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Plat du Jour: Tuesday April 24, 2012: Questions for Dining Out

After a small weekend snafu where some members of my dining party had under-estimated the time and formality of a meal at a certain restaurant I had arranged for us to visit, let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked (some serious, some…less so) questions when you’re the “foodie” and everyone puts their faith in you whether at a hole in the wall ethnic cuisine dive or a blow out special occasion, for a tremendous dining experience every time out.

How fancy is this place?

This is no doubt the most frequently heard question. Everyone for some reason associates people who are passionate for dining, as people you are going to spend a lot of money with. They imagine meals at Les Ambassadeurs or Charlie Trotter’s every time they join me, whether it’s really for a ramen lunch or casual bistro dinner. I despise the word “fancy.” Fancy is if you joined Louis XIV for a state dinner at Versailles. “Upscale,” “elegant,” “sophisticated,” “chic,” “cutting-edge,” are all much better adjectives. Then of course there are the darlings of food writers, such as “neighborhood bistro,” “hole in the wall,” “quick casual,” “casual chic,” “dive”…the list goes on. Essentially the “fancy” question has to do more with “What should I wear?” and “What is the price?”

What’s the cuisine?

This is always a challenge. More often than not a place is “Regional American” or “New American” or “Californian”…what about if it’s a pizza place that also has excellent sides? How about Mission Chinese Food? Yes it’s Chinese…but very different too.

Who’s the chef?

Excellent question. However, the answer always seems like a let down these days if he or she is not on t.v. That’s too bad since probably 0.00001% of terrific chefs have any t.v. exposure.

How do you pronounce prix fixe? (Or anything French…)

Having graduated as a French major, I expected to hear this a lot, and usually have the answer. No problem. Except with prix fixe. Is it really like how the French say (Pree- fix) or should we English-ize the pronunciation like I hear so often (Price- fix)? Tough call.

Beer, wine, or cocktails?

Usually research has been done in this subject long before going to the restaurant. If you’ve heard of a great cocktail program, start out with a drink. If there is a very special draft beer list, get one at lunch. Otherwise, wine.

How did you hear about this restaurant?

A complicated algorithm involving quantum physics, organic chemistry, levers and pullies, glucose, and a dash of worcestershire…also known as lots of reading of magazines and newspapers (NOT Zagat), research on the internet for reviews (trusted sources, NOT Yelp), Chowhound, and word of mouth from friends and family.

What are some of your favorite (or non-favorite…) questions asked? The list goes on and on like a meal where the service is clearly in the weeds.

One great restaurant I heartily recommend, Aldea in the Flatiron District of New York. Everything created by chef George Mendes is genius and a unique Portuguese-American hybrid, such as this arroz de pato with duck confit. Food always tastes better after seeing the chef prepare it! It’s way, way more than just “duck with rice,” as the recipe shows.

Speaking of New York, we’ll make David Chang’s Momofuku Short Ribs later today for the Tuesday project. Have a terrific rest of this Tuesday!

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