This week I balance the scales. Sure, the holiday season is supposed to be all about love, but looking at my tag cloud, “Hate” is precariously small. And there are precious few posts under Fussy about Criticism.
So I’m going to take a few days just to get some things off my chest. If all goes according to plan, most of the posts will not mention a single local media source. How’s that for holiday spirit?
Thank you in advance for your indulgence.
There are a few words that are terribly overused in describing restaurant food. One that I find particularly offensive is “Fresh.” Let me try and explain.
It’s used as a catchall phrase, which tends to make it meaningless. “I love that their food tastes really fresh.”
This could mean a variety of things. Here are a few.
Fresh – as in the opposite of frozen.
Ex: Five Guys uses fresh, never frozen, beef.
Fresh – as in prepared to order.
Ex: I enjoy a salad that is freshly tossed tableside.
Fresh – as in at least partially alive
Ex: That fresh basil is looking a little wilted around the edges.
Fresh – as in at the peak of season.
Ex: Little in life is better than eating a fresh peach.
Fresh – as in novel, not the same-old same-old.
Ex: The changing daily menu keeps things fresh.
Fresh – as in hot from the oven, slightly different from prepared-to-order.
Ex: Which bagels are fresh right now?
Fresh – as in recently made.
Ex: These croissants were made fresh this morning.
Fresh – as in not rotten.
Ex: Debbie’s uses fresh meat for its sandwiches.
Fresh – as in light and healthy.
I had a salad for lunch because I craved something fresh.
Fresh – as in raw or unprocessed.
Ex: Do you prefer canned or fresh mushrooms on your pizza?
I am sure there are more (and if one strikes you, the comment box is just a few inches down).
And yes, sometimes the meaning of the word is clear in context. But sometimes it is completely baffling. Especially because in the context of restaurants so little is truly made to order.
Food comes in from vendors, some of it frozen. It is stored in walk-ins and then prepped ahead of time. The prepped food then sits in pre-measured portions for up to a few days in the refrigerator before it is finally assembled to order. Leftovers are then creatively turned into specials to minimize waste.
Anyway, having unprocessed, not rotten, recently made, hot from the oven, unfrozen food should be the low-water line for any noteworthy restaurant. The fact that it tastes fresh shouldn’t be remarkable. It should be mandatory.
And when someone says that something “tastes fresh,” I often have no idea what they are talking about.
To be clear, I believe the high-water mark for a restaurant is a changing daily menu based on ingredients that are local, seasonal and sustainable. The menu should be small. The portions should be modest. The wine list should avoid large industrial producers and include some bargain selections. And the whole operation should be run by a dedicated staff who, like the owners, are professionals, perfectionists and lovers of food.
Now let’s move on to pet peeve number two. Tomorrow.
For the sake of full disclosure:
Despite my aversion to the term, in my 369 Yelp reviews and 17 review updates, I have used some form of “fresh” on 37 different occasions. Many of these have used some kind of qualifier to help give the word some meaning. But despite my fastidiousness, there may be some examples of this crime against writing in my own work. Nobody is perfect.