First of all, let us start out by saying that chefs aren't out to deceive us. For the most part, they're loving beings who want nothing more than to feed us delicious things that'll fill us with happiness and broaden the dimensions of our palates. That being said, restaurant patrons are generally a stubborn bunch, and it takes a little -- okay, a lot -- of prodding for us to order tripe soup or lamb's tongue. To share their culinary magic tricks with us, chefs sometimes have to employ a bit of omission.
You may have noticed a trend at restaurants like Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 or Michael Voltaggio's Ink, wherein the menu titles and descriptions are kept to a simple three or four words, completely lacking details. Here, for example, is a portion of the tasting menu at Chicago's Alinea:
What exactly IS "Woolly pig, fennel, orange, squid," or even more vague, "Lamb .....?????.......!!!!!!!!!" A little help, please?
In the clip above, Voltaggio beautifully explains one of the reasons chefs use this tactic: "[You try to be] as simple as you can in the description, and then hope to wow them when the food gets to the table. As opposed to before, it would say: 'Chicken that's been roasted in the hay from the farm that the bird came from with the teardrops from the angels that dripped down into the sauce.' This whole description was there, and then you get a dried-up piece of chicken. ... Now it's like, under-write it and over-deliver on the flavor of the dish."
Chef Roy Choi joined in the conversation, adding: "Right now, I have a dish [at L.A.'s Pot] called Inside Story that I think is one of the best bowls of soup we have, but it's all tripe and intestine and blood. And no one orders it. But it's our favorite. … [We should just] call it soup! Just don't tell anybody."
Voltaggio: "We do it with our lamb dish ... it's lamb belly and that's already intimidating, but one of the garnishes is lamb tongue. [The menu] used to say 'Lamb, Belly, Tongue …' and we just took the 'tongue' part off because we never sold the dish. And the day we took it off, it was just like, 'Lamb lamb lamb lamb lamb' all night long."
Choi: "Many times if you don't tell people what they're eating, they'll enjoy it."