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Nectarine dessert at Zuni is just that

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Zuni.

But, the dessert my friends were served a couple of weeks ago is pretty shocking. The dessert menu said a Blossom Bluff nectarine for $8.

A plate came out, with exactly what they ordered - just a plain nectarine rolling around on the plate.

Now, I love Zuni's ethos of simplicity in flavors and cooking, but I think this is taking it a little far!!! It seems like a joke but is not.

(see picture evidence)

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  1. Um. . . wow. I too love Zuni, but that's kinda much (figuratively and literally. . .$8???). Never seen anything quite like that.

    1. Hilarious! For $8 I hope they rinsed it. Did they give you a proper knife? Was it fabulous?

      1. Blossom Bluff is a grower located in the Parlier-Redley (sp? and I was a geography major) area (Fresno) They sell at a number of local farmer's markets (Berkeley Saturday market) - organically grown fruit. I too am surprised they didn't have some type of presentation besides "al Natural"

        1. I had something similar happen to me years ago, unfortunately I can't remember the restaurant. There was a dessert of fresh cherries and it was just a small bowl of cherries - stems and all. But at least cherries are already bite-sized!

          That is either ridiculously pretentious or lazy, I'm not sure which.

          30 Replies
            1. re: sugarbuzz

              CP would have enough sense to slice it for you and plate it with mint or something.

              1. re: ML8000

                i had a pear at CP. that was it only a pear

                1. re: norcalfoodie

                  There goes my theory. Was the pear any good?

                2. re: ML8000

                  FWIW, when I have had fresh fruit at CP, and I have more than once, the server has warned me that it is just what it says (which I think in both cases was 'a bowl of XXX fruit': nectarines once, and cherries once, IIRC. But it *was* a bowl in each instance, not a single piece, and I recall both that it was delicious and that it was reasonably priced (ie in accordance with the rest of the menu).

                  Of course, this would never would have been an issue for me at Zuni, because I can't imagine going there and not getting the espresso granita for dessert. It's the best thing on the menu IMO.

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    This is a bit of a change of subject, but DH says he was listening to a talk radio show the other day on one of his long drives across nowhere...anyway, the subject of discussion was backyard fruit growers, and someone from Berkeley called in telling how how he provides berries for upscale California restaurants -- Chez Panisse was specifically mentioned by name. Anyway, the guy claimed if he had an exceptionally good berry crop in his backyard he was able to take them to CP and exchange them for future dinners out........Sounds like a good deal from both perspectives!

                    1. re: janetofreno

                      I've seen "backyard ________" on the menu there a few times.

                      Phoenix Pastificio barters for backyard Meyer lemons.

                      1. re: janetofreno

                        I think Phoenix Pastifico in Berkeley used to barter pasta for Meyer lemons.

                          1. re: wally

                            Yes, so I see. Am I just not paying attention, or was Robert Lauriston's mention of this added after I read it? Not complaining -- I sometimes edit comments without identifying the edit, if I do it soon enough after the original post that I don't think anybody will have read it.

                            1. re: jlafler

                              Probably just overlap. It often takes posts 15 minutes to show up.

                      2. re: susancinsf

                        Hehe, yes, love the espresso granita! All I could think reading this post was, why didn't they order that instead?

                      3. re: ML8000

                        I once ordered a fruit plate at CP downstairs in lieu of the regular dessert, and they did indeed slice it.

                        1. re: limster

                          Downstairs tries to maintain a little more formality than the cafe, and will slice fruit if it's subbed for the dessert.
                          They do send out a lot of fruit bowls though, both upstairs and down. They are usually gorgeous bowls of what's in season.
                          These restaurants are trying to showcase the best of what the season has to offer, the very, very best, in its purist form.
                          I am surprised it shocks so many of you.

                          1. re: rabaja

                            I don't think plunking a nectarine on a plate (couldn't they at least have put it in a bowl so it didn't roll around?) and charging $8 is "showcasing" anything.

                            What it feels like to me is that they've gotten so wrapped up in their own hype that they somehow believe that they, and they alone, can serve the perfect piece of fruit.

                            It's patronizing.

                            Why do we need Zuni to mediate our fruit experience? Don't the people at Zuni realize that times have changed? Don't they know that their customers are perfectly capable of going to the farmer's market and buying a nectarine direct from the very same farm themselves?

                            As I said above, I love Blossom Bluff, but it's not like this is some fruit that was grown in Judy Rogers's backyard exclusively for her restaurant. For that matter, anyone who knows anything about Blossom Bluff nectarines knows that the best ones are the May Diamond variety that is available for a couple of weeks in June. The August varieties are okay, but the May Diamonds are the ones worth showcasing.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Sure, I could eat fresh fruit at home. I could brew myself a cup of coffee or pour myself a shot of Calavados, too, but after a great dinner at Zuni, I'd rather pay them to give me what I'm in the mood for.

                              It's just fruit, they don't make a big deal about it.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                When they charge the same price for a piece of fruit as they would for a fancy offering from a pastry chef, then they're making a big deal about it. Just out of curiosity, would you pay eight times retail for a glass of wine slopped into a jelly jar?

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  They don't charge the same price. A nectarine is $4.50, about half the price of one of the pastry chef's creations.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    The original poster said it was $8 -- is she lying?

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      I found a first-hand report of $4.50 from a few weeks ago.

                                      The original poster clarified that her friends "did not save the menu and so would not swear that the nectarine was the full $8."


                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        I understand you feel strongly about this topic, but you seem almost hostile in your posts. They were selling a nectarine as a nectarine, and nobody was forced to order it, gheesh...
                                        Oysters are also served unadulterated, do you take issue with those too?
                                        I don't think either of the two restaurants mentioned that feature fruit (just that, nothing more) as dessert are trying to be precious or showcasey. They simply want to offer the customer the OPTION of a perfect piece of fruit in its season, something a lot of people rarely have the time to source out. It's really nothing more than that.

                                        1. re: rabaja

                                          LOL, at least the oysters at Zuni come opened.

                          2. re: ML8000

                            Back in 1999 I went to Chez Panisse Cafe for lunch and had the peach dessert. It was just a whole peach. Not sliced, not accompanied by anything. If memory serves, it was $9.00.

                            1. re: sbonagof

                              That sounds a little high to me. The current fruit plate is "A bowl of Lagier Ranches Bronx grapes and a Frog Hollow Farm Flavor King pluot, $8.25."

                              They do just serve the fruit plain, with a plate, knife, and fork to eat it if you want to get all Frenchy.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                My recollection is that it was a "nine dollar peach," but we're talking almost ten years ago, so maybe my memory is playing tricks on me and it was only seven dollars at the time? Either way, it's a lot for a peach.

