Death of the Entree?

Kim Severson, the fantastic food writer for the New York Times, has an interesting piece in today’s edition about the decline of the entree in American restaurants. People enjoy small plates and like to mix and match their tastes. Look at Jujube’s multi-course offering, the opening of Six Plates, or the huge number of tapas-style restaurants in the Triangle, and you’ll see that this phenomenon is not unique to the huge cities. And frankly, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Whether it’s family style, a chef’s degustation of single-bite fare, or tapas, it’s fun to eat this way. It promotes sharing. It encourages experimentation, where you’re not spending 25 bucks on something that you’re not sure you’ll like. Chefs like it, too, as Jean-Georges Vongerichten said, “It’s easier for me to please you with three or four bites.” And frankly, it makes more money for the restaurants.

No, the entree is not headed toward extinction any time soon. And as Severson points out, dining has only featured an entree in the last 80 years, so if it does head to the sideline for awhile, we’ll all be just fine.

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11 Responses to Death of the Entree?

  1. detlef says:

    While I certainly enjoy eating (and cooking) this way, I do think that some guys take it a bit far. I recall T Keller explaining why he likes that style of dining because there were very few dishes he didn’t find himself bored with by the end of his entree. I can’t think of a more foolish statement.

    I could start listing now and not run out of things for some time all the dishes that I would eagerly eat and eat and eat only stopping because I ran out of food, got full, or felt dirty.

    Now, maybe that’s because Keller has more culinary genius than I (something I don’t dispute for a second). Of course, maybe that’s simply an elitist take and not remotely in tune with how “regular” people feel.

  2. durhamfood says:

    I think there’s a certain class issue here (yes, here I go again). Tapas bars, restaurants offering 20 course dinners and wine bars are certainly not where you’d see most builders heading after a day’s work. This is more than an issue of cost: small dishes means more time eating, which to most people is a luxury.

    I am certainly not against this mode of eating. In fact, I believe that if more people ate this way, we’d all be more relaxed and better able to get on with life, which in the final reckoning would be a Good Thing, despite the supposed drop in ‘economic productivity’.

    Also, I entirely agree with detlef. For example, I could eat porcini-stuffed rice fritters in aged shoyu until I was hospitalized for soy-sauce poisoning 😉

  3. Varmint says:

    But those fritters are really just appetizers anyhow, right? 😉

    I just liked the article because it made me think about this trend. I’ll always like my big slab of protein, but when you’re out with a group just for shits and grins, I like this style of dining.

    Oh, and I almost always like Kim Severson’s writing. I’m happy to be a big shill for her!

  4. Varmint says:

    Frank Bruni gave a good response to his colleague’s article: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/in-defense-of-the-entree/

    I particularly liked this quotation:

    “A too-long sequence or too-broad collection of too-small plates is like being tickled and tickled and never flat-out hugged. It keeps you alert and leaves you impressed, but it doesn’t always leave you sated. It doesn’t necessarily leave you feeling fed.”

  5. Joe says:

    I don’t think this “trend” is horribly new: how many times have you and friends gone to an American Chinese restaurant and just ordered a bunch of appetizers, or wanted to?

    I think detlef’s Tuesday night tasting menu was the best tasting menu I’ve ever had. I’ve only had about a half-dozen of that type meal though (unless you count the 3-course prix fixe at Rue Cler, which I don’t), The food was all great (ok, fantastic), and I was neither full to bursting, nor did I feel unsatisfyingly full.

    However, most of my tasting menu experiences have been the opposite: too much and not enough at the same time. (Some of the ones I’ve had were at Aureole LV and Charlie Trotter’s.) The experience is also somewhat demanding, in terms of attention (and I guess time too). I mean, I guess you could try shoving every course in your pie-hole and swallowing as fast as you could, but that’s not tasting: that’s feeding. It’s like pouring yourself a generous 4 or 5 ounces of some really good cream sherry and slamming it.

    Also, as varmint says, there’s still a desire (at least on my part) to sit down to a big or not so big meal every once in a while. I’m still going to want my steak frites or whatever once in a while. Maybe that’s just what I’ve been conditioned to, but sitting down to a serving of meat loaf with some mashed potatoes and corn is satisfying in it’s own way, especially when you’re titrating those last few bites. 🙂

  6. Matt Wilson says:

    I think this is actually the rebirth of the Entrée. Traditionally, the Entrée was a smaller course than the main course, served near the beginning. It was the course where a Chef expresses his/her full talent. I suppose Severson is forced to use the Americanized definition.

    I experienced a fantastic tasting menu celebrating Los Dias de los Muertos at Jibarra last year. One course was a Tempered sea bass in Mexican vanilla bean-oil. It was fabulous. When Chef Ricardo Quintero updated his menu a few months ago, he included a Main Course sized version of this dish. Trilled, I made a visit to try it.

    I was surprised how bored I became while eating the larger portion. It was certainly delicious, but it just didn’t work as well as a main.

    The idea of smaller portions where both the Chef and the diner can be a little more adventurous is appealing to me. The price of a visit to a Tapas-style restaurant or a tasting menu, however, isn’t.

  7. Alison says:

    I can’t remember when I started ordering a couple of appetizers instead of one main. I don’t know why, but I’ve long had a thing for lots of small things over one big thing. It’s how I like my presents, and my food! And, I’ve been thrilled to pieces that for once in my life the trend actually coincides with my desires.

  8. quazi says:

    I think one reason for people to order multiple appetizers is that many restaurants seem to be most adventurous with app. They are more apt to try a different preparation or use an exotic ingredient.

    But I still get that hankering for a big serving of jerk chicken

  9. Maura says:

    I can’t imagine actually getting bored with an entree. If it’s what I want, I’ll enjoy every bite. But I also like the idea of several smaller dishes that can be shared with others at the table. Plus, I’m getting old, and can no longer live up the reputation I have of being a big eater. If I want an entree, I won’t order an appetizer. It’s just too much food. (Next thing you know, I’ll be going for the Early Bird Special.)

    But, as with any NY Times article in the fashion/style/food/home sections, I’m inclined to be skeptical. They have a tendency to write about something that three people in the Village are doing, and proclaiming it the next big trend.

  10. durhamfood says:

    I order an app whether or not I’m planning on an entree. Then I get some of the entree boxed if needed. Then it’s time for dessert! 🙂

  11. Maura says:

    mmm…. dessert!

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