Okay, so the title is pure conjecture, but serves as a hotbed of reference points all will be familiar with. Living in New York City and being constantly bombarded by food (honestly, not all the time by choice, even though it’s one of my passions and profession, but like i said, honestly) offers many peaks and valleys. The neighborhood I live in, Cobble Hill, which is in Brooklyn, alone hosts many restaurants that would be welcomed and revered in many cities. It’s breath taking that on a weekly basis I eat something from a restaurant in NYC that is considered “average” or “expected” here, but elsewhere, even by “big city” standards, would be viewed as exceptional. Simple things. The difference, sound technique and doing things correctly is an NYC restaurant staple. You have to make, at the least, good food to survive. The funny thing is that not everyone notices these techniques, or honestly knows what to expect when ordering items such as bone marrow, beef tongue, tripe, or even something like sea urchin. People have opinions. We all do, many strong. However, not all opinions are informed opinions. Or based on multiple experiences. People tend to listen to one another, especially when they consider the source, or collective sources, **gulp,** —trustworthy.
I’ll say this. I love Yelp. I think it is fantastic, a wonderful tool, and I use it all the time as a consultant, mainly to see what is in a neighborhood I’m not too familiar with.
I’ll say this too. Yelp is dangerous and there are a lot of people that use it that don’t know what they’re talking about (my opinion is in reference only to all things culinary).
The American culinary scene is exploding, still in the process of expanding after a jolt in the 90s that projected American cuisine into the realm of being internationally noticed. We have some of the world’s hottest chefs for the first time EVER. TV personalities also exploded. They’re kind of the dark matter, speaking in galactic analogy. Their influence is omnipresent, there are seemingly more of them than respected chefs, yet outside of TV we can’t really figure out what they, well, DO! Some people, and not all professional cooks or chefs, are more into restaurant based chefs, pursuit of reality based success. Now, TV personalities have certainly played their role, and I am not a “hater.” (I love being able to use the term “hater,” it makes me feel hip to the groove.) I believe people like Rachel Ray made Americans more adventurous. Rachel Ray encouraged people to travel, try local specialties, hang out where the locals do, and gave confidence to countless numbers of people to cook more in their own homes. There’s also the Travel Channel with their hosts Bourdain and Zimmern, both encouraging people to be super adventurous with food, and you know what, that it’s COOL to be so.
Cool. That’s ultimately what this boils down to in some way or another. “Foodies” are frowned upon some places, but here and most major cosmopolitan areas it is cool…. I actually don’t care for the word foodie, how about foodist? foodanista? enfoodiast?…eh, beside the point…So foodists are busy now being cool, trying to find the new hot spot and try many old world specialties (the aforementioned bone marrow, etc.) adapted in the form of this New American Cuisine unfolding before our very eyes. I should point out that most offal and exotic foods are and were eaten out of necessity or truly refined in the hands of masters that did it for years. Only recently are they coming en vogue in the USA. A land known by many other countries to be home of cheap meat. Not necessarily quality cheapness, but our vast open spaces allow for cheaper agriculture, thus allowing even lower social status members to enjoy a ribeye steak on occasion. Point being, eating high off the hog is an indulgence many aren’t even aware they have, comparatively speaking that is. So why do we even have veal kidneys, rabbit hearts in a pot pie, or confit duck gizzards on almost all contemporary menus? Yes because it’s cheap, but mainly because it’s COOL. They wouldn’t sell if they weren’t cool (especially in a country where you REALLY don’t have to), and yes it can save a little money, but these are the types of foods that truly show what a chef is made of, and chefs are excited to make them…and in many cases these prized dishes are delicious.
Coming full circle, I fear at some point creations, such as and those like yelp, might kill their masters. I often visit the yelp pages of NYC restaurants that are well known, some nationally, some locally. People can be brutal. Sometimes they are spot on, especially with service misfires, or how a billing incident is handled. Some are industry professionals, and some are clearly not. (When ordering delivery you should never expect crispy french fries.) That being said, there are people that believe unfounded claims. There is one restaurant I went to with my sister and her boyfriend and we had one of the best rabbit pot pies I have ever had. It had rabbit gizzards in it, and one lady on yelp reviewed the same pot pie, within the same few days. She said the pot pie was gamey, too rich, and not what she expected. She continued to describe what she expected, and it sounded like to me she was expecting chicken breast meat, lots of vegetables, and a light cream sauce. Now, most people will see this and realize she got herself into something she just didn’t truly understand, but in her posting it is clear “she knows what she is talking about.” So what happens to all the people’s perceptions about rabbit pot pie when they believe her posting? What happens when a friend suggests the place and the person says, “Well you know what I read?”… I myself am also guilty of “Yelp Trust.”
I think my favorite example is someone who tried beef bone marrow at a smokin’ hot popular restaurant and their post claimed the marrow was too rich and kind of greasy…now, bone marrow shouldn’t be “greasy,” but it is buttery and rich when done correctly.
Ultimately, these types of dishes are here to stay, forever, but in what capacity? Most chefs are too stubborn to remove dishes from their menus, even if only half the guests truly get it. That being said, more cautious restaurateurs may be likely to see these very public, very negative viewpoints and remove the more challenging dishes all together over time. Going to a safer menu, with chicken pot pie. The microscope is zooming in. And it’s being wielded by amateurs and professionals with iPhones and Android invasions. Over time, and I mean decades, will society construct our menus not in kitchens, but through consumer reports? There will always be chef driven restaurants and menus, but is it more of a trend destined to be monitored by the ever growing teenager that is constant communication and intertwining connectivity? Will people continue to be adventurous, or will the misinformation of others start squelching that drive? While the steamship (and I don’t mean a hind beef-quarter roast, food humor) of American cuisine is still in its honeymoon phase, once the dust settles, what will remain? What will be the “New American Classics,” and will cool old world favorites remain among them?