Just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Just when are you supposed to read the menu? You’ve made reservations at a premier spot. You’ve heard and read so many positive reviews of the place and have researched whatever you can find about the menu and what to expect of your dining event.

You arrive and your initial expectations have been met with the very polite, knowledgeable and attentive host person. You’ve been seated at a comfortable table with you’re friends and have much to look at with your positioning to all of the goings on. You immediately begin to converse with the others at your table and your server approaches with perfect timing sporting menus and greetings while taking the first of the drink  orders

img_5147You continue your initial conversations and glance down at the menu. Suddenly the bus person arrives to bring water to fill the glasses on your table. Your conversations continue as each napkin is unfolded and floated across your lap. You, somehow wilding the menu above the table, try to pretend you are reading it. You have only made it past the first of two attempts at a visual eye scan of the menu and only noticed four possible  items, none of which match any of your immediate likes. You continue your conversations and place the menu back down because your first round of drinks just arrived and the ol’ . . . “salud” begins a dinner celebration to remember.

As a food writer and culinarian, I spend my fair share of time researching and reading food stuff on the internet. Food stuff is defined as anything I may have possibly learned in my education and everything that I also possibly missed in my education. When I get ready for a hot date at a good restaurant, especially one that I know has a seasonal menu, I try to get ahead of the service by learning a thing or two that may be expected once I get to the restaurant. Then, the menu is often similar and my time preparing makes for a bit of swiftness come ordering time. But even with the added preparation of researching your options, when is the right time to read the menu? I mean you don’t want to miss anything that is being offered and you also don’t want to miss any of your conversations without being distracted away from anything gluten or lactose free. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

While this may be something to ask of the overall experience with a particular restaurant, being prepared when the server arrives to take your food order can prove to be detrimental if your delay throws off your server’s timing. Now you may not see your server for a while until she rounds the turn the next time. This preparation can still be challenging and possibly something you want to parlay with a swift ordering of an appetizer, that should or could have been done with the initial drink order; and in some establishments, this may prove to be a carefully timed service with ordering of the main entrees’ as well.

“Wait, I still haven’t had enough time to really read the menu.” I mean carefully read the composition of some, if not all, of the offerings. In such haste, I can only hope the menu is small enough to get through possibly 5-6 appetizers, 7-10 main entrees and then selecting sides to accompany everything. Yes this whole process can be accommodated by a well trained staff to explain each item when taking the order; but you also don’t want to be the guy that     s l o w e s     t h e     w h o l e     p r o c e s s     down for the server to have them leer at you wanting to say, “to- to- to- today junior”. And the first ordering trip of the server to your table shouldn’t be the ‘warning shot across the bow’ either. The server has other tables that need to be attended to, not just you. You are not the only person in the restaurant today and don’t throw the server’s pace off. So, just when are you supposed to read the menu?

Of the several rude table methods that can possibly abound like texting on your phone inside of the open menu on your lap; or, the very offensive, holding the hand in the face of someone trying to ask of your conversations saying. “I’m trying to read the menu”. You can always wait until the server comes by with the warning shot. Perhaps you can break up the conversation happening at the table by saying, “let’s stop for a moment to prepare our order”. That’s just like putting a hand up in conversation, but is not as ‘in your face’ as the whole hand thing. Just remember, you don’t want the server returning with the warning shot.

Here’s something else to remember when preparing for your order and minimizing the time actually reading the menu, is to use time to your advantage. While arriving slightly late may be considered fashionable for you or your guest, arriving early can give you an opportunity to read the menu posted behind the restaurant storefront glass in the showcase. Arriving early also may allow you to borrow one of the menus from the greeter’s desk to view while you are seated in the waiting area while waiting upon your guests to arrive. Take a moment to read the ‘chalk board’ on the front door step as well where you’ll often times find the ‘special’. A couple of things to remember about the special. One, not all establishments believe the special should be truly ‘special’. Two, don’t ever order “the ‘rock-fish’ special” at a BBQ rib house. Something to think about, ordering fish at a BBQ house.

image_542595516671984Well, if you are like me, finding the peaceful moment to actually read the menu falls somewhere helplessly between conversations at the table. Unfortunately, only a few of those moments are focused on the menu compositions and ingredients because you just don’t have time to read everything. Having a well planned and well designed menu can help this process by simplifying the eye scan and the amount of time it takes for the customer to find the menu items of their desire . . . or the menu item of the restaurant’s desire (Menus 101).

Here’s another way to read the menu, and to get more coverage of the menu items in short fashion, is to guide your table conversation around the menu. Point to the Chateaubriand with Red Wine reduction and ask if anyone at the table would care to share the plate, and possibly share the Beet Salad appetizer. Now you’ve asked the table to start reading the menu, included some suggestions and other items to be cosidered and scanned in the short time you want to spend reading it. But listen to what others are saying at your table, because they may just point out the “espresso rub” on the rib plate you are about to order at 9pm. You don’t want your evenings mishaps to be replayed at 2am in the morning.

