Fancy "Dinner"

You have probably seen Hollywood movies in which, for a joke, an intensely masculine character played by someone like Sylvester Stallone or Arnold is taken to a restaurant at which tiny pieces of food are served as "dinner." I was taken to one such restaurant in D.C. during this last week, and the experience was much as Hollywood portrays it for laughs. 

The menu was 90%+ a wine list, the less said about which the better. Though I was a guest and all such expenses were to be covered, the prices were so outlandish that I refused to spend even someone else's money on such a thing. In any case there were cocktails and champagnes provided as part of the meal, which already required breaking my January fast out of politeness to my host, so I did not feel that anything beyond water was necessary in addition.

The first course was what turned out to be a fried piece of pigeon, which was quite delicious but perhaps one and a half ounces fully cooked. It was arranged with a symmetrically tiny piece of some sort of hash, the two miniscule pieces of food arranged on a full-sized dinner plate that was decorated with a geometric drizzle of some sort.  

The second course was pasta, and there were approximately four spoonfuls of it. It was good, as was the pigeon -- "squab" -- but it was obviously not intended to serve as a meal for a grown man.

The main course was billed as "surf & turf," and I think I know what that means: it means a steak served alongside a lobster or fish or the like. In this case it was about 4 oz. of slow-cooked beef shank, which again was very tasty; the 'surf' portion turned out to be the sauce provided on the side, which was made with ingredients that included fish. 

Now this whole dinner was served over the course of two hours, with many lectures from wait staff about the particular ingredients used and cultural reference points -- one of the drinks they served was "Death in the Afternoon," which required some discussion of Hemmingway -- so I was good and hungry by the time the meal ended. 

All was forgiven, however, when I returned to my hotel and found that the 'gift box' they had provided diners on the way out the door turned out to be -- I am not making this up -- an elaborately-wrapped cheeseburger. It would have been better hot, but the joke was well-played. 

Next time, all the same, I'd prefer a real steak sizable enough that I won't mind if you keep the fish.


Larry said...

Solzhenitsyn, in the Gulag Archipelago, discusses the horrible food served to the zeks. He makes one exception, and mentions a prison where the food was excellent, and the torture was in the portion size. One French fry, or a tiny portion as you described.

Grim said...

So I have heard that this style of cuisine descends from the French "nouvelle cuisine" ('New,' more appropriate a while ago as the movement arose in the 1960s) which was inspired, inter alia, by the need to make do with wartime rations of meat and such.

This is obviously an extreme form of playing with that idea, since the dishes shown as exemplary by Wikipedia are vastly more filling than what we were offered. Like I said, the final offering in the gift box shows that they recognize the joke.

Anonymous said...

My parents refer to that style of presentation and portion size as "elf food." Not the Lord of the Rings elves, but a tiny Victorian fluttering fairy.


Tom said...

There's a funny story about Donn Draeger, who trained in martial arts in Japan for a number of years after WWII. After class, he and a few other non-Japanese training at the same dojo would go out to eat together. One day they went to a new restaurant and, after the meal, ordered ice cream for dessert. Each person was served about a golf-ball-sized scoop of ice cream. Without missing a beat, Draeger looked at the waitress and asked if he could have a smaller spoon.

Dad29 said...

There's a lot of money floating around in D.C., eh?

Should we wonder 'why'?

Grim said...

I don’t see any reason to wonder.

raven said...

Be interesting to see the reaction if you had pulled out a microscope and a small gram scale.