If you were dining with me at a restaurant for lunch and asked me what I thought about the salad I’d ordered, my response might be this:
“Well the bulk of the salad which is grains and tomatoes are ice cold, which I don’t like, and the chicken is overcooked and dry. The avocados are brown and I can’t even find the feta cheese. The balsamic vinaigrette is completely overpowering, and the salad should be served at room temperature. Oh, and the plate is ice cold.”
(These words were actually spoken by me when my husband and I were having lunch out of town.)
And then I would see your eyes roll back into your head because you would think I was a negative Nancy and overcritical of restaurant food.
I am neither of these things, but I take dining out seriously. Where I live, I don’t go out for great food, although there is some to be had, I usually just want a break from my kitchen, and sometimes meet up with friends.
I am critical, because I think all restaurants should have consistent, quality standards. I wish I could always give high praise, honestly. I mean, who wants badly cooked food and terrible service?
Sometimes my husband complains as much as I do, because even though he doesn’t cook, he does know properly-cooked seasonal food. So, here is his comment at dinner on that same day when we were out of town:
“Well they managed to overcook the steak. At best it’s well done and under seasoned. The vegetables aren’t roasted at all, they are just calling them roasted because they’re on a skewer, and they’re raw. And, the risotto is just a thick blob of tasteless rice.”
But my pet peeve goes beyond criticizing my restaurant meals, if criticism is necessary. It’s about the MENUS at these restaurants.
Menus serve a purpose. At least, they should. They should inform about the dish, whether an appetizer, entrée, side, etc. They should also be seasonally oriented. I don’t expect a restaurant to change menus daily, but maybe with the 4 seasons?. A strawberry salad on a menu when it’s January makes me crazy.
On a menu, a dish should be described much like you’d describe a recipe. The major ingredients listed first, followed by anything significant. And that dish should be under a clear heading of Salad, or Appetizer, so you know what category of dish it is. The little plate big plate thing can be confusing.
So as I mentioned, my husband and I were out of town and excited to have a few great meals. We typically make travel plans around restaurant reservations.
At lunch, the same lunch where I had the awful cold salad, Hubs chose the chicken strudel, as you can see in the photo below, under SMALL PLATES (which means many different things to different restaurants):
When this dish was served to my husband, we nearly passed out. The whole strudel was smothered with balsamic vinegar, which clearly isn’t listed in the menu description.
He hates vinegar, and he could hardly find any piece of chicken that wasn’t brown from the vinegar. There was too much vinegar for me, even, and I’m a vinegar lover. And why would balsamic vinegar be poured over a dish that is clearly a Southwestern dish?
Furthermore, this was no strudel, which implies layers. The chef could have layered thin slices of chicken, green chiles, Monterey jack within crisped phyllo rectangles, perhaps drizzled with a tomatillo sauce. That could be called a Southwestern-inspired strudel.
Also, this small plate could have fed four people, and looked very unappealing because it resembled a regurgitated casserole. If this dish had been written as below, my husband wouldn’t have ordered it.
SMALL PLATE, serves 4 Casserole of Chunky Dry Chicken With a few Green Chiles and a bit of Monterey Jack Cheese, topped with a Heavy Drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar
Of course I spoke to the waiter. He didn’t know that balsamic vinegar was an Italian ingredient, and that this dish was obviously Southwestern. (It’s what the restaurant is known for…) He also wasn’t aware that balsamic vinegar clearly wasn’t in the menu description. He talked to the chef who simply said, “No one has ever complained before.”
We’ve been lucky enough to travel and dine at high-end establishments, although these are not always my favorites at which to dine. Some of these restaurants are known for their famous chefs, like Eric Ripert, Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsay, and so forth. But these restaurants have always been about perfection. Of course, they should be.
I understand that in the competitive world of restauranteuring, some restaurant owners and chefs feel the need to stand out in some way – sometimes the decor, the dinnerware, a crazy drink menu, something. But there is one thing I’ve noticed at some restaurant in the past decade: quirky, word-light menus.
For example, this does nothing for me on a menu other than piss me off:
Pig, Arugula, Oregano
And typos on menus also make me crazy. Like this one:
I don’t think Francios is a French name, and anyone with half a brain should have caught that typo. Restaurants that serve imported wines should be able to type the names correctly, no matter what the country of origin.
So no, I’m no negative Nancy, but by golly I take dining out seriously, no matter where. Bad menus will always be my pet peeve!