-Michelin-star L'Arp�ge in Paris, worked his magic directly in front of the Amiens Cathedral in the Somme River Valley."

But not all extraordinary experiences are limited to those with seven-figure bank accounts. One of the more down-to-earth oddball restaurants is The Clinic, Singapore's molecular gastronomy restaurant. Injecting a hospital theme into nearly every element -- think operating room-style open kitchen, stainless steel surgical tables and gold-plated wheelchair seats -- The Clinic is a truly bizarre combination platter of food science and medical paraphernalia.

Still, despite the outrageous d�cor, the focus at The Clinic is its cuisine, featuring a 13-course tasting menu including such concoctions as Dashi soup with olive oil soba noodles. In keeping with the medical theme, the self-forming noodles are made by squirting an olive oil concoction from a syringe into a bowl of hot liquid.

No matter what the distinct signature of each restaurant -- serving fine cuisine underwater or in the sky -- all of these restaurants share the same basic goal: to turn an ordinary meal into an unforgettable event.

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