                                It definitely sounded high to me too, but my then-employer was buying and told me I should order it. I think she just wanted to see my face when they brought out a peach on a plate with nothing else. I'm sure I looked pretty confused when it showed up. :)

                          3. re: sugarbuzz

                            My daughter-in-law once ordered dessert which consisted of a Frog Hollow peach (cut into quarters) and some other fruit. She thought it was one of the best desserts she'd ever had. This was some time ago, before Frog Hollow and great fruit were available at several places in the East Bay. I think there were some whole raspberries, too.

                            1. re: oakjoan

                              I think "cut" and with "other fruit" would be quite pleasant. Rolling around the plate is a neatness challenge for a well-dressed diner. And I've done surgery.

                                1. re: wolfe

                                  Only works if the drycleaning is paid for by the restaurant... Or they supply "nectarine bibs" in the style of the old lobster bibs.

                        2. You sure there was no hidden camera around?! maybe you got Punk'd??? Very odd....

                          1. WOW! A 24 count flat of their nectarines cost about 25 dollars! Remarkable mark up and the least they could have done was slice it nicely - AT LEAST. I was served a bowl of Bronx Grapes at Chez Panisse but at least they had placed them in a nice bowl with a nice grape leaf as an accent.

                            That's outrageous!

                            You can go to the farmer's market and get their wonderful stonefruit (The Loewen family are the growers and they are lovely, lovely people) . . .they, at least, will put it in a paper bag for you. :)

                              1. re: sugartoof

                                Seriously. I loose any little couth I have when blind-sided with something like that and would have blurted out something like they could just take that back because I wasn't going to pay eight bucks for a plain nectarine I could buy for $2 ... at most ... at my local farmers market. I probably would have huffed a little more too.

                                Or with the wrong friend I would have started giggling uncontrollably. We almost got tossed out of Boulevard once for an extremely silly presentation there. Freind took one look at the dish and started giggling until we were both in tears.

                                So ... I assume you didn't send it back ... how was it? One would hope it was at the exact stage of ripeness without a single blemish.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Well, that would depend on whether the menu made it sound as if it were more than a peach. If the menu said "Frog Hollow Peach, $8", she'd have a hard time convincing me she didn't know what was coming.

                                  1. re: oakjoan

                                    The menu said "A Blossom Bluff nectarine - $4.50," so it would have been entirely proper to send back a peach.

                                2. Ridiculous! I love Blossom Bluff -- they're my favorite stone fruit grower and their nectarines are particularly good. But an 800 percent mark-up from retail on an item with no value-added through preparation is unconscionable.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Not quite 800 per cent. Blossom Bluff does charge $3.25 per pound and nectarines run about 0.5 lb.

                                    1. re: wally

                                      I asked at the Blossom Bluff stand yesterday, and they said flats of 25 run around $20-25.

                                      But restaurant prices involve more than food cost. The $4.50 it should have been is a more than reasonable minimum charge for a dessert at a place like Zuni.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Even at $4.50 (and way more at $8), I'd be embarrassed for myself for ordering it (not to mention for the server who had to present it) at Zuni, and I have no issues with paying premium prices for good food in the right environment.

                                      2. re: wally

                                        I buy Blossom Bluff nectarines several times a month, and they're nowhere near half a pound. And I bought a flat last year and it was cheaper -- it was ten or fifteen percent off for a flat.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          I bought 3 yesterday and only one was under 7 ounces and I don't go for big ones.

                                          1. re: wally

                                            Okay, now you've got me weighing my nectarines individually! My husband bought these at the farmer's market yesterday: one nectarine that I would describe as a "medium single-serving size" (5 oz) and two that I would describe as "very big" (7.2 oz and 6.9 oz). I've seen bigger nectarines, but not often.

                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            < And I bought a flat last year and it was cheaper -->

                                            that was last year, before oil prices shot through the roof!

                                            1. re: ChefJune

                                              I said it was 10 or 15 "off" if you buy a flat rather than a smaller quantity. Is this no longer true? What do oil prices have to do with the relative cost of buying a small quantity vs. a larger quantity?

                                      3. And then there are poor guys like me living on the east coast where nectarine's are like rocks. I may have got one for there and another for the plane ride home. LOL

                                        1. Wow! I am one of Zuni's biggest supporters (some would say apologists) and dine there often, although I have only dined there once since they began imposing a 4% surcharge for Healthy San Francisco, in my own form of protest at the way they have instituted it. I am all for using the best seasonal ingredients as simply as possible, but this is unjustifiable by any stretch of argument. I absolutely would have sent it back.

                                          1. The fruit plate dessert there is usually more generous, I'd have asked for a price reduction or a second nectarine. Probably whatever else they intended to have on the plate was under- or overripe and they neglected to reprice accordingly.

                                            I've eaten at Zuni three times in the past couple of months and everything has seemed fairly priced given the quality.

                                            1. Haha, you call that "evidence"? You forgot to have the nectarine hold the Zuni menu with the date under its chin.

                                              2 Replies
                                                1. re: celeste

                                                  So many things to remember, such as the mitt for catching the fruits Agent 510 is flinging around the room.

                                              1. I like Zuni a lot, but a plain whole pear for a dessert item doesn't do it for me. I go to a restaurant to experience preparations that require skill in the kitchen, not something I can get at a farmer's market and put straight into my mouth. To me, the issue with the price is secondary to the primary issue that it just isn't appropriate for a restaurant to serve a plain whole piece of fruit for dessert, and I don't care that Chez Panisse might also do it.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                  you're absolutely correct, Mick!

                                                  Yet, sometimes, I get fruit in at the restaurant where I work that is so gorgeous I do want to just send it out on a plate because it is so perfect (Blossom Bluff being one of the farms that I feel that way about) but since that wouldn't work in MOST restaurants, I try not to mess with the fruit too much. . keep it simple so that the fruit still has its integrity and remains the star of the plate. . . if Zuni felt that the fruit was so gorgeous as not to mess with it, perhaps they could have said on the menu "A Perfect Nectarine" - and maybe not marked it up to outrageousness. I don't know but to me, it boils down to not respecting the guest very much. . .

                                                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                    That's just it. I doubt anyone would knowingly order a single piece of fruit with a pit in it served on a bare plate at that price point. It's misleading just by the sheer fact it's on a restaurant menu. Maybe if they had sent more then one, and presented it in a small basket or something, or maybe if it was an incredibly rare fruit flown in special, but this sounds like management taking advantage of their customers instead.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                      >this sounds like management taking advantage of their customers instead<

                                                      With Zuni's history, I'd guess it's more of a case of the "great ingredient" thing taken to a bad extreme, someone's "good idea" that wasn't and no one said "no".

                                                    2. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                      I often prefer fresh fruit for dessert, especially after a great cheese plate. To me, a great restaurant should offer both. I'm there to enjoy my dinner, not grade the cooks on their technique.

