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10 worst dining trends of the last decade: Cupcakes, Kobe, Foam...

The Chicago Tribune published a short article and slide show of the "worst dining trends," culled from chefs, consultants and "normal folks."

David Chang is one who contributes -- though this list is different from what he and Anthony Bourdain slammed last Friday night -- saying The Cheesecake Factory and Kobe beef were among his biggest gripes. He goes on to say: "Bad trends were usually good trends. They just got watered down into a really bad, overdone trend."

http://www.chicagotribune.com/enterta...

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  1. Great article! Number 1 is number one with me and deserves to be quoted here:

    <<Said Joyce Goldstein, a San Francisco-based chef, cookbook author and restaurant consultant: "I do not want a poached egg on top of carbonara sauce and the pasta on the side. I don't want the ingredients laid out before me anymore. I want a chef to show me how it is brought together. Cooking has become an intellectual thing, but it's not a sensual thing. We have all gotten so smart about food, we are losing touch with sex appeal. Everything else is getting so exhausting -- a lot of chefs saying, 'Look at me,' and 'Look at this technique,' and, next decade, I would prefer not to look at them for a while." >>

    Beautifully stated. And number 2 re "the chef as media whore" was comical...and true!

    52 Replies
    1. re: kattyeyes

      Nothing wrong with that remark except that carbonara sauce with pasta on the side is impossible, but Joyce Goldstein talking about who belongs on a ten-worst list is pretty ironic.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Hey RL, Whaddaya have against Joyce? I used to like her columns in the Chronicle and her food always seemed pretty straightforward and not "fussed over". Care to elaborate?
        adam

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I've cooked with Joyce. She's an amazing, cerebral chef - who had absolutely no patience with the dreamy culinary students who chopped garlic as if they were painting watercolors.

            Actually, I've had some pretty amazing deconstructed carbonaras, including at least one where the pig component consisted of aerated jamon Iberico fat blast frozen into Dippin' Dots.

            1. re: condiment

              There was also Michael V's deconstructed carbonara on Top Chef with the frozen egg yolk in ravioli then cooked. I thought it was clever.

              1. re: condiment

                I'm sorry, but just reading that made me wince. Aerated jamon iberico fat blast frozen into Dippin' Dots? What is so wrong with actually making food? Make an amazing carbonara and do it absolutely perfectly.

                That you've had more than one deconstructed carbonara weird me out. I've missed several of these "worsts" because I don't eat in places fancy enough to do such things.

                I just want real food. I guess I suck at being a foodie.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  what makes those things less "real"?
                  why are they not-so-much food?

                  is it ok to render fat and use it as an ingredient? to crisp bits of fat and use them as ingredients? If those are legitimate, why is frozen fat a verboten process? where is that line drawn that makes one food "real" and another "fake"?

                  1. re: thew

                    Wherever you choose to draw it, and wherever I choose to draw it.

                    I don't appreciate much novelty in classic dishes. If you want to serve me bacon fat ice cream and baked tomato concasse and noodles and a fried egg all in separate heaps, go right ahead, but don't call it carbonara.

                    Fortunately, the restaurants in which I dine habitually wouldn't ever serve such a thing, because I can't afford to dine in experimental new places, and that suits me just fine.

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      that's a very different stance from the above, when you said it wasn't real and wasn't food.

                      i also asked where YOU draw the line, as i already know were i draw it.
                      I really am not trying to be obnoxious, but trying to understand - why is rendering fat OK, but flash freezing it not?

                      furthermore it wasn't called carbonara, it was called deconsructed carbonara. different name for a different dish - and yet a name that tells you fairly clearly what to expect.

                      1. re: thew

                        I want food to be recognisable as what it is, and I don't like it when things happen to food that I don't think are necessary. The description of the fat above seems tortured to me.

                        Cut from the animal, cured, then aerated, then dropped on an anti-griddle, when just slicing it after the cure would be good enough.

                        It's hard for me to answer your question, because I wouldn't consider rendered jamon iberico in my "carbonara" acceptable either. Now if we were discussing bacon bubbles versus lardons, my direct answer would be because the classic recipe calls for meat in a carbonara, not just fat, and raw bacon is neither advisable nor especially palatable.

                        "Deconstructed" to me means that you take the normal ingredients and separate them out on a plate. If I saw that on a menu I would expect a pile of fresh noodles, an egg, some bacon pieces and a bit of cheese (the ingredients of a classic carbonara). "Deconstructed carbonara" does not tell you that you are about to be presented with aerated, frozen ham bubbles. The point is somewhat moot because it would be unlikely in the extreme that I would order "deconstructed" anything.

                        In short, carbonara is fresh noodles tossed with eggs and bacon and a little cheese, and when you deconstruct it, it is no longer carbonara to me, so I don't like seeing it being called carbonara, whatever they may do to it. It is not a real carbonara.

                        This ties into my dislike of another item on the list, foam. I like my food to be substantial, and I like to feel like I am eating food rather than inhaling a series of wispy flavours. This is also, incidentally, the reason behind my impatience with things like 27-course tasting menus. The art of the four-hour dinner is completely wasted on me.

                        I know that I'm a food Luddite, and I think I don't care, as long as I can continue to find things that I love to eat. Others can go for the bubbles and the foams and the air under glass, and if that's what thrills your taste buds, I say go for it. For that table, I won't be competing, that's all.

                        1. re: thew

                          Rendering fat has been done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and all it requires is a fire, a pan, and some fatty meat.

                          Flash freezing has only been around (in restaurants, not frozen food factories) for a few years, and requires sophisticated equipment not found in the average kitchen.

                          I can't speak for Das Geek, but to me, real food is food that could have been prepared 500, or even a 1000, years ago. Granted, our modern devices like freezers, microwaves, instant read thermometers, food processors, etc., make cooking much faster and easier today, but Italian cooks could make pasta by hand during the Renaissance that I doubt we could differentiate from today's versions. If you need liquid nitrogen, or acrylic sheets, or ultra-high speed blenders to make your dish, it's not real to me.

                          1. re: FrankD

                            Indigenious people of the Andes "discovered" (and have since used) flash freezing in their making of chuno 100s of years ago.

                            1. re: FrankD

                              so - no tomatoes in italian food, no chili peppers in any food from outside south america for you, as those could not have been prepared 500 or 1000 years ago?

                              No ice cream? sad. very very sad. No foods that need to be flown in using refrigerated trucks? also sad

                              and i suppose you don't use zippers, or cars, or airconditioners, either?
                              that wouldn't be real closing, real travel, or real temperatures, because we couldn't do it 500 years ago?

                              i guess i have never understood a longing for a golden age that never existed, nor saw the virtue of ignoring progress in everyday life choices.

                              to me real food is food that tastes good and has some nutritional value. and even the latter isn't absolutely necessary, or i'd have to cut out some very fine desserts.

                              In fact i hope tomorrow they figure out some even newer techniques so i can eat some other new real food i've never tasted before.

                              1. re: thew

                                "so - no tomatoes in italian food, no chili peppers in any food from outside south america for you, as those could not have been prepared 500 or 1000 years ago?"

                                If you read my post carefully, I was referring to technique, not ingredients.

                                "No ice cream? sad. very very sad. No foods that need to be flown in using refrigerated trucks? also sad"

                                That no one figured out to make ice cream until lately isn't the point; all the technology was available 1000 years ago (ice, salt, churn, cream, fruit).

                                But I would like to see one of those flying refrigerated trucks.

                                "and i suppose you don't use zippers, or cars, or airconditioners, either?
                                that wouldn't be real closing, real travel, or real temperatures, because we couldn't do it 500 years ago?"

                                I believe this is called a "straw man" argument. I never said any of those things, or even implied it. So, you allege that I wrote something ridiculous which I manifestly did not, and then say because of that, my real point is fallacious? Do study Rhetoric 101, will you?

                                Sam F, your definition of "flash freezing" clearly differs from mine. I'm referring to " the process in various industries whereby objects are quickly frozen by subjecting them to cryogenic temperatures." I doubt anyone in the Andes had cryogenic anything, so I think we're talking at cross purposes.

                                1. re: FrankD

                                  The air in the Andes is extermely dry and cold. For decades the method for making chuno has been recognized by fiood scientists as freeze drying. The stomped on potatoes are completely and very quickly dehydrated and frozen - and they can last for years. Delicioius as well.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    I'm sure the process of dehydration of potatoes works well in the Andes as it would in any normal freezer. Problem is it takes place over period of days/weeks versus seconds (flash frozen) or hours (freeze drying).

                                    1. re: Pollo

                                      NO, it is virtually overnight. The air is not like in your freezer - unless you pump it out. Remember we're talking about very high altitude. You need to see it done and sample the chuno yourself.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        Are we talking potatoes in a form of paste?

                                        1. re: Pollo

                                          No, you break them up with your feet. They turn out to be blackened slightly lumpy chips of various sizes. Look like dried turds, acutally. But delicious.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            I thought you were being sarcastic (re the description) till I saw Robert's link to Amazon below. Glad they taste better than they look! HA HA! Guess you can file them under "good shit."

