Fine Dining Etiquette

Fine dining has gone by the wayside and the overwhelming majority of restaurants, especially in Arizona, capitalize on diners’ desire to be casual.  My typical response when my husband asks, “Is this dressy enough for tonight’s dinner?” is “It’s Phoenix, I’m sure someone will show up in flip flops.”  On the one hand, it’s nice to dine comfortably and enjoy a meal out without pretense.  I have two little boys, so if they’re in tow, the more casual, the better.  On the other hand, there’s something inside me that finds intense satisfaction in fine dining.  I enjoy getting dressed up. I adore the visual impact of a white tablecloth adorned with fine flatware and spotless stemware.  It’s a form of entertainment, where the staff are trained professionals in the theater of dining.  There are very few places locally that still uphold these traditions.  Even most of the high-end restaurants have ditched the linens and done away with dress codes (enter aforementioned flip-flops).  Again, it’s not bad to be casual, but every so often I itch for some formality.  Fortunately, on a recent visit to Geordie’s, the signature restaurant at the historic Wrigley Mansion, I was able to exercise some etiquette and wield a skill set that has been standing idly by for some time.  I grew up with a grandmother who exposed me to fine dining as soon as I was big enough to manage a knife and fork and taught me how to navigate a formal table.  In case your grandma was sippin’ Bud instead of bubbly or you need a refresher before your next fine dining experience, here are a few of my favorite rules of etiquette that I encountered in the meal at Geordie’s.

In a situation where you have a bread course, in this case, it was a warm popover, it’s fine to break it in half with your hands and then break off a bite-sized piece from there.  After that, you can spread butter or, in this case, a goose liver terrine, on that piece and enjoy.

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This next one is tricky.  We were served bruschetta, toasted bread loaded up with fresh tomatoes, garden grown basil and silky olive oil.  The question:  Hands or utensils?  If this was a cocktail hour, a reception or afternoon tea, hands would be acceptable.  But, because this was served as an appetizer course of a seated meal, utensils were the more appropriate selection.

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Next up was Eggplant “Manicotti” where eggplant stood in place of pasta, filled with Italian cheeses and topped with a tomato cream sauce.  Obviously each rolled eggplant was too much to handle in one bite, so it had to be cut.  The question being, do you use a knife or is the side of your fork acceptable?  When it comes to pasta, a fork is all you need, unless you’re dealing with pasta strands, then you’ll need a spoon for the twirling.

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Of course, despite my best efforts, I did end up committing a faux-pas during the entree course.  After reading up on the proper application of a sauce when served a steak, I should have poured a small amount next to the steak and then dipped each bite into the sauce on the plate as opposed to what you see here, smothering the steak in sauce.  But, you have to admit, it looks a lot better in pictures with that rich peppercorn sauce running down the sides of the perfect mid-rare filet.

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Ending the meal was this decadent dessert, filled with a hazelnut cream on a pool of strawberry coulis.  Keep in mind, the pastry was crispy and not small enough to be enjoyed in a single bite, so cutting was required.  In this instance, a spoon is a helpful tool to cut the pastry and then push the bites onto your fork before letting it melt in your mouth.

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Thanks to the team at Geordie’s for keeping the tradition of fine dining alive and for sharing this beautiful meal with me.  Best wishes to you as you encounter future fine dining opportunities!

Geordie’s is located at 2501 E Telawa Trail, Phoenix, AZ 85016.  Call for tours of the mansion or dining reservations at (602) 955-4079.

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