New York is home to a lot of expensive food ($666 burgers, thousand dollar sundaes, and $35 drinks to name but a few) but does that make it okay to charge so much for so little? The Wall Street Journal's Charles Passy says it does. Because, y'know, The Devil Wears Prada.
In a story today about an appetizer at Le Bernardin that goes for roughly $75 bucks (technically it is a $45 addition to the $125 four-course prix fixe) Passy argues that the dish is "a relative bargain" and that it is important for chefs to be able to charge an arm and a leg for dishes because what they serve will someday trickle down through our culinary culture to Burger King:
Consider: This summer, Burger King is rolling out a new bacon sundae - a “cool collision of salty & sweet,” as the fast-food giant touts. But here’s the thing: the whole bacon-as-dessert idea is one that emerged years ago in the world of high-end food. Specifically, Dr. Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America, credits the daring British chef Heston Blumenthal with introducing the concept with his bacon-and-eggs ice cream. “It’s a trickle-down effect,” says Dr. Ryan of what followed.
Or perhaps you’ve recently found yourself munching on Wendy’s natural-cut fries, sprinkled with sea salt. Again, you can thank your foodie-friendly chefs for that sprinkle: Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame, for example, has built entire dishes around a particular sea salt - or a sampling of them.
To further his point, Passy then reprints, word-for-word, Meryl Streep's "you think this has nothing to do with you" monologue from The Devil Wears Prada (which fashionistas we know like to quote as if it were one of the answers to the four questions on Passover):
And really, we understand what he's saying, we do! It is important that chefs experiment with tastes and demand quality food products and teach diners about new flavors. But just because they can then charge an arm and a leg for their experiments does not mean they need to. Especially in places like the recently re-four-starred Le Bernardin, where really, people will pay for whatever Eric Ripert's people put in front of them.
What made this specific story rankle, however, is the particular dish we are talking about here. "A 'triple decker' composed of steak tartare (made with specially sourced beef, of course), raw shellfish (or, more specifically, raw langoustines) and osetra caviar. The side dish? A gourmet variation on potato chips." Which sounds tasty, sure, but also sounds like an extra-fancy version of surf-and-turf tartares we've seen before (and will, we guess, continue to see). Even the author says it "wasn’t the best - or the most interesting — dish I had on a recent visit to Le Bernardin."
So when the Journal says you can snicker "all you want about a $75 appetizer, but you’ll be eating it soon enough—in one form or another." We say sure, of course. But that doesn't mean the trend needs to start at those prices. Unlike couture gowns, no chefs are hand-stitching each cow fiber just so onto the plate... yet.