NEW ORLEANS. — In Seattle the other day, I picked an item called ''crab enchiladas'' out of the menu and a strange work of art appeared on my plate. A glutinous rice pancake was wrapped thickly around a core of mayonnaise-infused crab meat with chunks of ginger in it.
Surrounding this assemblage were halved blue potatoes. Yes, blue.
When my eyes rolled almost involuntarily out of my head the waiter smiled an affable, ''Yes, I am Gregory'' smile and explained that these potatoes were indeed blue, naturally blue, and that the establishment, the neighborhood and the city of Seattle were mighty proud of the fact. Disregarding my low-class doubts, I tried one of the things: they were not only blue, they were raw.
Next day, I carefully avoided the elaborate and cheerful eateries of downtown Seattle, where lavish muffin creations beckoned from artistic windows, and went to what looked like a generic Mexican restaurant. I ordered from the blissfully ordinary menu the Number One combination, enchiladas, chile rellenos and one chese currito. When the food came, I thought that some mistake had been made. The food was entirely white! The enchiladas were pancakes wrapped around something reminiscent of chicken salad. The rellenos lay invisible under a white blanket of melted cheese with flakes of pimento in it. Instead of tortillas there was a basket of cheese bread! The Number One looked like the stuff they feed inmates at mental hospitals.
I sat there drenched in cold sweat. The town had been entirely taken over by art food like the ''Village of the Damned.'' A square meal was nowhere to be had.
Since then, I have been to other muffin cities where ''art food'' has taken over: Minneapolis, where items of dubious ethnicity and even more suspect consistency surround even the most HTC unassuming plate; Washington, where arrugolo grows
unhindered atop every entree, and, notably, Boulder, Colorado, where yuppie panhandlers stand under the whole-wheat rain begging the passerby for $5 for a double-capuccino and a pack of Gitanes.
There is a good reason why most national cuisines have a limited number of dishes. Experimenting over thousands of years, they have eliminated thousands of ideas. Nouveau cities, I beg of you, do not invent food! We do not have thousands of years to spare!
Andrei Codrescu has been on the road promoting his new book, ''The Hole in the Flag,'' (William Morrow), a heartburn journey through the front lines of neo-American cuisine.