The Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich plan to turn their massive Meatpacking District Italian restaurant La Sirena into a more adventurous place to dine apparently requires a little bit of explaining. Batali and new Tapas Bar chef Anthony Sasso are now annotating the online version of the menu with backstory on various dishes. Any menu item that’s highlighted yellow online pulls up an annotation, powered by Genius, the same service known for breaking down what song lyrics mean.
If it wasn’t already obvious that La Sirena’s trying to shake the reputation that it’s a middle-of-the-road Italian restaurant, the content of these annotations will make it clear. On a paella croquetas dish, Sasso notes: “Ever since I started cooking Spanish food, I’ve always wanted to ‘brainfuck’ (as [Casa Mono chef] Andy Nusser says) the people trying my creations.” It’s a deep fried saffron-infused rice ball, topped with uni. “Classic dish just got mindfucked,” he writes. “My kind of food.”
Sasso describes a patatas bravas dish with miso mayo, sea urchin, and sun-dried tomato salt as an idea that “has lived in my food journals for years.” “Every chef carries a grenade in his back pocket,” he says. “This was my pocket bomb, and now is the time to show it off. ...If this doesn’t make you say, ‘WTF is up with this dude!?!’ I don’t know what will.”
Batali also chimes in sometimes, like on a mini blood sausage hot dog. “This dish typifies Sasso’s whimsy,” he says. “And the sort of menu we hoped he would bring to the barroom at La Sirena.”
Occasionally, the annotations are literally just sketches that the chef drew when imagining the dish. Some are more illustrative than others.
La Sirena is not the first restaurant to annotate its menu. Last year, David Chang’s Chelsea Korean-Italian restaurant Nishi and Bushwick cocktail bar Yours Sincerely printed menus that ended the menu with quirky annotations.
It may be one of the few to take such care in annotating so many menu items online, though. Batali empire spokesman David Gruber says he’s been talking to Genius for a while about ways to use the product. “The opening of the Tapas bar seemed like the perfect use case,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for Sasso (and Mario) to discuss in detail the thinking behind the dishes, plating, etc.”
Sasso won’t be annotating all the menu items, but as the menu changes, the chef will be updating the backstories, too, Gruber says. What do you think of the annotations? Useful and interesting or nah? If this catches on, maybe Genius menu annotations will be the next big tech-with-restaurant industry trend of 2017.