Decades from now, when you reflect on what dining was like during the fledgling years of the 21st century, on a good day you will picture a heartening trend toward comfort food in the wake of Sept. 11 and a well-meaning push toward locally sourced menus.
But on a bad day, when someone asks what the worst restaurant trends of that first decade were, will you be able to shut up? One restaurant type cracked: “As long as we’re not naming names, I’ll talk. Because now that you ask this, specific chefs and self-important restaurants are coming to mind.”
Then there were those who, like It Boy and New York chef David Chang, when asked to name the worst trends of the decade, simply blurted: “The Cheesecake Factory. The Kobe beef movement was stupid — it was never meant to be a burger! Sliders are stupid too. Sorry, I mean to say ‘a trio of sliders’ is stupid. What else? Walls of wine bottles as decoration. The steakhouse craze — why does there need to be more than a couple of steakhouses in any metropolitan area?”
Then, when his outrage subsided, Chang made an excellent point: “Bad trends were usually good trends. They just got watered down into a really bad, overdone trend.”
Which, in a way, is precisely how Tanya Steel, the editor-in-chief of Epicurious (epicurious.com), saw the decade unfolding: “The beginning and the middle were just the height of obnoxiousness, very reminiscent of the 1980s — you call ahead for a table and they tell you ‘5:30 or 10:30’ though there are 10 empty tables at 8 p.m. There were restaurants, especially here in New York, that refuse to list a phone number or have the name of the place outside. I would say the second part of the decade didn’t begin until September 2008, when the economy meant no one could afford to act like that now.”
“Worst trend?” said Tim Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat restaurant survey. “Buying wine to show off. It’s not new but it got out of hand with Wall Street types this decade. If you spend $100 on a bottle now, you’re exhibiting some degree of stupidity.”
What follows are the 10 worst restaurant trends of the decade, culled from interviews with chefs, consultants, even the owners of a food bookstore in Maine. I couldn’t include every gripe — mache, water sommeliers, organ-meat entrees, unisex bathrooms, bacon tattoos on chefs, over-flaunted kitchen burns, chefs tables (“usually they’re done as an afterthought, and it shows”) — but here’s what leaped out, in order of annoyance:
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