Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Nectarine Photo That’s Making the Rounds

This is a photo that launched a spirited debate on Chowhound (150 replies and counting) about what’s an adequate dessert at a restaurant. Since the initial post on Friday, this photo has popped up on a variety of food blogs across the country. (That’s right, it went national, baby!) Not wanting to feel left out, I’m posting it too.

But I have to say, I’m fascinated by the debate. Here’s how it started:

Friends dine at the famous Zuni Café in San Francisco and notice a table nearby getting a nectarine on a plate for dessert. That was it. A nectarine. On a white plate.

Shocked at the ridiculous sight, the friends order the exact same dessert so they could photograph the audacity of it all.

Friends’ friend posts the photo on Chowhound, saying the $8 nectarine dessert at Zuni is just that, a nectarine. Debate ensues about the fresh food movement and the ridiculous overcharges at restaurants.

But wait. There’s more. Zuni Café responds that the actual price of the dessert is $4.50. If the friends were charged $8, then it would be an outrageous error. They agree that $8 is ridiculous for a nectarine. $4.50, not so much.

To be fair, the nectarine served was a Blossom Bluff nectarine, which I’m sure is quite juicy. But my take on it is why serve something that people can easily get at home? For the people silly enough to order it, why can’t you just wait to get home and get some fruit from your refrigerator if all you wanted was a nice piece of fruit?

The arguments have referenced the Chez Panisse approach to food, where nothing stands between fresh produce and your stomach. One blogger noted that he went years ago and Chez Panisse served only a Flavor King plout for dessert. Now, I’m not sure how much they charged, but I would agree a Flavor King is amazing just by itself. Still, I have a whole bag of Flavor Kings plouts in my fruit drawer right now. And while I love them (the season just started guys so get them in the next month at the farmers market), I would have been disappointed being served that at a restaurant.

Sure, sometimes you just feel like a fruit for dessert. In many Asian countries, fruit is a natural dessert. Many Asian restaurants will just serve you a slice of orange or cantaloupe for dessert. The difference? It’s FREE.

I think the photo showcased the absurdity of the entire Zuni dessert offering because it was so lacking in presentation. How about at least a twig or even placing it in a wooden bowl?

So what do you think? What’s an adequate dessert or an adequately priced dessert? Was Zuni being innovative or just plain lazy?

Link to original Chowhound post. Photo courtesy of


Verena said...

actually i've ordered those pluots at chez panisse as well. it might seem to be overpriced for fruit, but the presentation, taste and just the whole experience at the restaurant made it well-worthed ... and i bet i can't get pluots that are as sweet and just at the perfect degree of ripeness at the farmers' markets.

Carroll said...

Absurd is the word, IMO. If I had ordered that dessert it would definitely have been with the expectation that there would be *some*thing special about it...nicely pre-sectioned maybe so the anticipated juice wouldn't run down my chin while biting into it, perhaps with a swirl of some complimentary sauce to dress the plate. You could even run a reamer (wait, that's not the word -- I mean one of the devices used to scrape a long peel of lemon -- ack, brain freeze!) around it in some fanciful manner and use the resulting "shred" for some "artsy" presentation -- possibly entwined with that twig you mentioned. But, simply sitting there on a white plate? Ridiculous!

Chef Ben said...

Verena, I noticed this week Chez Panisse had a Flavor King pluot tart on its menu. So they can make something more with the pluots than just serve it as is.

Why don't you think you can get sweet Flavor Kings at the farmers' market? Where do you think Chez Panisse gets them? I'm pretty happy with the ones I buy from the market at Temescal.

Verena said...

Hi Chef Ben, come to think of it, we had Santa Rosa plums and not pluots the other time. I agree with everyone's logic here, but after a big meal, we wanted something light and refreshing for dessert; the plums certainly didn't disappoint.

Unfortunately I'm no longer living in the US. I've definitely gotten delectable produce at the farmers' market, but it's probably not as good as what they serve at Chez Panisse since restaurateurs get to pick the freshest and best produce first. Hope you understand it from this viewpoint.

Ann and David said...

Shouldn't a restaurant be in the business of, say, actually cooking something? To me, I don't care how good the piece of fruit is, that's just lazy and frankly a bit arrogant. How about a thought-out dessert with slices of the fruit as garnish?

Also, Ben, why not give us the actual link to the original discussion? -- David

Cheri said...

I would have sent that back by throwing it into the kitchen. I don't object to offering simple fruit for dessert, so long as the menu makes it clear that is what you are getting, but at least SLICE IT! Presentation, people, we pay for it! I wouldn't even serve it that way in my home, and would expect nothing less when dining out.

Chef Ben said...

Verena, I see your point and I recognize there are some people who probably do want fruits for dessert. But at least make an effort to make it look pretty when it comes out.

David, I did link to the original discussion. Check the very last sentence right after I ask if Zuni is being lazy? ;-)

Cheri, I think it's a good point about also how it's listed on the menu. I think the original poster's friend saw the plate and knew what they were getting but they still wanted to take a picture of it. But I wonder if the table who got the first plate of rolling nectarine actually knew it would be just sitting on a plate. (Oh, I think they did give a steak knife for them to cut into it.)

I think sometimes a fruit can be beautiful by itself. But I feel it's the restaurant's job to enlighten us. Pair it with options that might take it to another level, like maybe serve it with a pinch of chili salt on the side or a scoop of nectarine ice cream from Ici? They could have done a nectarine served three ways with a mini nectarine tart cup next to a nectarine ice cream next to the actual nectarine by itself. Then it would have been a real experience of deciding whether the fruit does taste better by itself.

David K. and Ann C. said...

Hey Ben,
Sorry...I hadn't noticed the link. Also had this thought: Can you imagine what the judges on Top Chef would have said if one of the contestants had given them a nectarine on a plate?

Chef Ben said...

I just fixed the first referenced link to Chowhound to go directly to the original discussion just in case there's any confusion, but the original link is also at the end of my post.

David, oh man, I bet Tom Colicchio would have had a field day! I could just see his expression of disgust right now. And Tony Bourdain, fuggedaboutit. He would have taken the steak knife, stuck it right into the center of the nectarine, and asked Colicchio if he's running a crack house! LOL.

Verena said...

that's true ... at least the plums we had at chez panisse were washed, sliced and had the pits removed, and they were presented in a gold/bronze bowl with some vine leaves.

SteamyKitchen said...

sheesh! how about slicing it...maybe a little sea salt on the side...


foodhoe said...

yeah, since I can't pick out a good fruit for the life of me, I'd be willing to go to a restaurant to have a really good one that hasn't been pinched and prodded or dropped at the market, but for that price, I think that presentation really could have used a little bit more effort!

Mrs. L said...

I agree, at least slice it, put a mind near it or something (love the thought of nectarine ice cream to go with).

And I'll be keeping an eye out for Flavor King pluots at my farmers market!

Anonymous said...

Good point about Asian restaurants serving fruit for free.