My predilection for comfort dishes means that gratins, bechamel and cheese are recurring themes, but before I begin, forgive me a small rant: there is a fine line between a dish that is richly delicious, and one that is so packed with cream and butter that you can barely eat a second bite. Too many restaurants err on the wrong side of that line.
I remember reading the author of Cooking School Confidential write about learning the optimal way to prep potatoes for mashing in order to get as much butter into them as possible. My first reaction was “interesting” and my second was “maybe this is why I never like the mashed potatoes in restaurants.”
It reminds me of watching Anne Burrell explain, as she grabbed a huge handful of salt, how restaurant food is tasty because it is “better seasoned.” And I thought, “is that a euphamism for salty?” It is true that many tentative home cooks under-salt in the cooking process, but at least guests have a chance to rectify that. I find American Italian restaurants to be the worst offenders of over-salting.
This isn’t just about health, although that is relevant to this topic, but just the observation that more is not always better. I understand a restaurant’s desire to exude luxury, but you shouldn’t need a red wine strong enough to punch you in the jaw to make it through more than a few bites of a dish.
Now isn’t that a marvelously hypocritical way to introduce a dish with bechamel (one with more butter than flour even!) and cheese?! This dish is not something I would eat every night, but it was utterly delicious and while it went right smack up to the aforementioned line, it stayed just on the right side.
I’d quip that I ate my hypocrisy most happily, but perhaps the serious analysis is that the term “too rich” is subjectively like what the judge said about pornography: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”