Monday, April 23, 2007

Pretentious Food Trends

Okay, so I know it's been a little long since my last blog, and I've actually had this blog in my head for about 3 weeks now, so I figged it's time to post it. In an earlier blog I talk about many of the foods that I love, and how...depending on the establishment...I will harshly, or appropriately, criticize the food. This builds off of that last, and severely conscientious, judgement of judgement of food, that is.

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This year I wanted to keep my birthday mellow. It wasn't an important number to anyone except to me (insomuch as I've finally turned the age that I've wanted to be frozen in time at since the age of 10). Mylo was going to take me to dinner, and since I'm far more particular when it comes to food, I got to choose the place. There are many, many eating establishments in Los Angeles that I would absolutely love to patronize...many, many...and I thought that this would be a welcome reason to try one of them, but alas, my birthday fell on Easter Sunday this year, and many establishments had modified menus, pre fixe offerings, odd hours of operation, etc. etc. etc. So, in the interest of getting Mylo to share a bottle of wine with me, we had to find a place that was walking distance from one of our houses. I chose a place close to mine, a Cali-franco eatery known for its wine cellar. That alone made me anticipate dinner. Of course I inspected the online "sample" menu and it looked promising.

When we got to the restaurant, we were seated at a small table in the middle. Our server was young and friendly...and did not know how to pronounce half of the menu items; she corrected my pronunciation of "meritage" (a made-up word for one of my fave wine blends that actually rhymes with "heritage"). We ordered a burrata plate (with carmelized yellow grape tomatoes and their house eggplant tapenade in the middle), and she didn't know that the heavenly pillow of cheese on the one side of the plate was the burrata. She is not my complaint, though.

My unwelcomed epiphany came when I was perusing the menu and then, as the evening wore on, trying to enjoy our food. It dawned on me that half of their menu items had changed since the online offering must have been posted. The menu had become a collection of pretentious, trendy food plates that had transcended the foodie restos and had already begun to infiltrate the chain establishments--much like Target has been successful at doing with its clothing (budget-minded threads with designs that were introduced at the New York Fashion Show a year or so earlier). Granted, I am not a clothier, nor do I regularly buy clothes, so Target is fine by me. But food? Food is a very different story.

The restaurant had a representative from almost every food trend in the food industry today: Colorado lamb, tilapia (the junk fish of the Polynesian Islands I might add), Kurabuto pork, and Wagyu (Kobe) beef--this is only a list of some of their meats. They "infused" the popular citrus trend with Mandarin sauces, Clementine sorbet, Meyer lemon reductions, and blood orange coulee. One of their two risotto dishes was a mushroom risotto (actually a porcini), while they employed morels in another dish. They were also trite enough to offer a beef tataki and Louisiana crab cakes. I almost half expected to see Diver scallops with a soy gelee or a yuzu foam, or better yet, an offering of something, anything, like a soup "served three ways."

There was absolutely nothing original on their menu, nothing at all.

The evening got worse. Their dishes were not executed well either. They were hardly pretty to look at on the plate. The burrata dish and BOTH of our entrees were also doused in a pesto (we had kabocha squash ravioli - yes, kabocha - and a lamb special with chunks of lamb that were SO chewy, it took me forever to eat half of my dish). The pesto completely overpowered the burrata cheese and the ravioli. It slightly added to my lamb dish which was oversalted, but otherwise underseasoned. And since nothing inspired me on their dessert tray, I ordered a cheese plate with 3 types of cheese (some kind of blue, a soft, and a semi-hard).

Mylo isn't the most critical restaurant patron (definitely not like me), and even he was still able to be completely unamused. We walked out of the restaurant wondering what exactly we had paid for.

Now this blog is not to say that I have a problem with certain food trends. Of course some of these dishes will be seen more frequently on menus across America because their ingredients are more easily available to resto kitchens and chefs, and they have picked up some popularity as well, thus many kitchens want to serve what they think their patrons will want to eat. I can understand that, the practice of following certain food trends. And I can understand the latter, choosing, and depending on, only certain popular trends at a place that is void of risk, the kind of place that depends on consistency and dependability in order to survive, the kind of place that served Chilean sea bass back in the day and before it was overfished. If you are the neighborhood mom-and-pop Italian restaurant that caters to families, you are not going to veer too much from a traditional Italian menu. In the same token, the local sushi restaurant will not be serving filet mignon. And the healthy American restaurant chain will always serve a combination thereof including every popular dish that is current and marketable.

I did not think that my little Cali-franco establishment was one of those places that wagered nothing and yet tried to provide a little bit of everything. I did not think that it was going to be so...uninspired. But I was very humbly, and completely, mistaken. Its price tag was definitely not reflective of this lack of creativity either. And its most recent reviews were quite favorable.

I do not have a response for this experience. I do not know what to say or how to avoid it in the future without being too auspicious, and, in the process, all but marking the evening. Of course, this is where my reasonable-thinking cap goes on. Had I been at a Daily Grill or a McCormick's and Schmick's, or even a Flemings, I might have judged this experience a little less harshly (as chains, they have to maintain a certain uniform and thus rather insipid standard across the board and in all of their locations).

I do, however, try to be appropriate and fair with my critical opinion of a food experience, and...that is why this one goes down in the books as being a really disappointing one.