Restaurant menu

How to navigate a modern restaurant menu

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All the menus used to look the same: a declaration of starters, soups and salads, the prelude to the starters, the main event.

More and more restaurants are now adopting a new approach.

They can start with a snack list, aimed at customers who stop just for a drink at the bar or a cocktail before dinner. They can organize the menu by main ingredient – meat, fish or vegetable – rather than by starter or starter. Or maybe they mean small and large plates, all of which can be shared if diners want to taste a little or a lot of the food.

Dinner can take a minute to orientate yourself, and not everyone is on board. New York Times food critic Pete Wells said on Twitter in September: “Menus shouldn’t need explanation. Menus should BE the explanation. That’s the point of writing it down. I know, I look like I’m 400 years old. “

This summer, Hinterland, 222 E. Erie St., revamped its menu (after combining its bar and dining offerings earlier).

“In a sense, it hasn’t changed,” Deputy Chief Paul Funk said. The restaurant has always had bar snacks, he said, and still serves appetizer-sized plates.

But now the menu opens with clearly marked snacks like a homemade onion dip with dill salt and vinegar crisps for $ 4 (one of the menu’s big sellers said Funk) and a stick of lamb merguez sausage for $ 3; it runs in the cheese and the cold cuts, then in the “greens” – various salads – all still obviously as a starter.

But then the categories become “vegetables”, “fish” and “meat”.

The half-dozen vegetable dishes on a recent menu start with $ 4 Marsala casserole-gravy glazed radishes and end with sautéed wild mushrooms with Parisian gnocchi, turnips, kale, and foie gras tea towel for 21 $. Underneath the meats, the platters start with a braised pork cheek with sour cream and a horseradish-watermelon salad for $ 9, and end with a strip of wood-fired elk for $ 43, served with a risotto. of farro, turnips, matsutake mushrooms and blueberry agrodolce, Italian sweet and sour sauce.

Without entry / entry or mention small and large plates, the prices are the indication that the plates are organized from the smallest to the largest. And the descriptions of the dishes make it clear that the backcountry menu items are also organized from the simplest preparations to the more complex dishes.

Not having appetizer and starter sections, Funk said, allows for a progression of sizes. A 4-ounce serving of wild salmon, for example, is little more than a typical appetizer and smaller than a starter. (He called it a maintizer.)

At a smaller size and at a lower price, it’s a more affordable option than a main course – and perhaps more appealing to diners who find main courses too filling.

The change, however, resulted in some initial disappointment when the dishes were smaller than some diners expected, Funk said.

The size of the menu items was not explicitly stated when Blue Jacket, 135 E. National Ave., opened in the summer.

“We wanted to do away with the notion of traditional courses,” said Ira Koplowitz, a consulting partner.

With the menu, the owners wanted to suggest that “it would be easy to share here,” Koplowitz said, but diners preferring a traditional entree for themselves also had options. (The menu now distinguishes between small and large plates, which makes it less ambiguous.)

Even so, more than half of Blue Jacket’s diners end up sharing it all, he said – snacks like the popular roasted vegetable poutine, small plates like sauerkraut pancakes and large plates like sirloin. with fingerlings.

While Chef Thomas Hauck still organizes his menu by starter and starter at c.1880, 1100 S. 1st St., the menu lists one main ingredient and three key flavors instead of detailed descriptions of each course.

The idea is to let the guest imagine what the dish might look like. “To me, it’s about surprise and that air of mystery,” Hauck said.

“Michel (Richard) always said you wanted to have an element of surprise,” he said, referring to the Washington chief and his former employer.

(This approach worked for me on a visit in the summer; part of the fun of a rabbit entree with savoy cabbage, cremini mushrooms, and mustard was the unexpected pleasure of seeing the rabbit presented as a roulade. precise.)

In choosing which three flavors to list, Hauck considers ingredients that diners might dislike, such as cardamom, cilantro, or peanuts; either they know this dish is not for them, or they can ask, “Can I have it without the peanuts?” “

“We don’t want to give too much away what we’re trying to do, but you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot either,” Hauck said.

A menu like this encourages interaction between the staff and the restaurant, Hauck said. “Because it’s so sparse and so open, it’s going to create a dialogue … It’s going to create this joke with the waiter and the guest.”

At Wolf Peach, 1818 N. Hubbard St., Chef Daniel Jacobs said the menu represents a conscious step from the fine dining of predecessor Roots to a more casual format that encourages guests to share plates.

Dining out these days for restaurant goers is less of a special event and more of a routine several times a week, he observed.

“They want the food from a fine dining restaurant, but they want it in a relaxed atmosphere,” Jacobs said.

Bigger parties at Wolf Peach can share charcuterie and cheese boards over a cocktail before moving on to more substantial plates to pass around; a couple can each order a plate – one gets a ballotine of chicken with semolina and kale, for example, and the other orders scallops with ribs and mashed parsnips – and shares a third plate like a goat cheese pierogi, Jacobs said.

When Wolf Peach opened almost a year ago, it was decided that the food would be brought as it was ready, rather than in the dishes. Not all of the guests were in favor of this, Jacobs noted. (Diners can control how plates are delivered by ordering a few at a time, rather than all at once.)

Restaurant habits are cyclical, Jacobs noted. “Things change so much,” he said, wondering if the table-top food preparation that was characteristic of fine-dining restaurants decades ago could make a comeback.

“I’m waiting for the waiter in the tuxedo to return,” he said.

Contact Carol Deptolla at (414) 224-2841, [email protected] or on Twitter @mkediner.

Carol on the radio

Listen to At the Table reporting by food critic Carol Deptolla on WTMJ-AM (620) at 8:22 a.m. and 3:40 p.m. Friday, and 7:20 a.m. Sunday and at www.jsonline.com

About Carol Deptolla

Carol Deptolla is the food critic for Journal Sentinel. It also reports on restaurants, bars and other food and beverage related businesses.


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