East Village Rant: There's Nothing to Eat

Dozens of restaurants are opening this fall, and yet the cupboard is bare. Why? Adam Platt's review of Japonais in New York Magazine, notable because it conferred no stars whatsoever on the restaurant, pointed out the existential crisis one can experience in so many of the McRestos popping up these days like unwanted mushrooms on the lawn. "What am I doing here?" he asks, as do many of us when faced with unnecessarily complicated menus and lackluster food. Of the three or four recently-opened places I've tried for dinner recently, none of them are worth visiting again. (Thus the absence of restaurant reviews lately.)

It's so hard to tell many of the new restaurants apart. Why bother going to the one you went to last week when you can check out the latest best thing? Restaurants, armed with multimillion dollar budgets and focus groups to get them off the ground, seem to have backed themselves into the same corner the fragrance industry did when it employed similar tactics. (Thanks, CKOne.) The goal is to find the universal crowd-pleaser; the unfortunate product, stripped of all distinctive notes, is something vaguely acceptable to all, thrilling to none. Now everything smells and tastes the same.

Of course, restauranteurs aren't wholly to blame. It's our fault too. Some hypotheses:

* Universal ADD. Forget fifteen minutes. No one can pay attention to anything for more than five minutes anymore. That makes both braising and remembering restaurants that do a good braised pork hard to handle.

* Weird diets. It was bad enough for chefs to have to deal with vegetarians. Now they have to deal with a) vegetarians, b) the lactose-intolerant, c) a strange proliferation of food allergies, d) carb-phobes, e) the fat-phobes who preceded them, f) the fat-phobes who gave up carbs but never really took to eating fat or meat again, and who now eat nothing but g) killer spinach.

* People like to be mistreated. New restos had better serve that beer with a sneer or risk being rejected for being too nice.

* Too much money. Chefs don't care whether or not people actually want their apple cobbler served in a clay pot, because some investor in Philadelphia is assuming the risk. Diners are happy to blow $36 on three litchi martinis before even raising a bite of tuna roll to their lips. Only an urban whitefish roll would be noticeable at that point.

If urban whitefish rolls proved the next most popular thing, chances are someone would invest a gazillion dollars to open a restaurant that served just such a dish. And susceptible and indiscriminate diners would eat it right up.

P.S. If you don't know what urban whitefish is...oh, never mind. Just put down your Treo for a sec and enjoy.

Editor's note: Because of the excess of opinion online and the dearth of actual reporting, not everyone may want to read another opinion piece. Therefore, all future opinion pieces will be preceded by the phrase "East Village Rant" and can be ignored as necessary.


Anonymous said...

Hmm... I guess I'm lucky, I still have some not-so-new places on my to-eat list :)

Anonymous said...

Urban Whitefish has some previous history as well. Below are the lyrics to the 1976 Joan Jett and the Blackhearts song, "Coney Island Whitefish"...

(Joan Jett/Kenny Laguna)
I warned you all the time to get yourself
In line, you never did it
I took you everywhere no one else could
Bear all your bullshit
Your headtrips were a bore I shoulda
Dumped ya long before, you're a dim wit
When I took you out ya ugly, dirty mouth
Was like a sewer
All ya did was moan, so I left ya on your own
I said screw ya,
I put it to ya
Now you're coming back tryin' to
Get into the act ya fool ya
Ya think I'm stupid
Scumbag, scumbag - ya don't leave well enough alone
Baby, you're a scumbag you're rotten to the core
You're the biggest fool that I ever known
Everytime it seemed we had everything
We dreamed for the choosin'
You never had enough the way you
Made life rough sent me cruzin'
I gave a disposition 'bout your rotten
Disposition you're a loser and you're losin' ha ha
Scumbag, scumbag - ya don't leave well enough alone
Baby, you're a scumbag you're rotten to the core
You're the biggest fool that I ever known
Yeah, uh huh, you are, yea uh huh