Photo: Jose Moran Moya/Flickr
Not every tasting menu is alike — Eleven Madison Park’s is arranged in a grid-like list, Brooklyn Fare keeps it simple with a short rundown of the dishes, and Per Se lays out in exquisite detail the ingredients of each course.But unless you’re a seasoned tasting menu veteran, you’re bound to get tripped up by some of the lofty language. An emulsion to start? A deconstructed main dish? Mignardises for dessert? How can you decide what to order when the options are impossible to understand?
We put together a list of the 11 most commonly misunderstood tasting menu words. From starters to desserts, these are the dishes you were trying to look up on your phone throughout the entire meal.
What It Is: Using 'truffle' as an adjective implies the dish has been cooked, garnished, or stuffed with truffles (subterranean mushrooms) in some way. Truffle oil is the most common ingredient used to 'truffle' a dish.
Example Dish: Truffled arancini (risotto balls) at Murano in NYC.
What It Is: A mixture of two liquids that would normally not be mixed together. These can either be temporary emulsions, such as a vinaigrette (oil and vinegar), or a permanent emulsion, such as Mayonnaise (egg yolks and oil).
Example Dish: NYC's Poco's crudo with celery citrus emulsion.
What It Is: A preparation of finely chopped raw meat with (optional) seasonings and sauces. There are many variations on the tartare, including steak, chicken, salmon, and eel. The most common is tuna tartare.
Example Dish: Steak tartare at Cafe Claude in San Francisco.
What It Is: Bouillon is a clear, thin broth made typically by simmering beef or chicken in water with seasonings. Think of it as stock soup, but fancy!
Example Dish: Skate with beef tenderloin, greens, and chicken bouillon at Atera in NYC.
What It Is: Common on molecular gastronomy menus, natural flavours (such as juices and aromatic herbs) are mixed with neutrally-flavored gelling and then whipped with a blender or extruded through an N20 cartridge (think whipped cream canister). Foams (also called espuma) are meant to add flavour to a dish without adding substance.
Example Dish: Copenhagen's Noma's pike perch and cabbages, verbena, and dill.
What It Is: A substance with a jellied texture or jellied food made by setting a liquid with gelatin or pectin. Though jelly in our normal lives is usually fruit flavored, tasting menus have gelée-ed everything from cucumbers to champagne.
Example Dish: Oyster in ice gelée, over a thickened heavy cream, with carrot flower at Guy Savoy in Paris.
What It Is: This is just fancy chef-speak for taking all the ingredients in a normal dish, and putting them together in a different (and exciting) way. All the ingredients are still there, but merely presented unexpectedly.
Example Dish: Deconstructed beef stew at Club Lusitano in Hong Kong.
What It Is: Any 'sponge' dish is a mixture made by combining yeast with some flour and flavored liquid so that it becomes thick and foamy.
Example Dish: Barley flour sponge soaked in red tea with Tahitian vanilla cream at London's Dabbous.
What It Is: Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to plant smoke. More and more often, restaurants are getting a little wacky and bringing the dish to the table in a smoke-filled container. The smoke is infused with a flavour (such as apple), which adds both an aroma and killer presentation to the course.
Example Dish: Buenos Aires' Aramburu Restaurant's smoked prawns.
What It Is: A popular Spanish seafood dish that is made with raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with aji or chilli peppers. It can then be seasoned with chopped onions and salt, and is usually accompanied by side dishes such as lettuce, corn, avocado or sweet potato.
Example Dish: Todd English's mixed ceviche with avocado olive oil panna cotta.
What It Is: Many tasting menus simply end with 'Mignardises' or 'Petits Fours,' which are tiny, bite-sized desserts. They typically include tiny cookies or chocolates.
Example Dish: Mignardises at NYC's Gramercy Tavern.
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