Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Negotiating the Menu

Jay Rayner, priceless as always:
I've always regarded the tendency of American diners to view a menu as merely an opening document in a prolonged negotiation – "I'll have the hollandaise on the side, and can you take the skin off the chicken, and how about we substitute an arugula salad for the dauphinoise" – as profoundly bloody irritating. If you don't like the menu, if this is not the food you want to eat, why the hell did you come here?
If you read the whole thing... which you should... you'll see he's not so hard as all that. He does admit that restaurants are businesses about customers, and some allowances need to be made... but ultimately he is saying that you need to make sure there is something you want to eat on the menu, before you choose to go to the restaurant.

As a reforming picky eater, I can see how it might seem unfair to say that you shouldn't be able to eat out because you want sauces on the side and absolutely hate whatever the vegetable is... and certainly while I think it's really a good idea to try to break out of the box that is "picky eating"... I don't imagine in your average restaurant it's that big of a deal. What would be fairly insane, on the other hand, is going out to some restaurant you need to make reservations weeks or months in advance... where you're going to drop a substantial amount of money... and then not even have any interest in the reason why you need to make reservations and spend all that money in the first place. Few people will probably find that last idea very controversial... you don't need to go to Per Se to get a plain broiled chicken breast. Certainly you are entitled to spend your money however you want, but that's pretty crazy. That is ultimately all Jay Rayner is talking about... there is no reason to eat the food of a Top Chef(TM) if you are going to tell them how to cook it... and what should be in it... and how it should be presented. It just makes no sense.

To take that even further... even if we're not talking about a "special occasion dinner"... if I'm going to a place where I trust the kitchen so little as to execute a dish without my explicit instructions... then why exactly am I eating there? Obviously there are social reasons for dining out, and I've had occasion to order "the least risky looking option" at some terrible places for the sake of friends... but otherwise, if I'm not really interested in the food a place is serving, I feel like I should be making something I actually want... at home.

photo by flickr user niallkennedy used under a Creative Commons license