The 2010 Bottom Ten

Over the past four months, I only ate home cooked food Thanksgiving weekend. Besides the peanut, cashew, and almond butter sandwiches I slopped together in my 100 square foot dorm room, I ate nearly every other meal in delis and restaurants. Needless to say, I feel exhausted both with the New York dining scene and the decidedly less than gourmet offerings in Morningside Heights. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good egg-on-roll-with-cheese as much as the next guy. Week after glorious week of sandwiches, however, begins to wear on the soul. (Panino Sportivo does serve some seriously delicious sandwiches though. I never get tired of the Ludi or the Pontus.) What I wouldn’t give for a decent roasted chicken that doesn’t set my budget back $20, for simple, honest food without pretension. The institution of eating out has become too much for me.

During the holiday season, magazines and blogs start putting out top ten lists: best restaurants, best dishes, best new chefs. Sitting in LaGuardia, eating my Auntie Anne’s pretzel and feeling a solid year slip off my life as a result, I’m feeling a bit of a Grinch. So, instead of a top ten list, I’ve prepared a bottom ten, the ten food trends/people/places/things that have annoyed me the most over the past four months. Bear with my grumbling.

1. Fat

Restaurant food in New York simply contains too much fat. I don’t need to eat the fattiest cut of meat—pork belly, lamb belly, anything belly—and I don’t need bacon emulsified or dehydrated or sprinkled on everything. In fact, show me a menu without bacon on it and I’m perfectly satisfied. When I leave a restaurant, I shouldn’t feel grease leaking out of my pores. BP’s oil spill seems like a minor incident in comparison to New York’s clarified butter tidal wave.

2. Salt

In 2010, New Yorkers were taught a thorough lesson: chefs think you should eat salty food. Very salty food. Yes, we all know that salt “makes flavors pop” and all that cooking reality show contest nonsense. But here’s a novel concept: if your food actually tastes like salt, it’s too salty.  I suspect that this trend towards oversalting is a concerted effort on the part of New York restaurants to drive up beverage revenues. Frankly, I’ve sat through meals where I’ve wanted to dunk my head in a bucket of water. April Bloomfield’s restaurants are some of the worst offenders in this category. At the John Dory Oyster Bar, I needed a couple of those buckets. “Anchovy and parsley pesto produces a mighty thirst,” I wrote. Following that kidney-obliterating meal, I needed a few days on the juice fast to rehydrate.

3. Food Trucks

Now that temperatures have dropped into frostbite territory, I refuse to eat out of food trucks. Of course, I functionally refuse to eat out of food trucks any time of the year. The food almost universally tastes terrible, gets cold before a suitable seat can be located, and pales in comparison to restaurant food of a similar genre. Here, I’m not referring to real food trucks, like taco trucks or ice cream trucks—I’m referring to the hipster and yuppie fueled monstrosities slowly colonizing both twitter and the East Village.

4. Lincoln and restaurant paranoia

I used to love eating alone. But this past semester, nearly every time I dined solo I received funny looks. Apparently, in 2010 eating alone requires answering a litany of questions including, “are you in the industry,” “do you have a special interest in food,” and even, “do you like eating out?” Why yes, I do enjoy eating out. Or I did until the waitstaff started harassing me about my motives and personal interests. Either restaurants are getting more paranoid or I am. Probably the latter. But I’m convinced that restaurants’ enhanced social media presence has made them more aware of and interested in spotting amateur food critics. For instance, Lincoln—the progenitors of that “do you like eating out” gem—cultivated an uncomfortable and cold dining experience. Seriously, stop asking me whether I’m in the industry.

5. Pretension

The gross level of pretension in New York restaurants reached an entirely new (and epic) level this year. If you are not a museum, you are not curating anything, let alone a menu. Enough said.

6. Recession Rebound

Obviously, I’m glad that the economy has rebounded enough to facilitate a spurt of new restaurant openings, especially fine dining options. In my own backyard, a whole slew of spots have sprung up catering to students and downtowners alike. Unfortunately, recession rebound means a rebound in prices. I fear a reversal in the democratization of haute cuisine, particularly inflation of the city’s stupendous lunch deals.

7. Salty Desserts

This seems relatively similar to number two, but salt in desserts poses even more egregious problems. Sweets that make you sweat are downright silly. Is a food product called “crack pie” something you want to put in your body?

8. “Eclectic Menus”

Combining multiple incongruous cuisines in one menu makes ordering unpleasant. German, Mediterranean, and Turkish? I suffer from jet lag just reading these globe spanning catalogs of mediocre food.

9. The Michelin Guide

After the release of the 2010 New York Michelin Guide, I realized that the little red book provides virtually no useful information other than a reasonably well-compiled list of “good” restaurants in the city. The New York guide seems like a money-making exercise more than a useful tool.

10. Sushi Yasuda

Sushi Yasuda rounds out this list because its namesake chef is leaving. Last Friday, I enjoyed an incredible meal at Sushi Yasuda despite Chef Naomichi Yasuda’s absence. I feel confident that quality at the restaurant will remain relatively stable. Nevertheless, Yasuda is a New York food legend, and he will be sorely missed. (Look for my review tomorrow).

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