Mushrooms on Menus
Full disclosure: I don't like mushrooms. I realize a lot of people love them, but I am not one of those people and I know many other people that don't like them. It seems like a fairly common aversion.
I try to avoid making substitutions at restaurants, so I generally order items that do not have mushrooms in them. I often find this hard to do at places, so I end up ordering something for lack of mushrooms rather than because the rest of the dish sounds the best to me.
I glanced today at a menu for a restaurant I like. For main courses that contain mushrooms:
-mushroom crusted lamb
-venison chop with truffle creamed spinach (I realize that it is a bit of a stretch to throw truffle oil into the mushroom category, but the ubiquity of truffle oil is an entirely different story, as least for restaurants in my city)
-duck breast with a Butternut-Cherry-Mushroom Hash
-porcini crusted halibut, that has a truffled side and a Portobello vinaigrette
-salmon with shiitakes
-another dish with truffled creamed spinach
-a vegetarian sampling with the spinach and the hash
That leaves me with one dish (beef tenderloin) that comes without mushrooms or truffle oil without substituting.
Feelings towards mushrooms aside: are mushrooms overused on menus? Or is it overusing any non-staple ingredient that often? To people that have worked on menu development: are there any rules of thumb about ingredient use?
It sounds like they may be overused on that particular menu. Maybe the chef is really into them. Also that menu sounds pretty limited in general. Is that all of the entrees they offer? I don't feel mushrooms are overused at most restaurants in general but I do happen to love them so maybe I am just not aware of it as much as you are. It may be a fine opportunity for the customer to educate the restaurant. Either they will listen to the suggestion or they won't but at least you have made them aware of your dissatisfaction with the menu offerings. Perhaps they could offer some tasty substitutions, especially if you call in advance. They might not even realize that "Oh gosh, everything DOES have mushrooms in it". Good luck!
I just don't get the connection you're making between mushrooms and truffles/truffle oil in prepared foods. To me they're two completely different types of end usages. My wife doesn't like cooked mushrooms because of their texture and "because they squeak" ;o), but truffles are generally used in a very different way in cooking.
I see the extent of mushrooms in that menu, and it does seem unusual. Where I live, though, I don't see that. Personally I'd really like to be able to buy more types of mushrooms for home cooking. Our major markets seem to carry only button, shitake, and crimini/portobello. When I see TV chefs using Chanterelles I go nuts because I never see them around here.
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Personally, I don't think mushrooms can be overused, but see how some people might think so. The menu you discuss though might be a seasonal thing - mushrooms are thriving in some areas right now, so there are amazing chantarelles, black trumpets, even morels available. But then, you could also ask if any item that ends up on a lot of plates is overused, such as asparagus when in season, potatoes, rice... but to me this also looks like quite a diverse use of funghi.
Re: LorenM's comment that it looks like a limited menu in general, is that all they offer. What more would you expect? Eight entrees, including lamb, beef, venison, a couple of fish. Though it could maybe use a fowl or maybe a pork dish (not sure what the 'another dish with truffled creamed spinach' is) it is as large as most good restaurants I dine in.
I love mushrooms - dried or fresh, eaten raw or cooked, I'm not fussed.
But even I'd agree there seems to be an overuse of the fungus in the OP's menu offerings. You'd almost expect them to be also offering a mushroom based vegetarian dish (of which I can think of several stunners)