Relative advantages of a la carte and chef's tasting menus
I was interested in JT's recent comment that he never orders decouverte menus. And I know that Pti often orders them when she knows the house, Septime and Youpi, for instance. I remember, too, that Phil said that he enjoyed the chef's menu at Youpi.
Can we discuss? Why and why not? Where and when?
I'll add a tangent that at this point, I enjoy and prefer multi-course no choice restaurants.
Well, as you know M.,
1. I only eat out at lunch, albeit every day, like Parnassien and I eat at places that usually don't have such menus, and
2. I'm very old, venerable to some, same reference, and
3. I have no problem with forced choices as long as I'm in a place where the chef knows what he/she is doing - as at Spring but as with today's forced choice menu at Flamel, it rang no bells.
As for Septime, its choices are limited anyway but Bertrand Grébaut's skill means I will never go wrong.
I like nothing better than walking into a place and saying "I place myself in the chef's hands."
Also I want to challenge someone to eat with me at Youpi and show me its stuff; I don't get it. And I love Pti, off eating great stuff in Japan, love her.
I am thrilled by blind-fold menus. Besides Chez Ami Jean (Friday !), I also enjoy it at Olhabidéa in Sare in the Basque country. The chef used to play a game with us, where we would taste a dish and then make a guess of what it was and how it was prepared.
It is by now well known that we go to Chez l'Ami Jean and ask Stéphane Jégo: "Fais-moi mal". The only drawback is that his mini-blind tasting menu is supposed to have 4 dishes but often stretches to 6 dishes, and his bigger-blind tasting menu actually had 9 dishes last time. And they were not one of those little pop-in-mouth things that the Japanese chefs excel at but really should not be called a "dish", come on. Stephane's were moaning-out-loud full-fledged dishes. Nine is too much. The last two times I had to whisper to Mario to pack me a baggie dog.
-- If you call that a drawback.
With the very notable exception of Jego always in Parigi's company (looking forward to April 18) and some other exceptions, l am not generally a fan of chef's choice.
l am very menucentric when l choose to go out, and if something l make quite well l figure why bother ordering that out or things l am not too terribly fond of either.
The other bigger reason is if something l like l am always afraid of a dish with very many ingredients with the main portion, usually protein, in 3-4 small cut up sections which by the time l get it, has lost its juice, heat, and substance.
And finally l almost never eat dessert, thus 2 or more courses of the choice will be sweets and that is again lost on me.
OK, really finally when l order a multicourse a la carte meal, my guest does the same thing but different choices, thus l can taste twice as much, with chef's choice other than for allergy all get the same dishes so less tasting...
I totally get the dessert part. Sometimes it's just a waste since, if I can't trade it off for cheese, I will either refuse it or just leave it. Have stopped letting DH take up the slack.
"At this time", and I emphasize that my dining preferences evolve, I rather like have three or four different small protein courses. I tend to get both overwhelmed and bored when faced with 8-10 or, God forbid more, ounces of the same meat.
When I'm on holiday (or in Paris), I prefer tasting menus. I particularly prefer having small courses of wide variety. I'm a great fan of restaurants that only serve such menus. This can allow for focus in the kitchen and, with hope, well-executed dishes given the standardization of the menu. For me, having a tasting menu comprises the evening's entertainment -- I don't "do" lunch, only dinner.
I'm not a fan of decouverte / long tasting menus. Yet, we frequently take them in a destination restaurant where we are eager to try the many specialties of the house. Almost always these long tasting menus are at starred restaurants. I'm referring to 8 - 12 courses.
In the worst case scenario, it is a painfully long ordeal whereby we are served a two-bite course, and then wait another 20 minutes for the next, all the while drinking more wine. In the best example, all the right elements converge to make a memorable experience. In France, this happened for us at SaQuaNa in Honfleur - the cuisine, service, pacing, and ambiance were just right. As well at La Bastide de Capelongue in Bonnieux.
I do prefer ALC, where I can order specifically to my wants, but also love the bistros where there is a prix-fixe with a 2-2-2 (as JT calls it) or a choice of 2-2 for days when appetites are less. This allows some choice, and a chance to try more options with your partner.
The smaller surprise or no-choice menus at the like of Septime and Spring are a delightful change, especially if you don't have any allergies, and are confident in the house.