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Sep 25, 2000 03:26 PM

Amuse Bouche Etiquette

  • l

Although this happened on vacation at a San Jose restaurant, I am curious if New Yorkers have had the same experience in restaurants here in the city.

At the end of a couldn't-be-better dinner, very professionally served, at A.P. Stump's in San Jose, my friends were curious why at certain tables, a single, solitary prawn with some sort of sauce, seemed to be arriving before the meal. I explained that this was no doubt the amuse bouche--but then I thought--"But WE hadn't been served this nice, little temptation before OUR dinner."

When the bill arrived, I asked our server "Is that small prawn dish I see being served at some tables, the "amuse bouche?" Looking a bit disconcerted (about what to say,) she answered "Yes it is"--but then added "but we only serve it to repeat customers and friends of the chef."

I didn't comment, but here in New York, I've never seen a table left out from this lovely start to a pleasant evening. Every restaurant I've eaten at either served it to everyone--or not at all. Sending this little treat around to--maybe, only every third table--seemed awfully noticeable to those of us visitors, who did not make the "A List."

Was this proper etiquette? (We had a huge meal--wine, drinks, etc.)

I loved the restaurant's unique food--but felt like this tiny, yet kind-of-obvious slight towards new customers did not make sense. I'm basing it on the fact that I'd never before observed diners left out of this part of the "ritual." No big thing--but want to know: Am I off-base? Over-sensitive? My dining companions felt likewise.

Please share your "amuse bouche etiquette" with me!

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  1. I've never received a lagniappe from the chef that everyone else didn't receive, nor have I ever been left out. I think I'd probably make a pointed joke of it with the maitre d' -- once I'd already paid the check and I was on my way out.

    There's another sticky issue with these little gifts from the kitchen -- I have food allergies and I always have to quiz the waiter about the contents. If it's something I'm allergic to, I have two choices. I can explain the problem and ask if there isn't some other little taste of something I can have. Or I can say, "Thank you very much," and give mine to my husband or other dining partner. I've handled it both ways and, of course, the latter is much easier and more diplomatic, but I end up feeling just slightly cheated. What would you do?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Dena

      I owned my own four star rest. in florida and I would sometimes send tastings out to all my customers and sometimes to my regulars. I often sent things out to the regulars to get feedback on new items and ideas. Sometimes you have to be carefull to whom and what you send because of allergies, or just pickey eaters. I have goten greef over disheas that are very unique.

      1. re: blueschef

        Sometimes a restaurant will get a sample from a purveyor, a gift from a friend farmer or fisherman, or maybe only have a few top quality ingredients left over from the lunch special. These are often the stuff of Amuse Bouches. Probably the restaurant you went to didn't have enough for the whole dining room but didn't want to let the prawns go to waste.
        Instead of feeling left out think how nice it would be if you had a favorite restaurant where the chef truly appreciated your repeat patronage, valued your opinions, and made you feel generally more special than one-timers. I'm sure no slight was intended.

        1. re: christine

          Regarding food allergies to amuse bouches: my husband is in a similar boat, but it's because he doesn't like a lot of ingredients. If we get amuse bouches that are garnished with salmon roe, he doesn't eat his, and if I want it, I can have it. I imagine there are also those who don't eat amuse bouches because they are trying to lose weight and the dish includes items not on their diet. In that case, it would definitely be self-defeating to ask for a taste of something else!

