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…the story begins to get in the way of the dinner, not add to it. The conclusion menu writers should draw from all of this is that long menus are fine, if you’ve got something to say, but most of us come to dinner to eat and talk, not sit and read, so please, keep it succinct.

One unique thing about working at Menupages is that one reads hundreds of menus, all the time, from every restaurant in town. We’re betting Frank Bruni doesn’t even get through as many menus in a week as we do in a day.

That’s why it was really funny to click onto the Diner’s Journal and see this essay on menus as literature. Bruni’s take on long-winded menu-item descriptions seems echo ours, but his apparent disdain for such “culinary pedagogy” may be more pure, stemming, as it does, from his analysis of the trend, and [supposedly] not the fact that it simply makes his job a much bigger pain in the rear.

Whatever your reason for thinking so, the fact remains that surrounding each menu item with acres of prose is often distracting and lame. However, this is not always the case. As one commenter on Bruni’s post states, “the person who prepares [the dish] does not always get the opportunity to verbalize the history, tale, myth,legend, or meaning it has to its maker.”

That reminded us of a very compelling episode of To The Best Of Our Knowledge, that inimitable Public Radio International production that keeps us glued to the exercise bike that extra five minutes. In the episode Food Stories, which aired on Nov. 24, we hear the story of Boris, a 700-lb pig that was eventually turned into sausage after a long, happy life as a sire.

Dan Barber, proprietor of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, as well as Blue Hill at Stone Barns, tells the story of Boris, expounding on the physical, social and moral ramifications of butchering the pig. In the end, he says, diners liked the meat better for having heard the story, as it drew a connection between them and their food. In that case, a prosaic menu did not seem to be an annoyance.

But when, to use Bruni’s example, you get pages and pages of this… (from a place called Tequila’s in Philadelphia)

“Trenza (braids) are par excellence the most fashionable style for the country woman,” the description begins, continuing: “Nothing is more beautiful than an imposing and timid country woman, adorned with the complex knots that crown her head. Our chef gives this rich dish … the look of the trenza worn by our Mexican heroines.”

…the story begins to get in the way of the dinner, not add to it. The conclusion menu writers should draw from all of this is that long menus are fine, if you’ve got something to say, but most of us come to dinner to eat and talk, not sit and read, so please, keep it succinct.

One unique thing about working at Menupages is that one reads hundreds of menus, all the time, from every restaurant in town. We’re betting Frank Bruni doesn’t even get through as many menus in a week as we do in a day.

Read All About It