« More thoughts on tainted ground beef | Main | Restaurants open on Thanksgiving Day »

October 7, 2009

Restaurant preciousness



Maybe you had to live through the worst excesses of nouvelle cuisine to be wary of restaurant preciousness. Is it my imagination, but are we at the beginning of a trend again?

Just the fact that the amuse bouche is back in style suggests we are. ...

This could be a good thing or a bad thing. I don't mind looking at something and thinking, "Ooooh, isn't that cute!!!!" if it ends up tasting great.

It might be some elaborately artistic working of ingredients like the saffron and cardamom panna cotta with mascarpone, saffron tuile and mango coulis (pictured) at Bistro Blanc in Glenelg.

Or it might be an amusing concept like the grilled cheese soup with heirloom tomato on the side at the Blue Hill Tavern in Brewers Hill, a clever play on the classic tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.

Somewhere, however, I had an elegant dessert on a plate decorated with a few Cocoa Puffs. That's taking restaurant whimsy too far.

We never had our conversation about foam, but it falls into the restaurant preciousness category unless it's done very well, and maybe even then. Foam has to be so pretty you not only don't say "eww," you don't say to yourself, "This is really silly."

I love trompe l'oeil food, like a traditional buche de noel with meringue mushrooms. But you don't ever want to feel like your food has been overly handled.

Or maybe I'm just worrying too much, and restaurant whimsy isn't a trend that will spiral out of control, but simply a flash in the pan.

(Elizabeth Malby/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:56 AM | | Comments (30)


the whole deconstruction fad is getting on my nerves. But, what gets big with the super chefs works it's way down until you're eventually eating some version of it in TGI Fridays.

The foam, the liquid nitrogen quick frozen junk, and deconstruction. I'm over it all.

Just a clever way to jack prices up to the ceiling?

I found myself trying to explain to someone what an amuse bouche is when we were served it at the Black Olive. (I only learned the term from this blog!) I think if it requires desperately-seeking-logic explanation or involves too many words (like your description of this photo), it's too precious. Bring on the thin crust pizza. I mean, just pizza.

EL wrote:the classic tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.

Humpf. All these years I thought it was the soup that was on the side and the grilled cheese sandwich was the...uh...entree or whatever.

You will never have to worry about this becoming too big of a trend in Baltimore. I can guarantee it.

Definitely worrying too much. I think you (general you) need to open your mind at least a little.. Baltimore is a little microcosm -- in the major food cities (NY LA CHI heck even DC), sous vide and amuse have never really been out of style. Even saying "amuse bouche" instead of just "amuse" shows how out of the loop Baltimore is. I really don't see this /anywhere/ in Baltimore to be worried about it being /everywhere/. I don't think Mr Bills is doing an old bay foam anytime soon.

You go to Chicago often enough, haven't you ever had the urge to eat somewhere like Avec or Blackbird, or heck even a Rick Bayless restaurant?

I can't speak for Chicago because I haven't been there much, but LA restaurants had already moved on when my daughter left two years ago. EL

Precious - a word that's either a compliment or a slap. Depends. Agree w/Richard, it will only go so far in Baltimore.

You: Waitress, can we have some more lightly carbonated water from the mineral springs on the western approach just outside Ravenna shipped in earthen flasks with calvados-soaked apricots as stoppers, as well as some more of that delicious crusty baguette made from desiccated sea-algae flour from the fronds of the giant plumes in the Sargasso Sea?
Waitress: Certainly, coming right up. You're all foodies, aren't you?
You: Why, yes, how could you tell?
W: Well, for one thing, what's that goblet of mare sweat doing on the table?
You: That's not mare sweat. That's a goblet of Alka Seltzer sans fizz. My wife has a touchy stomach, but she is a chronic procrastinator.
W: May I bring her an after soothing dinner mint?
You: Yes, please, and a sphygmomanometer. By the way, may I touch you lightly?
W: Of course. Anything else?
You: Our check, please.
W: You'll be happy to learn that we now print our checks on food-grade rice parchment. You may eat the check after you've paid it.
You: Can I get that in six slices, to go?
W: Yes. The gratuity will be included, also edible, so we’ll be watching from the bus station as you all squabble about it. I'll remove the cutlery now...
You: Delightful. But leave that big pepper mill, will you?