                                                      Why should it bother you if a restaurant caters to my desires? Zuni offers at least half a dozen other desserts.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        >Why should it bother you if a restaurant caters to my desires? Zuni offers at least half a dozen other desserts.<

                                                        I don't mind if they make it clear when they're doing that.

                                                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                          You said, "it just isn't appropriate for a restaurant to serve a plain whole piece of fruit for dessert."

                                                          "A Blossom Bluff nectarine" is perfectly clear.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            >"A Blossom Bluff nectarine" is perfectly clear.<

                                                            I still wouldn't expect it to come out like that photo. I would have reacted very similarly to the OP, maybe more so.

                                                      2. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                        I don't mind if a restaurant serves just the plain fruit. However, since prices for dishes at restaurants typically include include ingredient and labour components, I would expect a dish involving much less labour than usual to reflect that cost difference realistically.

                                                        1. re: limster

                                                          I'm pretty sure the pricing was a mistake, Zuni's $8 fruit plate usually has more stuff. There's a report on Yelp from someone who paid $4.50 for a single nectarine there a few weeks ago.

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            It should be very clear on the menu, the server would be smart to make sure it was clear, and the price point should reflect that it's a single fruit without prep. If anything, these should be sold at cost, or perhaps even brought to the table as a freebie especially after a cheese plate. If it was mispriced, the server should have caught it and adjusted the bill.

                                                      3. I am a huge fan of Zuni myself, but I am howling with laughter. Did you look for hidden cameras? Seriously - at minimum it should have been daintily cut and your friends should have been told when they ordered to expect a piece of fruit! Good thing someone didn't just lob it out from the kitchen!

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: dinnerout

                                                          "Good thing someone didn't just lob it out from the kitchen!"

                                                          ... or ask you go back into the kitchen and pick out your own.

                                                          1. re: Paul H

                                                            Oh, please! Don't you know we mere mortals aren't discerning enough to pick the perfect piece of fruit? Obviously, we need to pay $8 for fruit that has been chosen by experts and blessed by a goddess of California cuisine. Only then will we understand true perfection.

                                                            1. re: Paul H

                                                              I would have loved to be able to pick my own!

                                                              1. re: limster

                                                                Yeah, I was thinking that too ... nice little trip to scope out the kitchen. As long as they didn't have a car at the curb, drive me to Blossom Bluff and expect me to pluck it from the tree ... eh, maybe that would be worth the eight bucks.

                                                          2. I don't understand why they didn't slice it at least. A ripe nectarine, though delicious, can be juicy and messy to eat out of hand or to cut at table. Nicely sliced--with a little pitcher of cream and a little tiny dish of demerera sugar (to ignore as the nectarine is so lucious it would be a crime to adorn it) would have made all the difference for maybe 25c more in cost to the restaurant. Then the OP would never have posted about it here--or at least I think. And saying "small scoop or fresh yogurt ice cream--$1 extra"--would even have made a $7 nectarine seem a value.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: rccola

                                                              Exactly. I wouldn't mind even just a plate of sliced nectarine. Something about a whole nectarine rolling around on the plate is hilarious and strange to me in a nice restaurant. If only because of the awkwardness of biting into a whole nectarine with nice clothes on.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                In principle, I agree with you -- if the menu says it's a piece of fruit, that's what you should expect. But at that price, I can understand someone assuming that it would be more than just be a piece of fruit. Maybe they thought "Blossum Bluff" was a cooking technique. I'm not being silly here -- there's lots of stuff on menus that I don't necessarily recognize for what it is. If I'm going to order something and I don't know exactly what it is, I generally ask before ordering, which is what the OP's friends should have done.

                                                                1. re: jlafler

                                                                  Even though I am a fan of Zuni Cafe, I also would have been really taken for a loop with this "Blossom Bluff" nectarine. I'm not familiar with these nectarines, and would have just thought it was a prep method, especially at the $8 price. The very least, I would have expected it to come sliced and perhaps served with some creme fraiche, topped with a hazelnut crumble or something like that. If it came plain, I would have expected somebody to feed it to me for $8!

                                                                  I don't really have any issues with restaurants just charging for items that anybody could prepare at home. Momofuku Ssam in NY charges $8 for bread and butter. DH recently ordered a plate of iberico ham at a restaurant in NYC as well, where you could go to Despana (a store that sells Spanish goods) and buy the ham at a better price. That's just what he wanted, and sometimes people are in the mood for things that are unadorned and untouched. Personally, I don't pay for things that I can easily fix up at home, and would never order a plate of ham or bread and butter or a plain nectarine unless it was impossible to buy these items. So I don't really have a problem with the nectarine in theory, but have an issue with it in terms of price.

                                                                2. re: celeste

                                                                  It would worry that so many of these nectarines would roll right off the plate onto the floor as they were being brought out from the kitchen. Otoh, I cannot believe anybody would order such a dessert. I have no sympathy for the person who did, unless the description masked what it really was. Or maybe she thought it was some mutated nectarine that was the size of a bowling ball, and that it was a real bargain.

                                                                3. re: rccola

                                                                  I agree. If they're going to serve a ripe whole nectarine, for $8 at the very least I expect a finger bowl and an extra napkin.

                                                                4. The thing that bugs me about the picture is that it looks incredibly awkward to carry. Maybe you're getting charged for the percentage that hit the floor.

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: wally

                                                                      What I don't get is why it's being served on a plate in the first place.

                                                                      If they're so bold as to pass off a plain piece of fruit as an $8 dessert, why not just go a step further, walk by with a basket of them and say, "take one"?

                                                                      Or, better yet, save the waitstaff the trouble and just toss it at the patron from across the room? Just holler "YO!" or "Incoming!" and chuck it over there. After all, it's the only item on the menu for which you can do that.

                                                                      1. re: Agent 510

                                                                        Coming by with a basket of fruit and offering a choice actually sounds like a nicer presentation to me. A nectarine on a plate just doesn't look very good, but a little basket would be cute.

                                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                                          I agree. Put two or three in a small basket and suddenly it's less of an insult. All these posts debating the profit margin or how good those fruits can me miss the boat.

                                                                          Then again, we live in an era where it's advisable to ask if a salad is going to be tossed or served as four sheets of lettuce, one giant crouton and a cup of dressing.

                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                            So if that same nectarine had been served on a plate or sliced it would be worth $8?

                                                                            I know the presentation was the issue, but if the price had been $4 on the same plate would that have been less of an insult? It's still kind of not worthy of a restaurant like Zuni.

                                                                            They seem to have these insane lapses with fruit. I still remember a salad with pink lady apples. Salad arrives and not only are the four slices of apple so thin they were translucent, they were so thin there was absolutely no flavor. That was it ...a bunch of lightly dressed greens with those apple shavings.

                                                                            I'm with the presentation of "Yo" ... "catch" ... maybe it could somehow be tied to the Olympics to make it a more festive event ... celebrate the spirit of the '08' games with California gold ... a Blossom Bluff nectarine. $8.

