M. Bauer’s two rave reviews of Manresa and Quince today bubble over with enthusiasm about their extensive tasting menus. I guess he has to have a note pad to remind himself of what he ate. Whenever I have one of these menus, as refined and perfect as each item is, the next day I have no clue what I had eaten and no pleasure in the memory of a great meal.
Correct me if I am wrong, but no longer can one find the ability at the Bay Area’s most sophisticated (French influenced) restaurants to put together one’s own meal from an à la carte list or a list of choices for a fixed price 3, 4, or 5 course meal (with optional extra costs, of course). To be specific, I am talking about The French Laundry (where this nonsense started), Coi, Manresa, Benu, Saison, Quince …
I recall with pleasure meals at Manresa when you could have a wonderful and memorable meal from the offerings on the menu. For some time, Corey Lee also allowed variations, and during weekdays, there was an a la carte menu at Benu. No more. Coi had a vestibule where you could order a la carte. I believe Saison also offered the option. Now, none of them do!
This does not have to be. In Las Vegas, 3 Michelin star chefs, Gagnaire (at Twist), and Robuchon both at his main restaurant and at the Atelier, allow options. We had a phenomenal meal at Robuchon this year which included a whole roast Guinea Fowl with large slices of foie gras — something you would never get on a tasting menu of microscopic pretty plates. And L’Atelier is the perfect restaurant with marvelous choices in a relaxed atmosphere. I keep begging the people at these places to come to San Francisco. But apparently M. Robuchon is scared of us and now looking toward Miami. Could be it be M. Bauer’s stranglehold on our cuisine?
Similarly in Los Angles, which is strongly influenced by Wolfgang Puck, there are plenty of places with choices and where you can get a dish you always remember (Lobster Curry at Chinois).
I just posted three raves about new mid range restaurants in SF, so allow me this rant about the lack of great French influenced meals around here and the narcissistic chefs’ fetish of extensive tasting menus. I understand there may be some economies in the kitchen for this trend, but it is also a result of the dominance of Michael Bauer influence on this class of restaurant. Thank God, he can’t damage the middle range of places as badly, particularly the Asian ones, since he is so totally clueless about them that he can be ignored.