Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Don’t fear the meatloaf

Lucky you. I decided to disperse some of my vast experience on a favorite subject, food, or more precisely, restaurant dining. I am amazed how many people have poor experiences when at most times these can be avoided. Here’s my Top Ten list for eating out in no particular order.

Rule #1 Never order Italian food at a diner.

Meatballs are not made to be larger than a quarter. Stick with an American dish such as hamburgers, toast, or eggs, but never order scramble. What most diners do is scramble dozens ahead of time and then place them in a container until someone orders them, often adding fillers as well. Other egg dishes need to be cracked fresh and you’ll see the yolk and white. Go for the meatloaf special.

Rule #2 Never eat at a national chain.

They are soulless entities that serve prepackaged and most times pre-cooked meals. I don’t know about you but I’m not paying $27.99 for microwave chicken. Family owned establishments live and die on their reputation. They can’t fall back on 150 other locations or mass marketing to help them survive.

Rule #3 Never send food back.

As an ex-member of the cooking community I have seen things…terrible things. That doesn’t mean that you should take whatever is put in front of you. Ask for a substitute dish and they will most likely not charge you for it. If it is really terrible then just leave. Remember, cooking is an art and often imperfect so be a little understanding.

Rule #4 Make it special.

Sometimes ask for something just slightly different than how it is listed on the menu. Your dish will get a little more attention. But don’t overdo it or make it too difficult or you’ll be back to Rule #3. When you do ask, be polite and respectful and accept the possibility of no.

Rule #5 Check the place out first.

Visit the restroom as soon as you enter, even before sitting down. Anything that makes you go ‘ugh’, leave. If there are no windows in the entire restaurant, leave. And if you make a reservation and you still have to wait more than fifteen minutes, leave.

Rule #6 Enjoy the local cuisine.

Ask the locals where they like to eat. I don’t mean the hotel clerk. They’re usually some kid in college that doesn’t know his elbow macaroni from his aspic. Ask a clerk who works in a local shop what they like.

Rule # 7 Order sauce on the side for fried dishes.

Doesn’t matter it its chimichangas or calamari, they get too soggy before you finish them.

Rule # 8 Tip accordingly.

I hate it when my dinner companions automatically leave large or small tips. Too large a tip and it encourages poor service. Too small and it encourages poor service.

Rule #9 Learn to read menus.

When ordering look for the section that takes up the most room, that’s there specialty. I have confidence in a restaurant that posts its menu outside as well.

Rule # 10 Avoid busy restaurants.

There’s an axiom in New York that says never go into an empty restaurant during dinner hours. There is something to be said for that but I have had some great meals in out of the way quiet places and some terrible ones in packed houses. For one thing, crowds usually mean poor service, long waits, and you struggle to hear the dinner conversation. If you want to try a popular spot don’t pick eight P.M. on a Saturday.

None of this should be taken too seriously. If your meal is disappointing remember to take solace in the fact there’ll be another chance to eat in a couple of hours. Please send your comments and your tips. Mangia!

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