Great Food, Disgusting Diners
I hadn’t done my homework properly and was rather shocked when I was handed the dinner menu at the new restaurant Yoshinori and discovered that the only options were a three-course set menu for €70 and a tasting menu for €90.
For that price, I thought, at least I’m in for a great meal. And I was.
The tiny restaurant is simply decorated with blond-wood latticework and blue armchairs. In the open kitchen, visible behind more latticework, two Japanese men were hard at work, while another showed us to our table.
Although he was friendly and had obviously gone to hotel school and knew all the proper things to do, he was more expressive than most hotel-school waiters, indicating with a shudder how stressed he was when he came to take our order.
As expected at these prices, we received lots of extra goodies, beginning with a bit of smoked eel and Comté cheese on baby fennel and a lovely warm flan (supposedly flavored with eel as well, but I didn’t taste it) with mushrooms and scallions.
The meal proper began for my friend Mary with a beautifully presented dish of exquisite foie gras with smoked eel (apparently a great favorite of the chef) and perfect figs. It may sound like an unappealing combination, but it worked brilliantly.
I started with marinated ceps served on a bed of quinoa. In place of the samphire listed on the menu, oyster leaves sprinkled with cep powder added a taste of the sea, accompanied by occasional blasts of intense citrus (perhaps yuzu). Another unusual and felicitous combination.
We were then offered a tasty palate cleanser: a delicate potimarron (chestnut squash) soup with a coffee-flavored emulsion.
Mary and I both adored our main courses. She had the saddle of lamb from the Lozère (a French department) with Cantabrian anchovies, supposedly the best in the world. I had the grouse, wrapped up in cabbage like big sushi. Deeply flavorful and rich, as game should be, it was served with more perfectly cooked ceps.
This was when the trouble started. Neither of us could finish our generous main courses, so I asked the waiter for doggy bags, hating the idea of throwing away such delicious, carefully prepared food. His immediate reaction was, “No, it’s not possible.” He looked fearfully toward the kitchen. I pointed out that all they had to do was wrap it up in aluminum foil.
Terrified, he went off to the kitchen and eventually returned with two beautifully wrapped packages with handles. As he set them down, he said, “Pour nous, c’est dégueulasse!” (“For us, this is disgusting!”). I looked up and saw one of the men in the kitchen staring angrily at us.
During the rest of our meal – two lovely desserts, one a Tainori chocolate mousse and the other coconut mouse with pineapple ice cream and Tagetes lucida (sweet-scented marigold) sauce – Mary and I speculated about the extreme reaction and wondered why a well-trained waiter thought it was okay to tell his customers they were disgusting.
In the following days, we asked around and came up with two theories. One was that it is considered disrespectful of all the effort that has gone into preparing food and serving it at the right temperature and with a beautiful presentation. That makes sense. The other theory was that, unaware that the phrase is a euphemism in English, they really thought we were going to give the food to a dog and were insulted.
Now that I understand more or less why the whole staff was so upset, I beg forgiveness and promise to never again be so dégueulasse as to ask for a doggy bag (unless I really want one). I must say, however, that my grouse tasted even better eaten cold the next day at home than it had in the restaurant.