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Putting the Fine in Fine Dining

bjorn koch fine dining header

I’ve written a lot on this site about upscale dining and culture to the point that it almost seems as though I’ve covered just about everything. From the dos and don’ts of fine dining to the recipes you can make at home, BjornKoch.org has played home to many a fine dining blog post.

Many times on this site I’ve detailed the intricacies of fine dining. Diving into the topic allows for exploration on a micro scale, looking at where to eat, what to eat and what to do in different countries. But still BjornKoch.org is missing something–something on the macro level.

What is it, exactly, that makes a fine dining experience a fine dining experience? What makes upscale upscale? Is it just the price? Is it the atmosphere? The service? The variety (or lack of) food?

In essence, a little of everything goes into this, so here’s a bit about each.

Atmosphere

What’s the first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice when you set foot in any restaurant? Think about your senses: there’s the smell of the food, the sounds that are swirling around you and the appearance of the restaurant.

These are the factors that make up the overall atmosphere of an upscale dining experience. The patrons will more than likely be dressed nicely and be speaking in relatively hushed tones–fine dining restaurants are not places for the loud, raucous conversations you’d have in a TGI Friday’s or something of the sort. It’s difficult to put into words, but the overall demeanor of the restaurant staff, your fellow diners and their actions help to create an upscale atmosphere.

The Price

The eye popping prices of most upscale dining entrees are what many people first consider when they’re thinking about giving fine dining a shot. And while huge prices for entrees are expected at most establishments, it’s important to note that the price is a reflection of everything else on this list: the service provided, the atmosphere, the food and the upscale dining experience as a whole. Charging $45 for a burrito at the food truck outside of your office wouldn’t turn it into an upscale restaurant.

The Service

Most restaurants make it clear that your waiter or waitress is there to serve you. They’ll introduce themselves by name, pop in every 20-25 minutes to ensure you’re enjoying the meal and let you know that they’re there for refills of your Pepsi.

At an upscale restaurant, the servers do their best to remain unnoticed. They swap out your silverware or refill your glasses of wine without you even noticing. Providing everything you need to ensure that you’re fully serviced while remaining in the background is one of the most alluring aspects to fine dining.

The Food

Finally. This is the bullet point you’ve undoubtedly been waiting for. When you’re eating out, you’re probably not doing it for the atmosphere, the service or the prices. Those are additions; pieces of the puzzle that make up the fine dining experience. But the overall picture–the reason you’re dining out in the first place is for the food. And upscale restaurants know how to deliver if you’re hungry.

Upscale dining food separates itself in both selection and quality. The foods featured on the menu are often locally sourced and unique offerings that aren’t found elsewhere. They’re chef specialities and dishes that are original, often changing and most importantly, delicious.  

Cocktails & Mixed Drinks for Upscale Dining

bjorn koch drinks

A lot of pressure is put into crafting the perfect meal when you’re out at an upscale establishment. Of course the cooking and preparation is handled by an experienced and well-versed chef or team of chefs, but you’re the one that has to place the order after all. Looking over the long list of options available, each promising to hit your tastebuds in such a way that it will instantly become a meal you’ll never forget.

But once you’ve made your decision the hard part is over…or is it?

Far too often is the offer of what to drink with your meal forgotten. Wines are the obvious go-to, but sometimes you’re not in the mood for a glass of red or white; sometimes you’re feeling like a cocktail will better hit the spot.

Here are seven must-have cocktails that epitomize class and are great additions to your next meal out.

Manhattan

A classy drink named after a fantastic borough of New York and garnished with a cherry traditionally, if there’s one drink to try at least once make it a Manhattan. Mix together whiskey, sweet red vermouth, and a dash of bitters.

Margarita

A great option if you’re dining at a nice Mexican restaurant, margaritas should be your go-to option. Fresh lime juice, triple sec and tequila make a surprisingly smooth cocktail that you can enjoy with your favorite Mexican dish. And don’t forget the salt!

