The Tyranny of Tasting Menus

Accidental Locavore Gracie's Scallop and Pork BellyRecently there has been dissent in  the ranks in regards to tasting menus, and while we can all agree that more than ten courses might be construed as excessive, the Accidental Locavore happens to love the freedom involved in a tasting menu. “Freedom,” you scoff, “it’s forcing you to eat whatever the chef tosses on a plate. There’s no choice involved.” Precisely!

One of the things that was always great about dining in Italy was that there would be a discussion (mostly in rapid-fire Italian) and then dish after dish of amazing food would just appear on the table. Because of that, even if you went to the same restaurant over and over, no meals would ever be the same.

Part of it has to be the element of surprise — just sitting back and letting another person take care of you food-wise. That’s why often in Indian, Thai or Chinese restaurants I let someone else order.

Accidental Locavore Gracie's Duck with Beet SauceI had forgotten how much fun it was, just to be indulged, until I was at Gracie’s in Providence (in the interest of disclosure, I am doing some consulting for them). Dining on my own, I was easily talked into the five-course tasting menu with wines, which somehow morphed into seven courses. What made it more fun was that the couple next to me was also doing the tasting, so I got a voyeuristic sneak preview of some of the dishes (which of course only made me start salivating sooner — 50 shades of food…).

Cheese Course, Hannabells, Tarentaise, Middlebury blue,Some of the highlights:

  • A translucent tuna tartare with gooseberries from their rooftop garden and salsa verde.
  • Cheese ravioli with tomatoes and red pepper caponata. It was the first time I’ve ever had ricotta-stuffed ravioli where you could actually taste the ricotta (it’s from Narragansett Creamery  and supposedly available at Eataly, I may never make my own again!).
  • The chef’s riff on scallops wrapped in bacon, with a perfectly cooked scallop resting on a slice of pork belly and surrounded by autumn vegetables.
  • How well the blue cheese sourdough bread paired with the Gamay that was poured for the fourth course.
  • A sublime duck breast with seckle pear, fennel and beets. When I asked Chef Matt how he cooked it, he said it started out with a really good duck, and that he really let it rest after cooking (a message we’ve all heard and probably ignored — no longer!).
  • What will now be my latest cheese obsession — Hannahbells from Shy Brothers Farm in Westport MA. Amazing little buttons of fabulous cheese — takes you straight to France (and can be ordered online, which I will do as soon as this is finished). It was part of a mini cheese plate with lovely accompaniments (which, sorry Chef Matt, I never touched as the cheese was so good on its own).

Accidental Locavore Gracie's DessertIf you think I got special treatment, I’ve been told that they routinely do tasting menus for solo diners. In fact, they have regulars who come solo to the bar on a weekly basis for the pleasure of the surprise. So, if you feel like being indulged, why don’t you let yourself be “tyrannized” by a tasting menu at a great restaurant like Gracie’s?

And I did get special treatment, these beautiful photographs are by Jason Wessel who does all Gracie’s photography. Many thanks!




2 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Tasting Menus”

  1. And I totally agree with Scott — tasting menus have always been my favorite meals, and the word TYRANNY absolutely deserves a halo around it — thanks for reminding us!

  2. I totally agree with this. I much prefer the chef to make what is best that day, rather than use some dried up piece of meat because that’s what has to be on the menu. I’m so with you….

    Actually, most tasting menu;’s do have *some* options. Like if you want to spend another $100 to get that torchon of Wagyu beef….

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