We may live in an era of 144-character political commentary, six-word memoirs and emotional expression via punctuation marks, but it’s hard to beat contemporary restaurant menus for linguistic minimalism.
It’s so widespread you hardly even notice it. The other day, JG Domestic offered “Wild Alaskan Halibut. Watercress, La Quercia Prosciutto.” Now for one or two sentence fragments (I’m not sure how you count them since there weren’t actually periods in the original), that actually conveys a decent amount of information: The halibut is from Alaska. It isn’t farmed. It comes with watercress and some of the loveliest prosciutto crafted in the Lower 48. But what do the line cooks do with the fish? Pan-roast it? Grill it? Poach it in duck fat? There’s no telling. Verbs, it appears, are passe on modern high-end menus.
And the higher you go, the sparer the prose. Last month, Mica ran a dish called “Claw. Coddled Egg, Asparagus, Black Trumpet.” (Once more, periods added.) This was in a dinner featuring lobster at every course, so that “Claw” part is less opaque than it sounds. But pity the rube who doesn’t know that Black Trumpet is a kind of mushroom as the inclusion of that noun would have raised the word count to an absolutely untenable seven. That just would not do. And then there are those atmospherically high-concept restaurants like Chicago’s Alinea, one of whose current courses bears the title “Snow. Yuzu.”
Whatever the reason (mass attention deficit disorder, dining rooms too dark to permit anything beyond basic word recognition, the hope that ultra-trim prose will reassure a mega-bellied dining public that it’s okay to go for that fourth course after all) menus just don’t provide much in the way of pleasure reading these days. Which is all the more reason to quote the throwback description of the Filete Grito, a $22.95 entrée at Tequilas, in its glorious, sprawling entirety.
“Grito” means shout. This dish brings out a cry of joy when tasted, confirming the high degree of culinary creativity that exists in Mexico. The cactus leaf is a bed with the tropical tamarindo sauce inviting the chile chipotle to participate as a witness in the lynching of the fabulous filet mignon, along with the chiles serranos. Rice, guacamole and refried beans as garnish.
Now there’s a verb for you: Lynching. As in, “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal sanction.” (Rarely has the consultation of my Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate brought a more satisfying reward.)
I’ve heard of grilling a filet mignon, and pan-searing it. And I guess I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that someone’s tried stuffing it into a turkey stuffed, in turn, inside a suckling pig. But lynching it? That’s the sort of idea that can grab a man by his lapels.