I don't have many quibbles with Stumbling Goat Bistro, the refreshed neighborhood restaurant that's the subject of this week's review. (That said, the restaurant may well have a whopper of a quibble with me: As you'll read, I managed to fling my glass of red wine at the Goat's formerly white curtains. I'm really sorry.) The few issues which arose were related to service, not the locavore cooking.
Those small problems included one aggravation I didn't bother to mention, because it doesn't officially fall outside the boundaries of good service. But my meals at Stumbling Goat reminded me how little I like the spoken specials menu.
When printing a menu required a linotype machine and a typesetter with a union card, formal menu tweaks were understandably saved for special occasions. Food historians who browse menu archives are accustomed to coming across penciled-in notes and typewritten specials cards, which were once the only affordable ways to communicate dish and price changes. When dealing with fresh, seasonal ingredients, it was often easiest for the server to just explain the dish.
Printing technology has changed dramatically over the last few decades, but the idea that a verbal menu connotes freshness persists in many restaurants. While very few restaurants now rely entirely on verbal menus, it's still common for servers to ask whether you'd "like to hear about the specials." That's the ritual at Stumbling Goat, where the two or three nightly specials are fairly complex, incorporating a range of cooking techniques and ingredients.
If a chef has put that much thought into a dish, the restaurant manager really should take time to print its description. Because when a server ticks off a few complicated dishes successively, what guests hear is "venison...fingerling potatoes....pairs beautifully with...Full Circle Farm...halibut cheek...housemade...coulis...Oregon...leafy greens." So which dish comes with potatoes? Did he say the ricotta or the kimchi was housemade? And was that chicken roasted or fried? Who knows?
Of course, there are restaurants which still use professionally-printed menus, and nothing which emerges from a restaurant's office is likely to look right alongside them. But anyone with a sheet of resume paper and a home printer could replicate Stumbling Goat's standard menu: The text is even cut off at the bottom of my copy, as though the margins weren't correctly set. There's no aesthetic reason why the restaurant couldn't print a specials sheet.
Finally, it's uncomfortable to listen to a verbal menu that runs long. It's not a dialogue, so it feels odd to lock eyes with the server while he's talking for three or four minutes. But it's also obviously rude to look away.
Fortunately, diners at Stumbling Goat don't have to worry too much about the exact composition of a dish, since nearly everything is good. Or they could skip the verbal menu foolishness entirely and order the pork chop.
For more about that chop, check out the full review here. And, I tell you, don't miss the accompanying slideshow of images from Joshua Huston.