by Natasha Wolff | September 9, 2016 2:30 pm
As a dinner guest, embarking upon a multi-course tasting menu at a well-regarded restaurant can be an intimidating experience. What’s the appropriate protocol if there’s something being served that you don’t like? How do you politely leave a course untouched if your pants are bursting at the seams? And if you had a stellar, even life-altering meal, how should you let the chef know?
We asked New York-based chefs Shaun Hergatt (Juni) and René Stein (Hospoda) for their two cents on the matter. Herewith, the 10 commandments of tasting menus.
Thou shalt make servers aware of their preferences ahead of time. Both chefs agree on the importance of being up front about allergies and dietary restrictions. “It is always best to let the restaurant know at the time you make the reservation,” says Stein. “If that didn’t happen, you should say it before you place your order. However, one of the first things we ask at Hospoda when our guests are seated is if they have any restrictions or allergies.”
Thou shalt understand the logic behind the portion size. Here’s why: “We weigh everything out, precisely to the gram, so by the time guests finish the meal they feel full, but still comfortable,” says Hergatt. Stein further explains, “If a chef offers a tasting menu, he or she should think it through from the beginning to the end! Portion size is as important as the order of the dishes. If you are not able to execute that you should not offer a tasting menu.”
Honor the rule of “all or none.” Most restaurants that offer tasting menus insist that the entire table participate. It’s not because they’re trying to be difficult—it’s because they want to deliver the best possible experience. “At Juni everyone at the same table has to order the same tasting menu. There are a few reasons for this: For starters, we want people eating in sequence together so that the kitchen can operate most efficiently,” says Hergatt, whose restaurant Juni offers a four-course, six-course and “Chef’s” tasting menu upon request. “We want to deliver a perfect product to the table. If one person at a table has 10 courses and another has six, it’s much more difficult to line up their dining experiences and deliver a consistent, top-quality product.”
Thou shalt be discreet when praising the chef. On a rare occasion, you’ll experience a meal that is so mind-blowing, you might find yourself resisting the urge to bust into the kitchen and hug the chef. Don’t do that. Hergatt is perfectly satisfied with a simple “thank you, we enjoyed it” note to the server. As for Stein, the best way to compliment the chef is with “empty plates and smiling faces.”
Thou shalt not force feed. If you’ve ever felt that like it was uncouth to leave a dish untouched, well, you were wrong. “It’s not insulting at all,” says Hergatt. “It’s totally up to the guest what he or she wants to do. The diners are like guests in my home, and we never want to force them to finish something. We just want to make sure they are enjoying the experience and having fun.” Adds Stein, “After a perfect tasting menu a diner should feel full but not force fed. And at the same time, he should not feel the urge to stop by at the pizza place after a seven-course tasting.”
Thou shalt be open-minded to an overwhelming number of courses. “It is always a matter of the portion size and the order of dishes. I had the best meal ever at Alinea—23 courses!” says Stein. “Again, if you know what you are doing, you can serve even 30 courses and people are in heaven.”
Thou shalt aspire to be a standout guest. Hergatt describes an ideal tasting menu guest as “any diner who is happy to come on board and try out what we’re doing.”
Thou shalt never fall into the “nightmare guest” category. Putting together a thoughtful, perfectly executed meal is a challenge in and of itself. So please, don’t make the chef’s job more challenging than it needs to be. “The terrible [guest] is someone who lets us know five minutes before they are about to be served that they are vegan or have a lot of allergies,” says Stein candidly. “I do truly love the challenge of creating a seven-course tasting for a vegan or someone with restrictions, when I get enough advanced notice. But not five minutes before on a busy Saturday night! I need to know at least a day before.”
Remember not to over think it. “A lot of people come in with a serious attitude and are there to critique—to write a review. But I wish people would just loosen up, have fun and really take pleasure in it,” says Hergatt.
Thou shalt come back for more. We might be stating the obvious here, but it shouldn’t go unsaid: If you’ve thoroughly enjoyed a particular experience, Hergatt urges diners to “come back and dine at the restaurant soon!”
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