I frequently get asked if Betsy and I ever go out to eat and the answer is, of course, yes.
Learning to cook pretty decently at home though has really changed my view on restaurants. For starters, most mid-range restaurants are lost on me. My rant on mid-range restaurants hasn’t changed a bit in the last three years and maybe has even solidified further.
That said, learning how to cook well at home has taught me a few things about going out to eat.
For starters, it’s taught me to really respect top notch food. It’s tough to make a fantastic anything. No matter what it is, trying to cook it at home will give you a deeper respect for the people that cook it everyday.
Second, and the purpose of this post, is that it’s taught me what to order and not order, in general, in restaurants.
After many years, I have a small, but important list of things I almost never order at restaurants. I thought it would be fun to share it with you all!
7 Things I Almost Never Order
There’s one very big exception to this rule. If I’m at a good steakhouse, I’ll order a steak because I know it will be perfect. I would rather pay $60 for a perfect steak than $20 for a sub-par steak.
Also, I hate being the guy that sends food back, but I’m extremely particular about how I like my steak cooked and I feel like I should be able to get it like I want it if I’m paying for it. So I will send steaks back if they are over-cooked and that means I send a lot of steaks back.
To avoid the whole ordeal, I rarely order them unless I’m positive that the kitchen knows what they are doing.
My version: Argentine Chimichurri Steak
2) Eggs Benedict
I’m as particular about eggs as I am about steaks. If I get eggs benedict and the eggs are over-cooked, I’ll send it back. I also know that most kitchens make their hollandaise hours in advance and it’s usually goopy and terrible.
Because I hate sending food back, I just don’t order this at brunch places unless I know it’s going to be excellent.
I’ve been burned too many times.
My version: Spinach Eggs Benedicts
I think risotto is one of the scams of the restaurant world. Most restaurants charge a lot for what is essentially rice. It’s so easy to make at home, much easier than people think, so I always save my dining out dollars for something better.
The exception to this is if the risotto has delicious add-ins like truffles or something that would be hard for me to source on my own.
My Version: Spinach Artichoke Risotto
4) Spaghetti Anything
I can’t think of a single spaghetti dish I would ever order in a restaurant. Wouldn’t do it. Can’t make me.
Most are just too easy to reproduce at home. Save your money.
My Version: Whole Wheat Cacio e Pepe
5) Roast Chicken
Roasting a chicken is so easy that I have a hard time paying for it. The major exception to this rule is if the place is specifically known for their roast chicken. I’m thinking of places like Zuni Cafe or a few good Peruvian chicken joints. At a typical restaurant though, it’s a stay away for me.
My Version: Zuni Roast Chicken
6) Any Omelet Ever
Whisk some eggs, put them in a pan with some butter, a few meager helpings of other ingredients, and cheese. If there’s one thing I can make any damn time I want, it’s an omelet. I can’t envision ever ordering one when most brunch places have better options that are harder to nail down at home.
My Version: Denver Omelet
Similar to the omelet argument, these are something that almost anyone can make. Also, they are frequently an excuse for restaurants to sell you leftovers at a huge premium. If the most interesting thing on the menu you are looking at is a quesadilla, find another menu.
My Version: Sweet Corn ‘Dilla
4 Things I Almost Always Order
Those are somewhat broad items, but there are similarly broad items that I almost always order in restaurants. These tend to be because they are time consuming to prepare at home (correctly) or are on the outer edge of my skill level.
1) Homemade Pastas
While even a decent spaghetti dish won’t catch my eye at a restaurant, I’m really drawn to homemade pastas. It’s a pain in the butt to regularly make these at home and if you find a restaurant that spends the time to do pasta right, it’s worth every penny.
Case in point, Betsy and I went to Rolf and Daughters in Nashville over Thanksgiving and they had some of the most amazing pastas I’ve ever had (even including in Italy). All homemade. All perfect.
2) Pho and Ramen
I can make both of these and have tried them on a few occasions, but it’s very tough to get the broth right without a lot of time and volume. I’m not sure I would grade my attempts as even a B.
I like messing around with these dishes at home, but I doubt I’ll ever master them so I leave it to the professionals.
Curing meats isn’t necessarily hard for some things, but making consistently excellent charcuterie is difficult and takes an enormous amount of time. If I’m at a restaurant and they have a decent charcuterie plate on the menu, I’ll almost always try it out.
I mean real barbecue… not something you just put barbecue sauce on. I’ll skip barbecue if I happen to find myself at a mid-range chain restaurant, but making great barbecue is hard and something I’ll always try out if I can.
What Say You?
Are there items that you avoid on restaurant menus? Are their things you gravitate to? Leave a comment and tell me what I missed!