Too Much of Good Things

It was an “in” place with a “name” chef. Racy architecture and mind-dulling pulsing modern Muzak. Everything designed to stimulate every sense possible. The only things missing are simple, clean flavors, that have no chance of survival in these food discos.

There is this compelling and uncontrolled American feeling that more is better…

  • more noise
  • more flavors
  • more color
  • more, more, more…

My tuna tartare was overwhelmed by ginger, so what was surely sashimi grade toro was reduced to a searing ginger intensity that destroyed both fish and wine. Every course that followed was cursed by similar excess and obliteration of the prime flavors the dish was supposed to offer. After all, shouldn't tuna tartare taste more of tuna than ginger? What is sad in this more is better insecurity, is that the same chefs producing these excesses are also going out of their way to find the finest raw materials – then burying them under more and more of everything instead of letting their true character and elegance show through.

The same goes for winemakers today, who are harvesting some of the finest fruit ever produced, only to bury it under layers of oak and over-manipulation. The rule for chefs and winemakers should always be that the freshest and most expressive raw materials should be left alone to show their greatness. Add accents and highlights, but don’t destroy their essence. Cooking and winemaking should be like adding the proper frame to a great painting.

Oddly enough, the wine I ordered that night was just the opposite of the over-manipulated food. The  2000 Woodward Canyon Winery Walla Walla Valley Merlot (its OK to order merlot in Washington) was balanced and graceful. It was a wine full of edges and angles, unlike the insipid merlot offered by most producers today. It reminded me of the days (almost 30 years ago) when I discovered wine. A time when merlot was an interesting and compelling varietal only taking the lead in wines from Pomerol and Saint Emilion, before merlot became the wine hated in Sideways - and for good reason. This was a beautiful bottle, lean and firm with great complexity throughout. It was the best part of the meal and I saved my last glass to appreciate after the noisy food left our table in peace.