Second Helpings

Highlights and Lowlights: Nation's Restaurant News, an industry magazine, recently asked top chefs about their best-selling and worst-selling dishes.

The ingenuity and appeal of the popular dishes jump right out at you. Who could resist cold-smoked Thai-pesto rack of lamb, served over jasmine rice with peanut sate and Zinfandel glaze? Or porcini-crusted veal scaloppine with a lemon-thyme port sauce? Lobster on white-clam risotto, ginger-crusted salmon with Japanese noodles and snow peas, and potato-crusted roast sturgeon with pancetta, white beans and spinach, in a Barolo wine reduction all could have you licking your chops in anticipation.

But the chefs' judgment is hardly infallible. One creative genius found he couldn't sell a cauliflower and broccoli salad, with lemon creme fra”che and caviar. Another kitchen master found customer resistance to ikan bilis--a Malaysian snack made from sun-dried anchovies fried with peanuts, onions and chile. Garlic-roasted rabbit also turned off diners. Mahimahi tartare is an idea whose time has definitely not come, not even at a fancy New York restaurant. Shad roe, on the other hand, is an idea whose time clearly has come and gone. And what could have encouraged one chef to come up with his wildly unpopular creation, monkfish Wellington? His postmortem: "There was monkfish liver in it, and that freaked people," he explained.

Dining Deals: If you like to eat out, but don't have access to the company credit card, you may be interested in a new discount dining program. It's called Dining a la Card, which has been doing a lot of television advertising during the past few months.

How does it work? You put up an annual fee of 50 bucks up front. Then, each time you dine at one of the member restaurants, you get a rebate check for 20 percent of any bill up to $600. And the rebate check includes the cost of tax, tip and drinks.

One nice feature is that there are no coupons or membership cards. Instead, you register whatever credit cards you ordinarily use to pay your restaurant bills. Then, whenever you pay with those cards at a participating restaurant, Dining a la Card triggers a check for 20 percent of the total back to you.

Naturally, a program like this is only as good as the restaurants the company has signed up. And Dining a la Card has signed up several local heavy hitters. Christopher's and Christopher's Bistro are both on the list. (If a couple orders Christopher's menu prestige and the accompanying wines, they'll make back their annual fee in just one visit.) Other well-known restaurants on the list: Bamboo Club, Blue Burrito Grille (Scottsdale branch), Cafe Terra Cotta, Chez Georges, Coyote Springs, Delhi Palace on McDowell, Eddie's Grill, Eliana's, La Tache, Ninja, Oyster Grill, Steamed Blues, Such Is Life, T-Bone Steak House and Taste of India. For more info, call 1-800-253-5379.

And don't forget about the Entertainment Book. The 1997 guide includes Al Amir, Baby Kay's, Casey Moore's, Pinon Grill and Via DeLosantos. At most places, you get a two-for-one entree discount. Call 1-800-374-4464.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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