Cleatus, thats awesome.

Why don't they serve a grilled cheese sandwich with tiny craters on the bread, each crater filled with tomato soup?

whats the problem with expanding one's culinary horizons? Why not allow a chef to have the freedom and creativity to try new and differnet things? IF you dont - you will get the same old unremarkable, drek that passes for cusine at most places in Baltimore- and then you will complain about that.

just sayin'

Who said there was a problem with it? But the new things have to work, not just be new for their own sake. Some do, some don't. EL

we now print our checks on food-grade rice parchment

Cleatus, you rule!

Sam, what you described sounds like something more commonly found in a pathology lab.

sheesh, no doubt EL would love to go to any of those upscale places in Chicago. But on her last visit to Illinois, she was seen taking her daughter, who was dressed in jammies, to an upscale casual chain restaurant called "Bravo Cucina Italiana". Now, what could be more precious than that?

Good one Cleatus!

I'm with Bucky, I always thought the grilled cheese was the entree and the soup was the side. At least that is how I ate it.

sometimes an amuse and/or a little foam can be fun. now, i'm not saying that i wanna go to chili's and be greeted with a tortilla chicken amuse, but at certain restaurants, done the right way, it's appropriate.

i hate it when restaurants put on fancy touches seemingly just to say they did it, but if it makes sense with the rest of the food (and most importantly, if it tastes good), it's OK.

i think it's the line between good food and fussy food.

either way, i don't think we have to worry about much of that here in baltimore. i'm actually kind of sad about that. sometimes i wish we had more odd restaurants here.

Well put. EL

Is that pictured item supposed to be an amuse? If so, then I don't think the folks at Bistro Blanc know what an amuse is.

Not at all. It's the panna cotta described farther down. It's supposed to be a good example of playfulness with ingredients. I'm somewhat limited by the photos in our archives. There is, for example, a gorgeous photo of foam that would still all criticism, but our contract with the supplier only allows print use. EL

Cocoa puffs have long been part of
Michel Richard's shtick at Citronelle and now, Central, but I've seen them elsewhere, maybe it was Jack's.

The cocoa puffs mentioned are actually Valrhona Crunchy Perles. delicious rice cereal enrobed in 64% couverture Valrhona chocolate. Yummy and delicious- no box involved. Opps shill@ 9am!

The dessert you were referencing in your post is my dessert at Blue Hill Tavern. My name is Bettina Clair and I am the Pastry Chef at Blue Hill Tavern. The chocolate silken pie is a cooked chocolate custard over a chocolate cookie crust, once the custard sets and cools it is un molded and presented on the plate with a dollop of chantilly cream, fresh raspberries, and a sprinkle of caramelized coco puffs. The caramelized coco puffs are used as a fun way to add a bit of texture and garnish the dish. The cereal carmelization technique I used is made famous by French Pastry Chef Pierre Herme. Thank you for the interest in my work.

Yes, I didn't mention the restaurant by name because the dessert itself was delicious, as all your desserts were, and I didn't want to be negative about Blue Hill. My point is that just because Herme, or Michel Richard, does something doesn't mean it's a good idea. EL

"Who said there was a problem with it? But the new things have to work, not just be new for their own sake. Some do, some don't. EL "

"My point is that just because Herme, or Michel Richard, does something doesn't mean it's a good idea. EL "

Well it looks like from one quote against the other, it looks like you're the one saying there's a problem with it. What "new things" have worked in your opinion? Otherwise it seems like you (and many people on the blog) just dismiss new trends out of hand.