One of the things I learned in school was to learn to begin reading menus. I find it is not that easy to really read the menu, even at the basic level. There is so much information on there already, then trying to read and salivate at the same time is something that just wasn’t taught.

Dicks

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A good movie soundtrack

When was the last time a song or several of the songs in a movie soundtrack made you feel good? The kind of good feeling that makes you want to run out right now and buy the movie or the soundtrack? The kind of good feeling that makes you dance in the kitchen?

A Friday evening for my family usually includes dining on a slice of pizza somewhere . . . or two slices somewhere; whether dining on a pizza made at home, a pie from one of our favorite pizza parlors, trying a new pizza place or even reaching into the freezer for the “ol’ Friday night standby”. I call pizza, “the devil’s pie” because every Saturday morning the scale seems to be about 3 pounds high. Then we work hard and go without some of our other favorite foods all week to get those pounds back to where they belong. Then, about Thursday or Friday morning later in the week, just when we begin to see hope, we start the whole game over again.

This last Friday evening included relaxing on the couch and watching a movie. I didn’t feel like going out, ordering out (only one place delivers to us so far after 14 years), or otherwise making a dough and everything else that goes into a homemade pizza. We also had a decent brand of frozen pizza in the freezer as a back-up, but we decided to go against our desire and be strong-willed about it. We wanted a bit of something to munch on, but didn’t want to wreck our week’s work on this Friday evening and the movie we chose was something that we had seen before; so going down the same pizza highway this evening wasn’t working for us either.

We began to watch the movie and soon I found myself somewhat bored. Given this slow Friday evening, I felt the need to entertain myself in the kitchen where I can still glance at the flat screen in the other part of the ‘great room’. I have a fairly good surround sound system in the family room area and I found myself stopping work in the kitchen, to occasionally glance at a recognizable scene based on the audio. I then found myself rocking out to familiar songs being played on the soundtrack of the film, all while preparing whatever I could find that has been in the freezer for too long.

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The view from my kitchen bar counter

Luckily I found some simple pre-formed burgers and some Brioche buns (don’t know where those came from). And, behind the six pack of beer that I was working on this evening, I also found some complimenting produce in the fridge. I didn’t want to make a huge mess this Friday evening so I decided to pan fry the burgers instead of using the outside gas or charcoal grill or even opting for the infamous ‘George Forman’ on the counter. The burgers I found were re-wrapped in cellophane so I could not give you any specifics about the brand, or even if someone in my house had pre-formed them. The only thing I found is that I believe they were 100% beef.

Before I forget, I was told by my 25-year-old son and self-proclaimed burger aficionado (5 Guys and In-N-Out) that tested the burger, that it was an incredible burger unlike anything he has ever had at home. That’s a huge claim since I often attempt but never accomplish greatness (his rating) making a burger at home.

Anyway, I had a refrigerator beginning to emit a peculiar smell of off-gassing produce ripening before our very eyes. So, before the smell made things ugly, I decided to use what I could before it had to get tossed into the composting pile. For some reason (we don’t normally have this) I found a head of the nutritionally challenged Iceberg lettuce that was beginning it’s Navy-vessel browning routine in the back corner of the fridge. Luckily I found a couple leaves yet preserved with a light-colored white/green tinge so I knew that would be perfect to obtain the crunch portion of the bite into the burger. I also found some cherry tomatoes that would make a nice tomato marmalade after cutting each of the little buggers in half and gently squishing them flat. To ensure there was nothing short of everything California in this burger (bacon is not Californian), I smeared a bit of local ranch-grown avocado and placed a few slices of mellow Monterey Jack Cheese, yellow onion, mustard and mayonnaise before placing the toasted Brioche top-half aloft. I also found a half bag of tater-tots and crinkle-cut fries that I baked in the toaster oven to add the finishing touch for enjoyment.IMG_5101

All of this while jamming out to the good tunes from the movie’s soundtrack, occasionally finding myself breaking into my best Michael Jackson dance move and sipping on the last sip of beer that has made a six pack start to look like a 4-pac. I finally plated this concoction and presented it to the wife so she didn’t have to move from her front row movie seat. Now, what had happened next was exactly the same thing that happened recently after passing a McDonalds in a casino lobby and heading back to a hotel room one night. Once inside of the hotel room with a Big Mac in the bag, I had slipped into the bathroom only to return to approximately three bites of the burger remaining. WTF? The wife said nothing, she had her mouth full and just handed me the burger . . . or what was now left of it. All I could say is, “WTF is this?” And now all she could mumble, with her mouth full, was something like, “It’sth threally gudd”.

So when you are looking for a change from the ordinary and don’t feel like going to the local watering hole and hearing the same Willie Nelson cover band. Or if you just don’t feel like going anywhere to get just anything to eat, then reach into your own fridge and get your best “Chef” on and make something creative using whatever it is that you have available. It’s actually interesting and fun. And, if you still decide that delivery isn’t going to cut it tonight, you can still have DiGiorno.

Dicks

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