Disappointment is, unfortunately, a harsh reality in the world of foodies. We’ve all experienced the let-down of looking forward to trying out a new restaurant, then when the big night finally arrives, receiving a meal that is underwhelming (to say the least). You did your research, scheduled the babysitter, even called ahead for reservations, but when the food came, it was just blah.
That happens to all of us sometimes, but fortunately there are some ways to avoid that. First, make sure not to order the wrong dish. No one knows what dishes you should avoid better than seasoned chefs, and these ones all have foods they steer clear of, no matter what — even at the fanciest of restaurants. It may be because the food usually isn’t fresh — or even what it claims to be, or it may just be that certain dishes are never as exciting as you think they’re going to be. Either way, steer clear of these restaurant dishes.
Fish on Mondays
Ordering fish in a restaurant is always a gamble. If it’s freshly caught, it’s heavenly. If it’s been sitting in the freezer all week, not so much. It’s important to know where the fish comes from and when it was caught. For example, in Hawaii many of the fish markets are closed over the weekend, so if fish is on the menu on Monday, it’s probably not fresh.
"Here in Hawaii, all the fresh, local fish comes from the auction, and it’s closed on Sunday, so unless the delivery was made on Monday morning, I wouldn’t want to eat the special that has fish in it. It could have been old fish that is no longer superior," Chef Felix Tai told me. "Get to know your local market, and get to know the restaurant and where and how they get their food. These details are now very transparent, and it’s the trend now."
Cheap Kobe beef
Kobe beef is the best of the best, but if the special sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Kobe beef doesn’t come cheap, so if the restaurant has a special deal, be skeptical.
"You’re probably getting Wagyu beef, since all Kobe beef is Wagyu but not all Wagyu is Kobe beef. The labeling is used very loosely in the United States, and there is also only a number of restaurants that serve real Kobe since it’s very limited. Some Japanese breed could be called Kobe, because of its very supreme quality and hence the mislabeling," warned Tai. "Educate yourself. You are the one who is going to eat it. If you are paying a price to eat out and to enjoy an experience, by all means you want to know what is it you’re enjoying."
Don’t be afraid to ask more questions before you place your order.
Here’s one that surprised me. Chefs tend to avoid ordering chicken when dining out. "I will order almost anything when I go out—but never chicken because it tends to be overcooked at most restaurants," Chef Ryan Ososky told Reader’s Digest.
Many restaurants end up overcooking their chicken in an effort to make sure it is fully cooked. Better to be overcooked than full of salmonella after all. If you are usually a chicken lover when you go out, try something new and order the steak. You may end up loving it.
Chefs are serious about their food, so when it comes to processed food products, they usually pass. Processed food never tastes as good as fresh and comes with a laundry list of negatives. "All the leading causes [of death] are directly related to processed food," Canadian chef Michael Smith told MSN Lifestyle. "The single biggest ever number one [lie] was low fat… Low fat became high-processed sugar. More people have been killed by low fat than anything else in history." Stick to the real stuff.
You know that friend of yours who can never order off the menu? She insists on gluten-free bread, no cheese, and always an extra side of honey mustard? You’re probably squirming in your seat as she orders, worrying that the chef is disapproving of her order. Well, turns out she is.
Your friend may think she knows what she likes, but maybe the chef’s special would blow her mind. "Unless you are allergic to something, never sub-out one ingredient for another on a composed dish. In a trusted restaurant, the chef knows what he is doing, and a great marriage has been pre-arranged," Chef Christopher Faulkner told Delish.
I never order oysters at a restaurant (or anywhere), because they are salty, slimy slugs that should not be consumed by humans. Now I know not everyone shares my disgust for oysters, but you still shouldn’t order them in restaurants. At the very least, it pays to be very picky. Before ordering, know where they came from and when they arrived at the restaurant. "If handled and stored incorrectly, raw oysters can kill you," Cordon Bleu-trained chef Mark Nichols told Reader’s Digest. See? Steer clear of the oysters.
I have some bad news for you vegetarians and vegans. Eating out is going to be a bit of a gamble for you. When you order the vegetarian special, you probably assume the meal is completely vegetarian, but that is not always the case. According to a chef survey from the Food Network, 15 percent of chefs admitted that vegetarian dishes often contain some animal products. In a horrifying image, one anonymous chef said he even saw a fellow chef pouring lamb’s blood into a vegan’s primavera! I apologize for that visual that you now have to live with.
Eating out is a celebration, so treat it like one. Branch out and try something new. Always sticking with the same dish, like the house salad, will leave you bored. "When I go to a restaurant and sit with a menu, I tend to stay away from the House Salad," Chef Kayson Chong told Reader’s Digest. "I prefer to have something special that a chef created with seasonal products and interesting combinations. I like experiencing new and exciting things to eat when I go to other restaurants, not something I can find easily anywhere."
Just because some chefs refuse to order chicken in a restaurant doesn’t mean it’s all bad. There are still some juicy, flavorful chicken dishes out there. However, there is one to always steer clear of, and I’m heartbroken to hear which one it is. Restauration Chef Phil Pretty doesn’t mind ordering chicken in restaurants, so long as it is not chicken Parmesan. "I would never, ever order chicken Parmesan," he told salon. "It’s always frozen before cooked and tastes like a gross version of chicken nuggets."
So even though that crispy breading and melted cheese is calling your name, remember that the chicken Parmesan dish is never as good as it sounds. Branch out and try a new dish instead.
The bread basket is one of those things that always looks better than it is. You arrive at the restaurant starving, and suddenly that incredible-looking bread basket makes its way to your table. You dig in, unable to resist. Unfortunately, that bread may have just been on your neighbor’s table. That’s why chefs avoid it. According to Food Network’s chef survey, it’s not uncommon for uneaten bread to make its way to multiple tables.
Who doesn’t love a leisurely Saturday morning brunch with friends? Well, chefs don’t love it, and your meal may reflect that. "Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights. How about hollandaise sauce? Not for me," the late chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain said in his book Kitchen Confidential (via The Guardian). "Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. And how long has that Canadian bacon been festering in the walk-in? Remember, brunch is only served once a week — on the weekends. Cooks hate brunch. Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops."
So skip the hollandaise and go for a bloody mary instead.
When dining at a new restaurant, always take a look at the specials. If there are too many to count, it’s best to avoid them. "Specials are there to disappear throughout the evening," Chef Gordon Ramsay told Cosmopolitan. "When they list ten specials, that’s not special."
It’s also best to avoid any dishes that have crazy names. Ramsay does not approve of labeling a dish "wicked," "famous," or "the best."
"Who said that? Who named that?" he asked. Order a dish, because the food is amazing, not because the restaurant had to get creative with the name.
Another item that is never worth ordering in restaurants is the wedge salad. Chefs don’t bother wasting a good night out ordering something they could easily prepare at home. "Don’t order the wedge salad," Ariane Resnick, celebrity chef, author, and certified nutritionist, told me. "You’re literally paying over ten dollars for a chunk of iceberg lettuce, often with pre-fab commercial dressing."
If you love a big salad for dinner, order one with a bit more imagination and quality ingredients. Or stay home and eat all the wedge salad your heart desires.
If you tend to enjoy the finer things in life, you may be better off savoring them at home. Luxury food items have a higher markup and are almost never worth the extra cost. "I avoid high-end ingredients like white truffles and caviar, because as a chef, I can get them wholesale for much cheaper," Lost at Sea chef Tim Carey told me. "However, for guests, they may find that these ingredients are less costly outside of a restaurant at retail stores."
Do a little research on Pinterest and Youtube, then head out to the grocery store. You can prepare your own gourmet meals at home for a fraction of the cost. Light a few candles, put on some soft music, and you’ve just created your own high-end restaurant in your kitchen.
Corned beef hash
Corned beef hash seems to be a brunch staple these days, but not everyone is loving it. Because this dish became popular during the days of war rations, it’s cheap, but not the most delicious. "Although I have never been in any of the world wars, I know that people were forced to eat [corned beef hash] out of necessity," Executive Chef and co-owner of New York’s Graffiti Earth Jehangir Mehta told salon. "I don’t see why you would choose it for brunch in 2017 … there are plenty of delicious other options."
Valentine’s day prix fixe menu
Valentine’s day comes with a lot of pressure. You have to make a reservation weeks ahead of time, and if you happen to forget until the day before, don’t even bother trying. The irony is that Valentine’s day is actually the worst time to try out a new restaurant. The preset Valentine menu is never a good move, and chefs avoid it.
"Valentine’s day is the worst day of the year to go out," chef Gordon Ramsey told Town & Country. "Busy kitchens with tons of diners means you don’t get the true feeling of the restaurant. You should be cooking on Valentine’s. What’s more romantic than a meal cooked for your partner with good bottle of wine?"
So head to the grocery store with your partner and enjoy planning a romantic meal together. Ditch the prix fixe and choose what you actually like.
Anything if the bathrooms are filthy
Finally, any time trying out a new restaurant, don’t be afraid to check out the bathroom before ordering. According to the late chef, Anthony Bourdain, if the bathroom looks bad, the kitchen probably looks worse.
"I won’t eat in a restaurant with filthy bathrooms. This isn’t a hard call," he said his book Kitchen Confidential (via The Guardian). "They let you see the bathrooms. If the restaurant can’t be bothered to replace the puck in the urinal or keep the toilets and floors clean, then just imagine what their refrigeration and work spaces look like."