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10 Restaurant Concepts That Don't Mean Anything Anymore

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Krieger, 10/16/08

Yesterday's list of some of the words restaurants use to describe their restaurant—Jewsion, Gastro fusion—was almost an exercise in the absurd. But there are other words and phrases used to describe restaurants that have become so overused, so misused that they've become trendy dining styles that are adopted in name only. Others are concepts that have been Xeroxed so many times that they have lost any of the sharpness that they once had.

10) The Gastropub: A trend inspired by the Spotted Pig’s success as both a boisterous bar and revered restaurant serving skillfully cooked, but satisfying fare. As it turns out, a lot of places that call themselves gastropubs are just restaurants with bars, and most restaurants have bars. If there’s no connection to the concept’s English roots, your restaurant is not a Gastropub.

9) Upscale Comfort Food: What isn’t considered upscale comfort food these days? When the economy collapsed last year, restaurateurs figured out that they could draw in customers with accessible food, made with premium ingredients to keep their price points where they needed to be. Gourmet burgers, mac and cheese, fried chicken, hot dogs, and the like, have become so prevalent these days, we should really just drop the moniker entirely and just call it “New York Food.”

8) Street Food: Not just your average ethnic food, but one that has its roots in the soulful street culture of the country of its origin. The problem here is that, unlike its authentic inspiration, anything claiming to be “street food” in Manhattan will generally use top-notch ingredients, and be more expensive to similar cuisine that doesn’t bear this designation. Also, odds are no $5 Manhattan “street food” taco will ever be as good as the cheap-o one you had in that TJ back alley, Spring Break ’96.

7) Farm To Table: All food comes from a farm, somewhere, and all food is served on a table. It's great that a lot of restaurants these days source from the farmers market and have working relationships with purveyors, but cut out the buzz words and just serve good food.

6) Tapas: Of course there’s something funny about an Asian, Italian, or Greek Tapas restaurant, as the concept has its roots in Spain. But, the greater issue here is the notion that so many restaurateurs are eager to serve small portions of food priced somewhere between an appetizer or an entrée. Certainly, there must be some financial benefit to this style of service on behalf of the restaurateur, because most customers could care less about the romantic European lifestyle it uses as a touchstone.

5) American Nouveau: Tom Coliccio’s work at Craft ten years ago made people excited about eating American food again by serving familiar dishes with a mastery of technique and freshness that made them pop. A lot of chefs that serve New American food these days miss the simplicity that is at the core of this style of cooking, instead thinking that a $35 roast chicken entrée needs to be served over a dogpile of market ingredients, and plated so that it resembles a mid-period Jackson Pollock.

4) Fusion Anything: It takes a highly skilled, experienced chef to integrate two divergent styles of cuisine into one, seamless whole -- and when it’s done right, it can be a real treat. Most of the time, it's not.

3) Artisanal Anything: The term does get thrown around quite a bit these days, because a lot of people like to think that at one point in time, their meal was fussed and fiddled with by the food equivalent of Gepetto from Pinnochio. Please use the word “artisanal” as sparingly as possible.

2) Modern Anything: The term correctly applies to restaurants serving creatively reimagined takes on traditional recipes. The term is, however, most commonly coined by restaurants that offer uninspired food in slick, shiny dining rooms.

1) Bistro: An Upscale Bistro. A Market Driven-Bistro. Casual Bistro fare. A fresh take on the Manhattan Bistro. This concept originally referred to restaurants in urban Paris, and means absolutely nothing in urban Manhattan these days. It’s now just a synonym for restaurant, plain and simple.

Have any to add to the list? Think any of these are still kicking? State your case in the comments.

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