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Is formal dining holding its own?

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We are also living in a time of embarrassing ignorance. Sadly, this increase in access and awareness isn’t seeing a correlating rise in discernment or knowledge about quality, or what to do with it once it has been identified. I hear a lot of chefs and see a lot of menus boasting the quality or provenance of ingredients. But, more often than not, the end-product on the plate is a poor representation of the original; the celebrated quality having been compromised or ruined by unknowledgeable or unskillful handling.


I thought this was going to be a paragraph about diners, from the way it opened, but I think it's more about chefs.


Adrian, I'm not calling for diners to develop the ability to discern the good from the bad in the ever-growing universe of new ingredients. I'm asking for them to take dining 101. (But that requires time, patience, and ability to travel.)


It's totally about chefs. And it's bang on about a lot of chefs (though, there have always been bad restaurants). I agree.


Yes, you're right about learning. But I think there's an implication (which, fairly, you may not intend there to be one) in there that learning happens through a studied, intentional process. I think it happens more organically - you find out you have an interest in food, you eat at places you think are good, you learn what's good and what's not, you expand your horizons.* In truth, food knowledge in the US has always been poor and continues to be poor. In other countries, where there is a strong vernacular tradition** food knowledge is much, much better.


I was told once that the best way to understand a three star in France is to eat at good bistros first. I think this is undoubtedly correct. I would imagine that most French (and Japanese), acquire their food knowledge first through an understanding good home cooking growing up, then through inexpensive restaurants and, finally, if they are so inclined, they come to the elite restaurants with a basic knowledge of the foundations of the cuisine. This is why, if there's any hope for a domestic American fine dining that's not fundamentally imported from France, building a thriving bistro and vernacular cuisine is necessary. I think that the fruits of this can be seen in restaurants like McCrady's, Manresa, Blue HIll and Ko (even if Ko and McCrady's are importing a lot from the Modern Australians, they rely on increased knowledge of good lower end food - Ko in the Asian elements, McCrady's in the Southern ones). Which isn't to deny that there are lots of problems with this process - not the least of which is toddlers screaming about fried chicken on the internet - but I think that building that knowledge base requires the development of a strong vernacular cuisine. Unless you want fine dining to remains the domain of the nerds and the ultra rich who can afford it from day one.


*One problem now is that people start opining too soon on their blogs. Some people also never want to go past a certain level. The latter comment has always been true.


**Can we name a single place where there is a vibrant high end food culture without a vibrant vernacular cuisine? I can think of the opposite, except, maybe, North America at some point in the past when the high end was imported France.

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QUOTE Perhaps the confusion arises because there are new optionsplaces like Momofuku Ssamwhere you get haute European cooking without most of the trappings. But it's a misconception to suggest that

First, anyplace that forces a male to wear ties is out.   Second, anyplace that feels like a Cathedral and forces hushed tones is out.   Third, anyplace the accepts reservations appears to be on

Just because something is a ten-course New Nordic tasting menu, that doesn't make it fine dining. You still have to see how good the ingredients are and the kitchen work is. It could still be ambitiou




It's worth noting in particular that UE gives Saison a shout-out, but that restaurant doesn't have a particularly good reputation in these parts.


Why does Saison suffer "in these parts?" (I assume you're referring to Mouthfuls?)


Orik doesn't like it.



It's a perfect example of what UE is complaining about, but they pay him :D . I really can't stress how eating some of the exact same dishes at Saison and Manresa on consecutive evenings made it clear that what we thought about it was right. But to put it in perspective, Saison is not (based on one visit) good at what it wants to be, rather just an okayish me-too joint, but it's still much better than most restaurants. I don't think they're particularly at fault of not understanding the ingredients to the degree under discussion, they're just kids and they don't know much, I guess, so they serve the wrong kuromaguro and can't tell the difference, and they offer dishes from other famous restaurants, assuming nobody will know, no big deal. Some of his other examples are much, much worse, but I don't really mind - I can see how he's excited about some of them and he's trying to make a complex point in too short a piece.


Anyway, I understand what UE is talking about. For example, one of the few bad meals I've eaten these past three+ months was at a place called Masa Ueki. This is a sort of French+Kaiseki fusion joint in Ginza that uses very good ingredients, as far as I can tell, cooking them perfectly right, as far as I can tell, and then uses a spicing scheme that only someone with the palate of, I dunno, a camel, would use. The first course - too salty lavender scented tofu, topped with uni that might as well been socks. Something with vanilla and again too much salt, something with coconut... a barrage of sweet spices, salt, and Caribbean influences inflicted on the poor hamo, ayu, foie, abalone... It's like bad chef-ness has moved away from overcooking salmon and onto just having an incorrect sense of what good food is.


I blame DSLR carrying bloggers. ^_^


p.s. regarding ingredients, Japan has this magical cool flight system that brings ingredients from all over the country to your door with a guaranteed refrigerated path, for very little money (think zero to $5 mostly, $10 from the edges). I can't tell you how much I've learned about the various provenances of Uni (not just Hokkaido vs Kyushu, but also particular islands near Hokkaido proper) and about the gigantic gap in quality between uni that was harvested the night before at the right spot at the right time and sent over in raw brine and the tray stuff. I can imagine a handful of chefs in the US have had this experience, and this is just one ingredient, so UE is setting the bar quite high - maybe that's a weakness of the ingredient availability situation - someone in Spain can spend 20 years grilling ten things, but a chef five years into his career is expected to know that some esoteric French root vegetable needs five months in the cellar to be any good, and to serve composed dishes with twenty components just to be in the game... is it bad? I dunno, mostly the results aren't that good right now.


You can disagree with my opinions. You can prove me false where I am wrong.


But, suggesting that I take bribes for positive press is unacceptable, unfair, and untrue.

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They're not exactly your typical Millennials, but the lads at Immaculate Infatuation do seem to be growing up.


God, we’re getting fancy. Not long ago we would have prefaced this review with a “you know, we don’t typically eat like this” disclaimer, followed by some remark about how Momofuku is awesome or something. These days, I’m not sure we can get away with that. Too many tweets from Daniel, and let’s just all agree to stop talking about pork buns.


They do maintain, however, 'a distaste for rules, and for people who take themselves too seriously'.

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(Just to be clear, since I'm writing sarcastically at morons [them, not anyone here], "no seating until your party is complete" is a RULE.)


("Special brisketduckseabuckthornburger between 11:18 and 12:18 only" is a RULE.)

Dude, how the hell do you know about the brisketduckseabuckthornburger?


(you should know that it's available all morning on Sundays - it's buried underneath the house soda section of the brunch menu)

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