Overrated (and Underrated) DC Dining Trends

By Rina Rapuano  |  November 4, 2013
Credit: Flickr/lamantin

Surely, you remember the winter of 2010 - the year of beet-and-goat-cheese salad and butternut squash soup. It was followed by the summer of the ubiquitous octopus.

Through it all, there were cupcakes, ever present and happy - yet somehow turning slightly malevolent as they were seemingly rammed down our throats at every street corner. God forbid you find yourself in a cupcake-free zone - never fear! A cupcake truck was likely right around the corner.  

Together, we have grown excited by and then tired of one culinary trend after the next, with our eyes collectively on the horizon for the soon-to-be-discovered Next Big Thing. We decided to have a little fun with our fickleness, asking readers to weigh in on the current culinary trends that get their mouths watering - and that makes them push away from the table.

Here’s what we found:

  • Overrated Vegetable: Kale

    This one was almost too easy. Kale somehow rode the zeitgeist to superstardom in 2013, rising to a level of frenzied passion heretofore only experienced by bacon. Not that we don’t enjoy kale (or bacon), but does loving it have to be woven into the very fabric of our identity? Must we discuss it at parties? As Marty says, “It was the damn garnish at restaurants when we were growing up, now [everyone] thinks it's the miracle food.”

  • Underrated Vegetable: Celery

    Once merely the filler for tuna salad, the third leg of the mirepoix or the stuff you picked around in the Chinese stir-fry, we’re hoping celery is poised to come into its own. A dish at Etto makes a good case for it: two types of celery - and their leaves - are tossed with walnuts roasted in the wood-burning oven and generous shavings of pecorino Romano, all dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The simplicity of the dish turns the former wallflower into a star. We've seen celery in cocktails at Le Grenier and Room 11. Sue, for one, is ready for it to take off: "It's high time for celery to be overdone."

  • Credit: Flickr/lamantin

    Overrated Dessert: Cupcakes

    Cake pops, salted caramel and macarons were mentioned, but the overwhelming majority of respondents were through with cupcakes. “Just give me a piece of cake already,” says Meredith. “Is a cupcake supposed to make me look dainty or something?” Interesting to note that nobody mentioned donuts as being overrated, despite the rash of donut shops that popped up over the last two years.

  • Underrated Dessert: Butterscotch

    Amusingly, macarons were nominated for this category, as well, but we decided to go with butterscotch, a flavor once so out of fashion it could only be found wrapped in cellophane and lint at the bottom of your grandmother’s purse. Sure, it’s been creeping its way back onto dessert menus for a couple of years now, but it hasn’t come close to the realm of s’mores or whoopie pies. We recently had a butterscotch pot de crème at Pearl Dive that made us wish there were a butterscotch ender on every menu in town. The silky, puddinglike dessert is accompanied by petite sweet potato pecan wedding cookies and garnished with vanilla whipped cream and sweet potato chips. Grandma might not recognize it, but we love it.

  • Credit: Flickr/Nociveglia

    Overrated Flavoring: Truffled Everything

    When people are sick of truffles, it just goes to show that there really can be too much of a good thing. It could be the ingredient just feels kind of lazy - "Just throw some truffle on it! The people will love it!" Or perhaps it was the overuse of the cheaper (and sometimes deceptively manufactured) truffle oil. In any case, Alia says, “Popcorn? Mac 'n' cheese? Potato chips? Mayo?” She’s sick of it all.

  • Credit: Flickr/Vegan Feast Catering

    Underrated Flavoring: Seaweed

    Considering the popularity of sushi, ramen and Japanese cuisine in general, you’d think seaweed would have jumped over into mainstream American cooking a bit more than it has. It’s fairly healthy and packed with flavor, and we love nothing more than digging into a giant mound of rice sprinkled with dried nori flakes at Teaism and other Asian spots. We’d happily gobble it up on popcorn, potato chips, fries and in mayo. Ben gave us the idea by simply saying, "We should eat more seaweed." Christal chimed in, "Yes, more sea vegetables!!" Why not use this as liberally as truffles? Well, maybe not that liberally. We don’t want to tire of seaweed too.

  • Credit: Flickr/Zoetnet

    Overrated Dining Style: Small Plates

    We’ve been hearing it for years, but restaurateurs aren’t necessarily getting the message. It seems the small-plates trend, which started as a way to snack and has blossomed into an acceptable way to order dinner, is a runaway train. We’ve all ended up at a small-plates table with someone who just isn’t into sharing, which invariably makes things awkward. And some people just have a problem divvying up something so, well ... small. “How can a tiny portion be ‘perfect for sharing’?!” asks Lisa. “I think small plates work only if they are half of the cost of an appetizer - with appropriate portion size.”

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Underrated Dining Style: Choices

    While many of the trendiest new places aren’t doing away with small plates altogether, restaurants like Doi Moi and Rose’s Luxury are giving diners the choice to customize their meals by offering everything from snacks to family-style portions. We admit that it’s not always easy to tell from these menus how much to order, but a server can be invaluable if you take the time to ask for help.