Tasting Menu – Demystified!

Written by Sarah Hassler, Sous Chef of Veraisons Restaurant

As chefs, our world mostly involves stovetops with simmering pots, multiple knives with different edges and sharpening stones, and lots of reading up on what the rest of the guys manning their stoves are working on.  You can imagine how easily we box ourselves in to a day-to-day that involves truffled amuse bouches, discussions on Thomas Keller’s latest project, and plans for our next tasting menu; meanwhile we forget the world outside.

So, when someone who doesn’t live in this tiny, adrenaline-fueled culture of ours asks us “So what exactly is a tasting menu anyway?” it takes a minute for our brains to kick back into gear and answer the very simple question.

To the average customer, a tasting menu might sound intimidating.  Does that mean we only get one single bite of each dish?  Are you supposed to use a different fork for each course, and if so, what fork?  Do I have to wear a tie for the first course, but then dress casually for the fourth?  This whole meal idea is exhausting!

At Veraisons, the restaurant located inside The Inn at Glenora, our next tasting menu begins Valentine’s Day weekend.  It is my pleasure, therefore, to break this menu concept down so that no one feels the need to change their attire mid-way through…unless of course, you’re into that sort of thing and then please, feel free.

A tasting menu is a multi-coursed meal designed specifically by the chefs of the restaurant.  It can be either a literal “tasting” of multiple dishes featured on the menu, or as it is at Veraisons, it can be a special menu with sequenced courses and flavors that build upon one another and really showcase the chefs’ talent.

For example, our Valentine’s Day Menu begins with two smoked dates, filled with duck confit mousseline, served over a tiny bed of micro-arugula with a drizzle of saba vinegar.  Set aside the fancy terminology and focus on the flavors for a moment.

This plate has a great deal of depth, both from the smoking technique and the fruit of the date.  The duck confit mousseline brings in some herbal notes from the spices the duck was cooked with, as well as some much need unctuousness (no, really, that is a word!) and cream that lingers on the palate even after the final bite.  The arugula brings a slight zing of pepper and the saba vinegar, made from grape must, lends a certain sweetness and acidity that cuts through any heaviness left behind by the duck and the smoke, finishing the plate.

The next course, consisting of roasted beets, chevre, cashew cream, and maple balsamic can be broken down in a similar fashion and has been selected to follow the Date course and preceed the Shrimp course specifically, so as not to overwhelm the palate.

This is beginning to sound a bit like wine tasting, isn’t it?  Wait, wine tasting….  Aha!  Tasting menu!  It’s starting to come together now.

The goal of the tasting menu is to leave the guest not only satisfied, but a little dazzled by the experience.  That is really the key word here; experience.  This is the menu you select when you looking for a special night out, an evening to remember, as the chefs put their focus on all the little details of their tasting menu.

So this Valentine’s Day, or any occasion that you might happen upon a tasting menu, I urge you to put your trust in the chefs’ hands, or sometimes more importantly, their minds and go for it.  Take it from me, chefs love it when customers go for it, and the customers love what the chefs’ have to offer.  It’s an all-around love-fest and that, my friends, is what Valentine’s Day should be all about.

View the Menu

Author Bio: Sarah Hassler is the Sous Chef of Veraisons Restaurant. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a native of the Finger Lakes region, Chef Hassler has a keen understanding of flavor and nuance and a reverence for the agricultural community, bringing local ingredients into her cooking as much as possible. She has been a member of the Glenora team, in between her time at CIA and professional experiences in the Hudson Valley and Corning, since 2009.

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