Whiskey Sour

Many people see whiskey as the drink of a man’s man. I say it should be everyone’s drink (in moderation, of course). Don’t quit on whiskey if you’re not much of a sipper–try a whiskey sour. Skip the prepackaged mixes, instead combine lemon or lime juice, sugar, and some nice whiskey.

Gin and Tonic

Quick and easy with two ingredients (not counting ice). Toss a few cubes into a glass, pour some gin, pour some tonic (the ratio is up to you, 1:1: or 1:3 seems to be the general consensus). Garnish with a wedge of lemon or lime for a nice touch, and you’re set.

Martini

Gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters combine to form a classic that is worthy of James Bond’s attention. There’s a reason that a martini is the drink of choice for those like 007–shaken or stirred it’s sure to ooze class.

Bloody Mary

The choice of brunch-eaters everywhere, the strong, bordering on overpowering ingredients of a Bloody Mary mix and match well enough that, somehow, they complement one another perfectly. Tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, Tabasco sauce, salt and some lemon are the main players in this classic.

Old Fashioned

With a name like Old Fashioned this drink was destined to become a long lasting classic. Put a sugar cube into an old fashioned glass and douse it with some bitters and a bit of water or club soda, muddle it, stir it, add an ice cube and some whiskey and you’re set.

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Dining Upscale

 

For most people, high-class dining is not something they do on a regular basis. It may happen once every so often, or you may be thrown into a professional situation that entails fine dining and you’re nervous about what the exact etiquette is. Maybe you’re meeting a significant other’s family for the first time at a high-class restaurant and you want to make sure you don’t make a serious mistake. In this post, I’ll list some of the most common mistakes to avoid when dining at a high-end restaurant.

Misplacing and misusing your napkin and utensils

 

It’s common to have various plates, glassware, and utensils when dining at a high-class restaurant. You can look up diagrams that show where different wine glasses or plates will be located at your place setting. A simple tip is to work from the outside in when using utensils. When you’re done eating, place your utensils on your plate, which you should also do if you pause eating; don’t set them back down on the table. The same goes with your napkin; keep it placed on your lap and when you’re done with your meal, set it to the left side of your plate. Also remember to dab, not wipe, your mouth.

 

Dressing inappropriately

 

While the normal view is that anything goes as far as attire is concerned, this concept does not apply to business or formal dinners. Most, if not all, high class restaurants have a specific dress code, which usually requires suits, or at least dress shirts, for men and a dress or suit for women. A good rule to follow for what to wear to a high class restaurant is to not wear anything you wouldn’t wear for a job interview.

 

Placing items on the table

 

Again, with the current culture, people always carry cell phones and various other items that they’re connected to constantly. In a more casual restaurant, this behavior may be acceptable (though it’s generally a good rule to not use your phone at all when you’re eating with other people), it’s definitely not acceptable at a high class restaurant. Keep your purse, wallet, keys, phone, glasses, and whatever else off of the table. It’s distracting and looks untidy.

 

Not planning payment

 

This mistake is especially important to be aware of if you’re the hostess. Usually, etiquette dictates that the person who invited everyone else pays for the meal, though you may choose to split the checks. At particularly high class restaurants, you’ll be expected to provide your credit card beforehand, so be aware of this detail, especially if you’re paying for the entire meal. It helps to avoid any post-dinner awkwardness.

 

Food mistakes

 

Common etiquette rules to remember are: chew with your mouth closed, eat slowly, and don’t put too much food in your mouth. It’s also important to wait to begin eating until everyone else is served and to know how to eat the food in front of you. It’s a good idea to plan ahead what you’d like to order and make sure you’re comfortable with the food, such as having to crack a crab’s shell or a meal with different garnishes. It’s also completely acceptable to send back food if it isn’t cooked properly, but remember not to be gracious toward the waiter and not make a scene.

