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More restaurant dishes that have passed their prime

Oh my. My column last week concerned itself with restaurant cliches, gently (I thought) suggesting that the dining places in Western New York become a little more creative with their menus.

Among the items I nominated for the "Enough Already" award: fried calamari, crab cakes, raspberry vinaigrette, chicken breasts, creme brulee and cheesecake.

The column garnered a lot of e-mails and -- unless you count the guy that really felt strongly about bruschetta -- most of them agreed with my choices.

"Americans discovered bruschetta just like Americans discover Europe, when they make their first trip, and it adds to our palate just as Thai, Indian and Vietnamese does," Mr. or Ms. Bruschetta stormed, missing my point entirely -- since I thought my column was encouraging discovery. Tired and usually poorly prepared bruschetta simply doesn't do the trick.

Many letter writers submitted a few cliches of their own. Among them:

*Molten Chocolate Cakes with runny centers. Said one reader: "It has to be at least 10 years since they started in popularity. Give me a real slice of cake anytime."

(I agree but offer my own thoughts: The cakes are on the menu because anything chocolate is a sure thing. Besides, they are easy. A restaurateur can probably buy frozen cakes from some restaurant supply house by now.)

*"Chipotle pepper -- anything. About 10 years ago I was working in a restaurant in Richmond, Va., that was rated 5 Mobil Diamonds, and the chefs there included roasted chipotle peppers in various dishes. Now it's filtered down to even Taco Bell. I would love some other new pepper to come along."

*Raspberry sauce on a chocolate dessert. "As if chocolate needed anything. If it's good chocolate, why would you mask it with sugary guar gum-laden raspberry sauce? Save the sauce for cookiepuss cakes at a kid's party."

*Garlic smashed potatoes; "Nothing says 'Stuck in the '90s' like a lumpy mass of starchy garlic overload. It wasn't good during the grunge era and it isn't good now."

*Anything that is battered and deep fried, such as potato skins and mozzarella sticks.

*"Cocktails with mango, e.g., Mango Martinis."

*"Turning entrees into sandwiches: steak sandwich, crab cake sandwich, meatball sandwich. These things should be good enough to stand on their own, not sandwiched into a sub roll."

Also, from a well-regarded chef who I will grant anonymity along with everyone else I've quoted:

*Mesclun mix. "Usually tasteless and textureless unless it comes right from a local farm."

Mesclun took a lot of hits, all right. Another reader said this: "Who decided we'd prefer a roadside weed with a shelf life of six hours over romaine and Boston lettuce?"

*Lemon in the water. (Amen.)

Thanks for venting, people. My e-mail is always open.

And probably we should get something straight. None of the e-mailers above complained about the general quality of Western New York restaurants. In fact, most of them went out of their way to mention how lucky we are to have so many terrific ones. It's just that once in a while, restaurateurs get too comfortable, and we might have to prod them a bit.

The readers think -- just as I think -- that tweaking a menu now and then doesn't really hurt.


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