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6 Signs That You Are in (or Near) a Pretentious Restaurant

Pretentious restaurants formerly embodied "seriously grown up." Today, their names and menus evoke not just childhood but American middle-class childhood, circa 1978 to circa 2002. Think Pop Tart/Twinkie/Lucky Charms/Popsicle/Oreo everything. With sea salt.
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Pretentious restaurants have undergone a near-total transformation within the last generation. In times past, they declared themselves with a "look at me, I'm fancy" candor that seems almost childish now. Today's pretentious restaurants sneak up on us stealthily, disguised (pretense being pretense) as other things: diners, for instance. Or school cafeterias. Dive bars.

And by the time the unsuspecting realize, fist-to-forehead, I'm in a pretentious restaurant, it's too late because they've already been forced to stir raw quail eggs into macaroni, pay $20 for three figs and a snout, and/or eat kale ice cream.

Here are six warning signs that you are in or near a pretentious restaurant.

1. Its name. For most of history, pretentious restaurants bore moustache-twirlingly pompous names such as The Admiral's Club, Palace of Prime Rib or Chez André. The names of current-day pretentious restaurants are faux-rustic, unpronounceable, and/or embarrassing to say.

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2. Its ambience. Pretentious restaurants were formerly elegant. Under sparkling chandeliers, snug-vested waiters addressed customers as "Sir" and "Madam." Today's pretentious restaurants are expensively designed to display ceiling pipes, concrete floors, thrift-shop lamps, randomly scattered barrels and conspicuously "lowbrow" elements.

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3. Its menu. Rather than oysters Rockefeller, lobster thermidor and petits fours, today's pretentious restaurants serve ears, paws, offal and dishes clearly crafted to scare: uni in caramel croissants, say. Pine bouillon. Pigeon roulade. Liver cognac. Liver mousse with toffee. Tongue burgers. Liver-sauced jowl. Ghost-pepper cocoa. Bone-gel bream. (Yes, these are real.) Somewhere in the world, at this instant, a pretentious restaurant might be serving "Eyes 'n' 'Ties."

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4. Its childishness. Pretentious restaurants formerly embodied "seriously grown up." Today, their names and menus evoke not just childhood but American middle-class childhood, circa 1978 to circa 2002. Think Pop Tart/Twinkie/Lucky Charms/Popsicle/Oreo everything. With sea salt.

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5. Its over-the-top obscurities. One vivid signal that you might have wandered into a pretentious restaurant is your difficulty in identifying key ingredients after your dish appears. For instance, the kraut in your Kraut Pot Pie might look like dust, because the chef house-fermented, then dehydrated, then pulverized that kraut, then sprinkled it over the crust. Because she could.

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6. Its clientele. Still wondering whether you're in a pretentious restaurant? Glance up from the salvaged sheet music or spelling test that serves as your placemat and view your fellow diners. Is each one of them a version of the exact same hipster, give or take a few bowler hats? Case closed.

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All illustrations by Anneli Rufus.