The four warning signs of faux-fancy cuisine

Traveled to a big tourist city last week. After three days of ghastly airline, airport, and convention center food, I splurged on a fancy hotel restaurant that billed its cuisine as “local” (or at least, “regional”).

What a hideous and expensive mistake.

There are more and more of these tourist-targetting restaurants that serve faux-fancy cuisine. Some executive chef comes in and designs a menu, then leaves. A team of low-end cooks slavishly follow the assembly directions, with no modifications based on the quality of the actual ingredients.

I don’t know what was worse that night — the horribly, flabby, thawed shrimp passed off as local or the beautiful fresh scallops tainted with painted-on high-sodium artificial smoke before being seared in a pan of questionable grease.

Avoid these places like the plague.

The watermelon dish

The watermelon dish

Your first clue is the menu: Each dish has three ingredients that, in juxtaposition, raise the eyebrows rather than whet the palate. Watermelon chunks topped with large balls of goat cheese with a side of onions and orchids, anyone?

The second clue is the dinnerware: Gigantic white plates in weird shapes — rectangular, triangular, trapezoidal. Give me a break.

Sauce overkill

Sauce overkill

The third clue is the sauces: Salty, fatty and so highly flavored with hot pepper, mustard, or spices that they obliterate any flavor that the main dish might ever have had.

Finally, the damning fourth clue: A gluey version of balsamic vinegar zig-zagged artistically over your food and the trapezoidal plate. For dessert, it’s raspberry-balsamic glue for the zig-zag.

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

The scallop travesty (note balsamic zigzag)

I wanted to cry — particularly for what must have been delightful scallops before they were poisoned with artificial smoke flavoring.

The next day I set out on the road and found myself in a small rural community. At 12:30 p.m. the downtown burger pub was filled with people drinking like fish (cocktails AND mugs of beer?). I got the basic lunch — a hamburger that could have fed three people, a mountain of fries, and a 24-oz. plastic glass of ice-cold Coca-Cola.

I ate the beef patty (quite good) and the tomato slice (fresh, and local) and had a few sips of Coke. You know what? It was about 10 times better than the previous night’s dinner. And so was the service.

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