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Column Fri Sep 20 2013

Restaurants Trends that Irritate Me-Part 2

rsz_1426398_69740595.jpgI learned today that online aggression negatively impacts society and one's mental health, but nothing fuels the human spirit like hatred and anger directed from a distance. And since I'll probably die thrashing in a bitterness-induced coma, here I go--part two of restaurants trends that irritate me:

Complicated Menus
Remember Avril Lavigne's song Complicated? That's what I hear everytime I peruse over restaurant menus. There's 6,000 synonyms for appetizers (e.g. small plates, "diminutive portions," for-sharing, flight of sides) and apparently, flatbreads and pasta don't count as entrees anymore. Restaurants are creatively licensed to organize their dishes as they see fit, but if there are more categories (and sub-categories) than dishes, that's just obnoxious. To address the issue, I'm thinking we need a taxonomic ranking or periodic table.

Wait, Didn't I Just Eat This?
Just for shits n' grins, I want to conduct a statistical analysis of all the menus in Chicago and compare them. Because I guarantee you, I'll find at least one of these within the first 20 seconds:
1) Tuna or steak tartare
2) Ravioli or "springtime" risotto
3) Something with goat cheese/feta, kale, or beets
4) Heirloom ___
5) Salmon or seared scallop
6) Burger with "frites" (not fries, mind you)
Restaurants undoubtedly have their own renditions of popular dishes, but I want to see completely new ingredients and techniques. I'm not talking about boiled filet mignon, but what about beef cheeks, fermented fruits, or house-made cheese? What about woks and tagines--or better yet, a duck press?

rsz_1060069_76650778.jpgOld School with Chalkboards and European water bottles
I've never like chalkboards--they squeak, leave pallid butt stains, and conjure up unsavory childhood memories. But nowadays, all restaurants seem to scribe their menus onto chalkboards, filled with loveable doodles and provincial charm. Same thing with those European water bottles that just don't seem ergonomically-efficient. I understand that Americans strive to mimic the European lifestyle, but I've seen my fair share of servers lose their grip on condensation-covered pitchers. From now on, I think all restaurants should just project 3-D menus and build self-serve water fountains into their tables. And have robots take orders.

rsz_85024_8099.jpgSeasonal Eating and Local Sourcing
I thank the lord almighty that I live in America's sweet buttery breadbasket, but curse you Michael Pollan and Anna Lappé, sometimes I want to eat asparagus in December and not feel like an environmental rapist. Now, I full-heartedly support and practice sustainable eating, but on the rare occurrences that I eat out, I like to abandon all physical and mental inhibitions. I want to enjoy food, not feel guilty about it. Katherine Wheelock in Food& Wine writes: "I resolve to stop thinking of eating a cherry tomato in January as the equivalent of smoking a cigarette inside or telling a politically incorrect joke." Sometimes people should just think like Anthony Bourdain: "I don't care if my tomato was raised in a lab or some hippie's backyard. I don't even care if it causes the occasional tumor in lab rats. I only care that it's the best tasting damn tomato available."
Although local-sourcing and seasonal-eating clearly strengthens the food system, it's also an undeniably effective marketing tactic--and therefore often used with wild abandon or with halfhearted intentions. Restaurants shouldn't feel compelled to put "seasonable vegetables" or "raised in Iowa" on their menus because even if their corn wasn't grown 10 feet away from my ass, I'll still eat it.

rsz_1105299_43451424.jpgGluten-free menus
I understand the gravity of food allergies, but why do celiacs and wannabe-celiacs get the special treatment? From Red Lobster to my local gastropub, everyone has fucking gluten-free menu. Where's your lactose-intolerant menu or egg-free menu? Where's your peanut-free menu, huh? Why can't people with more statistically-prevalent food allergies feel special too?


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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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