                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                              funny thing is, your description of the apple slices as translucent makes it sound very appealing to me somehow! :-)

                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                Oh hell no, I don't think any aspect of this is acceptable. The lack of presentation just shows how blatant their arrogance is.

                                                                                There are plenty of dishes out there which are equally as laughable though, and at least they disguise it a bit through presentation.

                                                                          2. re: Agent 510

                                                                            >> "it's the only item on the menu for which you can do that."

                                                                            He he. You can do it with the chicken too. :)

                                                                        2. i too, had a perfect peach at CP, in about 2003, unsliced, just a few drops of water on its skin, perched atop a pedestal dish. Also $8. Great, yes, but $8.00 worth? No. And we were not warned.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                            mariacarmen: How did the menu describe it that you felt that you hadn't been warned? Did it sound as if there were several peaches?

                                                                          2. Some clarifications from my friend who was at the dinner (I was not there, I just posted this here because I thought it would start an interesting discussion, which it has)

                                                                            - They were pretty much aware of what was coming when they ordered it as they had seen one going by, nectarine rolling crazily on the dish. They ordered it as confirmation of what they saw as they were so flabbergasted, and to also take a picture as one of the party works in a restaurant and wanted to show their coworkers. They actually ordered it for its humor value and to see if the waiter would deliver it with a straight face. So there was no thinking of sending it back as it delivered on the humor front. I am pretty sure they broke into laughter as soon as it arrived.
                                                                            - They did not save the menu and so would not swear that the nectarine was the full $8. To them (and me) the price isn't the main thing, it's the absurdity of a nectarine rolling around on the plate.
                                                                            - The nectarine came with a steak knife for eating.
                                                                            - I want to reiterate my general love for Zuni. This is not an attack on the restaurant or its loyal patrons (of which I am definitely one). I really do just find it very funny, and a caution next time I am expecting a fruit plate at Zuni to just go home and eat the fruit I bought at the farmers market. ;-)

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: celeste

                                                                              Well, if they are reading this thread, they certainly got $8 worth of entertainment value.

                                                                            2. Heh, this just brings the Simpson's to mind when Yoko Ono ordered, "A single plum floating in perfume served in man's hat."

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. This discussion reminds me of the 70s-era letter Chez Panisse has or had on their wall from a customer who happened in on a night they were serving cassoulet and was outraged at having paid $10 for "pork and beans."

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                  It's not really comparable, IMO. Presumably some technique went into preparing the cassoulet.

                                                                                  I don't see anything wrong with offering fresh fruit as a dessert. I do see something wrong with charging that kind of price for an item that involved zero prep work -- zero added value.

                                                                                  1. re: jlafler

                                                                                    Yep, cassoulet is a very labour intensive dish and takes a fair amount of time to make a proper version.

                                                                                2. As Jacques Pepin is reputed to have said about Alice Waters: "That's not cooking. That's shopping."

                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                      Well, with her whole thing of trying to make the restaurant closer in feel to a dinner party, sometimes shopping is called for :-)

                                                                                      But that lack of presentation in the photo is pretty egregious. I love that you can get simple fruit in lieu of dessert at Chez Panisse, because that's often what I want at the end of a meal, not something heavy. But I think the psychology is different when it's prix fixe versus a la carte -- no way I'd pay $8 for a nectarine on a plate!

                                                                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                        That's been attributed to various people, but I believe it was actually Alice's own characterization of the clueless responses she got from old-school chefs.

                                                                                        'When we were about 10 years old, the French chefs used to come over to see what was going on at Chez Panisse,' Waters said. 'And they would say "Oh, that's not cooking, that's shopping." I was so intimidated by that. I just felt like maybe we weren't doing enough. Now I'm very prideful. It is shopping,' she said, pounding the white tablecloth. 'It is shopping.'"--Contra Costa Times, 9/26/2001

                                                                                        As the story went the first time I heard in 1980, from a friend who worked in the cafe when it first opened, Alice flew out to a big chef event in New York. The other chefs had ice sculptures and similar old-school presentation pieces, her entry was a simple salad of fresh goat cheeses and mesclun, neither of which were then available outside of France except at Chez Panisse.

                                                                                        1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                          I thought that was a Julia Childs quote.

                                                                                          1. re: Atomica

                                                                                            That's why I said "reputed." I'd love to know for sure-- my chef fiance had heard that it was Pepin. I'd love to know who said it but even more who/what it was about!

                                                                                            1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                              Big oops, I meant Julia CHILD. I do know how to spell her name--guess it was too early in the morning to post. :) If you find out the real poop, let us know!

                                                                                        2. I go out to eat to taste food that I normally can't make for myself at home. So in this situation, I classify it under "the restaurant is not even trying" category.

                                                                                          I'm curious from the original poster whether the menu built up the description or if it clearly stated that you would be just getting a Blossom Bluff nectarine. Also, wondering whether you commented about the presentation to the server and whether he/she had a reaction or explanation. I totally would have said something about how it would have been nicer in a bowl.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: singleguychef

                                                                                            The original poster (who as she made clear in her original post wasn't there) already clarified that "they were pretty much aware of what was coming when they ordered it as they had seen one going by":


                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              Even if the people who reported it were aware of what they were getting, that doesn't let the restaurant off the hook for offering (with no clarification otherwise) something that one would logically expect to be more than just a nectarine rolling around on a plate.

                                                                                              That is, unless every patron should be responsible for looking around the room the entire meal. If nobody orders the dessert they're considering, should they wander into the kitchen too?

                                                                                          2. Ok, SF Chowhounds, this story has actually made it all the way out to the East Coast. My friend, a food editor in Boston, passed it along after reading about it on SF Eater, and we are having a lot of fun reading the deconstruction of this whole thing. I've been to Chez Panisse, and I think it's interesting how much it's been name-checked because they do some simple stuff, but really, I think the fact that Waters is so influential in SF just makes it more difficult for you to see how ridiculous Zuni's dessert really is, especially since unlike CP, it comes across as a fairly conventional restaurant. It's a classic "emperor has no clothes" situation -- those who think they are really refined say, "ooh, how beautiful!" and those who can really see it for what it is say, "uh, what?" We're all about revering local produce (perhaps too much) out here as well, but seriously. It's an effing $8 nectarine. And they're serving it in a recession, no less. Marie Antoinette has nothin' on them.

                                                                                            The only explanation for this could be this: by doing something so outrageous, Zuni thought they might be able to snag some free press and buzz. In that case, well played, Zuni.

                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: desertrose5418

                                                                                              I thought the "emperor has no clothes" aspect of it was kind of interesting too. I wonder how many people order it and then praise it just to try to seem like they get it. "Oh, how bold and daring of the chef to make such a simple, stripped-down, even vulnerable statement with this dessert! Bravo!" Was Zuni expecting those kinds of responses?

