First the old business.
#1 Lest you forgot the latest Fussy Little Giveaway ended last night. Out of 24 eligible votes, Random.org selected #6 which maps to Reba. Congratulations to you. I’ll be in touch about getting you your brand new, sealed pack of City Dining Cards. Use them in good health.
#2 You people are amazing. Thank you for all your support with the Bellini’s Restaurant recipe contest. As of last night my Tuscan braised pork with white beans and shaved red cabbage was in the number four slot, which is good enough to earn a place in the finals. But we are still in the home stretch and I don’t want to get complacent. The semi-finals end today at 1pm. If you haven’t “liked” the dish yet, please do so now.
Now on to the new business.
Actually, the new business is also kind of old business too. Because there was a question asked this week that really deserves its own dedicated response. I hope that Burnt My Fingers is sitting down, because his knees might buckle at perverse notions that I’m about to unload about restaurant dining.
But it’s his own fault. Earlier this week he wrote on the notion of consistency:
The average restaurant-goer doesn’t necessarily want to be surprised each time they order a familiar dish, even if it’s at a fine dining restaurant. They like that dish and may have gone to that restaurant specifically to enjoy it. They are spending a lot of money, and are investing a fair amount of time in the experience. To think that the chef can instead pull rabbits out of a hat and they’ll consistently be delighted is just unrealistic and not a recipe for commercial success. What do you have to say to that?
First, for those of you who are unfamiliar where I stand on the idea of restaurants and consistency, I have a little homework assignment for you to read.
Let’s back up for a moment. Food is an agricultural product. Just like there are no two identical snowflakes, there are no two identical apples. Let’s stick with fruit for a second, but move onto peaches. Burnt My Fingers knows a thing or two about peaches.
The reason we have peaches throughout the summer is because there are tons of different cultivars that ripen different weeks. Some are sweeter, others have better flavor, still others have brighter acidity. Some may be better for baking into pies, others might be ideal for macerating in wine, while others still are best cooked down into a compote.
At what I consider to be the best restaurants the chefs are given a new palate of flavors every week. And the best chefs take full advantage of that. Even if they don’t buy into the local, seasonal, organic ethos, a supplier may come in with a fantastic side of lamb, or an especially good looking catch of fish.
Now you might argue that this is the role of menu specials. To take advantage of these opportunities.
But you know what? If I’m going out to a really nice restaurant, I want the entire menu to be special. Seriously. Ideally, I want it to be written every day. But I’m also comfortable allowing for a little more planning, which can take the same philosophy and translate it into a weekly menu.
What this means is little to no consistency in the actual dishes that are on the menu week to week.
Last time you were in, you may have fallen head over heels for the buffalo mozzarella appetizer. But this week, the buffalo have moved from grass to hay, and the milk just isn’t as good, so it’s off the menu. Tough noogies. Guess what, there’s another cheese dish that’s on the menu that’s even better.
Although, even in a menu like this there is room for one or two signature dishes. You know, for the people who want to know what it is they’ll be getting before walking in the door of the restaurant.
It kind of reminds me about going to a Rolling Stones concert. I really don’t want to hear their greatest hits live. But I understand that some people pay a lot of money for a ticket and want to hear all their pretty songs that play on the radio. It’s kind of soulless. And it’s not for me. I mean, they can fake emotion on stage when singing Sympathy for the Devil for the bazillionth time, but it’s not the real deal.
The real deal comes in the moment. It’s not the same day in and day out. There is still technical mastery, without a doubt. But it’s open to variation. Even experimentation. Some things will not soar to the highest heights. Sure, by sticking to the tried and true, and constantly banging out the same old stuff over and over again, your food may be technically perfect and delicious.
But it’s missing that all important spark of life.