                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                              Well, I just ordered some -- have no idea what I'll do with them, but any suggestions would be appreciated.

                                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          Do I have to travel to the Andes to sample this delicacy? I suspect these potatoes are not available on Amazon. Don't know if I'll ever get there.

                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                            Bolivia is still one of the "magic" countries in the world, well worth visiting.

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              Actually chuño is available on Amazon:

                                              http://www.tienda.com/food/products/l...

                                              I saw some the other day in at the Mi Tierra grocery store in Berkeley, CA.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                Not at all. They serve them at a couple of Peruvian places in LA.

                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                This was on a show recently. I can't remember if it was Extreme Food on Food Network or something on Bravo but it was very interesting. They cooked up a stew after that the host said was delicious.

                                                I found a link to it:

                                                http://www.foodnetwork.com/extreme-cu...

                                          2. re: FrankD

                                            Not to mention a "red herring". As you pointed out there is the "argument from fallacy" that you you were referring to cooking then, exactly as today, when you were talking techniques then, versus today. Good rebuttal, Frank.

                                            1. re: FrankD

                                              <That no one figured out to make ice cream until lately isn't the point; all the technology was available 1000 years ago (ice, salt, churn, cream, fruit). >

                                              If you consider Caterina de'Medici's time "lately,"... her chef brought ice cream with them to France when she married Henri II.

                                              1. re: ChefJune

                                                Wasn't ice cream invented in ancient Rome, they ran the ice down from the mountains (the slaves, that is) to make it.

                                                1. re: coll

                                                  Actually, the Chinese were making it long before the Romans...

                                2. re: condiment

                                  It's literally impossible to make carbonara sauce on the side. If the eggs aren't raw when they go on the pasta and aren't cooked by the heat of the pasta, It's not carbonara.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    Thank you for the voice of sanity. Carbonara is a recipe with a somewhat limited scope for invention, because at some point your invention stops being carbonara and starts being something else.

                                    I had this argument in person last night with someone and he said that as long as the ingredients are the same, you can call it by the name of the dish. I asked him whether something with mustard, olive oil, vinegar, turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions was a chef salad or a sub sandwich.

                                    To thew: if you can't wait, more power to you. I am not into avant-garde food and the few times I have had it I felt unsatisfied after.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      just to say one more time - i agree it is not a carbonara. but the name "deconstructed carbonara" tells you it is not a carbonara, but a different, albeit related, dish.

                                      and yes i was being intentionally facetious earlier. i seriously do not understand your use of the word "real" or why something that couldn't be made 250, 50, or 5 years ago is less real. i really do not get it. i'm trying to convince you to eat anything you do not want to. i just have zero understanding of your stance

                                      1. re: thew

                                        And once more in reply, "deconstructed carbonara" does not tell me what is going to arrive on my plate, other than that it will not be a carbonara. Real carbonara is hot pasta and bacon tossed with a little cheese and some beaten raw eggs. Things that claim to be carbonara that are not hot pasta and bacon tossed with a little cheese and some beaten raw eggs are not, in fact, real carbonara.

                                        Given that I have explained my thoughts at length, I'm giving up explaining it again as a bad job, because I suspect you aren't trying to understand it.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          i am trying, but you keep saying nothing more than "that's not carbonara" i agree it is not carbonara
                                          this did not claim to be carbonara. it claimed to be a deconstructed carbonara.

                                          as i said above i make a deconstructed pesto sometimes. it is delicious. carries all the flavors of a pesto genovese, with a lighter taste and mouth feel. i would never call it a pesto as it wasn't a paste - but deconstructed pesto gives you s hint to the flavor profile and is not as unwieldy as saying "pasta tossed with basil, pine nuts, olive oil and cheese)

                                          what i don't understand is your use of the word "real"

                                          1. re: thew

                                            The original quote didn't say "deconstructed." It said "a poached egg on top of carbonara sauce and the pasta on the side."

                                            Real carbonara is so simple and specific that if you deconstruct it you have something else entirely, like scrambled eggs.

                                          2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                            I agree very strongly with your notion of the importance of words. Most terms have very specific meanings, and it seems that many chefs and restauranteurs either do not learn these meanings or just don't care. The one that gets me the most is when a place bills itself as serving tapas, but really they are just serving small plates.
                                            However, deconstruction is not the problem here; the problem is the misuse of the term deconstruction. You're right that "deconstructed carbonara" is not likely to tell you much about the dish, but, in my experience, that's because almost no one in the culinary world (chefs, diners, critics, et cetera) seems to know what deconstruction is. The chefs that do understand it often turn out remarkable dishes.
                                            The difficulty is that deconstruction began as a school of critical analysis about 40 years ago, primarily in literature and philosophy. It's not easy to translate that critical lens to the creation of a dish. It is not about just leaving certain components uncombined, or playing with the textures of certain components, or any of those things that so many seem to think are at the heart of deconstruction. In literature, deconstructing Hamlet does not mean rewriting Hamlet; it means divorcing oneself from any preconceived understanding of each aspect of Hamlet and understanding these aspects individually. The classic example there is simply asking, "What if the Ghost isn't really Hamlet's father?" Now, how do you apply that to carbonara? I have no idea, but I do know it doesn't involve a poached egg. And I know a talented enough chef could figure it out.

                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                              I and a few friends called it the "D" word back in school and in regards to formal critique and art/lit stuff. It's been awhile since, not a big fan of it due to some of the intellectual masturbation that can accompany it...but it can be a strong tool. It can help you see hidden meaning/elements and a "alternative" view of sorts...deeper meaning (okay this works for some things, not for others).

                                              Re: food deconstruction...big word for a stripping down ingredients and processes. I think it's a natural for the curious and a way to understand ingredients and processes better and apply them to other foods/recipes. I think every chef does this, one way or another, either by deduction, reduction or pulling the recipe apart.

                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                When I was in school we could not deconstruct anything. It wasn't the answer from the book or the teacher it was wrong. I have been trying to learn that to some things there is no right or wrong answer, and that people can have different opinions on things. As far as the deconstructed carbonara goes I don't think that I think that it is interesting, but I am a fan of whole food with a limited amount of processing. I think the more that a food is processed the more it resembles it's macronutrient content and not any real food at all. Am I saying that there any processing is bad, no I am not but I think that less is more.

                                              2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                I agree with your definition of deconstruction, but I'd like to take it a step even further. When you've deconstructed Hamlet, you (if you've done it right) gain an immensely deep understanding of what it is makes that play tick.

                                                So now I want to know, if you deconstruct carbonara, are you then suddenly capable of making a much better "real" carbonara, because you theoretically understand what makes each component "tick"?

                                                I'd love to see "reconstructed deconstructed carbonara" on a menu. I would laugh my adipose cheeks off.

                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  That's an interesting question, and really I think the very definition of deconstruction relies on it. If a dish has been successfully deconstructed, both the cooking and the eating of it will indeed lend a deeper understanding of the original dish. That's why I say that most of what gets called deconstruction just isn't. If it isn't lending that critical insight into the original dish, how can you name it after either the critical insight or the original dish?
                                                  It's a very abstract qualification, but deconstruction is one of the most purposefully abstract schools of thought. Often, true deconstruction is not even achieved with the intention of deconstructing, but simply as the result of seeking deeper understanding. I never sat down in college with the intention of writing a paper through the lens of deconstruction (except in the Critical Theory class where each paper had to be written through the lens of a particular school of critical theory), but usually what I ended up writing could be categorized as such.
                                                  Also, I wouldn't say that successful deconstruction of carbonara necessarily has to translate to an increase in ability to execute the original dish. I can certainly deconstruct Hamlet quite thoroughly, but I sure as hell couldn't do a thing to improve the text in any way.

                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                    Egad. I was an English major back in the late 60's when this deconstruction nonsense became fashionable. It did no good for literature, IMO, and it will do no good for cooking. Taking a classic work and glorifying some second-rate worker bee's ideas as oh-so-insightful was nauseating then, and remains so.

                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                      Hey, pika, you and I may disagree about what real food is (and I still want to see a flying refrigerator truck!!), but we are alike on our distaste for the "deconstruction" of literature.

                                                      Chowhound: food for thought, and thoughts for food!

                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        A lot has changed in 40 years. Had you been a student of physics in the nineteen twenties and then walked away from it, you would probably think quantum mechanics was bunk too. To reject deconstructon is to reject nearly all of the liteary theory and great literature of the last three decades. But even in the 60's, nobody with a lick of sense would have called Jacques Derrida a second rate worker bee.

                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                          He should have stuck with philosophy. IMO, he set the field of Literary Criticism back a generation. Thank God he never (as far as I know) trained his sights and excessive verbiage on food.

                                                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  As '80s literary theorists applied their theories to comic books and romance novels, mostly because they worked more consistently than they did with Proust, so do modernist chefs apply new techniques to carbonara.

                                                  It's a newish dish - there are obvious roots in things like amatriciana bianco and spaghetti a la Gricia, but a lot of people date it to the waning days of WWII, when the occupying GIs had plenty of eggs and bacon - so there is less tradition to uproot. Everybody knows what the flavor profile is supposed to be. And the ingredients are made from useful molecules, easy to play with - it's not hard to make the noodles from egg protein and the emulsion from pasta flour, for example, or to gell a bacon stock, or to aerosolize cheese. When done brilliantly, as in a dish I once tasted at Marchesi, the flavors do recombine in ways that crystallize the essence of the dish. When done poorly, it tends to be at least amusing.

