The San Francisco Chronicle's food blog recently published an almost entirely unmitigated turd of an anonymous screed entitled "How to Tell If a Restaurant Is Pretentious." Over the course of this reader-submitted essay, it becomes clear that "pretentious" is loosely defined as "anything vaguely new or self-consciously straining to be good."
There's certainly no harm in posting this sort of thing—people like to argue about the finer points of restaurant culture, and this is clearly catnip for the peanut gallery. And, hell, I was sufficiently irritated to take the bait and engage. Thus, some thoughts on a few of the list's low points.
If anyone on the staff identifies themselves as a “pizzaiolo.”
Guess what: People actually train quite seriously to be pizzaioli. The term often reflects a great deal of training and effort, and should mean that the customer is going to get a hell of a good pizza. If you don't, that's a serious strike against the restaurant. If you do—shut the hell up with your not liking of big words that are new. A century ago you would've been banging your ivory cane on the ground and complaining about these newfangled "sommeliers." Several thousand years before that, you would've been angry about wine itself. "We drank fermented ditch water, and that was plenty good," etc.
If the restaurant has four wheels and does not serve hot dogs or tacos.
Yes: God forbid people play around with what's served from food carts, because, uh oh, we might learn to like something new or have an enjoyable experience. This use of "pretentious" here is so daft and woolly that it's almost impossible to even refute—this is just hating something because other people like it. This is like hating a new, terrific band because their music doesn't sound like the Doors, or hating ice cream because it's cold.
If the restaurant has a cocktail “program”, or employs a bartender under the age of 80 who refers to himself as a “barkeep” and wears sleeve garters. Bonus points if that bartender brings his own beakers to work.
Sleeve garters, sure. But criticizing restaurants because they're putting effort into a thoughtful cocktail menu? Ooh, yep, that's the very definition of insufferable. Also, there is no shame in a bartender bringing his own beakers to work. That means he's excited to do a good job mixing drinks for you, which is generally recognized as a positive thing.
If there is liquid nitrogen in the kitchen. Or if any food item has been turned into a “foam."
Well, OK. We're kind of on the same page here.
If the menu touts the provenance of every fruit, vegetable, meat and fish product. Further bonus points if the restaurant puts that idiotic little disclaimer at the bottom of the menu stating that “everything is local and organic, where possible.”
Here's the thing, anonymous troll: It's basically impossible for all items on any menu to be local and organic. So the best that can be reasonably promised by a restaurant attempting to be local and organic, in good faith, is that they'll take a shot at the ideal and come as close as they can.
Furthermore, would it kill you to know where your food is coming from? Some people actually enjoy it—knowing your purveyors, it could be said, even enhances the pleasure of a good meal.
In conclusion: Please go back to eating your medium-rare steak and leave the food commentary to people who actually enjoy food.