I’m sure you have your opinions on this one, but the view from my wineglass tells me that we are way past the rococo period of the last few decades. You know, where every menu involved footnotes. Every server rattled off recitations of designer ingredients that might have been lifted from a Dean & Deluca catalog.
Dinners in which one felt like a philistine for daring to destroy the visual narrative on the plate—where perhaps genuflection would have been more appropriate than actually spearing the innocent hyper-mediated vegetables with a fork!
Oh I enjoyed the Late Baroque of dining chic as much as the next woman—and I have the track record to prove it. But I am beginning to think that the ever-more-precious approach to ingredients, presentation and culinary style has had its day.
Here was one moment when I glimpsed the fetid reality behind the façade of gastronomic surrealism. It occurred at a much-ballyhooed dining room in Paso Robles.
We were seated outdoors in a front courtyard where tables were closely-enough spaced to force casual eavesdropping. Next to us sat two young women, absolutely exhausted from a day of winetasting, texting vigorously as they ordered aps, entrees, desserts and more wine.
The waitress rattled off her convoluted list of what the chef thought we needed, always prefacing each entry in her log with “tonight the chef hopes you will enjoy….” (name your high-priced ingredient). She failed to pronounce correctly any of the Italian-inspired dishes—and this was an alleged Italian restaurant. She had not been trained to understand the words she was spouting, or how these elaborate dishes had been made. Later in the meal she broke one of my sacred rules by whisking away glasses before that last, perfect sip of wine could be savored. She also removed appetizer plates while our forks were still en route to our mouths. [Flipping the tables, thereby maximizing clientele turnover, has become a blood sport in American restaurants.]
But here’s where the paradigm shifted enough for me to realize that this whole gourmet game had grown repulsive. And terminally pretentious. A table of four across from us filled with two couples, each dressed in flip flops, shorts and t-shirts. One woman, wearing a fanny pack turned toward her stomach, loudly requested more water, more napkins, more of anything. Then I noticed her hands. On this grunting sloth, eager to consume a meal she was hell-bent on making memorable, was a small fortune in Elizabeth Gage diamond and emerald rings. Just let that sink in for a moment. Fanny packs and diamonds.
A veil had been ripped from my eyes. I was witnessing the slow avalanche that has begun at the very edge of taste, tact and common blooming sense.
It was a split second of that kind of dissonance that forces genuine reconsideration of just where you want to be spending your time—and money (Cf. Nietzsche).
– to be continued