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Jun 28, 2010 06:32 AM

Would how the item is written on the menu make a difference to you?

Not sure if this is in the right place, but: I'm a graphic designer/food lover (NOT a foodie) and I'm designing/writing up a menu for an Indian restaurant.

Thing is, I'm going on their old menu, and it's pretty stiff going. I'm just wondering: would it make a difference to anyone (food-porn lovers or just civilians, doesn't matter) as to how any given dish is described?

"Steak in mushroom sauce" is pretty basic, but, if it were "Niman Ranch filet in merlot-thyme gravy with roast potato mufti" would that make a difference to you? Namely, because item number one is priced at $18 while number two is at $46. Maybe. Just theorising, here. And who knows, it might be the same steak in unscrupulous hands.

I'm just thinking to help this guy out (unfortunately anything I come up with in English has to be translated into French) and was wondering whether I should shed my graphic designer mantle for a minute and embellish his menu descriptions. Is it worth the extra energy? I know that I myself would be driven to order a dish based on its description, if skillfully described. Would it sway your decision-making process one way or the other how something is described on a menu?

Sorry. I know you know what I'm saying.

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  1. I think you should be descriptive without going into the maiden name of the paternal grandmother of the guy who grew the spices sort of thing. It's not simple, particularly if it then has to be translated into French, since some rhetorical flourishes are not easily translatable. Maybe: aloo ghobi - fresh-picked cauliflower with x type of potatoes, smother-cooked to tenderness in a typical Punjabi masala featuring cumin, coriander, and turmeric - ?

    1. Generally, I prefer simple descriptions without extravagent prose. I tend to find that food in places that have the latter sort of menu doesnt match the description.

      Taking buttertart's example of aloo gobi, my current favourite three restaurants in the metro area describe the dish as:

      potato & caulflower cooked in a sauce

      potato & fresh cauliflower cooked with onions, tomatoes & spices

      cauliflower, potatoes & spices

      Bear in mind that, with the classics of any cuisine, many diners will know exactly what they are likely to get on the plate and almost any description is unnecessary. Some others will, of course, be swayed by the attempt at up-selling in the prose.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Harters

        I'd go for number 2 on Harters list of examples. bit more descriptive w/o going overboard. in the OP's examples I'd aim somewhere in the middle. one sounds like leftovers masquerading as salisbury steak and the other is a bit 'precious'

      2. I'm not fond of uber-pretension on menus, but I do like to know what I'm eating.

        I'd suggest that you identify the flavours that stick out due to the ingredient. I'm always amused when the menu makes great shakes about the type of potatoes going into the garlic mash, for example, where the potato flavour is completely trumped by the garlic, oil, and butter, so they could just as easily used 10 cent a pound spuds from the local market.

        In the example you gave, I'd better be tasting that merlot and the thyme in the sauce, because my other pet peeve is promised flavours that are absent. . Can't tell you the number of times I've been offered something "infused with x", where said infusion must have been brief and fleeting, as there is no hint of it in the finished dish.

        1. Sure. I think if you're going to be serving locally grown or some other type of fare that distinguishes your food from the norm you should say so without going crazy. Here, for example is a menu from a local resto that specializes in local ingredients:

          1 Reply
          1. re: junescook

            unfair, now jfood has to run up there and have that difficult lunch decision on the pulled pork or the antelope burger. Carol sure can cook.

          2. Okay, the problem here is the graphic designer fighting with the food guy. I WANT to embellish the description, but I know that if I do, it will create more work for me! (Plus, I have to get this stuff translated!)

            But for Aloo Gobi, I have:

            Pomme de terre et choux-fleur avec cumin et ├ępices
            Potato and cauliflower with cumin and spices

            Pretty dry! I wish I could work in "fingerling" there somewhere.

            9 Replies
            1. re: tonbo0422

              ....."Steak in mushroom sauce" is pretty basic, but, if it were "Niman Ranch filet in merlot-thyme gravy with roast potato mufti" would that make a difference to you? Namely, because item number one is priced at $18 while number two is at $46.

              Absolutely not. Even if diners are thought to be the kind of dolts who would pay $46. for an $18. meal, they ARE smart enough to know when they're being fleeced.

              Honesty is always the best policy. You can fool some of the people some of the time, et cetera.

              1. re: tonbo0422

                Are they always going to be fingerlings? Maybe there's some abstruse truth-in-menuing law that might require that?

                1. re: buttertart

                  PS is this for a restaurant in France or Qu├ębec? Just wondering.

                2. re: tonbo0422

                  Fingerling would be fine to add, but I would be more curious as to what the 'other' spices are. I would list any that are more aggressive in the dish. Similar to what was said upthread, I am less interested in the type of potato used, but I do want to know what cut of meat I am ordering.

                  1. re: onceadaylily

                    Meat should be quite easy. It'll be mostly lamb and chicken - pork and beef don't figure too much in South Asian cooking for the obvious cultural reasons. Just checking with the menu at one of my local places, there's only of "lamb" or "chicken" and the only other description of the meat is whether it's on or off the bone (except for a dish of "lamb chops tikka")

                    1. re: Harters

                      I was just responding to the 'steak with mushroom sauce' example the OP used.

                      I admit that I may be in the minority when it comes to menu descriptions. I don't want the type of flowery language that is meant to seduce, but I do want to know as many components of the dish as possible. Asking a server usually just sends them running to the kitchen to annoy the staff, but I myself am annoyed if I see 'spices' or 'sauce' on a menu with nothing else to gauge the dish, especially if I am unfamiliar with the cuisine.

                      1. re: onceadaylily

                        Ditto that. I want to know the ingredients (especially anything that might be objectionable to some) and main seasonings, without a lot of fluff. I have had some experiences where dishes didn't specify that they had certain ingredients in them that I can't/don't eat, and those went back to the kitchen really quickly. But I also think that overly flowery descriptions can be annoying, or intimidating. I consider myself fairly food-savvy, but I don't know what "roast potato mufti" is - potatoes, sure, but beyond that...?

                  2. re: tonbo0422

                    Cumin *is* a spice. Why list separately?

                    Your description seems to pretty much reflect my three local descriptions.

                    1. re: tonbo0422

                      the problem i have with being so specific and going into long descriptions (besides sounding overly pretentious) is that so many times i've ordered something and when it comes the ingredients they specified have been substituted... you know what i mean?