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Is foodieness getting out of hand? [ moved from San Francisco board]

Went to Plum Sunday night. Asked to be seated at the counter, because I thought it would be fun to watch the food being prepared. I was not wrong about that, but I'm still not quite sure how to react.

We ordered two glasses of wine; two bowls of nettle and green garlic soup; spring carrots; grilled calamari with artichokes, fennel, and orange; a cheese plate; and cherry cheesecake in a jar.

The soup was magical and included small piece of potato that had somehow been infused with the flavor of smoky bacon. The carrots were delicious and the plate beautiful to look at. It included six tiny carrots, three spinach leaves, six or eight fava beans and two or three other elements for $12 (if I remember right). The calamari was smoky from the griddle and went beautifully with the other elements. The cheese plate with telaggio, goat cheese, and a sheep's milk cheese whose name I've forgotten was nice and the most generous portion of the evening. Deconstructed cherry cheesecake was divine.

But sitting there watching the chef and souschefs cook and assemble the little plates, each a work of art, left us--my wife in particular--wondering if it wasn't all a bit too precious. I mean watching people artfully smear lines of black sauce, daub little drops of green, and carefully apply touches or herbs with tweezers to create tiny sonatas of expensive food just felt decadent. We also watched the woman in front of us carefully peeling tiny cooked potatoes half the size of ping pong balls. I mean there's no question that a great deal of work goes into each plate, but my wife couldn't help but remember her college days when she fed herself and her boyfriend on $20 a month. The bill for our small meal, with 16 percent service charge, topped $125.

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  1. I think you read my mind the other night. Though I love eating out, occasionally seeing the cook staff at work and obsess about where to go next, I think I have finally reached my limit with my foodiness. I looked at my bill from Cotogna the other night (about $50) and I couldn't help but think how much food it could buy me for a special dinner at home or for the weekly groceries. I am not even on a tight budget where $50 for a dinner for myself would matter so much. I had a new insight that evening. Not every time I visit SF do I need to find the most stellar meal. Part of me said enough is enough. I can have my special meal once a season or twice a year and still be satisfied. I appreciate your post, it's not a topic I can freely discuss with friends outside of CH.

    -----
    Cotogna
    490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

    7 Replies
    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

      Bravo,to both of you. (Takes some guts to post this on Chow!)

      And thanks for letting me know that I'm not the only one who's trying to keep things sane.

      1. re: sunshine842

        +1. I appreciate these opinions, both on the frugality / sensible front and the "preciousness" of plating these days. (As Julia Child once said, "This has been touched too much. It doesn't look 'foody' to me.")

        1. re: sunshine842

          Believe me, you're not the only one and I've got the bite scars on my "six" to prove it.

        2. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

          This discussion is really about Plum, not about foodieness in general. There was no reason to move it here, where most posters will not have eaten there.

          Reading about Plum, I'd expect to hate it, but the food's so good that I don't mind the fussy aspects, which are limited to the plate. My only real complaint about the place is the uncomfortable seating.

          Plum's cheap as that kind of cooking goes. Before service charge and tax, you spent around $50 each for five courses and a glass of wine.

          I draw the line at tweezers, but I've sat at the counter twice so far, and didn't see any. There's nothing new about labor-intensive haute cuisine. At least they were only peeling the potatoes, not turning them.

          Cotogna's apples and oranges. $24 for a three-course prix-fixe, $16 for pastas, $22-24 for meat main courses, and $7 for desserts is average or slightly below for good, rustic Italian food in SF, though with Barbacco a few blocks away it had better be pretty darn good.

          Feeding two people for $20 a month, well, when Chez Panisse opened, dinner was $5.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thanks Robert. I agree with you that I'd rather see this on the Bay Area Board.

            Re the prices at Plum, I didn't really mean to complain about them being too high for that sort of care. It's more that I feel guilty about patronizing a place that serves up small portions of expensive, fussed-over food while many people in Oakland don't have enough food to eat. In the big picture, it's really hard to justify.

            1. re: TopoTail

              I had the same feeling over the weekend while eating a meal in Healdsburg TopoTail. Much of the food was delicious, but was just too contrived for me to fully enjoy it. I too wonder about the disparities that have some of us able to dine this way when a large percentage of the world is hungry.

              1. re: TopoTail

                Would you feel less guilty spending the same money at, say, Pizzaiolo for larger portions of less fussy food more casually plated? Or if you bought a bunch of expensive ingredients and cooked a fancy meal at home? Or if everyone in Oakland were well-fed, and only people in Africa were starving?

                My attitude is, if I'm not going to spend my money on eating well, why should I go to all the trouble of earning it? Ain't nobody's business if I do.

            1. re: oldunc

              or even "you've hit the nail on the head"

            2. IMO, yep. Totally. When prepping a mise requires the cook to use a mini-pencil sharpener to trim the ends of baby asparagus into points, things have gone far off the chain of sensible.

              1. I'll beg to disagree a bit.

                I'm a pretty good, self taught home cook, and my wife is tremendous with baking and desserts. We definitely can make do and put together very impressive meals at home at a fraction of what we spend when we go out.

                When we go out to eat the wow factor is important. I'm not interested in a meal that I could have prepared (in many cases better) at home. I'm looking for the decadence factor, detailed preparations, new approaches to flavor and texture and high end ingredients I don't necessarily want to seek out or tinker with on my own.

                1. I think of that type of dining as a sort of "hobby"....different than just a home food hobby. Like other hobbies, extremism is always present and varies upon the hobbyists cash resources to devote to the hobby. Wine collectors, stamp collectors, coin collectors, etc. will all pay FAR more for an item that is within their hobby that the general public would ever think of.

                  So, for me, I dine like that only a few times per year when I travel. I would not try to replicate it at home (because I have other hobbies!). My home food hobby is more healthy food based, has "ethics" about it, is fun and interesting- but not 'extreme". I don't use tweezers on my salad :) I don't "aspire" to do it, I don't think of that type of dining as "normal", I think of it as excessive and fun to do sometimes.