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Chef's Tasting Menus


DonRocks
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Normally I think the chatters are whiners but this complaint somewhat resonates with me. To be specific, I don't think the chef has any obligation to come out and kiss your ass but what is so special about the degustation menu when it's just picked from the existing menu? The website sample menu contain this description:

Does anyone besides me realize how common this is? I've got news for you, friends ... unless specified otherwise, the "Chef's Tasting Menu" of 5 courses for $75 (or whatever) consists of nothing more than 5 miniaturized courses cobbled together from the regular menu. Hate to say it, but that $35 wine pairing option that sounds so attractive at only $7 per course? Right ... they're coming off the by-the-glass list, too, and oh yeah, did I mention that they're "short pours?" What ... do you think you're going to get five, five-ounce glasses of good wine for thirty-five dollars? Did you really think that by signing up for the $35 tasting program, that you're automatically entitled to five great bottles of magically expensive wine, opened and split five ways? Really?!

What's that, you say? You want the chef to "whip something up" for you, something different than the other 300 people in the restaurant are getting? May I suggest filling out a disclosure form, letting the IRS know you're an investor in the restaurant?

Goodness, gracious. Wanna play? Gotta pay...

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Hate to say it, but that $35 wine pairing option that sounds so attractive at only $7 per course? Right ... they're coming off the by-the-glass list, too, and oh yeah, did I mention that they're "short pours?" What ... do you think you're going to get five, five-ounce glasses of good wine for thirty-five dollars? Did you really think that by signing up for the $35 tasting program, that you're automatically entitled to five great bottles of magically expensive wine, opened and split five ways? Really?!

This is the reason I have been drinking more beer at restaurants these days. Many restaurants are putting together more and more interesting beer lists these days and I rather drink a top quality beer then some middling by-the-glass wine.

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Does anyone besides me realize how common this is? I've got news for you, friends ... unless specified otherwise, the "Chef's Tasting Menu" of 5 courses for $75 (or whatever) consists of nothing more than 5 miniaturized courses cobbled together from the regular menu. Hate to say it, but that $35 wine pairing option that sounds so attractive at only $7 per course? Right ... they're coming off the by-the-glass list, too, and oh yeah, did I mention that they're "short pours?" What ... do you think you're going to get five, five-ounce glasses of good wine for thirty-five dollars? Did you really think that by signing up for the $35 tasting program, that you're automatically entitled to five great bottles of magically expensive wine, opened and split five ways? Really?!

What's that, you say? You want the chef to "whip something up" for you, something different than the other 300 people in the restaurant are getting? May I suggest filling out a disclosure form, letting the IRS know you're an investor in the restaurant?

Goodness, gracious. Wanna play? Gotta pay...

Don, THANK YOU for saying this. It's exactly why I dislike "tasting menus."

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OR call and ask to speak with the Chef and ask for something like this way in advance, so they can buy ingredients to accommodate you. And understand you are going to pay for it. When I was instructed to eat all Lactose free and gluten free, I called Blacksalt way early to see if I could arrange a special dinner that could meet my needs, with so many courses, and they did, but I gave them lots of beforehand warning and talked to them about what I liked and what Hubby liked (he got a different menu).

It is amazing what people think should be done to accommodate them on a moments notice. And on the other hand it is amazing what kindness and helpfulness there is if you are polite, courteous and respectful of others.

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Don, THANK YOU for saying this. It's exactly why I dislike "tasting menus."

I don't want to damn all tasting menus by any means, but I guess "to me," it's obvious which ones are going to be tiny portions off the regular menu, and which ones are going to be the chef going "off menu" - to the other 99.999% of the world who doesn't spend their free time studying menus, it might not be so obvious.

So, I agree with Katelin ... ask! Regular readers of this website should pretty much know which chefs are willing to go off-menu and experiment a bit. (And, I should add: a chef "whipping up something" on the spur of the moment can easily be disastrous and/or figuring out how to utilize leftover scraps (there really are such things as "food costs," and they're tightly controlled). This type of thing is almost always easier for a restaurant on an empty Tuesday evening when the cooks are sitting around, bored (yes, it does happen). It helps a great deal (both restaurant and diner) to give a couple day's notice if you want a true, outside-the-norm tasting menu.)

