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Tasting menus and other no-choice restaurants: why the praise?


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General Discussion 73

Tasting menus and other no-choice restaurants: why the praise?

AlexRast | Sep 22, 2013 04:54 PM

It's a subject that's been bothering me for some time, and recent developments spur me to solicit opinion. Amongst food critics particularly, but to a certain extent amongst the general public, it would seem that recently there's a trend to consider places whose format is a no-choice menu such as a tasting menu as in some way automatically better than restaurants in a more traditional idiom (a la carte/prix-fixe). Not just better, MUCH better. Such that the list of "great" restaurants is almost starting to be monopolised by such establishments, while restaurants staying with the traditional format are being downrated. Can anybody explain why?

From the point of view of the restaurant, I can see why it's an easy choice: if you deliver one set menu every night, this simplifies the entire process of preparation as well as cook training, such that the operation can be MUCH cheaper and probably much more easily be conducted at highly reproducible levels. It's not as much of a challenge for the chef, of course, because now they don't have to be masters of changing from one thing to the other over the course of an evening, and from the point of view of the waitstaff it *really* diminishes the challenge - no more worries about incorrect orders, where to place dishes, etc. etc. etc. So it's not a surprise that a lot of elite restaurants are opting for the "easy way out".

But from the point of view of the consumer or the critic, I don't see why such a move should automatically (indeed even at all) put them in a higher or more exalted category. Can anyone explain the thinking behind this?

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