Bring On The Whimsy (with reservations)

Thanks to a reader's FarceBarf post I was introduced to this thoughtful and hilarious piece by the thoughtful and hilarious David Mitchell of That Mitchell and Webb Thingy and Peekaboobs. It reminded me of a steak house that existed for about a year within a short walk of my home that cooked its steaks on bits of volcanic rock. No, it wasn't a Flintstones-themed steak house, no, I never darkened its doors, and yes, they were yabba-dabba-doing it wrong. The cooking of steaks is not broken unless you're ordering it well done or are slathering it in ketchup. If you are doing these things, seek psychiatric help.

Like Mr. Mitchell, I would prefer my steak on a plate rather than a shovel. That said, some of my most beloved restaurants have served portions of my meal to me on slate, logs, and seashells and I have delighted at the presentation, preparation, and flavors. However, if your food is not to the level of Atelier Crenn or Aubergine, you can stick it on a plate, thanks. Round, oval, rectangular or square, a plate is where your food belongs until it is worthy of whimsy. Actually, maybe just stick to rounded plates until you've worked up to angles.

A grilled cheese sandwich served on a hubcap is just a grilled cheese, folks.

Now, there is a place for whimsy when the food isn't genius-quality. If you're The Sardine Factory and you'd like to serve a portion of my meal in an ice sculpture of a swan I'd be (and have been) delighted. If you've prepared chicken under a brick and want to make a show of pulling a brick off of my entree at the table, I'll applaud your theatrics. Sashimi served on a little boat? Fantastic, and while I stick to the sushi at Benihana, I still enjoy the showmanship of teppanyaki. That said, slates, logs, and shells should be reserved for the truly wonderful meals. Sticking something ordinary on a slate is like having your insurance policy delivered by limo.

Also, I'm not talking about atmosphere. Do, please do, put as much thought into your space as you are able. It's part of the experience. Just don't expect it to save your kitchen. The food's the thing.

As the brilliant Mr. Mitchell pointed out, it's a tough, competitive restaurant world out there and any edge is worth the effort, but I say that if the food is worth returning for, they will return and no amount of flair will dress up a boring meal. Note the death throes of Applebee's and its ilk. There are too many good dining choices out there these days. Wipe the lipstick off of the pig and get back to cooking it.


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