Dining Etiquette Around the World

Fine Dining Bjorn Koch

Eating out at a restaurant in the United States is a fairly straightforward affair. Assuming you’ve been to a restaurant before, you likely know the etiquette that surrounds an evening of being waited on at a nice restaurant. And while the rules do change slightly when you’re dining at an upscale establishment rather than your local Ruby Tuesday, the fact of the matter remains that, in America, dining out has a set of rules that you’re expected to follow.

The problem is, those rules aren’t the same when you leave the United States. In fact, they differ pretty strongly country to country. Here are a few different areas of the world that don’t abide by the USA dining laws, and some suggestions on how you should act should you find yourself dining out there.

Japan

Dining Etiquette:

You’ve likely heard this before, but forget the rules that your parents taught you about slurping your food should you find yourself in Japan. Slurping your noodles into your mouth shows your appreciation for the meal.

When you’ve eaten all the noodles or solid foods from a bowl with your chopsticks (which you should never leave crossed or lick during the meal), drink the broth straight from the bowl.

Paying and Tipping:

Do not feel compelled to split the bill–the one who organized the meal often pays, and doesn’t leave a tip.

China

Dining Etiquette:

The same general rules for chopsticks in Japan as seen above also hold true for China. In addition, do not waive the chopsticks around or move them erratically. Control and poise are keys, particularly in business settings, which are a common task to hold over meals.

Additionally, don’t refill your own glass, instead refill your neighbor’s and don’t hold back on your belches (unless in a business setting)

Paying and Tipping:

As in Japan, tips should not be left, and many restaurants have no tipping policies and will reject any offers.

Germany

Dining Etiquette:

If you want the glass of water that Americans have become accustomed to receiving at every meal, you’ll have to ask and it more than likely won’t be free. And if you show up at an even marginally crowded restaurant, don’t expect to get a table by yourself. Sitting with strangers and sharing a table is considered the norm in Germany.

Paying and Tipping:

You should be expected to tip your server somewhere in the realm of 5-15%. Five is on the low end of what’s acceptable. However, very much unlike what is often done in America, don’t leave your money on the table–give it directly to your server.

Nine Foods To Try Once in your Life

Mouthwatering food exists all over the world, but there are also certain foods that you have to try at least once in your life. While many of them can be found in various locations, some are specific to the area of the world they originated in, because that place just does them the best. So get ready to plan your next trip around the fantastic food you’ll be able to find somewhere!

Escargot in France

Many people might be grossed out by the thought of eating snails, but these are truly a delicacy. The snails are killed, removed from their shells, and then prepared with butter, garlic, and other seasonings, before being placed back into the shell and served. The texture and flavor is incredible and the snail is incredibly tender.

Macarons in France

Macarons can be found all over the world now, but nothing beats real French macarons. These sweet treats come in various flavors and are the perfect size for a quick snack. They’re light and delicious, with an amazing ganache or buttercream filling.

Lobster Roll

Lobster rolls are truly masterpieces, which few people realize. The sandwich is filled with lobster meat and usually soaked in butter. Find a place that uses lots of lobster and great bread and you’ll be sure to enjoy this dish.

Shrimp and Grits

People in the North may turn their nose up at grits, but those in the South know what they’re doing when it comes to this food. This dish is normally had at breakfast time and can be sweet or savory. It’s rich in butter, but worth it.

Gelato in Italy

No place can do gelato like Italy (France comes a close second). Gelato is an amazing combination of milk, sugar, and cream, often flavored with various fruits or nuts. Italian gelato shops are known for serving their gelato in fancy shapes, such as a flower, and it immediately melts in your mouth.

Steak Tartare

Even though this dish is raw meat, which might not appeal to some people, it’s definitely worth overcoming your squeamishness. The meat is prepared with onions and seasonings for a delicious flavor. When stored and prepared properly, it’s unlikely that any bacteria is present, so you can enjoy this dish with peace of mind.

