The can-to-table trend, I am happy to report, appears to have been considerably overstated.
If you have not heard of it, or even if you have, the can-to-table movement is a trend in which restaurants bring you a can of food to your seat and open it for you. Then you eat it.
It was said to be the next big thing, or even the next small thing. At any rate, it was said to be a thing. But despite a fair amount of publicity, it seems not to be a thing at all.
The rumored trendiness apparently began with a Bon Appetit magazine story about the best new restaurants of the year. Sitting at No. 10 was a place called N7, located in New Orleans. The story, or at least a subheadline, called it “the most romantic French restaurant in the world.”
The story also made reference to the “intriguing Can to Table section of the menu,” saying the restaurant “serves dozens of fancy tins of seafood — lobster rillettes from France, calamari in spicy ragout from Portugal — straight from the can with (a) baguette.”
“Dozens” may be a bit of an overstatement. The menu apparently changes frequently, but as I write this it includes eight items that come to you in the can, including smoked small sardines from Portugal ($17), surimi baby eels from Spain ($14) and mackerel in herb marinade from France ($14).
Some food writers — let’s call them overly ambitious — saw the story and extrapolated —let’s call it guessed — that a can-to-table trend was on the horizon. And it kind of makes sense: If that is the best way to serve spiced mackerel paté from Portugal or habanero smoked oysters from Washington state, why not do it?
I’ll tell you why. Because it feels like a rip-off. It feels like the restaurant is not holding up its part of the bargain.
In the best of circumstances, a restaurant serves you food you cannot cook yourself. But you can order that same can of habanero smoked oysters that they charge $14 for and, if you buy at least 24 cans of it, you’ll only have to shell out $6.25 a can. Including shipping.
The same spiced mackerel paté that goes for $14 at the restaurant would only set you back six bucks if you ordered it at home. And while it is true that restaurants have many more expenses than houses, in this case they do not include the cost of cooking.
Fortunately, the can-to-table trend does not appear to have spread much beyond N7 and one tapas place in Detroit. It is possible we have already weathered the great Can-to-Table Scare of 2018.
Or have we? Because the can-to-table movement is alive and well, and has been for decades. There is one dish, one dish in particular, that many restaurants seem to have absolutely no problem serving to you out of a can. And customers, presumably, gobble it up.
Not me, and it happens to be one of my favorite things to eat in the world.
I am talking about corned beef hash. There are few meals more satisfying than bite-sized chunks of salty corned beef, diced potatoes and onions all sautéed together and topped with a hot poached egg.
And yet, of the places that serve it, more often than not it comes from a can.
Why is this right? Why do they do it? For that matter, why do we let them get away with it?
Would we let a restaurant serve us steak in a can? Would we patronize an eating establishment that merely opened a can of Spaghetti-Os and plopped it in front of you?
When I lived in Texas I used to patronize a place that was known for its delicious quiche. I stopped going after a friend went around back and discovered a dumpster full of empty boxes of frozen quiche.
That restaurant is no longer in business. And yet, other places continue to serve corned beef hash that comes from a can. It feels like a rip-off. It feels like the restaurant is not holding up its part of the bargain.
But at least it doesn’t feel like a trend.
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