                                                3. re: thew

                                                  Goldstein didn't use the word "deconstructed." She said, ""I do not want a poached egg on top of carbonara sauce and the pasta on the side."

                                                4. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                  <I asked him whether something with mustard, olive oil, vinegar, turkey, ham, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions was a chef salad or a sub sandwich.>

                                                  Since this something has no bread, I'm gonna go with chef salad.

                                          3. re: adamshoe

                                            Square One and the short lived Square One Cafe were my favorite restaurants, and her original Mediterranean Kitchen is still one of my favorite cookbooks. The take on a Sardinian stuffed game hen I had there on my birthday one year is still memorable.

                                        2. re: kattyeyes

                                          Oh, I'm so in agreement with #1. Unlike GHG, I never knew people couldn't stand deconstruction (especially as it was a challenge on Top Chef a few weeks ago).

                                          I will say this about molecular gastronomy -- if it's done appropriately you wouldn't know it was cooked using those techniques. The best meal I've ever had was at Pierre Gagnaire. I loved every single thing about it. The thing is I didn't even know he was a chef who did a lot of mg until I saw an interview with him. He used these techniques to enhance the flavors of the food. This meal contrasted greatly to my meal at wd-50 with Wyle Dufresne where I felt that the techniques came first, then the food.

                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                            You know, with all this deconstruction going on, they might use CONstruction as a challenge for Top Chef or NFNS or the Next Iron Chef. That might throw the contestants into a tizzy.

                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                              Actually, the challenge was to put the chef's own spin on a classic dish. In the end, most of the chefs DID deconstruct (or try to) the various dishes, but the judges were angry about that. They said that deconstructing a dish was NOT the same as coming up with an 'original' take on that dish. A couple of the chefs WERE successful at 'deconstruction', but, for the most part they were 'epic fails'.

                                          2. great list, thanks for posting the link.

                                            my favorites:
                                            #4 - Foam. As i said in last week's Top Chef thread, i'm really not interested in eating something that resembles the saliva of a rabid dog)
                                            #6 - Proudly obnoxious fast food options...made even more offensive by the soft-core porn ads used to promote them.

                                            molecular gastronomy & deconstruction certainly weren't surprising choices, and i personally think #10 should have been a more general catchall for deep-fried excess, period. i'm thinking of candy bars, Twinkies, sticks of butter, et al, not just onions.

                                            1. Foam foam foam. I cannot wait for that trend to die. It takes a lot to gross me out, but I'm gagging even thinking about foam right now.

                                              1. Brilliant. And putting Rocco up front as the poster child for Chef as Media Whores is dead on.

                                                1. I don't like food that is arranged for height on the plate.

                                                  18 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sensuous

                                                    I hate that as well. It's not like all 6" can fit onto my fork or into my mouth in that configuration.

                                                    It also seems to be a fairly recent trend that restaurants that allow you to choose a side seem to offer a total of one or possibly two vegetable options and 10 starch options. Mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, french fries, au gratin potatoes, baked potato, jasmine rice, wild rice, macaroni and cheese or vegetable of the day. If you'd like to substitute a salad because you're dissatisfied the 8 starch options, it's another $3.

                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                      I don't think that's a recent trend. I remember 15 years ago going to a chain restaurant in the South (which shall remain nameless because it was one of the worst meals of my life), where dishes came with a choice of two "vegetables" from a long list, only a couple of which weren't starches (since when is macaroni and cheese a "vegetable"?).

                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                        That's the way things were in the south. Meat and two sides are de riguer for southern restaurants. I don't remember ever calling them vegetables, just sides.

                                                        1. re: Phaedrus

                                                          Yeah, I ran into it in several places.But I'm pretty sure the menu said "vegetables" which is why it stuck in my mind, when "sides" wouldn't have.

                                                          ETA: Here's the menu from the chain's website (it has more actual veggies than I remember, maybe they've improved!):

                                                          "With a HUGE selection of homestyle veggies prepared fresh daily, it's no wonder people keep comin' back! Here is a list of our veggies available every day..

                                                          Fried Okra
                                                          Po-Tater Salad
                                                          Cottage Cheese
                                                          Macaroni n' Cheese
                                                          Cole Slaw
                                                          Mashed Po-Taters
                                                          Cabbage
                                                          Sliced T'maters
                                                          Applesauce
                                                          Baked Po-Tater
                                                          Red Beans n' Rice
                                                          Baked Apples
                                                          Green Beans
                                                          French Fries
                                                          Black-eyed Peas
                                                          Corn on th' Cob
                                                          Turnip Greens
                                                          Rice n' Gravy
                                                          Baked Beans"

                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                            Yes, that chain is terrible. Intentional "dialect" menu misspelling is a big tip-off for me!

                                                            1. re: meatn3

                                                              Why the big secret? Is it Cracker Barrel? Tell me, I can handle it. The suspense is almost killing me.

                                                                1. re: grampart

                                                                  Are they still around? There was one here, but it closed years ago.

                                                                  1. re: grampart

                                                                    Yup. As one of my "veggies" I chose applesauce and had to send it back because it had started to ferment.

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      A sort of Bartles and Jaymes you can eat with a spoon? I would have kept it.

                                                          2. re: Sensuous

                                                            <I don't like food that is arranged for height on the plate.>

                                                            That started well before the current decade. In fact, it's VERY old news.

                                                            1. re: ChefJune

                                                              Some traditional dishes have quite a bit of height. I remember loving the tauhu telok at an Indonesian restaurant back home in Singapore that was probably best known for their rendition of bean curd/tauhu/tofu fried in beaten egg that was several inches high -- it puffed up beautifully during the deep frying process and became very light, had it been short (and denser) it would not have been nearly as delicious. Taller souffles tend to be better texturally too.

                                                              Also had an awesome fried shredded potato dessert at a Beijing restaurant in SF thanks to some SF chowhounds. The crispy potato sticks were loosely stacked up to nearly a foot above the plate.

                                                              1. re: limster

                                                                Yes, I agree, and sometimes there's a point to it, like when you're supposed to mix the centre tall piece into the surrounding soup, or as you say, a soufflé where you're really paying for the light-as-air texture that requires height.

                                                                But it's really frustrating to be wearing a white shirt at a business dinner and then be presented with a pile of potatoes surrounded by red wine sauce and topped with, say, venison medallions, on top of which repose a couple of stalks of tempura asparagus, topped with potato sticks, with a sprig of rosemary sticking out of it. How exactly am I supposed to "deconstruct" this sculpture without getting sauce all over the tablecloth and my clean shirt?

                                                                Yes, height looks dramatic on the plate, but there needs to be a limit—maybe four inches—and I don't ever, ever, ever want to see a raging priapus of onion rings on a shaft ever again.

                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                  "I don't ever, ever, ever want to see a raging priapus of onion rings on a shaft ever again."

                                                                  Snort....new keyboard time! Thank you very much for the much needed laugh!

                                                                  Priapus...now that's a word I didn't expect to read on CH.

                                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                    Tall food was a rather specific fad that peaked in the early 90s - it doesn't seem to be coming back. As properly executed, in the kitchen of its innovator, Alfred Portale, the idea was a dish that didn't exist until the diner toppled the tower and brought the flavors and textures together herself. It was rather brilliant, and very over-imitated by chefs who didn't understand the processes involved.

                                                                    1. re: condiment

                                                                      So really just a tall deconstruction.

                                                            2. It isn't really one of the enumerated trends, but amen to Kobe beef as hamburgers and so on. In applications like that, it's just greasy and totally gross -- not to mention a ridiculous waste. The point to Kobe-style beef is the marbling. If you grind it, why not just add extra fat to get it to the "right" (greasy) proportion?

                                                              6 Replies
                                                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                                                Yeah................. I've had incredible Kobe beef in Japan but never did get the idea of using it in a burger................. just so you can charge more? The subtlety is lost that way.

                                                                1. re: Midlife

                                                                  Yes, understood. Could the restaurant be using the steak trimmings and grinding that?
                                                                  Just wondering...

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                      That's what I've always thought, too.

                                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                                        Of course! Or at least the cuts that aren't really salable as steaks. In markets that sell it, Kobe chuck, or the Snake River equivalent, isn't significantly more expensive than the standard stuff.

                                                                        A good Kobe-beef burger, btw, and most of them aren't, is a miracle.

                                                                    2. re: Midlife

                                                                      I think the Kobe burger is probably about the diner as much as it is the restaurant. Yes, the restaurant can charge more, but maybe more importantly, the person ordering the Kobe burger can show just how much money they have burning a hole in their pocket. "Look at me, I'm so rich! Guess how much I'm willing to spend on a burger?"

                                                                  1. My current biggest gripe is "artisan" personal (10") pizzas that go for $20 and up each.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: grampart

                                                                      I am sort of getting tired of :

                                                                      1) "<INSERT FOOD HERE> Three Ways" dishes - nice idea, just getting repetitive.. Someone needs to up the ante like Gillette does with # of blades on its razors - like "Pork Five Ways with A Soft Cooling Menthol Pad"

                                                                      2) Gourmet burgers in general - lobsters are meant to be eaten on a dock on the water on a sunny day, and burgers are meant to be eaten greasy, cheesy, covered in ketchup and mustard, with a toasted bun... keep your fancy french cheeses and truffle shavings away from it

                                                                      3) Chef endored cookware - I don't want something Paula Deen endorsed.. I want something endored by some geeky German who knows metallurgy..

                                                                      4) Sous vide - yes, show me another recipe that I have no hope of doing unless I buy a $1000 immersion circulator and ton of vacu-seal bags..

                                                                      1. re: grant.cook

                                                                        re:1 - it's not all a recent trend, some of it is quite traditional - e.g.:

                                                                        Roast duck three ways is a traditional way of serving Peking duck. They do up the ante in certain places by serving up different parts of the duck in a whole multicourse banquet.

                                                                        Similar thing at yakitori houses, where different parts of the chicken are offered as grilled skewers, from skin to different cuts of flesh to meatballs to organs, although the selection is up to the customer.

                                                                    2. Like how you sneaked cupcakes in there. They aren't mentioned in the article, but they should be. Ditto with "Kobe" beef. I've been calling Emperor's New Clothes on "Kobe" burgers for years. And now they have "Kobe" hot dogs. Wow, fatty meat paste that's somehow better than the fatty meat paste made from less, um, fatty meat. Now THAT'S worth a premium.

                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                        Kobe is in the article text. Cupcakes isn't listed in the Trib piece (oops!) but Chang singled them out in a parallel piece that I was reading at the same time:
                                                                        http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2009/10...

                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                          What else are you going to do with the unusable scraps of meat, offal and parts of Kobe-raised beef, but grind 'em up and squeeze 'em into a casing and call it a Kobe hot dog?

                                                                          1. re: chicgail

                                                                            I'm good with that. But to pay double for the "Kobe" dog?

                                                                            PT Barnum was right - there's one born every minute.

                                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                              Whatever the traffic will allow, I guess. Calling it a Kobe dog gives it cache. Calling it a really fatty dog doesn't have the same ring.

                                                                              1. re: chicgail

                                                                                On a whim, I bought these Wagyu dogs and think they were maybe the best I've ever tasted. At $7.50 they really weren't that much a splurge what with Hebrew National, Boar's Head, and Nathan's at $5.00. See( photo)

                                                                                 
                                                                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                The Kobe dog at Hank's Haute Dogs in Honolulu, created by Dale from Top Chef 3 (the original faux hawk, I believe), is fantastic. Part of it is the toppings, of course ("hoisin-ginger mustard, sesame napa cabbage, pickled daikon-carrot and furikake"), but the dog itself had really good flavor.

                                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                  I'm not saying that "Kobe" hot dogs aren't any good. I'm just saying that their goodness has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they contain "Kobe" beef.

                                                                                  It's certainly reasonable that somebody using trimmings from a very expensive carcass will be inclined to make better sausage. And I would definitely hope that anybody who's charging $7-10 per pound for hot dogs is offering a superior product.

                                                                                  But the only distinctive thing about Wagyu is its marbling. And once you've ground the meat into a fatty paste, marbling just isn't an issue. Which means the "Kobe" label isn't just incorrect, it's bunk.

                                                                            2. Thanks for the article Maria, it was very informative. I liked the chef's reply about "deconstruction" However, I've seen chefs on Chopped and The Next Iron Chef make dishes like this. It's not my cup of tea either.

                                                                              1. I am *so* glad this topic came up.

                                                                                I read lots of chef's blogs. What the h*ll did these guys (gals) do before sous-vide machines? They're putting *everything* in these machines. Hey, the concept of cooking food low temp/long time has been around since the 1950s. Only back then, before sous-vide, one had to consult Adele Davis's book, "Let's Cook It Right," for her technique for roasting beef, lamb and veal.

                                                                                Foam. All I'm going to say is that it looks like someone spit on my food.

                                                                                They didn't mention the fact that people are adding chocolate and coffee to *everything* nowadays. Scallops in mole/chocolate sauce? I think not.

                                                                                Finally, what's the deal with putting either a fried egg or a poached egg on *everything.* I don't get it. I just don't want to have "breakfast" with my foie gras...

                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                1. re: shaogo

                                                                                  I'm game for trying anything once, but as Yogi Berra said:"Nobody goes there anymore, its too crowded." Its not innovation if everyone is doing it. So what happens to innovative concepts when all the lemmings are following suit? It becomes a rut.

                                                                                  1. re: shaogo

                                                                                    "Foam. All I'm going to say is that it looks like someone spit on my food."
                                                                                    ~~~~~~
                                                                                    thank you!!! i've been saying the same thing, and i got slammed in a Top Chef thread for complaining that one of the contestants puts foam/air/essence on everything...because apparently since Joel Robuchon serves foam in his restaurant i'm supposed to like it.

                                                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                                                      I hear you on the eggs on everything! Also miso. Miso on everything. And uni. It seems like all the high-end restaurants are leaning heavily on Japanese flavor-profiles. There was actually a discussion on chowhound a while back about why elements of Japanese cuisine are so trendy/popular with "western" chefs these days.

                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                        If I have one more salad (in a "new American" restaurant, no less) that's drenched in "miso vinaigrette" I think I'll go crazy.

                                                                                        And it's a horror that everyone's spreading perfectly good uni on crostini and the like. Now, it's one thing for the (non-Japanese) restaurants to want to use a novel, unique, and rare ingredient. What's going to happen is that sooner or later lesser restaurants are going to try using uni -- but they won't be as conscious of the fact that uni is one of the most extremely perishable ingredients. And they'll serve uni that's on the turn. Have you ever had uni that's spoiled? I wouldn't serve it to a dog.

                                                                                        1. re: shaogo

                                                                                          Sea urchin is a traditional ingredient in certain Italian and French regions, and it's not necessarily novel to those cuisines.

                                                                                          1. re: limster

                                                                                            I had no idea that there are regional cuisines of Europe that use sea urchin. Well, I learn something nearly every day 'round here.

                                                                                            What I was addressing when I said "non-Japanese restaurants" could be better stated by saying "restaurants with limited experience with uni."

                                                                                            Heck, I've had bad uni in Japanese restaurants. Perhaps I should just say that if uni continues as a trend, regardless of the nationality of the cuisine, there's more potential that people will be served bad uni the first time they try it. Then they'll get turned off to uni for good, perhaps.

                                                                                            1. re: shaogo

                                                                                              "Then they'll get turned off to uni for good, perhaps."

                                                                                              Well, ummmmm.....all the more for me to eat ! <VEG>

                                                                                              1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                This is a very amusing thread--and to second the previous comment, yes indeed,the Italians and French use uni--the Italians (particularly Sardinians, who of course don't consider themselves "Italian," regularly serve "ricci di mare", which is thin pasta with sea urchin, and a few other things. By the way,
                                                                                                I enjoy reading your postings, Shaogo!

                                                                                              2. re: limster

                                                                                                That may be, but it's clear that the current uni craze was born out of the popularity of sushi and the interest in Japanese flavors.

                                                                                                1. re: limster

                                                                                                  This summer I was on the beach in Puglia, watching the locals gather urchins off the submerged rocks.

                                                                                            2. re: shaogo

                                                                                              I must be eating in the wrong places. I hardly ever get a fried or poached egg on anything, but personally, assuming the egg is cooked correctly, the few times I have had it (on a dinner dish) I've been happy....

                                                                                              1. re: susancinsf

                                                                                                I applaud the fried/poached egg on everything trend! I fried two eggs to put on top of my pasta for dinner tonight.

                                                                                              1. oooh - I'm not even through the list but YES - right on!

                                                                                                1. May i be so bold as to add pork belly to the list? WTF is up with pork belly on every single trendy resto menu? It's the roasted beet and goat cheese salad of the new millenium. I mean, it's good and all, but enough with it already!! adam

                                                                                                  15 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                    Oh, I second you, adamshoe. When I listed my least-favorites above, I forgot "pork belly fever." Heck, all my life I've been throwing away the hunk of fatback that's at the top of my Boston baked bean pot. These days, however, I could just lift it out of the pot, set it on a plate and garnish it with some ramps (another fad food of late - one can go out in the woods near me and pick 'em in spring). I could then sell this dish as an appetizer for about $38.

                                                                                                    Long before the pork-belly rage hit, the Sichuan Chinese were making twice-cooked pork belly and smoked pork belly. My Chinese friends are so over us crazy Americans eating plates of soft pork belly -- and no rice at all!

                                                                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                      I'm on the record multiple times with my disdain for the current fashionable over-praise of fatty pork, American bacon in particular.

                                                                                                      But I have to say that a little piece of well-roasted pork belly -- where the top is a big chicarron and the layers of meat below are the best pork roast you ever tasted -- is a thing of perfect beauty. Just keep the portion to three ounces, please.

                                                                                                      But when it's flabby or, worse, the skin is inedible leather? No thank you. I've had both in supposedly "good" restaurants.

                                                                                                    2. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                      Along with pork belly is bacon... bacon maple bar donuts, chefs and fast food joints highlighting bacon as a selling point in their food.

                                                                                                      It's like the nation has been on a low fat, vegan diet and the nation has fallen off the wagon.

                                                                                                      1. re: dave_c

                                                                                                        Actually, I think it's just the opposite: I associate the rise of rampant bacon eating and pork belly with the popularity of the Atkins diet a few years ago, which made it okay to eat foods like that without guilt.

                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                          I believe you're on to something there, both of you. There's a hedonistic joy in rich food that goes in and out of fashion, and the more we learn about what's not good for you, the more forbidden and attractive the naughty stuff gets. Though I can't get over the irony of the current advice that any natural fat like butterfat or lard is probably better for you than the processed ones of any sort.

                                                                                                          On the other hand, I fully expect to see a major shift back to all-low-fat in my lifetime, and we've already started to hear about people who've thrown their digestive systems and vitamin absorption out of whack with over-consumption of fiber. We aren't good at moderation as a species.

                                                                                                          1. re: dmd_kc

                                                                                                            Americans lurch from one extreme to another, but some cultures practice moderation. The BMI 30+ obese people you see all the time in the US are freaks in some other countries.

                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              True. I spent three weeks in Argentina and didn't see anyone I would consider obese. Plump/stocky yes, obese, no.

                                                                                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                Oh that's definitely true. At least for now. In the US, I've generally found almost everyone considers it rude to comment on another person's food portions or body weight, but that's commonplace in other countries I've visited. A (not heavy) friend was having lunch with a friend in France. Both got the same dish, which included half an avocado. My friend's guest didn't want hers, so when my friend asked if she minded if she finished it, the guest was perplexed and borderline offended: "You had one already. What use could you have of mine as well?"

                                                                                                                1. re: dmd_kc

                                                                                                                  I think that's generalizing a lot. When I worked in a Japanese junior high school, the kids all split up the food if there was something they didn't want to eat and someone else did. I think there it was better not to waste the food than to let it sit uneaten. Generally in other countries, doggy bags aren't always available, so I think people may be willing to eat off other people's plates if they feel guilty about wasting food.

                                                                                                                  FWIW, I've lived in the UK and Japan and in both places there were regular news reports about increasing levels of obesity, especially in the UK. In urban areas like London it isn't as much a problem because people walk so much more, but once you get out into more rural areas where people depend on cars, people tend to weigh more.

                                                                                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                    The restaurant food portions are much much more sane in those countries too, which is a huge part of the problem. The concept of the buffet, espectically cheap buffet is pretty non-existent too. China was really into the top end buffet when I was there about eight years ago.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Phaedrus

                                                                                                                      I didn't find that the case in the UK or Japan. I often took home food in the UK and all 4 restaurants that delivered to my school in Japan had fairly huge portions. Most of my female coworkers would not order food because they couldn't eat it all in one sitting. One of the 4 offerings was an extra-large lunch that was typically 1500-2000 calories, while the regular bento were 1200-1500. With a 2000-calorie diet, that doesn't leave you much to play with for the other two meals.

                                                                                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                        The question is whether this is a recent phenomenon in reaction to the amount of food served by American chains or have the local places always done this. When I traveled to Europe regularly, about seven or eight years ago, the portions were well controlled.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Phaedrus

                                                                                                                          I was in Japan 6 years ago, so it definitely wasn't a problem that was brand new. I think they've always had all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink restaurants where you pay x amount for a certain time and can eat all you want. That's just part of the culture there and I don't think it's at all influenced by American chain restaurants. At least where I lived, McD's, KFC, and Starbucks were the extent of the American chains. I think when people travel to a place, they tend to get a different feel for a place than when they live there.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Phaedrus

                                                                                                                            It's not the size of the portions, but what the portions consist of. Go to your average American buffet and see how much starch and sugar it contains--because carbs are cheap. The majority of people would find it extremely difficult if not impossible to consume 1500 calories worth of steak, but can easily suck down the same amount of calories in pasta, bread and/or potatoes ... and go looking for dessert afterwards.

                                                                                                        2. re: adamshoe

                                                                                                          Tell that to David Chang (and Anthony "offal" Bourdain) that pork belly is on the list...haha. But but I agree, it's the over-use that makes things trendy. I think at issue is there's naturally lots of copying in food and that's never going away.

                                                                                                        3. IMO, foam is silly. Cupcakes, however, are grassroots American food. I used to come home from school to these home-baked treats. The silliness is in exalting them to Olympian heights of gastronomy. It's a cupcake, for god's sake.

                                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                            "The silliness is in exalting them to Olympian heights of gastronomy."
                                                                                                            ~~~~~~~
                                                                                                            and perpetuating it by standing in hour-long lines that stretch down the block just to buy one.

                                                                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                              I'm slowly seeing French macarons as an up and coming trend. They're okay, but some friends rave about them.

                                                                                                              1. re: dave_c

                                                                                                                Yup. The problem with French macarons is that unlike cupcakes, it really takes a lot of skill and good ingredients to make a good one, and it's all too easy to make a bad one.

                                                                                                              2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                They may be based on grassroots food but they crossed the line when 3 inches of frosting was added.

                                                                                                                1. re: sharonanne

                                                                                                                  I agree completely. On a closely related topic: Have you encountered Frosting Shots?

                                                                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                    No way! There's a name for a spoon and a can of Betty Crocker?

                                                                                                                    1. re: sharonanne

                                                                                                                      Ha!

                                                                                                                      The ones pikawicca refers to are dollops in those little paper garnish cups. Realllllly not my thing. Often served at cupcake bakeries, natch.

                                                                                                                2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                  Yes -- and "home-baked" is key. It wasn't just about the cupcake itself, but the rituals involved ... like making them, and taking them to scout meetings, passing them out to classmates on your birthday, etc. They are supposed be somethng from your own kitchen, otherwise it's just overpriced junk food.

                                                                                                                  1. re: MartinDC

                                                                                                                    You are right. Cupcakes were a treat that my mom had ready for us when we returned from school, before we set off for a vigorous couple hours of play. The taste remains with me still. (And it's not Betty Crocker.)

                                                                                                                3. I've noticed this a lot on Top Chef and Iron Chef. Calling something a salad that is just a tablespoon of chopped veggies or a few leaves of greens on top of the food.

                                                                                                                  1. I'm catching up on my Top Chef episodes today.

                                                                                                                    Wolfgang Puck, on Season 6 episode 2, bemoaned how "everybody's using purees underneath everything. I don't want a great piece of steak with baby-food underneath all the time!"

                                                                                                                    Purees are, indeed, being over-used. It's easier for a chef to keep purees warm in a piping bag, for a long time, than it is for them to be mindful of cooking whole vegetables properly on an a' la minute basis.

                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                                      Some chefs like to do that because it keeps things from sliding around. Is there anything new about that?

                                                                                                                    2. Excellent list. Every single one of these trends is ridiculous.

                                                                                                                      1. i disagree about deconstruction, molecular gastronomy, and foam. as i've stated elsewhere, foam can be used to enhance a dish, give a lit touch of flavor, and add a textural contrast. like all creative endevors 90% of the time it is not done well, adn is just flash, but i'm not willing to throw out the 10%, any more than Kenny G will make e not listen to miles davis, nor barbara cartland stop me from reading shakespeare.

                                                                                                                        same for molecular gastronomy. when done just to show it can be done, it usually fails. when down with good purpose and well executed, it can be revelatory. Saying it is just out and out wrong would be like saying all braising is bad, or all frying is bad. It is a technique (or school of techniques) for preparing food. Just because it didn't exist when escouffier was writing doesn't make it evil. I've had amazing food utilizing these techniques fro John Besh, from Wylie Dufrense, Wesley Genovart, etc. I would be sad to have these foods expunged from my memory.

                                                                                                                        Finally deconstructing - it can be used very nicely to highlight what it is that made the originals of these dishes great, it can show us old classics in a new light. HOORAY. EG sometimes i make a "decontructed" pesto for gnocchi. rather than making the paste, i toss the gnocchi with chiffonade of basil, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, and cheese. and it is freakin tasty.

                                                                                                                        1. I have one to add, because I'm just bloody sick of it. It started in the 90's but it shows absolutely no signs of abating.

                                                                                                                          DOWN WITH BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE. A BAS!

                                                                                                                          Seriously. REAL balsamic (aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena) is an amazing, amazing syrup that can be as thick as ganache (and tastes better on great strawberries). CRAP balsamic is regular vinegar with sugar and colouring added and gets used by the bloody gallonful in awful, cloying vinaigrettes that destroy just about every salad they touch.

                                                                                                                          And of course, when I ask for something different, the question I always get is "Ranch or bleu cheese, sir?" How about just some cruets of oil and regular red wine vinegar and I'll make it myself.

                                                                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                            So true. I think I've only had real balsamic one time and was surprised I actually liked it because I hate the "balsamic" crap that is on everything here. It's not even just on salads, but used as a glaze on meats, used as a garnish on some desserts- UGH. I think the fake taste is so overpowering that most of the time you can't really taste anything else. I hate the restaurants that have balsamic as the sole vinaigrette offering and then look at you weird when you ask if there are any other choices.

                                                                                                                            1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                              The one time I had (I think?) 30 year old balsamic, it was served over ice cream and strawberries. One of the best things I've ever tasted.

                                                                                                                            2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                              I agree with you about watery, ersatz balsamic vinaigrette, but it's not an either-or. There are many levels of aging, quality and price for aceto balsamico tradizionale and even some quite nice versions of "Balsamic condiment" that are flavorful and affordable.

                                                                                                                              1. re: cheesemaestro

                                                                                                                                I love the balsamic condimenti -- especially SABA. Traditionale is too pricey to use every day.

                                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                  I think you're making my point—I don't use balsamic every day.

                                                                                                                                  I know there is a range of quality, and I have a bottle of quite good but not tradizionale balsamico at home which I use because the "real" stuff is too expensive, but I would venture to say that 90 plus percent of the balsamic used in America today is watery, ersatz, caramelly crap.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                    Here's a tip on how to make the crap yourself.

                                                                                                                                    Substitute for Expensive Aged Balsamic Vinegar
                                                                                                                                    A quick tip from Christopher Kimball of _Cook's Illustrated_.
                                                                                                                                    Turn inexpensive supermarket balsamic vinegar into a reasonable facsimile of the super-expensive aged stuff.

                                                                                                                                    1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (an inexpensive supermarket brand)
                                                                                                                                    1 tablespoon white sugar
                                                                                                                                    1 tablespoon port wine
                                                                                                                                    1.Combine in a small pot. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, until reduced by half. Cool to room temperature before using.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                      I just buy the Roland Balsamic Glaze, it's nice and thick, sits where I want it, tastes fine and when I'm done I have a nice free squirter bottle to boot. Although I still dream of that aged vinegar I tried years ago.
                                                                                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Roland-Balsamic...

                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                        I'm in love with *all* of the Roland glazes (okay, I'm not nuts about the mango one). I get 'em at Restaurant Depot but it's nice to know you can get them on Amazon. Roland is a great old company that's been taught some new tricks!

                                                                                                                                        1. re: shaogo

                                                                                                                                          I'm really lucky, I have a Spanish grocery chain locally that carries a wide assortment of Roland. Roland keeps up with what's popular in imported foods, for sure.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                  Quite agree on balsamic. The dreadful trend has recently become ubiquitous in Italy too, where they should know better. What is industrial balsamic doing on tables in Lecce?

                                                                                                                                3. Things I disagree with

                                                                                                                                  40 entrée – doesn’t bother me if it’s worth it.
                                                                                                                                  Online reviews – Love em, that’s what democracy is all about.

                                                                                                                                  Things I agree with

                                                                                                                                  Communal table – blah blah blah
                                                                                                                                  Foam – someone said “rabid dog” –LOL
                                                                                                                                  Cupcake bakeries – seriously people, get real.

                                                                                                                                  Things I would add

                                                                                                                                  Outrageously priced appetizers – Three 31-35 shrimp on a bed (2oz max) of greens $18 – my god my entrée was $24.
                                                                                                                                  Pork cracklings – in everything, come on.
                                                                                                                                  Chorizo – Which I like but it is turning up on every menu and in the strangest dishes Chorizo injected scallops (not kidding) and chorizo ice cream (not going there).
                                                                                                                                  Grits – no offense but I don’t care if put saffron in them, they are still just grits and don’t belong on my $40 entree.
                                                                                                                                  Sous Vide – Very pretty food that usually tastes mushy is not my thing.
                                                                                                                                  Three ways – seriously, try to impress me with cooking the item right one way.
                                                                                                                                  Ranch dressing – enough said
                                                                                                                                  Tempura battered vegetables – why, just why?
                                                                                                                                  Fondue – ahhh no comment
                                                                                                                                  Asian Fusion – I refuse to go to any restaurant that serves this garbage. No I DO NOT want Barbacoa pulled Pork raviolis in a black bean, soy, pesto sauce, topped with saffron foam, served on braised baby bok choy and curried lentils. (From a real menu, btw, you can’t make this stuff up.)
                                                                                                                                  Expensive Cheese plates - with cheese that I can buy at the local food mart and store bought crackers.
                                                                                                                                  Huge portions of wine by the glass
                                                                                                                                  Martini craze – I really don’t think I need a kiwi pomegranate martini with smoked bacon and gold flakes in it. How about gin and a dab of vermouth in a glass please.
                                                                                                                                  Pho – translated into English MSG.
                                                                                                                                  Call ahead entrees – Ordering you custom roasted chicken for two because it takes 1 hour to cook is a little much for me.

                                                                                                                                  I could go on and on but I will finish with the MOST irritating new trend

                                                                                                                                  No substitutions or changes allowed - we were in a communal seated restaurant and a person there had a severe nitrate allergy - the chef refused to NOT sprinkle bacon on top of the soup they were serving – come on pretentious snobby chef give it break. The chef and the server were unapologetic and said if you did not like to get out. They did – good for them.

                                                                                                                                  50 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                    You had me up until "Pho – translated into English MSG."

                                                                                                                                    1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                      It looks like you live in Pittsburgh, which is not exactly a place with a critical mass of Vietnamese, so I understand your pho frustration, but around here (Orange County, CA) the pho is sublime and the places that make up the flavour with MSG don't last too long.

                                                                                                                                      Similarly, a lot of Viet places say it's "fusion" because it's French-Vietnamese, which is normal and common in Vietnam. But things like the monstrosity you just described sound like they belong in the first 15 minutes of a Kitchen Nightmares episode.

                                                                                                                                      Chorizo and scallops is a fairly normal Catalan dish that's sort of spawned a bunch of incubi in the form of "let's put chorizo with stuff!".

                                                                                                                                      I want to add to your huge-pours-of-wine the terrible idea of the quartino. Serve 1/4 of the bottle instead of 1/5 and charge way more than would be proportional for it.

                                                                                                                                      And the Great Water Swindle. "Sparkling or still?" "Tap. From the hose in the alley if you can."

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                        Regarding the water, I'd prefer not to be asked, "Tap or bottled?" But, I have no issue with, "Sparkling or still?" I prefer carbonated water to still water, and if my bill is going to be $400 for two of us anyway, I might as well tack on another $10 for a good sparkling mineral water. I do find it odd that this question is so standard, however, as it seems to me that most people think carbonated water is gross. I get that it's an old world carryover, but in France or Italy, the answer is actually quite likely to be, "Sparkling." I wonder if fine dining waiters ever get tired of asking a largely unnecessary question.
                                                                                                                                        And, on chorizo. My issue with it is that few chefs in the US seem to have a good grasp on the enormous variety of chorizos, and they seldom seem to use the right ones in a dish. Also, I'm not that familiar with Catalunya, but it's not that different from Valencia, which I am very familiar with. In Valencia, it's considered an offense against God and nature to mix chorizo with seafood. And yet, in the US, "Paella Valenciana" usually involves both seafood and chorizo.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                          This is a thing that has been rehashed many, many, many times. I don't like the upsell, because I object to bottled water on a number of levels (bad for the environment, not actually demonstrably better in many cases than good ol' Colorado River water, unbelievably bad value, etc.).

                                                                                                                                          I can tell you for certain sure that I haven't, at any point in my life, ever spent $400 for two people for dinner. Your statement there really rings of "let them eat cake". An extra $10 (plus tax and tip = $13) is another meal to me.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                            I think I was not clear, because I wasn't especially disagreeing with your view. I don't like bottled water either, and for many of the same reasons you state. But sparkling water is a different product, and usually bottled is the only option. I have no issue with a waiter asking me if I would like sparkling water, since I would like some. As I said, I find it odd that they offer it to everyone, and this certainly could be viewed as an upsell. I don't see how my wanting the sparkling water has any resemblance to saying, "Let them eat cake," however. I've only had a restaurant bill that high a handful of times, but I've also never been asked, "Sparkling or still?" in a restaurant where one could get away with spending much less than $150 per person (assuming three courses and wine). At least not in the US.
                                                                                                                                            Also, $10 is typically enough to feed me for at least two days. But if I've stepped into a fine dining establishment, I've already thrown budget out the window. I can't pinch pennies in that situation when the cheapest wine on the list is six times as much as the bottle of sparkling water the same size.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                              Ah, therein is the problem. The Great Water Upsell Ripoff, here in SoCal, happens in restaurants where a three-course meal, food only, might set you back $40. (My wife does not drink wine, so "with wine" to me means a $5-$12 glass or two.)

                                                                                                                                              For sure it's happened to me at Mastro's, at Stanley's (a pizza-pasta-salad place with $12-$15 entrees), at Park Avenue Dining ($20 entrees)... I mean, the list goes on.

                                                                                                                                              My complaint about "let them eat cake" was about the assumption that this would only happen in a restaurant where the bill would be $400 for two.

                                                                                                                                              WANTING the sparkling water is not the issue, it's that the third option ("one on the Mayor") is not presented in an attempt to get the diner to buy an overpriced bottle of San Pellegrino or Acqua Panna or whatever. I'm not suggesting you shouldn't have a $10 bottle of water if you want one, but most people who sit in a restaurant want water, usually (as you noted) still, and don't necessarily care if it's filtered tap water.

                                                                                                                                              Let me draw a parallel that has started to creep into fast-food restaurants: you order Combo #1 and the 17-year-old says, "Medium or large?" What they don't say is that both of those are upcharges, but they do make it sound like those are your only two options. Just as it should be "small, medium or large?" it should be "sparkling, still or tap/filtered/insertyourdescriptionhere?"

                                                                                                                                              To the waitstaff out there: if you actually start with offering the three choices, I will just say that that is pretty much the road to a really awesome tip. Nothing makes me want to be parsimonious like feeling that the server is trying to gouge me (management instructions or not).

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                Upsell isn't new, especially in fast food. Almost 30 years ago, when I worked at McDonald's, that was one of the six steps of successful selling (yes, there were six steps and we were tested on them). When someone ordered a coke, the response was not, "What size?" but "Would that be a large coke?" And, if you were being graded and didn't ask that, you'd be marked down. Enough mark downs and you were out of a job.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                  No, of course it isn't new. This particular version is new to me, though.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                  Ah, that is indeed ridiculous. These days, in the Northeast, I get asked, "Bottled or tap?" pretty frequently, even at places where the typical lunch is $8 (especially absurd given that water from the mountains that feed our drainage basin is used as premium bottled water, while most of the bottled water the restaurants are offering is from an inferior source that is put through the reverse osmosis process). But, in my experience, the only places up here that ask if you would like sparkling or still water are very high end fine dining. The exception to this is more mid range Italian places, but I let them off on this since the proprietors are usually from Italy, where it would be odd, possibly even rude, not to ask this question.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                              Re: "sparkling or still":

                                                                                                                                              I still have my shorts in a twist from the time I answered "still" assuming (yeah, I know) that the server would bring tap water. Noooooo. And it wasn't $10, nor was it an exotic water. It was $25 for a bottle of Fiji that goes for $2 at the gas station on the corner.

                                                                                                                                              By contrast, there are places that filter and carbonate water in-house and offer it gratis. I know it's not economically rational, but even if the meal costs $25 more, I somehow feel less ripped off.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                                                                Ciudad in Los Angeles has a 50 cent per person charge for water and you can have sparkling or still. They filter and (if desired) carbonate it themselves from the city supply and once you're eating, you can't tell it isn't some fancy bottled water flown in (first class, by the look of the price) from halfway round the globe.

                                                                                                                                                I was sort of weirded out by having to pay for water of any kind but it isn't really any worse than the tea charge at dim sum or the "butt tax" in a caffe in Italy, so as long as it's reasonable (and not, say, $5 a person) I'm OK with it.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                  Their other restaurant, The Border Grill, does the same thing. I love the option of unlimited sparkling water for $1. They serve it in a nice glass bottle (kind of reminded me of a milk bottle).

                                                                                                                                                  My pet peeves - foam - give me a nice sauce any day
                                                                                                                                                  High priced desserts - I love dessert, and I love places that offer a little bites of dessert for $5 or so. The trend of $10 plus desserts is depressing

                                                                                                                                            3. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                              Actually I live in WA State, moved there from Southern California 4 years ago. The Pho comment is about the quality of it in the US in general, compared to what I’ve had in Vietnam, plus Pho joints are becoming more ubiquitous than the corner gas station.

                                                                                                                                              ???? How do you know that I posted this from Pittsburgh?

                                                                                                                                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                                Vee haff vays uff knowink vhere you are at all times... hahahaha...

                                                                                                                                                Actually, I clicked your profile link and saw the last several pages were on the Pennsylvania board and about P'gh restaurants, and made a (wrong) assumption.

                                                                                                                                                I'm spoiled by having great pho nearby... it makes me sad when I go to someplace and have pho on a rainy, blustery day and it's crappy pho. (Moncton, New Brunswick, I am LOOKING AT YOU.)

                                                                                                                                              2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                                                                The new thing among hip restaurants in the San Francisco area is a choice of still or sparkling water, both filtered tap, both free.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                  This has happened a couple of places here, but not free that I know of—Ciudad has a 50c per person charge for unlimited sparkling or still water.

                                                                                                                                                  I think it's a great idea. Some water districts have worse-tasting water than others (Anaheim, for example, where I live, apparently thinks that it isn't good enough unless it smells like you've put a swimming pool in your kitchen sink) and so filtering makes a ton of sense, without zillions of plastic or glass bottles.

                                                                                                                                              3. re: RetiredChef

                                                                                                                                                "No I DO NOT want Barbacoa pulled Pork raviolis in a black bean, soy, pesto sauce, topped with saffron foam, served on braised baby bok choy and curried lentils"

                                                                                                                                                why not?

                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                  I would add TAPAS....seems like out of the blue every one (as in restaurants) is doing TAPAS....and all of them have it so, so wrong..
                                                                                                                                                  It would be an eye opening experience if these chefs actually spent some time in Spain and learned a bit what TAPAS is all about....

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Pollo

                                                                                                                                                    Small plates are not exclusive to Spain. Japanese izakaya do small plates and the menu offerings are usually pretty diverse- anything from traditional Japanese plates to American, Chinese, and Korean inspired dishes.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                                                      Yeah, but making small portions of whatever and calling it "tapas" is annoying.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                        why? that is how language develops. tapas once meant small plates of spanish food. the meaning has expanded to mean small plates of food in general. that sort of expansion of meaning is common.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                          To me, the word "tapas" on a menu that also includes miso-glazed black cod, braised short ribs, or mango salsa means "abandon all hope ye who enter here."

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                            Restaurants labelling any and all small plates as tapas is one of my pet peeves. My experience of tapas in Spain, however, was that it is a style, not a certain set of dishes put together from a certain set of ingredients. Spanish chefs do not like when people conceptualize Spanish food as relying on certain flavor profiles. They are far quicker to adopt new flavors and ingredients than the other Mediterranean cultures. They hate that Americans think their cooking is all about paprika and saffron. To them, Spanish cuisine has long been about the duality of inventiveness and tradition. I didn't see any miso based tapas in Spain, but saw more than one that involved tamari. Braised short ribs are very common in Madrid tapas bars (not served whole, as that is more of a media racione, but the meat of the fleshiest side in a rich sauce). I also saw two different mango salsas (salsas in Spain usually being thin, strained sauces, or emulsions) in restaurants in Spain, though not at tapas bars. The Spanish incorporate these things into their cooking without letting it become fusiony in any way.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                              the english language is powerful because it is open to new words from other languages very readily. we did not have a single word that meant "small plates of food that are not just an appetizer" so we adopted a word from spanish that meant just that: tapas. If you have a better single word that gets the concept across please do share it. maybe we can adopt it into english usage.

                                                                                                                                                              (Note the conceptual correlation between the power of english as a global language due to adoptiveness and adaptiveness and modern global cuisine is not accidental here)

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                I agree with your reasoning, but what's wrong with just calling them "small plates"?
                                                                                                                                                                Another strength of the English language has long been the high level of specificity in terminology. Taking something with a specific meaning and making it more broad is far less common in our linguistic history than adopting a foreign term to mean something similar to an existing term. For example, boef, Norman French for cow, was adopted to specifically refer to the meat of the cow, thus creating a more specific term, not a more general term such as would have been the case if we used beef to mean bovine.
                                                                                                                                                                Also, if tapas, why not antipasti, mezedes, dim sum, or any of the dozens of other terms that have a more specific meaning than small plates (meaning which extends well beyond simply small plates of a particular ethnic origin)?

