Hidden behind the kitchen doors of some upscale restaurant near you, a culinary maestro is composing a masterpiece. What sweet harmonies he coaxes from his ingredients. What exquisite presentations.
Too bad our chef’s elegant eatery isn’t equally adept at setting his performances to words.
I’m talking about the menus. Scan many of today’s fine dining bills of fare. You’ll soon see the symptoms. Those trendy marketing flourishes supposedly denoting contemporary cuisine sophistication.
Soup composed daily? A duet of lamb loin and shoulder? A trio of sorbets? A medley of lobster, crab and pawns? All real life examples of Mad Menu Disease culled from the Internet.
Once you start looking, the mad menu flags pop up like Where’s Waldos.
Take the subheads. First course, appetizers, main course, sides, dessert. Good, solid menu writing in my estimation.
Spring Degustation, Chef McClelland’s Tasting Journey, Grand Fromage. Quarantine those – and the marketing guru who thought them up. Do we need these superfluisms? Are our meals really enhanced by being told our food is infused, tossed, lemon-scented, dolloped or has complimentary accents or velvety smooth hints of something?
Does it help you to know your mushrooms were foraged, your dessert hand-sculpted or your cheeses assorted? Just how old do my greens have to be before they no longer qualify as baby or young? And when is a radish mature enough to get shaved? Is sinful a good thing? Is house-made the same as homemade? And if so, whose home or house is it?
I even ran across an on-line menu with a bad case of quote marks. “Grass-fed” short ribs, it said. A kind of full disclosure admission, I guess, that short ribs don’t eat grass. Another dish had “stinging” nettles in it. The quotes were apparently to reassure the diner that stinging is a concept, not a threat.
Yes, it’s the food, service and attention to detail that make a fine meal, not the pre-packaging.
But now, when you read a fine dining menu, I challenge you not to notice the swarms of Mad Menu Disease buzz words. Anyone for premium, fresh market, artisan, crusty, organic-when-possible or farmer’s eggs to go along with your assorted medley, trio and duet?
For almost a decade a very large one-story building on S. La Cienega Blvd. in L.A. (across from what was a dairy through the 1950s, and is today a shopping center with a Target) produced menus. It was the first flush of the overwriting that Larry Sheingold so amusingly identifies. The economic downturn knocked the place out of business (or they used all the adjectives in their thesaurus and retired to France or Italy, where menus are as simple in language as the food is good). Perhaps Sheingold has spotted the real harbinger of an economic recovery: if too much writing in menus is coming back, doesn’t that mean the economy is improving — at least for those who get their jollies reading menus?