As someone who considers themselves a foodie (or, at least someone susceptible to dropping five bills on dinner for two), I felt like a traitor to the cause when I had a realization the other day: I'm totally over arugula. I'm just plain sick of it.
Now, honestly, I'm using the word "arugula" incorrectly. What I really mean is, "fancy salad greens" and, more precisely, "fancy salad greens that come in my West Village lunch." I'm talking about that
arugula. Which is to say, the flat stuff that looks like herbs, the purple stuff that looks like skunk cabbage, the spongy stuff that looks like Brillo pads and the actual Eruca sativa
that looks like...uhhhh...leaves. That whole gnarly combination of chlorophyll indiscriminately plopped in a plastic container and covered with the day's haute ingredient -- I'm over it. For the love of all that is sweet and holy, I just want some damn Romaine.
My real problem is twofold.
First off, this arugula has become a symbol. An empty gesture. For Christmas, I got United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation
-- which I admittedly have not yet read. But I'm sure it will explain how we were living in a Frito Pie induced Dark Age (or...depending on your gender and homestate, Renaissance Period) before the late 70's when James Beard wandered in and changed everything. Without having even cracked it open, the important point has been made -- arugula is one of the touchstone foods in American millennial gourmandism (along with extra virgin olive oil, double lattes, and hand-massaged beer-fed cheeseburger beef
). And really, arugula deserves plenty of merit. It can be a damn fascinating flavor, especially when all you're expecting is mere lettuce. It's spicy, which is not normal in a green. It's mouth-feel is different in a way I'm not nearly sophisicated enough to describe. These aberrations from the norm of greens make arugula just a little decadent.
That veneer of decadence is what makes it the poor man's black truffles. Black truffles are one of those items that fancy pants restaurants will grate over a dish at the last minute to elevate the experience. In plenty of restaurants, however, they've begun grating the truffle indiscriminately over everything. It's an easy way to take a regular dish and make it "gourmet" and expensive
. Do these dishes need it? Probably not. Could you get the same flavor profile some other way? Probably. But there's the "Wow" factor of black truffles.
Unfortunately, this notion has trickled down to my lunchtime salad. Add these arugulized mixed greens and suddenly my salad is "gourmet!" and "exciting!"
Except it's not.
And that reason is problem number two. Arugula has become commoditized. So many delis and saladteria's are preparing these "gourmet" salads that the greens have to come in big mediocre bags of blandness. Oh, stuck in a salad they may be visually exciting, with all that frisée and such, but the taste leaves plenty to be desired. Expanding what was a delightful farmer-grown green (virtually unheard of in this country until the early 90's!) to ConAgra level production has effectively killed it's charms.
I know many of the more frugal of you out there are going, "Well, geeez, Geoffers, it's pretty simple: stop buying those fancy salads. Get simple salads, they still make them with romaine some places, you know!" Which is a point I acknowledge. Here's the problem -- I still really like all the yummy shit on top of the fancy pants salad. I don't want to give that up -- I just want for the base to change. It's like a canvas for a painter. If you're going to be Picasso with the shit on the top of the salad, I, for one, don't care if the canvas comes from Sam Flax or from Wal Mart.