22 October 2011

What's In A Name?

Time for my first rant.

I promise it will be short.  Unfortunately, it will be without photos--too grainy to post.  So disappointing because I would love to make my case visually!

Here it is:
I'm tired of ordering items from a menu that call themselves something familiar like pie or even soup only to get something served to me that in no way resembles pie or soup!

I was at a restaurant in New York and ordered Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie.  Given the reputation of the chef, I was excited to taste it.  I love banana cream pie.

The description was simple.  What I got was not pie.

It was a bowl of whipped cream, a few banana slices with a hard, brown sugar candy that I couldn't break with my spoon.  There was some vanilla pudding in the bowl under all that cream, but there was so much cream incorporated into the pudding that it had very little distinctive flavor.

Where was the crust? 

Hazelnut brittle?  I missed it in all that cream.

Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie--were they actually describing the depth of the saucer?

I was furious.  There was no pie in my pie!  I wrote a strongly worded note to the pastry chef on the comment card.  I explained that when you advertise "pie" that there should be pie in the dish.

Apple pie - apples with crust.

Sweet Potato Pie - sweet potato custard with crust.

Blueberry pie - blueberries with crust.

If you list banana cream pie on the menu then that's what I should get.  The word pie implies crust, not a bowl of whipped cream.  By the way that bowl of cream cost $11!

You would think I would have learned from that.  The lesson should have been to always ask the server to describe the desserts before ordering.  But I can be forgetful.

Last week, I ordered Chocolate Mousse Cake.  Seemed pretty straight-forward at the time.  What came was a cylinder of chocolate mousse.  Where's the cake?  Ugh.  Cody said he got a thin sliver of sponge cake on his fork when he got to the middle of the "cake," but that was too late for me.  I was already disappointed and irritated with myself that I hadn't learned my lesson yet.

A couple of days later while watching Top Chef Just Desserts one of the contestants prepared a dessert that he claimed was a reinterpretation of the candy apple.  The judges questioned his dish because he used chocolate (and no candy or caramel or crunch).  See!  This is what I'm talking about.  I don't remember ever having a candy apple with chocolate, do you?  He defended it, of course.

It's not just desserts either.  We ordered Chilled Shrimp and Melon Gazpacho at a nice restaurant here in Los Angeles and what showed up was a fine dice of tomato, cucumber, onion, pepper, melon with a splash of tomato water over a couple of shrimp on a plate.  Gazpacho is soup!  Soup! 

I know chefs want their customers to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  I want that too.  Part of making that happen is by properly setting a diner's expectations.  It all starts with the menu.  Just describe the actual item being served, not what inspired it.  If it's a reinterpretation of a dish, then call it something else and explain that it is reminiscent of that classic.  Or put a set of quotation marks around the name.  That can be a clue that something's different.  You could even just list the flavors in the dish and surprise me with its form. 

The point is that I don't want to think I'm ordering one thing and end up with something else.  That's disappointing.  A disappointed diner is not a receptive diner.  My mom describes it as having your mouth set for something.  It's like this:

If I have my mouth set for banana cream pie, I don't want a bowl of whipped cream.

If I have my mouth set for chocolate mousse cake, I want cake with my chocolate mousse.

If I have my mouth set for gazpacho, I want a bowl or glass of cold soup.

If I have my mouth set for soda, I don't want tea.  Well that's not really the same thing, but you get the point.

I like to know what I'm ordering.  I don't want to curtail anyone's creativity; I just don't want to be mislead.

Chefs, words are important.  It's the only way you have to get the right audience for your delicious creations, so use them thoughtfully.  Please.

End of rant.

I'm sorry, it wasn't short.

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