Sushi in Japan

It’s possible to find great sushi in lots of places, but none of it can compare to the sushi of Japan. If raw fish is completely repulsive to you, try some cooked sushi. Sashimi is also a great type of sushi to try, where the fish is laid over a serving of rice and can easily be eaten in one or two bites.

Real Ramen

Ramen is frequently associated with college students who need to make food quickly and on a budget, but ramen cuisine is much more impressive than this image. Real ramen is fresh noodles with either chicken or beef in a warm broth. It’s very much like a kind of soup and is a great dish to warm you up.

Tamales

Tamales are a Mesoamerican dish that originated sometime between 8000 and 5000 BC, which is incredible. This delicious food is masa dough mixed with various foods and then wrapped in a cornhusk. You unwrap the dough before eating and then can dig into this scrumptious delight.

Best Countries for Upscale Dining

Bjorn Koch upscale dining

On this website you’ve seen me write time and time again about foods you need to try from various countries, eatiers that you should visit in your city, state or country, and the authentic dishes you should try around the world.

This might be the end all and be all of cultural fine dining blog posts on BjornKoch.net. It won’t, of course, be the end of the blog posts on here, you can expect me to write about dining whenever I can moving forward–but this might be the most all-encompassing piece I write on international cuisine.

Here are the five countries with the best food around the world.

India

1.2 billion people cannot possibly be wrong. India’s food is unique in its composition and overall makeup, combining a wide variety of flavors to appease all audiences. Tandoori chicken, butter chicken, and curries are some of the most popular dishes from India, which is also famous for its fantastic vegetarian dishes given the fact that many Indians do not eat meat.

USA

It’s hard to name a top ten foods list without mentioning the USA. Notable, the USA is the only country on this list that isn’t necessarily widely regarded for its original food, but for its spins on other countries’ cuisines.

The USA is famous for its multicultural makeup, which has allowed it to blend a wide range of international foods into one cultural epicenter. Perhaps more interestingly, the USA has put its own spin on international foods (think pizza, tacos, hamburgers), taking hugely famous international food and Americanizing it.

France

Dining upscale has a few almost mandatory aspects to it; when we think of an upscale dinner party we often think about wine and cheese. It just so happens, then, that wine and cheese are two of the edibles that France is most famous for. On top of them, the croissants, macarons, fine breads and a widely ranging spread of chicken and beef dishes make French cuisine one of the best in the world.

Mexico

Often lambasted for being the same ingredients (tortilla, meat, cheese) spread out across a number of dishes, eating authentic Mexican is incredibly hard to beat. Despite that notion, there is quite a bit of variety found in real Mexican food, from the sauces that go into each dish to the preparation and presentation, each of which intensely modifies the dishes’ overall flavors.

You might bump Mexican to number one if you’re a fan of spicy foods, as most of the world’s chilis come from Mexico, particularly the very spicy ones. Worked into a number of dishes, sometimes the pain of stuffing a few jalapenos or habaneros into your mouth is worth it for the flavor compliments.

Italy

When you think of Italian food you probably think of freshness. Italian food is often not overly complicated or difficult to prepare, but one taste of an authentic Italian dish will show you how little that matters in the grand scheme of things, Fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and breads are staples of Italian cuisine. The food is so wide ranging–from marinara to alfredo, from pizza to gelato–that it’s difficult to cover it all and not drool on my keyboard.

Five States and Their Defining Foods

Traveling and food are an intertwined, intersecting pair of interests of mine that I often find myself experiencing at the same time. When I travel, I sample the local cuisine regardless of how exotic it is or is not. There’s nothing like visiting the heart and birthplace of a dish and tasting an authentic version yourself. It always–always–blows imitations out of the water.

Regardless of where I’m headed–across the ocean, across the state or across the country, food will continue to be a huge part of traveling for me. And it should be the same way for you.

