Three Times an Entrée

“Oooohhh,” I cooed. A three-way was on the menu.

“You know you want it, baby,” replied my husband.

What I wanted was Ahi Tuna Three Ways, at San Francisco’s Boulevard. It features sliced ahi with cashews, chilies, mango, and curry; a tartare with red onion, sesame, and mint; and tuna cubes in spiced oil with toasted coconut.

You’ll see dishes with three preparations often these days: foie gras three ways at Cyrus in Healdsburg, California; duck three ways at 33 Restaurant & Lounge in Boston; squab three ways at Citronelle in Washington, DC. Frequently, though not always, these dishes involve protein as the central ingredient.

At first bite, it seems like part of the trend is to deconstruct ingredients, turn eating into tasting, and turn tasting into performance. Duck three ways is a little lesson in ingredients, preparation, and presentation.

But really, it all started with this: It’s frugal.

Three-way preparations have been around since people were savoring their Peking duck during the Yuan dynasty. The duck was served with crepes, as it is commonly served today, but the preparation also included a fried dish made with the leftover meat and soup made with the bones. Despite the passage of seven centuries, the trio is back and ubiquitous.

“Customers will generally choose prime cuts, such as a sirloin or tenderloin,” notes chef Ted Fondulas, of Hemingway’s Restaurant in Killington, Vermont. “On a three-way you are better off because you can use more of the animal. Buying the whole animal enables us to be more cost-effective, both for ourselves and the diners.” He serves a veal dish that includes a roasted loin, a braised shoulder, and a sausage made from what’s left over.

“It’s a way to introduce things to the plate that would not usually have the appeal,” says chef Tim McKee of Minneapolis’s La Belle Vie. The dishes are more labor intensive, but lamb kidneys are easier to sell next to a slice of loin.

Restaurant Michael Mina in San Francisco has many trios on the menu. “When you’re eating a dish, it’s usually the first three to five bites that you find satisfying, which is what inspired Chef [Michael Mina] to create these dishes,” explains chef de cuisine Jeffrey Lloyd.

This approach is also flashy, in a good way. At Restaurant 821 in Wilmington, Delaware, most guests opt for Spring Rabbit Three Ways rather than a single preparation of the same item. “We get a food-savvy crowd, and they want you to raise the ante,” says chef Nate Garyantes.

The benefits of a dish prepared three ways can work for the home cook as well. The next time you have friends in to dinner, try preparing roasted rack of lamb, grilled lamb sausage, and braised lamb shoulder. Everyone loves a three-way.