Translating Fancy Food Menu Speak into Common English

Last Saturday evening I had the pleasure of spending several hours with dear friends at a very (very) nice fancy food restaurant that specializes in wild game.  It had been awhile since I’d visited the fancy food “lodge,” with its stone fireplace ablaze, rustic beamed ceiling and bits of outdoorsy memorabilia (such as old firearms and fishing gear) adorning various dining areas. Let’s not forget the beady eyes of several animals staring down accusingly from their bodiless perches on the rough-timbered walls.

Everyone was well dressed (enforced with a polite sign at the door), and on their best behavior.  Pleasantries completed, we proceeded to peruse the fancy food menu, trying to decide our gastronomic fate for the evening from a choice of 9 fancy food appetizers, 11 fancy food entrees, and 8 fancy food desserts. (I always like to see the dessert menu first to decide if I need to accommodate some extra special sweet, or not.)

Upon reading the menu, it occurred to me that I really did not know what to expect of the fancy food at all. Clearly I’ve been out of touch with sophisticated cuisine and should have taken a dictionary with me (or at least my pink IPod nano loaded with the movie Ratatouille).  For example, “Wild Fijian albacore sashimi with pea tendril salad, toasted hazelnuts, garlic chips, scallions and melon cilantro vinaigrette” roughly translated into “raw fish rolls with pea pod shavings in a flavorful dressing.” About the only fancy food starter I easily recognized was “Caesar Salad with shaved Parmesano Reggiano and garlic croutons.” I’m sure it was delicious.

My sampling entree consisted of “Seared New Zealand Elk Tenderloin with Parsnip Mousselin”(Elk steak with whipped parsnips) and “Grilled Texas Nilgai Antelope with Caramelized Apricots, Apricot Agri-doux, Glazed Couscous, Ginger Infused Apricot Puree, Asparagus Tips and Red Wine Jus” (Antelope steak with apricot couscous, apricot sauce, and asparagus tips).

I realize that such fancy food menu descriptions are written to elevate the dining experience (or perhaps to justify the elevated price tag). Granted, these were works of culinary art and exceptionally delicious, but the fancy food descriptions were confusing and some of their magic was lost to me in translation.

So now you really want to know what I ordered for my dessert? (I had plenty of room left.)

It was “Coffee & Beignets: Praline Chicory Coffee Souffle, Coffee Anglaise, and Warm Beignets” (Coffee-flavored souffle with coffee flavored sauce and tiny puffy fried doughnut squares with powdered sugar).

(All of this gave me an idea for my next family cookbook. It’s so easy to just go in and play with the titles using my recipe software–I think I’ll blow everybody’s mind by including Russet Potato Mousselin Infused with Organic Rhode Island Red Egg, Shaved Celery and Ground Mustard. Sounds so much nicer than Matilda’s Potato Salad.)

By the way, the hot coffee was extra. Fancy that.

Happy cookbooking,


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  1. Thank you so much for this Matilda. I am a mother-tongue English speaker, living in northern Italy for the past 40+ years and recently have been translating menus for a VERY upmarket Swiss restaurant specialising in fish. Some of their menu descriptions leave me absolutely ‘foxed’, as you can imagine, and translating them becomes a delicate issue since I am obviously expected to find an English description befitting their wildest Italian imagery: do I make myself clear? So it’s good to see that English speakers are beginning to blog about all this craziness and perhaps one day I might do the same here. In the meantime I will have to go with ‘Foam of wild Japanese Wagame seaweed accompanied by braised red Sicilian lobster flesh, delicately (?) flavoured wild salmon eggs and dressed with rosemary infused olive oil” – just one of this morning’s offerings!
    Your page has reinstated some sanity to my morning – grazie mille!

  2. Ha ha ha!! This made me laugh so much Mary Anne – I loved the “Foam of Seaweed”! Top marks for you inventiveness!

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