How do you define a good place to eat?
I am often asked; “What do you think about X restaurant?” If I have eaten there and depending on what type of establishment it is (Italian, Mexican, Chinese, etc.) I can say “well I know the “defining dish” is outstanding.” I am not one to waste much time or money trying to decide if a restaurant is good or not. So, I have a set of dishes that I try when I am there first time regardless of the special. I do this because I know what I like and I have a baseline for what I like. For example: My favorite two Italian dishes are linguini and white clam sauce and eggplant Parmesan. Granted, there are many Italian dishes that I absolutely love but for some reason, they are my rating dishes. On one hand, they are very simple dishes to make, not too many ingredients and it tests many different things. It will test the consistency of the pasta and how well they can make a white clam sauce or a marinara, both of which are not very difficult to mess up. If I have success with one, I will venture off or try the other.
Here is my list of other defining dishes:
Breakfast – Burrito or Eggs Benedict
Lunch or Sandwich establishment – Turkey, bacon, and avocado
Lunch Burger Joint – Mushroom Swiss Burger – rare
Lunch Chinese – Buffet
Chinese – Generals Chicken
Mexican – Burrito or Soft Tacos
Greek – Gyro
Thai – Chicken Curry
American or Steak House – Prime Rib – rare
Seafood – Ahi and New England Clam Chowder
Appetizers – Buffalo Wings or Calamari
Desserts – Because these are not standardized, I usually ask the waitress recommendation or go with any house special
There are other ways you rate a good place to eat as well. You also have to look at service, location, if a place is over priced or not, and access. However, the food is the most important in my mind. You could have the best service and the best atmosphere in the world, but if you screw up mashed potatoes or over cook a steak, I see no reason to come back.
So there you have it. If for some reason one of my “usual” dishes are not on the menu, I go with the next thing that is most familiar and have a good sense for.
Of course there is an exception to any rule. Travel. If I am not going to be in town long or if I am overseas, I will always try something new and local and ask for help. What are your defining dishes?