Restaurants and General Competency and a Self Challenge.

With the busy-ness of my life, and a variety of other weak excuses, we’ve been going out to dinner a lot lately. While I can certainly appreciate the concept of not making my own meal, I really can’t remember the last time I really enjoyed  the experience . It has become a way to seek sustenance for me. It’s been ages since I went somewhere and ate something I couldn’t make/improve upon in my own kitchen. 

I’m not going to go into a whole ‘I’m a talented a-hole so they need to step up their games’ type rant.. but.. dude. I can competently cook most things… and I season things properly. The majority of what I cook absolutely blows away what you can purchase in a restaurant. I know that it’s a personal preference thing. There are no illusions that all people would prefer my food over the whole restaurant experience, blah blah blah.

All that I’m saying is that I don’t need to be WOW’ed .. but at least do it competently please.

Take for instance, this rather pricey Italian place I went to in Coronado. I had a tagliatelle dish with a mushroom sauce and sea scallops. The scallops were adequately cooked.. Slightly seared, seasoned properly, not dried out. This doesn’t make them amazing. This makes them properly prepared.

The noodles (which I suspect were homemade because I have run into this particular issue myself )  were gummy.. Not in a ‘not quite al dente’ kind of way.. but they were literally gummy.  Like the dough was over-kneaded.. didn’t rest long enough.. then they were drained and left in a collander for .. oh let’s say 20 minutes after cooking.. then lightly rinsed, tossed on a plate.. drenched in sauce.

The sauce.. it was a brown sauce with mushrooms, and ostensibly there was supposed to be some other seasoning.. but I can almost guarantee no one checked that sauce before they plated it because there was not a bit of salt to be found.

The presentation was nice. That’s a skill that I don’t particularly excel at. You eat with the eyes first.. but in this case, it totally fucked me. I was looking at the meal thinking.. ooh. those scallops look awesome!!  (and they were, in comparison to the rest of the meal).. and ooh. tagliatelle. I love that stuff. (I do, and it literally broke my heart because it was inedible).. and mushroom sauce.. yessss. (no marsala, no salt, no flavor – what the hell?).

I don’t mind admitting that I paid $24 bucks for the meal.. Essentially it was $24 for 2 scallops and some mushrooms because the rest of it sucked. Even after salting and peppering it.. the sauce was boring. The noodles were inedible.

I am not one to send things back to the kitchen. I consider restaurant dining a gamble. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. With Italian food in CA, you pretty much lose all the time because not many places do it well.  It’s a combination of fresh ingredients in simple preparations. Sounds like it would be easy to execute in a state known for it’s farming.. but yeah.. not so much.

Anyway.. to my point.. Not much about the meal was right for myself or the people that I went with. We all had thoughts about what could have been better. I know there are logistics and kitchen-timing to consider..  but if you do this for a job.. you should probably have that worked out relatively well.

I am a competent cook, and unless someone throws a wrench in my timing, I am getting pretty good at the planning/mise en place/prep aspect of the process. I feel like I can passably prepare most dishes in my kitchen without a huge catastrophe, and this was not always the case.

When going out, paying for a service – a person to cook dinner for me.. I don’t expect miracles. I don’t need magic on the plate EVERY SINGLE TIME.. but what I do need is for things to be done correctly. Salt, Pepper, Warm food, Flavor, No burn or mushy or stringy or gummy things that aren’t actually supposed to be burnt, mushy, stringy or gummy..

I’ve decided that, with a few exceptions, I’m not dining out for the next 6 months. 

1. Indian Food (which I don’t have the patience/skill for)

2. Sushi (which I have a favorite place for)

3.  Noodle House

Dine-In Self-Challenge – It’s on.


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