The dictionary defines the word "cliche" as "a stereotype. A statement that once was fresh but has become dull through frequent repetition," my American Heritage College Edition says.
"Trite" is another way to describe the phenomenon. Or "bromide." And, when it comes to restaurants ...
Boy, have we ever got some bromides for you.
Take calamari, for instance. It is squid, of course. We know, we know.
Once, in the dark, dark ages, people didn't know about calamari (unless, that is, they happened to be Italian-American). Then the darn things began to turn up on menus daring people to order them. Sometimes, even with a little shiver of adventure or delight.
Nothing succeeds like success, though -- and nothing produces so many spinoffs.
Now, everybody's got calamari. Always deep fried, generally over-fried (there are many other ways to cook this cephalopod).
And we say, "enough!"
Enough, too, with balsamic vinegar. I fully realize this is heresy, and yes, the stuff possesses an intriguing rich, almost sweet flavor, but it doesn't have to be on every salad, does it? Sometimes the vinegar can blunt the taste of other ingredients.
There are plenty of other appetizers and side dishes that deserve a well-earned holiday -- crab cakes, stuffed mushroom caps and bruschetta. And, as for raspberry vinaigrette dressing -- just give it vacation pu-leaz?
Get rid of it -- forever. So long. Sayonara, Adios. (That goes for zucchini, too.)
Even main dishes have a way of becoming too familiar. Veal Marsala fits into this category, at least to my way of thinking. Maybe I feel that way because the dish is so often ill-prepared.
And, just about any item that features chicken breasts requires retooling. Chicken breast is usually healthy, it's unthreatening. But, unfortunately, it's usually boring. Unsatisfying, too.
But if there's any place that culinary cliches really cluster it's on the dessert menu. Will the last one who orders Creme Brulee please turn out the light?
True, restaurateurs are trying to breathe new life into the concept. We now have Chocolate Creme Brulee and Mango Brulee and Coconut Brulee and, sometimes, even, a tiny trio of Brulees. Those variations add interest -- they help.
But I firmly believe no variation under heaven can liven up the idea of cheesecake. Restaurants serve it because it's "safe" and because there are always customers who will order it. And the fact that cheesecake generally has a long shelf life, doesn't hurt its chances, either.
I realize I eat out more than most people, but I bet everyone who visits restaurants has his own list of banalities. I'd like to hear about them. My e-mail address is at the bottom of this column.
In the meantime, though, consider this column a call to arms -- or to saute pans, anyway. I know -- and you know -- there are plenty of awesome creative culinary brains out there. Let's not waste them.
Please guys, grab your mixing spoons.