Oh look! Ahi tuna tartare is on the menu. And short ribs. Pizza, too! Who'd a thought?
I know my chef friends will hate me for this, but I think things are getting a little monotonous on the restaurant menus of America. Certainly, there's still innovation in the kitchens, particularly in top restaurants as well as the small bistros where young and creative chefs are keeping it real.
I'm speaking of that wide expanse between those two: the great middle area where much of America's fine dining takes place. I eat there a lot, in towns all over the country, and it's gotten sort of dull.
Must every menu include pizza these days? Seems that way. I've loved pizza since I was a kid, and it's great with a glass of California Zinfandel. Like other food lovers, I was excited a few years back when chefs who were passionate about true Italian pizza began building traditional ovens and perfecting those crusty pies. Every community should have a few specialists like that. Sonoma County has Rosso and Diavola, to name a few.
Some of the other menu fascinations lately are anything with pork belly and fried chicken like grandma used to make, that is if grandma deep-fried four chickens at once. Let's not forget house-made charcuterie, fish tacos or braised short ribs. I used to roll my eyes in joy with the rest of you as I ate them but when you see them on menu after menu the enthusiasm wanes, no matter how talented the chef. There's a big blurry line between innovation and done-to-death.
Ditto flat-iron steak and roasted salmon, which has become the boneless chicken breast of the fish world. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I don't seem to see as many sliders on menus as I used to.
The restaurant business is tough and chefs work harder than just about anyone I know. The complexity of putting together a menu while maintaining a profit is daunting. That's why I seldom complain about restaurant wine prices.
And it's expensive to push the culinary envelope every day. If your customers hesitate to pay more than $25 for an entrée, of course, it will be flat-iron not rib-eye served by the kitchen. The reality of our current economy is that many restaurants are being forced to casual-down their menus to survive.
Certainly there's an element of "give the people what they want" going on. People like comfort, they like homemade mac'n'cheese and molten chocolate cake and pizza. Nothing wrong with that.
But am I the only one who thinks comfort is getting a little too … comfortable?