Our newest Dish blogger, Dan I., is the head of the Restaurant.com Independent Consultant Support team. Dan is an advocate for dining adventurously and will be sharing his tips to help readers get out of their culinary comfort zones in his new series, “Adventures In Dining.”
I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “You know what I really can’t stand? Pizza bread.”
The fact is, if you order pizza bread from just about anywhere, it will probably be good. Knowing this, you have to step back and think, “why is that?” It’s quite simple, actually. Pizza bread is really, really easy to make. Now, let’s talk about what pizza bread has to do with you selecting a better quality restaurant.
You see, the chef is in the details. If you are looking for a higher quality version of your chicken cacciatore or a plate of pasta, check the appetizer menu first. All Italian places will have pizza bread, garlic bread, mozzarella sticks and the like, and they will always be good. But, if you pay a little closer attention to the appetizer menu, you will start to notice certain restaurants have specialty items that most places don’t offer. Now, you’re on to something. If a chef can whip up Arancini, Stuffed Artichokes, Fried Polenta, Baked Clams etc., chances are that chef pays much closer attention to the ingredients, flavor and cooking style of all of the dishes on the menu.
Anyone can follow a recipe, but there are chefs out there who have been blessed by the Great Food Gods. These masters of cooking have culinary prowess pumping through their veins morning, noon and night. Heritage, culture and flavors filled with intrigue emanate like electricity from their fingertips into every dish they cook to beautiful perfection. The wonderful thing about this is they all have one primary goal: to bring their ideas of the ultimate dining experience directly to each and every hungry patron. And the first clue that you’ve discovered one of these culinary all stars is the items they list in that often-overlooked first section of the menu.
I have dined by this rule for many years and I find it to be true in restaurants of every class and style time and time again. An amazing Chinese restaurant will not just have egg rolls and spring rolls, but specialty spicy Sichuan appetizers, lighter flavored Guangdong and Cantonese-style appetizers. A delicious seafood restaurant might have blue crab cheese dip, butterflied shrimp topped with lobster stuffing or mini seasoned soft shell crabs.
A classic example is a sushi restaurant. There are many great sushi spots to choose from, but take a look at the individual rolls section. It seems to me that the more options available on the menu, the better quality of chef is behind them. I can make a California roll, but when I sit down in a place where there are more than 100 different types of rolls, I know the chef must know a thing or two about making sushi. And usually, that’s dead on.
A chef that has an understanding beyond the basic recipes that we all know and expect (like pizza bread), will cook you rich, mouth-watering entrées, savory soups and very gratifying sides. I promise, if you take the time to choose a restaurant based on this simple principle, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results. So tonight, tomorrow, next week, get up, get out and give those appetizer menus a quick once over and find a restaurant you may have previously overlooked and have yourself a meal to remember.