Jack and I went out to dinner the other night. It was our first time dining in this particular restaurant. I had heard that it was a bit swanky, especially considering it was originally a dive bar that drew occasional national musical acts and was frequented by piss-drunk students and locals for 30+ years.
As I walked through the front door, I was immediately struck by the beautiful décor. It was elegantly lit and handsomely appointed. The bar was very sophisticated; a far cry from the sticky, beer mung-covered floors it boasted in the 80s. As the hostess guided me to the table (Jack was parking the car), I noticed that, rather than a ball game, the massive flat-screen television over the bar displayed a black-and-white classic movie (muted, with closed captioning, of course).
I felt the annoyance creeping in and could already tell that I was not going to enjoy the evening as much as I had hoped.
As I perused the menu, I felt my eyes begin to roll into my head.
Side Note: Back when I worked in the corporate world, a constant ‘needs improvement’ theme in my annual performance appraisals was my ‘non-verbal communication’. That was their PC way of telling me I needed to stop rolling my eyes when confronted with idiotic initiatives. It always took a Herculean effort on my part not to roll my eyes during that part of the review, though the irony would have been deliciously rich.
Back to the restaurant…
I’m pretty sure it was ‘haricot vert’ that sent me over the edge. That, and the fact that when I asked the waiter – an Asian guy named Sherman (that has to be a first) – to describe the Compilation of Summer Veggies, he used the word ‘dynamic’ and the phrase ‘gives the chef a chance to flex his culinary muscles’. Twice each.
I’m not sure when restaurants got so full of themselves, but it really needs to stop. I think it started with various types of ‘reduction’ appearing on menus. I let that slide because I kind of understood what it meant. Then ‘demiglace’ joined the party and it went straight downhill from there. Before I knew it, I was seeing words I couldn’t begin to understand – gremolata, escabicha, confit, anglaise – the list goes on and on, and my blood boils a little more rapidly every time I see a new one.
I’m a simple girl with simple culinary needs. All I want is a menu I can understand, yummy food and a friendly person to bring it to me. The last thing I need or want is to go to a restaurant and pay a fortune to feel like stupid white trash. If I wanted to feel like stupid white trash, I’d go to a carnival or stay at home and watch professional wrestling.
Lettuce is now ‘mixed field greens’, by the way. In my world, field greens are weeds. In my mother’s world, they’re dinner. When my sister and I were little, we’d pile into the car to visit my aunt and uncle in Rising Sun, Maryland. Most of the drive was lined with fields. On the way home, it was not unusual for my mother to suddenly point out the window and yell ‘broccoli rabe!’. My father would instinctively jerk the wheel to the right and pull over, and we’d all watch her run into the field and gather as many of the weeds field greens as she could carry. My sister and I would slump down as far as we could in the backseat, mortified.
Unfortunately, my mother’s weed obsession wasn’t limited to the fields of Rising Sun. She did the same sort of thing at home. While other families were spreading Scott’s weed killer on their yards, my mother was out in our yard, bowl in hand, digging up dandelions for salads. At the time, it was beyond humiliating. I would pace around the kitchen, peeking out the window, desperately hoping my friends and neighbors weren’t outside to witness her insanity. I would have given anything for a simple head of iceberg lettuce slathered in French dressing during those years. It turns out she was way ahead of her time. Years ago, her craziness was finally legitimized by the food industry when broccoli rabe and dandelion salad became regulars on the menus of finer restaurants. Be that as it may, I still get humiliation chills every time I spot them on a menu.
Here’s hoping the restaurant industry’s pretentious phase is quickly replaced by a more rustic, peasant-like trend with menus riddled with easy-t0-pronounce words like ‘sauce’ and ‘gravy’. In the meantime, I’m going to run to McDonalds. I have a hankering for some delicious pommes frites.