I can tell it's time to change the menu because everyone else's food looks more interesting to me than mine. During the winter, when we have fewer customers the internal editor reigns supreme. "Nope, can't serve that." "No one will buy that!" Because I don't like waste, whether of ingredients or of our creativity.
However, it is time to make some adjustments to our winter menu so we'll be working on new dishes to put out this Friday. I've been reading Kitchen Conversations by Joyce Goldstein. I don't care for the gimmicky structure of the book, and I'm not a huge Goldstein fan (she interviewed me for a radio program and was unfriendly and unpleasant) but there are some nice ideas. When we opened we drew heavily on Northern Mediterranean preparations and over the years have drifted, sometimes aimlessly, into new directions.
Dangerous territory in truth. Most restaurants in our price range benefit from having a tight focus. Higher up the ladder a chef's or restaurant's personality can define the style, like say, Nobu, or The French Laundry, but on our rung roaming too far afield leads to diner confusion. Or to an unappetizing mish-mosh of items.
My restaurant problem is the same problem I had in my musical career. My tastes are varied. When I played punk rock, I listened to and loved lots of country & western. I also loved symphonic music and opera. These days I might listen to grating squalling noise, followed by a little Coltrane, then some ambient stuff, old rock and roll, Roger Miller, Nick Drake, you get the picture. The problem lies in finding people to play with who enjoy all the same types of music. The people I knew/know who enjoy country aren't usually too big on squalling noise and vice versa. So in most bands I've played with there is always a significant part of my musical personality left unfulfilled. The same with cooking.
My struggle over the past 8 years is to integrate enough of my tastes and personality to keep myself interested, while not alienating diners. I'm not saying I'm some master of innovation, far from it. More that a trip to Clement St, leads me down the road of exploring the Asian flavors I love while a look at likes from my youth leads me to the South and all its glory. I have neither the capital nor the energy to open all the restaurants I would need to fuel all my interests so I have to continue my tightrope act.
An avenue for this exploration might be a prix fixe menu in addition to our regular offerings. We've been doing one during the various winter festivals we have here and it's worked pretty well. One of the cooks and I have been talking about continuing them year-round as a more adventurous showcase. It makes it easier on the waiters as well as the diners when the specials are printed. No more recitation that the diner only catches half of, a slightly higher check average and a forum to present some more offbeat items. I'll keep you posted.