I’ve read this post back to myself numerous times. Sorry for jumping around. Regardless of my writing style, I felt I’ve left you hanging too long without any updates, so without further ado…
Food is one of the few artforms that we sensory beings are lucky to experience on multiple levels. You can feel and hear the textures of the ingredients, the nose and tongue help us understand progression of flavors, but that very first impression of a dish is when we eat with our eyes. Part of my aim on Instagram has been to address the fact that there’s only so much imagination you can muster from the text of a menu. Sure, looks can be deceiving from time to time where a very pretty plate can fall short on taste and a more loosely-arranged dish might be the best thing you’ve eaten all day. The last time I was at The Grill Room, I was on my final course which was an apple crisp. The couple next to me started eyeballing it and commenting how good it looked. Lo and behold, they ordered it for themselves towards the end of their meal. This neck-craning phenomenon is most likely just human curiosity, but sometimes it can lead to altering an existing order or perhaps just making a mental note for your next visit. Presentation isn’t necessarily everything, but you certainly can’t dismiss its role in your decision-making process.
Honoring the aesthetic value of food has proven to be my greatest challenge, at least from a smartphone/point-and-shoot perspective. I want the quality of the photo to evoke tummy growling and Pavlovian salivation. The problem is that most restaurants use low-lighting for ambiance during dinner service, which can hide many details and I personally frown upon the use of flash because it doesn’t always help the image (see below) and I also feel it’s a bit rude to distract fellow diners. I almost always photograph my food, but whether it warrants an upload is a different story. A perfect example of this was New Year’s Eve at Zapoteca. I had an amazing six-course tasting menu there, but I have no visual documentation because every shot looked like I was eating in the Bat Cave. Since I started my new job downtown, I have greater access to two things: natural light at lunchtime and incredible dining options within walking distance, both of which make for vastly superior food porn opportunities.
My last meal at Petite Jacqueline had mixed results, though that was to be expected as it was at night. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be seated by the window with the overhead lamps, though I easily could have have requested it since there were only two other tables being waited on (Superbowl schümperbowl). I was in an extremely dim portion of the restaurant with a candle as the only light source, so I jacked the ISO settings on the camera up to the 3200 maximum. My entrée came out great, both photographically and gastronomically. It was a special for the evening, a French version of shepherd’s pie. The protein hidden under the layer of whipped potato was lamb and it was nicely cooked. The broth was well-seasoned and made me feel warm inside. I felt it was a very well-executed plate of French comfort food.
Just as a heads-up to those of you who don’t know me offline, my meals will only be accompanied by water, coffee, tea, or soft drinks. I apologize that I won’t be able to offer feedback on cocktails or craft beers, but I never really acquired a taste for alcohol, which I understand is a rare thing in a bar-centric place like Portland. This made the Rhum Baba a bit of a departure for me because it is a rum-soaked cake with caramel sauce, apricot pastry cream, and pecans. The flavors and textures were spot-on, but I definitely noticed that my tongue was feeling tingly by the last bite. I left the camera settings unchanged for dessert, yet it came out disappointingly dark unlike the main course. I guess we can blame this one on operator error.
Aside from the food, the part of my visit that stuck out to me was how my server approached me with the complimentary bread. “We’re just serving it with our lemon and herb butter tonight,” they said in a tone that suggested I might be unimpressed. That Standard Baking Co. baguette is half the reason I set foot inside the bistro! No need to downplay it. Simple is good! Yes, I’m a frequent diner there, but an element of surprise isn’t required upon each visit to hold my interest. Consistently good food paired with consistently good service is what keeps me coming back, not novelty.
I do understand where the server was coming from though because I hold myself to a similar standard with maintaining my Instagram and consequently this blog. I make a conscious effort to avoid duplicate photos of any one dish at a restaurant. With the exception of my humdrum protein choice (i.e. salmon), I think I’ve been relatively successful in keeping my menu picks varied. Many of my dining stomping grounds recognize me as a regular, but it’s not gotten to the point where they can assume a ‘usual’ order for me. Food is exciting to me. My ultimate goal of documenting these dining experiences is to get you excited about it too. I can’t deliver on that if I habitually eat the same things at the same places week after week. I hope I am able to keep things fresh for you as a foodie and shutterbug, so that it will encourage you to try some of these places and dishes for yourselves!