Despite our outwardly cheery disposition, the default mood of any working critic tends to be weariness and resignation. As always, this year (and even this decade) saw many welcome dining developments and excellent new restaurants. And as always, these generally cheerful developments were accompanied by the the usual deluge of gimmicks, stunts, and “innovations” that tend to make the restaurant-going experience slightly less pleasurable. Here are ten such tedious trends this critic would like to be rid of once and for all.
Ongoing Mad Men–era nostalgia Sure, we enjoy the occasional extra-dry $20 martini, carefully constructed terrines, and grand prime rib trolley carts as much as the next aged big-city fresser. But fascination with an imagined version of mid-century American dining — which of course began several years ago, when Mad Men was still on the air — has lately turned into a slightly tiresome marketing gimmick that too often feels like a way to peddle country-club food as a high-priced extravagance.
Cafeteria-style bowl restaurants Yes, we’re talking about the endlessly proliferating salad and bowl bars around town, which have morphed in a few short years, according to this grumpy local critic, from a quick, healthy lunchtime ritual into a string of businesses with a disturbingly cultish following. It’s a model that reminds us more and more — as hourly-wage servers dole out the tofu and kale — of skulking through the cafeteria line of a pampered, overpriced liberal arts college.
Gourmet mall dining in the big city Not so long ago in the innocent, pre-Trump era, Manhattan’s hotel-lobby restaurants earned their own spot on this dreaded list. But it’s somehow gotten worse: As the costs of doing business in the city have continued to skyrocket, more of the ambitious dining projects are showing up inside grimly impersonal shopping developments. Enjoying your grilled rib eye or a helping of perfectly articulate home-style Korean noodles by the glow of the latest Neiman Marcus outlet is the price Manhattanites have to pay for the latest in “gourmet” dining. That, however, doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Iconic New York mail-order foods As proprietary, terroir-conscious New Yorkers, we’ve long considered the idea of mailing iconic big-city delicacies to be downright nuts. (Yes, you can now “enjoy” Katz’s pastrami in the comfort of your kitchen in Dallas or Shanghai, but do you want to?) The recent news that a prepackaged facsimile of Dom DeMarco’s perfect New York pizza is now available without having to make the pilgrimage out to Midwood to watch the master himself roll out his floury dough with slow, delicious deliberation, fills this old boomer’s heart with something close to despair.
Virulent caviar creep The true gilded era of New York dining ended long ago, of course, but thanks to new farm-raised techniques and a supposed reduction in prices, caviar — that ancient luxury signifier — stubbornly keeps popping up on menus around town. A word to the wise: The new stuff from China, or Tennessee, or wherever, may be slightly cheaper than the much more delicious Russian or Iranian sturgeon eggs of old, but the dreaded “MP” designation is higher than you think, and you’ll get more bang for your buck, and your taste buds, splurging on cool spoonfuls of salmon roe, or that more contemporary luxury-seafood upsell for our post-gourmet era, uni.
The endlessly ridiculous foie gras debate Tell me, concerned and outraged anti–foie gras advocates (and politicians): Is the suffering of an overstuffed duck (or goose) really worse than the festival of horrors we inflict on the barnyard population at large? And foie gras chefs, is this luxury ingredient still even worth fighting for? Here’s our suggestion: Why don’t we all stop yammering about this tiresome topic, and let this dated, less-popular-than-it-used-to-be ingredient continue its slow fade into irrelevance and oblivion?
Viral chicken sandwiches No, your weary critic has not sampled the latest Popeyes fried-chicken sandwich, and we have no immediate plans to stand in line to sample the inevitable follow-ups and ever-proliferating copycats which, we have no doubt, would make a quick, satisfying, and, dare we say, delicious meal. But do we really have to spend another year obsessing over one of the few fast-food items that was already more or less perfected by numerous other restaurants and franchise chains decades ago?
The dreaded, and increasingly confused, phrase “shared plates” The tapas-inspired craze of every diner eating every dish on the table has now been with us forever, and the larger, family-style, “to share” platter has been a modern staple on menus around town for more than a decade now. But lately, during the course of our culinary rounds, we’ve been hearing from slightly confused servers that every single dish on every single menu is designed to be “shared,” even though those plates are now slightly larger than the traditional small-plate offering, but not large enough for proper group sharing. This critic, and more than a few of his weary dinner guests, have grown tired of meting out four miniscule bites so everyone at the table can enjoy a measly taste of a chef’s high-concept creation.
Mezcal overload Have you tried the Oaxaca old-fashioned? The rabidly popular mezcal negroni? Or the notorious Scorpion Reef (“a bold mezcal-based tiki cocktail inspired by the flavors of pineapple flan,” according to the drinks site Imbibe)? There are many hundreds more variations of this suddenly trendy mixer, but we’ll stick to the original classic recipes, thanks very much, and continue to enjoy the occasional sip of this great Mexican delicacy the true old-fashioned way: poured neat or possibly mixed with, at most, a few big cubes of ice.
“Plant-based” eating Are we in favor of saving the planet from being enveloped in an asphyxiating, ever-hotter cloud of ruminant belching? Of course. We’re in favor of less beef in our general diet, too, and we even find ourselves enjoying the uncanny beef taste of the latest non-beef burgers to hit the market. But what actual “plants” are we talking about when we eat these high-tech, super-engineered unicorn patties? More and more we find ourselves craving a few plant-based dinners we actually recognize.