Posts tagged ‘Restaurants’

08/12/2011

Restaurants: Dinner in America

Dinner in America is typically a choice between Asian, Barbeque, Chicken, Fish, Greek, Italian, Mexican, or a Steakhouse.

ASIAN: American Asian, whether Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Vietnamese, is almost always served with rice. A Vietnamese place in Pinellas Park, FL, named Pho Quyen, served a very tasty chicken stir fry with ginger. I just can’t seem to find it anywhere else. I noted Japanese restaurants are more expensive. I gave the best restaurant name award to a Chinese place called Hu Hot.

BARBEQUE: Ribs can be great if the meat is thoroughly cooked and falls off the bone. Most barbeque places add carbohydrate loads, by serving baked beans, potato salad, corn bread, and Texas Toast. I like the beans, as long as the sauce is not sweet. Potato salad has to have a kick. The toast and corn bread must be fresh.

CHICKEN: Like ribs, a chicken has to be in the oven long enough to separate the meat from the bone. Pollo Tropical Chicken sells a descent chicken dinner, with bread, beans, rice, and mashed potatoes. At Boston Market, you can pick up turkey, or a tasty chicken pot pie. I gobbled up a turkey served with gravy, mashed potatoes, dressing, and corn bread. A pumpkin pie slice was thrown in to complete the picture. I don’t care for chicken wings.

FISH: If the smell of fish is in the air when you walk in, you’re probably in a proper seafood restaurant. Fish is one of those dishes I don’t know how to prepare, so I want it done right. Although deep frying is unhealthy, it can really hit the spot, like it often did at the St. Petersburg Ale House, where I would order the 36-piece shrimp dinner. It was large enough to feed two people, and cost just over $10. At the Cajun Café on the Bayou in Pinellas Park, FL, I had a good Catfish dinner, with bread and butter, and a superb dirty rice, which was actually white rice, laced with beef. Blackened salmon with garlic mashed and rice can be surprisingly good. Though Long John Silver is a catchy name, don’t go there, as they serve a horrible frozen batter-fried thing dipped in grease.

GREEK: I love gyros made with warmed pita bread, covered with the perfect sauce, and then loaded with meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, to a point where napkins are needed, because the bread is too hard to hold. Greek salads are also a great choice, if they have ricotta cheese, and are served with fresh bread and butter. Athenian Gardens on 9th in St. Pete had a tasty potato salad and a superb Gyro Platter, with pita bread, onions, and sauce.

ITALIAN: The Italians load up on pastas, breads, and other carbs. I usually ordered lasagna, or a cheese manicotti, but I didn’t care for the manicotti, if the correct sauce was not used. The problem was I didn’t know what sauce was correct. All I know is most in St. Pete didn’t have it. Also, the garlic bread has to be fresh, and served with butter, not olive oil. Can we stop the olive oil trend?

MEXICAN: Someone once told me Mexican food is always some sort of bean and rice combination. I like burritos, but I won’t go to Taco Bell, where they serve a wrap that has no food in it. On the other hand, the Chipotle Mexican chain is serving a filling burrito.

PIZZA: I want a thin crust, with as little bread as possible. Please, no deep dish, which is 90% bread. I generally do not care for chain portions or prices. I stay away from Pizza Hut, where the toppings are invisible. Toppings should include at least sausage, cheese, onions and peppers. Do pizzas need mushrooms or olives? All pizzas need a tasty kick, but please, no greasy puddles.

STEAK: A good steakhouse for a formal dinner needs a relaxed atmosphere and soft lighting. Outback is not bad for a chain, but I don’t like low-hanging bright lights in my eyes. Start with a crisp lettuce salad, with cheese and ranch dressing. Add fresh soft bread with butter. Follow up with a soft baked potato, and a medium-cooked, but juicy, sirloin steak. That is about as good as it gets. The Longhorn Steakhouse in Largo, FL perhaps did it best. A Brazilian Steakhouse in Pinellas Park, FL let the customers eat all they wanted for $15. After doing the salad bar for a lettuce salad, potatoes, and other tasty stuff, the chef keeps touring each table, and continues slicing off excellent cuts of meat.

