In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, the food editor of The Atlantic
rants about weighs in on the subject of the rise of the tasting menu and specifically the “tyranny” of tasting-menu-only restaurants. He’s got a nice little history and the piece is a better read than Pete Wells similar grump from last fall. Wells’ gist: “The consumer of such a meal may feel as much like a victim as a guest. The reservation is hard won, the night is exhausting, the food is cold, the interruptions are frequent. The courses blur, the palate flags and the check stings.” That does sound like “a form of torture,” as Corby Kummer mildly puts it.
Kummer traces the emergence of a “new army of fresh-faced Stalins” from high-end French restaurants to Charlie Trotter to Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria to Grant Achatz and Rene Redzepi. Kummer won’t come out and say that giving control to Achatz and Redzepi is an exciting prospect, worth the time and expense, but he hints at it. No, his point is that no diners want to sit for hours eating whatever is put before them, especially from some Joe Chef in Sommerville who runs his dining room like a “petty despot.”
I’d point out here that many diners actually do enjoy freedom from menus for an evening, as well as the experience of many different bites and tastes–and clearly are willing to devote time and funds to the chef’s vision. It’s dinner and a show, guys, and if you’re not into it, don’t partake. It doesn’t surprise me that a critic who doesn’t like eating more than one nibble would feel assaulted by 40 small bites. At French Laundry in 1997, while Ruth Reichl was experiencing “the most exciting place to eat in the United States,” Kummer was “fervently praying” for the epic meal to end.
I’d second one of Kummer’s commenters: “Some of us, however, are enjoying and anticipating the art of the live stage and tasting menus – so, please, be quiet if you do not wish to participate. There is an art to being a thankful spectator, might I add.”