In the effort to enliven your opinion about deconstructionist restaurants, a few points should be made about the idea that simpler is better. To set the stage, I begin with this…
Many of the current trends in dining out and culinary exploration are marked improvements, yet, some seem to have run their course without a safety net. Sure, thirty years ago salsa was a hot, pseudo-exotic trend and twenty years ago everyone knew the difference between pico de gallo and tomatillo versions. Today, from remoulade to romesco to raita, the masses enjoy and recognize a vast array of condiments and dipping sauces. One no longer needs to own The Food Lover’s Companion to keep up with ambitious chefs and jargon heavy menus, largely due to the internet, but also the rise of foodie television and a groundswell of popular interest. This is definitely a good thing, because who doesn’t enjoy a piquant sauce? The market penetration of a diverse and ethnic cuisine is a delicious success that makes most of us enjoy a higher quality of life, with few exceptions (perhaps we don’t need as much supermarket sushi?). With all that in mind, here are a few trends that need to be rethought or at least put in check.
Deconstruction of the Restaurant name.
Yeah, we get it. There are plenty of names of establishments that reduce our expectations to a single, simple expressive word that in the best case conjures a feeling or sense. Savor, Taste, Imbibe, etc. If this ran its logical course as plotted on a chart from concise, yet clever downward toward simply not trying anymore, we will end up with places called Ingest, Swallow, Masticate and the like.
“Hey, what do you say we head on down to the ol’ Breathe and Chew?”
BONUS: I’d like to see somebody buck this trend with unabashedly traditional names like, Mary’s Steak House, or Roberto’s Kitchen. Once again the deconstructionist trend simultaneously over simplifies and over complicates. Is that ironic or oxymoronic?
Deconstruction of the properly set table.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily into white linen, three forks and three preset glasses, I’m only concerned that I am the butt of a mad restaurateur’s joke. Serving food on cutting boards, in mini iron skillets, on awkward crockery can be inconvenient and cumbersome. When I am served a heaping salad on a plate the size of three cell phones end to end, I know ten percent of the dish is destined to fall off the plate en route to my gob. Also, there does not seem to be any advantage for the owners, strange plates are expensive, hard to stack, store and clean, not always easy to replace. So, who benefits? Does the mad restaurateur derive a twisted pleasure out of watching diners struggle and spill and servers perhaps develop carpel tunnel syndrome? I’m just asking.
BONUS: I’d like to see a new place with only three plates, bread/butter, salad/appetizer, and a nice round entree plate with a rim. The perils of deconstruction are at work again , at once making a simpler plate harder to use, as in a piece of slate or wood with no rim.
Deconstruction of the food.
Deconstructionist cookery in the average chef smacks of hubris.
Not all is bad in this trend, perhaps only its becoming too widespread in its use by chefs unable to pull it off. The molecular gastronomist chef can astound and delight the palate with unexpected texture and flavor, yet in lesser hands it becomes simply a novelty or delicious oddity, something you try once. Ferran Adria of Barcelona’s El Bulli (three Michelin stars, four time best restaurant in the world, now closed) blew the collective minds of all the people who could a) afford it and b) get a reservation and c) get a reservation! However, an eighty course tasting menu is not something any restaurant should necessarily aspire to. He had an army of top quality staff, access to the finest ingredients, scientists, his own lab and some unknowable budget. Sure lets poach fish sous-vide and top it with squid ink foam, but let’s not go much further than liquid nitrogen, okay? Another stalwart of deconstructing recipes is Jose Andres of Minibar in Washington D.C. Above is a picture of his deconstructed clam chowder, and I would love to try it, he has an arsenal of delightful curiosities including a carbonated mojito sphere, pictured here.
Yeah, I’d like to try that also. The thing is, Chef Andres also has a deep and abiding respect for simple ingredients, and his restaurant only has a 25 course prix fixe menu restricted to six diners at a time! So once again this is not necessarily something restaurants should try to do. I feel like I would be better served by trained and experienced chefs doing what they do best, rather than being subjected to endless hit or miss experimentation. Use the equipment we don’t have at home, high temperature broilers, spit roasts, the odd hot or cold water bath, the arsenal of exotic spices and the investment of lots of time to put work into the cookery. Please construct me a meal.
BONUS: I’d like to see a restaurant specialize in hearty stews, braised meats, multi stage, multi day preparations (brining, curing, smoking, roasting). Of course these places exist, I am contrasting this ‘constructing’ cuisine, with those that would deconstruct the cuisine to its constituent parts. I can assemble sandwiches and make a veggie platter at home.
In the hands of lesser chefs and owners, the ultimate destination of this downward spiral may well be a rustic camping themed restaurant where you have to bring your own knife and eat off your lap, called “BITE ME”.
“Dinner” is served.