What the Aughts Wrought: Terrible Trends in Dining?

Restaurant-TrendsThe Chicago Tribune has tongues wagging over their recent list of the “10 Worst Dining Trends of the Last Decade.” Industry heavyweights weigh in, including David Chang of Momofuku fame and Epicurious.com‘s Tanya Steele. Dissed and dismissed are trios of sliders, molecular gastronomy, and communal tables, among others.

Everyone’s entitled to her or his opinion — and they’re also entitled to mine. First, I happen to love sliders (especially those served curbside at Old Homestead). The ubiquitous trio of sliders that haunt other menus may seem a bit tiresome, but my real beef (pun, intended) with them is that many things are called sliders — yet most are not. I consider a slider to be a diminutive beef burger on a similarly sized bun (see also Castle, White). Grilled cheese sliders? Lobster sliders? Meatball sliders? They may be tasty, but, please, call them something else.

Molecular gastronomy is either everyone’s darling or everyone’s favorite whipping post. I believe what chefs, such as Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, are doing is daring, inventive, and innovative. Challenging expectations about what’s on your plate adds the elements of mystery and surprise to dining out. And, as someone who has had the pleasure of studying briefly with Dave Arnold, L’Ecole’s resident mad gastronomical scientist, immersion cooking and manipulating ingredients’ textures and appearances are mind-blowing good fun. It’s not for everyone, but what’s wrong with a few select chefs thinking outside the oven?

The communal table comes under fire, too. I actually think of these as more a construct of the nineties (in this country, at least) and, in truth, I enjoy them. I first dined (stateside) at Asia de Cuba‘s elegant shared table and had a lively and delicious meal. I returned twice more and sat at private tables, but neither was quite as enjoyable as that collective experience. The Baltimore Sun concurs that communal tables can, indeed, create a more social meal.

Premature and reactionary (and, oftentimes, unverified) restaurant reviews are also cited. Even if you understand how difficult working at — or running! — a restaurant is, imagine how tough it is to open one from the ground up. As someone who’s both a diner and a former restaurant worker, I think every business deserves a modest grace period, even beyond the soft opening, to find its feet before being subjected to stringent, critical scrutiny.

There are some points I agree with on the Tribune’s list. (I still can’t discuss, without gagging, the particulars of a foie gras foam I once attempted to choke down.) However, the trends of the aughts that I think ought to go the way of “Bennifer” include*: Lollipop-style meats. Restaurant staff who are as chilly as liquid nitrogen. Overpriced comfort foods. Martini and/or “signature cocktail” lists. Panna cotta. Establishments that neglect to put salt on the table. Short ribs. Specials that are too numerous and involved for anyone to remember (“What was the second part of the fifth special?”). And, obviously, bottled water.

What dining and restaurant trends are you tired of? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

*Disclaimer: Excepting aloof restaurant staffers, expensive dishes, environmentally incorrect water, and a lack of salt, all of these items are actually perfectly acceptable — in small portions.

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