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                  "tapas" is sexier than "small plates"

                                                                                                                                                                  why not any of those other terms? i think they are far less well known than "tapas" and thus do not communicate the idea as well. Tapas also seem, as you stated above, to be a more flexible term IN SPAIN, less limiting in menu choices than mezes or dim sum. and it's a nice word, easy to say, and i think it works.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                    I've had a wide variety of great "small plates," but I've learned to see "tapas" on a menu that isn't Spanish as a red flag, like the word "Champagne" on a bottle of California sparkling wine.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                      and , i suspect, you are probably missing out on some wonderful small plates of food, and some wonderful sparkling wines

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                        Given past experience, I doubt it. Typically those are just one of several warning signs.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                          let me rephrase then. I've had wonderful not-spanish small plates of food in places where they were called tapas, and am very glad i had them. YMMV

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                        There's a restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area called Gochi Fusion Tapas; there's two bell-ringers in that name, but its actually one of the best izakayas in the area.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                      do any of you object to the word entree, as well? it has a different meaning in english than the original french

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                        Nope. I'm totally aware of the logical inconsistency, and I'm not going to try to defend my viewpoint as rational.
                                                                                                                                                                        Here's my beef. I spent most of a year in Spain when I was in college. I didn't have a lot of money, and was trying to see as much of the country as I could, which depleted what money I did have. Being twenty one, I was also just as concerned with getting drinks as I was with getting dinner. Tapas provided an inexpensive solution to all this. I have not been able to get back to Spain since.
                                                                                                                                                                        In the six years since then, I've gone to dozens of places in the US that claim to serve tapas. I've followed recommendations on these boards, from food critics, food publications, and really any source available to try to find actual tapas in New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and a whole bunch of smaller cities. What I have unfortunately discovered is that most of these places, even the highly touted ones, are serving expensive food that isn't tapas, isn't even Spanish, and isn't even really that good. The ones that do serve good food are still grossly overpriced, for the most part, and are still not serving what would qualify, stylistically, as tapas, even when the food is Spanish. I've found a grand total of four places, out of close to sixty, serving actual tapas, and only two of those were appropriately priced.
                                                                                                                                                                        So, the issue, for me, is that I really, really want what is called tapas in Spain. It's really, really difficult to find that when over 90% of the places that claim to serve tapas are using a very stripped down definition of the term. I have the same issue with paella, my other staple while living in Spain. Paella is a little bit worse, however, since I've not been able to find a single place in the US serving something that could pass as paella in Valencia. Only two out of maybe two dozen places I've eaten paella at are serving something that could pass as paella in Madrid, or at a tourist spot in Barcelona.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                          Daniel I am with you on this. For me "Tapas" are a style of food, when done well they are superb. But, in many countries the word Tapas has been hijacked and is now next to meaningless which makes it really hard to find good Tapas.

                                                                                                                                                                          Imagine going to a country where they use the term "hamburger" to mean anything in a bun. You go out and order a hamburger and receive a cheese roll. Are you happy? Or do you feel misled by the inappropriate label.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: PhilD

                                                                                                                                                                            language evolves. english, especially, appropriates words from other languages and uses them to it's own purpose. Tapas is only upsetting because it is just starting the shift now. As i said above, i doubt any of you are upset when you order an entree and don't get an appetizer. i also suspect when you see "pie ala mode" on a menu you do not ask what style it is in, you know here it means with ice cream. and when a waiter tells you the sea bass is terrific i don;t think you assume you will be running terror from it when it gets to the table.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                              The problem with overgeneralizing what food means is that there is no word for old fashioned "tapas" if it comes to mean any appetizer like deviled eggs (which I have heard). If you order pie a la mode but the restaurant took it to mean pie w/ any topping, you wouldn't be getting pie a la mode. If my friend wanted to go out for dimsum, I'd assume it meant chinese, not brunch with omelettes and hash browns. I don't give my kids a piece of bread w/ pb on top and call it bruschetta. Evolving doesn't mean gross generalization.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                                                                tapas, even in the original meaning, was not limited to a set number of specific dishes at all. it refers to how and where it is served - the situation, not the recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                  It's absolutely true that there is no set of dishes that comprises tapas, and there's not even a set of ingredients or flavor profiles. Spanish cuisine in general is the most innovative and adaptive cuisine I know.
                                                                                                                                                                                  There is, however, a philosophy to Spanish cooking, which shows itself very clearly in tapas. For one thing, it demands simplicity. This is largely absent from tapas in the US, which often use heavy flavors or convoluted preparations. You not only won't find this sort of thing in Spain, they absolutely loathe this style of cooking.
                                                                                                                                                                                  That simplicity must not, however, come at the expense of intensity of flavor. US tapas are typically up to twice the size of Spanish tapas, and instead of two intensely flavored bites, you get four that are halfway to intense.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Spanish cooking also demands that ingredients are either remarkably fresh, or else skillfully preserved using traditional methods. If a place is going to serve seafood tapas, the fish better either have died in the last 24 hours, or else be the finest quality canned fish (or dried, or fermented, and so on).
                                                                                                                                                                                  There's something terribly wrong with serving gambas al ajillo in New York using frozen Mediterranean shrimp. Add in a heavy garlic sauce, and that's the antithesis of tapas, yet something I've been served no less than a dozen times in US tapas bars.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                                    most shrimp is frozen on the boat. 90% + of all the shrimp you've ever eaten was probably frozen

                                                                                                                                                                                    by your line of arguing european places that do hamburgers differently than what a hamburger is here should not be allowd to call them hamburgers

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                      Most of the shrimp I ate in Spain was still alive until it was cooked. It's not quite that fresh more inland, but it's usually not frozen. When it is frozen, it would never be used for a dish like gambas al ajillo or gambas a la plancha, where the integrity of the dish is completely reliant on the freshness of the product and the proper execution of technique.
                                                                                                                                                                                      It's absolutely nothing at all like your hamburger example. A hamburger is a dish, not a style of food. Tapas is a style of food (some Spaniards even like to be overly dramatic and call it a philosophy of life). A dish can span many styles. Once you remove the stylistic elements from a style, there's nothing left.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                                                                                                        i agree that not all small plates or appetizers are tapas. but i have no problem with the word taking on a different meaning as it is incorporated into english

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                          Hey, that's cool. I don't usually have a problem with that kind of thing either. As I already said, I'm not logically consistent on this issue, and my feelings on it are a product of a personal bias that I can't expect, and wouldn't wish, others to share

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                    Similarly, dim sum doesn't refer to a specific type(s) of dish(es). But, someone going to an all you can eat buffet with eggs, bacon, grits, etc. is not having dim sum just because it happens to be brunch time.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                  Again, tapas bothers me because of personal bias. It doesn't matter to me how recent the (perceived) misuse began, because I can't remember a time when it was used properly in the US - which is not to say it never was, but I wasn't old enough to start venturing out to new places to eat until the very end of the nineties, by which point tapas had already come to mean nothing specific.
                                                                                                                                                                                  When the meaning of entree changed in the US, there were other words to use in place of the original meaning: appetizer, first course, starter. Nothing was lost or gained.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Using "a la mode" to mean with ice cream has not caused any lost meaning. Arguably, it is a lexical gain, though I do think it's a fairly silly term.
                                                                                                                                                                                  And I actually do believe that the generally weakening of English adjectives over the course of the Early Modern period is a negative thing. However, it is still fairly easy to very precisely communicate the concepts originally conveyed by words like terrible, terrific, awful, awesome, frightful, uncanny, and so on.So, again, I can't view this is a sum decrease in the lexical specificity of the language.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Tapas, however, while it may be argued to have added to the English lexicon by providing a simple word for small plates, is also, inarguably, an example of a loss of lexical specificity. There is no simple way to communicate, in English, the meaning the word tapas holds in Spain.
                                                                                                                                                                                  When I see a place in the US billing itself as a tapas bar, I have no way of knowing without trying it if they mean they have what I'm looking for, what I ate all over Spain, or if they mean they specialize in portions which may or may not be smaller than appetizers. Now, if I knew for sure ahead of time that it wasn't going to be real Spanish tapas, that wouldn't necessarily stop me from going. I've liked a lot of the meals I've had at places that I think inaccurately labelled themselves as tapas bars. But, they've still been tainted by dissapointment, because they weren't what I wanted. When I go out looking for pizza, find a place that says it serves pizza, and then they serve me a quesadilla, I might really love that quesadilla, but I'm still going to be jonesin for a pizza.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                    Yes, language evolves, but some things shouldn't change. Using "tapas" to refer to any small plates menu will never be right. Nor will using an apostrophe in "it's" unless you're contracting "it is."

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: thew

                                                                                                                                                                                      Is the language really shifting or are we simply seeing chefs jumping on a bandwagon that they will jump off when the next trend comes along? I can see how adjectives and verbs change meaning as this is stylistic. But when specific names arbitrarily have their meaning changed it does lead to confusion.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I agree with other posters that whilst tapas are not a clearly defined set of dishes (neither are dim sum, nor mezzes) but there is a certain ethos and style to the food that is recognisable. Move from a traditional tapas bar in San Sebastian to a more avant-garde one and the food will still be easily recognised as tapas. Or move from The Basque region, to Catalonia then to Andalucia and again the dishes will change but they will still be recognisable as tapas. Thus when I see tapas on a menu I have a good mental model of what to expect, if a chef/restaurant has gone off piste and simply used and corrupted the term I am going to be disappointed. I may like the food but I am not getting tapas. And I won't get started on the fact that tapas are small grazing dishes served in bars rather than formal sit down meals.... So lets stop this despicable trend and claim the word back.

                                                                                                                                                                                      PS: I do get confused that entrees are not starters as it is only people from the US that use the term. I also had to look up "pie à la mode"....!

                                                                                                                                                                    3. re: queencru

                                                                                                                                                                      Thanks for reminding me about izakaya....another "new" trend that I really don't like....lousy, overpriced versions of cheap/street food....

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                                                                                                                                        Traditional Japanese dining involves a lot of small plates and vessels, most served simultaneously.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                                                                                          Unless you're eating nabe. I've got a gorgeous Dungeness crab in the fridge, so we're having Kani Nabe for dinner tonight. It's gonna be messy -- no forks, just hands and chopsticks.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                            Indeed, one bowl donburis or one pot kani or sukiyaki are nice exceptions; although sukiyaki and similar one pot dishes require on-table mise en place often in many different small bowls and dishes. Have fun with the kani nabe!