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Robert Brown

Member Since 29 Aug 2007
Offline Last Active Apr 24 2017 07:54 PM

Topics I've Started

Alba White Truffle Dining in Piedmont

14 February 2017 - 10:31 PM

Nearly every fall right after Thanksgiving, Vedat Milor and I make our respective trips to Piedmont to dine on white truffles and drink good wine. On our websites (mine is www.engagingfood.com and his is Gastromondiale) we created a question and answer on the topic. I think it is quite sophisticated and informative. While it has specific recommendations, it is mostly about the general execution of such excursions. 

What menus Can Tell Us (but can't always do)

20 June 2016 - 05:07 PM

When I was studying communications research, the Dean of the school was a distinguished scholar in the field named George Gerbner. In his classes, he liked to say that to study television programs, movies, comic strips and just about anything else in the mass media, you needed whatever it was to be “grasped and retained”.  This meant that all the things we like here such as restaurants, produce, wine, beer, etc. have to be discussed and analyzed indirectly, although there is certainly plenty available to study these areas for, to cite an example, historians of the Annales school who instead of studying civilizations from the usual perspective of wars, treaties, politics, governments, and historic figures, studied societies, peoples, and countries through the houses they lived in, personal letters, the clothes they wore, what they ate and drink, and so forth. Then, of course, there are the food historians who are essentially Annales people studying food through various disciplines such as sociology, biology, zoology, economics, and cooking itself by looking at old recipes and reading about famous chefs and gastronomes, Nonetheless, because only the senses of seeing and hearing allow us to grasp and retain art, music, literature, and so forth in mediated ways, the senses of taste and smell can only be described once-removed in words. So for example, when I call up my subscription to Vinous to look up the drinking window for a bottle of wine, I also read the accompanying tasting note usually written by Stephen Tanzer. I have to say that the guy really knows how to taste and pick his way through a glass of wine, but no matter how detailed his analyses are, there is no way you can experience the wine without drinking it yourself.


There is little doubt that if we could capture for posterity the fresh taste of a society’s or great chefs’ dishes, gastronomy would be a lot different than it is. While age-old classic dishes are still with us (and it’s nice to see the nascent renaissance of them), almost no dishes created today will be passed along to other chefs and restaurants and handed down in the future. All of this, then, gets me to my favorite tool for observing on at least a rudimentary level gastronomic change and some idea about a restaurant I haven’t yet visited, which is the menu. Despite their bare-bones-ness and dearth of text, menus communicate, and act as a road map to, all sorts of information about the food and the honesty and integrity of the chef or the restaurant. If you look at many restaurants menus over a short period of time, you can get a solid notion of the internationalization of a restaurant; how closely hewn the products and creations are to a restaurant’s location; the “luxe factor” of the ingredients; whether the chef takes chances or is conservative, or how well-conceived his dishes are ; often a sense if the chef has to achieve the dish by relying on the overuse of ingredients; and how generous or manipulative the chef is to the clientele. Admittedly, though, menus can also lead you to a wrong impression since more times than not the way we imagine a dish to be is not at all the way it actually is. In this particular exercise, I think the dictum “A picture is worth a thousand words” doesn’t hold true here, although I can’t discount how food publications, restaurant websites and client picture-taking for social media accounts have changes the almost-universal way food is prepared and arranged on the plate. Even though photos of a restaurant’s dishes are something important to try to gain an idea, to me menus reveal even more about the place in question and allow us to speculate in what we hope turns out to be correct.


To deal with the aspect of the menu as a depiction of the obvious and changing ways we dine since then (“then” in this case means about 30 years ago), I went to my small group of menus from the period and chose one (unpriced) from the restaurant we loved and visited the most, which was about 10 miles north-east of Lyon.


Passing through Paris

17 May 2016 - 07:37 PM

Champo. I will be passing through Paris on the way to CDG. Which of these restaurants would you recommend for one, and only one,  lunch?


Pre Cattleman

Alain Passardoble


Le Kitchen Cinq

Plaza-Athenee (Alain Ducassecroute)