Sean Beckwith: Does this menu come with a dictionary?
October 3, 2017
The food scene in Aspen, as I've discussed many times before, is expensive and the menus reflect that. People see a $22 cheeseburger and get pissed off but shrug when the item — just as overpriced — is pasta. After some fancy adjectives for shrimp linguini with a white wine sauce, you're paying $30 — not including tip or a beverage.
The pretentiousness in any food scene can be intimidating if you haven't spent time with food-industry workers or aren't a devoted *dry heave* foodie. You can get lost in a foreign menu, be it unfamiliar jargon or an actual foreign language, and end up ordering the only thing you recognize. There's nothing wrong with a good spicy tuna roll, there are just better options at most sushi restaurants.
I don't have a problem with people who appreciate food; I probably appreciate it too much. However, it's not an exclusive club. If someone doesn't like oysters, you don't need to force them on someone like that bad indie band that only you like. Maybe they don't like the texture or don't like seafood, which some people can't fathom. If someone tells foodies they don't like seafood, it's like they just told them they think the Earth is flat.
"Oh, really, you don't like seafood? I don't believe you. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Hey, man bun, maybe they worked at Red Lobster in college and developed a phobia from watching Jed and Jenny Lou get gout over a six-month span.
I used to be the pickiest person in my family, so I can empathize with people who aren't adventurous eaters. You can be picky, but don't be a pain in the ass to servers. Looking at you, guy who just tailor-made a chicken bacon ranch out of a burger even though it's not on the menu.
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On the other side of that, no one wants to be talked down to like a child because your front-of-the-house manager wrote an ode to snapper rather than "pan-seared white fish over rice."
For the record, if you're out with a friend whose tastes you trust, I'm of the opinion that you should try new food. The theory that you have to try something 250 times before you know if you like it is something parents say to their children to get them to eat steamed cauliflower.
A friend of mine recently came over on a night when we had proper Brussels sprouts. It was like he had an epiphany. The fallacy that "if it's expensive, it's good" is more evident at restaurants than anywhere else except maybe designer jeans. If I wanted prefaded, ripped jeans I'd pull the pair I just threw away out of the garbage.
I see steak houses in town serve a $30 to $40 piece of meat with steamed vegetable medley. You know what I'd rather eat than steamed vegetable medley? Peanut butter and cheese tacos, which I ate as a child to get out of eating steamed vegetable medley.
Most of my friends from back home have real jobs with other responsibilities and don't have time to stay current on the latest food trends. A cronut might as well be something a mechanic made up to charge them more money. When I had a visitor in March, we did apres at Ajax Tavern and had beef tartare. (Shout out to J.D., Alvarez, Arturo, Enzo and crew.) Either by naivete or seven years in Aspen, I assumed he had eaten it before, to which he replied, "When did we ever go out and eat beef tartare on the weekends in Omaha?"
Touche, Bert. The typical weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, involves grilled meat on a friend's deck, and it is goddamn glorious. I don't eat much fast food because it's unhealthy and miles away and not in that order. If a Taco Bell were in Aspen, it would overtake Domino's as my self-loathing guilty pleasure in seconds. I still get mad at City Market because they put out spicy chicken patty sandwiches in the deli like they're Franklin's barbecue down in Austin, Texas. Who is this spicy chicken patty baron and why does he have the market cornered on spicy chicken patties?
The dilemma for many uneducated or sheltered diners is navigating new and/or ethnic restaurants. My advice would be to Google a couple of items on the menu before you go, trust the word of friends or, as a last option, check out Yelp. The wait staff is supposed to sell you on the food and, this may come as a shock, push something the kitchen hasn't been selling because it's not very good and is going bad in the walk in. There are some very capable and great waiters who want to give you the best experience, and there are some who try to upsell everything and push shots at 2 in the afternoon.
There's a reason foodies are a thing now. The public discourse and sharing on social media has put a spotlight on people and places making exceptional food. You don't need to start sporting a topknot, disown fast food and bone up on how to pronounce "Phu" to gain entrance to trendy food scene, you need a reservation, a knowledge of what you like and maybe your friend who knows how to eat.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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