Within the United States are, of course, 50 states. Most everyone knows that, but what not everyone knows is that within each state is a signature dish, sandwich or local delicacy that you’re best off trying on your next visit. Here are five states with the most recognizable and most delicious foods that you should indulge in on your next visit.

Louisiana–Gumbo

If you’ve been to Louisianna before, you know that the state is known for its cajun creole inspired seafood dishes. In New Orleans you’ll likely find a good bit of jambalaya, but statewide, gumbo is a must-try. The base vegetables of celery, onions and peppers with stock, a meat or seafood and a variety of seasonings, spices and other ingredients combine to form a fantastic southern dish.

Maryland–Crabs/Crab cakes

The popularity of Maryland crabs comes from the method in which they’re cooked. Instead of simply boiling blue crabs with little to no spice, Maryland has made famous the method of utilizing Old Bay and a variety of spices to bring out the flavor of the crabs. If cracking is too much work for you, Maryland crab cakes are a fantastic substitute in Maryland.

Illinois–Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

You’ve probably tried deep dish pizza before, but unless you’ve been to Chicago, you haven’t really tried deep dish pizza. The chunky tomato sauce, the heaps of cheese and the perfectly cooked crust makes eating authentic Chicago-style deep dish an experience that every human on earth should try at least once in their life.

Pennsylvania–Philly Cheesesteak

A classic example of something that you can get just about anywhere in the world, but probably shouldn’t. Visiting just about any pizza place in America, you’ll find a menu item that will likely read “Philadelphia cheesesteak.” If you want a real Philly cheesesteak, avoid this. Philly cheesesteaks should be eaten in Philly. Avoid tourist-based spots like Pats and Genos, and opt instead for Dalessandros or Steve’s. My final recommendation: cheese whiz and onions. Not exactly upscale, but certainly delicious.

Massachusetts/New England– Clam Chowder

You had to have seen this coming. As a Boston resident, filling up with a bowl of clam chowder, particularly on a chilly evening, is hard to beat. Thicker than most other chowders because of its creamy base, New England clam chowder is a must-try when you’re in the area. And, by the way, to the locals it’s chowda’.

 

Tasting Table: Cooking Perfect Porkchops

Our friends at Tasting Table have turned out a great video for cooking the perfect pork chop every time. I’ve already reviewed in the past how to cook the perfect steak and how to order it at a restaurant (if you want a good steak, that is). But pork chops are a whole other ballgame, so to speak.

Cooking pork isn’t an incredibly easy task, but it’s well worth the payoff in the end; few things can beat a perfectly cooked, juicy cut of pork. Similar to what you’d expect cooking steak, cooking a piece of pork for just a bit too long can result in a dry piece of meat–the enemy of what we expect when we indulge in pork chops.

Tasting Table recommends four key aspects to cooking a good pork chop:

  • choose one with about a one inch thickness for optimum flavor and juice.
  • Get a cast iron skillet, if you don’t already own one.
  • Use oil before you use the butter. The oil is great for searing the chops to begin with, while adding the butter later helps add to the flavor.
  • Shoot for a medium finish on the chop.

The Most Expensive Restaurants in the US

When you dine upscale, you should expect to pay upscale prices.

Compared to a local eatery that may cater more towards family audiences, or mid-pricing levels, upscale dining is a whole new world. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend you indulge at least once or twice in your life, whether it’s a date, an anniversary or just because.

Choosing an upscale establishment means that you’re not only paying for exemplary service, you’re paying for an exquisite meal, the atmosphere surrounding the meal, and the experience as a whole.

Here are some of the most expensive meals in America according to Eater and MSN. Note that these may not be the most expensive meals in America, but checking the prices won’t be doing you or your wallet any favors nonetheless.

 

  1. Daniel–New York City

An absolute classic and very well-known establishment from one of my favorite cities in the United States. I have actually mentioned Daniel in this blog before; Daniel was the featured restaurant in the “What Happens When Kids Try Fine Dining” blog entry and accompanying video. Clearly, the children in that video ate quite well that afternoon, despite not appreciating every food served.

