It’s Not You, Jose Andres, It’s Me


The hottest love has the coldest end. – Socrates

We’re done, José.

It’s over.

It’s not you; it’s me.

Time to move on.

I’m not good enough for you.

I need space. (So do my trousers.)

Breakups can be sad, but sometimes tears are the price we pay for the freedom we need. (And boy do I need my freedom from the tyranny of tasting menus.)

Breaking up can make you a better person. This might be good for both of us.

Before we go into why this is necessary, a little history is in order.

What we now call tasting menus, used to be called degustation menus. They were the province of a certain level of high-falutin’ French restaurants, and they usually came on a little insert to the menu offering to let the chef decide what special courses he would feed you that night.

Tasting menus were an adjunct to the main, a la carte selections, and were of interest to mainly the most dedicated gourmands. You knew you weren’t in for the usual starter-main-dessert meal, and that the courses would be smaller, and there might be a couple more of them. Mainly though, you went the degustation route because it promised to show the kitchen strutting its best stuff.

This is the way things were from the late 1970s (when yours truly became seriously involved with cooking/food/restaurants), until the late 1990s.

Then, Tom “Call Me Thomas” Keller and Ferran Adrià came along and ruined everything.

Image result for French Laundry menu(This looks like 10 courses, but at the end of the evening, it was more like 15)

Gastronomy historians might have another take on this, but from my perch, the whole “you will be eating/swooning over 15 small plates of chef’s creations” really took off when Keller got soooo much press for his (mandatory, multi-course) feast at The French Laundry.

In 1997, I was in Napa Valley at a writer’s conference with Ruth Reichl, Colman Andrews, Corby Kummer, Barbara Kafka, and a host of others, and that’s all they could talk about. This talking eventually morphed into a gazillion raving/fawning articles about Keller in every major food ‘zine. Soon enough, the copycat race was on.

When Adrià made his big splash with El Bulli around the same time, the die was cast and high-end restaurants from Lima to London adopted the formula of wowing their customers with “techniques” over taste. A chef friend told me of going to El Bulli fifteen years ago and throwing in the towel….after the 44th course with more on the way.

No longer were a half-dozen specialties of the house enough, as you might find at Paul Bocuse or Le Cirque.  Instead, Keller and Adria started an arms race of escalating courses…where mutually-assured palate destruction was the result if not the goal.

These days, almost every restaurant in the World’s 50 Best centers its cooking around a bill of particular, itty bitty ingredients done by the biteful.


Image result for el bulli menu degustacion

It’s time to stop the madness.

Who really wants to eat like this? Answer: no one.

Watching chefs piece together teeny tiny pieces of food into dish after dish of edible mosaics no longer holds any fascination for anyone but jaded critics who constantly need to be dazzled while “discovering” the next big thing.

As Robert Brown elucidates in his excellent evisceration of the form, tasting menus have debased cuisine by turning it into an exercise in solipsism for chefs:

By tailoring his operation around it (essentially turning it into a glorified catering hall since most, if not all customers eat the same meal), a chef is able to run his restaurant with a smaller kitchen staff, determine with precision his food purchases, and enhance his revenue by manipulating, if not exploiting, his clients by exercising near-complete control over them.

Conceptually, the tasting menu is a losing proposition for the client even in the happenstance of an enjoyable dish. If and when you get such a dish, it is usually never enough, thus making you desirous of something you cannot have; i.e. more of the dish. When you have a dish that is less than stellar or just plain bad, the chef has foisted on you a dish you did not bargain for, thus debasing your meal in the process. The perfect or near-perfect meal is all but unattainable when your waiter brings you six or eight or twelve, sometimes even many more, tastes. Given the intrinsic hit-and-miss nature of tasting menus, I have never come close to having such a meal. As with great dramas, musicals, concertos, or operas, culinary perfection is almost always found in divisions of two, three or four.

I read this essay two years ago and agreed with it, but it took that much time (and several more marathon meals) for the lessons to sink in. (You might remember that I was also bored out of my gourd by Meadowood and Alinea a couple of years ago.)

If New York restaurants are any indication, the next big thing is a return to sanity: the classic catechism of appetizer-entree-dessert. The way you eat in good French restaurants and homey Italian trattoria; the way the human body was meant to digest food.

When I go to Spain in a couple of months, it’s going to be a challenge — since the Spaniards invented (or have at least expanded and exploited) this unnatural way of eating more than any other culture. One of my solutions will be to go at lunch (like I do in Paris and Italy), where the meals are shorter, more focused and more fun. Plus, you then have the rest of the afternoon/evening to walk off the calories.

As for my recent meal at é by José Andrés, below you will find the list of dishes, along with some tasty snaps.

For the record: almost every bite was a testament to intense flavors and culinary skill. It was my third meal at é in as many years, and the best of the bunch. Chef de Cuisine Eric Suniga and his crew orchestrate a perfectly-timed concert where everything harmonizes — with a staff busting their asses while never missing a beat or hurrying the customers.