          1. re: Sirina

            The "egalitarian" issue has been left out of the
            responses so far, and I think it is an important
            one. It troubles me that an amuse bouche has been
            described as "gifts," "leftovers," and "experiments"
            given only to some people. I'd like to think that
            my hundred bucks is as good as anyone's, and that I
            should be treated approximately the same. Sure, a
            "regular" may get a reservation more easily or be
            seated at a better table, but I expect the "product,"
            the food to be the same, and I expect the same level
            of courtesy and service. My own experience in some
            of the best restaurants in the country is that the
            amuse bouche is, in fact, a planned, even expected,
            part of the meal. It is something akin to the planned,
            rehearsed encore at a concert--the one everyone
            expects. No one gets up when Streisand walks off the
            stage, and the orchestra doesn't get up and leave.
            Magically, they break into song again, and Barbara
            reappears from the wings. It's like that with the
            amuse bouche. We'll survive if Barbara is too tired
            to sing, and we'll survive equally without those cute
            little dishes--but it is absolutely rude when someone at the next table gets one and you don't.
            The only case of it I ever experienced was at the
            French Laundry in Napa. It was a wonderful place with
            sensational food. Almost nothing bad at all---except
            that the folks at the next table, who told us that
            they were regulars, received an entirely different
            meal: several amuse bouche (if that's the plural) and
            several extra dishes, which, at the French Laundry, are
            all about the size of an amuse bouche. I felt cheated
            because I paid the same $99 for the tasting menu that
            the other people did. It wasn't even his birthday.
            Don't get me started!

            1. re: Neil

              I experienced the same thing at Per Se, except that it was about half the restaurant getting the special treatment. It was a Sunday, and the restaurant was full of chefs.

          2. re: christine

            "Probably the restaurant you went to didn't have enough for the whole dining room but didn't want to let the prawns go to waste."

            That's a lame excuse. Either you do an amuse or not. If you don't have enough prawns to do one per person, do a different preparation, or have another amuse for when the prawns run out.

            If the restaurant doesn't treat me like I'm special on my first visit, why would I want to go back and become a regular? I think the restaurant in question is really blowing their chance to make a great impression and win over new diners.

        2. re: Dena
          steve drucker

          An amuse bouche is a gift.

          Most of us were brought up to always say a gracious thank you when presented with a gift.

          I think therein lies the issue--if you think you have paid for it, then speak up. If you think its a gracious gift, then hold your tongue and hide your coveting.

          The thing is, its not the money. Or is it? Its your call.

        3. m
          Melanie Wong

          They could certainly have come up with a better explanation for you.

          I've had the prawn tidbit with mango chili sauce, and it's not that great.

          1. a
            anonymous to protect generous chefs ;)

            I've been to places where they have an amuse bouche - and everyone gets one. On the other hand, I'm also a regular at certain restaurants, and they sometimes give regulars a little something extra - an extra appetizer, a dessert, etc. Our friend gets his own special not-on-the-menu dessert at one place. But it's not like half the people at a place get it and half don't. It's this one guy, or one table, and clearly a good friend of the chef/waiter/maitre'd etc.

            At some sushi places if you sit at the sushi bar you get free soybeans. If you sit at tables, you don't. Regular or not, doesn't matter.

            So is it that many people were getting the amuse bouche, or that you weren't? Would it have been OK if just one or two tables got it and you didn't?

            1 Reply
            1. re: anonymous to protect generous chefs ;)

              I've gotten amuse bouche at a sushi restaurant where I know the sushi chef. :) One of them was monkfish liver, which was very very tasty. Depsite how gross that might sound to some people, it's actually a delicacy in Asia.

            2. I don't really have any etiquette to share other than simply being appreciative when fortunate enough to receive one.
              Interestingly enough, just last week I witnessed my first amuse related confrontation. I was eating at Henry's on the UWS where they were offering a wine tasting menu. If you ordered this particular menu, your meal began with an amuse. An older gentleman sitting near our table had decided on the wine tasting menu for the evening and was presented with the amuse which he seemed to enjoy. A man at the next table, I suppose upon seeing the older gentleman receive the amuse, called the sever to his table and launched into a heated diatribe concerning the absence of the amuse at his table. She tried to explain it was only served to those who were enjoying the wine tasting menu, but he had himself so worked up he did not seem capable of listening to reason. It absolutely amazed me, and left me feeling quite embarrassed on his behalf, at how entitled some people feel.(not at all insinuating the OP has entitlement issues, just sharing a story)

              1. I have never witnessed this- or was unaware if it ever happened. Either way, I think it is in very poor taste.