Tastings are often incredibly expensive, understandably so. An eight-course tasting at Daniel will run you $220 per person.

 

  1. Empire Steakhouse–New York City

You can see a trend developing–with New York City’s wide array of restaurants and upscale atmosphere, you’re bound to find an accompanying wealth of high-priced foods. A 10-ounce Kobe sirloin at the Empire Steakhouse will run you $345. While this seems like an obscenely high price for a steak, consider the fact that Empire is one of just two restaurants in New York that serves real Kobe beef.

 

  1.  Masa–New York City

Back to New York for number two, Masa serves up some of the most expensive, and certainly the tastiest Japanese food you’ll find in the US. Masa screams exclusivity, and has the menu to back it up. Chef Masayoshi Takayama has worked since his youth to perfect the art of cooking, and you won’t hear that many complaining. The $450 price point for a meal–not including drinks–makes Masa one of the most expensive eateries in the US.

 

  1. Serendipity 3–NYC/Las Vegas

The perfect after-meal sundae treat, Serendipity 3’s Golden Opulence Sundae contains Tahitian vanilla ice cream, Madagascar vanilla and, of course, a golf leaf. Caviar and Venezuelan chocolate are just two more of the incredibly lavish “toppings” on this sundae that will run you $1,000.

 

  1. Fleur–Las Vegas

If you like a good burger–maybe the best burger in America–Fleur is your restaurant. Having some disposable income also helps, as the most expensive item featured on the menu is the Fleur burger. Wagyu beef, foie gras, truffles and a bottle of Chateau Petrus brings the price of this entree at Fleur to $5,000.

Fast Food is Getting a Make Over

It’s a rare occurrence that fine dining and fast food are mentioned in the same sentence. There isn’t much that the two share. One is offered via a drive-through, made as quickly as possible by people who aren’t trained cooks, it’s cheap and it’s usually a last-minute option for hungry people on the go.

But recently, fast food has been changing. Perhaps evolving is the right word. The dining experience usually associated with cheap, nonnutritious food is getting a makeover, and it’s not the one I wrote about in this blog post.

In response to the emergence and huge surge in popularity of places like Chipotle–fast casual restaurants–many fast food establishments are introducing faux-upscale menus to compete. Taco Bell introduced its Cantina Bell menu, chef inspired entrees that use higher-quality ingredients to push a more “cultured” view of the restaurant. In the name of innovation, Taco Bell is gearing it’s menu to try to capture parts of the market that would normally flock to the likes of other, less “casual” eateries.

And Taco Bell certainly isn’t the only fast-food restaurant attempting to make the shift. McDonalds has been slowly transitioning its establishments all over the world into “McCafes,” which serve fancier coffees and give off an air of Starbucks culture to the building.

Recently, the Golden Arches have also been experimenting with some menu transitions that would, in an ideal world, help drive them into the world of nice food on a similarly nice budget. Recently, the chain has been experimenting with a Pesto Mozzarella Melt. In similar vein, Wendy’s has been experimenting with the addition of truffle to its menu with truffle bacon cheeseburgers and truffle fries.

The issue with these two menu additions might not be in terms of taste, style or speed, it could be in the clientele. Those swinging through the drive through of a McDonalds or Wendys at midnight are often not seeking delicious truffle cheeseburgers, they’re seeking a $1 McDouble that will satisfy them until they get home.

In all, fast-food is going to remain fast food. Places like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys, Taco Bell and Arby’s have built a reputation over their existence. They’re the kings of fast-food for a reason–that’s what they branded themselves as. They’re fast, they’re affordable, they’re on-the-go, and they’re everywhere. To begin to try to separate your business from those traits while maintaining the same brand is a difficult move, and one that may or may not prove to be successful. It is safe to say, however, that places like Daniel’s likely don’t have to worry too much about McDonalds stealing their customers.

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