It’s dinner and a tweezer show, a plating performance if you will (the actual cooking takes place out of sight), which almost makes you forget you’re paying $400/pp for a meal with strangers.

The only trouble is there’s both too much and too little going on. Too many dishes and not enough time to reflect and contemplate them, and not that enjoyable if you really want to savor the cooking, the techniques, or the food and wine matches (which are excellent).

Even with those criticisms, though, there probably aren’t five other restaurants in America that can match it.

Image(Suniga and crew are on it like a bonnet)

But for me, no màs. Never again.

I don’t want to eat 20 different things at a sitting. I realized some time ago that you quickly hit a point of diminishing returns with these slogs — your satisfaction being inversely proportional to the number of fireworks going off in front of you.

Three to six courses is all one’s brain and palate can absorb. Everything else is just cartwheels in the kitchen, the chef as baton twirler.

To be brutally honest about it, this type of meal isn’t about the food, or the wine, or the conversation. The point is to have you ohh and ahh over the production. There isn’t much time between courses to do anything else.

The great joy of going to a restaurant is deciding at the very last minute what you want to eat, not what the chef insists you eat. Tasting menus rob you of that singular pleasure, and for that reason alone, I must bid them adieu.

Here are the dishes:

Truffle Tree


Morning Dew


Beet Rose

It was small and and tasty but not that photogenic; let’s move on.


Image(The black and white thingees are actually cheese; the things that look like stones are stones. Don’t eat those.)

Spanish Pizza




Pan Con Tomate

This was a small piece of the world’s greatest ham on an almost-not-there puff of bread. The only thing wrong was there should have been more of it.

Uni Y Lardo



Image(This dish fomented much mussel love)

Edible Sangria

Image(The description doesn’t lie)


Esparragos en Escabeche


Txangurro a la Donastiarra

Crab served in its shell — deliciously crabby but unremarkable.

Foie Royal




Image(Steak for 8? No problemo!)


A block of fluke that was no fluke…even if it was a bit boring. FYI: fluke is always boring. Sorta surprised they used it.


Image(This started out as a ball of cotton candy the size of a small child)

Menjar Blanc

Image(White food, aerated)

Winter in Vegas



Image(Your guess is as good as mine)

Cherry Bomb


More things…

By the time you get to “more things”, only the heartiest of soldiers is still ready for combat. Most have run up the white flag as they’re being politely herded off to make room for more cannon fodder.

That’s when it hit me and I mumbled, “I still love you, José; I’m just not in love with you anymore. Certainly not with this dining concept. Whatever flame you may have ignited in me 20 years ago with your wacky Spanish molecular manipulation is now but a smoldering ash — the charred remnant of a fiery passion that once had no bounds (or course or calorie counts), and is now as worn out as bacon-wrapped dates.”

You’re better off without me. You’ll be happier with someone who appreciates you more than I do.

And I’ll be happier dating your sexy siblings: the smoking-hot Jaleo or the bodacious Bazaar Meat.

You wouldn’t mind, would you?

I hope we can still be friends.

Our meal for 2 came to around $800, including tax, tip, and $120 worth of wines by the glass. Notably absent above is any consideration of price-to-value ratio. For aspiring gourmets, globe-trotting gastronauts, and culinary show-offs, it’s probably worth it. For a one-time splurge it’s absolutely worth it. There’s no more convivial way to experience the glories(?) of molecular gastronomy, accompanied by a great steak.

é by Jose Andres

The Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino

3708 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, NV 89109


Bocuse d’Or Birthdays – Part One

Both the Bocuse d’Or and yours truly had a birthday last week. The biannual French cooking competition turned 30, and we celebrated our….well, let’s not spend too much time on details now, shall we?

Because ELV and his staff will use any occasion as an excuse to go to Europe, we hightailed it over to Lyon to watch the competition for ourselves. (It was our second time in attendance, which we will discuss more about below.) Along the way we drove 2015 kilometers, visited 4 countries, sampled 46 cheeses, dozens of wines, and bathed in the light of ten Michelin stars. As usual, we like to chronicle these things for posterity’s sake, and for any travel plans our loyal readers might have in the future, so without further ado, here is a snapshot of what we experienced, in all of its gastronomic glory.


We won! For the first time! Yay, United States! #Winning! America, F*#k Yeah!

Yes, it was a pretty big deal in the insular world of French gastronomy that America’s two-man team finally beat the likes of Norway, Iceland, France and Morocco(?) in the “Olympics of Cooking.” But some people didn’t see it that way. In his “Three reasons why we still don’t care” article for Eater National, Greg Morabito posits that the esoteric nature of the Bocuse d’Or, lack of story lines and non-TV friendly format doom the event to forever be a food footnote on this side of the pond. And in some ways he has a point.

But he also misses it.

The whole point of the Bocuse d’Or is that it is very, very French, read: insular, esoteric and inscrutable. It is also about the two things that define French cooking: consistency and perfection. French cooking (at least on this level) is about restaurant cooking. And restaurant cooking is about repetition and perfection – being able to execute dishes requiring an extremely high level of technical skill consistently over an entire service. Since the time of its kings, French cooking has also been about elaboration — gilding the lily if you will — which is why the presentation of enormous platters of proteins is so central to the event:

Morabito complains that these look unappetizing, and he has a point, especially when compared to the close-up food porn that is the norm on social media these days.

