Last night, we went to the Craigie Street Bistrot (happy anniversary to us) for the late Sunday night chef's whim, in which Tony Maws cooks whatever seems right for the moment. It turned out to be six terrific courses. A wonderful soup (did she say sourdough?). Curry-poached dayboat scallops. A terrine of quatre foies with pickled Vidalias. An incredible little plate of pork jowls with black truffle and a puree of carrot. Wild boar. Panna cotta with passion fruit and candied fennel.
(Since neither we nor Lucinda, our excellent server, had any idea what would be coming from the kitchen, we left wine choices to the chef as well, which was tasty if indulgent. The Alfred Gratien Classique was a lovely champagne, and the Yves Cuilleron "Roussilliere" dessert wine was terrific.)
Over the years, I've had great luck in restaurants where there was no particular choice. Sometimes it's custom, like the little restaurant near the Campo di Fiori where they don't have menus, just whatever they cooked today, Sometimes it's language: after sufficient incomprehension, the best you can sometimes hope for is to say, "you are the expert, please tell us what you think we should eat and drink." Sometimes it's the plan, like the tasting menu at Peck or the back room in Florence where you could have a fancy dinner at half price of whatever they happened to have in surplus from the main room that night.
If I really knew exactly what I wanted to eat, I'd probably sit down and make it -- when I really want something very specific, it's usually something simple, a nice grilled steak or a crisply sauteed trout or entirely too much ice cream. It's great to leave the decisions to an expert, to go back before they invented restaurants (which was later than you'd think) to the days when, if you were eating out, you went somewhere and had whatever the host was having.