Saturday, July 11, 2015

Salt and Pepper

Times being what they are, a title like that is bound to have some metaphorical underpinnings.  Are we going to talk race relations, like "Ebony and Ivory"?  Or will this be some rumination on aging, how an initial sprinkling of white and gray is going to overwhelm darker hair as we age?  Or is Bob so uncool that he wants to talk about "old school" female Hip Hop artists, but can't get the colloquial usage quite right?

Well, no, this is nothing more than talk about the two seasonings that sit on a table, one that spurred the explorations of new lands and continents, the other which is one of the essences of life, unless we add too much of its essence to our lives.

Simple salt and pepper.  Or the lack thereof.

Now that my wife and I have an "empty nest," we tend to find ourselves drifing more casually and often toward s quick meal out.  Sometimes we get home, late both of us, and the energy isn't there to start cooking.  Sometimes we string together a series of meals at home and then reward ourselves with a pretty nice meal on a Friday night, like we did last night.

Last night, there was no salt or pepper on the table in the restaurant.  This afternoon at brunch, there was no salt or pepper on the table in the restaurant.

If you eat in trendier, "upscale" places sometimes, you have , no doubt, experienced this phenomenon.  Like wait people who insist on memorizing your order instead of writing it down, the lack of seasonings on the table is a way of saying, in an esoteric restaurant sense, "We got this."  As in, they got this, not you.

I understand what the restaurants are trying to do.  They are trying to show that their chefs are such superb tastemakers that it would be redundant or excessive to add to their carefully-considered seasonings.  They are saying that they have prepared the food as it is to be eaten and nothing more will be needed.

There's just one problem:  removing the diner from the seasoning equation suggests that all diners are the same, or, put differently, that the same food will please all diners.  Everyone reading this knows that is not true, so why don't these restaurants?  A child is going to expect ketchup with his fries, and a restaurant that carries no ketchup in an attempt to ignore that reality needs a "No children" sign posted largely on the front door.  At the other end of the age spectrum, an older person whose tastebuds have begun to lose some of their sensitivity is going to like things to be sweeter, saltier, maybe hotter, just to perk up those tired buds.

Beyond that, people from different cultural backgrounds have different seasoning needs.  That's why a Thai restaurant will offer to season dishes at, sometimes, 5 different levels of heat.  Me, I just wanted some black pepper for the potato salad that didn't have the same "pop" as my neighbor's superb potato.  Me, I just wanted a little salt for my Waygu beef burger.  Forgive me, but I like a little salt with red meat, even if it has been massaged.

Even though I find the no salt or pepper on a table annoying, I laugh as I write this because I think of the different palates my friends and I have at a Japanese restaurant.  If we all three order teriyaki chicken, I will use white sauce and Siracha, Troutking will use Siracha and ginger sauce, and Billy will use all three.

Do these restaurants whose tables are bare of seasonings think that their customers' use of simple salt and pepper is any less idiosyncratic?   Really, I know this a "First World" problem, if that, but the decision to make that decision for consumers is nothing less than patronizing.  It says, and this mantra should be a cautionary one for any restaurant, it says, "Our food is more important than your enjoyment of it."

1 comment:

troutking said...

A restaurant where I don't get to add a little seasoning or sauce or condiment is not one I will visit again. You are dead right.