How Not to Serve a Tasting Menu


It's Sunday night at 8 o'clock, there are only four tables filled, and the restaurant's chef was a nominee for Food & Wine's award for The People's Best New Chef, there are three tasting options — Elaborate ($40), Very Elaborate ($55), and Ultra Crazy Elaborate $70) — and descriptions of items of the menu with "exotic," "richest dish you may have ever had," "perfect," "best ever," and degress of "special" attached to them. "Trust us," it reads, " you have no choice but to." Of course, you do. You could construct your own tasting, but with that kind of confidence, why wouldn't you order the tasting and expect an extraordinary experience?

Before ordering the food, things started going wrong almost immediately. There are two servers and four tables, but it takes 10 minutes for one of them to take a drink order. You order the "Ultra Crazy Elaborate" menu for two and ask politely if, as it is at most restaurants worth the time, if it's possible for the two tastings to be different so that you can experience more of the 34 dishes on the menu, only to be told, "That's not something that the chef does." 

"Can you ask the chef if it's possible?"

"I can ask, but I can already tell you that he's going to say no."

"Well, can you ask?"

There's an eyeroll and a huffy walk to the kitchen, sign enough that this is a restaurant you should walk out of, and even better, that's followed by a return to the table, and this incredible front of house response to a table: "Unfortunately, I was right. The chef says it will not be possible to do two different tables." Unfortunately, you were right? "Unfortunately." Unfortunately, you were right. Yes, it's unfortunate, it's also unfortunate that you, dear server, will later come to the table and describe braised short beef as "short-braised beef." But then, this is all a very unfortunate situation. Which all raises the important question: Is there a rule for when you should order the tasting menu? And if no? What are the rules for how best to compose your own tasting at a restaurant?