Is it time to put seared ahi and tuna tartare on hiatus?
These dishes are becoming the cliches of the restaurant world, and I'm afraid I'm probably as guilty of ordering them a lot as anyone else. But a poster on the L.A. board who recently ate at Spago and proclaimed the seared ahi lackluster made me think, isn't it time for restaurants, especially high-end ones with pretensions to creativity, to retire these dishes for a while, give our mercury-poisoned bodies a rest and find something else to serve?
Of course, in L.A. there would probably be large-scale riots, but I'm willing to risk it, especially if I could see a different kind of fish on a menu once in a while. Are you tired of seeing these safety fall-backs on menus? What kind of appetizers or main course seafood would you like to see instead?
The Bay Area is seeing a lot of fish crudo and carpaccio that is not ahi. It's a refreshing change. In the past few months I've had delicious preparations of hamachi crudo, halibut crudo with avocado and fennel and wild salmon carpaccio with arugula.
This trend was already past its expiration date when Frank Bruni made fun of it two years ago:
"... restaurants with admittedly eclectic leanings end up in an even more homogenous, redundant place. Before I step through their doors, I can usually predict what I will find.
"My appetizer choices will include tuna tartare, tuna sashimi or tuna tataki. If by some astonishing quirk of providence there is not any raw or extremely rare tuna on the menu, there will be some other uncooked fish — sea bass, yellowtail or Arctic char — and the odds are 50-50 that it will wear the voguish tag of crudo. ..."
I'm not crazy about tartare, as I can't do raw onions, but good seared ahi is one of my favorites, and I'm personally pleased as punch that I can find it readily. :) I'm all for a "trend" as long as it's good.
That said, putting it on the menu when it's mediocre or doesn't fit with the other dishes is always a no-no, whether it's ahi or hamburger.
I think anytime something becomes a trend it's time to cut it... or at least stop proliferating it. There's little creativity left. How about some real carpaccio for a change?... not that that would be any more creative.
See, I've always been more in favor of good food than trends. If the trend turns out to be good, then keep it on the list, whether or not it's considered trendy or too scene-y. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of chefs who are focusing more on creating the New Hot Thing then getting really good at tried-and-true items (and innovating, as well).
Creativity is important, but so is skill. And taste, for that matter. If it tastes good, keep it. As Morton said, salmon carpaccio is fantastic; so is beef carpaccio. But should a restaurant not serve beef carpaccio because it's been around a long time? Of course not. Loads of restaurants have mashed potatoes as a side--should they stop serving it because it's too "common"?
Serve it because you do it well, whether or not it's trendy. Good dishes stand the test of time.