                                                                                              1. re: desertrose5418

                                                                                                I'm sure I'm one of the many who sent this along to Eater SF. How could I not? Hoping that it would snowball so that Zuni could tell us why they think it's ok to charge $8 for a piece of fruit. It doesn't matter if it is the best nectarine in the world..8 bucks..seriously?
                                                                                                When someone wants a fruit plate where I work I would never send them a couple of wedges of whatever. I give them a variety of every fruit I have in the walk in & a small bowl of honey creme fraiche. All of it sliced & presented in a way that's nice to look at but also easy to eat. Would it really have killed someone..even the pastry chef or assistant to take 30 seconds to slice a nectarine & fan it out on a plate with some honey?
                                                                                                If all I had were nectarines I still wouldn't have charged $8 for it though

                                                                                                1. re: desertrose5418

                                                                                                  "it's interesting how much [Chez Panisse] has been name-checked"

                                                                                                  That's where Judy Rodgers got her training. Her only previous restaurant sort-of experience was when she was a 16-year-old exchange student staying with one of the Troisgros brothers and hung out in their kitchen.

                                                                                                2. I'm so glad celeste posted this as I've found the discussion very interesting. I really think it can be summed up this way.

                                                                                                  1. Should a restaurant offer just plain fruit for dessert on its dessert menu? (My own answer: yes, why not? I particularly like just plain fruit dessert, especially as others have pointed out after a large meal and a cheese plate. This is common in Europe as well.)

                                                                                                  2. If the answer to question #1 is yes, what is the appropriate way to serve the fruit and what is the appropriate pricing of the fruit? This is where I think people are going in different directions and why my original answer is that I would have sent back this nectarine unless I had been warned. Eight dollars is just too much to pay for a nectarine on a plate with no value added by the restaurant. Someone called Blossom Bluff and ordered a flat of nectarines. And someone washed it and put it on a plate. That's it. No one sliced it, sprinkled any nuts on it, accompanied it with creme fraiche, drizzled it with rose water, etc., etc. That is why $8 for this dish is overpriced. Now, if the waiter said to the person, this is just a nectarine, on a plate, served with a knife and the person still ordered it, well then full disclosure was given and the person ordering it must have made the choice give all information relevant to the decision. But for me, I can go to the farmer's market, get one of those same nectarines myself for a lot less than $8 and eat it. Or I could have gone home and eaten a perfect peach from Knoll farms and been just as happy. I think Zuni charging $8 for this nectarine is what bothers me -- not the fact that they have a plain piece of fruit on the menu. If this nectarine were $4, would anyone have a problem with it?

                                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: farmersdaughter

                                                                                                    1. One of the pleasures of dining out is putting yourself in the care of experts that will select and prepare foods carefully sourced for their quality. You are there for a whole meal, if fruit is the perfect final note to the composition then it should be on the menu. Yes, perhaps this fruit is available at the farmer's market, but so are the many items of produce. Yet you play for them to select and assemble them into a coherent meal and to enjoy it in a pleasing environment.

                                                                                                    2. The next question is price. I'm not sure why everyone is picking on the nectarine. Is it worth $10 for a glass of wine at a fine bar or restaurant? No one complains that the entire bottle might be had for $30. Or $15 for a few small slices of cheese and salumi (which can also be found at the farmers market)? In the context of the whole meal and the environment you are enjoying it in, it might be worth it. There should have been disclosure by the server that the dessert would consist of a simple nectarine. Then let the market decide whether it's overpriced. Personally, I would have no problem paying $4 for it if it fit in with my meal, but I would still expect that them to cut it nicely in the kitchen or perhaps table side.

                                                                                                    1. re: wanderlust21

                                                                                                      "Is it worth $10 for a glass of wine at a fine bar or restaurant? No one complains that the entire bottle might be had for $30."
                                                                                                      At Wine Spectator's site you will find many discussions complaining about exorbitant markups on wine.

                                                                                                    2. re: farmersdaughter

                                                                                                      I think there are at least four overlapping issues here.

                                                                                                      1. Should a restaurant serve plain fruit? I often like to order it so it's a plus for me if a restaurant offers it. I don't see why people who don't order it should get upset about a restaurant catering to different tastes.

                                                                                                      2. Is $8 too much for a nectarine? I think everyone agrees it is, but the original poster says they're not sure it was that much. A single nectarine was priced at $4.50 last month.

                                                                                                      3. If it weren't accurately described or the people didn't know what they were getting, that might be a problem, but the menu was clear and the people knew exactly what they were getting.

                                                                                                      4. Is one nectarine on a plate rather than in a bowl poor presentation? That's a fair criticism, but on the other hand, just serving it on a plate makes the statement that a ripe nectarine needs no improvement.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        That's not exactly what she said. She said the didn't save the menu, so they wouldn't *swear* it was that much. There are lots of things I'm pretty sure of that I wouldn't swear to without documentation.

                                                                                                        As for the other points:

                                                                                                        1) Absolutely
                                                                                                        3) Not really -- it's only clear if you know what "Blossom Bluff" means; in addition, as other people have pointed out, by virtue of something being on a restaurant menu there's a certain expectation that it will be served in a way that is consistent with the norms of restaurant service.
                                                                                                        4) I think this is the crux of the issue: no matter what the price, the image of a nectarine rolling around on a bare plate is ridiculous. If they didn't want to add even a garnish (or a perhaps a bed of nectarine leaves), they could at least have put it in a small bowl -- perhaps one of those ice cream bowls with a pedestal. Okay, the "concept" of the dish is that perfect fruit needs no adornment. But by serving it the way they did, instead of making the fruit look like jewel of perfection, they made it look like something that wasn't worth spend a moment's thought on presenting appropriately. They actually devalued something they were supposedly showcasing.

                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                          It's a common practice to mention the source of an ingredient on the menu if it's notable, both at Zuni and at other restaurants nationwide. Note also that proper nouns are capitalized, and preparation methods are not.

                                                                                                          I think people are really splitting hairs here--the pizza comes on a plain white plate with no special garnish, is that problematic? Many think garnishes should only be there if they're edible and contribute to the dish--nectarine leaves wouldn't pass that test. A small bowl wouldn't capture the drips sure to be released as the fruit is cut, so I think a plate is the most appropriate vessel. A small bowl on a larger plate might prevent the fruit from rolling around, but then they've needlessly wasted an extra dish when the table cloths are covered in butcher paper and there aren't bread plates. Zuni's a casual cafe that happens to serves amazing food.

                                                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                          Regarding the third point, even if the wording on the menu isn't technically misleading, it's uncommon for a restaurant to serve fruit like that, especially for that price. Really uncommon. Thus, unless the menu description points this out, it's safe to say just about everyone will be expecting something else, which means it ends up being "misleading" in practice.

