If you were dining with me at a restaurant and asked me what I thought about my meal, my response might be like this:
“Well the bulk of the salad which is grains and tomatoes is ice cold, which I don’t like, and the grilled 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.”
(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 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 often 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?
Sometimes my husband complains as much as I do, because even though he doesn’t cook, he does know properly-cooked and 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 medium, not medium-rare, 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, or side dish. They should also be seasonally oriented. I don’t expect a restaurant to change menus daily, just make sure they’re seasonal. A strawberry salad on a menu when it’s January makes me nuts.
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.
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, he nearly passed out. The whole strudel was absolutely 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. I felt really bad, and was too shocked to document this with my iPhone.
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.
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-inspired. He also wasn’t aware that the balsamic vinegar 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 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 restaurants: quirky, word-light menus.
For example, this does nothing for me on a menu than piss me off:
Pig, Arugula, Oregano
What? At least highly-rated restaurants typically have knowledgeable servers, but I’d prefer to read a menu, not listen to a list of dishes, because by the end of the descriptions, I’ve already forgotten the details about the first few dishes.
I don’t think Francios is a French name, and anyone with half a brain should have caught that typo. Plus, it should be François. Restaurants that serve imported wines should be able to type the names correctly, no matter what the language.
And servers who can’t pronounce anything, or help decipher improperly described menu items drive me crazy as well. That’s another post… Thanks for bearing with me!