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The Decline of the Main Dish


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Wilf has noted several times in recent months that restaurants he was looking at lacked compelling selections of main dishes.  Sometimes they seemingly put all their effort in large-format shared main dishes, with only perfunctory individual ones; sometimes they just seemed not to bother.  Here's a good example of the latter:  a well-received new(ish) Gawanus spot called Victor, where the selection of main dishes in its entirety is cauliflower, whole fish, half chicken, and "le burger".

I'm tempted to see this as an artifact of the mania for shared plates, so people either want shared main dishes or just want a lot of appetizers for the table.  I had hoped that mania would decline after The Pandemic.  But it doesn't seem to have.

Come to think of it, though, that doesn't explain a restaurant like Forsythia, which has done away with main dishes entirely, so that their menu oddly lists "primi" with no follow-up secondi.  (Wilf has always argued, though, that Italians be damned you don't need all three courses in an Italian dinner.  I left Forsythia thinking I needed to go to Scarr's or someplace.)

So maybe this is part of the menu simplification restaurants have felt constrained to effectuate as a result of The Pandemic.  Except I could swear I noticed this starting in Before Times.

Any other thoughts?

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It's not that it's 3-4 mains. It's that it's 3-4 dull mains based around a main protein I can both procure and prepare to a similar level at home 

I think sneak and ab are generally correct but I think that victor menu is 2 snacks, 4 apps, 2 salads, and 4 (boring) mains.

Well, more than burnt cauliflower https://www.instagram.com/p/CNLTzcJBM4f/  

Oh yeah (as well as the fact that even if "mains' exist on the menu, they're usually not as good, or have as much thought or good cooking put into them as the "small"  plates.

Note this place, which @Tubbs mentioned as somewhere they might want to check out, Haizea...

Quote

As it’s name suggests, Haizea is a Basque and Catalan-inspired intimate restaurant, featuring small contemporary plates, located at 142 Sullivan, between Prince and Houston.

 

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Maybe your observation (opinion?) has to do with the restaurants you have been going to (you’ve really been getting around!) vs. the ones we’ve been going to in Manhattan. Because we only dine outdoors, we are very limited. With the exception of Mark’s Off Madison, all are places we frequented in the Before Time: Kreuther, Majorelle, Union Square Cafe, Eros, and Paul & Jimmy’s. All have the appetizer-main-dessert menu format.  Kreuther offers a la carte at lunch and a 3- or 4-course prix-fixe at dinner.  Majorelle offers 2- or 3-course options at dinner.  
 

Most of the NJ restaurants we’ve been going to have the  appetizer-main-dessert menu format though not always as a prix-fixe.

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Again, I'm not talking about not having main dishes as much as only having a very small, limited, perfunctory selection of them.  (I will say that many restaurants I go to have essentially abandoned coursing, though -- although THAT was going on long before the pandemic.  I sort of view it as a different thing.  I'm not talking about "small plates".)

Although you must admit that the places you go are kind of Old Skool and fancy.

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I think that it IS an extension of the small plates/large format thing that started long before the plague.  Orik can weigh in on the economics of having only 3-4 mains to stock vs a large menu.  My guess is that fewer entrees means that fewer advance prepared frozen product hits your table.  At any rate, I agree and rarely eat at these places as I like me a large plate after a small plate & I want some variety to choose from.  However, they've been everywhere and, in my neck of the Brooklyn woods (pretty near Victor), places like Colonie, Pips & Bar Bete have very few mains on offer.

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Are we really calling a place like Victor "fancy"?  I'd say that @rozrapp has correctly shown that, on the whole, one way to avoid this problem is to go to fancy places (at least Old Skool fancy places:  trendy fancyish Francie is definitely part of this problem).

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It occurs to me that the people who run Victor would probably say that their main dish selection responds to the current trend of meat aversion.  Which I would call as another case of restaurants making bullshit claims about trends or the zeitgeist to cover up economically motivated decisions.

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4 hours ago, Sneakeater said:

It occurs to me that the people who run Victor would probably say that their main dish selection responds to the current trend of meat aversion.  Which I would call as another case of restaurants making bullshit claims about trends or the zeitgeist to cover up economically motivated decisions.

How does it do that? Meat, chicken, fish are 75% of the list. 

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The trend to offer the most (only) exciting protein as a shared plate began some time ago and extends far beyond New York.   But it's the banality of the other main options that is depressing.    For a good 20 years, it's seemed that creativity was totally focused on starters, perhaps a reason for so many diners composing their own tasting menus from these small plates that incorporated interesting ingredients and thoughtful combinations....the reason we dine out.

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