In this month’s Vanity Fair, Corby Kummer writes about the prevalence of the tasting menu in the higher echelon of foodie restaurants (Tyranny–It’s What’s for Dinner). Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait. You’ll need some time. It is Vanity Fair, they don’t write short articles.
He likens these experiences to totalitarianism and tyranny. He goes in to a litany of reasons why these menus are evil. All his reasons just pissed me off.
Sure, if all restaurants were like this and there were no choices in the culinary world, he’d have something to bitch about. This, obviously, is not the case. I don’t know many people who are heading to The French Laundry, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park and Alinea for a casual Friday lunch with their buddies. Maybe I’m naive in that respect but maybe not. Maybe the people thinking they can get in and out of these establishments in an hour are the naive ones. There are what I refer to as the culinary meccas in the food world. Those I just listed are those meccas. You go to experience the world of that particular chef. To quote a local, tyrannical, Italian chef of ours here in Santa Cruz (Lucio), “You want fast-a-food!? You go to Jack in the Box!”
Before reserving a table at a restaurant I do my research. Is this a casual lunch/dinner? Will we be able to make a show after this or is the dinner the show? When going to the French Laundry, Le Bernardin (although we could have gotten a la carte and been out of there), or Charlie Trotter’s, that was our entire evening. Dinner and a movie on a plate. Hell, in some cases, dinner and a full-length opera! And I was happy to get it.
Maybe I’m more appreciative of our outings because they don’t happen that often. They’re special occasions based on anniversaries, birthdays, or when we happen to be in a particular city and can clinch a reservation. We had an amazing meal at L’Arpege in 2001, cooked by the quoted Alain Passard (next to last paragraph here). It was memorable in many ways. In my write-up of the meal I left a few things out. When the asparagus was on its way to the table and my husband was heading to the restroom, it didn’t go back to the kitchen, the waiter dramatically threw it into the trash bin, in full view of my husband. When they brought us our bill, they’d charged us for 2 bottles of Krug when we’d only had one (I was tipsy enough with the one, thanks). Then when we pointed out the error, they brought another bill with “coffee and cookies” added…which we also didn’t have. Were they trying to screw the stupid Americans? It seems so. Is that what Passard meant when he said, “I am there to serve others’ commands, and I always do what I am asked to do. I put aside my own concerns when faced with a client who orders a dish cooked a certain way or asks for a certain seasoning.” We spent more on that meal than the rest of our European vacation combined and enjoyed every bit of the pomposity because that’s what we signed up for (the food poisoning the next day was not what we paid for but that’s another story).
I’m not done yet…
If you show up 2 hours late to a reservation at a restaurant that serves a tasting menu, you can’t be pissed off when they won’t serve it to you! Your reso was at 5:30, not 7:30. Bugger off! The chef is not your bitch. I’m sorry, it was not your fault the plane was stuck on the runway. Neither was it the fault of the kitchen staff who planned to have you there earlier. If I invite you to my house for dinner and you show up when I’m in my jammies, tough!! I’m not making you dinner!
Nothing put forward in this article had me nodding my head in agreement. I was growling at my computer and chomping at the bit to write my rebuttal.
If you don’t want to sit through a long tasting menu, DON’T!! Go to a restaurant with an a la carte menu. There are thousands out there. Free up a reservation for those of us who want that experience. When I go to a restaurant with a world-renowned chef at the helm, I want to be at his mercy. I want him to throw down whatever he has. Bring it. I’m yours for as long as you’ll serve me.
I’m done. I think I’ve made my point.