I’ve noticed a couple of problem areas in restaurants I visited recently that have become really annoying (big surprise, huh?). The first involves menu names. For example, let’s consider the Margherita pizza. If you really want to know how well a place does pizza, order the classic Pizza Margherita. It’s as basic as it gets—basil, buffalo mozzarella and tomato sauce (the color of the Italian flag). When I order a Margherita, that’s what I expect to be served. But last week I was served a Margherita with four cheeses. “We think the extra cheeses make it better,” a server told me. No, it makes it a different pizza entirely, and not the one I ordered. There was no indication on the menu that the restaurant in question was playing with the original recipe, so I was caught off guard. I imagine a lot of other customers are as well. Classic menu items are classics for a reason. Don’t mess with them, but if you do, say so on your menu or rename them.
A second example: I had brunch recently where a dining companion ordered French toast. We all know what French toast is, what it looks like, how it tastes, right? But at this restaurant my companion was served what looked like a hunk of griddled pound cake. Applying maple syrup brought the dish closer to traditional French toast, but it simply wasn’t French toast. There was no indication on the menu that the restaurant would be serving something other than the version most know and love. My brunch companion was not happy. His expectations were not met.
A final example: I like to have a Negroni on occasion. I was introduced to the cocktail in Rome a hundred years ago and often when I drink one it takes me back. The recipe couldn’t be simpler: equal parts gin, Campari, vermouth. It does not include grapefruit juice. The restaurant/bar that served me a Negroni with grapefruit juice thinks it does. “This is our version of a Negroni,” my server told me. Again, no! If you’re going to mess with a classic recipe, then it becomes something else. At a local haunt of mine, Greenhouse Tavern, the staff has played with the Negroni recipe by switching out the gin in favor of OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, and then they age the cocktail in a barrel. The Greenhouse calls the drink OYO Stone Fruit Negroski, and they list it under barrel-aged drinks. They’ve alerted customers that this drink is not the classic. Nobody is fooled. It doesn’t pay to fool mother nature or your customers.
Consistency. Another thing I’ve noticed recently is a lot of inconsistency in menu execution. Like everyone else, I have favorite dishes that I frequently order at favorite restaurants. But one time the linguini with clam sauce is perfect and the next time it’s far from it. I know how difficult it is to execute a dish perfectly each time, but you’ve got to get at least close each time. It shouldn’t be great one time and substandard another time. It’s one more way to disappoint customers. It’s something to be aware of, particularly for signature dishes. If you want to weigh in on menu names or recipe execution, please email me.
Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief