From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.
I work in a restaurant. I live above a restaurant. I eat out. Constantly.
Rather than qualify myself with a litany of reviews I’ve written, boring you with stories of experiences good, bad, and ugly, I will simply beg you, as the reader, not just of this story, but of menus everywhere to scrutinize restaurants offering any of these items and further plead with you not to order them. Each time you do, you reinforce the restaurateurs’ notion that you’re an easy, undiscerning mark.
Hummus. I don’t care what you think. The hummus you just ordered is not fresh. It was not made in anyone’s “house.” They doled out scoops from some 5-gallon drum of chick-pea purée, added the least virtuous olive oil they could find, and then, just to get you to notice it, added that “exotic” ingredient that made you think it was special.
Once upon a time it was “roasted” red peppers, which FYI, were also canned. Then they moved on to feta crumbles, and minced garlic, or, perhaps the “pesto” caught your eye. When that didn’t satisfy you they began including include sesame seeds, and diced apples, how innovative. Been there, done that. Every restaurant is not Lebanese Taverna. Why are you ordering hummus from a bar?
Beets. There they are, suddenly everywhere. A food nobody liked while they were growing up has taken DC’s menus by storm. A food which generally needs to be roasted, thereby defining it as a fall/winter ingredient is appearing on menus everywhere. And how do you camouflage a cheap, autumnal food, satisfying the “health conscious” yoga crowd?
That’s right, you make it small, and you serve it cold. Oh, there it is, the Beet Salad! Oooo, look, they do it with pears, they do it with apples! Wow. Oh, wait, look: it’s over greens with Gorgonzola. Are those figs? Oh wait, but not just roasted beets, no, no. That would be too easy to fool a gourmand like yourself; you need something drizzled over them, something to cut the canned taste of even the most expertly roasted beet, something they’d serve at the White House. Something like number three…
Honey Mustards. What a perfect complement to beets! What a perfect complement to anything. A classic combination created by accident, or on purpose to satisfy the human desire for dynamic contrast, the sweet tangy deliciousness. The mixing of honey and mustard together was undoubtedly the work of a pot-smoking frat boy with, as food lore would often have you believe, too little in his fridge leaving him to improvise. Sure. Whatever.
The point is, this isn’t college, life is no longer a basket of chicken tenders. It is time to move beyond you starter dressings. You may choose to dip your cold pizza into a bowl of ranch, but restaurants have stopped pushing it on you. Not so with honey mustard, and it’s urban cousin, Honey Dijon, which restaurants like to keenly disguise with names that spell classy with a “k.” Menus offer, “honey glazed salmon with a Dijon reduction… wildflower & mustard seed sauce… a Sweet Mesquite, blah blah, HONEY MUSTARD. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s everywhere, it’s the H&M of food. Grow up.
Candied ___________. Yeah, you know nuts: walnuts, pecans, cashews… etc. Translation: “Hey, fatty, we got the food nature gave us and added a little something for ya, SUGAR.” They sound innocent and elegant, but they’re nothing but extra calories, once again disguised as innovation. When did the “Field Green, Apple, Blue-Cheese Crumble, Candied ___________ Salad” get invented? I don’t know, but I do know why it’s still around… because you won’t let it go.
It’s barely a salad, and you know that because you’re not loosing any weight eating it. Further, as soon as Wendy’s starts serving it, you know it’s time to say goodbye. The candied nut craze is so over. Remember goat cheese and smoked salmon pizza? The candied nut is a remnant of then.
Calamari. Look, make no mistake. I will claim, until my death, that we (at Floriana) have served some of the best fried Calamari the world has ever known. Floriana herself was kind of obsessed with the whole thing, always reminding me that since every other restaurant in the neighborhood, Italian or not had it on their menus, her’s had to be the best. In her defense, it was, and might still be. I have, over the years taken a great deal of joy in ordering the disasters being served as Calamari at a number of Dupont and Logan restaurants.
I am far too much of a gentleman to name names, but one could stroll down 17th, around P, and up 14th on a tour of the worst calamari I have ever seen. Limp circles, aside a plastic ramekin of slightly warmed “marinara” as fresh as it’s journey from the jar through the kitchen to the table would allow. Calamari cut so small and breaded so heavily that it resembles a mysteriously small onion ring. Pile of calamari so enormous, served over a magenta vat of sweet and sour sauce so sweet, the entire experience is sour.
Or perhaps, worst of all, a calamari trip east. A greasy heap of squid pieces tossed in a sauce nodding to the flavors of Asia, but instead, greedily absorbing every drop of their soy-salt sauce, one bite resulting in immediate hypertension.
So next time, do yourself a favor. Order something new. If not new to you, at least new to the restaurant.