                                                                                                          Then again, a "truth in advertising" approach:
                                                                                                          "Blossom Hill nectarine thrown on a plate like we just don't care - $8"
                                                                                                          ...while not misleading, wouldn't exactly be appealing either. In which case the solution is easy...either do something different with it or just don't serve it!

                                                                                                        3. re: farmersdaughter

                                                                                                          My point overall is that I absolutely would have a problem with the nectarine as served even if it was only $4. The whole piece of fruit rolling around on the plate is just strange and difficult to eat in that setting. I would not have had a problem at all with the same nectarine nicely sliced and fanned on the plate with no garnish. I love fruit for dessert. And even stranger to me, if they are trying to respect the fruit so much, it's possible it gets a little bruised rolling around by itself as it's being carried from kitchen to table. And the mechanics of trying to cut into it with the steak knife as it keeps rolling on the plate... argh! That is no way to eat a perfect nectarine!

                                                                                                          Anyways, all the posts on this topic have been entertaining and illuminating!

                                                                                                          1. re: celeste

                                                                                                            This time of year I serve whole peaches or nectarines on plates for dessert almost every night I cook at home. If you don't want to just pick it up and bite it, you hold the fruit with one hand while peeling or slicing with the other.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              Exactly. Biting into it or holding in hand is the best way to eat a nectarine and perfectly fine for a home environment. However, I would never expect customers in a fine restaurant to have to hold a dripping piece of fruit while they sliced it with a knife. Or hold a dripping piece of fruit while they bit off it with their mouth.

                                                                                                            2. re: celeste

                                                                                                              Yeah, that gets back to the presentation point others have made. In a restaurant of Zuni's class, you just expect that you're not going to be handed a plate and a piece of fruit and told "here you go!" You do expect, even for $4, to have someone slice it up for you, if for no other reason than it's just too darned messy for "fine dining" to have to do it yourself.

                                                                                                          2. The $8 Nectarine is a symbol of the preciosity of name-branded local and organic foodstuffs and how far from real food and read eating we're being led. Serving fruit as a desert is an art, as anyone who's eaten in France knows. We all pretty much accept that it's reasonable for Zuni to offer fruit as a dessert. What's wrong is the presentation and the price. What Zuni did was insult the diner and the nectarine.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: pickypicky

                                                                                                              Next week's special at Zuni: Linguine $15

                                                                                                            2. Yikes! If the customer who posted this photo was charged $8.00 for the nectarine it was definitely an error. We would love the customer to contact us with their receipt and we would be more than happy to refund the entire amount for the fruit. Checking our menus, the Blossom Bluff Summer Grand nectarine was on our dessert menu from July 29-31st for $4.50. The only $8.00 item on the menu was a pot de crème, listed directly above it. Our computers were programmed with those prices so we are not sure how it happened, but the customer should not have been charged $8.00. For what it’s worth, we have many customers who ask for plain fruit instead of a prepared dessert. We try to offer something ripe and delicious, at a price which covers our food cost plus overhead (and overhead actually dwarfs food costs). If the guest would like the fruit cut up or sweetened, we are happy to do so.

                                                                                                              We are sorry this happened but we are glad to have found out about it. We agree an $8.00 nectarine is ridiculous!

                                                                                                              18 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: zunicafe

                                                                                                                Thanks for posting Zuni! I definitely regret mentioning the price in my original post. As I followed up, my friends would not swear to the price, so it's probably the case that it was $4.50 as you say. I apologize for misleading everyone on that point. The spirit of the post was commenting more on the presentation of the fruit really.

                                                                                                                1. re: zunicafe

                                                                                                                  Would you care to respond to pathetic presentation? Rolling around on a plate--and here's a knife--have at it.

                                                                                                                  1. re: The Old Man

                                                                                                                    I don't see the problem--the restaurant is happy to cut it up if requested. Personally, I like the whole presentation because cutting it in the kitchen would lose much of the juice, and yes, a member of my party has ordered the $4.50 piece of fruit in the last few months and enjoyed it, without feeling ripped off or otherwise overburdened by the act of cutting up a piece of food. Can you imagine a restaurant cutting up a piece of steak into bite-sized pieces before it left the kitchen?

                                                                                                                    Bear in mind that Zuni's full name is "Zuni Cafe." It's not Zuni Restaurant, Zuni Buffet, or Bistro Zuni. The conception of the restaurant is straight-forward preparations of good ingredients served in an authentic, no-frills manner. There are not towering architectural rainbow-colored composed salads at Zuni. There is butcher paper over the table cloths. The only concession to providing a more upscale experience I can remember is the much-appreciated improvement to the wine list, but stemware, like the flatware and plates, is still basic rather than high end.

                                                                                                                    1. re: SteveG

                                                                                                                      I just find it awfully strange that a piece of fruit is being compared to pizzas and steaks. I suppose one can say there's artistry in picking out a fruit, but they're obviously buying in bulk and tossing the thing on a plate. Just as they do the bread.

                                                                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                        Actually a restaurant of Zuni and CP's caliber would visit the market themselves and work with the farmer to buy the desired fruit.
                                                                                                                        We are not talking about slinging a case from the stand to the truck to the walk-in.
                                                                                                                        I agree Zuni's presentation kind of sucked. No fig/grape leaf? No pretty copper bowl? However, fruit as dessert holds a lot of appeal for me, and I appreciate restaurants that don't feel they need to mess with it to make it special. Picked responsibly, it already is.
                                                                                                                        One other thing, no tossing of the fruit! It is ripe, fragile and revered. Most especially by the hands that procured it.

                                                                                                                        1. re: rabaja

                                                                                                                          Zuni's presentation is minimalist. No garnishes, no landscaping, no frou-frou china.

                                                                                                                          The apricot ice cream ($7.50) I had there a few weeks ago was just three scoops in a simple old-fashioned soda-fountan-type stamped metal cup. It was also the best apricot dessert I've had in years, and would only have been diminished by whipped cream or cookies.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                            I'm not sure how sticking some appropriate cookies on the side would dimish it. You wouldn't have to eat them and it might be a nice touch.

                                                                                                                            1. re: The Old Man

                                                                                                                              It's hard not to eat anything I'm served at Zuni, and if I order fruit it's because I don't want to eat sweets.

                                                                                                                              More generally, fruit and dessert are two different courses. I don't like the American tendency to blur the line. Same goes for the cheese course.

                                                                                                                        2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                          They're not buying in bulk. They get their bread from the same supplier, day in, day out. They don't get all their produce from the produce wholesaler down on Bayshore--they spend time and money cultivating relationships with farmers to get access to unusual or particularly good produce that we can't even get at the farmer's market, and that average restaurants can't get either. I guarantee you not every nectarine Zuni purchased ended up on a plate for dessert--I'm sure they sorted them, and some will end up in preserves, some were good enough for salads, and a few were close enough to perfection to put out on plates with no extra adornment.

