Second Helpings

Tough Customers: When you attend the theater, do you demand the actors put on Rent? At football games, do you urge the players to dribble the ball? When you go to a Garth Brooks concert, do you insist he perform a medley of LL Cool J's hits?

Of course not. At any performance, you know the program before you show up. If you don't think Neil Simon is funny, don't go see Brighton Beach Memoirs. If you hate baseball, stay away from BOB. And if you can't stand the saxophone, why on earth would you buy tickets to hear Kenny G?

Well, restaurants are really no different. You know the program before you get there--it's called the menu. So why do so many diners demand the chef fix up something special just for them, or order inappropriately?

Take the dieter--please. She'll tell the chef she wants a platter of vegetables, steamed, with no salt or sauce. Then she complains that the dish tastes bland.

Take the beef lover. Insisting on ordering steak at a seafood restaurant, he's shocked to discover that the quality of the New York sirloin isn't up to his standard.

Take the squeamish diner, morosely discovering that everything at the sushi bar looks distressingly like bait.

Take the uninformed, who think "rare tuna" indicates a unique species, and "free range chicken" comes on the house. I've even heard of one diner, jaw wired shut, asking for a pureed meal. What did he order? Liver sauteed medium-rare with a balsamic-honey glaze, wild rice cake and fried onions. Said the chef: "It was so ugly, I lost my appetite. It looked like what I imagine the inside of a sewer looks like. I didn't dare put it in a glass because I didn't want anyone else in the dining room to see it."

I can only imagine how exasperating all these kinds of people are to chefs. That's because they drive me absolutely nuts when they accompany me on restaurant reviews. I'm always looking to expand my stable of dining-out companions, but I've learned that I need to ask plenty of questions before extending an invitation.

That way, I don't bring orthodox Jews to a barbecue parlor; I don't ask vegans to a steak house; I don't take people watching their sodium intake to Chinese restaurants. If you're allergic to cheese, don't come on a pizza review. If you refuse to eat Mexican food because your aunt got sick after a bad taco experience in Tijuana in 1971, take a rain check when I do south-of-the-border. If you have to be restrained from sending back the vichyssoise because it's cold, maybe French restaurants aren't for you.

Advance screening also helps me scratch off my list those who need to see the organic certification documents for all the restaurant's produce; those who order everything "well-done" to make sure all the germs are dead; and those who require the calorie and fat-gram count of every dish.

Eating out is supposed to be fun, not a trial to endure or a test for the chef to pass. Let's lighten up.

--Howard Seftel

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


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