In a Town & Country interview years ago, potty-mouthed celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was asked what should never be ordered at a restaurant. He replied, “Ask what yesterday’s soup du jour was before today’s special. It may be the case that it’s the soup du month.”
When it comes to dining out, who better than chefs to shoot you straight? With spending money increasingly tight and excessive food costs being reflected in restaurant mark-ups and kitchen shortcuts, there are certain dishes you should avoid and some you are better off preparing at home.
According to Eat This, Not That! (ETNT), the number one main dish you should be wary of ordering at a restaurant is steak. For many diners, this is an especially delicious entrée when prepared by a professional, but as some chefs note, too many restaurants offer cheap cuts and over-sauced options. Grant Morgan, executive concept chef of Hotel Drover and 97 West Kitchen & Bar in Fort Worth, told ETNT that going for top-end beef like wagyu steak is a pricey choice “but worth every dollar.”
“While some restaurants have buying power that helps offset a little of the cost of good steak, most of the time a cheap steak is lower USDA-grade meat,” Morgan stated.
Executive chef Russell LaCasce of Hotel Valley Ho in Scottsdale, AZ concurred. “Do not go for a $20 filet of beef. It’s always worthwhile to pay for great cuts of meat, and you really can taste the difference.”
A high quality steak needs no mask, so be cautious of rubs and marinades covering for quality.
“A ‘signature’ coffee or pepper rub, or a Hawaiian marinade, is most of the time trying to cover up lower quality beef, and would hide the inherent flavor of higher quality cuts,” said Brian Hatfield, chef of Surveyor in Washington, D.C. “Skipping offerings like this in favor of higher-grade, naturally flavorful cuts makes sure that you are getting the night out you deserve.”
Macaroni and Cheese
Mac ‘n’ cheese, a delicious side dish staple, also gets singled out as a dish that should be avoided when dining out and one that is infinitely better homemade.
“Macaroni and cheese at restaurants, even from soul food restaurants, tend to overcook the noodles, and they typically never have enough seasoning,” according to celebrity chef Kai Chase. “It’s a shame, too, because it’s my favorite when it’s done right and it’s homemade — with crispy edges, several ooey-gooey melted cheeses, and a parmesan bread crumb buttered topping. That’s the ticket!”
“An entrée I will not order while eating out is mac and cheese of any sort,” seconded Yulissa Acosta, chef de cuisine of Hearth ’61 at Mountain Shadows resort in Paradise Valley, AZ, citing the overwhelming combination of cream, cheese and butter as a restaurant turn off, per ETNT.
As a general rule, be skeptical of any dish that unexpectedly features overpowering, rich ingredients like bacon, heavy cream or truffle oil.
Speaking of the latter, Saura Kline, pastry chef at Local Jones in Denver’s Halcyon Hotel, bluntly stated, “Never order anything that has the word ‘truffle’ in it.”
“Unless you’re at a high-class fine dining restaurant, this usually means truffle oil, which is very rarely made with actual truffles,” said Kline. “It tends to be used aggressively, and a cheap bottle of truffle oil can reflect in a pricey menu item.”
And Ramsey is right about the soup. Per Eat this, Not That!, celebrity chef and TV and radio host Susan Irby said, “If the soup of the day is the same as the day before, that is a clear indication it is not super fresh.”
“Many restaurants use stale, less-than-fresh ingredients in soups to use up whatever is near the end of its shelf life,” Irby elaborated. “Even if you ask if the soup was made fresh in-house, you may not get a clear, correct answer.”
You can be like Ramsay and demand an answer, or go home and prepare a wow factor bisque, broth, soup or stew that most restaurants can only dream of preparing.
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