                                                                                                                          Their chosen farms reserve special produce for a few restaurants known for good produce because just being associated with a Chez Panisse or Zuni allows them to stabilize and grow their businesses through easier, more lucrative sales.

                                                                                                                          1. re: SteveG

                                                                                                                            What's your source for such claims?

                                                                                                                            I also think this equation of Alice Waters, who is a national figure, and Zuni or Judy Rodgers is a major stretch. The truth is most people think of Zuni as a mainstay where you can get a good burger. The more precious they get, the more they alienate customers. That's not the case with CP where people know there's a certain amount of kool aid required.

                                                                                                                            As to this fantasy that a Zuni chef is getting hand picked produced with purity of the vine, and they're sitting in the kitchen inspecting each and every fruit with a white glove goes against the realities of a working kitchen in a popular restaurant. If you like the fruit on a plate idea, cool.... but the rest is wishful thinking.

                                                                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                              Zuni's been doing the same thing for years. Enough of us appreciate their style that they're packed every night.

                                                                                                                              What SteveG describes is accurate. Zuni's not unique, but less than 1% of local restaurant kitchens are as picky about their ingredients. The fruit in the fruit plates I've had clearly wasn't pulled at random from flats, let alone delivered by a Sysco truck.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                I was merely responding to your assertion that Zuni buys in bulk, which I felt needed to be contradicted since this thread has already had so much misinformation about Zuni.

                                                                                                                                A friend of mine who worked the salad station at another local restaurant with a focus on high quality local produce complained to me that farms sometimes give them junk they wouldn't dare give to a restaurant like Chez Panisse or Zuni.

                                                                                                                                When I subscribed to Eatwell Farms' CSA box, I noticed on a regular basis that the produce they brought to the Ferry Plaza was way better looking and more at the peak of ripeness than what ended up in my subscription box.

                                                                                                                                I'm not arguing that Blossom Bluff doesn't sell to the public--only that not everything they produce is identical, and that a restaurant like Zuni does have the pull to get Blossom Bluff's best produce. Farms have an incentive to put extra care into high-profile customers that give them billing on the menus, due to the positive PR that results from the relationship.

                                                                                                                                From Blossom Bluff's website under the restaurant/bakery section, I'll quote: "To build a truly excellent meal, you must start with a foundation of fine ingredients. To get the freshest, ripest produce, you must minimize the time between harvest and delivery. Our clients know this, which is why they choose to deal with us directly. And because of our intimate connection to the fruit we grow, we are able to suggest specific varieties to match desired flavors." Elsewhere on their site they mention growing 150 varieties of stone fruit, some of which they probably only have enough production for particular customers rather than the general public. So yes, it's probably the case that the nectarine Zuni served was from a direct delivery and picked the same day it was served. Many farms don't have the labor force to pick everything they bring to the farmer's market the day it goes to market, so there's definitely a difference in freshness between what some restaurants get and what the public gets at a farmer's market.

                                                                                                                                It's been discusses in detail elsewhere on Chowhound, but the Zuni roast chicken uses a particularly small, young chicken that is actually pretty much impossible to find at a normal butcher. They have a special relationship with a chicken farmer, who supplies them chickens to their specifications.

                                                                                                                                1. re: SteveG

                                                                                                                                  These are still claims which only Zuni or Blossom Bluff can verify.

                                                                                                                                  I really see no evidence they are getting a hand full of carefully selected nectarines delivered and picked the same day, every day from a special reserve.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                    Noone is saying they get fruit hand picked the same day, every day, but they do get carefully selected fruit usually chosen by the chef or farmer.
                                                                                                                                    When I was at CP our Pastry Chef hand picked all the fruit. He sorted it every day, rotated it from room temp storage to cold and sorted what was to be used for what, just as SteveG described. It was dedication to quality you do not find very often, but it absolutely exists at CP and Zuni.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: rabaja

                                                                                                                                      "Noone is saying they get fruit hand picked the same day, every day, but they do get carefully selected fruit usually chosen by the chef or farmer."

                                                                                                                                      Actually that was he fantasy being proposed. Daily delivery, landing on the Zuni plate the same day it was picked from the vine. Highly unlikely. I don't doubt that great care and preciousness is placed on the ritual of serving a piece of fruit however.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                        Zuni does get daily deliveries when it matters (e.g. fish), but they probably get stuff from Blossom Bluff a couple of times a week.

                                                                                                                                        Blossom Bluff is 200 miles from San Francisco, so the fruit's not likely to be picked the same day.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                      More importantly, how delicious is the nectarine? Compared to "regular" nectarines from Blossom Bluff?

                                                                                                                      2. re: zunicafe

                                                                                                                        Perhaps Zuni Cafe should not list real desserts like pot de creme "directly above" the fancy peach so as to avoid giving the impression that you'd be getting more than just plain fruit?

                                                                                                                      3. If you shared it with a dining companion was their a split plate charge?

                                                                                                                        BTW, sf.eater picked up the story.


                                                                                                                        1. I've enjoyed this thread very much. But I was struck by all the comments of the "I love Zuni, but..." nature. I can't help but wonder how the tone of this thread might be different, and whether this issue would be news at all, if Zuni weren't such a revered institution.

                                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: weem

                                                                                                                            You mean if I went to my local joint and found a piece of fruit rolling around on a plate for $4.50 I wouldn't find that notable? Yeah I think I'd find it a little funny.

                                                                                                                            1. re: The Old Man

                                                                                                                              That's not quite what I meant. I agree that it would be startling to be charged $4.50 for a piece of fruit plopped on a plate, regardless of the establishment. But if this had happened at the local ma-and-pop diner, would it have lit up these boards as it has? Would there be this level of controversy and furor? Would other media outlets have picked up on this story?

                                                                                                                              1. re: weem

                                                                                                                                No professional media outlets ran with the story, probably because unlike bloggers they phoned the restaurant to check the price rather than repeat hearsay.

                                                                                                                                I opened a topic on the Food Media & News board:


                                                                                                                          2. Cookthink's picked it up, too. Guy writing a book about pluots mentioned that he has similar anecdote in book about pluots at Chez Panisse.


                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: slafleur

                                                                                                                              Nice link. Got me thinking, while I agree there's not much they could do to make the fruit better, slicing it would be the least they could do and it's helpful, particularly in a nice restaurant. Why? Because if the fruit is as good as anticipated...it's going to make a big juicy mess. Anyone that's eaten a fully ripe peach or stone fruit knows this.

                                                                                                                              I get the message of nothing can help the fruit and that's all well and fine (and I'd trust a place like CP) but since I'm eating it at a nice restaurant, and not in my underwear over the sink or at a picnic, I want it sliced.

