Bullseye! Homing in on Where to Dine Out
Think about it: Selecting a restaurant in a new city, or even a new neighborhood, can be daunting. All you can go by is looks, the shallowest of measures, a little like a college mixer.
But sometimes, there are little cues and clues that will raise your likelihood of having a delightful dining experience. Or, if you are paying attention, these signals will save your evening by sending you elsewhere, fast.
Rule #1: Trust your instincts
I am remembering my first experience with Paul Prudhomme’s legendary Cajun cuisine. It was in the early ‘80s, and I was wandering around the French Quarter as lunchtime approached. Something about the appearance of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, a hole in the wall, caught my eye. The menu was enticing, the smells were spicy siren calls and the place was sparkling clean. Of course, this little love-at-first-sight lunch joint turned out to be the jumping off point for the whole Prudhomme empire.
Rule #2: Look for Real Food Cooked by Real People
Many years later, on an early Rome morning, I wandered the streets of the Trastevere neighborhood, where Romans actually live and work, but which is also convenient to attractions like the Coliseum. I looked up from my jetlagged reveries to see a man carrying a calf carcass into a homey looking restaurant, La Tana de Noantri. I made a point of returning later for dinner. Sure enough, there were a number of veal daily specials including brailed veal tail, one of the most succulent cuts of any animal when properly cooked, in this case with celery, and served with garlicky escarole. Oh Heaven! Oh Cielo!
Rule #3: Eat Local
Americans are famous for complaining that the food in (fill in the blank) is no good, when all they order is typical American fare like burgers. We do make the best burgers in the world, and ordering them anywhere else is a minefield. I remember Brit colleagues who always enjoyed pub burgers when in the United States, because they were so lousy at home. Chinese food is another issue: Do you really want the Bavarian interpretation of Peking duck when you could be having a world class sausage? Or a hot dog in Hong Kong instead of dim sum?
Rule #4: If It Doesn’t Feel/Look/Smell Right, Leave
If you’re abused by the host for any reason, just wait until you sit down and the haughty wait staff gets their chance. Restaurants known for treating unknowns like second class citizens have earned that reputation, and don’t deserve your business. Once seated, look closely at the menu, the most important marketing tool the restaurant has. If it’s filthy, it’s conveying a message (“Get out now”).
Wishing you dining adventures that only need Rules #1 through #3!