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We've discussed the right ingredients, how to plate and garnish without overhandling, now how do you present your creations?

Seasonal?Daily? Blackboard menus? Daily Specials? Who gets to write the descriptions? Do you have words or images you like to evoke when describing dishes?

I'll start: First of all I love the challenge of writing up menu descriptions and I help do so for several area restaurants/caterers. I try to involve as many of the senses as I can without being too wordy (me?!) Colour, smell, textures and tastes...

Any ideas on another way to say "accompanied by," "served with," "on a bed of"...

Looking forward to hearing what your creative minds come up with!

lynne
 

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personally, i'm a little fed up with seeing all the alternatives people can dream up for "with." "perfumed by," "on a bed of," "accented with,".....come on! i think it looks much classier and sounds better to just say what is in a dish without these words....just commas.

if you have good ingredients, it's really better to use the menu space to say what they are; where they're from, why they're special, how you're preparing them, or descriptive adjectives about them.

you could say, for instance "venison loin accompanied by mashed potatoes, garnished with carrots and onions, and dressed with a red-wine veal jus." but that's a lot of valuable space taken up by all those prepositions. better to further describe; "grilled loin of organic Colorado venison, roast garlic potato puree, glazed cippoline onions, thumbelina carrots, and a Shiraz-veal reduction."

i tend to get way too wordy when i write menus, so i try to stick to the motto of less is more, and say everything i want as effiently as possible.
 

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If I were writing a menu, I think I would be tempted to use just the name of the dish and have my servers tell the customer what the vegetable and starch choices are.
 

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I agree with elakin.

Also if you are going to use with, and, on, over, only use any of the terms once in the description. If you say,'roasted veal loin with charred pepper mashed potatoes and carmelized onion and candied parsnips with rainwater jus' it just doesn't flow because you've used your connectives more than once in the same description. Take elakin's advice,stick with the commas.

I also like to use slashes,
i.e.'preserved lemon/ginger/cilantro pesto'

I also like to use terms that denote texture and if at all possible the cooking process, i.e. 'skillet seared monkfish-crispy potato galette,Maui onion jam,raspberry/black pepper beurre rouge'

You can almost hear the fish hit the pan, also the crunch of the potatoes. You should start salivating before you even order!
 

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Excellent post, Danbo. I too make sure the FOH staff understands each dish and the many ways to modify them. I also make sure they know how to pronounce any unfamiliar items and can give at least a passing explanation of what it is.
 

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I'm all for being creative in menu writing, but I think proper style should still be observed. Slashes -- also known as slants, virgules, and solidi -- are normally used to indicate alternatives, i.e., and/or, inside/outside, free trade/protectionism. See the Chicago Manual of Style, Section 5.122. Hyphens should be reserved for compound adjectives, i.e., skillet-seared. See section 6.39 in the Manual.

There has to be a balance between informing the patron and obfuscating the menu item. Although the first item in the list is considered most important due to its position in the list, long descriptions tend almost provide equal importance to the "piece of chive" stuck in at the end of the list.
 

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i feel compelled to respond to the comments made by angelina about my earlier post.

i have to disagree that just because i think some of my customers might not know what something is, i shouldn't state it on the menu. this feels like "dumbing down" the menu to me, and once you start, where do you stop? most customers might not even know where on the animal the loin is, but i'm still going to mention it for the ones that do know.

i think, on the contrary, that having some words, descriptions, or items on the menu that people don't automatically know is a good thing. maybe they'll ask the server, maybe they'll just order it and see that a thumbelina carrot is just like a normal carrot, only small and stout, kind of like a thumb. personally, i think if you're spending the extra money to buy special ingredients like these you should point this out by stating where they're raised or grown, telling what is special about them, using the specific name, etc... it serves to educate the dining public which can only help both the industry as a whole and the individual diner.

i don't understand the criticisms put forth.... why is saying that it's Colorado venison bad? would anyone really want to know where in colorado? if so, a chef who's on top of things should be able to furnish a curious diner with the name of the ranch the meat was raised at, especially they are stating it's organic as well. cippoline onions are a specific type of small, flat, sweet onions (which i've seen sold in regular chain supermarkets under the "melissa's" brand, by the way) and it would be readily apparent if one tried to substitute regular onions instead of the real cippoline. and would many chefs ever consider doing this? personally, one of my great thrills is getting high-quality, special ingredients and sharing them with diners. when i get real cippoline, i want to prepare them in a way that shows them off and introduce people to them, so that they leave having discovered a new thing that maybe they really like a lot and will seek out again. i think (i hope) that most chefs feel this way, and would never consider selling spanish onions as cippoline just to save a few pennies a plate or so they could charge more.

also....i think angelina very much underestimates the average diner. depending on the type of restaurant you work at, i think most people would know what cippoline onions or shiraz is... customers frequenting a restaurant which would serve the type of dish i described would, i think, be savvy enough to understand.

so i must disagree with angelina about using the KISS system. americans are getting more and more knowledgable about food and restaurant dining is about much more than just filling your stomach. food is something that drives everyone on this board to write enough posts to fill a book...shouldn't we share that enthusiasm with our diners?

to talk about it in such descriptive terms on cheftalk, and then to use the KISS mindset to write menus for customers who "won't get it," smacks of cultural elitism to me....
 

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Well said, Eddie; I agree. As an example, at the German restaurant I used to work at, we used farm-raised organic venison. If a customer had asked, I could have told them the name of the farm, it's location, how the deer were raised, the name of the farmer and the url of their web-site. Putting a more descriptive note on the menu is especially important for organic products such as these; many people are looking for that sort of thing these days.
 

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I'm with elakin, here.

I too an irritated by contrivances such as "perfumed with" and all that, but I am a staunch supporter of saying where the food comes from, even mentioning the farm or the farmer if you can. We must be a part of building the connections between local producers and the consumers.

As for terms the people don't understand, I have two solutions I use with my menu. 1 - A well trained staff who has tasted every single item. 2 - I print a glossary in my menu, because I do Spanish-influenced food and Iowa City is not exactly a Mecca of Culianry Knowledge.

On a side note, bless you, Bouland, for referencing the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm glad to know that there are still people who use it. When I graduated from High School, my father gave me a copy, which is still right here on my desk, and inscribed these words:

"Learn this first, then find your own"

I used that same advice, building from a solid foundation in the classics, to pursue my culinary education. The same could be used for anything, even menu writing or editing BB posts

Peace,
kmf

[ May 23, 2001: Message edited by: Devotay ]
 

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Devotay said it well, name the farm or the farmer, especially if it's local....I had dinner last night at Eddie's Steak and Chop and he had our farmer's market logo on the menu.
Absolutely mention chippione onions...that would sell it to me and I do know the difference...
Once had a restaurant say comice pear and served seckle...to a group of culinary society people....NOT COOL, REALLY NOT COOL>
 
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