                                                                                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                Maybe it was meant to be worshipped, and cutting it would void it of it's sanctity. They still should have included incense.

                                                                                                                            2. This story has made it into Leah Garchik's column in today's SF Chronicle, with no correction to the price. Kind of spiralling out of control here.

                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                              1. re: Hunicsz

                                                                                                                                No correction, but she did ID the people who ordered it, so she must have gotten the story from at least one other source.

                                                                                                                              2. This has been a most illuminating thread. There are two side to the argument.

                                                                                                                                On one side are the Chez Panisse ingredient-fetish whirling Dervish worshipers who believe in the sanctity and holy powers of the perfect ingredient. To them, if a restaurant finds a perfect nectarine, it would be blasphemy to add anything to it. A sprig of mint next to such a pristine nectarine would be equivalent to Velveeta cheese sauce on a bunch of organic broccoli. To cut such a perfect specimen into slices would be like pounding a rusty nail through a bolt of fine silk -- though most of these folks would never be caught dead with a bolt of fine silk.

                                                                                                                                On the other side are people who think that restaurants are supposed to add value to the ingredients. To them, ingredients are raw materials which the chef uses to create things. The dishes thus created are the product the restaurant sells. The resulting creations don't actually have to be cooked (c.f. David Kinch's "From the Garden" dish at Manresa) but dishes do have to be touched by a cook.

                                                                                                                                I don't think that either side will ever understand the other, but it seems clear to me who the true believers are.

                                                                                                                                12 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                  I see what you did there ... :)

                                                                                                                                  Have you ever seen the work of Reiko Sudo? A japanese artist
                                                                                                                                  who pounds rusty nails through bolts of fine silk:
                                                                                                                                  Who am I to say, but my guess is she would enjoy the nectarine
                                                                                                                                  on the plate.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                    I do see both sides. Personally, I fall into Camp #2 but understand that there are people who are Camp #1. Unless the description of the nectarine wasn't clear, I don't see what the problem is (as Zuni said it was $4.50 as opposed to the original $8). If you don't like it, I'm sure Zuni had a bunch of other desserts to order.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                      I also see the value of camp #1 but go with camp #2. There's probably little that can be done to truly good fruit to make it better. However if it's about purity of experience, then it should be picked by the eater and eaten on the spot, perhaps naked after rolling around in some mud. If you're in a restaurant where you're going to drop $150+ easy on 2, slicing some fruit should be no big deal. $4.50 is a fair price...$8 not so much.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                        Have you noticed that one of your "sides" is an extreme caricature, and the supposedly opposite side is a moderate position? There's an extreme position at the "added value" end, too, though I don't think we've seen much of it in this argument.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: jlafler

                                                                                                                                          I'll admit that my explanation does exhibit a definite point of view. :-) If you are suggesting that the "missing" extreme added-value position is exemplified by places like Alinea, WD-50, and El Bulli, I don't see how any of that is germane to this argument, though it is clear that the Chez Panisse philosophy is at the heart of this discussion.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                            Yes, that's what I had in mind. You're right that the extreme added-value position isn't germane to this conversation, but that was kind of my point.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: Paul H

                                                                                                                                          Your argument #1 is reducto beyond absurdum. Everyone appreciates a kitchen adding value; no one would go to Zuni for a raw chicken. A piece of fruit is one of the rare items that's great as it arrives at the restaurant and can reasonably be served as is. It's similar to a dish of almonds or olives, or a shot of Armagnac or Calvados, or a bottle of beer.

                                                                                                                                          People have made argument #2. It seems perfectly reasonable to me that someone might prefer to order only items where the restaurant has added a lot of value. The true believers are the ones who go beyond that and object to restaurants offering no-value-added items that *other* people like to order.

                                                                                                                                          Manresa's "Into the vegetable garden ..." contains both raw and cooked elements. It might be the single most labor-intensive dish I've ever had.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                            I think, as well, that there's a range of added value that we expect in different parts of a restaurant meal, and not all of it comes from directly altering the food. A really good wine list, for example, requires a lot of labor and expertise to maintain, update, and store, as well as being a big financial investment. But they don't do anything to alter the flavor of the wine (except maybe decant it).

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                              >> "or a bottle of beer."

                                                                                                                                              And with that, Robert scores a devastating blow. Opponents only recourse may be to consider the oyster -- although it is served almost exactly as it is retrieved from the sea, even the minimalists at Zuni deign to remove the top shell before sending it to the table -- or the bottle of beer itself, rarely served unopened.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                                                                                                                And the bottle of beer is often served with a glass as are Calvados and Armagnac. One of the most arresting aspects of the Zuni-Nectarine presentation is its rarity and thus shock value.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Chuckles the Clone

                                                                                                                                                  I would be unhappy if my oysters arrived intact with an oyster knife and chain-mail glove.

                                                                                                                                                  But taste varies on whether to peel nectarines.

                                                                                                                                            2. This thread is getting attention! You've made it to Atlanta now.


                                                                                                                                              FWIW: Fresh fruit? Great! And if I wasn't 100% certain of what I was getting, I'd ask my server. Fair enough, Zuni.

                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                              1. re: martyparty

                                                                                                                                                That's exactly what we did on the only occasion in my life thus far where I was able to afford a meal at Chez Panisse. Similar to the famed CP pluot story, we saw that a "Frog's Hollow Farm peach" or something akin to that entry was listed as a dessert. Dining partner and I were confused. We asked the server how the peach was prepared:

                                                                                                                                                He: "It's the peach."
                                                                                                                                                We: "Yes, but what do you do with it?"
                                                                                                                                                He: "You eat it."
                                                                                                                                                We: "Yes, we understand that, but what does the kitchen do with it?"
                                                                                                                                                He: "They'll put it on a plate."

                                                                                                                                                This is when it dawned on us that it was just a peach.

                                                                                                                                                We: "Well, do you at least slice it?"
                                                                                                                                                He: [pause] ... [pause] "We can."
                                                                                                                                                We: "We're going to share the chocolate dessert."

                                                                                                                                                Per Paul H's analysis of the two parties involved in this debate, I'm a happy #2 camper.

                                                                                                                                              2. I think there's a 3rd position not yet mentioned. And that's understanding the traditional role of fruit in a meal. When served Au Naturel it is not a dessert. When I was served plain fruit in France, the server would arrive with a large bowl of fruit for me to select a piece. Then it was placed in a small bowl, and if I remember correctly sometimes on a napkin. My culinary upbringing included knowing how to self-slice every possible piece of fruit you could be served. In other words, the fruit was treated like FRUIT -- not like a brownie. If the fruit were composed -- sliced or macerated or whatever -- then it was served on or in a dish. There simply is something absurd about a peach rolling around on a plate while a server carries it. Absurdity is not something my appetitie appreciates. And my complaint is the lack of training and understanding behind authentic food service-- as if purchasing the right produce is enough.