18 The NaTioNal CuliNary review • July/augus T 2015
resTauraNT reaCh the making of a menu
he menu is the heart of the restaurant. It embodies the restaurant’s demographics,
concept, physical factors and personality,” wrote Ezra Harris, a graduate of The Culinary Institute
of America, Hyde Park, New York, in “Menu Engineering,” his honors thesis.
It is, of course, also a sales vehicle, with carefully considered food descriptions and a design
that can include boxes or colors placed to call attention to certain items, usually those with the
highest price point.
Dan Jurafsky, author of The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu (W. W. Norton &
Company, 2014), created a database of 6,500 contemporary menus with 650,000 dishes. He studied
the connection between effective menu language and restaurant type, ranging from extremely
expensive to inexpensive. Some insights include that the longer the words used to describe a
dish, the more expensive it is. And what Jurafsky calls “linguistic fillers,” vague words such as
“delicious,” “tasty” and “flavorful,” are associated with lower prices.
setting the tone
Some well-established restaurants rely on menu classics and nostalgia. At Weber’s in Ann Arbor,
Michigan, the roast beef preparation that chef Buddy Whipple developed in the 1950s remains a
staple. At Dallas’ Highland Park Cafeteria, a loyal clientele lines up at lunchtime for such retro foods
as ambrosia, liver and onions, lima beans, and tomato aspic with avocado chunks.
In San Francisco, Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar’s Quintessential Pu Pu Platter, with barbecue
ribs, egg rolls, spicy chicken and salt-and-pepper prawns, remains a best-seller. Mrs. Hering’s
1907 classic chicken potpie served in The Walnut Room on the 7th floor of Macy’s, Chicago, also
maintains its best-seller status.
In New York, Keens Steakhouse is known for its mutton chop prepared by William Rodgers,
chef for the last decade. And Delmonico’s Kitchen, New York, the nation’s oldest fine-dining
establishment, still features the Lobster Newburg created by chef de cuisine Charles Ranhofer,
who joined the restaurant in 1862.
Brennan’s in New Orleans, an institution since it opened in 1946, reopened in November
2014 with Slade Rushing, a 2015 James Beard Best Chef South award nominee, in the kitchen.
The goal was to maintain tradition while being contemporary. “Restaurants die if they are not
progressive,” says Rushing. “You’ve got to have some sort of push for innovation.”
oPPosi Te, CloCKwise froM ToP:
1) achiote chicken tacos with cabbage
and avocado crema at Tapacubo.
2) The graduate burger at The Normal
features two angus beef burgers with
aged cheddar and special house sauce
on a brioche bun, with garlic french
fries on the side. 3) red velvet waffles
with crispy free-range chicken and true
maple syrup at The Normal. 4) ocean
Prime’s ahi tuna tartare.
the MAKING of a MENU
By Jan Greenberg Y Z