Whew, we made it. (Well, some of us.) The number of closures this past year has been brutal, and, sadly, I fear it’s just going to continue. January is a cruel month for restaurants (as if all the break-ins aren’t awful enough), so be sure to plan some outings to your favorite neighborhood joints if you can. But damn, did I really just see a list of desserts for $18? Fortunately, our city has something for everyone’s budget.
Even though times remain tough, my annual bitchfest about 10 things I don’t want to see in restaurants and bars in the new year must go on (since 2007!).
1. I just can’t with all these brunch and dessert places dripping with flower walls and plastic plant ceilings, enough already with the fake flora, especially with a pseudo neon sign (see below) embedded in the foliage that says, “Brunch time!” or whatever pithy quip they’ve come up with.
2. Yeah, about those “neon” signs. So many of them are mass-produced LED signs, which are fine at a camp at Burning Man or a nail salon, but not in your restaurant. And even if it is a custom neon sign, it’s time to keep it outside. I love neon, absolutely adore it, but it has become such a tired interior design gimmick—it’s the new subway tile.
3. Nasty natty wine. Why are places still serving so much acrid, tooth enamel–peeling, flawed, undelicious natural wine? There are many beauties to be enjoyed, sure, but some selections feel like an outright challenge by the somm for me to find just one redeeming quality. It’s giving me acid reflux.
4. Pan-seared gnocchi. Gnocchi are such silky, plump, delightful little dough balls, a pure delight in their natural habitat of tomato sauce or pesto or something buttery. But again and again, chefs feel compelled to gild the lily and throw them in a pan with butter and brown them and make them gummy and pasty. Basta! Keep gnocchi sexy!
5. Uline. Restaurants, please stop ordering your take-out bags and boxes and containers from Uline. Owners Liz and Dick Uihlein have donated millions to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and other conservative groups. Refuse Uline (you’ll find other options at that link).
6. Rude garnish. I can’t believe some of the cocktail garnishes that end up in my glass, from rosemary sprigs that are so long that they try to stab me in my eye, to desiccated citrus wheels (why?), to clunky items precariously balanced on the edge of the glass that photograph well but try to prevent me from taking a sip of my drink.
7. No N/A beverage options. Look, a lot of people don’t drink alcohol these days, so why are you only offering soda and juice to adults with great taste? Even if your restaurant doesn’t serve cocktails, there are so many clever and tasty RTD (ready to drink) non-alcoholic beverages* you can offer (and make a better margin on!).
8. Dumpling errrrrything. It’s pretty unbelievable to see so many restaurants opening with “dumpling” in their name. Some spots are great, but I can’t keep all this dumpling action straight—there’s Dumpling Home, Dumpling House, Dumpling Bistro, Dumpling Story, Dumpling Kitchen, Dumpling Zone, Dumpling Time, Dumpling Specialist, Dumpling Union, Dumpling Bites, Dumpling Park, Mom Dumpling, United Dumplings, Yummy Dumpling, Dumpling Baby China Bistro… All that’s missing is Yet Another Dumpling Spot.
9. Pick up the phone. It’s wild to me how difficult it can be to contact a restaurant and actually talk to a live person during service instead of being sent to voicemail. Whether you want to let a place know you’re running 10 minutes late to asking if the kitchen is still open, it’s getting harder and harder to reach someone. I shouldn’t have to resort to Instagram DMs handled by your social media manager to find someone to speak with.
10. Sloppy guests. OK gang, this one is on us. Enough with the pandemic-influenced casual wear at nicer restaurants. We’ve had three-plus years of T-shirts and sweats, let’s put on a real shirt with buttons and shit. Swap the leggings for actual pants, or have fun in a dress. Going out at these current insane prices automatically makes dinner into a special occasion, so let’s treat it as such. Baseball caps at the table and schlubby hoodies don’t help elevate the overall vibe. Tasting menus deserve a fleece-free zone.
I’ve already called out QR codes and tinned fish in past installments of the bore, feel free to take a trip down bad memory lane. Is there something I missed? Do you feel like bitching too? Go ahead and email me.