08/10/2011

Restaurants: Lunch in America

“Lunch in America” defined generally means: unhealthy fast food eaten rather quickly by passengers and drivers of motor vehicles.

BURGERS: Fast Food places, beginning with McDonalds, started popping up in the 1960s. While McDonalds has continued to hold their lead and maintains fairly good quality control, Burger King, once a competitor, lost their oversight and the place took a dive. Wendy’s, another chain that had a good run, recently snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. If I find myself in of these places, I look at their burgers, and wonder where the beef came from.

FRIES: French Fries, the universal staple in all fast food places, is undoubtedly the greatest single contributor to obesity in America. There is just nothing at all healthy about dipping potatoes into hot grease and then adding loads of salt.

CHICKEN: Although breaded deep-fried chicken is unhealthy and is also helping fatten up the American public, the menu at KFC has always been a tasty winner, and I have to admit I like it.

PIZZA BY SLICE: Pizza by the slice is now part of the fast food madness. Now sold in gas stations, they use more and more bread to fill up and fatten an already obese America. While there is nothing worse than a frozen grocery store pizza, the pre-cooked slices warmed up and sold in filling stations run a close second.

SUB SANDWICHES: The sub is a later-day lunchtime invention. These sandwiches can be cool and refreshing, if they are done right. Subs should never be made with day-old, dry, or too much bread. The bun has to be soft and tasty. I just like tasty buns. Cousins Subs got it right when they said: it’s all about the bread. Ham and cheese with onion, lettuce and tomatoes is probably my favorite. The quality of a hot Philly cheese-steak depends on the cook. Quiznos came up with a reliable formula, and Firehouse has a tasty “hook and ladder.” I won’t go to Subway, where the pressure is on as you walk in the door to make your own food. If I knew how to cook, I wouldn’t go out in the first place.

08/09/2011

Restaurants: Breakfast in America

If you take a vacation in the U.S. and want to know what Americans are eating, the logical place to start is breakfast. I realize most Europeans don’t even have breakfast restaurants, and their days often start with just a plain croissant, here in America, big breakfasts are a tradition, consumed by millions.

NEWS: Breakfast is when many get out and read the newspaper. A daily news box will be located by the restaurant door. Buy one.

COFFEE: While Europeans make strong coffee, by slowly grinding beans, and then pouring hot water over them, into a small cup, not much larger than a shot glass, Americans reject that hard-core approach, and instead make large, but relatively weak pots of coffee, so they can continue pouring all morning into large American-style cups. Americans are satisfied with coffee this way. Most will not go to a Starbucks, because they just don’t need or want expensive brews. All they want is hot coffee, with unlimited refills. Americans just want to keep the coffee flowing.

SPECIALS: Americans like to order the special at family-owned places, which usually means: two eggs, bacon or sausage, two pieces of toast, potatoes, and coffee, all for a reasonable price.

OMELETS: The stereotypical American breakfast would have to be the Western or Denver Omelet. Ham, peppers, and onions must be cut finely, and cannot be too numerous. In the Upper Midwest, every omelet has cheese–it’s an absolute necessity. QUICHE: I am surprised more places don’t offer a ham and cheese quiche, but I suppose it sounds too French for most manly-men.

BACON: American breakfasts include some kind of meat, usually bacon or sausage. Since the origin of a sausage is unclear, bacon is usually my choice. The bacon has to be served hot; it cannot be burned to a crisp, or worse yet, undercooked.

TOAST: Toasted whole-wheat or whole-grain bread is usually best. Some restaurants seem to be using less butter these days, but I for one just cannot eat toast, if it is cold, or too dry. BAGELS: Some have deviated from toast, by opening bagel shops, but for me, food from an Einstein’s Bagel place just doesn’t cut it.

