Friday, October 12, 2007

Uninspired American Cuisine

I really would like to know what people like about the high-end steak-house or seafood-house concept. I am almost hypocritical in stating my disdain for these places as I used to have a real love for Morton's Steakhouse, but recently my opinion has changed. Ridiculously huge portions of protein paired with huge portions of potatoes and "okay" vegetables just seems so culinarily dull to me. Then they want to charge you $35+ for a fish entree or $40+ for a steak entree. Then you need to pay like $10 for a baked potato, I mean come on, at the grocery store a potato even at that monstrous size costs only 25 cents.

Is this the height of "American cuisine" perhaps? In my gastronomy program we are always debating on whether-or-not we have a cuisine in this country and this idea dawned on me yesterday at my dull dinner (I'll get into the dinner more in a minute). When one talks about the American diet the concept of "meat and potatoes" always comes up. We see this idea when goto McDonalds in the hamburger (steak) and fries (potato), at TGI Fridays in the steak, mashed potato and small portion of veggies, Go off to a "family restaurant" and the theme is meat, potato and the "seasonal" vegetable.

Our most popular chain restaurants all feature the same menu just dressed differently. As mentioned McD's is steak and potatoes in a bun, Applebees is steak and potatoes dressed up on a sizzle platter, TGI Fridays is steak and potatoes with Jack Daniels sauce is a "fun atmosphere," Outback gives us steak and potatoes with a GIANT 3,500 calorie blooming onion, Lone Star gives us steak and potatoes like an American cowboy would want it (supposedly), Benihana gives us steak and starch (they do rice sorry, but it still works here) with an Asian "inspired" show as teppinyaki is an American inspired invention not Japanese and it just serves us our steak in a different way.

So should we be surprised that the most popular and expensive high-end concepts in the United States is not contemporary cuisine but simple meat and potatoes cooked perfectly for a high price? I say no, it is just a result of when people that do not understand cuisine want to spend money and end up at one of these places (I hope I am not insulting anyone here, it's not my intention). The atmosphere in these places is "white-washed" with little culture and high in pretension. Where does the pretension come in though, not from the cuisine, is it a way to make you feel like you are in a location where only the high dollar is worth getting through their walls?

This all came about from my dinner last night at the Atlantic Fish Co. which is a restaurant here in Boston. The menu features simply the name of certain fish that came in that day along with options for sides. Chilean sea bass $38.00, what a crock. Then add in the appetizer of crab cake at $18.00 and an apple crisp at almost $10, you start to see the big picture. The waitstaff was dressed well-to-do and the atmosphere was dark mahogany woods and there was a visible kitchen. Each "cook" wore a floppy toque which reminds me of back when I was in culinary school and that is exactly where my food looked like it came from when it came to my table, a simply perfectly cooked piece of fish, along with a large portion of under seasoned spinach and some tough lobster ravioli (great sounding entree?). I was also reminded repeatedly how great my meal was by my server as obviously I must not know what cuisine is, well because I am eating at a place that has no "cuisine," but just has large portions.

I apologize for the rant, but this is just what was on my mind today and I had to share it. I would like to take the time sometime and really research whether or not we really have a cuisine here in America other than meat and potatoes presented to us in different forms. I'll also add the food was not bad at Atlantic Fish Co. it was just dull and uninspired and way to expensive. I would love to hear some other people's opinions on this subject.

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