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The Fearful Gourmet

Dining Outs and Ins in the Year of Living Dangerously

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Last year at this time, culinary pundits were proclaiming that 1990 would be the year of the basics--the stews and casseroles we so fondly remember from our childhood. In fact, that much-heralded trend never got off the pot. Instead, our national obsession with cellulite and high-density lipids not only continued to hold sway, it increased in intensity, invading even the upper reaches of haute cuisine. When a restaurant like Seasons routinely serves margarine alongside the butter, you know the world is changing.

The latest round of culinary chic seems to have been seasoned largely by two ingredients--fear and guilt. We have been cowed by cholesterol, spooked by salmonella, petrified by pesticides, and chastised to the point of distraction by antismokers and animal-rights activists. Lobsters, we're told, mate for life and may live up to 150 years if they don't meet their maker in a Newburg sauce. Squid form attachments and show genuine distress when separated from their significant others. One doesn't have to be a vegetarian to be touched by the plight of veal calves, which are fed iron-deficient diets to keep their flesh white and tender and confined to boxes so small they can't turn around during the few months they are allowed to live. Concern about all of the above plus contaminated eggs, alar, sulfites, parts per million of dioxin, and, and, and . . . has turned the once carefree pursuit of repletion into an obstacle course.

To guide you through the current maze of gastronomical dos and don'ts, and to lead you as well past the less morally charged but no less important pitfalls of the passe into the clear light of the culinarily correct, we present the following short list. Ignore it at your peril.

Out: Butter.

In: Margarine; minibowls of garlic-infused olive oil for dunking bread.

Out: Perrier.

In: Calistoga.

Out: Veal.

In: Free-range chicken and turkey, preferably skinless.

Soon to be trendy, we hope: Naturally raised veal so we can eat osso buco once again.

Out: Blackened redfish.

In: Fish rare at the center.

Out: French bistros.

In: American bistros, Vietnamese bistros, wood-oven bistros--in 1991, everything will be a "bistro."

Still in and proliferating at an alarming rate: Trattorias.

Out: Cocktail kitsch: "Kir Royale," "City Haul," "Blow Job," "Orgasm," etc.

In: Single-malt scotch, armagnac, grappa.

Out: Tube steak, aka hot dogs, wienies, franks, etc.

In: Vegetarian medleys, vegetarian pizzas, vegetarian pastas, vegetarian curries.

Out: Wine coolers.

Hopefully out: Wine cooler commercials.

In: Micro-brewery lagers, porters, stouts, etc. Also nonalcoholic beer.

Out: German beer.

In: Belgian beer, even the amazingly awful fruit-flavored varieties.

Out: Sun-dried tomatoes, kiwi fruit, baby vegetables.

In: American caviar and flavored vodkas.

Out: Raspberry vinegar.

In: Pear, blueberry, and other flavored vinegars.

Out already: White chocolate.

In everyplace you go: Tira mi su.

In and out: Geoduck.

Still in and holding: Arugula, mache, radicchio.

VERY in though as yet just to cognoscenti: Lola Rosa lettuce.

Out, or at least down: German and Central European restaurants, whose numbers seem to diminish each time we look.

In, in, in: Southeast Asian cooking at home, thanks to Ruth Law's user-friendly and wide-ranging Southeast Asia Cookbook.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tony Griff.

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