At New Year's, I like to reflect on the successes and failures of the past year. Which things worked, which didn't, and what could be improved upon.
I'm not talking about my own life, of course. Ain't nobody got time for that. Rather, I like to look back on the culinary scene. Reflecting upon this year, I have to admit, I feel a bit curmudgeonly. In the past, I've typically embraced food trends, even when they've gotten cliche. Cupcakes, froyo, sliders ... as played out as they all are, I still have a soft spot in my heart (or, more appropriately, stomach) for them.
This past year, however, I find myself more annoyed than anything else. And so, instead of perusing the stack of menus on my desk with fond memories, I find myself creating a list of grievances, almost as if it were a Food Festivus.
Here then, are the top five things that I hope disappear in 2014:
PORK BELLY: We should've seen pork belly coming from a mile away. After all, when bacon took on cult status a few years ago, it seemed only natural that bigger would be better. And so, along came pork belly, giant slabs of fatty meat. Bacon on steroids. A precursor to Lipitor.
At first, pork belly was manageable, being used more as a flavoring ingredient than as the spotlight dish. But then things started to get out of hand. There are pork belly tacos, pork belly burgers, braised pork belly.
Last week, I ordered a salad that was described as having bacon in it. I thought that meant a few thin crumbles to give the salad some salt and substance. I was surprised when I was served a plateful of lettuce smothered beneath two slabs of fatty fried pork belly. Hardly the health-conscious choice I thought I was making. Don't get me wrong: pork belly is delicious. But let's face it: It's nothing more than just a giant piece of fat, and frankly, I don't think I can stomach much more of it.
FARM TO TABLE: I love my local farm. I think the weekly farm share program is fantastic, and I truly appreciate that locavorism has become a household word. With that in mind, it seems as if I should really like farm-to-table restaurants, but the truth of the matter is, I have some issues.
The first problem is that I don't really want to spend money on roasted squash or beet salad that I can so easily make at home (with the aforementioned farm share). I especially don't want to pay $15 for something that I can make for less than $2. When I go out to dinner, I want it to be something special, something that I wouldn't normally make for myself. So don't expect to ever see me ordering kale.
But even more than that, I find there's a problem with many (although certainly not all) farm-to-table restaurants, and that's a lack of cohesiveness. Many farm-to-table restaurants take on a tapas-like approach; that is, many small dishes. I love variety, but to my palate, there has to be some sort of theme going on or else my tastebuds just don't jive with it.
When you have a menu with octopus and chicken livers and organic eggs and heirloom beans and kohlrabi, I find myself thinking it's too much. Too much variation, too many choices, not enough consistency. I realize I may be alone in this argument, but I'm standing by my guns. Farm-to-table only works when there's focus.
BAKERIES WITH HALF-BAKED COFFEE: Why is it that bakeries never have good coffee? Wouldn't it be nice to wake up on a Sunday morning and be able to go someplace with rich, strong coffee and a perfect, flaky Danish? They always seem to have a press pot of lukewarm, watered-down food service coffee.
The day I find a fantastic bakery with above-average coffee, I will shout it from the rooftops. (Or at least blog about it.)
TOO MUCH SHOPPING: This time of year, I find that I have at least three different grocery lists. There's Stop & Shop for the bulk of the groceries, then Trader Joe's for specific items like nuts and cheeses, and then the butcher, fish market or Whole Foods for all of the other stuff.
I love to cook, but it really gets to be a drag when you spend your whole day schlepping around town from one store to the next. I hesitate to put this on my list, because it is, without a doubt, a "first-world problem" (to use the very accurate but highly annoying term). But I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Sometimes I daydream about what life must have been like when you had just one market to choose from and how simpler life must have been. (But then, of course, I'd miss out on Thai-spiced cashews and imported cheeses, so really, I'm the only one to blame in this picture.)
HUGE PORTIONS: Can we please just stop with the muffins as big as a baby's head, and the five-egg omelets, and the sandwiches loaded with a half-pound of deli meat?
I love to eat, but it's gotten out of hand. Wouldn't it be nice to walk into a restaurant and not feel guilty about leaving food on your plate? Better yet, wouldn't it be awesome if prices shrank along with portion size? It's as if someone on high dictated that the average restaurant meal must be three times the size of what you'd normally eat at home. (I have to give a shout-out here to Home on the Range in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport. This is the only breakfast place I've found where you actually can walk away without feeling like you need to take a late-morning nap caused by food overload.)
It's the start of a new year, and with it, a fresh start for the culinary tables to turn. Looking forward, one can only hope that the best food trends stay while others -- like weak coffee and pork belly -- join Jell-O salad and spray cheese in the annals of history.