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Having been on a diet for several months (in advance of a successful surgery) I ate a LOT of fish,salads and bran muffins. Historically, I have also gone out of my way for both tasting menus and walking as much as humanly possible to burn calories. In the last six months we've had two tasting menus: at Rogue 24 and Saturday night at Elisir. For all of the fish and all of the salads and all of the miles I must admit to enjoying both. One before surgery, the other six weeks after. But I also like In-n-Out Burger. And I've driven to Trenton for pizza. Twice.

It's a luxury to eat too much. At least for one night.

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I understand the entire subject here and want to say: what if it is the diner`s first time in that restaurant? Wouldn`t the tasting menu be new to them anyways? so why ask for something off the menu?

I think by definition that would be true. :)

Again, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with tasting menus composed entirely from the regular menu (if you think about it, it's no different than a Sampler Platter, or a Sultan's Feast, or a Super Combo, except that it's coursed out one at a time).

It's the somewhat misleading presentation: "Chef's Tasting Menu - Five Courses for Seventy-Five Dollars" without further explanation. I've seen this many times, and it's easy for the diners to think they're getting what amounts to "daily specials," even though they're not.

One example of a menu that isn't misleading is Graffiato's which clearly states "Allow Chef Mike Isabella to select a variety of tastings from the Graffiato dinner and beverage menus for you." That's pretty unambiguous that it's a chef's selection from the regular menu.

And there's nothing wrong with trying an assortment of a restaurant's classic dishes, in the order that the chef thinks they should be presented in (this alone is worth something), especially, as you note, for a first-time diner. In fact, I like this concept much more than the "Sultan's Feast" because when everything arrives at once, on the same platter, invariably you have things that were cooked too soon and have been sitting around (sometimes under a heat lamp) waiting for the critical-path item to be finished. Sampler Platters, in general, are a bad idea for this reason alone.

I do think that diners need to be aware, however, that a restaurant (any restaurant) may sometimes be composing these Chef's Choice Tasting Menus from dishes that they need to get rid of (halibut will go bad in another day, we over-ordered cucumbers two nights ago, etc.), rather than dishes that the chef-as-artist wishes to proffer. Last night I was at a restaurant that offered a daily special of Veal Stew. My initial reaction when I heard it was, "what an interesting special." But then my grizzled, realistic side set in and I thought, "shrimp frittata at Sunday brunch." Again, there's really nothing wrong with this (it's no different than head-to-tail, if you really think about it - both involve trying to get the most out of something); I'm just musing on the realities of inventory management and cost control. Also, sometimes if you order a daily special that the restaurant is trying to move - for whatever reason - you get a huge portion of it.

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I think it's important to note that Eric's post was referring to Restaurant Eve's Tasting Room menu, where it's tasting menu only. It's not like there's a regular a la carte menu and then a tasting menu that's composed of smaller versions of the regular menu items. You can choose your dishes for each course or apparently, just let the chef choose.

From their menu online:

"Menu Surprise! For the excitement and delight of our guests in a more ‘adventurous’ mood, allow Chef Armstrong to prepare an exclusive multi course tasting menu for you."

I can see how the use of the words "adventurous" and "exclusive" might be misleading. "Adventurous" makes me think I would get offal or exotic meats, while "exclusive" could be something off-menu. But really it's just chef's choice of the same dishes the diner can choose from, and the same portion sizes. "Blind tasting" might've been a better description or wording similar to Graffiato's, as Don pointed out.

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I think it's important to note that Eric's post was referring to Restaurant Eve's Tasting Room menu, where it's tasting menu only.

Oh, this thread went off on a tangent from the very first post - I probably shouldn't have even quoted Eric's post, but didn't want to lose the "snapback context" (that little bubble to the left of "Ericandblueboy" which will "snap" you back to the original thread).

(And just to go back to the original topic for a moment, I think "adventurous" is legitimate; "exclusive" seems to be the problematic word although there's jussst enough pent-up anger in that letter to Washingtonian where I'd like to hear the other side of this story. I suspect that the Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve prints a different menu every single day, so going "off-menu" there doesn't make any sense - it could only mean that David Lankford showed up with a box of radishes in the middle of dinner service, no?)

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