This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
It will be observed that in all the example bills of fare thus far shown the roast meats appear after the entrees; in the first one the entrees come next after the fish, in the others the "fence is straddled" and the boiled meats precede entrees and roast meats follow them in another place. Here is a Scottish bill that looks a good deal like American style except that it has no vege tables or other minor mention, and in this, too, the entrees follow the fish. The correspondent writes:
"A presentation dinner was given by the Queen's Own Yeomanry Cavalry to their major on the occasion of his leaving for India. I got hold of the bill of fare - a good, healthy volunteer menu - which I now present:
Sirloin of Beef. Haunch of Venison.
Roast Chickens. Yorkshire Ham.
Now, all of these try to follow the French custom of serving the entrees first, only because it is the French way, and those who split the difference and place boiled on top, entrees in the middle and roasts next, get the roast beef and such solid joints so far down, because the French roasts are placed there in French bills, without taking notice that such French bills never contain any plain boiled meats, nor plain roast beef, nor mutton. Their roasts (rots) are some choice kinds of small game, something that is considered better in some way than the made dishes or entrees. The French idea is that plain roasted or boiled meats are not good enough for a fine menu. (Look at the representative menu of the dinner given in Paris by the Stanley Club, a little way back - no boils or roasts are there.) Instead of crowding the English favorite boiled leg of Southdown mutton into that Parisian bill just under the turbot, and the American favorite rare roast beef into the place occupied by pheasants and partridges sur crou-siades, we do better to make our own style of bill of fare according to the preferences of our own people, who, generally speaking, regard the joints as the principal part of a dinner and all the rest as little nic-nacks, very nice in their place, but of no great consequence.
Practically it does not make much difference whether the entrees or the boils and roasts are placed first in order, for experience shows that people choosing from a bill of fare nearly always select whatever meats they intend to partake of all at one time, boiled joints, roasted joints, entrees or game, and their favorite vegetables with them, without regard to the order in which they are ranged in the printed list; still it is most proper to place the substantial meats before the entrees, in conformity to the principles laid down by the French gastronomers themselves.
Here is the ideal menu embodied in a recent sketch by a feuilletonist of the day, "Max O'Rell." He depicts a little party of three or four "gastronomically educated" individuals, Paris gourmets, in fact, seriously engaged in the absorbing question what to order for dinner at the fashionable restaurant, where they are seated, and the subjoined shows the outcome of their deliberations:
Oysters and a sole Normande.
Pheasant a la Sainte-Alliance.
Tenderest of asparagus a l'Amazone.
Supremes de mauviettes.
Ortolans a la Provencale.
Meringues a la vanille.
Ice, cheece, dessert".
But it is easy to see that " Max O'Rell" has been studying Brillat Savarin and the Physiology du Gout for his purpose; the dishes are Savarin's favorites, the "pheasant a la Sainte-Alliance" was his own Invention, the menu is necessarily good and, which is most to the point, its arrangement of dishes in place is according to one of the axioms laid down by that much admired teacher that the order of dishes should be from the plain and substantial to the more light and delicate, the motive being to prolong the pleasure of eating by leading on from dish to dish, from good to better and best. In this the ideal menu of this literary man is precisely the same as the best specimens of the American hotel bill of fare. After the soup and fish comes the roast pheasant, equivalent to our every-day roast chicken or turkey stuffed; the Chateaubriand, which comes next, is the fillet of beef, with natural beef juice for its sauce; it is to all intents the same as our roast beef and the nearest thing to plain roast beef that a proper Parisian menu ever shows. More delicate and more piquantly seasoned than those are the larks and then the ortolans, the fattest of small birds, and called the choicest morsel that is known to epicures.
According to that rule, our entrees, seasoned, flavored and spiced, decorated to tempt the appetite that is already satisfied with plain food, should be placed after the subt tantial boiled and roasted meats, instead of before. And yet we would not have every bill look alike.