Five things we wish we saw on menus more often

Yesterday, in honor of Groundhog Day, we brought you five foods we wish would stop repeating themselves on menus. Now, to get the rest of the year off to a nice, fresh start, we offer suggested replacements.

In no particular order, here are five things we wish we saw on menus more often:

1. Dill Pungent, floral and palate-cleansing, dill brings plenty to the party. It regularly enhances a number of cuisines -- from Eastern European to Middle Eastern to Southeast Asian -- but it's not as popular in this country as it once was, back when dill garnished everything from overcooked buttered vegetables to rubbery fish. It's time to give the herb another chance, though, because it's refreshing, punchy -- and plays well with other ingredients.

2. Cheeks Belly's been getting all the attention, basking in its fat-laced, tender glory, but we're ready to see it replaced by cheek meat, which is more delicate, more tender and, when braised, often more delicious. Pork cheeks, beef cheeks, halibut cheeks -- we don't care. We'll order them.

3. Kaffir lime leaves Kaffir lime leaves are usually fried up and used as a garnish, imparting sweetness, refreshing bitterness and crunch, all in one tiny bite. While there are certainly restaurants in town that employ this magical little finishing element (like ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro, the subject of this week's review), we'd like to see some savvy chefs use the leaves to liven up cuisines that aren't Southeast Asian.

4. Whole fish In the States, diners have an aversion to being served things with eyes -- and even if they don't mind being stared at by their dinner, many people don't know what to do when a whole fish shows up on the table. We wish more restaurateurs would help them out -- not just by putting whole fish on the menu, but by making sure servers give diners a hand. A whole fish has tender, succulent flesh, kept plump, juicy and flavorful by the skin and flaky by the bone. All it really takes to dig in is a quick, messy pull on the tail, dislodging the skeleton from the fillets -- and revealing flesh that's so much better-tasting than it would have been if that cut had been deboned before cooking.

5. Fresh fruit We're not talking fruit cocktail, an out-of-season fruit salad or an afterthought garnish, but crisp, sweet fresh fruit, plated to shine all on its own. At the very least, we'd like to see this option on dessert menus. Because when we're stuffed to the gills with dinner, sometimes all we want is a bite of citrus or stone fruit.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk