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Sep 8, 2009 07:41 AM

Most Overrated Dishes

My nomination is ropa vieja. Commonly found in Cuban restaurants. I always see this listed as a house specialty and I often see this highlighted when people talk about Cuban or Spanish food.

Oh if I only had a dollar for every wet, overly chewy, jaw-numbing, tasteless piece of meat found in your average ropa vieja. RV means "old clothes' in Spanish, and, although I agree this could be a great dish, it is almost always awful. Truly closer to eating old clothes than most restaurants would like to admit.

Instead of serving RV, I wish more places would serve vaca frita or 'fried cow.' Fried beef and onions is usually transcendent, and I am surprised it doesn't make it's way onto menus more often and finally knock RV off its pedestal.

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    1. re: laliz

      Got that right! Overpowers everything.

      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

        Use less, or use it on more powerful stuff.

        I put it on eggs. In the right quantity, it's a nice balance.

        1. re: mrbigshotno.1

          I make a wonderful soup with carrots, roasted red peppers, celery, onions, and a bit of chipotle. It is fabulous, and not at all overpowered, though it could easily be.

        2. re: laliz

          Do you mean the chile? Or like BBQ sauce?

          1. re: laliz

            amen, sistah laliz, on the chipotle "phenom"!

            1. re: alkapal

              I'm sorry, but chipotle is awesome stuff!

              1. re: joonjoon

                uh, no need to apologize if you like chipotle.

                1. re: alkapal

                  What is chipotle?? Lol.. I am new here

                  1. re: jamesneo05

                    chipotle is smoked jalapeño pepper -- usually sold in a can with "adobo sauce" of tomato , vinegar & spices.

          2. Actually, I've been pretty lucky with RV in the few Cuban restaurants I've had them in New York.

            I was going to nominate authentic Chicken Scarpariello. Scarpariello translates to "shoemaker" in Italian, and the dish is supposed to have been created by a poor working peasant who cobbled shoes. It is nothing but the most horrid pieces of a chicken -- not your usual parts. Just because it is very garlicky and has a lot of lemon, it still does not mask the fact that what you are eating is normally tossed or saved for stock in most American kitchens. I was stunned to have been served this rather than typical chicken parts at a restaurant.

            6 Replies
            1. re: RGC1982

              I have had good luck with ropa vieja in south Florida, but the cuban food here is way better than in Cuba. RV is not commonly offered in Cuba: beef is not their long suit and it is scarce, save for a few paladares.
              As for cuban bread, it sucks. Stale, tasteless, too crumbly. Only useful for mopping up tasty liquids, or for a pressed sandwich.

              1. re: Veggo

                I agrre with you about Cuban bread. At most places, it is a bit like styrofoam.

                1. re: Veggo

                  I think you have never had real cuban bread then.

                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                    I've had real Cuban bread, and I'm with those guys. I'd take a fresh baguette over a fresh loaf of Cuban bread any day, but I realize this whole thread is about taste, which is largely subjective.

                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                      Cuban bread is only good when it it toasted--that's when the lard in it (and it should have lard in it...) makes it deliciously crispy. Cuban toast--the kind you have with coffee--has the added benefit of also being drenched in butter and then toasted. You can't get that kind of effect with regular baguettes.

                2. re: RGC1982

                  Isn't Ropa Vieja more of a Puerto Rican/Dominican dish? In any case, I've had good versions out and I make a pretty mean one myself, imho.

                3. Macaroni & Cheese. It just doesn't do it for me.

                  21 Replies
                  1. re: lynnlato

                    same here -- even the "gourmet" home-made kind.
                    (but ya know, bacon-girlfriend, that we might give it another shot if it had some (read: "LOTS") of crumbled bacon in the mac & cheese).

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Gourmet is the worst kind. Gourmeting up a traditionally homecooked type dish always ruins it. This is the one time I will use Velvetta in my cooking. I hate the stuff, but it has a place in a cheese sauce (along with sour cream, heavy cream, cream cheese, and sharp cheddar) for mac and cheese topped with bacon and Ritz cracker crumbs mixed with butter. I hang my head in shame at using Velvetta, but I have experimented for years and this was my very best combo.

                      1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                        I have never heard of any M&C, no matter how "tarted up" it became, not having as its base a bechamel sauce with cheese(s) of choice. And always bread crumbs on top. Interesting thing you do there.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          The only M&C I've had with bread crumbs was just terrible: the crumbs ended up burnt AND greasy. This was some "tarted up" gruyere and lobster atrocity masquerading as mac and cheese. All the decent M&C I've had was a blend of Velveeta with some other cheese (swiss, cheddar, or American) with no topping at all except more cheese. For me, M&C must have that crispy, slightly burnt cheese topping on top, like a good pizza or French onion soup gratinee.

                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                            If the bread crumbs wound up burnt and greasy then it was "operator error" not the ingredients. And gruyere is actually a quite traditional cheese for M&C. I think we all have different tastes in things and yours is obviously different from mine. If I got served pizza or French onion soup with burned cheese on top, I'd send it back and ask them to redo it correctly. Different strokes.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              gruyere is "traditional" for mac and cheese? am i wrong in thinking m&c is an american phenom (qua the gooey stuff we know as m&c)? if so, i just don't picture gruyere as "traditional" in american foods.

                              what are the best/closest italian equivalents? do they do an gruyere and egg noodle type dish in alsace? just curious about mac and cheese versions there in europe.

                              1. re: alkapal

                                I recall seeing a "pasta gratin" dishes in Larousse Gastronomique, where you build a mornay sauce with Gruyere and nutmeg and fold in cooked pasta. But you also supposed to add something else like mushrooms or shredded meat. Top with more Gruyere and breadcrumbs.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  I gather M&C has been around since Thomas Jefferson days and has crossed and recrossed many oceans along the way. I actually see a fair number of recipes that use both gruyere and cheddar. I'm not familiar with an Italian equivalent but that would work for me, for sure :) But can we agree that, regardless of the cheese(s), M&C begins with a bechamel sauce (white sauce)? This isn't something I fix often but it has always started that way for me.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I grew up on bechamel-based M&C, but as I travelled around the south, I've had many tasty M&Cs in diners and bbq stands and soul food joints that didn't start with a bechamel. Most have been a blend of cheeses (Velveeta, swiss, jack, cheddar, American) mixed with milk and eggs, with more cheese on top. Sometimes topped with breadcrumbs or crushed crackers or even smashed potato chips. Some have been gooey, some have been firmer, almost quiche like. But whatever works.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      I remember the Thomas Jefferson "reciept" - macaroni cheese is a British dish, and as befits Jefferson, with French flourishes. But a very homestyle dish.

                                      Please remember that not all posters here live in the US. One of the treasures of this board is its international reach.

                                      Bad Nono, without going for such things as velveeta, or overly gooey variations, incorporating some béchamel into the cheese is not a bad idea; it is also a thrifty one.

                                      I don't think of Velveeta as food, except in cases of dire need. My family was far from affluent, but we never ate that stuff.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        No we can not agree that m&c starts with a bechamel. As monkeyrotica mentioned, many m&c recipes are custard based, not cheese sauce based.

                                        You can say that "many" m&c recipes start with a bechamel...that would be true.

                                      2. re: alkapal

                                        Kase Spaetzle in Germany is a kissing cousin to American M&C. It's spaetzle noodles with lots of melted mild cheese. Very tasty.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          In France you do "coquillettes au gruyère" using very small elbow pasta. The cheese part is grated gruyère or emmenthal (I use comté or beaufort, better taste) that you melt on the stovetop with the just cooked pasta, some butter and a dash of nutmeg. I add diced ham to mine (jambon à l'os, bone-in ham).
                                          Gooey melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
                                          No crunchy bits. I cannot abide American mac & cheese, as I didn't grow up on the stuff. (anybody attempting to do the recipe must be warned that the pot is very hard to clean after)

                                          1. re: bad nono

                                            I use my Berndes saucepan for this sort of preparation, so cleanup's a snap.

                                      3. re: monkeyrotica

                                        you're SO right about the crumbs vs cheese...

                                      4. re: c oliver

                                        I absolutely use white sauce as a base, that would be the cheese sauce I referred to. Cheese sauce is bechamel with cheese melted into it. After I add the cheeses (including Velvetta) I add cream cheese, sour cream, and heavy cream if it needs thinning out. I also add Worchestershire and Tabasco. Bacon and buttered bread crumbs go on top. It is fabu and took me years to perfect. I had to do some out of the box thinking on it, but it rocks. We don't have it often b/c it is so bad for us.

                                  2. re: lynnlato

                                    I just saw this post today and Mac & Cheese was my initial thought.


                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                      I agree...something about pasta without any real pasta sauce seems a little odd

                                      1. re: observor

                                        I think cheese sauce is sauce. Although not a fave of mine, think fettucine Alfredo. Or spaghetti carbonara.

                                      2. re: lynnlato

                                        Too true. I really just don't like it, whether it be Kraft/Velveeta/other cheap types or gussied up with a feather in its cap. The only kind I can eat is Annies brand, and even that leaves me feeling vaguely ick-ish.

                                        1. re: lynnlato

                                          I used to say that until I met my wife and ate her mac and cheese. Simple and excellent. The trick is to use extra sharp cheddar cheese, canned condensed milk, and the right ratios. Most of the overrrated stuff uses very plain American cheese.

                                        2. Chicken Marbella from he Silver Palate. I don't get it -- people seem to love it -- and I find the combination of brown sugar and prunes more suited to a dessert than an entree. My husband attributes it to people haveing infintile tastes -- liking anything that is sweet. Save me from another dinner party where that is served as the entree!!

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: roxlet

                                            You're not alone. I also find it a bit too sweet for my taste as well.

                                            DH's answer would be roasted bone marrow. It's good, but he doesn't find it life altering as how some people make it out to be.

                                            My answer about half a year to a year ago would have been toro. Every place (including some very notable Japanese sushi restaurants) I've had it served some sinews in it. So I didn't really get toro as the sinews got in the way of really appreciating the velvety texture. But I then had the most wonderful pieces of toro at Ushiwakamaru in NYC and totally understood what all the fuss was about.

                                            Honestly, I don't know what my answer to this question would be. I can name off specific dishes at certain restaurants that I feel are overrated. But to say an entire dish is overrated everywhere? This, to me, sounds more like personal preference. There can be so many versions of a dish and there can be a huge variety in ingredient quality. And the skill of the cook definitely comes into play as well.

                                            For example, I kind of understood where DH was coming from with the bone marrow until I had it at Prune in NYC. I've had bone marrow at some very well known places (eg. Blue Ribbon in NYC, St. John in London). I thought it was good (in fact, sometimes very good), but I didn't understand why people went ga ga over it. What was so great about it? I didn't find it transcendental. I guess the cynical side of me was wondering whether so many people raved about bone marrow because it was trendy and Bourdain proclaimed that he wanted it to be his last meal. But after having it at Prune, I understood it more. Prune's bone marrow was a lot more flavorful than the other examples I've had in the past. The other roasted bone marrows I've had in the past were well prepared, but I think the quality of the marrow at Prune really outshone the other examples. Must have come from one happy cow. However, roasted bone marrow (even Prune's) wouldn't even make it into my top 100 considerations for my last meal. But I do get other people's love for it more.

                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                              I wanted to try bone marrow when I was in the city earlier this year. We went firt to Landmarc and had there's and I too didn't get what all the hub bub was about. Then we went to Blue Ribbon Brasserie another night and I had there's, with the oxtail marmalade and I then I understood. I was a happy, happy girl. 'Course the few adult beverages I had preceding it could have contributed to my good mood too. :)

                                            2. re: roxlet

                                              While I'm a huge fan of the Silver Palate cookbooks, I never got Chicken Marbella. I'm in complete agreement. But then I just don't think chicken and sweet go together.

                                              1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                But I once had a wonderful chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and apricots. Fabulous!

                                              2. re: roxlet

                                                Yeh, I do not get prunes and capers. Someone always wants to bring it to a potluck. The only thing I can imagine is that they hate the attendees. Bleck.

                                                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                  Excellent, cooking as passive aggression.

                                              3. Caviar. There is nothing wrong with it, but it just isn't all that.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                  I think you are too young to remember the Iranian Caspian Sea beluga in the chilled tins, which is no longer imported. It was the real deal, although one could argue whether is was worth the price. My college girlfriend simply didn't care about the price.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    In '69, I was " back in the USSR", ate so much Beluga and deep fried sturgeon, never considering that I would seldomly ever have it again.

                                                  2. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    I'm with you, KaimukiMan! And the next-worst is a very well-aged feta cheese. I know when something doesn't taste good.

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      I'd had tastes of caviar here and there over the years but never really appreciated it either until the evening several years ago that my husband and I went to this wonderful Russian restaurant in West Hollywood (which unfortunately is no longer there), Diaghelev. We started with a tasting sampler of 5 or 6 different caviars, starting with a relatively inexpensive one up to the most expensive, finest caviar. I don't remember all of them except I know it included osetra, sevruga and beluga. We intentionally started with the least expensive and worked our way up to the beluga and I have to say that it was an eye-opening and mind expanding experience! OMG! I finally understood what all the hubbub was about! It was served with the appropriate accoutrements (toast points, creme fraiche, etc.). We always talked about going back to try it again but never did, one of the reasons being that it was incredibly expensive. (We had splurged that night for our anniversary.). You want to know the ironic thing about all this? Growing up we had several Iranian family friends who would from time to time bring over giant tins of caviar that they had brought back with them from visits home (this was in the 70s) and I can still see my dad and those friends enjoying those giant tins of caviar.... I tried them of course but i was probably about 14 or 15 and I just didn't appreciate it. What I would give to experience having a giant tin of that Iranian caviar sitting in front of me to dig in to!! Okay, so my mouth is watering now... :o)

                                                      1. re: schmoopy

                                                        How incredible that sounds. I'm eating some great homemade fried fish and onion rings but salivating for caviar :)