Sunday, August 05, 2007

Making Rocket Science of Dining Out

I eat out a lot. In fact, until I moved into my new place last week, I seldom cooked anything at home aside from the occasional egg or omelet. Heating up a can of soup or popping a packaged dinner into the microwave was my idea of cooking at home.

It’s not that I can’t cook. I used to enjoy cooking and even making up recipes. But cooking for one can become a drudgery; it’s far easier simply to go out for food.

But eating out has its disadvantages, even for the bachelor who would rather not bother to cook at home. First of all, it can get expensive. My daughter is home for summer break from college and she refuses to eat fast food, which really inflates the dinning out budget.

Beyond the expense, however, is the fact that restaurants don’t always get the food right. In fact, I would say they get it wrong more often than right.

The less expensive, family-style restaurants do a fairly good job of preparing ordinary home-cooked meals like meat loaf or manhattans, but they often stumble when preparing specialty dishes, such as fish. I’ve learned that if you want a good fish dinner, most of the time you have to go to a restaurant that specializes in seafood.

I don’t eat at the high-priced five-star restaurants where you need a reservation and where the appetizers cost more than the entrées at Denny’s. But I occasionally eat at the marginally upscale restaurants. My daughter’s favorite is the Cheesecake Factory.

Admittedly, they have a huge menu selection and their portion sizes are grand. But, for my taste, the meals are substandard for the price. Like most of the more expensive restaurants, they always undercook their veggies.

That seems to be a trademark of most general-menu restaurants, regardless of how upscale they are. They tend to severely undercook their vegetables and overcook their meat, chicken, and fish. I don’t eat steak, but ground beef should be cooked medium for full flavor.

Chicken and fish should be cooked just until the last bit of pink turns white. Every second of cooking after that point results in overly-dry, tough bites. In fact, I like my salmon cooked so that a bit of pink remains.

Vegetables, on the other hand, need to be tender. I know it’s personal taste, but serving crispy hot vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower is unacceptable. I might as well just eat a warm salad.

Restaurants cook for the masses. So obviously, either the masses have different tastes than I, or they are less picky about what they eat before complaining. If I order a dish a certain way, and it comes back differently, I have no reservations about sending it back, even multiple times if necessary. I figure if I’m paying good money for a meal, it had better be the way I like it, not the way the average customer likes it.

In general, I’ve learned that the lower-priced restaurants or family-style diners tend to serve up better fair than the more expensive places. It’s not universally true, but a good rule of thumb.

But I’ve eaten out enough to know that if I want good, inexpensive fried fish to go to Long John Silvers. If I want good seafood in general, I go to Red Lobster. The best spaghetti is at the Old Spaghetti Factory. The best biscuits and gravy are found at Sunshine Café. The best omelets are at Café Patachou. The best chopped steak dinner is at Grindstone Charley’s. The best potato soup and salmon are at O’Charley’s. The Greek Island on South Meridian is the place to go for good Greek fair. The best chili is at Charlie and Barney’s. For the ultimate salad bar, go to Ruby Tuesday. And the best grilled catfish is at Cracker Barrel.

Oh, and if you love burgers, definitely go to Steak ‘N’ Shake. Their Frisco Melt is heaven on a plate.

Ok, now I’m hungry.

No comments: