What’s dinner without romance?

August 17, 2011

A menu might, at first glance, appear be a simple list, a grouping of recipes identified by a price. The formality of categories such as appetizer, salad, main dish or dessert help to guide us away from ordering chocolate creme brule first. Recently, the ready access to print technology allows menus to be printed on demandin the restaurant manger’s office reflecting that day’s specials or changing entree features. These new menus formats are single broadsheets, spartan in style and moderne in minimalist layout. They read like a congress of representative wines with an ingredients list. Yawn. Where’s the romance?

According to Menu Design in America, edited by Jim Heimann with an introduction by Steven Heller and captions from John Mariani, minimalist menus were not the standard not so long ago. I caught Chip Kidd’s review of it in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal (August 13-14). A hungry diner would be ushered into a culinary courtship, wooed by the promise of tasty fare rather than be rushed into a commitment without romance. The book, “not only catalogues nearly 800 American menus, it also gives a history of the whole concept of a printed menu,” according to the New York review.

The experience of dining should begin with whetting your imaginative hunger as you are handed a menu. Dining is an artform, each meal designed for presentation. There is a menu engineering formula focusing on the popularity of menu items and using layout real estate to push others. Yet the most fitting pairing for an inspired meal is an insightful menu design that tells a story, and draws you in from hors d’ouevres to a grappa or after dinner drink.

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