We’re back — and ready to go! Tonight we’ll feature Grilled Pork Tenderloin with George Germon’s “Hot Fanny Sauce,” served with individual ramekins of marshmallow-and-pecan-topped sweet mashers. We hope you’re ready to rejoin us, because we are more than ready to resume cooking up great dishes for you!
Here’s something we thought was interesting. In his very last column published recently, retiring New York Times head restaurant critic Frank Bruni decided to answer questions he had been asked over the years but had not yet answered, as well as questions he said he wished he’d been asked. Among them was this provocative question: “Is there any best, safest way to navigate a menu?” His answer was this:
— Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.
— Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.
— Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.
Choose among the remaining dishes.
What do we think of that advice? Well, the first piece shows a great deal of insight into the restaurant business, but not necessarily into the heart of the chef. A restaurant is in business to make money, and yes, there are items on the menu of every restaurant that are money makers. They may not be the most creative items, but guests enjoy them and order them time and time again. The same is definitely true of Bistro 185. Why would we take such items off the menu?
However, we would challenge the assumption that “the chef’s heart isn’t in” these tried-and-true favorites. We believe that even the most popular dishes on our menu should be made with the freshest ingredients and presented beautifully. For example, almost every restaurant we see has a Caesar salad on the menu, and so does ours. But if it is to meet our standards, it had better have the freshest Romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and other ingredients we expect to find in a Caesar salad.
At the Bistro, we have people come in and order the same entree time and time again. If we took these entrees off the menu, these people would be very disappointed and might not come again. However, the other four people they may be with are trying our new specials — so if we lose the less adventurous diners through eliminating their favorite items from the menu, we may also lose their friends who like trying something new and different on our special menu. That way, everyone would lose.
Every time Ruth suggests to Marc that we remove an item that has been on the menu a long time, the question she always gets back is: “Is it a seller?” If the answer is yes — “Why shoot a winning horse?”
The beauty of Bistro 185 is that we have different specials that appear and disappear from the menu, and that is where our creativity comes in. At the same time, we keep offering the old favorites — but while they may not require the same creativity, we put as much care into their preparation as we do into the specials, to make sure they’re consistently satisfying to the people who order them every time.
As for “aggressively fanciful dishes,” we might agree with Mr. Bruni on this one. We watch for too many ingredients and components in a dish, because when there are too many, the main item tends to get lost. Personally, we like clean presentations that highlight the key ingredient.
As for truffle oil — yes, that’s very trendy! You need to watch that it is not on every entree.
In short, we can say that fads in dining come and go, as does the popularity of certain dishes. Ideally, a restaurant strikes a balance between offering creative dishes for adventurous diners and familiar entrees for those who prefer the dependability of a menu standard. But whichever way you like your dining experience, we strive to offer the best of both options at Bistro 185. How are we doing? Let us know!