Epicurean Concept of the Week – The Degustation or Tasting Menuby Paul on Feb 3, 2010 • 10:39 am 2 Comments
These days you can’t enter an aspiring to be or established fine dining restaurant and not run across either a degustation or tasting menu. What are these menus? Why are they popping up all over the place? Should you care? Should you order one? Answers as always after the jump.
What are they?
Degustation and Tasting menus are basically the same thing. Chances are if someone’s putting degustation instead of tasting they have French roots (or want it to sound that way
Why are they popping up so much these days?
Personally I believe they’re popping up more and more due to the growing respect for chefs in society today. These days many diners are choosing restaurants as much for who’s in the kitchen as the specific dish they’re craving. So as we grow in our trust of our chef as artist, we begin to let go of control of what we want in favor of what he’ll create for us.
But to be a bit more cynical… at the end of the day restaurants are primarily a business…. so from a BOH (back of house) perspective it’s a no-brainer. You offer a specific menu with fancy or elaborate dishes, and since it’s set it’s easier to prep for. I’ve been to many restaurants lately only offering set menus for the dinner service. This cuts down on overheard as you don’t have stock ingredients for a 75 dish menu. At the end of the day it’s much easier to manage a 8 course meal and oversee all the work going into it than when chefs are running around like headless chickens each responsible for varying sections of the menu.
Should you care?
You should care that the trend is growing. In capable hands the degustation menu is a joy to the diner. Take my meal at Iggy’s. There were things on the menu Joanna and I both probably wouldn’t have ordered on our own…. but with careful planning and pacing each dish built on the last and not only filled our bellies, but also told us a story.
In the wrong hands it amounts to an overpriced mess. As these gain in popularity other restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon… even if they don’t have a specific journey they want to take the diner on. In Singapore you’re pretty much guaranteed it’ll come in for at least 180 SGD per person… meaning the restaurant can now raise the prices of a la carte options as it’ll seem like a “value” compared to the larger tasting menu.
Should you order one?
That’s of course up to you. Personally if I see one on a menu and I have the moola means and appetite (this is key, these things will frequently come in at 8 courses and probably 3,000 + calories!) I’ll go for it. I have no qualms about judging a chef unannounced on the basis of his tasting menu. He signed his name off to this menu and it’s set. I’m not ordering anything fancy, creative or off menu here so regardless of the night of week, if the restaurant is hosting a large party, or any other excuses…. this should be his near flawless show piece.
Even if you don’t order one a careful glance at the tasting menu will reveal other things to you as well. What foods does the chef feel most comfortable with / most express his vision? Is the chef aware of and respectful of the season? Is the chef inventive or playing it safe? Does the chef (again like at Iggy’s) have a playful side… listing off menu items as simply “Egg”?
For the past few months I’ve had more good experiences than bad when trusting myself to the whims of the chef… probably about 70-30 success rate. I like the trend. I like the valuing of the chef’s artistry more than your own specific wants… I’m not advocating dining like this every night, but on the right occasion its so nice to sit down in a true master’s dining room and place yourself in his skillful hands.
Above tasting menu obviously from the French Laundry…. unfortunately not one I’ve tried this year