Menu Design in America

A new book explores the graphic evolution of the carte du jour.

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  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

  • Menu Design in America

Menu Design in America

That appraising the bill of fare wasn't always an essential part of the dining experience is difficult to imagine. But indeed the menu as we know it didn't emerge in France until the late 18th century, when restaurants first began to depart from the table d'hte model—a communal style of dining in which patrons get a share of whatever happens to be simmering over the fire. Taschen's gorgeous book Menu Design in America: 1850 to 1985, coauthored by Esquire restaurant critic John Mariani along with Jim Heimann and Steven Heller, lays out this fascinating evolution, charting the menu's rise in tandem with the advent and growing accessibility of the printing press. For design fanatics, there's plenty to contend with here: nearly 800 pieces of high and low ephemera that served to announce a restaurant's identity as much as they enticed the diner. The historic documents are an interesting chronicle of social events. There are lush belle epoque illustrations—the menu for a "Farewell Dinner to Personal Liberty" at Mouquin's Uptown in NYC depicts a woman draped atop a cocktail glass to commemorate the eve of Prohibition. And there are reflections of some rather dark moments from our collective history—a menu for an event at the Friars Club features blackface imagery; another, for a Southern-themed restaurant in San Francisco, references Topsy, a slave character in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Equally revealing is the evolution of the food itself: How, for example, did we get from timbale of grouse Saint-Hubert (so named for the patron saint of hunters) in 1903 New York, to 35 "Mexican spaghetti" in 1935 Los Angeles? There are answers in this momentous hardback, an enlightening study of the sundry ways we Americans have taken our daily bread. Available at Taschen Store New York, 107 Greene St between Prince and Spring Sts (212-226-2212). $59.99.

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