Posts Tagged ‘Italian food’

Even though Bruce and I are both four-star B.F. Goodrich chefs, we do like to dine out and often. Sometimes it seems as if we’re only doing it to make ourselves feel better about our own superior culinary skills. Really, if you are going to lay down some serious currency in search of an exemplary dining experience, cost, while not the perfect barometer of quality, should be a guide at the very least. But alas, it isn’t. We’ve both have some stunningly good meals at small holes-in-the wall that one usually walks past on a daily basis. Correspondingly, we’ve also barely avoided ptomaine poisoning at some very toney, posh restaurants favored by another tire manufacturer’s stars. Go know.

A favorite hole-in-the-wall place.

However, over the years, we’ve come across a nearly fool-proof method for determining, in advance, as to whether or not a restaurant will make the grade. It’s rather simple, but then again the most elegant solutions are.

Here’s one way of knowing: if a restaurant has to promote its’ cuisine by decor, (excessive, gaudy, minimalist, thematically driven), be wary. Be very wary. We are going to share some additional examples with you. Yet, with all of this said, it doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. We’ve had some wonderfully bad Chinese food from take-out kiosks at gas stations. Go know once again. What it does imply is that the food will be: over-priced; undercooked; bad; just alright; maybe even cheap; or just plain terrible. But not excellent. Never. Ever. Again, be very wary.

So, without further ado or prejudice (we love everyone!), here are the critical warning signs for restaurants by type and in no particular order or preference.

Chinese: excessive red paint, lots of faux Chinese art, Chinese lanterns everywhere, and a menu with “Specialties of the House” (that just means it’s been in a pot all day long waiting for you!) And anything named after a David Carradine movie or TV show is a dead giveaway. Run!

See?

Steak: This one can be misleading as there are so many permutations: Western decor, private men’s club,¬†and anything with what is called a “petite filet” on the menu; it’s a steakhouse, damn it, not an Ethan Allen furniture store! Ketchup should not be available, even if the bottle is in a plain, brown, paper bag.

Italian: opera music in background, Chianti bottles with candles in them, red and white checked tablecloths, drapes on the walls intimating secret rooms, trompe l’oueils as decor, and meatball grinders on the menu.

Spanish: Avoid at all costs if there are pictures of bull fighters (and bull fighting posters) and Flamenco dancers on the wall. That just looks like Hobby Lobby and you wouldn’t eat there, would you?!

Japanese: fish tanks in lobby, Sumo wrestling on the TV above the bar. Wine – only Sake. Beer’s OK.

Seafood: Lobster tanks with your dinner waiting for its impending death, nautical decor, dead preserved fish on the walls, bibs, and anything printed with a lobster motif on it.

Bagels: Decor matters less than menu here. This is a big one as the princely bagel has been bastardized by the Anglo-Saxon culture – no bagels allowed with blueberries, cherries, chocolate, asiago cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, cinnamon, sushi, jalapeno, etc. If any of these exist, run away. And certainly, a bagel should not be the size of a temporary spare tire.

A proper “Everything” bagel.

BBQ: Do you really believe that your favorite BBQ place is NOT owned by a corporation? Why does all the decor, everywhere, look like it was purchased at a Pier 1 sale? Anyway, spaghetti is never to be BBQ’d; nor is there any reason for a BBQ Pizza. Never!

Pizza: Checked table clothes (again!), Italian flag motifs, any corporately designed, new “Italian” dish such as the “Guisepizza”, WTF is that?

Diner: This is more of a what’s missing means stay away. Here more is more and that’s the way it should be. If there is no cake and pie carousel or case at the front counter, get out fast. If the menu is not at least 16 pages long with everything being a specialty of the house (and they are), you’re in the wrong place. If there are a lot of smoked glass mirrors and brushed aluminum, that is a plus. Bonus tip: if the waitresses are not chewing gum or smell like an ashtray, it ain’t a real diner.

Poifect (in a Joisey accent). (Bruce insisted we stoop to such low humor on this one.)

Gastropub: Really? Get out. This is a medical procedure waiting to happen – to you!

Mediterranean: Carved (really mass-produced stamped) wood chairs and tables (most likely made in China), grape leaves in every dish and painted on the walls, and bouzouki music in background. Zorba does not live here anymore!

Vegetarian: This surprised us the most. We thought they just went to the produce counter and chowed down right there. Key give-away – hemp wall hangings, table clothes, tofu-inspired art, and rough fabric napkins (they’re good for Mother Earth!). Soulful guitar players are an enormous warning to stay away at all costs.

There are of course more examples, but we didn’t want to belabor the point. Dining out can be a wonderful experience, made more so now that you are properly prepared and know that for which to avoid. Otherwise, you’re on your own. Be wary, be very wary. And don’t forget the Zantac.