First off, we want you to know that we think Houston has a killer restaurant scene. We have some truly top-notch eateries in this town, and we're damn proud of them.
That said, everyone messes up from time to time. Chefs, waiters and restaurateurs all do stupid things. And we totally forgive them, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to call them on it. So we did a quick survey of our Houston Press food writers and came up with these gut reactions.
Think of this article as a public service. It's a means of inciting a discussion about what really chaps our asses (and your asses) about the Houston restaurant scene. And maybe, if we're lucky, our combined forces can help bring an end to the likes of bonito flakes and margarita flavoring.
One can only hope.
Artsy Plates Sure, a beautifully designed plate of food is fun, but not if it comes at the cost of losing the quality of flavor in the dish. Today's chefs seem to be focusing more on the plating and presentation than on the quality and taste of the dish. More often than not, the best dishes are the simple ones, without frou-frou sauces spread across the plate like a painting. Focus on the taste more than the presentation; the quality of food is becoming less important than its appearance. MOLLY DUNN
Gourmet Burgers Look, if a burger is good enough, it doesn't need a bunch of bells and whistles to make it delicious. Enough with the avant garde peanut butter and jelly burgers or lobster and foie gras-topped creations (offenders, you know who you are). Don't put a Frito pie on top of my burger and call it a burger. You just invented something else entirely. Good for you. Now make me a burger. Just give me a hunk of great, high-quality beef, a toasted bun, lettuce and tomatoes and some killer pickles. If you must, add some bacon or cheese. But THAT'S IT. Let the good ingredients do the talking instead of masking them with grilled fruit or chips I can get out of a vending machine. KAITLIN STEINBERG
Rushed Service When I go out to eat, I like to take my time. I'm paying to enjoy food at a restaurant, so I don't want to feel like I have 30 minutes to order, eat and pay the check. Just about every restaurant I have eaten at asks me what I want to drink before I even have a drink menu in front of me -- sometimes the second I sit down. At least give me some time to look over the menu before you pull out your pencil to write down my drink order. If you're going to do that, I'm just going to order water and you're not going to make any money off of me from ordering a drink. Not only am I rushed to order drinks, but even if I say there's no rush on the food and that I would like each course to come out separately, either everything arrives at the same time or the second one plate is cleared, there's another one sitting in front of me. If I wanted fast food, I would go through the drive-through. Waiters need to respect diners' time a bit more, especially if they say there's no rush. MOLLY DUNN
Check out five more stupid scene trends on the next page.
The Bonito Crutch Bonito is a type of tuna that is flaked after drying. It's a critical ingredient of dashi, a clear stock that is a building block of Japanese cuisine. For the past several months, though, bonito flakes have been showing up all over the place...on top of roasted peppers, custards and soups, among other things. I'm waiting for someone to try and pass them off as a sundae topping. The popularity of bonito flakes is understandable. They're easy to use: Just grab some out of a bag and sprinkle them on top. Anyone can do it. Bonito flakes add umami and texture and do a wiggly little dance on top of hot things as they melt. (Depending on one's opinion of food that moves under its own power, that is either fun or disturbing.) However, it seems that they've become a crutch used at the expense of actual creativity. Are there no other ideas on how to add umami and saltiness to a dish? Bonito has become the new bacon, which leads me to ask, "What's wrong with the old bacon?" I'm hoping to see some other inventive, savory garnishes in the future. PHAEDRA COOK
Too Many Tasting Menus Is it just me, or is the overabundance and overpricing of tasting menus becoming obnoxious? Sure, I love having the opportunity to sample several dishes in small-plate form, but when the prices soar to nearly $50 or $60 per person, it's just ridiculous. Either lower the price, increase the size of the plates or leave the small plates to tapas restaurants. I'd like to feel like I'm getting my money's worth, but a few tiny dishes that don't even make me completely full aren't worth it. MOLLY DUNN
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"Margarita"-Flavored Baked Goods Guess what? It may be five o'clock somewhere, but it's not at your bakery. Ever. So, cease and desist, please, with those "margarita"-flavored cupcakes, cookies, etc. A margarita is a frosty (note, not frosted) adult beverage I drink during Tex-Mex happy hours or sometimes at home listening to Jimmy Buffett by my lonesome. It is not a flour and water and sugar concoction that requires chewing and possibly a napkin. I gather this was your very flawed line of reasoning in creating this abomination: People like margaritas. People like cupcakes. People will like margarita cupcakes. Wrong. Well, maybe a few mouth-breathers will buy into this tomfoolery, but I promise you, most everyone else will take your sheet cake with fluorescent "margarita" icing as an insult to baked goods as well as to cocktails. Leave the margaritas to the barmen and the cupcakes to the bakers. Some worlds shouldn't collide. JOANNA O'LEARY
Foam Okay, so whipped cream and meringue are both types of foam. And I'm cool with those. It's the stupid parmesan foam and tomato foam and freaking bacon foam I can't tolerate. I blame Ferran Adrià, the Spanish chef behind the now defunct elBulli restaurant in Catalonia, for the foam craze. Even though elBulli closed in 2011, the foam thing is still going strong here in Houston and across the United States, and I just don't get it. Foam is glorified suds, people. And what's more, it doesn't even look appetizing! It generally looks like someone spit on your food. With foam in the picture, you have no way of knowing if your waiter hates you or if you're eating something expensive and innovative. Though my vote would be both. Let's all just make a deal right now to keep the foam on cappuccino, and only on cappuccino. You do that, and I'll save my rant about molecular gastronomy in general for another day. KAITLIN STEINBERG
Junk Food On Anything If I wanted flaming-hot Cheetos on my sushi roll, I'd probably be pretty high and I don't do that (hi, dad). Rumor has it the fluorescent puffs have even been seen dusted atop a Dr Pepper short rib-topped macaroni and cheese. No. Just no. I'm already eating enough crap to have to worry about Funyuns sneaking onto my bánh mì. Let's leave the stoner shit to Taco Bell, okay Houston? BROOKE VIGGIANO