The Case For Abolishing Menus

As the article points out, menuless dining has long been a staple in Japan, with kaiseki (“a Kyoto-born tradition of carefully sequenced dishes”) and omakase (“a set meal, loosely translated as ‘chef’s choice’”). Furthermore, going menuless would allow chefs to better price their restaurant, which in turn would increase value for diners.

Of course, the biggest reason for advocating the end of menus (as we know them) is that the chef should know what’s good, what’s fresh and what’s readily available. Here in the Bay Area, aside from the endless omakase options around, several restaurants abide by the menuless credo. At the top of the list are Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, Jai Yun in Chinatown and even Chez Panisse; all three restaurants have essentially eliminated choice, instead relying upon the bounty of the land (and marketplace) to provide that evening’s meal. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have three of the country’s top chefs manning the kitchen.

I hate menus, and I wish more restaurants would just toss them out altogether. I don’t necessarily hate them because they can be pretentious, or derivative, or inscrutable or dull (although I often hate them for those reasons, too). I would just rather not bother with menus at all. When I’m in a restaurant, I don’t want to agonize over decisions, I don’t want to deal with pressure and I don’t want to second-guess my choices. I do enough of all that in my daily life. All I want to do is kick back, have free-flowing conversation and eat delicious food.To some people, the absence of choice would be frustrating and disempowering. As contemporary restaurant-goers, we’re programmed to think of going out to eat as more like a shopping trip than like a dinner party or a performance: a series of active choices rather than a relaxed, somewhat passive experience full of surprises. I find the restaurant as dinner party or performance a much more appealing paradigm. Once I decide to go out for dinner, having no more decisions to make is the ultimate luxury… If the chef is a fantastic cook, I’m happy to have my whims trumped.

As the article points out, menuless dining has long been a staple in Japan, with kaiseki (“a Kyoto-born tradition of carefully sequenced dishes”) and omakase (“a set meal, loosely translated as ‘chef’s choice’”). Furthermore, going menuless would allow chefs to better price their restaurant, which in turn would increase value for diners.

Of course, the biggest reason for advocating the end of menus (as we know them) is that the chef should know what’s good, what’s fresh and what’s readily available. Here in the Bay Area, aside from the endless omakase options around, several restaurants abide by the menuless credo. At the top of the list are Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, Jai Yun in Chinatown and even Chez Panisse; all three restaurants have essentially eliminated choice, instead relying upon the bounty of the land (and marketplace) to provide that evening’s meal. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have three of the country’s top chefs manning the kitchen.

So, what say you? Menuless dining: should it be more widespread?

A Modest Proposal: Let’s Abolish Menus [Food & Wine]

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The Case For Abolishing Menus