General Discussion

Chowhounding tips redux - MENU

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Chowhounding tips redux - MENU

Stanley Stephan | Jul 25, 2002 01:10 AM

A knack for menu reading really helps. My wife and I can look at one in the window and usually have a pretty good idea if it's worth even stepping inside. Menus that don't draw on any consistent theme are usually evidence of a mediocre experience to be had inside. (David Pearlman)

I have to say I have an excellent nose for sniffing out chow. It's almost like a vibe or intuition, I size up the place even through the window and by reading the menu and it's descriptions. (scottso)

The bigger the menu, the worse the food. Especially if the menu covers multiple cuisines. (Peter)

Places that serve only one item (this occurs especially with food stands and Japanese restaurants) and places that don't have menus tend to be good. (SKU)

I try to order something that's logical for the place I'm in. E.g., don't order ribs in a seafood restaurant. A lot of places are really good at their specialty, but that doesn't mean they know anything about other types of food Jim Dorsch

I think a menu provides your best clue. I am shameless about strolling into a place, asking to see a menu and taking it outside to peruse. Sure, it's embarrassing to hand it back and leave, but, hey...they're my calories, I want to spent them wisely.
Menu too long? no go
"Chops" and trout and crab cake? no go
Greek salad at an Italian place? no go
More than one dish w/ flavored mashed potato? no go
Any self-congratulation re: large quantity? no go (Danna)

More subjectively, I want to see a trend on the menu - not sameness, but some clue that the chef has personal style and a love of certain types of food. If it seems disjointed, I assume he's just going through the motions. Danna

Be wary of places that have cutesy names for their dishes. (Pat I.)

Avoid restaurants with unnatural cuisine combinations, i.e., Cambodian/Scottish (Mr Grub)

Avoid themed restaurants, especially those with unappetizing themes, i.e., tropical jungle, public housing (Mr Grub)

Avoid restaurants specializing in continental or galactic food (Mr Grub)

If the menu descriptions for any item include portion size in weight - RUN (Rollin)

Avoid restaurants where size seems to matter: "386-foot-long buffet,” “chef's special 18-inch-high prune & okra tart,” “17 billion snails served,” "13-pound T-bone." (Mr Grub)

If the menu descriptions use the phrases "Cooked to perfection" or "Lightly Fried" - RUN (Rollin)

If there is a franchise trademark in the menu description (ie Jack Daniel's Grill) - RUN (Rollin)

As in life, the correct use of grammar and spelling on menus is a reasonable indicator of standards. Restaurants that can't even spell the names of the dishes they're serving are unlikely to be able to cook them well. Ordering the Eggs Benidict (sic) with Holandaise (sic) at Bobs' (sic) Diner, is just plain asking for trouble. This doesn't hold true in ethnic places, where translation quirks in the menu are nothing to worry about (and are often a source of childish amusement).Jon Mitchell

If the onion rings on a menu seem very expensive compared to other side dishes, they are good. (Dave Feldman)

SPECIALS

Never order a "special." I have worked in fine dining restaurants, for years . . . "special" is a nice way of saying LEFTOVER! Emma K

Avoid places that have their specials for the entire month listed on a calendar ala school cafeteria. They aren't operating on the principle of using what is fresh, in season and at its most delicious that particular day.
Heather

Chalkboard menus and specials of the day do not ensure freshness of the items being promoted. (BarryO)

Daily specials announced by your waiter/waitress without divulging their price will invariably have a price that is indeed unmentionable ! (BarryO)

TIMING

Don't order seafood on days with an "n" preceded by a vowel! (Jim Leff )

Mondays and Sundays are the riskiest nights to eat out....the main chef often takes off. Friday and Saturdays usually have the good chef on hand, but depending on the ratio of crowding to kitchen skill/organization, full care might not be taken. Tuesdays may be ideal....both the chef and the fish are likely to be fresh. (Jim Leff )

In Chinese barbecue places, wait until they've hacked to the middle of the suckling pig before rushing forward to place your order (I learned this from a Chinese grandma) (Jim Leff )

In buffets, keep your eye on what's being replenished so you can get fresher stuff (essential in Indian buffets, where bread and tandoori items are only good when right out of the kitchen). Wait them out! (Jim Leff )

Never visit a brick oven pizza place until at least several months after they open (it takes a while to get used to the oven).(Jim Leff )

Go to popular places during real bad weather for easy seating sans reservations (Jim Leff )

No dim sum after 2pm.(Jim Leff )

Don't order breakfast in a diner or greasy spoon once the lunch hour gets rolling. You'll end up with burger grease and burger crumbs in your omelet. C. Fox

AVOID

Don't order steak in diners .(Jim Leff )

Avoid Mexican restaurants with too many odd, expensive margaritas on the menu: i.e., the Amaretto Cadillac Margarita for $17.50. (SKU)

the "expensive margaritas" warning reminds me...has anyone EVER had a good meal in a restaurant with colorful "specialty drinks" pop-up table cards? (Jim Leff )

If there is a lengthy menu description of their hamburgers or if they've named their burgers -RUN (Rollin)

Certain menu items signal to avoid a place:
--i.e. fried cheese and fried mozzarella
and the bakery corollary: if the fresh fruit tart is made with puff pastry (because puff pastry is a bear to make, so is most likely frozen, cheap and chemical laden), quietly leave and find another bakery not so shortcut oriented and chemical inadverse.

Avoid any place that has "Pasta Nachos" on the menu. (Pat I.)

Unless you are sure the sauce is prepared in the pan "a la minuit" and not ladled out from the steam table, get the sauce on the side. If you don't want the sauce at all, under any circumstances, ask for the sauce on the side. Likewise, if you don't want cheese (or anchovies, or croutons) on your salad, ask for them on on the side. (Steve Drucker)

Ask your waiter what "champagne" they serve by the glass. If the response is a sparkling wine and not champagne proper, be on guard. (Rollin)

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