The other day I was having dinner at a resort in a somewhat remote location. I usually order one staple to start, frequently a Caesar salad, and then one of the “interesting” items on the menu. Usually that item intrigues me in some way or is local fare ? in this case, some sort of game. So I started with the Caesar salad, and it came to the table as a deconstructed Caesar for $11. It was presented as a head of Romaine, a side of shaved parmesan, anchovies on the side if I wanted them (I did) and a ramekin of dressing, all of which was served in a bowl-like dish. I mention this because I want you to try to cut up a head of Romaine in a bowl. It’s harder than you’d expect.
I have one and only one pet peeve about menus: If a listed item is a defined food or dish, your guest is probably expecting the normal service of the dish unless you make it very clear otherwise. Caesar salad is one of those items. So is Cobb salad. I had a similar experience recently at a restaurant that specializes in several comfort foods such as meatloaf and mac and cheese. I ordered a grilled rare Albacore salad. I imagined a leafy green salad with sliced Albacore on top, but what I received was a whole tuna steak atop a few sprigs of the said arugula and fennel, some fava beans, and sprinkles of pancetta. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but why not call it like it is and serve it as an entr?e, and you’ll probably have guests ordering it for their more “adventurous” item. Not to mention it’s quite a steal at $15 for a large piece of Albacore, but they could probably make more money off of it just by putting it below “Entr?es.”
I think our expectations for standards usually occur with starters and salads, but anything that is deconstructed without notice is a surprise. I think chefs and menus need to understand one thing, particularly in a hotel: Travel can be stressful, and sometimes you look for comfort from your meal. This doesn’t necessarily mean comfort food, but a meal that gives you some sort of familiarity. And so, I ask chefs, if you have a “standard” menu item, please just let it be, or call your ingenious “creation” something else.
I’m curious: What kinds of experiences have you had where you almost don’t recognize what you thought you ordered or were pleasantly surprised by the chef’s interpretation?