Stay the Courses

For those who sit in a restaurant, frozen with indecision while pondering all the delicious-sounding choices and wishing they could order a little bit of everything, tasting menus are a godsend. But not everyone appreciates the sheer abundance of flavors, textures, or just plain food that rains down on your table when you tell your waiter you’re having the tasting menu.

Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post is in the latter camp. The food critic’s piece “Just Too Much” could have been simply a cranky rant against the dinner-as-endurance-contest that working your way through a multicourse tasting menu is. Instead, Sietsema interviews chefs and diners to locate the mystique behind the tasting menu, and quotes naysayers including Mimi Sheraton, who back in 1981 sniffed, “I have never had a menu degustation when I have not wished a few dishes had been dropped in favor of others.”

The trouble, Sietsema notes, aside from the metric ton of food you’re called on to consume, is that the tasting menu takes the customer out of the driver’s seat. “Because almost every dish is selected by the chef and everyone at the table is required to sign on to the program—restaurants don’t like staggering meals for patrons sitting together—tasting menus rob customers of their sense of control,” he writes.

Point taken. But as Sietsema himself says later in the piece, “What one man sees as a gorgefest, another man views as hospitality.”

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