But once again, like all amateurs, he misses the point. French food is also about extraction and intensification — the making of each individual ingredient taste more like itself than one thought possible. Yes, these dishes may look almost inedibly elaborate, but every bite must purely express the essence of each ingredient, and there are more techniques in play on a plate like this:

…than most Top Chef contestants could execute in a month of Sundays.

Regretably, this year, in a bow to modernity, there was even a requirement for vegan dish:

…which, I think, also misses the point. Because if there’s one thing French food is not about, it’s vegetables. Food and wine in France are inextricably intertwined, and one of the reason the food is so good is because the wine is so good, and vice versa. And French wine is made to go with protein, be it a belon oyster or a haunch of beef. When you find a wine-vegetable pairing that knocks your socks off, let me know.

So, to summarize: the Bocuse d’Or is about French, not American sensibilities, and our best chefs are sensible enough to know that it is the king of cooking competitions. It is to American reality food programming what Olympic diving is to a belly flop in your pool. Let’s hope it stays that way. Just because the audience for Guy’s Grocery Games doesn’t get it doesn’t mean the powers-that-be need to change anything. Except that pointless “vegetal” requirement.

The reason the United States won — represented by Mathew Peters and Harrison Turone — this year has to do with one thing (besides their obvious talent): money. To be precise, the money and culinary horsepower provided by America’s two best French chefs: Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. Neither is as well-known to the average Food Network viewer as Guy Fieri, but both bring enormous credibility to the event, along with providing the time and the tools necessary for Peters and Turone to rehearse and train for six months solid leading up to the big week.

Because of Boulud and Keller, and Jerome Bocuse’s courting of them, and the Venetian/Palazzo decision (led by our very own ami Sebastien Silvestri) to sponsor the American competition, we finally had some heavyweight backing to go with our oversized ambitions in the culinary world. (America may never be the equal of France, Italy, Japan, Spain or China  when it comes to cooking talent or raw ingredients, but our culinary education/training has made tremendous strides in the past twenty years.)

And because of it, we beat the world this year, so that’s something to be proud of….even if statements like this from Eater half-wits:

Recent TV hits like The Great British Bake-Off and a Chef’s Table prove that American audiences are interested in culinary stories and competitions from other countries — so long as the food looks delicious, and the stories are compelling. Maybe with that in mind, the Bocuse crew could make some changes to the programming that would make the event more accessible to the people from this year’s victorious food country: America.

…are enough to make Mathew Peters want to go back to flipping burgers.

Final footnote: Ten years is a long time. In the decade that passed since my first Bocuse d’Or, everything has expanded in significant ways — ways that bode well for the event’s popularity and reach in the future, but in a manner that made it much less fun to attend. Ten years ago, I was one of maybe eight Americans at the event, and half of those were relatives of Gavin Kaysen – America’s cheftestant representing the old Stars and Stripes. This year, there seemed to be a couple of hundred of our countrymen there, making a lot of noise and cheering our boys on to victory. In 2007, there were no VIP sections, roped-off areas, or designated press stations. Then I saw at most a few camera crews and maybe a dozen or so reporters roaming around. Roaming around (the chefs and the judges) was something that we easily did, and is how I chatted up everyone from Heston Blumenthal to Paul Bocuse himself. Imagine my surprise when I entered the arena last week (after an hour of standing in line), and saw hundreds of reporters and dozens of camera crews all segregated behind a “press wall” (see below) — everyone being scrutinized by enough beefy security to handle a Rolling Stone’s concert.

All of it — the press, the cameras, the VIPs and the security — announced to us that this had taken the world’s stage. No longer was it a Euro-centric event on the order of some Alpine skiing championship; this was the big time now, and they want you to know it. With America’s win, the Bocuse d’Or is poised to get an even wider audience. This is good for the event, and France, and French chefs, and our chefs and French food in general. But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness when I saw how everything had changed…because changed it has. It is no longer a very esoteric cooking contest that exists only for the cognoscenti  — a hyper-precise test of skills (akin to a classical music competition) that once made me feel like a very special part of it. For I am a part of it no more. Now, it belongs to the world, and to the great international media machine. (sigh)

This is the first of a two part article on ELV’s recent trip to France, Germany and Switzerland. Next up: the restaurants.

EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 28. BOUCHON


We have run hot and cold about Bouchon over the years. We’ve had stupendous meals here; we’ve had pedestrian ones. Service has been terrific on occasion, sloppy and slow on others. We wanted to kiss all the cooks after one brunch…and felt like strangling them at another — when scrambling eggs seemed to challenge their skill set. A certain “critic” in town (who knows as much about French food as he does about ELV’s bunghole), once complained of being served a cold breakfast of (supposed to be) hot food and, for once, we had to agree with him.

Continue reading “EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 28. BOUCHON”