We’ve all been there: the plate arrives at the table and although it probably tastes really good, it is littered with green flakes of some herb. Usually it’s parsley. Sometimes oregano or thyme. There are some occasions that call for it. At fine dining restaurants we can expect a sprig of this and a dollop of that, even if it is inedible. They want the dish to look good. We eat first with our eyes, they say. Well, I would like to challenge that. I am starting to notice that restaurants which never used to garnish with herbs are now heaping them on the plate. An herb like parsley does not have a taste or odor, so that’s not a huge problem, but I don’t want to be biting into whole leaves of it either.
Case in point: Applebee’s (the Edison, NJ location). I ordered some kind of chicken dish a few months ago which consisted of a fried chicken cutlet over mashed potatoes, topped with onion rings. Aside from being so chewy and rubbery enough that I could have played hockey with it, the plate was littered with whole leaves of parsley, and one actual stem which made it in there. It looked like a salad. It totally threw me off to the point where even if the meal was good I would have been annoyed. Before you think I’m a snob, it does not take much to make me happy and I rarely send food back. I did that night, though not because of the greenery. And look at the picture above for another example. It tasted great, but was there a need for parsley on French Fries?
In fact, I have sent back food only twice in at least the last five years, and I eat out a lot. Both times were since the new year rolled in. The other instance was Yesterday’s of Hazlet. I wanted to give them a bombastically awful review to their own, but didn’t want to bash something in my own hometown. I won’t go on and on about how the food and service has been on a steady decline since their renovation. I’ll focus on the plate. I ordered a lunch special chicken fajita. I know, it’s an Italian/American restaurant and I got a fajita. Look, I was not expecting authentic Mexican cuisine here. Grilled chicken, onion, some cheese, that’s all. The fajita comes, looks alright, and I bite into it. I am not exaggerating when I say it tasted like a mouthful of dirt. I literally spit it into a napkin.
Was it the chicken? The onion? I opened it up and examined. Chicken smelled okay. It wasn’t going bad. Onion too, so what the hell could it be? I took another bite and kept it in my mouth for a few seconds as I forked the contents around in the plate. It was rosemary. God damned rosemary in a chicken fajita. It didn’t look like the chicken was previously marinated in it (for use in multiple dishes like many restaurants do), so that means they intentionally added rosemary to a dish that did not need it. A chicken fajita. I was irate. I called the waitress over and politely told her it tasted weird because of the rosemary and was inedible. Somehow, the combination just did not work. I actually used the word “disgusting”. She was very nice and asked if I wanted anything else. I said no, and for them to just take it off the bill, which they did. What I really wanted to say was, “Can you go have whoever cooked that take a bite of the other half I didn’t touch, come to the table, and look me in the eye saying that tastes good and rosemary is an appropriate herb for a fajita?”
Have you noticed the same? We can expect an herb sprinkle on a pasta dish or anything Italian for that matter, but why are chefs/cooks now dusting everything in sight with green specks? Do they think it elevates the dish? Why are unnecessary herbs making their way into simple foods? There was a let’s-put-pesto-spread-on-everything phase that lasted a few years and thankfully went by the wayside. How about the piece of lettuce and orange slice that somehow made it onto any dish with a steak? Nope, gone too. Hopefully unnecessary herbs will follow suit. My message to you is: stop. Garnishing or trying to develop complex flavors by putting seemingly random herbs into a dish is not making you look gourmet. It’s ruining the food and making people like me who just want something simple and tasty a little bit pissed off. It’s no joke when I tell you that when I am in an Italian restaurant I automatically say, “Please make sure no oregano on anything” before I order. If it’s already in the pizza sauce, I am fine with that because it’s not overpowering.
What led me to that? Oh, let’s see: Villa Pizza in Holmdel putting oregano on a cheesesteak. A cheesesteak! Why, oh why would you ever do that? Again, I understand oregano might be in the vinaigrette which goes on Italian subs and the like, but not on a cheesesteak. Not in any universe. I have learned to tolerate herbs in sauces, and in some cases, other elements of the dish where they are not the dominating force. But please, do us all a favor and knock it off. Just keep it simple. I may be a horrible Italian. Here I am ranting and raving about oregano. Whatever the case may be, I think I have a point, and I will defend it to the last. Next thing you know I’ll be looking for herbs on my pancakes at IHOP.