In my latest issue of Bon Appetit there’s a blurb on ice cream vs. gelato. It talks about the differences, and then lists a few places to get good versions of either. One of these places (in LA, perhaps not surprisingly) offers such choices as “bacon-caramel,” “Pabst Blue Ribbon-avocado,” and “dill-mascarpone.”
I feel it’s time to put my foot down about this, and a few other related trends.
For starters, bacon- or beer-flavored ice cream is simply an abomination and the making of such vile concoctions should be prohibited by the US Constitution. There’s just no excuse for these retch-inducing combinations. No, I haven’t tried them, but I haven’t tried crickets or guano either. There are some things you just don’t have to try. You just know they’re nasty, and instinctively avoid them. I suppose one could argue that were it not for similar attempts, we might not have flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough, or even coffee ice cream. But then we would also have avoided mistakes like licorice flavored ice cream, so there.
New Food Rule #1: Stop making ice cream out of ingredients that simply don’t belong in ice cream. And if you’re not sure what ingredients simply don’t belong in ice cream, then you need to play it safe and not make ice cream at all. Enough with the chai flavored ice cream, already.
On a related note, I’ve read of a lot of restaurants lately that are serving “bite sized” dessert plates. These are combinations of several different one- or two-bite desserts, which would be fine, except that the pastry chefs are getting a little too cute with this idea and producing things like itty bitty lollipops, and teeny little puffs of cotton candy, and other junk food-inspired offerings. I think the straw that broke my back was the miniature peanut butter and jelly ice cream sundae I read about at a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. Peanut butter ice cream, guava jelly (or something similarly yucky), and the usual sundae fixings, but I think it also had some kind of croissant bread crumbs or something on it as well, to represent the bread of a normal PB&J sandwich. The whole thing was a stomach-turning combination of ick and affected.
New Food Rule #2: No more overprecious teeny tiny desserts that are some kind of riff on childhood junk food favorites. Just make a chocolate cake and let it go at that. If these pastry chefs spent half as much time making really good chocolate cake as they do coming up with darling little nibbles, the world would be a far, far better place. Good chocolate cake is hard to come by.
A take on this teeny dessert concept is the idea of teeny appetizers that look like desserts, but are actually savory. A restaurant in Seattle serves a cracker “waffle cone” filled with a scoop of mashed potato “ice cream” (in this case not actual mashed potato-flavored ice cream, thank God, since that would clearly violate rule #1, but a scoop of mashed potatoes that are intended to look somewhat like ice cream). Making appetizers that are intended to resemble desserts is just as bad as making tiny desserts that are takes on junk food.
New Food Rule #3: Just serve appetizers. Never mind trying to make them look cute. And especially never mind trying to make them look like dessert so that I am oh-so-surprised when I bite into it and discover that it’s not actually sweet, it’s savory! How very whimsical and droll!
I am also of the opinion that the people who run fair concessions should stop deep frying things. Deep fried candy bars, Twinkies, Oreos. At the root of this trend is evidently the Mullen brothers, Clint and Rocky, who came up with the idea of abusing Snickers bars in this fashion, and run fair concessions. Hostess (or to be perfectly accurate, Interstate Bakeries, their parent company) approached the Mullens about the idea of deep frying Twinkies, because Twinkies aren’t revolting enough on their own. They need to be breaded and saturated with fryer oil, too. Fairgoers responded enthusiastically (proving once again that the collective IQ of the American people is just shy of “functional”) and deep frying just about anything became not just acceptable, but trendy. I’m going to sell my idea for deep fried ice cubes. I’m sure they’ll be a runaway hit.
The only weird deep fried item that I will speak up for is deep fried dill pickle rounds. These are actually very yummy, and shouldn’t be scorned in the same breath with other freakish deep fried selections.
New Food Rule #4: Stop deep frying anything and everything. Let’s just stick to the traditional potatoes and chicken, and leave candy bars and cookies out of it.
I read recently about a couple of new restaurants that have a sort of similar philosophy to one another, although they’re executing it in different ways. One actually serves you completely in the dark. The servers are all blind or visually impaired, and the idea is, of course, that if you’re unable to actually see what you’re eating, your other senses (including taste and smell) are thus heightened. The other establishment offers accompaniments to the meal (which it calls “courses”) that are things like burning rosemary branches. That’s not a course; it’s a fire hazard. The concept in this case is that these added scents contribute to what’s being eaten without actually being a part of the dish itself. Tres gimmicky.
New Food Rule #5: Restaurants need to serve food, and not try to come up with ways to make it more dramatic and impactful. People will always need to eat. They will always come back to a restaurant that serves reliably good food, and they’ll tell their friends about it as well. If restaurants serve a high quality product in a pleasant setting with competent service, they won’t need to think up tricky ways of making the food more interesting.
In general, anything that could be described by restaurant critics as “amusing,” “whimsical,” or “fanciful” is not anything I want to eat. I don’t want fanciful food. I don’t want amusing food. I want food that tastes good. When I read any of those adjectives in a restaurant review, I am immediately on my guard. I guess I just have a no-nonsense attitude about food. I’m prepared to try something that sounds unusual, but not something that sounds disgusting or pretentious or both. Thus my contribution of a few new food rules, all of which I can pretty much guarantee will be soundly ignored by chefs around the world, until they themselves come to the conclusion that these things were just silly to begin with, and abandon them all. It’s the story of my life.