Food de jour: the new face of the daily specials

Food de jour: the new face of the daily specials – restaurant marketing

Florence Fabricant

Food de jour: The new face of the daily specials

Soup du jour, or soup of the day, a menu tradition of long standing, has always been a handy catch-all to accommodate a soup concocted by the chef primarily to use available ingredients — often leftovers. Around the turn of the century, however, the term was not found in the very finest eating places.

Much like the blue plate special, the soup du jour was offered in middle- to lower-class establishments, where the clientele might not insist on the consomme princesse, green turtle soup, lobster bisque and cream of celery soup, typical of the best hotel dining rooms.

Gradually, though, this changed. The soup du jour has become accepted on all sorts of menus. La Cajole in Los Angeles, Brandywine in New York and Scot Petak’s in East Hampton, N.Y., are a few of hundreds of recent examples.

But today, there is more than soup that is receiving treatment according to the whim of the chef. There are some operations which, thanks to word processing, can churn out a menu made up entirely of the daily specials. Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., where there are hardly any choices, is an extreme example.

And then there is the usual list of specials that the waiter might rattle off to befuddled customers. Some operations print these as well and affix them to the menu. But these kinds of specials are not quite the same as the soup of the day concept, a fixed category on the menu, the specifics of which change from day to day.

What’s new here is that more and more operations are offering a dish of the day in many categories. This summer the casual East Side Terrace and the Swiss Grand in Chicago serve not just soup of the day, for example, but a “chilled soup of the day.”

A pasta of the day is featured at Brandywine and at the Madison Grille in New York, Allegro in Boston and Ma Maison in Los Angeles. Risotto of the day is on the menu at both Le Madri and Sofi in New York and at Pazzia in Los Angeles. Not only does Sofi suggest a risotto of the day, but the menu also lists a soup of the day and, as one of the more extreme examples of specialization, a “fritto misto of the day.” The assortment of vegetables and other items that make up the daily mixed fry varies according to the market. Sofi also serves a pizza of the day, as does Trattoria Convito in Chicago and Parkway Grill in Los Angeles. St. Cloud in Boston has crostini of the day.

La Belle Creole, a collaboration between Gerard Pangaud and Yvonne “Lola” Bell which is located in lower Manhattan, spices up its menu with “Pangaud’s gumbo du jour,” allowing the chef free rein in deciding what goes into the gumbo pot from day to day. This operation’s “seasonal vegetables farcies a l’Antillaise” also allows for variation as to which kinds of vegetables are stuffed each day.

At Chelsea Central, also in Manhattan, “seasonal oysters mignonette” could be interpreted as “oysters of the day.” This operation also serves a soup of the day and an omelette of the day. Sausage of the day is features at Les Plumes in Chicago. Scot Petak’s in East Hampton, N.Y., serves a pork of the day and is perhaps the only operation to do so.

Unlike soup of the day, risotto of the day or even pork of the day, which implies a convenient creation, the idea behind catch of the day or fish of the day is to suggest that the operation serves whatever is freshest and best in the market. Ma Maison has its catch of the day, as does Celestino and Locanda Veneta, also in Los Angeles.

Ambria in Chicago has its “fresh fish flown in daily.” At Miracle Grill in Manhattan, the fish of the day has become grilled fish of the day.

Similarly, in the dessert department, where “of the day” is usually relegated to the particular assortment of ice creams and sorbets on hand, Embarko in San Francisco has a “buckle, betty, cobbler or crisp of the day,” depending on market availability of fruit.

It’s interesting that except for the soup of the day and the fish of the day, most of the highly specific daily features occur in operations in larger cities. It might reflect the greater variety of products available in these areas from which the chef can choose.

Serving various foods of the day is not all there is to it either. Wine-by-the-glass programs allow operations everywhere to offer what amounts to wines of the day. And furthermore, those whose cellars provide considerable depth make selecting wines easier for customers by featuring a short list of whites and reds, which also can change each day.

Now, in the Grill Room at New York’s Four Seasons, this has been given another twist. There are wines by the glass that vary from day to day and then there are featured bottles of the week. That’s all right when it comes to wine, but could you imagine “catch of the week?”

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