Post # 146 Passing the Test

July 26, 2013 at 3:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 146 Passing the Test

Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that one activity that partner/spouse and I purely enjoy is taking drives in no particular direction and with no particular destination in mind.  (My first novel actually starts this way.)  It gives us a chance to get out of the house together, discover new towns, see new shops (antique preferably) and try unknown diners and restaurants.  We like the little Hole in the Wall types because there are absolute gems amongst them.

We’ve eaten in places which featured live alligators and vintage coke products as part of their décor.  We’ve eaten in places where the amount of food served for the low price would have fed a family of six, much less the two of us.  We’ve eaten at places where the pie was so good it could bring tears to your eyes.  We’ve eaten at places where if you didn’t follow the waitress’s orders exactly, you never saw her again.  At nearly every place we’ve eaten, the staff knew their regulars by name, and knew what their orders were going to be.  We like it.  It’s fun.

However, sometimes it can be scary.  You walk into an unknown restaurant of any kind and it’s kind of a crap shoot getting something good.  Ever happen to you?  You order something that turns out to be inedible?  I was the best man at a friend’s wedding and the rehearsal dinner was at a steak house.  I ordered grilled salmon along with another lady sitting next to me.  The fish was okay, but it wasn’t to the standards the restaurant was known for.   Once the major celebration was over and guests were mingling, we were discussing it and she said, “Well, I’ve learned my lesson.  Never order something the restaurant is not famous for.”

Wise words.

So, over the years, I’ve developed a set of stock orders for different kinds of restaurants I’ve been to.  If it’s a diner and I feel like breakfast, my standard order is scrambled eggs, white toast, fried potatoes, bacon, and sausage (links or patties).  It’s a simple meal, easy to make.  It always comes out hot and tasty.  Any chef or staff that can mess up that order will mess up a complicated order.  If I don’t feel like breakfast, I order a cheeseburger and fries.  Again, simple, served hot, hard to break.  I don’t look at the “fancy” burgers with all kinds of different cheeses, sauces, mushrooms, etc. on them until I’ve tried the basic burger.  And the fries have to be done right, not ones that are sitting around waiting for someone to order them.

We go to “ethnic” food restaurants a lot, too.  By that, I simply mean, restaurants that specialize in food from another region.  For instance, one of our favorite restaurants here in town is My Big Fat Greek Restaurant which serves Greek food.  I like Greek food so the times we go to a new Greek restaurant, I get either a gyro salad/platter, or a gyro sandwich.  For those who are unfamiliar, that is not pronounced Jiro.  It’s pronounce yeero.  Sometimes, to make it simpler, I’ll say hero.  It’s a grilled lamb and beef mixture served with chopped onion, tomatoes, herbs, and a yogurt and cucumber sauce called Tzitziki.  All mixed together, it’s WONDERFUL!  It’s also a Greek staple and if they do it wrong, I look at the rest of the menu with suspicion.  MBFGR did it right, and everything else we’ve had there has been very good, too.

We like Asian food, and by far our favorite is Thai.  When we go to a new Thai restaurant, partner/spouse always orders the Thai Basil Rice, and I order Chicken Pad Thai.  If you can screw up rice, or chicken and noodles, go home.  In a Chinese restaurant, my standard order is Twice Cooked Pork, or Chicken/Beef Mushrooms.  If you can mess up barbequed pork or chicken or beef sautéed with mushrooms, you got no business in a kitchen.  In a Japanese restaurant, it’s always steak and vegetables.  If I can get away with asked for extra mushrooms, I will.  If they give them to me, I will always be back.

Italian food is another big like.  I’ll typically order one of two things.  I’ll have either a Pizza al Funghi (mushroom pizza) or Fettuccini Al Fredo.  If I’ve ordered the fettuccini, then I’ll switch it up a bit and order it with shrimp.  Fettuccini Al Fredo is basically mac and cheese with a different kind of mac.  It’s simplicity personified and should be the first thing any Italian chef masters.  I’ve had some that was so sublime it made me close my eyes.  The cream and parmesan cheese blended so perfectly in just the right amounts it would make you sing.  I’ve also had it in the major national chain whose name ends in DEN, where the sauce had separated, the pasta was sticky, and it was inedible.  For other reasons, we don’t go there, but that’s a story for a different blog.  On the pizza, my standards are simple.  Lots of mushrooms.  If there are lots of mushrooms, I’m a happy camper.

Irish or British Pub Food.  Okay, I’ve spent a great deal of time in Ireland and Great Britain.  Decades ago, UK food was laughed at for being so bland.  It really was bland.  Can you imagine taking a beautiful sirloin steak and boiling it?  You get the idea.  They are also known for boiled bacon.  Doesn’t bear talking about.  However, their tastes and cooking have changed over the last many years and some of their rustic cooking, or Pub Foods, has become world renowned.  A Pub, short for Public House, is a uniquely British invention.  It’s kind of like a bar, but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a gathering house, a place where people meet to enjoy the company and the beer.   The food that’s served is incidental to the atmosphere and is always plain and simple.  But with the right chef, it’s transported.  I’ll do a post soon on Pub foods, but for a short list, Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips, Burgers and Chips, Ham and Cheese, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Toad in the Hole, Spotted Dick, and Custard Tarts.  And it’s all superb, when done right.  In a pub I don’t know, it’s always fish and chips.  If you can’t batter cod and deep fry it so it tastes good, give up your day job.  You are not a cook.

When partner/spouse and I were first dating, I took him to a local restaurant attached to a motel near the major interstate.  I hadn’t been there but people had told me about it, and it boasted live music and good food.  We arrived at 7:30, but the music didn’t start until after 9.  We decided to eat a leisurely meal, and then have a few drinks while the band played.  He ordered chicken wings, and I ordered a hot seafood and cheese dip.  We were near the Chesapeake Bay, so I assumed the seafood would be relatively fresh and the dip tasty.  I should have stuck to my standards, but I was trying to impress someone.  When it arrived, it had a nice cheesy crust, and several pita chips for dipping.  It.  Was.  Horrible.  It tasted like tuna fish in a jar of cheese whiz with some chopped onion thrown in.  I ate two pita chips worth, then asked the waitress to take it back.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Everyone sends it back.”

“Why did you let me order it?” I asked, surprised.  “Why is it even on the menu?”

We ate chicken wings and drank wine, listened to the band, and had a good time.  I wasn’t charge for the dip even though I said I’d pay for it.

The next time we went back, about four months later, the dip was not on the menu.

Good thing.

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