Happy New Year everyone! While the rest of you have been busy putting together your New Year’s resolutions, we have been putting together a different sort of list: a list of our Italian and Chinese restaurant pet peeves. After all, pet peeves are just resolutions in disguise. So here’s to hoping that the restaurants we often frequent might see a little bit of themselves in this list, and resolve to do better in 2013!
Things that we’ve had enough of in Italian restaurants–
• Dishes served out of season. Not only does the in season food supply contain more nutrients, it supports health and energy and reduces the carbon footprint. Osso bucco is a winter dish. Vitello tonnato is a summer dish. See below.
• Caprese Salad served out of season. If you can’t get fresh garden- ripened tomatoes, don’t make Caprese Salad!
• Caprese Salad with balsamic vinegar, or worse yet-balsamic glaze. Mozzarella has a delicate fresh, lactic flavor. Why disguise it with something sweet and syrupy?
• Restaurants that serve only fresh pasta. In Italy, comparing fresh and dried pasta is like comparing apples and oranges. They both have their place, and they are both equally delicious when chosen appropriately.
• Cooks that don’t salt the pasta water! Italians will tell you it’s about the flavor of the pasta, complimented by the sauce. Pasta with no salt has no flavor. Period.
• Cooks that drown the pasta in sauce. See previous pet peeve. In Italy it’s not called sauce; its called a condiment.
• Tiramisu ad naseum. Come on chefs! There are plenty of other dolce to choose from. What about fresh fruit served with a simple Zabaglione (winter only)?
• Sweet salads with dried cranberries and cloying balsamic dressing. The role of salad is to provide a balanced acidity to aid digestion. Save the sweet for dessert please.
• Salads served at the beginning of the meal. See above. Since salad is to aid digestion, it should be served at the end of the meal.
• Waiters that mispronounce “Bruschetta”. “ch” is pronounced with a hard “k” sound. (think of the word “chianti”).
• Italian words misspelled on menus. Come on guys. Go buy an Italian dictionary, or check the spelling on line. It looks lazy when a word is misspelled.
• Misspelled English words on the menu. Need I say more?
• Bolognese that isn’t. (What it isn’t, is tomato sauce with ground beef).
• Carpaccio that isn’t. Carpaccio is thinly sliced beef, dressed with a small amount of mayonnaise- based sauce flavored with a hint of mustard. It is named after the famous painter Vittore Carpaccio, known for his tones of reds and whites.
• Redundant names such as “shrimp scampi”, or “garlic aioli”.
• Ridiculously priced wine lists. Yes, we know that the markup on a bottle of wine should be 30%. We also know that that $55 bottle of wine on your list sells for $8.00 at the nearest wine shop, and you pay even less.
• Waiters that don’t tell you the price of the “special”. Best is having the special printed out and attached to the menu, but if you must do it orally, then please tell us the price.
• Sugary-sweet cocktails. Again, please save the sweet for dessert.
And here’s our list of things that we’d like to see no more of in Chinese restaurants:
• The bottle of soy sauce on the table for non-Asians. Soy sauce is a seasoning in cooking, or a dipping sauce for a scallion pancake etc. It is not Asian ketchup. Look around you. The Asians dining at the next table are not drenching their food with soy sauce.”
• Cheap flavorless tea served with the meal. Aside from Dim Sum, Chinese do not drink tea along with the meal. Its OK if we westerners do, but please give us decent tea with real flavor.
• Waiters that insist we won’t like authentic food. This is 2013. We travel, we watch the cooking channel. We’ve moved beyond egg fu young. We’ve even moved beyond General Gao’s Chicken. (At least some of us have).
• Kung Pao Chicken that isn’t. (What it isn’t is chicken with celery and bell pepper spiced up with some chilies and served with peanuts).
• Cantonese restaurants that serve “Sichuan” dishes. (See kung Pao Chicken).
• PuPu platters of greasy fried foods. The name alone should tell you something.
• Beef with Western Broccoli. Gai Lan, or Chinese broccoli is readily available, has more flavor, and is authentic.
• Canned water chestnuts, canned bamboo shoots, and canned baby corn. Would you settle for canned peas and carrots at your local new American bistro?
• Gross misspellings on the English side of the menu. Please buy a dictionary or look up the word online.
• Canned pineapple (or any pineapple) in Sweet and Sour Pork.
• Maraschino cherries in Sweet and Sour Pork. Need I say more?
• Brown colored fried rice. ( See the comment on soy sauce)
• Rolls and butter served with the meal. Seriously??
• Main courses served before the appetizers, and everything served before the rice.
• The unspoken rule that says Chinese restaurants in this country have to be red, plastic, and lit with cheap florescent lights.
Food for thought? These are some of the things we wish would disappear in the New Year. Do you have any restaurant pet peeves?
written by Michele Topor and Jim Becker