I didn't mean for this to be a post about innovations. Widespread sous vide cooking, for instance, is relatively new here (although Woodberry Kitchen has been doing it since it opened), and that seems like a good thing to me when it's done well.

This is a post about being clever, whimsical or precious. Any of these (and I gave two positive examples in the post itself) is fine if it tastes good and doesn't otherwise turn people off. The Cocoa Puffs thing turns me off, but maybe that's just me. The concept does seem like something that particularly suffers from being imitated. It's just not that great an idea in the first place. But again, YMMV.

The foam in the photo in the earlier post turned several readers off. It's no use dismissing their distaste as reactionary. This is food that you're asking a diner to consume (and pay for), not art. I have seen foam applied in an appetizing way, and then it's a good thing.

I can't tell whether you really think I'm saying I don't like new things or you just enjoy arguing. Just in case I wasn't clear, let me spell out my point of view: Some chefs can be playful and inventive and also make the food look appetizing and taste great. I probably am more grateful than most when they are because it makes my job more interesting. But I'm not going to say something is fabulous just because it's wildly creative (although I will give them points for trying). EL

As long as we're mentioning cereal with food, don't forget the Cap'n Crunch french toast at Blue Moon Diner. The first few bites I think I'm in heaven, then I look at the huge plate of food and wonder what I was thinking.

PierreHerme is ths MAC DADDY of all pastry chefs- well decorated and particullary inventive- as is Michele Richard- just because you dont like it is no reason to dismiss that it doesnt work... If you dont like it- you dont like it. the end.

That's what they pay me to do -- say things do or don't work for me. These people aren't gods, they're chefs and restaurateurs. EL

Once again a brave soul hiding beneath the Anonymous moniker.

Hey, I'm only sayin...

Dear Joyce-
I must remain anonymous- lest I be recognized in public and my super powers rendered useless- but I appreciate your sarcasm, and wit all-the- same. I'm just sayin....

Well I dont want to beat a dead horse, but in your post you called foam "precious" which is why the direction, I think, quickly turned to "The foam, the liquid nitrogen quick frozen junk, and deconstruction. I'm over it all." And the whole tone is very "oh no, here it comes againnnn", and cleatus posting his "haha, foodies are dumb!" post.

Im thankful that you spelled out your position, it honestly wasnt clear to me before. I guess its mostly the tone of other posters that inspired me to debate.

"In brightest day, In darkest night, no evil will escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power! Green Lantern's light."

I dunno, hmm, I thought "desiccated sea-algae flour from the fronds of the giant plumes in the Sargasso Sea" and "checks printed on food-grade parchment" were pretty funny lines.

Not to mention the "goblet of mare sweat," a line I stole from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

I am sorry if this attempt at humor offended you.

Cleatus, I thought it was funny!

Arrange food, drink, entertainment, And A sit-down orgy for fourteen.

Cleatus, that was BRILLIANT!

Sam, that's a novel idea, but, if you don't mind, you first. Thankyewverymuch.

I'd never heard "amuse bouche" until we were in Charleston to celebrate our anniversary and went to a nice brasserie for dinner. Shortly after we placed our drink order, our server brought out plates with two tiny egg rolls laid decoratively in tiny puddles of sauce, explaining that they were an amuse bouche from the chef. Great start to the evening, and the meal only went better from there. I've never seen an amuse bouche since, durnit.

Michael Gettier has been doing them at his restaurants all along. You can find them at Antrim 1844, Volt and (I'm assuming still) Abacrombie. I'm sure I've seen them elsewhere, but where escapes me at the moment. EL

Late to the party as always. The last time I was at Oceanaire they served us an amuse. I don't know if it was a special occasion or something, I haven't been by recently to see if they are still doing it.

Ruby, last Restaurant Week, Oceanaire still had an amuse bouche. Gazpacho served in a white, Chinese spoon.

I was far more taken with the relish tray.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected