Evolution of taste and standards

My tastes for food has changed so much since high school. When I first came to the US, pizza and burrito were novelties to me. There wasn't much of whether I liked it or not. Most of the time I was just happy to discover new ingredients, new flavors, and new cultures. Then in college I really got to eat a wider array of food: Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Greek, Spanish, Mexican, Mediterranean, French, Italian, and whatever ethnic foods presented at cultural events. After college in a small town, I moved to Boston. Faced with a dizzying number of restaurants, armed with a bigger wallet, I was able to try even more different places. And now that few dishes are surprises anymore, I do start to pay more attention to details and compare the differences. This creates a problem that didn't happen very often before -- I become pickier than before and I start to find more and more faults with my food. Take my latest two dining experiences for example:

On Thursday I had dinner with the MIT Dean of graduate students along with 30 other students. One of the Hors d'oeuvre items was fried oysters. It was overcooked and tough. The appetizer had mushroom and asparagus pieces with tasteless sauce over a piece of crouton. It didn't taste anything special, and it was difficult to eat with silverwares considering this was served when we were seated. The corn chowder soup was the only good one. The corn kernels were really tender and sweet, and the soup was not too thick and had a nice balance of sweet and savory. The entree was what really disappointed me -- Roast Breast of Duckling with Tart Cherry Chutney. This dish must have been sitting in a warmer for a long time prior to serving because the could-have-been rare duck had a dried up surface. The seared outer parts were overcooked so it had a dry, powdery texture. The skin was still too fatty and was too chewy. Worst of all, the duck didn't have much duck flavor, and the sauce was dominated by a bitter tone. What a waste of a piece of good meat! (Then again, maybe it was a low-quality meat to start with) The dessert was supposed to be mascarpone tiramisu. Ok, first of all, why even say mascapone if all standard tiramisus are made with this cheese? The cakey part was okay, light and moist. But the filling part was bad -- pasty and had a one-dimensional taste. There was no flavor whatsoever, except some vanilla undertone. Whatever happened to the liquor and espresso part of tiramisu? Ugh!

Then on Friday I tried a new restaurant in Wellesley: C. K. Shanghai, supposedly opened by the famous chef CK Sau, the previous chef at New Shanghai in Boston Chinatown. We had eggplant stuffed with shrimp mousse deep fried. This was done pretty well, except the shrimp mousse was kind of a misnomer. It was pretty much just shrimp paste. But I've had much better version in NYC. His signature dish fish filets in Shanghainese wine sauce was not nearly as good as the one I had years ago at New Shanghai. The sauce was overthickened, undersweetened, and had little of the wonderful fermented rice fragrance. Imperial duck was a stir fry of duck meat slices with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and vegetables. It was nothing to write home about. The only dish that was pretty good was pine nut whole fish. Here a whole fish was lightly breaded and deep fried and finished with the traditional Chinese sweet and sour sauce and toasted pine nuts (not the crazy orange glue kind). It has a nice fried outer layer, crunchy enough to withstand the sauce. The flesh was fairly tender, but it didn't seem to be an expensive fish. I think it was a Tilapia, and for $19.99 he should have used a better fish that tastes less muddy and more tender.

So the moral of the story is that I complain a lot or even too much. Aside from that, I learned that expectations should be set low. I don't know how many times I got disappointed by movies only because I read overhyped reviews. I really wish that I would be able to just enjoy the food without thinking so much about it. I really should start posting positive restaurant reviews instead I guess...

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