POTATOES: I could skip potatoes, in any form, but everyone now seems to be serving them, and in much larger quantities than needed. In the North, they are known as hash browns, and in the South, they are called home fries. Whatever their name, they have to be laced with grated onions, and seasoned, so they are not too bland. The worst potato crime of all is to serve them raw.

FRUIT: Some forward-leaning restaurants are now offering a fruit substitute in place of potatoes. A place in Florida offered bananas.

PANCAKES: I have to admit I always liked the Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s, consisting of 2 eggs, 2 sausage, 2 toast, and 2 pancakes. There is however something unhealthy in pancake mixes that must be avoided. Regular syrup, loaded with sugar, is also a killer. So, go somewhere other than an IHOP or Perkins.

BAKERIES: Sweet rolls have a way of calling out your name. We must learn to ignore them. We must deafen our senses to the taste of sugar. Dunkin Donuts wisely switched to an egg and cheese combination, since they know the days of sugar are doomed. Their reformed menu now serves tasty sausage and egg croissants.

CONCLUSION: Buy a newspaper, as you enter. Order coffee, not tea. Pick the special. You’ll get eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns. Just eat it. Try a Western Omelet, if you want to unload more cash. Eat fruit, if they serve it, but turn down pancakes, syrup, and sweets. When in America, eat like an American.

08/08/2011

Restaurant Rules in General

While living in Florida the past 2½ years, I made the following observations about restaurants.

CROWDS: Pick a crowded restaurant over an empty one. Busy places usually have lower prices, tastier food, and better service. If the parking lot is empty, drive on.

COST: Keep driving if you see valet parking: you can’t afford it.

CHAINS: The problem with chain restaurants is they generally charge more for less.

TABLES: You don’t want to sit outside when the temperature is too hot, the humidity is too high, or the wind is too strong. Go inside. There is nothing appetizing about eating next to road kill.

MUSIC: Chose a place with a relaxed atmosphere and soft background music. Customers should never have to raise their voices over loud or annoying sounds. Clarinet and violin players went out when the Beatles arrived–someone should just tell them.

MENUS: The menu should be no more than 4 pages. Big chains, like Applebees, Chilis, and TGI Fridays, now use massive picture books, instead of old-fashioned menus. The one at Applebees was actually 14 pages, filled with pictures of food one can only dream of eating. Some have even gone to the point of sticking one menu inside another, as if we didn’t already have enough to read. The menu should simply tell us in plain English what they do best.

DRINKS: While restaurant menus should be short, they should never delete the drink prices. Since more and more restaurants are now doing this, consumers need to fight back. One way is to order nothing but water, until they get the message.

CLEAN DISHES: Kitchen helpers just have to get the soap out of the coffee cups, before they put them back in circulation. Cream in coffee is ok, Borax cleanser is not.

SERVERS: Table servers, known as waitresses in the day, can make or break the experience. I do not care for those who ask how is the food is tasting, because I am always this close to giving a serious long-winded answer. I also don’t like it when they come around too often, since I don’t want to be pampered. I do however expect a few things.

ORDERING: I sometimes don’t know what I want to eat, so I ask what they are good at. I am disappointed when the server is dumbfounded. It also troubles me when they direct me to the most expensive item in an attempt at increasing their tip.

COOKING: After ordering, the food should be prepared within a reasonable time. If they are going to microwave everything, the least they could do is not tell us. One place made it painfully obvious by serving everything in microwavable bowls.

DELIVERY: Before delivering the food, the servers should be sure the kitchen prepared what was ordered. If it is supposed to be hot, please don’t serve it cold. If the order is totally screwed up, the server has to take it up with the kitchen. At a Chili’s, I ordered a pita with steak, but received no meat or lettuce, too many onions and peppers, and no sauce at all. When the server failed to even offer to solve the problem, my disappointment turned to despair.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I don’t mind busy places, if the food and service is good, and the prices are reasonable. Just give me a table where I am not subjected to excessive heat, freezing air, or noise. Give me a simple menu that says what the restaurant does best. Post all prices. Clean all dishes. Hire table servers who are interested in their jobs. And most of all—serve what was ordered.