I recently had occasion to look up a menu from a town where I used to live, and was startled by how ostentatiously it flaunted the region's culinary biases. The menu was so obviously issued by a restaurant in this particular town that I'm pretty sure I could pick it out of a line-up of 100 menus from elsewhere. Maybe 1,000. (OK, the house-made seitan was the giveaway.)
But is every menu so transparent? In an age of homogenization, can you distinguish a St. Louis menu from a Houston menu? That's not a hypothetical question: It's the theme of today's game. I've assembled here the entrée selections from the restaurants most recently reviewed by our sister papers in St. Louis, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco and Phoenix. (Or, almost most recently: I sometimes had to skip back a week or two to find a restaurant with a working website and a posted menu. Insert your own restaurant website horror story here.)
So the collection's fairly random: These aren't necessarily restaurants which purport to reflect their hometowns or specialize in regional cuisine. They're just regular restaurants where our fellow diners across the country are eating.
Which city can still get away with serving Chilean sea bass? Where's the restaurant with the gall to charge $6 more than what appears to be the going price for chicken? If you think you can figure it out, post your answer in the comments section.
I probably should close with a stern warning against cheating by visiting the various papers, but if you do want to spend the day surfing our company's websites, our bosses would probably prefer we didn't stop you. Have fun.
CITIES A. St. Louis B. Houston C. Seattle D. San Francisco E. Phoenix
MYSTERY MENU No. 1 Fire roasted green chile pork stew, corn bread, cotija cheese $14 Chicken n dumplings, peas, celery, carrots, herbed saffron cream $16 Wood-fired mussels, shallot white wine fennel broth, rustic garlic toast $18 Blood orange glazed salmon, chilled israeli cous cous, shaved veggie salad $18 Pork osso buco confit, butternut spaetzle, roasted veggies, pepper reduction $17 Beef Bourguignon shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes, carrots, parsnips, fine herbs $16 The "B" burger, buttered brioche, boursin, bib lettuce, bacon, beefsteak tomato $13 Fork-tender short ribs, mashed potatoes, green beans, red wine herb reduction $19 Oven-roasted vegetable tower, sautéed corn, aged balsamic reduction $13 Cast-iron petite chicken, sautéed garden greens, braised green lentils, light mustard white wine sauce $16
MYSTERY MENU No. 2 Butter-poached Maine lobster tail $24 -- Hon shimeji mushrooms, celery root puree, melted leeks, Parisian carrots & zucchini, sherry elixir, pea tips Day boat sea scallops $19 -- Fresh bacon, spring pea & rosemary puree, baby carrots, apple saba Chilean sea bass $21 -- roasted red pepper puree, beluga lentils, baby spinach, parsley emulsion 30-hour Colorado lamb shank $23 -- potato aligote, broccolini, baby carrots, roast shallot jus Duck confit cassoulet $19 -- merguez sausage, beans Dry-aged strip steak $24 -- Gorgonzola potato gratin, bacon braised brussels sprouts, heirloom tomatoes, cabernet reduction Herb-roasted chicken breast $16 -- Gruyere orzotto, roasted mushrooms, asparagus tips, white truffle oil Wild mushroom ravioli $12 / $18 -- asparagus, shallot crème
MYSTERY MENU No. 3 EARTH Baby arugula, shaved fennel, sardino blanco, caramelized white peaches with white truffle citrus vinaigrette $10 Organic spring mix, tarragon, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, bleu cheese, herbed croutons, aged balsamic drizzle $8 Semolina-crusted tofu frites, sautéed Brussels sprouts, Spanish onions, dried apricots, smoked bacon $9 Grilled eggplant, baby spinach, frisée, candied golden raisins, pickled eggs, honey champagne vinaigrette $9 Capellini pasta with cured olives, zucchini, crispy pancetta, roasted tomato sauce, parmesan cheese $11 Wild assorted mushroom risotto, fava beans, roasted carrots, shaved manchego cheese $11
SURF Pan roasted U-10 scallops, chorizo, yellow corn, watercress $14 Seared rare ahi tuna, wilted arugula, potato croquette, grilled portobello buerre rouge sauce $15 Grilled tiger prawns, braised cannellini beans, oven cherry tomatoes, crispy Spanish capers $16 Pan seared lump crab cakes, cucumber & pineapple salsa, plantain chips $13 Potato crusted Pacific wild red snapper, cauliflower puree, sauteed baby spinach & roasted shallots $14
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TURF Grilled lamb Porterhouse, herb bleu cheese orzo pasta, haricots verte, demi sauce $18 Braised petite osso bucco, wilted romaine, crispy mushrooms, burgundy braising sauce, crème potatoes $16 Grilled garlicky flat iron, roasted fingerling potatoes, citrus glazed asparagus, merlot reduction sauce $17 BBQ baby ribs, butternut squash purée, sautéed rapini $9 for 3 pieces / $13 for 6 pieces Seared Hudson Valley Farms duck breast, thyme sweet potato gratin, braised leeks $16
MYSTERY MENU No. 4 BURGERS Sonoma -- Applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, avocado, Arugula, aioli Indianapolis --Fancy Lawnmower Ale mustard, cheese, lettuce, tomato, bread and butter pickles Buffalo -- Tabasco mash aioli, onion strings, blue cheese aioli, celery, blue cheese crumbles Phuket -- Spicy lime tamarind dressing, shredded green papaya Havana -- Fancy Lawnmower Ale mustard, dill pickles, Swiss cheese Saigon -- Pate, pickled carrots, daikon, jalapeno Sydney -- Roasted beets, fried egg, grilled pineapple, maple-smoked cheddar Paris -- Onion strings, tarragon, caper aioli
DOUBLE-FISTED DOGS Boise -- Potato-wrapped deep-fried dog, onion bacon jam Cleveland -- Bacon-wrapped, deep-fried dog, Fancy Lawnmower Ale mustard Chicago -- Dill pickle, green relish, Fancy Lawnmower Ale mustard, celery salt New York -- Sauerkraut, Fancy Lawnmower Ale mustard
MYSTERY MENU No. 5 Pole-caught albacore tuna, South Pacific $16/23 Long-line black cod, Neah Bay, Washington $22/28 Farm-raised trout, Snake River Idaho $18/26 Wild sturgeon, Columbia River, Washington $20/26 Double R ranch New York strip loin, Loomis, Washington $26 (10 oz.)/$36 (16oz.) Dungeness crab cakes, green cocktail, fries, butter braised kale $18/29 Free-range chicken breast, sweet potato purée, escarole, cider pan sauce $22 Northwest seafood bouillabaisse saffron rouille, grilled house bread $30 Wild coho salmon, spice-rubbed and grilled, green beans, cornbread pudding, shiitake relish $22/28 Long-line ling cod, Yakitat Alaska fries, cucumber slaw $14 Wild-caught shrimp, Baja Mexico fries, cucumber slaw $18 Goose Point oysters, Wilapa Bay fries, cucumber slaw $16