A recent menu at Michael Voltaggio's ink.
This menu, from "Top Chef" alum Michael Voltaggio's Los Angeles restaurant "ink.," is terrible.
I don't mean the food is terrible; I hear it's good. I mean the menu exemplifies two extremely annoying conventions that are spreading like a virus through fancy restaurants.
1. Plates-of-indeterminate-size. Not to be confused with small plates; some of these items are entree size and some aren't, but they're not categorized by size. You're left to guess what's an entree, based on price.
2. Lists of ingredients, instead of dish descriptions. These menus provide little guidance about what the food will actually be like. Consider "cuttlefish, hazelnuts, pike caviar, straus cream $17." How is the cuttlefish prepared? Is it cooked or raw? Probably raw, I think. What is Straus cream? I have no idea. I'm going to have to ask the waiter. I wasn't able to fit it in the screenshot, but the menu also includes "beef cheeks, parsnip bark, watercress, $25." Is that a braise? What part of a parsnip is the 'bark'? Who knows?
As a friend put it, "M enus that follow this convention imply that preparation methodologies are unimportant. It's 'cereal, fried egg, amaranth, goat butter, chicken cracklin'' and it's all brought together with a judicious application of MAGIC."
Lists-of-ingredients menus can pop up anywhere, but I find they're especially epidemic in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In New York, I mostly see this nonsense on tasting menus, which you should be avoiding anyway.
Californians won't shut up about how good their local produce is; maybe the logical extension is to act like only the ingredients matter and their method of preparation is incidental. Or maybe it's because California is a state built by people who like to defy convention, even conventions that exist for good reasons, such as "customers find it useful when the menu makes clear what is being served."
Anyway, restaurants should stop doing this.
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