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Can a spice lover really appreciate more subtle but well done cuisine?

I recently went to Per Se for the first time in my life. I was absolutely blown away by the service, and the food was delicious and beautifully presented. They even altered the menu for my personal preferences. However, as much as I loved it, I had been to Cafe Mogador in the city that morning... and during my extraordinary meal at Per Se, I found myself yearning for my spicy middle eastern eggs with harissa. I didn't ask for pepper because I thought it would ruin the delicate flavors of the meal. I guess at the end of the day I just like spicy food:} I just feel bad because that was a freakishly pricey meal! (I did sincerely enjoy it though- I just would'nt have minded a bit more zip:} )

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      1. re: NicoleFriedman

        sure. i LOVE spicy hot food, and my tolerance is up with the best of them (e.g. had thai people, in thailand, say i was eating food spicier than they ever would)

        but i do not need every morsel in my mouth at every meal to have a great deal of picante spice to it.

        Eg, sticking with the OP, I never felt a lack of favor when i went to per se for my birthday last fall.
        I enjoyed the subtley and nuance i was given. I did yearn for the food to be something other than what it was. ANd it isn't that i'm uncritical - i have been to many great places where i felt one dish or another did not live up to its potential. But never because i wish my french food was sri lankan food instead

        1. re: NicoleFriedman

          i'm not one for delicate flavors, but there's a lot to be done without heat. sherry and beef, tossed with bell peppers and homegrown tomatoes... throw in some onion and a pinch of garlic... Spanish Heaven. ;-)

      2. I'm also a heatseeker and tend to prefer cuisines that favor spice and heat in their authentic preparations, but when I eat meals like that (which is rare), I try to prepare myself to frame and appreciate the food in its own context and remember that the food was likely very thoughtfully conceived and that the chef probably also appreciates spice in certain contexts but chooses for good reason to keep it out of the dish set before me.

        But I definitely know what you're talking about. I kinda sorta liken the experience to eating steak at a really good steakhouse where you're supposed to feel ashamed for wanting anything more than salt and pepper on what is a perfect, choice, and sublime cut of meat but you get halfway through it, having fully appreciated its standalone greatness, and just need a little extra something to enjoy the rest.

        13 Replies
        1. re: inaplasticcup

          That's exactly what my experience at Per Se was like. I recognized the quality of what I was eating and did enjoy the taste.... but I felt guilty for wanting "a little extra something". My hubby already knows that the next time he splurges on some insanely expensive meal that it should be a bit more ethnic based. At least he knows that he will never share a chateaubriand with me; after a couple of bites of steak I'm done- it's not worth the price to me.

          1. re: NicoleFriedman

            ethnic based? what does that mean? i know its my personal bugaboo, but all food is ethnic food. ethic is not a synonym for non-european

            1. re: thew

              Well, I understand what she means. I think of ethnic food more like ethnic dishes or meals more culturally specific. Poached chicken is not an ethnic food, but chicken fried rice, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken soup with matzo balls, chicken taco...are...and they might all use poached chicken. Poached chicken by itself would not be my fav but the other "ethnic" style dishes in using them would be. It is not the specific ingredient but more of how it is prepared that is culturally or regionally specific that makes it ethnic.

              Usually those types of dishes rise to the top of the pile (for my tastes) because they have great flavor, not by being subtle or artistically put together on my plate. I prefer them more than generic "non ethnic dishes" that are developed by a chef because the flavors compliment each other, they look pretty together, the texture is interesting, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but there is a distinction in my mind.

              1. re: sedimental

                poached chicken is an ingredient, they you describe it, not a dish.

                are there non-ethnic dishes? i don;t think there are. look:
                eth·nic   
                [eth-nik]
                –adjective
                1.
                pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially a group (ethnic group) sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, or the like.

                is there a food that did not come from some culture or another\? people here often use ethnic as a code word for "asian" or "brown people" or "not white people" or something. American is a culture (with many subcultures) so american food is ethnic. italian food is ethnic. jewish food is ethnic. soul food is ethnic.

                but this subthread has been rehashed so often even I'm bored with my opinion on it

                1. re: thew

                  Sorry, I was just replying to your question.

                  I think there is non ethnic food- I would call it "chef-nic" food. Food that is prepared and arranged by chefs that have nothing to do with a "people, culture or group with common characteristics" such as the 9 course, beautifully presented meals at many restaurants like Per Se. I have been to many of them. I like the food and appreciate the effort- but I agree with the OP to an extent. Most of the time the dishes are very subtle and (to me) can seem a bit "strained". I can find the "chef-nic dishes" lacking sometimes. YMMV.

                  1. re: sedimental

                    those dishes usually have a european provenance - they don't come from nowhere.

                    i would say any sort of dish can be lacking sometimes - i've had insipid "ethnic" food too....

                    1. re: thew

                      Well, that is just NOT my experience.

                      However, I didn't take the OP's comment about ethnic food to be some sort of "code word" for anything other than a preference for spicier cultural flavor profiles as opposed to the dishes from Per Se. I can understand that concept -and have had the same feeling sometimes.

                  2. re: sedimental

                    Notwithstanding the technical definition of *ethnic*, of which most of us are aware, I also understand exactly what she means.

                  3. re: thew

                    Obviously if you take it literally ethnic can mean anything. However in the context I was writing about, I thought it was self explanatory that ethnic =more spices/heat.

                    1. re: NicoleFriedman

                      but that is exactly my complaint about the word as used here. words have meanings. people use ethnic as a shorthand for not-white-people food. it's a way to try to sound less racist - but it doesn't to me. italian is just as ethnic as thai.

                      1. re: thew

                        I agree with thew that it's better if we say (in this case write) what we mean. It avoids adding threads to threads. I understand that this was not the OP's intention, but nevertheless the same effect has transpired.

                  4. re: NicoleFriedman

                    No, you need food that is more damn tasty. Elegant and refined is fine, but it shoudln't equal lack of flavor, which is often the case.

                    Food that harkens or echoes Asian, Latino, and other influences is usually a poor sister to the real thing. The difficulty is in finding a creative chef that is not afraid of bold flavor.

                2. Yes, you can enjoy the delicacy of a 'refined' meal, but once you have access to the overwhelming deliciousness that can be accomplished with heat, it's harder to be impressed with all the other stuff.

                  I'll also add that I never take expensive restaurant recs from people who can't eat the spicy stuff. It's like they've got blinders on.

                  1. "Spicy" and "more subtle but well done" are not mutually exclusive.

                    1. Back when I ate very hot food regularly, I enjoyed dishes that later when i didn't eat very hot food regularly I found to be way too hot. I concluded it must be a tolerance thing. I don't know how much the"hot food" part of one's palate overlaps with the rest but if it does I suspect the answer would be yes.