Balsamic is the New Black [Death], Apparently…

A few months ago, and to our great surprise, we had the “cayenne pepper sprinkled round the rim of the plate as a ridiculous garnish” experience in a deepest West Country restaurant.  I really thought that awful dusty rim thing had died a death about five years ago, but then again, we were in Hicksville, UK, where it was probably still trending.  I explained I was ‘llergic and you know, oh so sorry, had no idea you plated up this way, serious allergy, could kill me, etc.  What came back was the same plate, wiped.  We sent that back and I picked at bread and lettuce, not trusting what might come out of that particular kitchen next time to make me ill/end my life prematurely.

Oh well, never mind, you think, it was a tiny place, far, far away, we will excuse their backwards ways, for they know not what they do, etc.  Last week though, in the big city and in a rather nice, upmarket gourmet style pub we ordered a plate of artisan breads to accompany our starters.  So far so yummy, but what arrived were hunks of really quite nice breads on a long wooden board, both bread and board slathered all over with great stripes and swooshes of balsamic vinegar.  It was as if someone had taken a squeezy bottle of the stuff and squirted it at the board like a kid’s kindergarten painting.  Or maybe chef was just having a Jackson Pollok moment.  Whatever.  Our horror was of course conveyed to the waitress, and we asked for a fresh board sans the sticky tar.  At this point, defensive witch-waitress informed us that this is how they “serve” their artisan breads, and we ought to have “told” her beforehand that we did not require our breads pre-painted with the Black Death.  Could she fathom that we could not have anticipated this because A. the word balsamic appears nowhere on the menu yet sputters and splatters over every side dish and salad like a terminal Texan oil well and B. who does that to bread anyway?  Well, no she could not get her pokey hat and head round this idea at all, and flounced her way back through the double doors in a witchy huff.

Culturally, we had already forgotten anyway that salad vinaigrettes do not need to contain suspended swirls and gobs of black balsamic; I had problems enough eating out already.  Now, it seems bread cannot be ordered without contemplating shuffling off this mortal coil.  What a dining companion I am becoming!  So, I have had enough and if I cannot change the world, at least I can put a meme out there that might.  The essence of my argument against the (mis)use of balsamic vinegar in restaurant contexts is this: balsamic is a condiment and it is not for a chef to remove my condiment choices in such a manner.  It’s like ordering chips that come pre-tommy sauced, when what you really fancied was to delicately dip the ends in mayonnaise.  And I am sorry to see this balsamic bombardment becoming the cayenne catastrophe de nos jours.  I urge speaking out people, we need to re-conquer our condiments, garner back our garnishes.  Let not these chefs shoo us in directions we did not want to go, which in my case could be right off the end of a cliff…

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